It's important to be well informed and know what safety measures need to be taken before traveling to a new country. This article is a great read for first-timers in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Along with checking your documents and visas (if necessary), there are some things you need to take into consideration if you are a first time traveler to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Bosnian people usually like visitors and are willing to help you to get around, but if you traveling outside the cities, you may have some difficulties. Food and drinks are safe and crime level in Bosnia and Herzegovina is generally low, but you should still prepare yourself for potential displeasures and incidents.
So, here are some things you should consider when traveling to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and also some practical info about the people and customs in this Eastern European country.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a former Yugaslavian country, situated on the western part of the Balkan Peninsula. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country of sharp religious and ethnic division; inhabited by Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks), Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats. Soon after Bosnia and Herzeovina became an independent state in early 1992, the Bosnian War broke out. It was a result of tensions between ethnic groups which reached new heights during the aftermath of Yugoslavia's break up.
To simplify, there were three belligerents; Bosnian Serbs, Croats and the Bosniaks. It was a bitter war, characterised by systematic rape and ethnic cleansing. In 1995, the war was finally put to an end after peace negotiations in Dayton, Ohio.
Since the war ended in 1995, 45 Bosnian Serb leaders, 12 Croats and 4 Bosniaks have been convicted for war crimes by the International criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Since Bosnia and Herzegovina entered an era of peace, tourism has steadily grown. The country's interesting cultural heritage attracts many visitors, as does the mild climate and the beautiful nature of the country.
The local currency in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the Bosnian Mark (BAM), locally known as the Convertible Mark so price tags can sometimes contain abbreviation KM.
Most transactions are made in cash, especially in the traditional cafés, shops and restaurants. Same goes for many bars and pubs in Sarajevo and elsewhere.
ATMs are not available everywhere, only in the larger cities so also make sure you have enough cash with you when travelling outside major cities.
Another thing worth mentioning is that there is free WiFi in some public spaces, most of the coffee shops, restaurants and shopping centers of bigger cities. But if you are traveling outside the cities and towns save maps and general info on location on your phone. If you are more of a traditional traveler, use good old paper maps and take your notes with you.
Public transport in Sarajevo and other bigger cities runs regularly but it’s not 100 percent reliable. First of all, trams and trolleybuses are often late because of the congested traffic and you should be prepared to sometimes be late as well! In some cases, it’s better to take taxi or even walk if you’re not far from your destination.
The second thing, when it comes to the public transport in Sarajevo, is that you should beware of pickpockets! Take good care of your documents, your wallet, phone or laptop because there's a certain number of reports of tourists being a ‘favorite’ target of robbers.
Along with public transport, you should beware of pickpockets in the tourist and pedestrian areas of bigger cities.
Also, if you’re traveling by car, make sure it’s locked and rid of visible goods inside, such as your bag, camera, laptop or other devices.
Taxi services are cheap, metered and generally very reliable, but you should know that some cab drivers will try to charge you more once they see you’re a foreigner. Don’t accept their ‘estimated’ offers for the city ride and go by the taximeter device that should be displayed on a visible spot in the vehicle.
Same goes for some local merchants and bargainers. It’s not rare to see the street traders selling souvenirs and local goods to the tourists at much bigger prices than usual. So, if you sense something suspicious, look for the price tags or just buy your souvenirs elsewhere.
Bosnian food is very tasty, mostly made of organic ingredients and always served fresh. It is also quite cheap. But if you want to eat well, pick smartly! Don’t go to the place that sells Mexican food, pizza and traditional pies altogether as you may be a bit disappointed with the quality of the dishes. You should rather walk a bit further to find something more authentic or ask the locals where they eat if, for instance, they want to eat Italian or traditional food.
Even though the traditional Bosnian cuisine is largely based on meat, there is a number of meat free dishes you can enjoy. If it’s not clearly visible on the menu, ask the waiter or a chef for a vegetarian/vegan dishes and they will recommend you something suitable for your diet.
Some traditional restaurants in Sarajevo don’t serve alcohol, so don’t be surprised to see only hot beverages and soft drinks on its menus.
Tap water in Bosnia and Herzegovina is safe to drink, same as water from traditional drinking fountains that you can find in the cities. Don’t drink water from creeks and rivers in populated areas, especially those around Sarajevo as they’re polluted by nearby factories.
People in BiH are very hospitable, and it's considered a nice gesture to accept food or drinks offered by locals. Coffee culture is very strong in this part of the Balkans, so this especially goes for taking a cup of traditional Bosnian coffee. You can also often be offered with a rakija, a fruit brandy which is very popular in Eastern Europe. Rakija is usually made of plums (šljivovica) or grapes (loza). It’s very strong, so if you don’t want to get drunk very quickly, don’t have too many of these! It is also not unusual for locals to offer you a cheese, fruit or piece of cake.
When it comes to the language of communication with the foreigners, Bosnians usually use English. In the cities you will easily find somebody to help you with something you don’t understand. If you are traveling in the countryside, it’s best to learn or even better, write down few words and phrases that will help you on your trip.
Also, you can always find a local guide to avoid any misunderstanding and use your vacation time in a best possible way.
If you want to go hiking, skiing or water rafting in Bosnia and Herzegovina, you should first consider all the risk that goes with these activities. The country is pretty mountainous and attracts many professional but also amateur skiers, but if you are a first time skier here, consider taking a guide and/or instructor for this winter sport. The same goes for rafting on unpredictable whitewater of Bosnian rivers. Rafting on the beautiful Neretva or Una can be dangerous so always use proper equipment and a guide. It’s all about teamwork anyways!
And lastly, the most important thing adventure lovers need to know is that Bosnia and Herzegovina is still not cleared from the landmines and other unexploded ordnance from the war in the ‘90s. There is a certain risk of unmarked landmines and other unexploded devices, especially in some mountainous areas and in the countryside. Also, sometimes you can't see warning signs because of the woods, so going on a guided tour is highly recommended.
Being accompanied by an experienced guide is necessary if you want to visit places near to the former lines of conflict.
Don’t enter abandoned and ruined buildings as they can also be dangerous for the same reasons. Same goes for the abandoned villages and unpaved roads outside the cities.
Highly populated areas and major roads are clear and safe to visit.
If you want to travel around the country and you don't have that much time on your hands, perhaps the best option is to rent a car. Riding buses and trains is an experience for itself in this country, but they can be late and sometimes very slow. Before renting a car (or if you are traveling with your own) make sure you have International Driving Permit (IDP), accompanied with your valid driving license.
Be careful when traveling outside the cities and bigger towns, especially in winter when road conditions can be far from ideal. During the winter period (15. November to 15. April) it’s legally required to have winter equipment for your vehicle. This equipment includes so called ‘winter tires’ and snow chains.