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.
Hiking the Entire Ladder of Kotor
Distance: 6.4 km (4 miles) one way; 12.8 km (8 miles) round trip
Total Ascent: 940 meters
Length of Time: 3 to 6 hours
The trail starts next to the Old Town of Kotor. The trail ends on P1 very close to Restaurant Nevjesta Jadrana. From the Old Town to Restaurant Nevjestra Jadrana it is 4 miles one way, 8 miles round trip if you hike back to Kotor.
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.
Important Note: We have heard several reports lately that the access point to get onto the castle walls is guarded by a security guard. Hikers are getting turned away and told that they are not allowed onto the castle walls without paying the fee. There is no fee station at this point. You must hike down into town and pay the fee here. Therefore, you might have to hike the Ladder of Kotor separately from walking the walls.
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.
Update: Beginning September 2019, we have heard reports from our readers that the window on the wall is now being guarded by a security guard. Hikers are being turned away. In order to hike the castle walls, you must return to town and pay the fee at the bottom of the castle walls. I am not sure if this will work, but maybe you can pay the fee and get your ticket in town, then hike the Ladder of Kotor, show the guard your ticket, and then hike down the castle walls.
If you want to learn more, or if you want to try this out and confirm if it works or if it fails, check out our comment section at the end of this article. And a big thanks to all of you who help keep this post updated! 🙂
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.
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.
The entire trail is on Google Maps. Cache your maps before you start your hike so you know where you are on the trail.
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.
Please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.
Does this look like something you would want to do? If you have any questions, comment below!
More Information about Montenegro
BALKAN PENINSULA ITINERARY: Learn how to combine Croatia, Montenegro, and Bosnia & Herzegovina into one epic road trip in our 11 Day Balkan Peninsula Itinerary.
BEST OF MONTENEGRO: On the quickest of visits, 2 days is all you need to see the highlights of Montenegro. For more inspiration, journey through Montenegro in 22 beautiful photos.
PLACES TO GO IN CROATIA: Along the Dalmatian Coast, the towns of Split, Trogir, and Dubrovnik are wonderful coastal towns to add to your Croatia itinerary. We also have information about how to visit the island of Brac, how to explore the amazing Plitvice Lakes, and visit the Istrian Peninsula.
MORE GREAT HIKES IN EUROPE: From thrilling trails in the Alps to easy walks along the coast, read our article 20 Best Hikes in Europe for some beautiful hiking trails to put on your travel wish list.
Planning a trip to Montenegro? Read all of our articles about Montenegro on our Montenegro Travel Guide.
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