There are plenty of great things to do in Kotor, such as touring the Old Town, walking the medieval walls, or going on a scenic drive around the Bay of Kotor. For those looking for a little more adventure, how about hiking the Ladder of Kotor? This hike takes you high up into the mountains behind Kotor for one of the best views of the area.
We can’t turn down a unique hiking experience and the Ladder of Kotor looked amazing. With over 70 switchbacks on a trail with a long history, this hike was one of the things we looked forward to most in Montenegro.
Hiking the Ladder of Kotor
History of the Trail
The Ladder of Kotor is also known as the Ladder of Cattaro. This hiking trail is what remains from the legendary route that connected Kotor with Njegusi village and Cetinje. For centuries, this was the only path connecting Kotor and Cetinje.
From Kotor, the trail climbs up the mountains to Krstac Pass. Those who climb all of the way to the top (940 meters) will be rewarded by phenomenal views of the Bay of Kotor and beyond.
We visited Kotor in mid-April on a ten-day road trip through Montenegro, Croatia, and Bosnia & Herzegovina.
We arrived in Kotor in the early afternoon. Earlier in the day, we drove from Dubrovnik, stopping at Herceg Novi, Perast, and Our Lady of the Rocks, before arriving in Kotor. Tim and I contemplated the wisdom of starting a long, arduous hike so late in the day. But clouds and rain were in the forecast for tomorrow, so we figured that today was our best bet.
After filling Tim’s backpack with bottles of water and snacks bought in the Old Town, our hike began. It was 4 pm and we had only three and half hours of daylight left in the day.
The trailhead is outside of the Old Town. To get there, walk down the road just west of the two channels of water (depending on the season this could be a dry riverbed) that sit to the west of the Old Town. The road is lined with old buildings, but you should be able to see the trail zig-zagging up the mountain in front of you.
Here are the Google coordinates for the trailhead: 42.427211, 18.773356
The Switchbacks of the Ladder of Kotor
The trail doesn’t waste any time gaining elevation. Back and forth it zigzags up the mountain. As little as ten minutes into the hike you will start to see those first amazing views over the Bay of Kotor.
The trail is very easy to follow. There are red and white blazes painted on the rocks along the trail.
The trail is very rocky and sometimes uneven. We constantly had to watch where to step so we wouldn’t twist an ankle. The higher you go, the rockier the trail seems to get.
There are at least 70 switchbacks on the trail. I read somewhere that there are exactly 72, but since we never counted them, I cannot give a definite answer of how many there really are. But it’s a lot. With so much constant climbing while zigzagging up the mountain, this hike can feel monotonous.
However, the views were spectacular. The main reason why you should do this hike is because of the view. However, since we hiked the Ladder of Kotor in the late afternoon, we were constantly looking into the setting sun as we looked out over Kotor and the bay. If you are doing this hike and want to capture the best photographs, start in the morning for the best experience.
About 30 to 45 minutes into the climb, a second trail breaks off to the right, heading over to the Chapel of St Ivan (this small church is labeled on Google Maps as Saint John; signage in Kotor refers to it as the Chapel of St Ivan) and Castle of San Giovanni. At this point, you can end your hike up the Ladder of Kotor and hike down via the castle walls. Or, continue up the mountain. The views do continue to get better.
Once you reach this house, you can choose to continue climbing up the Ladder of Kotor or take the trail to the Castle of San Giovanni.
We hiked the majority of the Ladder of Kotor. An hour and a half into the hike, just past the last of the main switchbacks, we decided to turn around. The dwindling sunlight forced us to end our hike early. We did not think it would be wise to hike down this rocky trail in darkness.
Chapel of St. Ivan
To return to Kotor, take the trail towards the Castle of San Giovanni so you can hike down via the walls of Kotor, ending directly in the Old Town. Walking the fortress walls is a must-have experience while in Kotor and it’s very convenient that you can add it on at the end of this hike.
After you descend down roughly half of the switchbacks of the Ladder of Kotor, turn left on the trail leading towards the castle. There are a few small houses (and one very loud dog) here.
In a shady valley sits the Chapel of St. Ivan. This old, Catholic church is worth a peek.
Castle of San Giovanni
Continue on the trail to the fortress. You literally have to climb through a window on the wall to get onto the fortress.
Note: This entrance may be closed. If so, you will have to hike back into town and then enter the Castle from Kotor.
Once the sun sets behind the far mountain, it gets dark fast in Kotor. We had limited time to climb up to the castle and then down into town.
Once on the fortress walls you will need to climb several long, narrow staircases that lead up to the Castle of San Giovanni. The view from up here really is spectacular. Especially at sunset. And somehow we timed this perfectly. This is one of the best spots in Kotor to watch the sunset.
From the Castle of San Giovanni, it takes about 30 minutes to descend a series of stone staircases into town. Along the way, there are still plenty of great places for photos. This shot, with the bell tower of the Church of Our Lady of Health and the Bay of Kotor, is my favorite.
The trail ends in the Old Town, very close to the Cathedral of St. Tryphon.
Our Route, in Summary
From Kotor, we hiked up the Ladder of Kotor for 3.1 miles, climbing 1925 feet. We turned around after the switchbacks ended, then took the detour to the fortress. We hiked up to the Castle of San Giovanni and then down into the Old Town. Our total distance was 6.3 miles and it took us 3 hours to do this hike.
Hiking the Entire Ladder of Kotor
Distance: 4 miles (one way); 8 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 940 meters
Length of Time: 5 hours
The trail starts next to the Old Town of Kotor. The trail ends on P1 very close to Restaurant Nevjesta Jadrana.
We hiked all but 1 km of the hike. The final part of the hike travels through a pine forest and heads uphill to the road P1.
On our second day in Kotor, we drove to this point. This is the view from the end of the trail.
Alternative Routes to the Ladder of Kotor
Hiking the Ladder of Kotor Top Down
If an 8 mile hike does not sound interesting, how about hiking it one way? I am not sure how much it would cost, but if you can arrange transportation to the trailhead on P1, you could walk downhill the entire way to Kotor. You will have to decide whether to hike down via the switchbacks or the fortress.
Hike Just a Portion of the Ladder of Kotor
Hike up the first part of the switchbacks. When you reach the trail that heads towards the fortress, take it. See the Chapel of St. Ivan and the Castle of San Giovanni, and enjoy the view over Kotor.
How to Have the Best Experience
In the summertime it can get hot. Start this hike in the morning to beat the heat.
If you want the best photographs, the lighting is better in the morning. In the afternoon, you will be shooting directly into the setting sun.
Hiking shoes are ideal but good supportive shoes such as running shoes work well. Tyler, Kara, and I all wore running shoes and we did not have any issues.
Post updated August 2018.
Does this look like something you would want to do? If you have any questions, comment below!
You May Also Like:
- Montenegro: 10 Epic Days on the Balkan Peninsula: Croatia, Montenegro, and Bosnia & Herzegovina
- Montenegro: 22 Photos that will Make You Want to Visit Montenegro
- Bosnia & Herzegovina: Mostar: How to Plan the Perfect Visit
- France: The Paris Bucket List: 45 Must-Have Experiences in Paris
- Croatia: Top 10 Things to do in Split, Croatia
- Europe: 10 Days in Europe: 5 Amazing Itineraries
- Italy: 10 Things to do on Your First Visit to Florence