Hiking the path up to the fortress in Kotor is one of the most popular things to do in all of Montenegro. If you’re all about getting a great view (which I definitely am) then this is an absolute must for your Balkans bucketlist. Unfortunately, as the hike has become more popular there has been an ‘entrance fee’ imposed on the main path up to the fortress. What some people do not realise is that there is another way to get up there for free, which is super easy if you know where to go.
N.B. I’ve been told that as of mid-September 2019 there is a ‘guard’ standing by the window you climb through to access the fortress at the top of this trail due to safety concerns. This trail is not unsafe so I’m skeptical and I’m not sure if the guard is a permanent fixture now or a temporary measure. If you have any updates please do let me know in the comments.
Why you shouldn’t pay to hike to Kotor fortress
Firstly, I feel like it’s necessary to say here that I wouldn’t always advocate not paying a fee to enter a tourist site, but this is a bit of a unique situation. The ‘entrance fee’ of 8 euros to get up to Kotor fortress seems to have sprung up out of nowhere. From information I’ve seen online from a few years back it seems that at first there were just people sitting there asking money from tourists in order for them to pass. When I visited (September 2019) there was a permanent booth and turnstile and so there’s no way to get around paying if you use that path.
It is not clear who the money you pay is going to because the site is not maintained or owned by a person or company as far as I could tell.* The alternative route where you can walk for free, which I am about to detail, is a very old historic trail that is common knowledge to the people of Montenegro. They know that a number of people use it to hike up to the Kotor fortress for free but they do nothing to stop it, which makes me question how legitimate the ‘entrance fee’ at the start of the other trail is.
*If anyone does have information about this please let me know so I can update this post.
Finding the start of the trail
To find the start of the Ladder of Cattaro hiking trail up to Kotor fortress you need to exit Kotor’s city walls first. if you exit through the main front entrance, turn right and walk down the main road, cross the river and take the first right into the road with the big shopping mall. If you keep walking straight you should see the path, which allows you to come off the road before it turns left and continue straight ahead.
Alternatively, you can find the stone stairs path entrance using the well signposted directions. There is an exit from the city walls close to there, which will take you across the river twice and then you’ll end up in the same road as described in the directions above. The unmarked path is actually on google maps (see where I have marked above) so you can use your phone to navigate there easily.
The Ladder of Cattaro hiking route
Aside from saving yourself some money, there are a number of other reasons that I’d recommend choosing this route for your hike up to the Kotor fortress.
Firstly, it’s easier. I did not hike up the other path with the stone stairs but I did hike down it and there’s a real difference. The hike up the ladder trail might take you a bit longer but it’s a very gentle slope all of the way up, which means it’s not at all strenuous. At no point did I have to stop to catch my breath – although I did stop to take many photos. Compare this with 1355 stone stairs to climb on the other path and it’s really a no-brainer.
All advice recommends that you climb to the fortress as early as possible to avoid the hottest part of the day and in the summer this route keeps you in the shade all of the way up in the morning because it’s sheltered in between the mountains on either side.
Another advantage is obviously that there are far fewer people that take this route and there’s definitely no queuing involved, you just walk right onto the path and get going.
One thing to note if you choose to follow this trail though it that it is very gravelly, which could be a bit slippy if you’re not wearing the appropriate footwear. I’m not saying you need hiking boots though – I wore trainers and was absolutely fine! At the top you also have to climb into the fortress through a window in the wall but it’s not as precarious as it sounds.
Exploring the Castle of San Giovanni
This trail actually continues up much further than the fortress so you need to make sure you take the right turning. It is well marked when you reach the little house (pictured below). From there you take the path a little further up and then enter the fortress through the wall. It’s easy to see where as you can just follow the other people.
Now the hard part is over and you’re in the fortress, or Castle of San Giovanni, as it is officially known. The castle is not anything to see particularly in and of itself because all that’s left is ruins. It’s where it’s situated that makes it so special. By climbing higher on the ruins you can get some amazing views of the surrounding mountains (you might even spot some mountain goats!) and the bay of Kotor below.
Be careful to watch your step when exploring the ruins and if you choose to enter any of the small rooms because the site is not monitored or maintained. In fact, the introduction of the entrance fee on the ‘official’ pathway does not seem to be going towards preservation of the site in any way, which is why I recommend you don’t pay it.
Getting back to the city of Kotor
On your way back down, I recommend taking the stairs route. It is pretty clear why this is the designated tourist route because it takes you directly back inside the city walls of Kotor. The views are also slightly better because they’re panoramic, and during the hike down is the best way to enjoy them in a leisurely manner.
You will bypass the Church of Our Lady of Remedy on this path and vendors selling bottled water and souvenirs outside – it’s evident that this is the way designed for tourists!
Just before you reach the bottom where the path enter the city walls is where the turnstile is set up charging people an €8.00 fee just to get onto the hiking path. It’s a one way turnstile so there’s normally a huge queue to get in and a sizable one just for people exiting because you have to wait for the ticket man to let you out (but don’t worry you don’t need to show a ticket).
Want to know more about travelling the Balkans on a budget?
- Travelling the Balkans by bus – tips and things to know
- What I spent travelling the Balkans for one month