Bosnia Herzegovina, in the Balkan Peninsula, seems largely forgotten by the tourist industry and truly seems like Europe’s best kept secret. Compared to its popular neighbor Croatia which has literally exploded with tourists in the past few years, Bosnia still feels undiscovered and finding places like this is such a joy. There are many reasons why you should consider travel to Bosnia.
Yes there was a nasty war in the 90’s among the former Yugoslavian countries with Bosnia taking the brunt of it. Their economy has not recovered with a staggering 45% unemployment rate. While this is unfortunate for the residents of this country, for tourists this means affordability and a growing tourist industry will help their country greatly. The beauty of the country is still dazzling and the warm hospitality of its people even more dazzling. I hope to show you why you need to move Bosnia way way up on your bucket lists before the secret gets out!
I had only four days but it was enough for me to be completely smitten.
If you enjoy going to places where you are not standing in lines, fighting to get nice photos at popular sites or getting ripped off constantly, then consider Bosnia rather than some other well known European destinations. The prices here are very low by western standards and the quality of service very high. The food is delicious and served with generous portions. The people are warm and receptive to tourists. Here are a few of the most popular places in Bosnia.
Location: Eastern Europe between Croatia and Serbia
Language: Serbian-Croatian and Bosnian (a dialect of Serb-Croat)
Currency: Bosnian Convertible Marka. ATMs are fairly easily found in the bigger cities
Transportation: Good bus system and a few train lines. The train between Mostar and Sarajevo is twice/day and quite scenic.
I arrived in Bosnia via bus from Dubrovnik to Mostar. The ride is about three and a half hours, depending on traffic and how long you are at the border. Many companies offer day trips to Mostar and I felt sorry for those people because they only got to enjoy this special little city for a few hours. I spent two nights here and it wasn’t enough.
This is a typical pedestrian street for shopping in the old town
The old city is full of Ottoman style architecture and cobblestone streets
Many Arabic/Turkish style items are sold here
There’s a little restaurant here that was recommended by a local. It’s called Konobo Taurus and has two lovely terraces
I stayed at the Hostel Goa in a private room that had a balcony with this view. (I had to take pics of this bridge at every time of day so bear with me. It was that amazing)
Stari Most (Old Bridge) was built in 1556 by the Ottomans and destroyed in the Croat-Bosnian war of 1993. Eventually it was rebuilt and re-opened in 2004. It was considered one of the most exemplary pieces of Islamic architecture in the Balkans.
It is traditional for the young men of the town to leap from the bridge into the Neretva and the first recorded jump was in 1663! I was lucky enough to witness this jumping. You can see it in my video diary below.
Here’s the bridge at night. So beautiful every time of day!
There’s another hostel in Mostar called Hostel Nina, and I would recommend staying at either place. I somehow found out about the Herzegovina tour that Hostel Nina runs and they invited me to come along, starting with breakfast at the hostel. Zika and Nina, a married couple, run the hostel and Zika does this tour almost every day. There were seven of us, four in his car, three in his father’s. Very personalized and awesome. It was honestly one of the best tours I have ever done.
First we went to a site that is probably not on other tours. Zika showed us a hidden tunnel complex from the Yugoslavian era, built by Tito as an emergency bunker in case Yugoslavia was attacked. Nobody knew about these until the war in the 1990’s when a false stone wall was destroyed, revealing the bunker. It was fascinating.
Next we visited Blagaj which is a village situated on the Buna River. There is a historical tekija or Dervish Monastery. This Blagaj Tekija was built around 1520 and has elements of Ottoman architecture. It is considered a national monument.
After this we visited Pocitelj, a fortified village on the Neretva River that was partly built during medieval times and part during Ottoman rule in the 16th century. Sadly much of it was damaged by Croatian forces in the 1993 Bosnian War.
Next we marveled at the Kravice Waterfalls which literally popped out of nowhere.
Finally Zika took us to this hill where we looked down on Mostar. We had a sobering history lesson here. I don’t intend to repeat everything but I think knowing some basic history of the region is important if one plans to travel to Bosnia. Especially something as big as the 1990’s war which was the bloodiest conflict Europe has seen since WW2. The Balkans war was incredibly complicated due to the pre-existing intermingling of various ethnic and religious groups, often pitting neighbor against neighbor. This hill is where both Croatia and Serbia could siege Mostar.
Mostar received the most shelling of any city during the war and still shows these signs both emotionally and physically. You can see bombed-out hollow buildings if you walk a few blocks beyond the pretty old town. Houses are neglected. There is still animosity today with a divide in the city between ethnic Croats who are Catholic and Bosnians who are Muslim. It seems that the war and resulting tension has less to do with religion and more to do with nationalism. It will take generations for people to truly move on.
Obviously we needed to drink after that sobering but necessary part of the tour. That evening we had a lovely dinner with a view at Restaurant Legaro, recommended by Zika and conveniently across the street from his bar were we went after dinner.
Let’s talk about Bosnian food. The food exemplifies a strong Ottoman Turk heritage. Lots of kebab, eggplant and something called burek, which is a delicious pastry filled with cheese or spinach or both. Pizza burek is the latest craze. I stopped by the Pekara, or bakery, quite often. The national specialty is called Ćevapčići and is found throughout the Balkans but apparently is the best in Bosnia. It is a skinless minced meat, kind of like a sausage. The type of meat, usually beef, varies from country to country but no pork used in Bosnia. It is grilled on a coal-fired grill and served with flat bread, onions, tomatoes, Ajvar (a roasted garlic red pepper sauce) or Kajmak (a creamy buttery cheese-like product similar to clotted cream). I am still thinking about this stuff!!
Sadly I had to leave Mostar before I wanted to. I actually would like to go back and explore beyond the touristy part of the city since I am a history nerd.
I took the bus to Sarajevo which was two and a half hours and a beautiful scenic ride. I was torn between gawking at the scenery and sleeping. There is usually a train that is popular, but was not running at the time.
It is often called the Jerusalem of Europe because there are Mosques, Catholic Cathedrals, Orthodox Churches and Synagogues literally steps from one another.
I highly recommend a walking history tour here because this city is incredibly rich in history and culture and worth learning about. The city where an assassination ultimately led to two World Wars shouldn’t be ignored!
This is the most beautiful city hall building I’ve ever seen. Built during the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it is a fabulous mix of Baroque and Ottoman styles.
The Emperor’s Mosque, built in 1457. The first mosque to be built after the Ottoman conquest of Bosnia.
In the middle of this frame is Inat Kuca which translates to Spite House. It is a historic house with a hilarious story which I recount in my Sarajevo post. It is now a very good restaurant for traditional food.
From Sarajevo I took a short flight to Ljubljana where my journey in the Balkans continues.
I can’t say enough good things about travel to Bosnia. It is a special beautiful country that really could use more tourism and I hope to have inspired some more people to visit. You will enjoy large portions of delicious food, gorgeous scenery, incredible history and warm friendly people.