National park Lake Skadar is the most visited of the 5 national parks in Montenegro. As the name indicates, the main part of the national park is a lake, the Skadar lake which is a 400-500 km2 (varies during the year) fresh water lake on the border between Montenegro and Albania.
Dolphin-shaped Lake Skadar (Skadransko Jezero), the Balkans largest, has its tail and two-thirds of its body in Montenegro and its nose in Albania. On the Montenegrin side, an area of 400 sq km has been protected by a national park since 1983, today Skadar is renowned as one of Europe’s top bird habitats.
The main albeit tiny towns here are Virpazar and Vranjina, though if you’ve got wheels, you can easily explore the handful of timeless villages sprinkled along the shore. Lake Skadar is a popular escape for nature lovers, outdoor-activity aficionados and locals fleeing the heat of Podgorica. Legend has it that the lake was created by the tears of a pixie, that may be fanciful, but after one look at magical Skadar, you may find yourself believing in fairy tales too.
Millions of years ago the sea met the shores of Lake Skadar, as witnessed by the seashell fossils still found scattered about the area. Tectonic plates moved, volcanos flowed and the sea levels subsided, leaving the Zeta-Skadar plain to emerge between the karst (limestone) mountains of the Dinaric Alps range.
While legend has it that a young bride, excited by the prospect of her husband’s return, forgot to turn off a fountain tap (overnight producing the lake’s sweet waters), the true story of Lake Skadar’s creation is just as incredible. A violent thunderstorm in 1858 sent the river Drim into a frenzy, creating such a build up at the mouth of the river Bojana that its course was shifted, flooding an existing pool and producing the largest lake in the Balkans.
Fed by the Moraća river and and a series of underwater springs, the lake’s circumference expands from 370 square kilometres in summer to a massive 530 square kilometres in winter.
On average it is 44km long, 10km wide and 8 metres deep, although its deepest point, a spring at Raduš, is a crypto-depression (below sea level) at more than 60 metres depth.
From lush swamp vegetation to ancient chesnuts forests and rocky islets covered with shrubs and pomegranates, the variety of habitats offered by Lake Skadar attract a range of wildlife almost without equal in Europe.
On the lake live 264 species of birds, 73 species are nesting migratory birds, 18 species are regular visitors, 45 are winter guests and 12 species regularly spend summer without nesting. The reason for such a large variety of birds is ecological and geological peculiarity as well as undisturbed ecosystem. Most often you can see cormorants, red, white and blue herons, grebes, mallards, Moor hens and others. A place of honor certainly occupies the Dalmatian pelican (Pelicaneus crispus). With a length of 160-190cm, weight 10-12kg, and a wingspan of up to 3m fascinates a large number of ornithologists who come every year because of these unusual birds. Because of its feathery curls at the nape was named “curly” pelican, and hence vary from white pelicans, and body covered with blue-gray feathers. This species inhabits freshwater lakes and estuaries and is globally threatened. Dalmatian pelican is the main attraction of Lake Skadar and it’s trademark. It’s not just about the birds, however. The mountains are home to an abundance of wild tortoises, brilliantly coloured lizards and amphibians and even snakes (don’t worry, we know which ones to look out for!). If you’re lucky, you may even catch sight of wild boar and even a wolf or two in winter.
Every path and pasture is full of the medicinal herbs for which the area is famous, and wild orchids grow among them. In summer, water lilies line the surface of the lake. In winter, as the lake swells by over 100 square kilometres, pike, perch, trout and carp join the estimated 50,000 birds wintering in the region.
Lake Skadar has 48 fish species of which 15 are endemic. The best known are: bleak, eel, mullet, grasshoppers and others.
Bleak is particularly interesting because it lives exclusively in the Skadar Lake. It is an indigenous species and in her honor every year, in Virpazar, traditionally is held festival called “Days of Wine and bleak”. In combination with Crmnicko wine this fish represents the specialty of Lake Skadar.
Getting to National park Lake Skadar
If you are going to visit the national park and take a boat trip of the lakes, the place you should go to is Virpazar which is just 800 metres from the main national park entrance and the visitors centre. Another place you could consider exploring is in Vranjine or Rijeka Crnojevica, but the best one is for sure Virpazar where you have most options in relation to exploring the national park.
Entrance ticket price is like in national park Durmitor very modest, for NP Skadar it costs 4 € per person and includes entrance to the visitors centre in Virpazar and Vranjine.
By car: if you have a car available, driving to the national park Skadar is probably the easiest way of getting there, although moving around in the Montenegrin traffic can be a bit adventurous. Here are the approximate distances and driving times from the most popular holiday destination to the national park entrance in Virpazar:
- Virpazar (NP Entrance) – Podgorica – 29 km – 30-35 minutes
- Virpazar (NP Entrance) – Budva – 42 km – 50-60 minutes
- Virpazar (NP Entrance) – Kotor – 65 km – 1 hour 15 minutes
- Virpazar (NP Entrance) – Bar – 24 km – 30 minutes
- Virpazar (NP Entrance) – Ulcinj – 50 km – 1 hour
Parking is possible within the walking distance of the entrance.
By train: Train connection to the station in Virpazar is available from Podgorica, Podgorica airport, Bar and Sutomore. From all 3 towns there are between 5 and 10 daily departures, tickets are inexpensive and cost just a few euros. The train station in Virpazar is located about 800 meters from the national park entrance, so going there by train is for sure an option to consider.
By bus: reaching the national park Skadar lake by public bus if for sure possible. What you need to buy is a ticket to Virpazar, do not ask for a ticket to Skadar as they might misunderstand you and think you wish to travel to Shkodër in Albania, once on the bus, notify the driver that you are going to National park Skadar and ask if he could let you out close to the entrance which will save you the 800 metre walk from Virpazar.
Bus from Podgorica to lake Skadar: daily there are around 10 buses driving from Podgorica and Virpazar. The bus travel time is around 30-40 minutes; tickets which can be bought at the bus station in Podgorica or on the bus cost around 2-3 Euro.
Bus from Budva to lake Skadar: all buses which drive from Budva to Pogorica via Petrovac also pass Virpazar. Usually there is at least a handful of buses driving this route. Alternatively, take one of the very frequent buses from Budva to Petrovac and then catch a bus from there on to Virpazar. The bus travel time from Budva to Skadar is between 45 minutes and 1 hour 15 minutes with the bus change in Petrovac.
Bus from Kotor to lake Skadar: take a bus from Kotor to Petrovac and change to a bus from Petrovac to Podgorica. Travel time by bus is between 1 hour 30 minutes and 2 hours; tickets can be bought at the bus station in Kotor or on the bus.
From other popular holiday tows like Ulcinj, Bar, Sutomore you also have direct buses to Skadar (Virpazar). From northern towns like Tivat, Herceg Novi you should travel via Petrovac.