Bosnia. A country I had never heard of before and only found it on the map the day before I arrived. That’s the best part about traveling: you can pick destinations based from where you are and discover places you would have never chosen otherwise. My new favorite way to travel is to explore the map and choose whatever flight is the cheapest. It’s what I like to call: having Skyscanner choose for you. With the “everywhere to everywhere” feature, I simply plugged in my current location: Cappadocia, Turkey, found an extremely cheap flight to Bosnia, and took the leap!
Check out How I Pick My Destinations
Needless to say, I was extremely happy with my spontaneous travel venture. Bosnia has changed me as a traveler and holds a special place in my heart. This country gave me a true respect for other cultures and religions.
A note on the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina:
I was immediately humbled after learning what really went down with the Bosnian war and how it affected so many people in my lifetime. A war that has remained hidden for a long time and to all of the world. Think: youtube video taken down and erased forever, except instead of a youtube video it’s a mass genocide where hundreds of thousands of innocent lives are killed. And that’s putting it lightly.
So you’re telling me there was a war going on in my lifetime and I have never even actually heard of this country before? A country that I just fell in love with. I felt like my life was a lie, literally. Especially for someone who thought to have a pretty good understanding of the world map and historic events. I have my tour guys to thank. I had the pleasure of having two separate tours from local men who could paint a perfect picture from their personal experience of what it was like almost 30 years ago living day in and out of warfare for reasons that are still so complicated.
It’s definitely worth going on a historical walking tour to learn more about the specifics of the Bosnian war, the effects of which can still be felt in Bosnia and Herzegovina today. Before we move on to how to get to Bosnia and Herzegovina, when to go, and what to do there, I think it’s really important to quickly explain the history of the Bosnian War.
The Bosnian War
The Bosnian War took place between 1992 and 1995, but its causes go back further in history. After World War II, the states of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia became together the People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. This joining of states into one republic was led by communist leader Josip Broz Tito, and it was a recipe for disaster because of the different ethnic and nationalist conflicts going on between them.
When Tito died in 1980, chaos followed, and in 1985, Slobodan Milosevic became a new leader, and wanted to create a Serbia made of only Serbians. When Bosnia became independent in 1992, many of its Serbian citizens, who were only one of many ethnic groups in Bosnia, still dreamt of this Serbia that had only Serbians that Milosevic had introduced. This is why the Bosnian War, and the Bosnian Genocide, began. It started when the Serbian Democratic Party in Bosnia bombarded Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo.
During the genocide against the Bosnian Muslims, approximately 100,000 people were killed, with 80 percent of them being Bosnian Muslims. The war finally came to an end in 1995 with the Dayton Accord.
When I arrived in Bosnia, I was completely unaware of its history. The biggest travel rule that’s nonnegotiable while traveling is getting an education on their history and culture, whether it be a walking tour or tuning into my personal favorite Rick Steves (the OG of travel guides who has free guided walking tours through his app, check out the “listen” section on his desktop site). Bosnia specifically, I cannot stress enough how important it is to visit surrounding landmarks, museums, memorials, and any areas where you can learn about this very recent violent history.
Getting to Bosnia:
The easiest way to get to Bosnia and Herzegovina is to take a cheap flight or bus from a surrounding country. Budget travelers can really score a deal on buses from Croatia to Bosnia if they are exploring the Balkans. Once you are in Bosnia, you can take full advantage of the country’s train system. You’ll be able to take a train to any major city within Bosnia.
When to go:
Since most tourists have yet to catch on to the beauty of Bosnia and Herzegovina, you don’t have to worry about high season crowds as much as you would in other Balkan countries. May-September brings warmer temperatures and is the best time to visit. If you are still nervous about crowds, visit in May or September instead of during the summertime. If you like outdoor winter sports, consider checking out the slopes in Bosnia during the wintertime!
Sarajevo is a magical blend of the old world and the new with a ton of religious and cultural diversity. It’s also the capital and largest city of Herzegovina. When you’re visiting, here are some things you should do to enjoy the city at the fullest and understand its history properly.
My heart will forever be in Mostar. With having no idea what to expect, and after leaving Sarajevo and learning about the people, culture, and history there, I was blown away by Mostar’s beauty. Mostar went from a place that I hadn’t even heard of to a place where I extended my stay twice. It’s truly a hidden masterpiece of the world, with other amazing places to explore by day trip nearby.
Here are some tips on what you can do on your visit to Mostar.
1 Discover the enchanting Old Town
This place is right out of a fairytale, the buildings and roads all made pale grey limestone and cobblestone, adorable shops, and restaurants that are on either side of the Neretva River with the famous bridge to connect you. There’s also the Old Bazaar, an Ottoman era supermarket where you can walk over the cobblestones as you pass by little stands selling souvenirs and typical Bosnian artisan goods. Don’t forget to admire the traditional Ottoman houses, too!
2 Learn about Mostar’s famous attraction, Stari Most
Stari Most, literally meaning “old bridge,” is a hugely important place to visit. Because there is so much history related to the war having to do with Stari Most, this bridge is as symbolic to Mostar as the Twin Towers are to New York. Originally built in the 1600s and a beautiful example of Turkish Ottoman architecture, this bridge was destroyed by Croatian armed forces on November 9, 1993. After the Bosnian War, it was rebuilt between 2001 and 2004, with many of the original stones recovered from the river where the original bridge fell. The bridge had always been a symbol of Stari Most. So after its reconstruction, it became an even bigger symbol of the way that Bosnia and Herzegovina has been reconstructed since the war.
You’ll end up crossing over the bridge practically every day since it’s in the center. But, for the best photographs, be up at sunrise if you want the bridge for yourself. It’s also smart to take pictures of the views of the river on both sides. Be sure to climb down the stairs beneath the bridge for views from below, where you’ll see Stari Most and the Old Town from a totally new perspective. You’ll also get a chance to dip your toes in the Neretva River!
By the way, don’t freak out if you see people jumping off the bridge–locals do it all the time for 25 euros, and it’s a 24-meter drop!
3 Enjoy bosnian coffee / or traditional bosnian cuisine with a view
Head over to Restoran Labirint, a perfect place for breakfast, bosnian coffee, and a view!
4 Take an all day tour with Hostel Nina
The all day tour that Hostel Nina offers, which lasts 8-10 hours, is an absolute MUST! We unfortunately weren’t able to stay at the hostel because it was fully booked. Instead, we took an absolutely fabulous tour with our fellow backpackers. All accommodations are in the section below.
5 Walk along the Neretva River
The Neretva River winds along through the center of Mostar. It’s a perfect, relaxing walk for seeing more of the city and walking along the beautiful water.
6 Visit the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque
One of the great things about visiting Bosnia is all the different old, beautiful, religious sites to see. So if you’re a fan of architecture, history, and religious centers, go to the beautiful Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque.
7 Take some day trips
There are also some amazing day trips you can take from Mostar. Here are some of the best ones:
Have you ever seen a more picturesque town that’s like a window to the past!? Počitelj, a small town in the Čapljina area, is believed to have been built by Bosnia’s King Stjepan Tvrtko I in 1383. It sits on a rocky hill sloping steeply down on the left bank of the Neretva river.
Take a walk around and you will feel like you have taken a step back in time to a forgotten era. Winding stone cobbled streets, a gorgeous mosque, houses built of stone into the hill, a fort with ruins, surrounded by stone city walls, all on one bank of the Neretva River.
The best views are from the fort tower. While it is a bit of a hike up the hill, the views of the town and the river from the tower are well worth it, be sure to climb the narrow spiraling stairs of the tower to the top.
During the middle ages, Počitelj was the administrative centre and its westernmost point, which gave it major strategic importance. After 1471, the town fell to the Ottomans, and remained with the Ottoman Empire until 1878. With the establishment of Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Počitelj lost its strategic importance and began to deteriorate.
After the most recent war, this historic town was heavily damaged, but reconstruction began in 2000. Though it’s not a popular town, I can see it becoming a real tourist attraction someday. Lucky for us, our tour guide brought us here and so we could see yet another beautiful part of Bosnia that we were so completely unaware of.
If you’re a lover of nature and waterfalls (who isn’t?), take a short trip to the Kravika Waterfall. It’s stunning, and you can even go for a swim!
Along your travels, there will be moments when you’ll stop and think “wow, I never thought I‘d be here”.
Blagaj Tekija (Dervish House) was just that— and it left us in awe. Not realizing this place existed or even a part of Bosnia, I knew I had recognized it from Pinterest and couldn’t believe I was standing right in front of it.
It’s hard to explain what‘s so special about Blagaj. It was just a tiny corner of the world, with extremely high cliffs surrounding this little white house. A beautiful mix of urban and rural structures placed perfectly on some of the most turquoise water I have ever seen— the Buna River. There’s even a rope that hangs over it so you can hold onto it and dunk your head in to drink the freshest and holiest water.
The Blagaj Tekija (or Tekke) was built for the Dervish cults in around 1520, with elements of Ottoman architecture and Mediterranean style and a national monument. It is one of Bosnia & Herzegovina’s most holy and ancient sites, originally meant to host gatherings of the Sufi Brotherhood.
Despite its small size, it has a gathering room (where praise-chanting occurred three nights a week), Turkish bath, kitchen, coffee room, guest room, and turbe (room that serves as a tomb); visitors must remove their shoes and women must cover themselves.
Miraculously, despite so much death and destruction happening so close by, this mystical Tekija remained untouched during the Bosnian War.
To get here, take a short cab from Mostar or take a tour through a hostel like we did. There are cute shops and restaurants with terraces alongside the river, so you can also enjoy the day with a nice meal, outlets, wifi, and a view.
In summary, put Bosnia on your bucket list!
Travelers have such a unique opportunity to help Bosnia recover just by visiting!
Sure we’d all like to travel to Paris, Rome, Santorini, and other highly visited destinations on our bucket list. But there’s so much more to see in this world where tourists and travelers are needed the most!
Bosnia is one of the poorest countries in the world. No really, we paid $12 a night to stay here. It’s poor because they wanted their independence back (like any other country would). Then, they were lied to, slaughtered (100,000 people) and are still living with the result.
By picking up a handmade souvenir, drinking coffee from a local shop, tipping a waitress, and staying at a hostel, you’re bringing a little bit of that outside cash into this country. You’re raising unemployment! The unemployment rate is 40% and for those who have jobs— 62% of your paycheck goes to income taxes! Together we can help rebuild this beautiful country. Help fill the holes in the buildings and the people.
So book your fairytale vacation to Bosnia, spend next to nothing, and help the beautiful country get back on its feet. Who knows, maybe in the next 5-10 years Bosnia WILL be the next Paris.
Lodging for every type of traveler
There are some great accommodations options all in Sarajevo. Here are some of my top ones:
If you want to meet other travelers, book a hostel.
Hostel Kucha is where I stayed and it’s great for digital nomads. They had breakfast every morning, a workspace and outside patio, and different tours available every day.
A couple other great hostels in Sarajevo are Balkan Han Hostel and Hostel City Center Sarajevo.
If you want to live like a local, book an AirBnB. Many of these places are entire apartments (not just rooms!). Not to mention, the cost per night is what you’d usually pay for a hostel in Western Europe. So it’s a great way to save and enjoy! Check out some great options here:
- Elegant and comfortable loft studio apartment
- Sunshine apartment in the heart of Sarajevo
- 2 bed apartment
Stay at a hotel
You can also splurge for luxury staying in a hotel. Here are a few options:
Lodging for every type of traveler
There are some great accommodations options all in Mostar. Here are some of my top ones:
- Hostel Nina’s (great tours, and even though we didn’t stay there, we wished we had!)
- Majdas Hostel
- Hostel Savat
You can also live like a local through AirBnB–and all for under $100 a night!
Where I stayed
You can also stay at a luxury hotel for way less than you would back at home. These are my recommendations: