Skiing in Bosnia

It’s that time year to dust off your skis and plan a winter getaway to the slopes! Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is Austria, Switzerland or France, where you can expect some excellent conditions. However, if you’re looking to escape the crowds and visit a destination with stunning scenery, fantastic conditions, friendly locals, all without breaking the bank, then try skiing in Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Skiing in Jahorina

Skiing in Jahorina

Bosnia & Herzegovina offers three ski resorts all within a short drive from the capital city, Sarajevo. The three ski resorts include, Igman, Bjelasnica and home to the 1984 Winter Olympics, Jahorina. Probably the best skiing can be had at Jahorina, not as high as Bjelasnica, but always with plenty of snow. Jahorina has some 20 ski runs perfect for skiers and snowboarders of various skill levels, those looking for adventure or those with young children. In fact, some ski runs in Jahorina are up to 1.5 km in length! Jahorina also has up to 8 lifts operating able to take 7,500 visitors an hour. While there are very few snow machines, you can be guaranteed a great time skiing in Bosnia & Herzegovina! Click here if you want a live webcam of Jahorina!

One of the first things that comes to mind for most is whether Bosnia is a safe place to visit, let alone going skiing in the mountains. The answer is yes, and there has been a lot of improvements and reconstruction since the war of the 1990’s. If you take a walk down the centre of Sarajevo you’ll notice trendy cafes, fashionable clothing stores and fantastic restaurants serving up both Balkan and international cuisines.

Ski Centre Jahorina

Ski Centre Jahorina

Accommodation is also plentiful with various mountain retreats and hotels in Sarajevo. One such accommodation in the ski resort of Bjelasnica is Hotel Maršal Bjelašnica, whilst in Jahorina you find the highly recommended Hotel Termag, also a favourite amongst both locals and foreigners.

If you do decide on skiing in Jahorina you can expect to pay as little as EUR 75 per adult and EUR 50 per child for a six-day ski pass. There are also plenty of services available up at the mountain including ski hire and also ski instructors if you’re just a beginner! Want a little more adventure? You can even hire a snow mobile for as little as EUR 50 per hour for up to four persons.

If you would like to take a ski holiday in Bosnia, take a look at the getting to Sarajevo blog. There are now various flights and cheaper options available.

In short, Bosnia is ideal for a winter break that offers the best of both worlds. You ski by day and enjoy the urban attractions of Sarajevo by night. Find information about selecting cheap hotels in Sarajevo with this blog or visit whl.travel’s local Sarajevo Hotel connection.

Top 5 Historic Sites in Bosnia and Herzegovina

1. Stari Most

When Mostar’s 16th-century bridge was rebuilt after the 90s conflict, it became a new symbol of unity and hope. The only turmoil here these days is the fast-flowing river, into which young Bosnians dive, from 24m up, to test their mettle.

2. Bascarsija

Sarajevo’s Old Town is filled with mosques, artisan workshops, Jewish temples and bars that buzz all night long. Do as the locals do and down a cup of coffee, fill up on bosanski cevapi and start walking the cobbled streets.

3. Ilidza

Ilidza is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s longest continuously inhabited sites. Neolithic ruins have been found and the Romans and Ottomans both had their time here. Contemplate the history as you soak in the town’s famous thermal baths.

4. Tunnel Museum

During the war, a tunnel was used to smuggle food, fuel and injured soldiers between the city and the free zone. The 20 m of the tunnel which still exists has been turned into an emotional insight into life during war.

5. Jewish Museum

This fascinating museum is housed in a 16th-century synagogue. Its bare stone walls and timber floors breathe the history of Jews in Sarajevo over the past 400 years.

Travelling Through Bosnia

Travelling Through BosniaThe Tunnel of Hope

The airport of Sarajevo is on our right. We can see the planes a couple of a hundred meters away from us. We made it to the destination that I have heard so much about since I was a little girl. The tunnel of hope; we made it to the tunnel of hope.

Today, this tunnel is a tourist attraction. Everyone who passes by Sarajevo makes sure to come by. During the war, Sarajevo was surrounded by the Serb and Croat armies. Nor people nor supplies could enter or exit the city. The UN decided it would throw packages of food and clothing from the air space above. But even that, the Serb army wouldn’t allow the Bosnians to have to themselves. The Serbs made an agreement with the UN that they would only allow for these supplies to be delivered to the people of Sarajevo, under one condition: That the Serb Army take half the supplies and give the Bosnians the other half. The siege continued for three years; the people of Sarajevo grew hungry, their clothing had worn out, the sick had no medicine to treat their wounds.

Bosnians are fighters, I know that. I can see it in their faces to this day.

To save the city from dying, the people of Sarajevo built a tunnel under the grounds of the airport. It started here, under the house of an old woman. 800 meters long, 1.6 meters high, and 1 meter wide, it ended just outside the city in another house like the one we are standing in now. This was the only way they hoped the Serbs would not find out about the tunnel.

During the siege this tunnel was used to bring supplies of food, medicine and clothing into Sarajevo. It was used to take the wounded and the sick outside of the city which eventually had no electricity and no water.

I cannot explain how it feels to be standing here in this old woman’s house. There is a lump in my throat and I cannot seem to be able to let out a single word. I cannot express to her the amount of reverence I carry towards her. The old woman’s body is weak now and her face is wrinkled, but her eyes show the strength of a thousand soldiers. I bent down and kissed her hand. She is a warrior too.

She risked her own family’s safety by allowing the tunnel to start from her house. The Serbs eventually discovered the tunnel, and every day people were killed here, right where I stand.

With the rest of the group, I went into what still remains of the tunnel. I looked under my feet and saw a railway that was used to push carts of supplies on. Sometimes these carts carried the wounded too. I touched the wooden slabs on the walls of the tunnel. The wood had stopped the soil from toppling in, I put my hands where it happened and it all came back.

Many of the Bosnian refugees I had met when I was a young girl had passed through this tunnel. I had heard their frightening stories of how they made their way through the dark, damp underground passageway in hope of freedom. I woke up to night mares when I was six years old. In my sleep, I was with them, running away from the Serbs, I could hear the shot guns and the bombs on the ground above. But I had to keep running in that dark, tight tunnel. I was afraid that they would catch me, but I had to keep running. I could feel my legs getting weaker and weaker, but I had to keep running. I could see men with no legs and no arms. I could see young boys and girls crying for their lost fathers and mothers. I wanted to stop and cry with them too but we all had to keep running.

 

Sarajevo

We are in Sarajevo, the city I had longed to visit throughout my life. People who know me well, have definitely heard me say, “I want to visit Sarajevo.” Someone once told me, “You’ll make it there one day.”

It felt quite surreal to be finally entering this historic city. On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were murdered on the infamous bridge here in Sarajevo; the incident that sparked the beginning of World War I. In 1984, the whole world assembled here for the Olympic Winter Games, one of the most magnificent Olymics in history. This city witnessed many important battles when it was part of the Ottoman Empire, during the 16th century and into the 19th. Finally, in 1992 Sarajevo became the longest besieged city in world history.

As soon as we entered the city, we headed towards the graveyard where the late President Alija Izzet Begovic is buried along with thousands of soldiers who died as martyrs during the war. It was a sunny day; the grass was green across the hills and flowers were blossoming with color. It could have been a very pretty site; for as far as our eyes could take us, we saw lucent white slabs with fine Arabic and Latin script, neatly dug into a carpet of greenery and blossoms of color. Looking more closely at the engravings however, we read names and years; the grave reality was unescapable. The journey between many of the birth and death dates on the white slabs were so short . Many of these men were younger than myself I realized. We had stood ourselves in a half circle around Begovic’s grave and put our hands together to read الفاتحة and a small prayer for the heroes. It was a solemn moment and the air seemed to stand still and heavy upon our shoulders as we recited holy words from the Qur’an and Hadith.

After we packed ourselves back into the van, we were on what seemed like an endless spin. We drove in an upward circle until we finally came to a halt and Abosondos shouted, “Get out everyone!”

The scene was breathtaking. We stood above the whole city and I could now understand how Sarajevo was besieged during the war. Below us in a deep valley lay the city with the Milijaka River running through it; it was surrounded by the towering Dinaric Alps from every corner.

“The Serbs stood with their snipers on these mountains,” said our group leader as he pointed with is finger and twirled around himself in a full 360 degree spin. “For three years, people could not get in or out of the city except through the tunnel of hope,” he reminded us.

I could have spent the rest of the day just sitting on top of that hill, looking beyond the green mountain tops and down into the valley. I don’t think I would have felt time pass; Sarajevo is a beautiful city indeed.

Not only is Sarajevo a city of natural beauty, it is also a cradle for several historical eras, cultures and faiths. As we drove along the roads taking us from the new city to the old, we passed by buildings of different styles and architecture. The new city has a clear European imprint. The older buildings are of magnificent Victorian architecture, like the National Museum and the School of Art and Dance. The newer buildings are quite dull however and as I pass them by, I feel that I have travelled back in time into Soviet Russia. Although I’ve never been to Russia, the novels I’ve read and movies I’ve watched make me feel that if I ever were to visit this country, I would find many similarities between it and this part of Bosnia that I am seeing now. We passed by a block of tall apartment buildings; their plainness, lack of beauty and elegance and bold practicality are overwhelmingly sullen.

Sarajevo still bares the scars of the war. More than any other city we’ve been through so far, bullet and shrapnel holes are everywhere; they still decorate all the buildings. “There it is, Holiday Inn,” someone shouted in the car while pointing at a hotel as we drove. On our left was the yellow and white Holiday Inn, which was brutally bombed and lit on fire during the war. Flashbacks from TV news reports, nearly 20 years back, rushed through my head. It was surprising to me that I could still remember seeing this hotel in flames; it was so long ago. Today, Holiday Inn still stands, and the bullet holes and damage is quite visible on its edifice. I wonder if the owners have decided to keep this memory alive for their visitors.

Walking in the old city, was like walking through a story book. The cobble stone on the footpaths, the small Ottoman style buildings, the authentic feel to the city centre was a dreamy experience. We visited a big cathedral and then we went to the a synagogue built by one of the Ottoman sultans to provide for the city’s Jewish citizens. They were preparing for a concert later that evening so we could not visit. The mosque was peaceful and pretty inside; it resembled the mosques of Istanbul a lot. We made friends with some Bosnian girls who spoke Arabic quite fluently. They helped me buy a traditional pair of harem trousers and a copper coffee set for my mother.

The shops are small and they sell old fashioned clothes. Vendors insist on talking to me in Turkish, assuming that I am one of the many Turkish students studying in Sarajevo. Most of the covered women in the city center are Turks studying at the University of Sarajevo because of the Hijab ban at public universities in Turkey. Turks and Bosnians can enter each others’ countries without a visa, one of the reflections of the tight relations between the two countries.

The sun is now setting and the dim lights of the wooden sebil/fountain built by the Ottomans in the Bascarija Square are beginning to become clearer. I am sipping at another cup of Bosnian kafa and I can hear Bosnian music in the background. I am at a crossroads of several civilisations, histories, religions and cultures. The richness of this moment will stay in my heart forever.

 

Mostar

As we entered Mostar, maybe the third largest city in Bosnia, we were greeted by a huge cross on top of one of the mountains. It stood there overlooking the whole city below and giving a very powerful statement, “This city is still Christian.” As we drove through the city, I saw many churches and mosques built side by side. It reminded me of driving through Abbassia, Cairo. It seemed to me that religion was a fierce denominator in the demography of this city.

I walked through the old city until I came to Mostar Bridge. This bridge holds an important story. It was built in the 16th century by the Ottomans, connecting the two sides of the city. The city is named after this bridge; Mostar comes from Stari Most or Old Bridge. During the war, this bridge was destroyed. After the war, UNESCO funded a 12 million Euro project to rebuild the 1,088 stones of the bridge to their original form. The bridge was reopened in 2004.

A photo museum had been dedicated to the bridge. I walked past the dated photos and let them tell me the story. I stared at the first photo dated June 1992. The first bomb had ripped off a significant portion of the bridge. It made me tear as I wandered past the pictures and saw the bridge fall, bit by bit, in front of my eyes. In the last photo the whole city had turned from a sunkissed green oasis into a grey, destructed piece of abandoned land.

We had been to another waterfall called Kravic. Then we stopped to pray in the mosque of another Ottoman fortress called Pocitelj. It was dark by the time we arrived and so we could not really appreciate much of it. The boys ran into a little coffee shop and tried to follow the remainder of the match. I think Germany was winning.

We spent the night in an old Ottoman house. The house belongs to an aristocratic family of Hungarian origin, called Velagic. They have maintained a complex of 7 houses as well as the surrounding lands and streams that run through them for over 400 years. Semir, the young man who owns the house we are staying at, had been talking to us for two hours now about tourism in Bosnia. He stood at the door as he left us to go to sleep. “I will bring you honey from our bee hives for breakfast in the morning.”

10 Reasons Why you should visit Bosnia and Herzegovina

BosniaThe history of Bosnia and Herzegovina is a complex blend of culture, religion, and an effortless beauty of lush greenery and colourful rooftops. While the masses of media focus on a turbulent past and ever-changing border lines, the Bosnia and Herzegovina that exists today has many more appealing layers beyond a turbulent history, and now presents travellers with a unique opportunity to visit one of the most underrated countries in Europe without hoards of tourists to fight your way through (yet!). So without further ado, here are 10 reasons why you should visit Bosnia and Herzegovina sooner rather than later…

Step back in time

http://www.worldofwanderlust.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/IMG_1316.jpgThis country has something that is hard to find and impossible to mimic – it offers tourists and travellers a time warped experience where you will feel as though you have stepped back in time (in a good way). People drive at a slower pace, vegetables and herbs grow in neighbourhood gardens, the air feels cleaner, everyone knows everyone, and it’s impossible not to immediately begin to appreciate the simpler things in life.

 Effortless beauty and epic landscapes

home blagajBosnia and Herzegovina has it all – lush green landscapes, unspoiled nature, incredible views, and enchanting forests that are home to wolves and wild animals. In the south you will also find a small stretch of the coastline with crystal clear waters, but much of the country is home to some of Europe’s most scenic countryside that changes at almost every turn.

 

Be welcomed into a family home as one of their own

One of the first things I noticed upon arriving into Blagaj, Herzegovina, was the warmest and most hospitable welcoming I have encountered in Europe. The guest house I had booked for my week long stay in this small fisherman’s village just 12kms from popular Mostar was run by a family of four who welcomed me with coffee and chocolate on arrival, a brief introduction to the area and surrounding towns, as well as a comfortably appointed guest room with a cooked breakfast daily. Throughout my stay I was also offered coffee and sweet treats in the afternoon, as well as assistance with my travel plans in the vicinity. activities bosnia

Get active

Whether you want to bike, hike, raft or swim…. You can do it all in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Activities are of course weather dependent, but all year round you can find something outdoorsy to partake in. My Spring visit was the perfect time to hike around the countryside and explore with absolutely no tourists around and almost perfect weather conditions.

It’s cheap

Budgeting can easily become one of the immediate downfalls to travel, but if you’re travelling to Bosnia and Herzegovina you can forget the thought of constantly watching your budget, as it is incredibly cheap to get by with food and living costs (particularly when comparing to other European countries). You could easily get by here for around $30-$50 per day.

Quality food

Not just will you find quality Bosnian food… but also quality produce and products used in the process of making said food. When I asked a local about ‘organic products’ I was greeted with a smile and reassurance that almost everything grown here is organic. You can expect juice oranges, luscious red tomatoes, and whatever else you can think of.

A central base to explore the nearby Balkans

My positioning just out of Mostar in Blagaj was the perfect base to see the nearby countries and towns. From here it was easy to access Mostar, Dubrovnik (Croatia), and Budva (Montenegro) – my three ‘must-sees’ during my visit.Bosnia

Diversity

The culture of Sarajevo, the nature in the countryside, the warm welcoming in the villages…. Everywhere you look in Bosnia and Herzegovina is so diverse and eclectic that it is difficult to pinpoint just one facet of the country that makes you fall in love with it so easily.

 

Tourism is still picking up here

The war that ended in 1995 has sadly had a lasting impact on the countries’ tourism industry. This was a devastating era in Bosnia’s history with over 100,000 people losing their lives during the war. Even today there are still prominent signs of the war throughout the country, with derelict buildings and bullet holes in walls. But to say this is reflective of the B&H of the present day is to severely misconstrue reality. Season by season, the country is seeing more and more visitors make their way here to discover the beauty on offer… so it’s just a matter of time before tourism really kicks into overdrive. Now is the perfect time to visit B&H.

bosnia

Visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina helps the future of the country

Bosnia and Herzegovina has had a turbulent past, which has proven to be a reputation that has been hard to shake. Visiting the country not only supports the economy, but will also boost tourism and the future prospects of the country. Without a doubt the country has re-opened its doors to tourism, which is constantly on the increase, but the country is still relatively undermined for all it has to offer. This creates a win-win for tourists and locals alike as the country continues to rebuild in the 21st Century.

Here are a few good reasons why I fell in love with Bosnia & Herzegovina (Photos)

I almost don’t want to tell you about Bosnia & Herzegovina. It feels like a secret little corner of the world where things aren’t tourist trodden and prices are cheap as hell. I met only a handful of other travellers while here, including some Texans in a mountain village complaining about warm Coca Cola.

I mean, it’s not completely void of tourism. It’s in the Balkans, after all. But things were especially quiet on my visit because of the recent flooding in the north. None of my routes were affected, and to be honest, Bosnia & Herzegovina needs your travel dolla bills more than ever. The rustic bathroom, however, was up to their standards.

Anyway. Here’s why I fell in love.

Mostar is like a Balkan fairytale land

Mostar was our first stop, and lord almighty, it was a pleasant one. Here’s the famous Bridge, restored since the Yugoslavian War when it was blown up by Croat forces.

We often sat at the embankment by the side of the bridge to watch divers jump into the river. NOTE: This isn’t a particularly good idea. People die.

 

Mostar itself was a small town of friendly folks and little souvenir boutiques crammed with knick-knacks and jewelry and leather purses. Our favourite hang out was Black Dog Pub, where a DJ resembling Comic Book Guy spun trance-like hits for a small audience.

We didn’t get much drunk here. Back at our hostel we took beers onto our rooftop deck and got yelled at by a Bosnian celebrity for “being too loud.” It was midnight and we were completely sober. When we crept back downstairs she flung open her door and screamed at us, then chased myself and the girls downstairs and tried to break into our room. I wish I could make this stuff up.

Mountain villages with really nice people and fancy mushrooms

We spent two glorious nights in Bjelašnica, home to Ski Resort Babin Do. From there we did a mountain tour with a local guide from London to the tiny village of Lukomir.

 

Once you ignore the pungent scent of cattle manure, take a look around. The roofs here are made from beaten down tin barrels, and each house has a tiny plot of farmland. We paused to talk to a sweet old lady overseeing the work in the fields. She had one tooth and wore those crocheted pants with a baggy crotch down to the knees, and a headscarf. She was thrilled to hear that most of us were from Australia. Bosnians REALLY like Australians.

We stopped into the village’s only cafe, with items like honeycomb on sale. There was a basket of chanterelles on the table. As you know, they’re quite rare and expensive. (Or if you’re like me, you didn’t know, but now you do.) This caused bit of a mushroom frenzy among everyone, and on the way home, our guide pulled over to chat with some locals scouting the hillsides.

An elderly lady reached into her car’s backseat and loaded up a plastic bag of ‘shrooms. When our guide got back to the car, I asked him how much they cost. They could sell for a FORTUNE out here.

“They were free,” he said. “People are nice.”

CHEAP FOOD and all the meat in meat-land

The food in this part of the Balkans has been bit of a shock since I left Greece. In Bosnia & Herzegovina, it’s all about the cevapi. It’s a kebab dish of grilled minced meat served in a pita with onions, sour cream, kajmak, ajvar, cottage cheese, and red pepper. Hungover? THIS IS YOUR CURE.

The best place in the UNIVERSE for cevapi is at Cevabdzinica Zeljo in Sarajevo. Oh my god. WHAT IS THIS MESS OF AWESOMENESS.

Cavape

Lamb is also cheap here. Stop thinking about it as a baby animal and more along the lines of the most delicious thing you’ve ever put in your face. It’s especially great in goulash form.

Goulash

That goulash and a beer came to about 5CAD. I’m not kidding. Everything is so insanely cheap in Bosnia & Herzegovina, I can’t believe it’s over-trodden with backpackers.

One afternoon in Mostar, we stopped at a nondescript restaurant on the main street. The kind of touristy place snobs like us cringe at and flee from. A gypsy child tried to steal our pita. BUT: the food was out of this world, and the price was so low that we tipped generously upon leaving. The lively waitress burst out of the restaurant and yelled at us, “STOP! NO! You can’t pay me this much!” Then she proceeded to crack open beers for us all and sent us on our merry way. That actually happened.

I had the best tour group EVER

I have to admit, one reason this trip was so incredible was because I happened to be on the best tour group EVER of all time, with Med Experience. Until then, the only group tours I had done were with bloggers on press trips. Not saying anything against those trips, but travelling with non-media people was SO MUCH BETTER. Oh my god! We stuck together like GLUE. I cannot express how much I love these people.

Here we are at at one of the Olympic ski hills in Sarajevo.

 

Here we are at Neretva Rafting. Our guide didn’t speak English so we had to figure most things out for ourselves. We bonded mega-hard over the following week. I wasn’t particularly enthused about group travel until this trip. These folks totally changed my mind.

Rafting

Kravice Falls & Blagaj Tekke Monastery

Places like Kravice Falls exist in the world. Did you know?

Kravie Falls

And then places like Blagaj Tekke Monastery.

Monastery

Sarajevo is stunning and has the craziest history

Did you know that Sarajevo was the site of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination?

And that the city was under siege for YEARS during the Yugoslavian War? (I swear, I can’t stop talking about this war thing.)

The city has recovered wonderfully. Its scars and pockmarked buildings are still evident, but you’ll wander the streets and be inspired. I loved the outdoor market of metalworkers — the din of metal on metal. And the ingenuity of the artisans who take empty shotgun shells and bomb casings to make artwork.

Sarajevo

And again: it is cheap, cheap, CHEAP!

The Mountains

I’m a sucker for a good mountain range, from Bjelašnica mountain and beyond.

 

These are around Lukomir.

Mountains around Lukomir

I lagged behind pretending to take photos but mostly I was struggling with my fat out-of-shape self.

Climbing mountains in Lukomir

There’s always more to say. The kindness and modesty of the people, the affordability, the landscape, the history. Bosnia & Herzegovina has won me OVER. I worship you.

Add it to your bucketlist: Blagaj Tekke, Bosnia and Herzegovina

blagaj mostar

The Blagaj Tekke, also known as the Dervish monastery, is located at the spring of the Buna river in the small village of Blagaj, just south of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

The Blagaj Tekke is hundreds of years old, having been built in the 1500s with elements of Ottoman architecture and Mediterranean style. Blagaj is a mere 12kms from popular nearby tourist destination – Mostar – and can be reached by either car or public bus. For a more authentic stay in this part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, consider basing yourself out of Blagaj and renting a car to venture off on your day trips to nearby towns in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as nearby Croatia and Montenegro – both reached in 2-3 hours.

The changing face of tourism in Bosnia and Herzegovina

blagaj bosnia and herzegovina

I think it’s safe to say there will be an influx of tourists visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina in the coming years, if the floods of comments on my instagram photos are anything to go by.

But most of us still know very little about this country in the Balkans, or at least the little amount we do know focuses solely on the country’s turbulent past, with ever-changing border lines and clashes of religion and culture. How ironic it is that a country so beautiful, calm, and peaceful is still portrayed in the mass media as one of riddled by turbulence and indifferences, when the peaceful existence of various religions and cultures share more in common than they do in differences. Furthermore, how ironic that the country that is said to be ‘stuck in the past’ is looking more to the future than ever, and while the only news you will find for Bosnia and Herzegovina portrays it in a constant stalemate when it turns out to be the country where I have felt most at peace in all of Europe.

To say that Bosnia and Herzegovina is the most underrated country of natural beauty I have ever encountered would not be an exaggeration. To say that I have never felt so warmly welcomed as I did when I entered the Bosnian home I was staying in for a week would be a severe understatement. It immediately felt like coming home, complete with a plate of local cuisine, freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, and two kisses on the cheek.

What happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990’s?

Prior to the events taking place in Bosnia in the 1990s, the former Yugoslavia was collectively a popular tourist destination (particularly in the 80’s). During the 1990s the region was riddled with political turbulence, culture and religion clashes, and an horrific war. It’s now almost 20 years later and the country is still sadly plagued by misperceptions of unrest and turbulence. This just isn’t the case anymore.

Is it Safe to travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Short answer: yes. You’re just as safe here as you are in any European nation previously plagued by war – which is of course every country. Europe has always been characterised by wars throughout history, it’s just a shame that the perceptions of Bosnia and Herzegovina have taken so long to change. But it is happening, albeit slowly.

Now, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been restored to it’s former beauty – the nature alone in this country is enough to make you want to visit. While there are still remnants of the past (Bosnians are adamant to not forget the past in order to prevent unrest in the future), much of the country is now reflective of a modern society, with wi-fi available in public areas, English widely spoken, and reasonable healthcare/economic standards.

What’s so special about Bosnia and Herzegovina?

My top 10 reasons why you should visit Bosnia and Herzeogvina briefly outlines why this country is so special and unique. But I could summarise it even more briefly by giving you my personal assurance that this is one of the most beautiful and underrated countries in all of Europe, and I am comparing it to the following countries I have previously visited: England, France, Belgium, Czech Republic, Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Turkey, Germany, Italy, Poland, Switzerland, Hungary, The Netherlands, Denmark and Austria.

I can say with 100% certainty that Bosnia and Herzegovina was the biggest surprise for me – I didn’t expect much, but I left with a lot. I also left a chunk of my heart there. If there’s one country in Europe I suggest you try and visit sooner rather than later (tourism is sure to take off here in the coming years), it’s Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Be sure to visit Sarajevo, Mostar, and Blagaj. From here it is easy to access the nearby Croatian coast and Montenegro.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: War and Peace

Bosnia and herzegovina stari most bridge

I had just finished an internship at a travel magazine (this one in fact) and researching travel and international culture for several weeks had left me craving some sort of epic journey. I trawled countless budget airfare websites and travel blogs to see how far the remains of my student loan would take me, and I settled on what promised to be a backpacker’s delight: Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania. The announcement of my route through these Balkan countries however, was met with a mixed bag of reactions, mostly raised eyebrows and the occasional “good luck”.

In all fairness, the Balkans weren’t exactly top of my bucket list. In fact my knowledge of Bosnia stretched no further than a vague memory of a military coup from my A-level history textbook… or was that Hungary? And as for Albania, well, l had readily accepted that if Taken 1 (or 2 or 3) were anything to go by, I was in all likelihood going to be kidnapped, and given that my father’s physical strength is not on par with Liam Neeson’s, the odds were not in my favour. But with a newfound desire to honour my New Year’s resolution to be more adventurous, it was now or never, I explained to my flat-mate Tilda. And with that, we set off for Sarajevo.

To say, as many do, that Sarajevo is where East meets West, is an understatement. Once a prominent cultural hub, this city felt more like the love child of an Ottoman and Austrian romance. Full of passion and enchantment perhaps, but impossible to ignore the painful scars of the country’s recent history. ‘Sarajevo roses’, where red resin fills blasted holes, the abandoned Olympic bobsleigh track which hauntingly sits above the city and the sudden heaps of rubble where houses once stood were all illustrations of the personal memories of those who fought and suffered during the Bosnian War in the mid-90s.

Following this poignant trail of roses down the pedestrianised Ferhadija street in stifling summer heat, time seemed to stop. The recognisable and grandiose style of neoclassical Hapsburg architecture faded into memory as cobbles shrank and streets narrowed into the Ottoman territory of Bascarcija old town. What emerged was a 15th century labyrinth of alleyways that invited us into peaceful courtyards; craft workshops where stained glass lanterns dazzled amidst copper-pots and countless cafés filled with Bosnians, young and old alike, lounging on floor cushions in thoughtful poses. This was café culture as I’d never seen it before, set to the soundtrack of cathedral bells and the conflicting muezzin’s call to prayer that routinely cried out from the city’s scattered minarets.

Away from the blend of churches, mosques and synagogues, deeper into the evergreen landscape, the country’s charms and ability to move me grew. From Sarajevo all the way to Mostar, our outdated train chuffed through soaring mountains, past glassy lakes, like an ancient yet sturdy grandparent determined to tell its tale. In Mostar, the Stari Most, a reconstruction of a 16th century Ottoman bridge, was one of the highlights of the trip. Elegantly arching over the serene turquoise depths of the Neretva river, it framed a hillside of rustic houses and a familiar minaret like an enduring old snapshot of Ottoman beauty.

Following a two-hour drive climbing into the densely vegetated Herzegovina region, our hostel owner, David, revealed more hidden gems of his war-torn country. Bumpy roads led our rusty Skoda minivan first to the Kravice National Park where we took respite in the plunge pools of its gushing waterfalls. A little further on we came to the Medjugorje, a site of pilgrimage where the Virgin Mary has allegedly appeared several times. It was in these under-crowded and peaceful pockets that there seemed to be a hopeful future, despite the ever resounding words of the 1993 Bosnian Genocide: “Never forgive, never forget”.

As we headed south in search of the untouched beaches of the Albanian riviera, I felt embarrassed at my former ignorance regarding such a raw past, so unnervingly close to home. Poor in luxuries perhaps, but Bosnia and Herzegovina more than compensates in its charismatic beauty, fascinating history and traditional hospitality. All too fitting then that this country of contradictions greeted us through the welcoming arms of its thick-skinned but soft-centred people.

Mostar: A Day Trip Into Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Not So Distant War-Torn Past

View of Mostar from Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque's Minaret, Bosnia and HerzegovinaVisiting Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina was an eye-opening and humbling experience. When we traveled to Croatia, we took a day trip to Mostar. We had a rental car for our entire vacation, and Mostar is just a short two-hour drive from Dubrovnik. We were very interested in visiting the Muslim mosques and, of course, seeing Stari Most, the Old Bridge.

Crossing the border into Bosnia and Herzegovina from Croatia by car was very easy.  Finding our way to Mostar was simple with an international GPS.  We parked our car in a huge parking lot behind the Franciscan Church of Saints Peter and Paul and started our tour of Mostar.

While we were prepared to see signs of the war, actually seeing them in person was very startling.  We had been in Dubrovnik for a few days, which had also been directly hit by war, but everything there has been rebuilt.  So Mostar was our first sighting of bullet hole ridden and gutted buildings in ruins.  Living in a country where home-based wars are in our far past and current wars are an ocean away, it was very sobering to see physical manifestations of war everywhere and realize that the people of Mostar, and many other areas of the former Yugoslavia, lived with war raging around them daily.

 War Reminders, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Reminders of war are everywhere in Mostar.

A walking tour of Mostar consists of an L-shaped path starting at the church, crossing Bulevar, heading down Onescukova Ulica, traversing Stari Most, and turning left and continuing down Kujundziluk.

Walking down Onescukova Ulica, I worried Mostar was going to be strictly tourist, as the street was lined with shops selling trinkets.  After our day in Mostar, I can say it is very touristy, but not in a way that should be a turnoff to visitors.  Since we only spent a day in Mostar, we didn’t get to see it after all the day-trippers, like us, left for the evening, but I have read it is spectacular, especially lit up at night.

After walking through the street of shops with multitudes of colorful items for sale, we reached our first site, the famous Stari Most, the Old Bridge.  This striking single-arch stone bridge was built from 1557 to 1566.  There are large towers on either side of the bridge, one of which houses a museum.  The sad history of the bridge is that while it was able to stand for over 400 years and even withstood the weight of Nazi tanks, in 1993 the bridge was shelled and collapsed into the river below.  Amazingly, after the war ended, the bridge was rebuilt with stone from the original quarry in the exact way it was built so long ago.  Nowadays, local young men hang out on the bridge in speedos waiting for someone to pay them to jump into the chilly Neretva River below.

A large number of visitors to Mostar on the day we were there were older.  It pained me to watch them cross the bridge, as it looked incredibly difficult and like they could fall and break something at any moment.   It is steep, smooth, and slippery.  The mistake most commonly made was people were stepping in between the raised ridges.  You actually want to use those raised ridges to step on to help cut the steepness of the bridge somewhat.

 Stari Most (Old Bridge), Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Stari Most (Old Bridge) and its hazardous path.

After taking in the view from atop the bridge and touring the bridge’s museum, we visited our first mosque, Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque. The nice thing about visiting the mosques in the more touristy part of Mostar is that they are a little more lenient with visitors. Still wear modest clothing (which can be difficult when it is so hot), but women are not required to wear scarves and it is not necessary to remove your shoes.

The grounds of Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque offer a beautiful view of Stari Most.  You can also climb to the top of the minaret for another stunning view.  The mosque was the first I had ever entered and was very different from any other place of worship I had visited.   Muslims do not make images of living creatures in mosques, so the colors of the mosque’s interior were created from colorful rugs and bright painted forms on the white walls and ceilings.

 Interior of Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Interior of Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque.
 Dome of Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Colorfully painted dome of Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque.
 View of Stari Most from Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The grounds of Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque provide a wonderful photo opportunity of Stari Most, especially if you are lucky enough to find a fellow traveler who knows how to frame a shot.

After visiting the mosque we veered away from the main tourist drag one street over to the New Muslim Cemetery. Before the war, it was a park. But during the war, the more exposed cemeteries were unusable because visitors were visible to snipers, so this tree protected park became a cemetery. Visiting the cemetery was moving and heart-wrenching. Every single tombstone is dated 1993, 1994, or 1995. I think this hit me even more than the buildings riddled with bullet holes and the completely gutted buildings with full-grown trees growing up the middle. I’ve always been a fan of cemeteries because I like to feel the people buried there had long fulfilling lives surrounded by people that loved them enough to build memorials to them. The occupants of these tombs had their lives stolen away from them far too soon.

 New Muslim Cemetery, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
New Muslim Cemetery, a public park turned war graveyard.

Being outside of the main tourist street kind of took me out of my comfort zone. I didn’t feel unsafe, but I did feel like an outsider. The residents stared at us, and I couldn’t tell what they were thinking.

Another reason we strayed from the main street was to visit the Museum of Herzegovina.  Unfortunately, this wish was denied.  Something that also happened to us frequently in Dubrovnik was that the museum did not have change for our money.  I have never encountered this elsewhere.  I felt like Pretty Woman, except instead of being denied the opportunity to shop, I was denied the opportunity to visit a museum.  Seriously, does it get any nerdier than that?  If at all possible, acquire small change to pay entrance fees, though in my experience, this is easier said than done.

Our next stop was the Biscevic Turkish House, one of Mostar’s traditional Turkish-style homes that are open to visitors.  The house was built in the 1600s and has beautiful woodwork on the inside and intricate river stone work on the outside.  There is even a box of traditional costumes that can be tried on for pictures.  However, somebody who will remain nameless wouldn’t play dress up that day.

 Biscevic Turkish House, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Interior of Biscevic Turkish House.  Note the old photo on the wall, which is of the exterior of the home.
 Biscevic Turkish House, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The outdoor area of Biscevic Turkish House.  I loved the use of river rocks throughout Mostar.

Our last stop was Karadozbeg Mosque. This mosque was built just before Stari Most was started. It was simpler and not as colorful as the first we visited, but was still beautiful and has retained some if its original decorations. There is a cemetery adjacent to this mosque, also filled with tombstones from the war.

 Karadozbeg Mosque, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Karadozbeg Mosque

On the way back to the car we did a little souvenir shopping. There are many different types of articles to choose from, including hammered-copper items, rugs, scarves, and war remnant paraphernalia.  Also be sure to try borek (or burek), a traditional street food made with spiraled crispy phyllo dough filled with cheese and meat.

I felt Mostar was a little different from the typical day trip destination.  Later in our trip we encountered some travelers who were deciding whether or not to go to Mostar, and when I responded to their question of if it was worth it, I hesitated.  They took that to mean it wasn’t and decided not to go based on my hesitation.  Mostar is beautiful and has very different sites with its bridge, mosques, and Turkish-style homes.  However, for me, it was also about learning a little about a culture I am very unfamiliar with and reflecting on a difficult not-so-distant past of war, something I hope I will never have to experience personally.

Bosnia and Herzegovina – Travel Guide

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a single, European country situated on the Balkan Peninsula in Southeastern Europe. It borders Serbia to the east, Montenegro to the southeast and Croatia to the north, west and south and it has a coastline on the Adriatic Sea. Its capital and largest city is Sarajevo. It was part of Yugoslavia before gaining independence in 1992.

Entry into the country is relatively easy. As is the case with most Balkan nations entry by a citizen of several selected countries as in this case: Argentina, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Brazil, Honduras, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, Israel, Japan, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Montenegro, New Zealand, Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Bahamas, Barbados, Panama, Paraguay and Taiwan , is pass port free if the visit is under 90 days.

There are many alternatives of mode of transport to use when travelling to Bosnia. If you are traveling by air, Sarajevo Airport is the largest airport in Bosnia. There are many airlines connecting there airport with the outside world. BH Airlines, formerly known as Air Bosnia, is the national carrier and connects the country to many European cities with several daily flights. Other important airlines operating from the airport includes: Croatia Airlines, Serbia’s Jat Airways, Adria Airways, Lufthansa, Austrian Airways, MALEV and Turkish Airlines.

 

 

Travel around Bosnia is predominately by bus. There are also daily international buses that bring in visitor from various European cities. There are daily buses from Zagreb, Split, Pula, Rijeka and Dubrovnik all in Croatia, Belgrade in Serbia, Ljubljana in Slovenia and Kotor in Montenegro. There are also regular buses from the Republic of Macedonia, Austria and Germany. You can travel to and from Croatia by any of the two daily trains from Sarajevo to Zagreb or come in from Serbia on board the Belgrade to Sarajevo express train. Ferry services are also offered at the Neum city on the Adriatic Sea to Croatia and other countries. There is also privately operated water transport on internal rivers and lakes.
Bosnia and Herzegovina offers the visitor a wide variety of accommodation facilities to spend nights in this wonderful state. These range from hotels, hostels, motels to home accommodation. For more information you will have to check the official tourism website for Bosnia.
While in Bosnia there are numerous beautiful places to visit and various fun things to do. The lovely rivers Neretva, Una, Drina Vrbas and ricktna are great destinations. If you love water sports it is mandatory you visit these rivers. They are great rafting sites great for kayaking and canoeing. You could also enjoy hiking strolling and taking nature photography along the lovely basins of these rivers.
Another important attraction in Bosnia is the Kozara national park in the northwest. This dense forests meadow is a great hiking site and it is also a favorite hunting destination. The park is an important bird viewing destination as numerous birds’ species abound its forests.
During winter the Bjelasnica near Sarajevo with over 8km of ski trails, Jahorina and igman mountains are a must visit if you want to have a fabulous time enjoying so winter sports. You could also visit the Vlasic Mountain near Travnik for some fun winter sport.
Bosna and Herzegovina map