Of all the battles that broke out after the breakup of Yugoslavia, the war that raged in Bosnia and Herzegovina was the most high profile conflict by far. Divided along ethnic lines between Orthodox Christian Serbs, Croat Catholics, and Bosniak Muslims, this country was rife with deadly potential for violence, and when Bosniak authorities declared their independence in 1992 (which was recognized by the international community), the Serbs (and to a lesser extent, the Croats) reacted in a violent manner, mobilizing in regions where their majorities were, and then proceeding to “cleanse” their regions of the Bosnian minorities.
This ugly civil war ended in 1995, and while it definitely took its toll on the people and the nation’s infrastructure, the decades that have passed have gone a long way to helping recover Bosnia’s suitability for tourism. While the legacy of this war still spooks travelers to this day, it is mostly a safe and secure place (stay on well worn paths, as there are many un-detonated landmines still out there) for budget minded wanderers, with a variety of cultural experiences waiting for those willing to cast off long dead stereotypes regarding this place being a war zone.
All things considered, you are in the heart of the Balkans here, with a mix of hearty cuisines, churches, mosques and medieval villages. For those looking for a deeply cultural Eastern European environment, minus most of the modernism and high prices of the west, you will find much of what you are looking for in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Currency: Bosnian Convertible Mark
Languages: Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian
What To Do
Start your journey through Bosnia by spending some time poking around Bosnia’s cosmopolitan capital Sarajevo, where the epicentre of the most televised civil war of the 20th century took place. During much of the three year war, the capital was under siege by Serbian forces, yet throughout this time, Bosnian forces remained relatively well-armed and citizens were mysteriously escaping, despite being surrounded by the enemy.
The secret asset behind these head-scratching facts was the Sarajevo Tunnel, a subterranean passage sculpted by Bosnian forces to achieve the previously mentioned aims. Eventually, over the life of the tunnel, rails were laid to allow carts of supplies to pass from the forward operating position of the Bosnian army beyond the city proper straight into the heart of the action, and lighting and piping to transport oil were also installed.
The house which hosted the root cellar that marked the beginning of the tunnel is now a museum, which is complete with movies, artifacts, and a short portion of tunnel is available for visitors to stroll.
After your time in Sarajevo, head down country to the charming town of Mostar. Here, you’ll find the iconic medieval era bridge known as Stari Most, which was a bridge constructed by the Ottomans in the 16th century, made remarkable by its pronounced thin stone arch.
During the Bosnian War, shelling and bombing led to the span being completely destroyed, but with the cessation of hostilities in 1995, reconstruction work began in earnest using as many original pieces from the bridge as possible and by 2004, it was reopened to visitors. Serving as the centrepiece for a town that exudes medieval charm, your time here will likely serve as a meditative moment as the aged buildings of this old settlement and the towering mountains surrounding you will give you an experience that you likely won’t soon forget!
Next up on your cultural tour of Bosnia should be Jajce Fortress, a Hungarian keep that was constructed in the 14th century. This fort protected a town worth defending, as the town behind it is surrounded by spectacular mountains and a picture perfect waterfall.
Opposition forces tried to take it many times (with the Ottomans finally succeeding later on), leading to many rebuilds and repairs over the centuries. In spite of this, the walls and ramparts are in rather good condition, making it a definite must-see during your travels throughout Bosnia.
While it likely may just be a geological phenomenon that resembles a pyramid, it has been posited that there might be an ancient structure of that shape in the area of Visoko, northwest of Sarajevo, known locally as the Osmanagić Pyramid. All of the archeologists that have examined the site have declared it a hoax, though the site of the hills still resemble that pyramidic shape, making it worth a look if you’re passing through the area.
Those looking to get active have a variety of options in Bosnia. If you are traveling through the region in the colder months, then look to get in some turns on the same runs that Olympic skiers rode to glory during the 1984 Olympics. Jahorina hosted the runs that the women raced, while Bjelašnica was where the guys gunned down the alpine pistes in pursuit of gold.
In the warmer days of summer, outdoor lovers should check out Kravice for a swimming hole that locals frequent with glee. With waterfalls that invoke memories of Plitvice Lakes National Park, but possessing the ability to swim amongst such beauty (swimming is banned at Plitvice Lakes), this corner of the country will quickly become your favourite. With a rope swing that allows for acrobatic dives into the refreshing water, we have no doubt that it will.
What To Eat
Being popular throughout much of the Balkans (but particularly so in Bosnia), Cevapi is a dish that the busy traveler should make time to consume. A flavourful kebab that contains lamb and beef sausage served with onions, ajvar and sour cream in pita bread, this will be a frequent go-to as you traverse this expansive land-locked country.
As you travel throughout Bosnia, be sure to look for food stands that advertise Janjetina, which is a whole lamb that is roasted on a spit. This is not a meal to be attempted alone, so when you are traveling as part of a group, make an effort to attempt this savoury meal.
When your sweet tooth requires some stimulation, seek out some Krempita. Resembling a cheesecake in taste and mouth feel, Krempita is made with several layers of puff pastry and a whole whack of heavy cream, making for the perfect end to a big Bosnian meal.