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Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the most extraordinary and worthwhile countries I’ve travelled to. It was here I learned the true meaning of the kindness of strangers and was the place which defined the direction of my blogging.
The country is as geographically beautiful as it is socially hospitable. It’s an ideal destination for first-time solo female travellers. Here I will outline general travel advice for visiting Bosnia.
Visa: EU citizens as well as citizens of up to 30 other countries (US, Canada and Brazil included) are entitled to stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina for up to 90 days within a 180 day period. All foreign nationals must register with the police within 48 hours of arrival. Ask your accommodation provider if they will do this on your behalf.
Language: To quote Britannica “the mother tongue of the vast majority is Serbo-Croatian, a term used to describe, collectively, the mutually intelligible languages now known as Serbian, Croatian, or Bosnian, depending on the speaker’s ethnic and political affiliation. So, if you have knowledge of either Serbian or Croatian then Bosnian will be manageable.
I noticed that German was the second language of older people with English as the second language of younger people. Here is a list of basic Bosnian phrases:
Currency: The Bosnian Convertible Mark (BAM or KM) is a closed currency so unavailable outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, as all of my Irish credit and debit cards functioned as normal in Bosnia and Herzegovina I simply went to the first ATM machine and got my BAM that way.
Bosnia and Herzegovina Geography: Bosnia and Herzegovina is located in the Balkan Peninsula in South East Europe. Formerly part of Yugoslavia it voted for and declared independence in 1992. It is bordered by three of the other former Yugoslav countries – Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is divided administratively and legally into two entities: (a) Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (b) Republika Srpska (Bosnian Serb Republic). The capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina is Sarajevo, located in the centre of the country.
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s mountainous terrain makes it a great destination for outdoor adventure activities including approximately 20km of a coastline which cuts off the Dubrovnik area from the rest of Croatia.
Best time to visit: Winter in the inland mountain areas will be cold whilst the south has a more Mediterranean climate. For general sight-seeing, the best time for visiting Bosnia is May to September but bear in mind that it will get cold at night in the mountainous areas.
Electrical plugs: The standard continental European type which is the two round pin plug/socket of 220V-240V.
Food: Like most Balkan countries coffee and cigarettes are core parts of the diet, the coffee in Bosnia and Herzegovina being of the Turkish variety. A glass of water will be served with the coffee but I had great difficulty locating cafés which sold food as well – If anyone has any food-serving café suggestions please leave a comment below.
Meat, cheese and bread feature highly in the diet so make sure to eat fruit and vegetables to balance the fibre intake. Ćevapi is very popular and consists of sausages served with pitta bread, onions and yogurt. Meat pastries such as burek are equally popular and great for budget travellers.
Getting around Bosnia and Herzegovina: Drive in Bosnia and Herzegovina at your peril. Roads are mostly mountainous and labyrinthine, and drivers are fearless. Bosnians have a love affair with the Volkswagen car brand particularly the VW Golf Mk2. So do I.
The best method of travel in Bosnia and Herzegovina is by bus for its excellent value and for its comprehensive network. I recommend the GetByBus website for information on national and international routes.
The Sarajevo to Mostar train line is considered one of the most beautiful rail journeys in Europe. The Railways of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ZFBH) website contains information on rail travel in the federation whilst the Republika Srpska Railways (ZRS) website covers the Republic of Srpska.
Getting to Bosnia and Herzegovina: Sarajevo Airport is the main entry point via air. It has a number of direct flights to select European cities plus routes to the Middle East. Sarajevo Airport was a focal point during the Siege of Sarajevo and I have covered this in my Sarajevo’s Tunnel of Hope post.
Dubrovnik Airport in Croatia is a popular gateway to southern Bosnia and Herzegovina with passengers travelling onwards to Bosnia by bus.
According to The Man in Seat 61 blog no international trains run directly to Bosnia and Herzegovina. This leaves bus travel as the most-reliable way of visiting Bosnia by land. Note that there will be lengthy delays when crossing international borders, particularly into EU countries.
Is Bosnia and Herzegovina safe to visit: Yes, yes and ten-times yes. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a wonderful country for solo female travellers and for travellers of any description. I never felt threatened at any stage. In fact, I was warmly welcomed and the locals did their best to help me at all times. I even joined in a game of street football with some local kids near my apartment in Sarajevo.
Bosnia and Herzegovina History: This topic is covered extensively in my Sarajevo Free Walking Tour post but here is a brief summary.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has seen many an empire come and go, from the Romans and the Byzantines to the empire which had the most influence socially and architecturally – the Ottoman Empire, conquering in the 15th Century. In an effort to rid Europe of the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire took control in 1878 and remained until the end of World War I in 1918.
The assassination of Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, by Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914 is the event which triggered World War I.
Like the other former Yugoslav countries, Bosnia and Herzegovina became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918 which was renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1926. After World War II it became the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia and in 1963 the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In February-March 1992 Bosnia and Herzegovina voted for and declared independence, a move which was followed by war and genocide.
In 1995, a UN-approved NATO bombing campaign brought the sides to talks which resulted in the Dayton Accords peace agreement.
Cultural sensitivity: The three main ethnic groups in the country are Bosniaks (Muslim), Bosnian Serbs (Orthodox) and Croats (Catholic). Given that the country experienced such carnage and tragedy in the 1990s war it is absolutely imperative that you do your homework on the causes, the combatants and the international interventions. My Visiting Mostar and Sarajevo’s Tunnel of Hope posts will help with the background information you need when visiting Bosnia.
MOSTAR: My trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina coincided with the country’s first appearance in a FIFA World Cup. In Bosnia-Herzegovina: Visiting Mostar I examine the country’s political and ethnic divisions through the medium of sport, as well as giving a guided tour of Mostar and it’s UNESCO-designated Old Bridge.
MEDJUGORJE: Pure curiosity brought me to Medjugorje, a Catholic pilgrimage site near Mostar. Despite being a spiritual travel novice I put this post together as a travel guide to Medjugorje. Did I experience a miracle? Find out in my Day Trip from Mostar to Medjugorje post.
SARAJEVO: The horrors of the Siege of Sarajevo are laid bare in my Sarajevo War Tunnel post. This recounts a tour of the Sarajevo tunnel which was built underneath the runway of Sarajevo Airport as a means of getting food and utility supplies into the surrounded city.
SARAJEVO: Sarajevo has seen many empires come and go. In my Sarajevo Free Walking Tour post I look at the sites in the Bosnian capital associated with the country’s extensive, and often turbulent, history.
VISITING BOSNIA: BOOKS AND RESOURCES
Bradt’s Bosnia & Herzegovina travel guide was an absolute godsend and included information on sustainable travel as well.
For a general Balkan guide check out Lonely Planet’s Southeastern Europe guide.
Described as a Beckettian metaphor for the war, Denis Tanovic’s No Man’s Land is a fictional satirical take on 1990s conflict and its national and international players. It won the Best Foreign Language film at the Academy Awards in 2001.
The Whistleblower stars Rachel Weisz in fine form as a US cop who travels to Bosnia and Herzegovina to work on post-war peacekeeping efforts and discovers a sex-trafficking ring exploiting the vulnerable people they are tasked to protect. The film is based on true events.