Rolling hills, majestic fortresses, crystal clear rivers, overwhelming hospitality and a history torn apart by conflict are all synonymous when I think about Bosnia.
It is a country unlike any other in the Balkans and I hope it finds a special place in your heart like it did in mine. It might not be on the package tour websites but it certainly lies on the backpacking trail in the Balkans, and Mostar and Sarajevo are two cities that most travelers will find themselves going through as they journey on, either to Serbia or Croatia.
Getting between these two cities is easy as there are frequent buses and trains and from abroad there are various routes to reach either city. Personally I took a 3 hour bus from Dubrovnik to Mostar and then a 3 hour bus to Sarajevo from Mostar. Prices are cheap at 7 euros and there is free wifi on most buses.
Arriving from Croatia the first thing that hit me is that it is significantly cheaper, Bosnia is not part of the EU and the living standards and infrastructure certainly reflects this, but as a budget traveler it is paradise. In Mostar and Sarajevo private rooms in the centre of town are as little as 18 euros a night while in Dubrovnik I paid 50. Go into the country and prices drop even more.
Mostar is a absolutly stunning city with cobblestone roads, mosques and of course the famous stari most, the old bridge that connects the two sides of the mighty river flowing through the city. It is unbelievably beautiful and is worth staying overnight just to see it lit up after dark. The surrounding area has 15th century castles, waterfalls, dervish monasteries and enough history to keep you enthralled for days. Then of course there is the war, so prevalent in the city that you start to wonder if machine guns will start to fire around the corner. Ruins of buildings still litter the street in the residential areas of town, abandoned apartment blocks littered in bullet holes and bombed out craters intersperse the newly erected buildings. It is a poignant reminder that the war is still a fresh wound in this part of the world. I did a tour in Mostar with the hostel I stayed at “Majdas” which was literally like a home away from home. The tour is with Majdas brother Bata, and is a 12 hour marathon of famous sights as well as history of the conflict which I highly recommend for anyone wanting a first hand account of what has happened and is still happening in the Balkans. Take it with a grain of salt though as it is very much from the Bosnian point of view but it is still a worthwhile use of your time and one of the best value tours I have ever been on in terms of sights and stories.
Dervish house outside Mostar
In Sarajevo you can see the bridge where World War 1 was started with the assassination of Fraz Ferdinand and the Library where thousands of books were burned during the war, you can wander old markets and listen to the call for prayer from the mosques. There is also a more vibrant nightlife in Sarajevo but I personally preferred the quiet peace and beauty that Mostar held.
How to get there
From the main cities in Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro there are frequent bus connections to both Mostar and Sarajevo. I travelled from Dubrovnik and simply went to the bus station and bought a ticket at the counter, there were several buses a day and the price was cheap at 7 euros. Keep in mind though that everywhere in the Balkans you have to pay for luggage. It is usually 1 euro to put your bag under the bus.
Sarajevo also has an airport but depending where you are flying from it might be cheaper to fly into a more touristic city and get a bus. The busstop/trainstop in Mostar is walking distance to the centre and is very easy to navigate. In Sarajevo when you arrive at the main station you need to take the tram number 1 into the city centre. It is right in front of the main station and is very easy to get as it only goes one direction. You can buy the ticket from a small kiosk by the tram stop and it is just a few stops into the city center. If you arrive at the East Sarajevo bus station by the airport (If you are coming from Serbia) then you need to take a taxi, the fair price is KM 20 (EUR 10). There is also a local bus but I didn’t take it.
Where to stay
If you are a solo traveler than hostels are a great way to meet other people and I loved “Majdas” in Mostar. If however you are looking for more privacy and are traveling as a couple then it can be even cheaper to rent a private room on Booking or Airbnb. If you want a USD 35 discount then use this link. In Sarajevo I booked a beautiful little room overlooking the main square for 18 euros a night, it was quiet and comfortable and a perfect way to get some much needed rest away from the busy common rooms of hostels.
What to do
In Mostar if you are short on time then write “Majdas” and book a spot on Batas tour, it will be the best way to see the main highlights of the area including Kravice waterfalls, Srebrenik fortress, and a local Dervish house. It costs KM 60 (EUR 30) and is well worth the money. If you can’t book a spot on his tour then you can do each of those separately with other tour companies, the waterfalls are beautiful and very refreshing on a hot summer’s day and in Bosnia it gets hot!
Image by Mark
Old town Mostar is amazing and if you are lucky you will be able to see someone jump off the 24 meter bridge. I was able to see that and it sounds like someone hitting concrete when they hit the river below, a pretty brave feat. The best view of the bridge is from the Mosque on the river, it costs 5 euros to climb to the top of the minaret and although the spiral walkway is extremely narrow and can cause a bit of claustrophobia the view is worth it.
Image by Herman from the mosque
If you are feeling adventurous then two very interesting things to do in Mostar is climb sniper tower and visit the old war memorial Partizansko spomen-groblje both are in ruins and are very interesting to see and hear the history of.
View from war memorial
To access sniper tower you have to jump a wall that you can climb around the back of the building and then climb the seven stories until you reach a fire ladder hidden in the back rooms, the view from the roof is stunning and you can still find bullet casings from the snipers who gave the infamous tower its name.
Sniper tower Image by Ronan
To eat I highly recommend Tima Irma, just after the old bridge, I had read about it on tripadvisor and it lived up to every expectation. I had mountains of food and wine for under 10 euros, which in such a touristic location is incredible.
In Sarajevo there are museums and walking tours you can do that will give you insight on the war, you can usually book these with your hostel. The old city is also nice although not as picturesque as Mostar. I recommend getting a shisha and some turkish delight at one of the hundreds of cafes in the old city in Sarajevo and watch the people walk by, more often then not someone will join you for a chat, Bosnians are very friendly and I got allot of insight into the culture by talking to the waiters and other customers.
Sarajevo Image by Terek