Last updated: March 2018
I had already visited Bosnia once in 2005 as a volunteer, rebuilding homes of the elderly that were damaged during the war. I loved the country with its green hills and small villages. Backpacking Bosnia as a volunteer was great and since then I have always wanted to return.
Now Wizz Air is flying directly to Tuzla from the Netherlands with tickets for 45 euro’s if you are lucky. I grabbed this opportunity to see more of Bosnia with both hands and returned several times.
Bosnia is an excellent budget destination with lots to offer and one can easily spent weeks backpacking here. Sarajevo and Mostar are getting more touristic, but in general it’s still an off the beaten path destination.
Backpacking Bosnia: A 10 day itinerary
1. Tuzla: Bosnia off the beaten path (recommended 1 day)
Wizz Air brought me to the town of Tuzla, one of the most multicultural cities of Bosnia and home to Europe’s only salt lake. Our Airbnb hosts were a welcoming family that had lived in Tuzla their whole life. They explained how the economic situation is getting worse. The mother of the family used to work in Tuzla’s only hotel but has now quit her job. She didn’t receive her salary for months, something that had never happened before, not even during the war.
Unemployment is high in Tuzla as many industrial factories and firms are closing down after being privatized. It was in Tuzla that a series of protests and riots started against the government that soon spread throughout Bosnia in 2014.
We only spent a short time in Tuzla, but it was enough to visit the old town with its colorful buildings before taking a bus to Sarajevo.
Transport: From Tuzla there are frequent buses to Olovo (2 hours) and Sarajevo (3 hours)
2. Olovo: trekking through the hills (recommended 1-2 days)
On the way from Tuzla to Sarajevo you will find the small town of Olovo that sees few foreign visitors. This is a truly off the beaten path destination and there is in fact not much to do in the town itself. However, Olovo is surrounded by stunning mountains and beautiful landscapes that makes it a great base for some trekking in the surrounding hills and get a glimpse of Bosnia’s incredible nature.
Olovo is in the Krivaja river valley and at the confluence of two other rivers. There are several termal springs in the area where the waters are believed to have healing powers. The Aquaterm spa in the centre of Olovo is believed to cure rheumatics and neurological problems among others. The amazing nature and landscapes remain the main draw of Olovo though.
Some of the mountain paths are part of the via dinarica, a long distance hiking trail that is being developed to increase ecotourism in the region. It crosses the Dinaric Alps through several countries in the Balkans. National Geographic rated the via dinarica as one of the best destinations in 2017.
I really enjoyed the small hikes we did by simply following the paths up the hill where we were awarded with beautiful views on the town below. Olovo is a safe area to walk around, but it is important you stay on the paths. Sadly, mines are still a problem if you venture deep into the forests around Olovo.
Transport: from Olovo’s bus station there are several buses to Sarajevo (1 – 2 hours)
Accomodation & Food: There are not many accomodation options, but some mountain huts are available on Airbnb or Booking.com. The Hotel and Restaurant Panorama next to the road to Sarajevo offers great food with a beautiful panorama view over Olovo. They also have rooms if needed.
3. Sarajevo: my favourite city in Europe (recommended 3+ days)
It is easy to love Sarajevo. The multicultural city surrounded by mountains that prevent it from getting bigger has a charming old town, delicious restaurants, cosy teahouses, and some interesting museums.
The city itself kan keep you busy for two to three days, but you will need more time if you also want to explore the interesting daytrip options. There is so much to see and do that I tought Sarajevo deserves its own post. Please read more on the best of Sarajevo: where east meets west..
4. The scenic road from Sarajevo to Mostar
Going from Sarajevo to Mostar is easy and the scenery along the road makes this trip worthwhile on its own. You can take an early morning train or take a bus that leaves frequently throughout the day. Both offer stunning views on the surrounding countryside. The train was a bit too early for us so we took a bus and enjoyed every minute of it.
Transport: There are frequent buses between Sarajevo, Konjic and Mostar taking 3 hours. The train option seems to be seasonal and is sometimes not running. According to the Bosnian railway website the Sarajevo Caplijina express runs from June till August leaving around 7 AM and will stop in Konjic and Mostar. However, it is better to check if this information is still correct.
5. Konjic and Tito’s bunker (recommended 1 day or daytrip from Sarajevo)
The road from Sarajevo to Mostar is not only beautiful, but you can also make a stop at Konjic. The surrounding nature with the deep blue Neretva river is stunning.
It was here, right next to the river, but hidden from view, that Titov built a bunker deep under the ground. The bunker was meant to keep him, his family and a considerable amount of other people high up in the Yugoslavian Parliament alive for two years after a nuclear attack. It was never used and is now open for visitors through Visit Konjic.
The bunker also hosts a modern art gallery at the moment. I thought it was an interesting visit showing the remnants of a past in which nuclear attacks seemed a real possibility in some parts of the world.
Transport: There are frequent buses to Konjic from Sarajevo taking about 1 hour
6. Mostar: small but beautiful (recommended 2 days)
Any visit to Bosnia is not complete without visiting Mostar. The charming historic town with the view on the old bridge over the Neretva river took my breath away.
With the excellent restoration work it is easy to forget Mostar’s gruelling past. It was however, the most heavily bombed city during the war. Most historic buildings were destroyed including the old bridge connecting the muslim part of town with the Croatian part of town.
Now it feels like nothing has changed since the Ottoman times with the cobbled stoned streets and the minarets in the background. However, this is one of the most touristic places in Bosnia. I was here in the end of september when the amount of tourists was less, but I think it must be really crowded in summer.
7. Delicious Bosnian food in Sadrvan restaurant, Mostar
One of my favourite restaurants in Mostar is the Sadrvan restaurant. There is an extensive menu full with traditional Bosnian dishes. This is one of the best places to try Bosnian food that is not cevapcici. The delicious stews with vegetables, meat and spices are delicious
8. Blagaj & The Dervish monastery (recommended: daytrip from Mostar)
An easy day trip from Mostar is to the small town of Blagaj where the river Buna is coming out of the mountains. There is a Dervish monastery, called a tekija, with a small museum to see how the monks once lived here.
Honestly, I thought the setting was more spectacular than the monastery and mostly I enjoyed my lunch. The restaurants next to the river all offer fresh fish and a wonderful view on the surrounding mountains. All I need in suc a place is a good book and a cup of tea and I could spent all afternoon there.
In fact, the local people sell honey and herbs that you can use to make tea. I bought some and when I prepared them at home they were delicious.
You can either book a tour in Mostar or take the local bus. Taking the local bus is easy and it is a pleasant walk from the bus station to the monastery.
Transport: bus#10 leaves almost every hour from the United World College at the Spanish square for only 2.10 KM to Blagaj from where it is a pleasant walk to the dervish monastery.
Backpacking Bosnia with Airbnb
Throughout my time in Bosnia we used Airbnb and I can really recommend it in Bosnia. You will not only find interesting and nice places to stay, but you will also get an insight into the daily life of the people.
In Tuzla we received a very warm welcome from our host family, in Sarajevo we had a whole apartment for ourselves and in Mostar we were treated with fresh home made fruit juice. With the high unemployment in Bosnia it is a great way to support local families earning a bit of extra income by offering a room on Airbnb.
If you haven’t registered yourself yet on Airbnb, click here to register and you get 30 euro’s once you finished your first trip with Airbnb of 65 euro’s or more.
Ellis is a travelblogger from the Netherlands with over 20 years of experience as an independent budget traveller in more than 50 countries. She has a Master degree in Cultural Anthropology and Global Health with a specialization in South Asian cultures and the Caucasus.