If you’re thinking about a trip to the Balkans, you’ve probably considered Bosnia. Is Bosnia worth visiting? What should you expect? What can you experience there? We can answer all of these questions and also offer a few travel tips!
There are many interesting places to be found in Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of them is definitely the city of Tuzla, located in the north of the country, close to the Serbian border. After you arrive at Tuzla, you’ll be greeted by a pleasant town with an oriental feel to it. The Ottoman Empire has influenced the town with its unique architecture, Turkish cuisine, and religion. People speak Serbo-Croatian and are generally very nice. They are mostly Muslim, Croatian Catholics, and Serbian Orthodox Christians.
The wars that went on here in the 90s are, thankfully, over. When talking about these wars, the owner of the hostel we stayed at said: “We’re all the same here. We have mixed marriages here and we’re all a family and neighbors. It doesn’t matter if someone is a Muslim, Serb or Croat. It was always like this. I don’t understand what the wars were even about, but I hope nothing like that will happen again.” Currently, Bosnia is a safe country and there’s nothing to fear.
Tuzla hasn’t been touched by the war almost at all. The town center is very pleasant and home to the Turalibeg Mosque from the 16th Century. Near the center, you can find the Panonsko Lake and the Srebrenik Fortress. You’ll only need a day or two to explore the city. Make sure you don’t miss the gems of Bosnian cuisine and try some good Rakija. The prices are quite nice as well. The currency of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the convertible mark (KM), but you can also use Euros in most places. Near the Croatian border, you can also sometimes pay with the Croatian kuna and, near the Serbian border, the Serbian dinar.
We only stayed in Tuzla briefly, but we also visited Sarajevo, Mostar, and tried rafting on the Tara River. If you want to travel across the country and you have the chance to borrow a car, do it. You’ll have a lot more freedom to explore and the roads are usually just fine to drive on. The highway fee is paid at pay stations at the beginning of every highway, so you don’t have to worry about buying a card. If you can’t get a car, no problem. Regular buses from Tuzla will take you wherever you need to go.
If you travel south from Tuzla by highway for about 3 hours, you’ll reach Sarajevo, also known as the European Jerusalem. The town gained this nickname during the times of the Ottoman Empire. In those times, many of the local Christians have converted to Islam but Orthodox Christianity remained. Many Jews running from Andalusia have also made their home here, which created a truly multicultural society where members of several religions live together. Similar to Jerusalem, the city has many churches, mosques, and cathedrals. Though the city has quite a rocky past, nowadays it’s considered one of the most progressive and modern in the region.
While walking in the older parts of Sarajevo, you’ll feel like you’ve taken a trip to the Near East. The Baščaršija Square looks like it became stuck in time and represents a perfect fusion of South Slavic and Turkish culture. There are many small souvenir shops in the area which sell trinkets that you might not need but certainly can’t live without. You can take a walk around the mosques and then have a seat in one of the local restaurants to try their amazing baklava or Turkish coffee and ratluk (Turkish delight). You should definitely not skip a visit to the local Cevabdzinica.
In Sarajevo, you can visit the bridge where Gavrilo Princip shot and murdered Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, which greatly contributed to the start of World War I. If you’re interested in the history of the town, you can also visit one of its many museums. We’ve only visited Galerija 11/07/95 with an exhibition dedicated to the Srebrenica massacre.
Close to the airport, you can find the Sarajevo Tunnel Museum which will lead you through the tunnel used to transport food, war supplies, and humanitarian aid into the city during the Siege of Sarajevo amidst the Bosnian War. We haven’t visited it, but we’re certainly planning to go there in the future.
Mostar and Its Surroundings
The city of Mostar is one the most beautiful cities in Europe. During our visit, many parts of the town were being reconstructed and most of the streets we literally dug out, but that didn’t deter tourists. According to the locals, it’s one of the hottest towns in Europe, with summer temperatures around 45 – 50 °C.
Like in Sarajevo, Mostar will also make you feel a bit like you’re in Turkey or in the Near East. The main sight of the town is the Old Bridge above the Neretva River, which has the best restaurants and shops in its vicinity. The Kujundžiluk Bazaar is also quite close. If you want to experience a beautiful view of the city, you can visit the Koskin-Mehmed Pasha Mosque and enjoy the view from its minaret.
The restaurants in Mostar don’t usually accept bank card payments, so be sure to bring some cash. You can pay in both euro and kuna. The food is great, as it is everywhere else in the Balkans. It’s also quite cheap and the meals you get are huge.
Hostels and tourist centers organize daily tours around the area. If you have a car, you can also take a tour by yourself. There are many places to visit, such as the Kravica waterfalls, the medieval town of Počitelj, the Dervish monastery Blagaj Tekke, and the town of Medjugorje. The sea is also very close, so you can visit the coast in the town of Neum or in the Croatian towns of Dubrovník and Split.
Bosnian Nature and Wild Rivers
Even driving across Bosnia is an adventure. Majestic mountains, clean lakes, and sheep are everywhere. Of course, restaurants that offer “the best” lamb are more than common as well. While driving, you may come across red signs on trees which say “mine” and depict a skull and crossbones. If you ever see one of them, we don’t advise you to go for a walk in the area. Bosnian woods still have large areas with ground mines scattered around and these signs warn people about their location. Tourist routes are safe, however, and there’s nothing to be afraid of.
If you enjoy adrenalin sports, don’t miss rafting on one the Tara, Neretva or Una rivers. The river Tara starts in the territory of Montenegro and the rafting route is usually 20 km long. It’s also possible to raft down the entire river, which makes for a 90 km route and takes around 3 days to complete. You can find camps near the town of Foča in Republika Srpska. Yes, there are two ‘Serbias’. One is the Republic of Serbia with the capital city of Belgrade and the other is Republika Srpska, one of the two constitutional entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the capital city of Banja Luka.
Rafting on Neretva begins near Mostar. If you’re in central Bosnia, you can come rafting here. The water is crystal clear and the rafting route is approximately 30 km long.
Near the Croatian border, you can find the Una National Park with a wild river of the same name. You can go rafting in three sections: Štrbacki Buk – Lohovo 15 km, Costello – (Luke) Grmuša 13 km, and Costello – Bosanska Krupa 24 km. The first part is the wildest but the other two are suitable for beginners.
Those who love nature will have a chance to enjoy some beautiful views while rafting on all three of these rivers. You can also visit one of the local natural sites. The Sutjeska National Park and Orlovačko Lake are located between Foča and Mostar.
In the minds of many people, Bosnia is usually associated with war and a fear of Muslims. In truth, it’s a land that’s full of life. Beautiful nature, kind people, and historical towns are sure to make for a great holiday.