Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) was the geographic center of the former Yugoslavia before its breakup in the early 1990s. Today, this tiny Balkan state still, in many ways, represents the geographic and demographic make-up of the former union of southern Slavs once known as Yugoslavia. B&H is the most ethnically mixed of all of the for-mer republics. It enjoys a multitude of climates ranging from cold-and-continental alpine to dry-and-warm Mediter-ranean. The geography and climate of Bosnia and Herzegovina have had a pro-found influence on the country people. A rugged and creative mountain culture has emerged from this region, con-necting man and nature in ways rarely seen in modern Europe. It is impossible to separate the countryâ€™s cultural and natural heritage, for it is the synergy of both that has created one of Europas most unique destinations.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mediter-ranean and alpine influences meet and create a mosaic of climate types within a relatively small area. The southern region enjoys warm, sunny, and dry weather, with very mild winters. In the more conti-nental areas, the weather is similar to that of Central Europe: hot summers, a cool spring and autumn, and cold winters with considerable snowfall. The Mediterranean and continental climates clash somewhere in the middle, creating weather and eco sytems that are a rare find anywhere else in Europe. The central Dinaric Alps create a climate of their own with harsh winters and considerable snow cover in the north.
For travelers from other destinations, visas are issued by diplomatic missions. Visas for private travel re-quire an application form and a certified letter of intent of a B&H citizen. Business visas require an application form, an invitation of a B&H business partner and a certified letter of intent from the B&H trade office. Registration is obliga-tory within 24 hours of arrival in B&H. The authorities don’t make it easy to do this and the rules tend to be vague and only in the local language. Best bet is to ask at your place of accommodation how to register.
The unfortunate truth is there are still some evil aftermaths of the war. It needs to be stressed, however, that populated areas have been cleared of mines and are perfectly safe to visit. Some mountain ranges and rural areas, which were on the frontlines, are still mined. This does not mean you should not step off the asphalt. No need for paranoia. Just be smart. There is plenty of safe hiking, walking, wandering, and exploring to be done in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s simply not wise to do it alone. Hire a guide or a local who knows the terrain. There are mountain associations and eco tourism organiza-tions that are your best bet for a safe mountain adventure.
It is fair to say that no country in the region has adequately addressed the issue of homophobia. Whereas it wouldn’t be fair to say it is dangerous for the LGBT population to travel in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is not widely accepted either. Larger cities like Sarajevo and Banja Luka do have “scenes” that either directly cater to the LGBT community or openly accept it. It is not advisable to publicly show affection. Best to keep a low profile and have a good time than to expose oneself to primitive reactions.
Independence Day: March 1
Labor Day: May 1
Catholic Christmas: December 25
Orthodox Christmas: January 7
Catholic New Year: January 1
Orthodox New Year: January 14
Eid (Muslim Holy Day) These dates are related to moon cycles and are not the same every year.
Most will find the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina exceptionally hospitable and kind to visitors. It is not uncommon to be invited for a coffee or to be given a small gift after meeting someone. Many people are still, however, keen on talk-ing about the war and their perspective on it. The best advice is to be a good listener or at least know how to change the subject if you become uncomfort-able with the content of the discussion. There are many moving and fascinat-ing stories to be told and heard as well. Again, it is best to be a good listener. With store vendors selling souvenirs feel free to bargain. They are most certainly eyeing you up to see what sort of buying power they perceive you to have. At restaurants and shops you’re most likely to experience either a super friendly and helpful staff or the exact opposite. There’s not too much in between. Don’t be insulted if a waiter looks at you as if to say what do you want when you walk in for dinner. It’s just the way things are here, nothing personal.
Although there are diverse cultures and religions present in B&H, the culture of treating guests with honor is an old custom. People are keen to show their towns, ways of life, and share experienc-es with visitors. Go with the flow and enjoy. It’s a type of genuine hospitality one wonâ€™t find in too many places. Some visitors not accustomed to dealing with covered Muslim women may feel awkward. Don’t. Muslims in B&H are European Muslims and embrace most of the same cultural values as Westerners. They will freely communicate and en-gage with others without any hesitation.
Location: Southeast Europe, borders with Croatia (932km), Serbia (312km), and Montenegro (215km)
Land area: 51,129 km2
Language: Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian
Population: 3.8 million
Religions: Muslim (45%), Orthodox Christian (32%), Roman Catholic (15%), Others (8%)
Capital: Sarajevo (population 400,000)
Other major cities and towns: Banja Luka, Tuzla, Zenica, Mostar, Bihać
Highest peak: Maglić Mountain 2,386 meters (Sutjeska National Park)
National parks: Kozara, Una (northwest), Sutjeska (east)
Time: CET (GMT + 1 hour)
Currency: KM (convertible mark)
International telephone code: +387
All EU members are exempt from visa requirements and may enter B&H at any time for a period of 90 days. Amer-ican and Canadian citizens are not required to have visas for entry to the country either. For most, Bosnia and Herzegovina can only be entered with a valid passport. Nationals of neigh-boring countries like Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro may enter with personal ID cards.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has an excep-tionally low rate of violent crimes. Most crimes of that nature are usually domestic. It is a true rarity for foreign nationals to be victim of a violent crime in B&H. Do be aware, particularly in Sarajevo, of pickpockets in tourist areas or on public transport. If you are traveling with your own vehicle, it is advisable to park in areas with guards or attendants. Vehicles with foreign registration are often targeted not so much for car theft but to steal a radio or any luxuries left inside your car. This even happens in broad daylight and in crowded areas. B&H is also generally safe for fe-male travelers. The general rule for any female is to travel in pairs and avoid being alone at night. Better safe than sorry. For-give the generalization, but some Balkan men may misinterpret Western friendli-ness” as a green light to their come-on.
The most modern hospitals and facili-ties are found in the major cities: Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Mostar, and Tuzla. Other towns have either hospital or medical clinic facilities but may not always have the capacity to deal with more compli-cated medical issues. Language barriers at local medical clinics may be an issue. Medicine is socialized in Bosnia and Herzegovina and payment for services will vary from place to place and even doctor to doctor. International insurance is usually valid in major cities, whereas in smaller areas they are often not. Cash payment may be requested for services and it is not so uncommon for cash to be requested in order to get services at all. You read between the lines.
Private clinics generally offer more professional and modern services. Insurance is not accepted there and legitimate cash payments are required. Private practices will be more likely to speak English as well. Foreigners are generally treated quite well, and often better than the local population, by medical staff throughout the country.
There is no place in Bosnia and Herzegovina that adequately caters to special-needs travelers. Wheelchair access or assistance for the seeing or hearing impaired is a rarity although some modern hotels are providing bet-ter services. People with special needs should have a companion with them and patient dealing with limited access and lack of concern for anyone with any type of impairment. Road crossings, access to museums, hotels, and restaurants could prove to be quite harrowing and frustrat-ing for some. Navigating through pedes-trian areas can also be hazardous due to large potholes or uneven pavement.
TRAVEL LITERATURE ABOUT B&H Bradt Travel Guide to Bosnia and Herzegovina
Tim Clancy – Forgotten Beauties,
Matias Gomez – Lonely Planet: Western Balkans Edition Rough Guide to Eastern Europe Sarajevo Cityspot,
Thomas Cook – Publishing UK
For the most part, general etiquette is the same anywhere you travel. Respect the people and the place and you’ll get the same treatment in return. Here are a few tips for various encounters in Bos-nia and Herzegovina:
If you are invited into someone’s house it is a general custom to remove your shoes, regardless of whether or not you’re Christian or Muslim. It’s a hy-giene thing more than anything. If you are invited for a drink or a meal, expect your host to pay the bill. If you have done the inviting, you may well be expected to do the same.
Tipping should not be an automatic but rather something that is earned. It is most common to leave a 10 percent tip for a meal and just small change if you’ve only had a drink. If more, then tip appropriately.
If you intend to visit a mosque or a church, you are expected to dress appropriately. Shorts and mini skirts are generally not acceptable. For mosques, many will ask women to wear heads-carves–often provided by the mosque itself. Shoes are not worn in functional mosques whereas ones open exclusively for tourists may not require you take your shoes off.
If you are visiting Herzegovina, try to avoid referring to Bosnia and Herzegovina simply as Bosnia. They take offence. If you are visiting any of B&H’s majestic nature attractions, be sure to practice a “leave no trace” policy even if your guide or host doesn’t. Carry out what you bring in.
Europe: One can fly directly into Sarajevo with Adria Airways, AirArabia, Austrian Airlines, Croatia Airlines, Fly Dubai, German Wings, Lufthansa, Norwegian Airlines, Pegasus, SAS, Air Serbia, Swiss Airways, Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways. Sarajevo International Airport:
Croatia: There is a direct train line from Zagreb to Sarajevo. There is also a direct train from the Dalmatian coastal city of Ploče to Čapljina, Mostar, and Sarajevo. Buses from any major city in Croatia reach Sarajevo daily. Zagreb, Split, Dubrovnik, Šibenik, Rijeka, Makarska, and Zadar all have lines to Sarajevo, Mostar, and other cities. There are multiple daily flights from Zagreb.
Italy: A ferry boat leaves from Ancona to Split, Croatia. There is also ferry from Bari to Dubrovnik. The bus station in Split is in the port. There are several buses per day direct to Sarajevo and Mostar.
Austria: Take a train or bus to Zagreb (the capital of Croatia). Several buses per day go directly to Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Mostar, and Tuzla. You can find direct buses from several Austrian cities (i.e. Vienna, Graz).
Hungary: There are direct buses from Budapest to Sarajevo several times
per week. The train from Budapest to Sarajevo is a long but good alternative.
Serbia: There are direct return flights to Sarajevo on a regular basis. Regular bus services run to destinations largely in the RS (Banja Luka, Bjeljina, East Sarajevo, for instance) as well as Tuzla and Sarajevo from Novi Sad, Belgrade, and other large cities in Serbia.