Home Tourism South Africans are using Montenegro to avoid the UK red list – here’s why it’s a great option

South Africans are using Montenegro to avoid the UK red list – here’s why it’s a great option

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This article is part of the Business Insider South Africa archive, which was published as part of a partnership between News24 and Insider Inc between 2018 and 2023.

Perast.  Photo: Andrew Thompson.

Perast. Photo: Andrew Thompson.

  • South Africans have been among the most restricted travelers in the world during the pandemic.
  • And the restrictions on those wishing to travel to or return to the UK have been particularly heavy.
  • But wily travelers have found loopholes in the system – mainly by choosing to stopover in countries which are not on the UK’s red list.
  • Mexico and West Africa quickly emerged as viable options.
  • But it is the Balkans, and in particular Montenegro, which currently seem to be winning.
  • Here’s why Montenegro is worth a visit – whether or not you plan to use it to bypass red list restrictions.

* This article has been updated below.

Note: As of Monday 27 August 2021, the United Kingdom has placed Montenegro in its red list. Although Montenegro is still open to eligible travelers from South Africa, it can no longer be considered a stopover destination to avoid quarantine on arrival in the UK.

South Africans have been among the most restricted travelers in the world since the creation of Covid-19 travel “red lists”.

Although most African countries have remained open for leisure travel without quarantine restrictions, those wishing to visit Europe – or even return home to countries like the UK – often face at least 11 days self-funded isolation upon arrival.

But those who want to avoid lengthy and expensive stays in quarantine hotels upon arrival in England – often in tiny airport hotel rooms – have been looking for loopholes almost since restrictions began.

Mexico, the Maldives and a handful of West African countries have all allowed travelers to spend several days on holiday without quarantining upon arrival in the UK, at various stages of the pandemic. And although governments have played a game of whack-a-mole to try to fill these gaps, Montenegro has become one of the most popular and reliable springboards.

With its sparkling Adriatic coastline, fjord-like natural features, fascinating history, reasonable prices and easy access, the Balkan country is also a viable tourist destination in its own right.

Although South Africans with a valid Schengen visa can enter Montenegro for 30 days without a visa, it is a destination that has gone unnoticed by local travelers – often losing out to more popular coastal destinations like Greece and even neighboring Croatia.

But time it right, and it’s a destination that ticks several travel boxes – including one of Europe’s most spectacular train journeys that costs just a handful of coins.

Although not the capital (that title belongs to inland Podgorica), Kotor is the main attraction for most visitors to Montenegro.

Aerial view of Kotor from the city steps above.  Ph.

Aerial view of Kotor from the city steps above. Photo: Andrew Thompson.

Its old town is defined by stone buildings and cobbled streets that hide cozy bars and decent restaurants. The city overlooks a sparkling bay and a small port popular with cruise ships.

Above it all stands an ancient defensive wall, built by the Illyrians, which offers spectacular views of the city and bay.

Roam the city walls above Kotor.  Photo: André

Roam the city walls above Kotor. Photo: Andrew Thompson.

A short – and cheap – bus ride from Kotor is photogenic Perast. It’s made its way into many Instagram feeds and travel brochures, and for good reason. There you will find a selection of restaurants and tourist boats waiting to take you into the bay.

Perast.  Photo: Andrew Thompson.

Perast. Photo: Andrew Thompson.

One of the bay’s main attractions is the artificial islet Notre-Dame des Rochers, where you’ll find a 17th-century Roman Catholic church.

Photo: Andrew Thompson.

Our Lady on the Rocks. Photo: Andrew Thompson.

A walk on the winding path in front of Kotor’s old town also offers constantly changing views, including of the fjord-like mountains.

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro.  Photo: Andrew Thompson.

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro. Photo: Andrew Thompson.

Although often called Europe’s southernmost fjord, the Bay of Kotor is instead an ancient drowned river valley that geomorphologists call a ria.

Photo: Andrew Thompson.

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro. Photo: Andrew Thompson.

Continue towards the summit and Montenegro delivers on another fascinating front: that of its turbulent past. The abandoned Fort Vrmac, built in the late 1800s during the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is beautifully preserved. Although officially closed to the public, entry points exist for those brave enough to explore its dark, dank and sometimes dangerous labyrinthine interior.

Fort Vrmac.  Photo: Andrew Thompson.

Fort Vrmac. Photo: Andrew Thompson.

Further along the Montenegrin coast are several other seaside resorts that are worth a visit – if not for an extended stay, then at least for a day trip. Many come to life during the warmer summer months, when tourists, especially Russians, come to enjoy the sparkling waters and a sense of opulence. At other times, towns like Budva are low-key and virtually abandoned.

Budva.  Photo: Andrew Thompson.

Budva. Photo: Andrew Thompson.

The town of Bar is most famous for its train station which is the start or finish point of one of the most sensational train journeys in the country and the continent. But a day there offers several underrated attractions, like an olive tree believed to be more than 2,000 years old.

A 2,000-year-old olive tree in Bar, Montenegro.  Ph.

A 2,000-year-old olive tree in Bar, Montenegro. Photo: Andrew Thompson.

From Bar it is possible to take perhaps one of Europe’s most spectacular train journeys inland to the capital, or further afield to neighboring Serbia. Often ironically called the Montenegro Express, this is not a trip for those in a hurry, nor for those who worry about heights, stuffy carriages and the occasional rusty bridge post. But for just a handful of coins, the train ride offers some of the most incredible high-altitude rail scenery imaginable, especially if you plan it in the fall.

Photo: Andrew Thompson

Autumn on the Montenegro Express. Photo: Andrew Thompson

The train route was initially built to run Tito’s Blue Train, which is now languishing in a warehouse in Belgrade. During the journey between Bar and Belgrade, the train passes through 254 tunnels and crosses 435 bridges, including the Mala Rijeka Viaduct, which at the time was the tallest of its type in the world.

Photo: Andrew Thompson

Gain altitude on the Montenegro Express. Photo: Andrew Thompson

Entering Montenegro

South Africans need a passport valid for at least three months after arriving in Montenegro. A visa is required for entry – which can be obtained at the Serbian consulate in Pretoria. But holders of a valid visa issued by Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States or any other Schengen member state are entitled to 30 days of visa-free entry.

British nationals are allowed to stay without a visa for up to 90 days.

At the time of publication, travelers arriving in Montenegro must have a negative PCR test within 72 hours or travel or have been fully vaccinated 14 days before arrival.

Getting to Montenegro

There are no direct flights between South Africa and Montenegro.

Several airlines transit through European hubs, but the fastest route between the two countries is that of Turkish Airlines. The best option departs from Johannesburg on Saturday evening, requires a connection in Istanbul and arrives in Podgorica by 9am the next morning.

Depending on dates and routes, flights cost between R10,000 and R14,000 return to South Africa – and about the same price if you continue to the UK without a return to South Africa South.

Avoid quarantine

Montenegro is currently on the UK’s list Orange list. Provided travelers stay in this region for 10 days, this should be enough to avoid South Africa’s red list status.

According to UK Government Regulations, before traveling, unvaccinated travelers arriving in England must have booked and paid for two future Covid-19 tests. On arrival in England, unvaccinated travelers must present a negative Covid test.

Travelers from Amber regions are not required to quarantine in a government-mandated facility – but must quarantine in the location where they are staying for 10 days – and take Covid-19 tests as soon as possible. days two and eight.

* This article has been updated to reflect the correct number of days required to stay in a UK amber list country to avoid mandatory quarantine on arrival. The required time frame is currently 10 days, not 14 as initially stated.

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