We traveled through the Balkans for about 10 days in the Summer of 2013. We flew into Dubrovnik, Croatia and continued the rest of our journey via bus. Trains are hard to come by and basically don’t exist in the region. We heard from locals the lack of trains is due to the conflicts in the region that occurred in the 1990s. The war wiped out most of the tracks and from that time on the primary mode of public transportation in the region became bus travel.
Dubrovnik: Dubrovnik’s city center is easily accessible by bus. From Čilipi Airport you can take the shuttle bus into Dubrovnik. The ride is about 30 minutes and provides some pretty spectacular views of the coast. It cost us 7€ (54 Croatian Kuna) per person. You don’t need to purchase your ticket ahead of time- the bus driver made his way up and down the aisle selling tickets and he accepted both Euro and Kuna. The website Absolute Dubrovnik was helpful in deciphering the bus schedule, but when we flew in there were more buses waiting than the site listed so don’t stress too much about finding a seat into the city.
The bus makes two stops. The first is right at the edge of Old Town Dubrovnik and the second at the main bus station and port. Both stops had a number of taxis waiting to take travelers to their final destination. We stayed at Accomodation Ljuba outside the city center. It was a hell of a trek up a set of stairs to reach, but the family was very accommodating and it has air conditioning. We had our own double, but shared a bathroom. It was no thrills, but comfortable and the buses into Old Town were easily accessible. Most of the buses will head into Old Town and you can purchase your ticket directly from the bus driver for 15 Kuna. There is also a kiosk adjacent to the bus stop in Old Town that allows you to purchase tickets for 12 Kuna.
Plitvice: Plitvice is located on the Bosnian border and despite the park’s popularity, isn’t the easiest place to get to. We made our way to the park from Bihac, Bosnia (see below for our route through Bosnia). We thought it would be easy to find public transportation across the border and into the park given that Plitvice is only 40 kilometers from Bihac, but that was not the case. Luckily we had “splurged” on a hotel in Bihac and the front desk arranged a taxi to take us across the border and directly to our next stop. The ride was smooth and the hotel had negotiated the cost up front so there were no surprises. The ride cost about 27€ not including tip. If you’re not staying in Bihac overnight I’m sure you could find a taxi near the bus station and work out a similar deal.
We stayed at Guesthouse Sven, about a 10 minute walk south of the park’s Entrance 1. Check in wasn’t until the afternoon, but the owners let us drop our bags and gave us information on the park. Park entrance was steep at 180 Kunas (about 24€ or $32), but absolutely worth it. The entrance fee also includes one boat trip across the park’s largest lake and a tram trip for easy return access to your original point of entry. We spent more than 8 hours hiking around the entire park and brought our own lunch in to save money (food sold in the park is spensy). Also make sure to bring lots of water! For more information on the park check out Visit Croatia.
Zagreb: We spent an afternoon in Zagreb on our way to Slovenia. Not so much by choice, but it turned out to be a nice layover. We caught the 10:00 am bus from Plitvice to Zagreb. Buses leave pretty frequently throughout the day. You can purchase your tickets ahead of time from the small ticket window on the road outside Entrance #1 or directly from the bus driver. We’d read online that we could take a bus from Plitvice to Zagreb and then catch another bus from Zagreb to Ljubljana. Unfortunately our research had some misinformation and there were no buses out of Zagreb to Ljubljana. It took awhile to get any information out of the gentleman at the “info booth”, but eventually we coerced him into telling us that a train was departing Zageb for Ljubljana after 6:00pm. We took the #2 tram line (pay the driver at the front of the tram when you enter) about three stops to the train station, but easily could have walked the 1.5 kilometers. At the train station there’s an international departures window where we bought our tickets with credit card, stored our bags in the station lockers and wandered out into the city to kill a few hours.
The bus ride from Dubrovnik to Kotor is about 2 hours and runs pretty frequently throughout the day. The bus we took was filled to capacity and continued to pick up travelers along the way–so beware you could have a random Croatian armpit in your face for part of the ride. It cost about 10€ each and the ticket window only took cash. We chose to use our leftover Croatian Kuna and save our Euros for Montenegro since the Euro is the currency of the country.Once in Kotor everything is well within walking distance. There are some buses that will take you to the neighboring cities like Perast and Orahovac (all of which looked beautiful as we passed, but were unable to visit due to time restraints).
We stayed at Apartments Coso and were really happy with our decision. The apartments are just a 10 minute walk from the old town and ours had a kitchenette. Some of the apartments have private balconies overlooking the bay, ours didn’t but there was a communal balcony with a grill we did take advantage of. The owner of the apartments didn’t speak much English, but Dave knows some French and we were able to get by with his French and hand gestures. Even with the language barrier she was incredibly friendly and offered us cold beers upon our arrival and fresh coffee the morning we left.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
We made two stops in Bosnia. The first to the Drina-Tara Rafting Center only 7 kilometers past the Montenegro/Bosnian boarder and then the two of Bihac for a quick stay before crossing back into Croatia.
Kotor to Drina-Tara Rafting Center: It was impossible to locate accurate bus schedules online for Bosnia, but luckily buses ran relatively frequently in the summer. To get from Kotor to Bosnia we had to make our way on to the capital of Podgorica and transfer. All the buses in Kotor leave from the main bus station located on the main road running through town, directly past the round about. For bus timetables in Montenegro check out the Montenegro Hostel website.
The ride from Kotor to Podgorica is a little over two hours with stops. From 8:00 am-8:00 pm buses run about every half hour/hour. We paid about 9€ each/ticket and got on a 9:00 am bus to ensure that we arrived in Podgorica in plenty of time for the 1:35 pm bus to Sarajevo. We were unable to buy the tickets for both segments of our trip in Kotor so when we got to Podgorica we had to purchase the next leg. The ticket office only took cash and no one spoke any English. We had to buy a ticket all the way to Sarajevo even though our stop was two hours short of the capital, 7 kilometers over the Montenegro boarder. The rafting company provides detailed directions on where to get out and we passed them along to our bus driver who let us off right outside the entrance to the Center.
Drina-Tara Rafting Center to Bihac: Our initial concern was getting to the city of Foča, but the wonderful staff at Drina-Tara Rafting Center helped us out by driving us to the bus station- about a 30 minute drive. In Foča we purchased tickets to Sarajevo. Tickets were about 12€ or 24 Bosnian Marks each. The “bus” was more of an overcrowded van with a leaky air conditioner (very typical Balkan Express style), but we made good time and got to Sarajevo in a little over two hours.
Sarajevo has two bus stations, the Main Bus Station and the East Sarajevo station. Our bus arrived at the East Sarajevo station and we had to take a cab over to the Main Station. The cab cost 14 Bosnian Marks (about 7€) and only took 10 minutes. We were easily able to buy tickets from Sarajevo to Bihac (pronounced Bi-atch). They took only cash (there was an ATM at the station) and the tickets were about 24€ (48 Bosnian Marks) each. The six-hour bus ride left at 1:00, but after multiple stops and one break down where the bus drove away with all our luggage for an hour we didn’t make it to Bihac until almost 9:00. Luckily cabs were waiting at the station and for 10€ we made it to our hotel.
We booked one night at the Hotel De Luxe Kostelski Buk. We had to book though emailing the hotel (no online system), but were so happy we did. After riding the Balkan Express for more than 10 hours it was so refreshing to be in a big, beautiful, private hotel room with a private shower and a king size bed. There weren’t any food options around the hotel, but we were able to snag a spot on the outdoor patio at the Hotel’s restaurant. The food was hearty, the portions huge and the entire bill (with wine) came out to less than 20€!
Ljubljana and Lake Bled:
We stayed at Hostel Tresor right off Prešeren Square by the Triple Bridge. We opted to stay in a ten bed co-ed dorm which only put us back 68€ for two nights. Ljubljana’s bus station is directly next to the train station and within walking distance from the city center. Our destination was Lake Bled and luckily buses to Bled leave every 30 minutes (at least during the summer). The cost was 7€/person each way and the trip takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes. We paid our fare directly to the bus driver. We did have to make one transfer and the bus makes about 5-6 stops along the way- we just asked the bus driver to announce the transfer to Bled and were also able to follow the other tourists heading the same way as us.
The bus stop in Bled is about 2 blocks from the lake. If you walk to the right you’ll pass a “water park” with blocked off swimming areas, chairs and a couple of slides, but you have to pay a steep entrance fee. If you keep walking you’ll come across a small beach and some information about the Slovenian Olympic rowing team. And just past there we found a number of small alcoves right on the lake to set up a towel and enjoy the water with a little privacy. There were some food options back at the bus stop, but we opted to go for cheap and brought our lunch from a grocery shop back in Ljubljana. We spent 4 hours swimming and relaxing before heading back to the bus depot where we caught a ride back to Ljubljana (no transfer this time). For more information on bus timetables and routes in Slovenia check out APC site.
Back in Ljubljana we were able to walk everywhere we wanted to go. We did pay a couple bucks to take the funicular up to the castle because we were feeling lazy, but the walk back down was nice. The next morning we packed up early and walked back to the train station where we caught a train from Ljubljana to Freilassing where we picked up a rental car and started off on a week-long road trip around Bavaria.