If there is one unique and beautiful place that I could suggest everyone to explore, it’s definitely Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnia is a diamond in the rough. The thought of visiting Bosnia never crosses one’s mind because the image of the civil war and genocide in the early 1990s still haunts the minds of many.
But little do people know that 20 years later, this hidden gem has so much to offer. What makes Bosnia so unique is that it has all the great things a traveller would want - beautiful untainted scenery, cheap accommodation and scrumptious food! By the end of your trip, you’ll take away a part of the Bosnian life and culture which will broaden your horizons. It may sound cheesy but it’s true.
P.S. Always wanted to visit Bosnia but don't know where to start? Let us help you?
Let me break it down to you why Bosnia and Herzegovina should be on your travel bucket list.
1. Yummy and super cheap halal food!
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These are burek or pies and baked chicken and potatoes - one of the main dishes in Bosnia[/caption]
These three words aren’t enough to describe the food in Bosnia. I mean, can you really find delicious, halal and affordable food in the Balkans? For most Muslim travellers, finding great halal food is a challenge - so visiting Bosnia is truly like food heaven!
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This is the traditional way of baking pies - which gives the pies a very smokey and delicious taste ?[/caption]
One of the most popular food dishes is cevapcici. Before I tell you what it is, people in the Balkans generally eat more meat like beef, veal or lamb than fish. But don’t worry, the way they cook their meat is the bomb! Most of the time, they bake it in an old school oven - filled with either wood or charcoal, so it gives that smoky delicious flavour. Anyway, this dish is kind of like tender kebabs but way better! It is eaten with soft, homemade bread and sour cream and onions. Most of the time, the kebabs are a mix of lamb, beef and veal (it’s so good, guys! Once you’ve tried this, your expectations of kebabs will no longer be the same). They don’t serve chilli sauce, so if you’re a picky eater, you might want to bring your own chilli or chilli sauce ?
The mouth-watering cevapcici
Credit: @mr_radonjic_ on Instagram
Apart from cevapcici, during my travels I also loved burek. It’s basically a homemade flaky and crispy phyllo pastry pie filled either with meat, cheese, spinach or other varieties of vegetables wrapped in a very thin home-made pastry. After eating my burek, I finished off my meal with ajran (or yoghurt drink). It’s a good combination to wash off the strong yet delicious taste of the pie. And let’s not forget, it’s super healthy too!
2. Cheap everything
Bosnia’s currency is still relatively affordable because they are not part of the European Union. As mentioned above, the food is cheap. So are hotels, transportation, and shopping. With the current state of the economy, it can be a little painful to travel to European countries but since the exchange rate in Bosnia is low, travellers can eat and live like a king!
3. Bosnian Coffee
If you’re a caffeine addict and a little adventurous, you should definitely try drinking traditional Bosnian coffee. Their coffee is similar to Turkish coffee, made with ground coffee beans by heating it over the fire. Traditionally, it is served in small tiny handle-less cups called “findzan (finjan)”. The coffee is poured into the cups, unfiltered.
Credit: @tobi_ho_ on Instagram
Bosnian coffee is thick and the smell is very aromatic. Bosnians would normally take a small bite of a sugar cube, then take a sip of coffee and let the sugar dissolve with the coffee in the mouth. This way, the unfiltered coffee granules would have settled at the bottom of the cup (instead of the usual way of stirring the sugar with the coffee, where you may end up with a chockfull of coffee sludge in your mouth!).
The strength of the coffee can be a little overwhelming but it’s really coffee at its pure unadulterated best. I almost always take mine with milk. Bosnians drink coffee all the time - before and after breakfast, before and after lunch and before dinner. If you are fortunate enough to be hosted by a Bosnian family, you probably might experience this. It is really just an excuse for family and friends to catch up with each other and chat. So, if a Bosnian asks you to join him for coffee, you should accept. You don’t technically have to drink coffee, because it’s really their way of saying, “let’s hang out.”
4. Sarajevo - East meets West
The Pigeon Square, Sarajevo
Credit:@rdruttenberg on Instagram
Sarajevo is Bosnia’s capital and it’s a very beautiful city. When you go to the old part of Sarajevo, you’ll see some parts of it influenced by the Ottoman Empire such as the Bascarcija Square (or also known as Pigeon Square). I find that the reason that the old town of Sarajevo is such an awesome city is because it’s a mix of East and West, with some parts from its historic path still remaining. As you walk down the streets of Bascarcija Square, you’ll notice that you’ll be walking on a stone walkway, which will transport you back to the Ottoman Empire. In this lovely centre, you can find tonnes of delicious and cheap places to eat which can make you a little crazy if you’re a food lover like me.
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Look at the beautiful eclectic things you can buy. I brought back two carpets, among other things ?[/caption]
If you’re worried about gaining weight here, you should try to lose weight or work out A LOT before your trip to Bosnia. That way, you won’t gain double the weight ? The last time I was there, I ate so much that by the time I came back to Malaysia, my friends and co-workers couldn’t recognize me. But hey, you only live once! They also have many small boutique stores that sell so many different things from leather handbags and shoes, jewellery, carpet and kelim! So don’t forget to bring an empty bag with you.
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Some of the different local crafts that are made by Bosnian people[/caption]
If you’re done shopping, don’t forget to head down to the historic bridge—where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, which led to the First World War. At this part of Sarajevo, the buildings have an Austrian architecture, which is why Sarajevo is considered to have a mix of both East and West.
The historic bridge where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinatedCredit: @tickets_and_trinkets on Instagram
When you walk further away from Bascarcija Square, you’ll notice that some of the buildings are still marked by the war. You can see that the exterior of several buildings has not been repaired which reminds many Bosnians and visitors that the war shall never be forgotten.
P.S. Your journey to exploring Bosnia's beautiful natural gems starts right here?
5. Stari Most in Mostar
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Old Bridge, Mostar[/caption]
Apart from Sarajevo, there are so many other interesting places in Bosnia. Mostar is another must-go place for visitors, especially if it’s your first time. Here you can find the historic Old Bridge or Stari Most, which was built by a great architect Sinan during the Ottoman Empire. Sadly, during the Bosnian war, the bridge was destroyed. It took them several years to rebuild the bridge as money was a challenge after the war. Many organizations contributed to rebuild the bridge and Alhamdulillah, it has been rebuilt and since then, it has become a symbol of reconciliation.
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Another view from Stari Most - gorgeous isn't it?[/caption]
6. The Tunnel of HopeCredit:@dilaraboo on Instagram
The Tunnel of Hope has a personal and sad story to it. From the name of it, you already know it’s a tunnel and can figure that it connects people to other places in the war in 1993 but the interesting thing about it is that it was built under the home of Edis Kolar. When Kolar was eighteen, he pushed President Izetbegovic for the tunnel to be built. What an inspiring story, right? The tunnel was the lifeline for Bosniaks living in Sarajevo during the three-year siege because without the tunnel, they would not have been able to get food, water and electricity. The tunnel was the only thing that connected Sarajevo to the outside world. If you’re the type that easily gets emotional, make sure to bring a packet of tissue because this visit will bring you to tears (that’s what it did to me).
7. Sebrenica Genocide Photo Exhibition
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The entrance of the Sebrenica Exhibition. No pictures can be taken.[/caption]
When you visit Bosnia and Herzegovina, it’s compulsory for you to visit Sebrenica Genocide Exhibition in Sarajevo. The exhibition captures the atrocities of the Bosnian civil war both in pictures and in videos. Inside the exhibition you’ll find that most pictures are in black and white, to illustrate how devastating the war really was. For the longest time, many major powers including Europe and the United States did not want to use the term “genocide” with regard to what was happening to the Bosniaks because that would mean that nations would need to intervene to stop the Serbs from committing genocide. They preferred to use the term “ethnic cleansing” instead. From the videos in the exhibition, you will find many disturbing accounts of how thousands of innocent Muslims were systematically killed, slowly being erased from their own land ?
8. Enchanting castles and fortresses
If you grew up with Disney cartoons and always wanted to be a princess, then you should visit the castles across Bosnia. Okay, let’s get real – we've all grown up and are not interested in being princesses anymore ? But who says we can't relive our childhood? On a more serious note, the castles and forts in Bosnia are distinct due to the influence of the Ottoman Empire.
Credit: @micki_kc on Instagram
The Tesanj fortress stands mightily atop a hill guarding it's protectorates in the Old Town of Tesanj. Views from the Tesanj fortress are nothing short of spectacular. In the soft glow of the dawn light it resembles a medieval castle straight out of the chapter of a fairytale.
The Old Town of Tesanj is a charming old Ottoman enclave. If you’re too tired of climb up those steps, amble through the town on the cobblestone streets and browse through the shops or sit back and enjoy a cup of coffee.
9. Natural beautyVrelo BruneCredit:@jrhomrighausen on Instagram
In Bosnia, a land of such breathtaking natural beauty and majestic mountains rivalling the Swiss Alps, it is difficult to pinpoint the most beautiful place in all of Bosnia. But, Vrelo Bune (the spring of the river Buna) could arguably be it. A Tekke (Sufi Monastery) is built into the natural surroundings, constituting a single entity with the cliffs. The sight of the charming façade of the Tekke tucked into 200 m high rugged stone cliffs whilst emerald green spring water bubbles from the nearby cave is truly an unforgettable sight.
10. The people
I have visited Bosnia twice and if there’s one thing that doesn’t change, it’s the warmth and hospitality of the people. As you stroll down the streets of quaint town centres like in Sarajevo, you’ll be greeted with warm smiles and greetings. Whenever you are window shopping or plan to buy any souvenirs, don’t forget to have a small chat with the shop keepers. It’s normal for them to ask you where you’re from and what brought you to Bosnia.
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Bosnians are well known for their hospitality ?[/caption]
The last time I visited Bosnia in 2013, I remember exploring a small art fair in the old madrasah in Gracanica, a small town 8 hours drive away from Sarajevo. As we were looking around, one of the sellers approached us and started talking to us in Bosnian. Naturally, we didn’t know what she was talking about but luckily, she had her nephew who spoke English well. When they found out that we were Malaysians, they were so excited and invited us in for coffee. She started talking about her son who studied in Malaysia and how he now has his own IT company. As she was telling us her story, you could see from the sparkle in her eye that she was really proud of her son ? They also have fond regard of Malaysians as Malaysia was one of the countries that gave assistance to them during the war.
We then began bonding and started talking about other things like the art and crafts that they produce. What started as a half an hour chatting session ended up being a two-hour bonding session.
P.S. If you want to experience true Bosnian hospitality, start planning now!?
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A madrasah that turned into an art and cultural centre, Gracanica.[/caption]
Honestly, summarising the reasons to travel to Bosnia is more challenging than what I had initially thought. It’s really hard to describe with words what this diverse country has to offer. The natural landscape and untainted cities and villages are beautiful yet haunting. After my trip to Bosnia, I did not just have a lot of fun but I was inspired by the people’s kindness regardless of pain and hardship that they had to go through during the genocide. My trip to Bosnia has changed how I see the world. It has forced me to be empathetic towards people who were ridden by conflict and makes me want to help them, whether it’s by buying their local crafts or promoting their country to invite more tourists. And this, is why you should visit Bosnia and Herzegovina.
*Pictures that are not credited were taken by the writer herself when she visited Bosnia in 2013.