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Balkan Blitz, Reliable Buses, and November Cheap Room Availability

Against many leisure travelers' advice, my wife and I will attempt an ambitious 7-day Balkans blitz from Sofia, Bulgaria to Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina. We will fly into Sofia on Saturday November 23 and fly out of Sarajevo on Saturday November 30. We plan to travel between the two on public buses via Ohrid, Macedonia, Tirana, Albania, Kotor, Montenegro, and Dubrovnik, Croatia.

I've used www.balkanviator.com to plan the intricate schedule of 5 bus trips, which I've pasted below, for those who are detail-oriented.

My questions center around the availability of bus seats and cheap lodging at this time of year.

  1. Is there generally a need to buy bus tickets in advance this time of year? If so, should I try that online or by phone, connecting to each bus station (or bus company), where available?

  2. If not, does it make sense to try to buy them the night before at each bus station, when I can get there (and when there's actually a bus station)?

  3. Is there generally even a need to buy tickets more than an hour ahead?

I've booked lodging at Sofia, Ohrid, Tirana, Kotor, Dubrovnik, and Sarajevo, which I could cancel without penalty about 3 days before arrival, in most cases through http://www.booking.com/. But if we were to miss a bus at the last minute, we'd have to scramble to get caught up--perhaps by taking a less desirable later bus, if any--or lose the cost of that night's reserved lodging.

  1. Is there a general answer to how reliable the balkanviator schedules will turn out to be?

  2. Should I cancel most of the lodging reservations now and hope to restore them ad hoc on a daily basis during the trip?

Thank you very much!

Chuck Strain


Feel free to ignore the details below.

Sunday November 24 – Sofia, Bulgaria to Ohrid, Macedonia

Depart Sofia main bus station for Ohrid at 13:30 on bus route 19940, arriving at 22:50.

Monday November 25 – Ohrid, Macedonia to Tirana, Albania

Take a bus or minibus leaving every 15 minutes from the main Ohrid bus station (or several places it circulates to around Ohrid) to Struga. For example, take the Galeb Bus Company's route 18254, departing the main bus station at 13:30, arriving in Struga at 13:55.

Then catch the 14:40 Baškim Turs bus (route 19860) from Struga to Tirana, arriving at 20:00.

Tuesday November 26 – Tirana, Albania to Kotor, Montenegro

(Is the correct bus stop to get to Montenegro on Rruga Karl Gega a bit north of Ruga Reshit Petrela?)

Catch the 14:00 route 11622 bus from Tirana to Ulcinj, Montenegro, arriving at 17:30.

Then take 19:30 route 28083 bus from Ulcinj to Kotor, arriving at 21:59.

Wednesday November 27 – Kotor, Montenegro to Dubrovnik, Croatia

Depart Kotor main bus station at 15:10 on route 11321 bus to Dubrovnik, arriving at 17:15.

Friday November 29 – Dubrovnik, Croatia to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Depart Dubrovnik main bus station at 08:00 on the route 16330 bus to Sarajevo, arriving at 14:45.

Posted by
3 posts

Dear Matthew,

Thanks! I assume your private car travels weren't in a rental car. I've read that it's impossible in some cases, and very expensive in others, to drive from one of these nations into another in a rental car. The drop-off fee with my open-jaw itinerary, probable parking fees in each of the city centers where I'll be staying, and rough roads (especially in Albania) would also militate against a rental car. But should I reconsider, please?

Chuck Strain

Posted by
2130 posts

That is a bunch of traveling. I sure wouldn't do that. Have you ever been to this area? If so, you know what to see, but if you haven't, why not cut down your itinerary, and do less traveling? For instance, if you stuck with Croatia, you could rent a car in country and return it in country. You could probably rent in Zagreb, go to Sarajevo and Macedonia, and end up in Dubrovnik to return the car. Every move will take an hour to pack, an hour to unpack, and an hour to unfrazzle.

Posted by
12327 posts

Each to their own but I see that you are spending four days of sunrise to sunset traveling on busses in order to get from Sofia to Dubrovnik where you will spend one night. Huh? I hope you are spending a week in Bulgaria first to enjoy the beautiful country; one of my favorite places. If you must get to Dubrovnik then might I suggest that you purchase a private transfer for about 225 euro from Sofia to Belgrade and then fly from Belgrade to Kotor (stunning place) for maybe another couple hundred euro and then purchasing another private transfer for another couple hundred euro to Dubrovnik. If you are traveling alone it’s a little pricey but if it’s two or more of you it’s pretty cheap as the car trips are per car not per person. Sure you can do it cheaper buy why would you want to buss past all the reasons to be there in the first place. In May I am making a repeat trip to the region. After spending a week in Montenegro I will fly from Kotor to Belgrade and then hire a driver to Vidin, Bulgaria stopping along the way to see the sights along the Danube; and then another driver to Sofia the next day where I will begin a week of slow steady sightseeing. Of course this is my humble opinion. But I am the sort of person who can spend two weeks in Budapest; just living.

Posted by
2932 posts

James, most people who travel to this region of Europe are doing so because it's a budget destination. Hiring private drivers constantly and taking flights from small airports not well served by budget airlines can easily turn a trip like this into something that costs as much as a week in Paris.

Had I seen this before the OP went, I would have advised on making some major changes. I did a Balkan Blitz myself of Romania, Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia last year with 10 days. It was still way too much time on buses. I would have advised the OP to spend the week in Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, then Dubrovnik (still a rushed trip) or focused exclusively on Bosnia and Herzegovinia, Montenegro, and Croatia (also still a rushed trip!)

Really curious how the trip went for the OP. Did the connections all work out?

Posted by
12327 posts

Sarah, “most people who travel to this region of Europe are doing so because it's a budget destination” I haven’t seen the statistics on that and sort of doubt that “most” people go to Central Europe primarily because its cheap; although that might be one of the factors. I would expect that a lot go not because they can travel cheaper but because they can get more for their money and a lot would go at any price because there is something in the region that interests them. This is all pretty subjective and you are just as correct as I am so I am not arguing with you but I will give you the point of view I have when planning a trip.

A moderate 9 day trip to Central Europe in June, departing from the Midwestern US will set you back about $4500 for two people for plane tickets, food, moderate hotel and the like Since you spend three days traveling to and from Europe the real ground time is only 6 days and that averages to $700 a day. Now if I spend 12 hours in a train that’s pretty much a lost day, but if I spend $300 on better transportation where I can stop and see things along the way I salvage the $700 day. But again this is sort of silly and subjective. This is VACATION and it should be whatever makes it the most enjoyable. That can be a long cheap trip or a shorter more expensive trip. There isn’t a right or wrong. The hardest thing I do when planning a trip is balancing time and entertainment value and cost. Its always a headache.

While Chuck's plan would be pure misery for me I bet he has a most excellent time.