Don’t get us wrong, we love traveling around Croatia too, but here we want to make a strong case to visit Bosnia-Herzegovina, its less popular neighbor. A long coastline has made Croatia a holiday favorite while Bosnia-Herzegovina, sometimes less than an hour’s drive away, only sees a fraction of those tourists. That is, with the exception of day trippers coming from Croatia to see Mostar.
After driving for a week through this beautiful country we really don’t understand why not more people visit Bosnia-Herzegovina. The reasons to visit Bosnia-Herzegovina are plentiful, but somehow many don’t consider it a holiday destination. Okay it has had its portion of bad publicity due to the 1990’s war, but that’s in the past. Bosnia-Herzegovina is safe and the people are incredibly friendly.
It’s perfect for a week long road trip (or even longer). We drove through Bosnia-Herzegovina in the third week of our one year of travel. Based on our experiences – and these are far from complete – the fourteen reasons to visit Bosnia-Herzegovina mentioned below should already be enough to entice you to head a little bit inland from the coast and discover a wonderful country waiting to be explored.
Reasons to visit Bosnia-Herzegovina
It has incredible natural beauty
From the moment we drove into Bosnia-Herzegovina coming from Split in Croatia we were astounded by how green the country is. Green and fertile hills abound, sometimes looking like Austria, sometimes like the Belgian Ardennes and other times like the empty jaloos of Kyrgyzstan. It was road tripping at its best.
Coming from touristic Croatia we were positively shocked by the prices in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Gasoline and accommodation were 25-30 percent cheaper, food and drinks at restaurants 40-60 percent and we spent much less money grocery shopping (with the low costs of eating out we didn’t feel the need to cook ourselves though). Entrance fees to most attractions are not more than 1 or 2 euro, which was really amazing.
It has great food
Because of the low cost of dinner (10-15 euro – or less – for two, including drinks) eating out in Bosnia-Herzegovina was a treat. Eating ćevapi (or ćevapčići), minced meat sausages in Turkish bread at least once is almost mandatory and super cheap. Other dishes we liked were burek, also referred to as pita (phyllo dough filled with meat, cottage cheese and sometimes spinach or potato, we liked all four of them, cheap and filling), klepe (meat dumplings), the mixed dolma plate (stuffed vegetables) and a variety of other meat dishes.
There are not many tourists
Maybe this post will change this, but after the tourist crowds in Croatia (even as early as May and June) the low tourist numbers in Bosnia-Herzegovina were a welcome change. Only Mostar felt a little bit busy but we would have been very happy if it had been like this in many of the places in Croatia we visited. Even in Sarajavo it was still noticeable low-season.
Our first destination on our road trip through Bosnia-Herzegovina was the town of Jajce where we spent a full day. In its rich history the town held an important strategic position in several empires and was the seat of Bosnian kings. The ruins of 15th century fortress – affording some nice views of the surroundings – are a reminder of that past. Walking through the small historic center of town you’ll pass some more nice buildings. But you can skip the catacombs, they’re totally uninteresting.
The main reason to visit Jajce, however, are the magnificent 22 meter high Pliva Falls. Never before have we seen such scenic falls, with the old town towering above them. You don’t get this view though if you go to the viewing platform directly in front of the falls (prepare to get wet) or from the viewing point above it (if you don’t want to get wet or are stingy about the 1 euro entrance fee, like us….).
To get the perfect shot you have to cross the bridge to the main road passing the town, turn left and walk a few hundred meters to a small gravel parking space on the left side of the road (you can drive here as well of course). A small track leads down to the best photo spot in town.
About five kilometers north of Jajce are the Pliva Lakes where 20 small wooden watermills that sit on a limestone partition that separate the Great and Small Pliva Lakes are the main attraction. They were once used by local farmers. The lake seemed like a nice place to relax a bit when the sun is out, but with grey skies, chilly temperatures and a little drizzle we had to pass on this.
Driving from Jajce to Sarajevo we passed the town of Travnik. We made a two hour stop here. It seemed like a pleasant city and although it boasts 28 culturally and historically significant buildings it has no real touristic highlights. But it was a good place to get a feel for real Bosnian life for a moment and pay a short visit the ruins of a 15th century castle with some decent views of the surroundings.
The capital city is not to be missed on a trip through Bosnia-Herzegovina. Culturally diverse, where east meets west, it’s a fascinating city to visit, not in the least because of its not too distant war past. Learning about the four year siege of the city in the early 1990’s is as much a part of visit to Sarajevo as seeing some of the sights the city has to offer.
An extremely scenic drive brought us from Bosnia into Herzegovina and to Mostar. We always identified Mostar with the world famous 16th century Stari Most (Old Bridge), but discovered that there is much more to this city than the bridge, like a delightful old historic town and some great street art.
We spent a day in Mostar, but could have stayed longer enjoying the atmosphere here. You can read more about Mostar in our post here.
Just 15 kilometers south of Mostar is the very picturesque Blagaj Tekija, a dervish house built in 15th century at the source of the blue-green Buna river where it gushes out of a cliff-cave. The half-timbered house has been extensively restored in 2008 and 2011 and was, and is, used for dervish praise-chanting, a dervish being a Sufi Muslim guide and Sufism being a more mystical approach to Islam.
To enter the dervish house you have to be clothed appropriately, so no shorts and sleeveless shirts and women must wear a headscarf. There are garments available to cover up if necessary. And don’t walk away because of this like we saw two other visitors do.
It’s one of the more interesting place to go when you visit Bosnia-Herzegovina Počiteljand we were surprised at how little visitors we saw here so close to Mostar. There were plenty opportunities too to drink a Turkish coffee or eat something at one of the many restaurants near the Tekija and the Buna river.
From Blagaj it is a half hour drive to the quaint village of Počitelj in the Neretva valley. The former stronghold against the Ottomans dates back to the late 14th century and is inscribed as Unesco World Heritage. It was fun and tough to walk the steep stairs through the village below the fort ruins, sometimes feeling you’re in ancient Turkey instead of Europe.
Bosnia’s Kravice waterfalls gives Croatia’s two famous and overvisited waterfalls at Plitvice and Krka a run for their money. The park is smaller, but the 26-28 meter high and 120 meter wide falls are equally impressive and scenic. The entrance fee is only 2 euro, but the falls are a little bit harder to get to, so visitor numbers are considerably lower. It is possible to swim in front of the falls, but at the beginning of June the water was still very nippy.
Leafy Trebinje lies in the Serb dominated Republika Srpska in the south of Bosnia-Hercegovina and can easily be reached from Mostar. We visited, however, as a detour on our way from Dubrovnik to Montenegro. We were drawn to Trebinje by photos we’d of the old city waterfront and an old Ottoman bridge being reflected in the water of the Trebišnjica river.
Regretfully there was too much wind to have any reflection. Without it the view was just very mediocre. The city itself didn’t have many other sights, but was very lively on Saturday. We wandered around the local market and saw a surprising amount of statues.
Located on a hill just outside Trebinje the Serbian Orthodox Hercegovačka Gračanica monastery was worth the detour though. It’s also called the Church of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Virgin and was only built in 2000 following the last will of the famous Trebinje born poet Jovan Ducic. It’s actually not that big, but it has some magnificent frescoes inside. It has developed into a popular pilgrimage site as well judging by the tour buses negotiating the steep road to the monastery.