Dubrovnik day trips: A guide to choosing between Kotor and Mostar
Montenegro, specifically the Bay of Kotor, and Mostar - a charming town in Bosnia and Herzegovina, both make for popular day trips from Dubrovnik. Frequently, travellers ask me to weigh in on which one is a better choice. Visiting both would be fantastic as they offer distinct experiences. However, sometimes time and budget constraints allow for only one. In this guide, I aim to provide an objective comparison to help you make an informed decision. The Montenegro day trip, as discussed below, encompasses Perast and Kotor, while the Mostar day trip includes Pocitelj and Mostar itself. So, let's explore details to help you decide wisely - Montenegro or Mostar - which day trip from Dubrovnik to choose?
Landscape Exploration: Montenegro takes the lead
Both day trips undoubtedly offer scenic views, but if you are a landscape enthusiast, Montenegro should be your pick. The impressive steep mountain slopes encircling a fjord-alike bay, adorned with small towns and islets, make it a genuinely gratifying experience.
Diving into history: Recent or remote?
Local history might be your key interest, but let's be honest; understanding the region's history can be challenging unless you're a historian (another reason why having a good guide is a wise idea!). When deciding on a day trip, consider whether you're more interested in recent history or intrigued by the distant past. Montenegro's history spans Illyrians, ancient Romans, Byzantines, medieval local rulers, Venetians, Turks, and Slavs, all contributing to today's picture of the country. In Mostar, despite its equally impressive historical layers, especially the Ottoman era, the focus ends up leaning more towards recent events, particularly related to the fall of Yugoslavia.
Landmarks and UNESCO marvels: A draw in both
Montenegro boasts more sights overall, but Mostar's iconic Old Bridge stands out. Both areas have received UNESCO recognition for their contributions to the world's heritage. Mostar showcases an oriental character with its bridges, minarets, towers, mosques, and bazaars. At the same time, the Bay of Kotor exudes a typical Mediterranean atmosphere with its medieval walls, fortresses, residential palaces, churches, and bell towers.
Culinary Cravings: Mostar's gastronomic surprise
If food plays a crucial role in your decision, and you're a fan of grilled meat or exploring local dishes, Mostar is the preferred choice. Visitors often rave about the food, praising its large portions and reasonable prices. River fish is a notable highlight, and for those adhering to halal standards, Mostar offers many restaurants with halal certificates.
In Montenegro, while the food is also good, it rarely takes centre stage. The coastal area provides better seafood options, but for the best local food experience, consider opting for higher-standard restaurants. Depending on the time of the year, checking availability and booking a table in advance might be necessary. Vegetarians and vegans should note that specialized restaurants are lacking in both places, though most restaurants offer vegan or vegetarian dishes.
Being comfortable matters: Safety and friendliness
Both areas are equally safe, welcoming tourists who contribute significantly to the local economies. While pickpocketing is possible in both places, it's a rare occurrence for those careful with their belongings. Some persistent beggars might seek attention, but overall, safety is not a major concern.
Montenegrins and Bosnians-Herzegovinians are generally friendly and welcoming people. Consider that you will primarily meet people who offer their services, so some of them could be a bit pushy (Mostar shop owners a bit more). The staff waiting on tables are usually friendly and helpful.
Embracing differences: Religions
The majority of Montenegro's population is Orthodox Christian. Montenegro's coastal area has the highest concentration of Roman Catholics and Catholic churches in Montenegro.
The prevalent religion in Bosnia and Herzegovina is Islam, but Orthodoxy and Catholicism also have a significant presence. (Medjugorje, a famous Catholic shrine, is on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina). While religions might influence Bosnian-Herzegovinian inhabitants' politics and everyday life, visitors will not be affected by that, nor will they notice it; actually, Mostar's East-meets-West vibe provides a more diverse cultural experience compared to Kotor.
Practical considerations: Costs, shopping, currency
Mostar tends to be more budget-friendly than Kotor.
On the other hand, Kotor offers a better shopping experience, at least in the historical centre, with numerous boutiques. The area of Mostar that tourists visit on a day trip is loaded with restaurants and souvenir shops. There is a big shopping mall within a short driving distance, but going there is rarely included in day trips.
The national currency of Montenegro is the euro (yes, even though Montenegro is not a member of the EU). In Mostar, the currency is the Bosnian Convertible Mark. However, most shops and restaurants accept euros. Cards are widely accepted in both countries, but I suggest you ask if they do before using their service (especially if you intend to pay with American Express).
Time is precious: Trip duration
However, the benefit of private trips is that they are flexible and can be personalized according to your needs and preferences.
In either case, departing early in the morning is always better. I recommend leaving at 8 am during the low season and even earlier during the peak season.
Planning your trip: Crowds and borders
Mostar and Kotor are two popular destinations outside Croatia's national territory. Therefore, considering crowds and border crossings is essential for a more enjoyable visit.
High-season crowds are expected in both places. Nevertheless, leaving Dubrovnik early in the morning can significantly mitigate this. Moreover, by leaving early, the unpleasant impact of the heat, especially in Mostar, is a little reduced. Crowds in the Bay of Kotor are also caused by cruise ships, so it is good to have insight into cruise ships arrivals when determining the date of your visit.
As for border crossing, thanks to the bridge connecting Croatia, going on a day trip to Mostar has significantly been simplified. However, Bosnian and Herzegovinian authorities have introduced a taxation border formality for day trip providers, adding to the time spent on the border.
Regarding the trip to Montenegro, during July and August, longer waits at border crossings (especially on weekends) are expected due to many Western European Albanians driving to Albania / Kosovo (and back) for their summer vacation.
Drive or not to drive? Hire a local!
I believe hiring a local driver-guide to take you to Montenegro or Mostar is always better for a more relaxed and enriching experience (I often hear: "We would have missed this if we had driven on our own!"). Also, with a local driver-guide, you do not have to think about those stressful details that are an inevitable part of any trip to the unknown.
But if you insist, read carefully!
Concentrate on driving! The roads are windy and probably narrower than those you are used to driving on (sometimes there is just one lane for both ways). In many places, there are no adequate sidewalks, and pedestrians will not hesitate to walk on the road itself. Obviously, you should understand the traffic signs and rules. The locals tend to drive aggressively and may overtake in dangerous or restricted areas, which can be surprising and scary. Also, since you are unfamiliar with the area, you could be uncomfortable driving at the speed of other drivers and easily create long lines behind you. If that happens, please pull over and let them pass safely. During drier months, road works are often carried out, so be prepared to take alternative routes. Try to park at supervised parking. Do not leave your passports/wallets in the vehicle. If you rent a car, inform the rental agency about your intention to visit Montenegro or Bosnia and Herzegovina. Not all car rentals provide all-inclusive insurance, so you might have to pay an extra fee to drive there.
"I am so glad you are driving!" - guess who gets to hear that a lot :)
Montenegro vs Mostar decisive factor: Diversity
Considering all factors, the diversity of the experience may be decisive. While both Kotor and Mostar showcase the characteristics of their respective countries, Mostar, due to the historical penetration of a different culture and religion, offers a more diverse experience.
Bonus: Consider Mostar as a detour for maximizing time
If time is limited, but you're travelling between Dubrovnik and Split, consider a detour to Mostar. This way, you can experience both Montenegro and Mostar, making the most of your journey.