Durmitor National Park in Montenegro was without a doubt my favourite part of the country to explore. For someone who is a sucker for mountains, valleys, lakes, greenery, nature walks and hikes, this part of Montenegro surprised me pleasantly, not only because it surpassed the beauty of the crystal-clear blue water beaches & the stunning coastal drives in west Montenegro, but because it had hidden, unknown lakes that are more incredible than some of the lakes I have seen in other parts of Europe. 3 days in Durmitor National Park was the perfect amount of time to spend there, and a great break from the scorching heat of the coast in the summer. The best part is that Durmitor National Park is only a 3-hour drive away from the Adriatic coast, so if you’re relaxing on a beach in Montenegro, you’re never too far from the cool weather and wild beauty of the mountains. This diversity of landscape is what makes Montenegro one of my favourite Balkan countries.
To explore Durmitor National Park, I suggest basing yourself in Zabljak. A popular ski resort in the winter, Zabljak is a sleepy town in summer but well-placed geographically to explore the surrounding areas. While Montenegro is not as developed as its neighbouring countries Croatia & Slovenia, the roads are still pretty good, except for some very remote viewpoints, where only the adventurous should head. I highly recommend renting a car but a smaller one as some roads can be narrow and slightly easier to navigate in small vehicles.
Day 1: Zabljak
If you’re driving to Durmitor National Park from Kotor/ Budva or even Podgorica, there’s a lot you can see and do along the way. While the drive itself, without any stops, is about 3 hours, there are several viewpoints, wineries, and destinations on the way that you could explore.
Stop 1: Pavlova Strana Viewpoint
Pavlova Strana Viewpoint is located about 1 hour away from Budva. Offering one of the most scenic vistas of Lake Skadar, Pavlova Strana Viewpoint is where you will get a bird’s eye view of the horse-shoe bend of the lake. The road is quite narrow but paved, and it is not uncommon to find such single-track mountain roads in Montenegro. While gps leads you to the right spot, there is no signpost to tell you exactly which is the viewpoint, so make sure to stay on the lookout. Somewhere along the way, there is also a small café right on the road; it’s just a bunch of chairs placed along the edge with umbrellas and a kiosk offering basic coffee but with excellent views. There aren’t too many restaurants along the way, so make sure to get your morning fix before you depart from Kotor/ Budva.
Stop 2: Vinarija Velji Do winery
Meant only for the very adventurous (and wine enthusiasts), this local winery and vineyard is only a few kilometers from the viewpoint, but it feels like you have arrived in the middle of nowhere. The roads aren’t very nice either, especially the last few hundred meters which are narrow, winding & only gravel. But if you’re looking for an offbeat, local experience and wish to buy homemade wines from a local Montenegrin family, the little adventure is totally worth it!
Stop 3: Ostrog Monastery
While you have the option to pass by Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, there’s not a lot to do there except maybe grab a quick meal before you head to the next stop, which is about 1.5 hours away. Alternatively, I highly recommend having your lunch at this beautiful restaurant we found on the way to the monastery, on the terrace of Hotel Sokoline, offering remarkable valley views.
Ostrog Monastery, an important Orthodox pilgrimage site, is located against a dramatic vertical cliff backdrop at a high altitude, making it an exciting place to explore even if you are not there for religious or spiritual reasons. The white façade of the monastery stands in vivid contrast to the dark brown hills, and its vertical stature makes it seem like it is carved into the mountains, offering not only an interesting perspective of the valley but also a cosy, cool & homely atmosphere for the monks living on site. You will see a lot of pilgrims walking barefoot to the monastery. Make sure to wear clothes that cover your shoulders & knees when you visit, and also wear comfortable shoes because there is almost a 1-kilometre climb (road or stairs) after the parking spot to the monastery.
Finally, stop 4: Zabljak
Recommended budget stay in Zabljak: Durmitorske zore
While a little outside the city center, the homestay is walkable from the town and offers a very cozy room for stay at night. The terrace in their garden is perfect for a sunset picnic, offering a warm, comfortable spot in the middle of nature and with stunning mountain views.
Day 2: Tara Canyon River Rafting, Black Lake & Hike to Zminje Jezero
One of the most exciting adventure activities in Durmitor National Park is river rafting. While the rapids aren’t major during the summer months (which makes it easier for the newbies and the not-so-adventurous people too), the awe-inspiring landscape, the beautiful but freezing green waters of the Tara River and the dwarfing feeling when sailing amidst dramatic cliffs on both sides, make this experience worth one’s while.
We booked this half day river rafting trip in Tara Canyon here and paid about € 40 per person, including pick up from Zabljak. Alternatively, if you plan to spend more time in this area, which you easily could, you could drive up to the area (its about 30 minutes away from Zabljak) and participate in other thrilling activities such as ziplining, canyoning, hiking, etc, all of which can be booked on the same website.
If you do plan to do the rafting, make sure to carry your swimwear over which you will wear the wet suit, provided by the rafting company. The activity takes about 4 hours in all, and you will be back in Zabljak (should you decide not to spend more time at the Tara Canyon) by 2pm, leaving you enough time to explore 2 of the best lakes in Durmitor National Park.
Crno Jezero (that translated into Black Lake) is located right in the city and only a 5-min drive from the city center. Surrounded by dense pine forest and gorges, one can swim or kayak in this lake in the summer. The calm, black-green waters of the lake are so inviting that it’s hard to not jump in for a swim in the freezing glacial waters of the lake. If that’s not your cup of tea, you could simply enjoy a nice walk around the lake or sit in one of the cafes/ restaurants overlooking the lake.
While walking towards the lake from the parking lot, you will cross several kiosks where locals will be selling their homemade Montenegrin specialties; I highly recommend picking some fruit infused wines, honey & dips from here (ajvar was my favourite).
Contrary to the commercialized Crno Jezero, Zminje Jezero is a small, rugged, and hidden in the depths of the spruce forests. Beware, its not uncommon to find snakes here. The hike to the lake is not tough but make sure to wear good shoes and walk about 3 kms in thick foliage. There are no cafes or restaurants around this lake so carry your picnic with you. The green waters of the lake, reflecting the forest it is surrounded by, make it one of the most unique, discreet & offbeat lakes to visit in Durmitor National Park.
Recommended place to dine in Zabljak city center: Restaurant Or’O
Day 3: Driving Durmitor Ring & Piva Lake
An 85-km circular drive through authentic mountain villages, dramatic mountainous landscapes, hidden lakes & streams, and stunning viewpoints, Durmitor Ring is a great way to enjoy the nature. While the drive itself is only of 2 hours, starting from Zabljak, there are so many stops on the way that are worth making that one could spend an entire day on it.
The first stop, Vražje Jezero, is literally 15-min from Zabljak. This was the highlight of my 3 days in Durmitor National Park. Translating into Devil’s Lake, the striking turquoise blue color of this glacial lake left me totally mesmerised! While many might argue that Black Lake is prettier, I found the Devil’s Lake more remote, vibrant, peaceful & stunning. There are no restaurants or cafes in the area, so expect to enjoy a nice walk around the lake and bring your own picnic.
Continue driving on the Durmitor Ring and you will see little huts scattered across the green mountains. Several mountain villages can be found along the way and don’t be surprised to see a sheep traffic jam on the narrow road. Hidden lakes such as Lake Sušičko, which usually dries up in the summer, can be found along the way. You will also see little frames installed on the drive, especially when you are nearing Sedlo Pass. This is also the starting point for many mountain hiking trails, such as Bobotov Kuk, the highest peak in Durmitor National Park.
Although not exactly on the Durmitor Ring, another beautiful lake in the region is Piva Lake. Located only one hour ahead of Sedlo Pass, if you choose not to go for a hike, head to this lake where you’ll also have the option to kayak, zipline or simply enjoy a nice meal with a view of yet another distinct blue colored lake. Much larger than any of the other lakes you have visited in Durmitor National Park, Piva Lake is actually an artificial reservoir in the Pluzine district and not technically a part of the national park. Zip lining above this lake was one of my favourite activities in this area!
Return to Zabljak (1.5 hours drive) in the evening.
If you have extra time in Durmitor National Park:
While 3 days in Durmitor National Park were ideal for someone who usually has short vacation days and likes to pack her itinerary with as many activities as possible, if you have more time and are a nature lover like me, I highly recommend a visit to Lake Biograd, about 1.5 hours drive from Zabljak, towards the Kosovo border.