Mention the name “Bosnia-Herzegovina” to many older adults and their first instinct is to react with horror and remember the gruesome images that flooded their TVs during the 90s from the Balkan War. I’ve seen the images myself and heard the stories and grew up under the impression the country still wasn’t safe. Well, it’s been 20+ years, and times have changed. The country is still just starting to blossom into an up & coming travel destination still very much off the travel mainstream but loaded with treasures waiting to be explored and I wanted to go!
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Our fears and the Warnings Prior to Visiting
Prior to our road trip through Croatia, I was trying to convince Hans to drive into Bosnia-Herzegovina for an afternoon on our way from Split to Dubrovnik. It would only add about an hour and half to our drive down south, so I thought, “What’s the harm!?” We had made no official plans to go until we were sitting in our hotel room in Split seriously contemplating whether or not we would make the extra effort.
We had done the research. The war between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina had been over and finished for two decades. Croatia has successfully joined the Eurozone, while Bosnia-Herzegovina still has some ways to go, but it is their desire to join the EU. The future is upon us and bitter tensions are still simmering between the two countries. We were going to have to pass through the Bosnian passport control through a 5 mile coastline of Bosnia just to reach Dubrovnik anyways. We might as well go into Mostar! I just couldn’t resist passing up this opportunity!
After all, Lonely Planet has Mostar’s Stari Most bridge ranked as the 113th best travel destination on the planet, so therefore it MUST be worth visiting, right?
But the safety regulations clearly stated:
Landmines remain a problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As of 2014, there were still numerous minefields and an estimated 200,000 active land mines and unexploded ordnances throughout the country. Excessive flooding and landslides in May 2014 shifted or washed away many mines throughout northern Bosnia and Herzegovina and many are still unaccounted for at this time. Since 1996, approximately 16,830 people have been injured due to mine accidents, of which almost 600 people died.
Other important information before visiting Bosnia-Herzegovina!
So the question was still, was it safe enough to go? I’m not going to lie, I BADLY wanted to go to Mostar just to see the famous bridge, Stari Most. But was visiting a bridge enough to justify risking Hans’ and my life? No, definitely not.
I am a wanderer at heart and grew up traveling with my family even in the worst of times. A week after 9/11 happened, my family and I were still on that plane headed for London. We each had an entire row of seats to spread out on. Two weeks after the London Underground bombings happened, guess where we were? On the plane still headed to London. We have never ever let anything stop us from traveling. We always believed, that if it’s our time to go, it’s our time to go. And at least it would happen while doing something we loved. Traveling.
So, I sent a message to my mom, giving her an update on our plans. She asked if she should be worried, and I said, “No, I don’t think so. As long as we stick to the main roads, don’t get out of the car, we will be fine”. She would write me later begging me not to go, but I have to be honest again. I was selfish in my pursuit of going because something told me I had to discover for myself if Bosnia was safe or not. After all, I had read plenty of blogs of other travelers who made the trip without any hindrance to their excursions. The only terrible thing I had read was that no one spoke English. Big whoop.
So, we slept on the idea of going. Finally, in the morning we decided we wanted to do it. We routed out the best possible route to get us safely to and from Mostar.
We Went Anyways….and LOVED IT!
Getting to Mostar from Split, Croatia
We took the A1 south towards Dubrovnik, eventually following road signs that lead us in the direction of Mostar. We crossed the border and got a stamp in our books at a deserted passport control center.Since 1995, tourism has increased steadily but still many people are hesitant to come here, so it wasn’t surprising that it was empty. We were asked for our car registration as well as our passports. They will also make sure that the car is internationally insured.
Having no problems, we set out on our way. Only to loose our navigation guide in our car as the roads and streets in Bosnia have not been mapped out yet. We had to rely strictly on road signs guiding us in the direction of Mostar, which to be honest was not a problem. Even if at times, the sign to Mostar was X’d out, we followed the sign anyways because there was no other option.
As we finally began to reach the outskirts of Mostar, we were a bit alarmed to see so many buildings still left abandoned and destroyed from the war with bullet holes leaving much to the imagination. But, having already driven through some of the back roads of Croatia and seeing this already, we weren’t at all put off by this.
Once directly in the city center, we followed the street signs clearly guiding us to the Stari Most bridge. We found parking easily for 5€ for the entire day. We were worried about leaving our car sitting out full of our luggage, but there was a lady standing at the ready to collect our money to make sure we paid for parking. This we felt, made us feel better that she was clearly watching over her parking lot.
The Old Town of Mostar
The walk from the parking lot was only about 5 minutes before reaching the touristy shops, cafes and restaurants lining the walk way leading to the bridge. I immediately saw the mosaic lamps and knew I was going to end up buying one! They were just so pretty!!
Stari Most (Old Bridge) of Mostar
The Stari Most bridge that is currently standing there is actually a reconstruction of a bridge that had been built by the Ottomans which previously stood there for 427 years before being destroyed in 1993 by the Croats during the Croat-Bosniak War. The bridge was rebuilt and opened again to the public in 2004.
It has become a national image of Bosnia as it represents one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in the Balkans. It is a small but steep bridge that rises high above the emerald green Neretva River. I had never before seen a river of such stunning colors and our pictures hardly do the beauty justice! It was very interesting to see the small old town of Mostar built high up along the cliffs hovering over the river.
The Bridge Jumpers
While here, we had the chance to see a small group of three men, advertising themselves for money, that if given enough money, they would jump off of the bridge and drive into the flowing river. I had previously read that they wouldn’t jump for less than 30€. Knowing this, I paid a 1€ hoping to encourage them to jump sooner so we could get out of the heat. They would tease the crowd and work us up, anxiously waiting, standing at the ready to snap a picture of them leaping from the bridge before doing a perfect dive into the water. After some time, one would finally jump. While there, we got to watch two of the guys jump with their arms soaring behind them.
After watching this spectacle, we meandered though the small walkways enjoying looking at one souvenir shop after another. I don’t normally buy souvenirs other than stickers or postcards for my scrapbooks, but today, I bought two souvenirs. I felt the need to splurge a little on an adventure that turned out to be well worth the effort of going! I bought a hand crafted mosaic lamp as well as a traditional copper painted coffee pot. They were just so pretty!
It must have been the heat! The heat was so extreme the afternoon we were there. I have never sweated before so much in all my life just from standing in the sun. The heat was at least 40*C/100*F+. I was dying and desperately wishing I had bought one of the parasols in Split! It was unbearable! You could see people everywhere scuttling along anywhere they could find shade of casually enjoying a cold drink at one of the terraces!
The Best View in Town!
Eventually, we made our way towards the end of the small walkway and we found the Old Bazaar which we went inside and looked around. It was here that we also saw a sign that signaled for the best view of the bridge in the whole town. However, in order to check out the best view of the whole town, you had to buy a ticket first which gave you access both to the view and inside the mosque for 5€.
We took a quick peak inside of the Koski Mehmed-pasha’s mosque which had been built in 1617 along the rocky cliffs of the Neretva river. This was definitely a first for me to visit a mosque and I wasn’t sure really how to behave in the mosque. I assumed no different than any other church but I didn’t stay long as I wasn’t sure if I would offend anyone by showing my shoulders. This was the first time I had ever visited a country which was predominantly Muslim.
Afterwards, we sat for a while along the wall which was behind the mosque. It was here that you could enjoy the best view of the bridge. I was losing my patience with the heat so we didn’t stay for very long before we headed back towards the bridge.
Down by the River
We decided to go down to the river and get a view of the bridge at a different angle. Again, we waited and waited for a guy to jump and not being able to stand the unbearable heat anymore, we walked the few steps up to the bar/café that was built into the cliff below the bridge and sat in the shade drinking ice cold water before the man jumped.
After that, we hauled butt back to the car where air conditioning and more ice cold water in our ice chest sat waiting for us. We gulped down a bottle of water each before getting back on the road and headed to Dubrovnik.
Driving from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Dubrovnik, Croatia
We would have to go through the Bosnian-Croatian border two more times before reaching Dubrovnik. So my passport, being the non-EU citizen received many new stamps which made me a happy traveler as in Europe, I almost never get stamps. However, at the border right after Bosnia’s only beach resort town, Neum, we had to wait an hour in traffic to get through the border control. Apparently, more people go into Croatia than go into Bosnia.
Overall Experience…would I go again? HELL YES!
Overall, I was really glad we went and discovered for ourselves how it was to visit Bosnia. I’m sure the safety regulations of people is very real in Bosnia, but you never know when and where a terrorist attack might hit. And while the idea of unknown, un-detonated landmines was a scary thought, it’s really no different than living here in Germany and still discovering un-detonated WWII bombs. Just a month prior to our vacation, the very town that I live in found a large WWII bomb that had to be carefully removed. Last year, a street I take to get to work every day was roped off and surrounded by cops only to find out later that 5 un-detonated WWII bombs had been found.
Now, I will never specifically put myself or anyone else directly in harms way, but knowing that Bosnia very badly wants to join the Eurozone, I felt that it had to be somewhat safe considering there are many regulations a country must follow before they can join the Eurozone.
Mostar was surprisingly a very touristy little destination and the service here was great. You can tell that they desperately want the tourists to come. In fact, it is projected that Bosnia will have the third highest tourism growth rate between 1995-2020. If you build it, they shall come, right? Mostar is even ranked the 113th best travel destination by Lonely Planet in the world, therefore it should NOT be missed!
Tourists are the livelihood of countries struggling to make a foothold in this world. If the tourists will come, the economy will get better and the living conditions of people will get improve. While I was never worried about myself of Hans while we were in Mostar, there were people, especially women and children begging for money. This, I did not see as a threat or danger to our visit. It only made you want to help them.
We also wish we had realized how amazing Bosnia-Herzegovina was going to be and planned to stay longer. Turns out there are several day trips from Mostar, for example, Kravice Falls and Blagaj tekija!
Tips before visiting Mostar:
- Don’t leave your house without your passport & car registration!!
- If you don’t have Bosnian money, you can pay the toll with your Credit Card!
- In Mostar, they accept Euros!
- From Split to the border, the toll was 49 Kuna/6.49€
- After the border, another small toll was 1.20 KM (Bosnian)/.80cents €
- Bring a paper map!! Your navigation system won’t do you good!
- Follow the road signs which will lead you to where you need to go!
- Stay on all main roads! Do not go on any back roads!
- If you go in the summer, bring plenty of water, a hat and umbrella for shade!
Looking for more practical information on Bosnia-Herzegovina? Grab a copy of this Bradt Travel Guide which we found incredibly useful on our trip and has something for everyone from outdoor activities to historical sites!
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