Driving into Bosnia Herzegovina we weren’t too sure what to expect. All we knew was that it isn’t quite a tourist hotspot, there are still landmines in a lot of areas and the country itself is still very much recovering from the war from just over 20 years ago.
We crossed the border from Croatia with ease – a quick check of the passports and off we went. We had about a 3 hour journey to our final destination for the day and were very much intrigued by what this country had to offer. One of the most obvious things we noticed was the abundance of empty land and large flowing rivers. The roads were narrow, most locals were driving tiny VW’s from the 80’s and for some odd reason, there were quite a few men transporting goods in broken prams. Along the way we made assumptions as to whether the war affected certain areas and this was made obvious by the villages with completely destroyed and vacated buildings.
Eventually we reached the town of Mostar and stayed at a fantastic guesthouse run by a young family called Hostel Lovely Home (it really was!) located 10 minutes out of Old Town. We had 2 nights there which initially I thought may have been too much but we are so glad we did this. So here’s how we spent the 2 days.
(Really random Kim Jong-Un billboards on the roads)
Only a 15 minute drive out of Mostar lies this tiny village famous for its beautiful spring. We didn’t spend too long here but managed to find a cliff overlooking the spring for a quick lunch stop.
There are also plenty of stalls on the walk there selling punnets of figs for €1 and they are absolutely divine!
Located only a 45 minute drive south of Mostar are the Kravice Falls, considered to be the most beautiful waterfalls the country has to offer. For only 4KM (€2) you can enter the park and swim in the water, admire the swimmers or hike. We had every intention of going for a swim but by the time we arrived it was just over 20 degrees and the water was freezing. We were quite happy to just sit on the sidelines and watch as the others (mainly locals) dipped their bodies into the water for the first time. The falls were beautiful and the water relatively clean but having seen Iguazu Falls in Argentina it definitely didn’t wow us. But it is certainly a place that would be fantastic to hang out for quite a few hours during the summer.
Old Mostar Bridge
This is perhaps the main drawcard for pretty much any tourist who visits the country. The iconic bridge links one side of the old town to the other and is famous not only for it’s architectural ingenuity but for what happened to it during the war. In 1993 it was bombed along with all the other bridges in the city so for a long time the locals used wooden planks to cross to the other side. It was eventually reconstructed in 2004 using as many of the original bricks as possible and is now protected by UNESCO. Something else that draws people to this bridge is the divers. The men who are part of the diving club are often seen collecting tips from tourists and once they’ve reached the amount they desire, one of them will dive. It’s roughly a 41m fall and generally only performed by members of the diving club. If a tourist wants to do the dive they must pay the club to train them and if they pass the test they will able to complete the dive. Unfortunately one tourist dies each year from doing this.
City Walking Tour
Our guide Boyana is a 23 year old local who is just about to complete her Law degree and was only a baby when the war began. Listening to her it was quite interesting to hear that in the view of the young people, the country needs to move on from the war and let history stay in the past. This is obviously quite difficult as the scars of the war remain quite raw for those who have lived it.
The country itself has been under rule since the 15th Century when it was under the control of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years. Despite 4 centuries of power, the Ottomans didn’t really accomplish much besides building the small Old town. This period was followed by the Austio-Hungarian Empire who ruled for 40 years and were super efficient. They managed to expand the city significantly with infrastructure, wider roads, schools and much more.
Currently the population of country is ~4 million and in Mostar is 100,000 with a large majority being Croats (Catholics).
Our guide took us to the famous Bruce Lee statue. This is pretty random, even by my standards, and it’s not clear why this statue was put here. Though it’s assumed that because Bruce Lee was such an icon at the time, put his statue there was a symbol of hope for the city.
Death of Yugoslavia Tour
We had been eagerly awaiting this tour having very limited knowledge about the recent history. Our guide Dario from Ihouse Tours was the perfect person for the job being able to present some pretty dark information in a lighthearted way.
We visited 3 sites along the way:
1. Secret Plane Bunker
This is where Tito (dictator) hid all his secret warplanes which he’d purchased for a ridiculous amount. It’s a massive dark tunnel hidden in a mountain and is now an abandoned space where local kids use as a playground.
2. The grounds of the previous commercial centre
This used to be the location of the main shopping mall and the main hang-out spot for the locals. The mall itself was completely destroyed during the war and is now just a pile of rubble surrounded by a fence. This area was also where much of the fighting occurred so many of the surrounding buildings including the Sniper Tower are either severely damaged or decorated with bullet holes.
3. Partisan Cemetary
This was the last stop of the tour. This was a cemetary dedicated to the Yugoslav Partisans (members of the secret armed forces) who died during WWII.
This is what it used to look like:
This is what it looks like now:
As you can see, sadly it has not been maintained. There are overgrown weeds, broken beer bottles and grafitti everywhere. This cemetary housed the bodies of people from various religions which is quite different to modern times where the cemtaries are separated according to religion. Our guide believes the government doesn’t care to repair and maintain the monument as it reminds the people of a better time, a time where peaceful coexistence between different religions was possible.
Like much of Eastern Europe, the Bosnians love their meat. As per the recommendation of our host, over 2 nights we enjoyed a delicious cervape (mini sausages served with pita bread and raw onion) at Rota Restaurant and a traditional Bosnian platter (cervape, meat in vine leaves, sauteed chicken, rice and a few other meat dishes) at Sadrvan. Both were delicious and cheap!
Our introduction to Bosnia Hertzogovena has been amazing and absolutely mind blowing! We have never been in a country affected by such a recent war and whilst it is sad to see how slow the progress is, we are hopeful that in the decade or so, it will flourish.
Now on to the capital, Sarajevo!
Till next time
Ann & Jason xo