If you’re looking for an interesting and unique challenge in Eastern Europe, a great way to test yourself is to try road tripping through Bosnia & Herzegovina. You don’t believe me right, you’re thinking what could possibly be so hard about road tripping in Bosnia. Here it is… Wait for it… THERE ARE ALMOST NO GOOGLE MAPS FOR BOSNIA & HERZEGOVIA. I mean what?! Is that even a thing?!
We were road tripping to Mostar and through Bosnia from our accommodation in Split, Croatia. We had told the car hire company that we would be travelling into Bosnia upon picking up the car (very important for insurance purposes and to avoid hectic fines), we had rented a GPS from that same car hire company, but no one had told us that the GPS wouldn’t work in Bosnia. We hopped in the car early in the morning, so excited to get going on our road trip. Bosnia & Herzegovina with it’s beautiful landscapes and stunning natural beauty was one of the day trips I was most looking forward to. I typed “Old Bridge Mostar” into the GPS and nothing came back. No options. Google maps was only slightly better. So our best option was to find all the landmarks we wanted to visit on the map of Bosnia, favourite them so that we didn’t lose their location, make sure all of the maps were loaded to use offline and screen shot for extra safety, and then head off trusting my questionable navigation skills. What an adventure!
I’m going to toot my own horn here, I was pretty good!
I got us all the way from Split to the different points in Bosnia we wanted to visit with hardly any mistakes!! I was pretty proud of myself to be honest. From Split we drove straight to Mostar, a historic town located about an hour and a half into Bosnia from the boarder of Croatia.
Our main reason for visiting Bosnia & Herzegovina was to visit the Stari Most (Old Bridge) in the centre of Mostar. It was a place that’s pictures had long been a part of my travel inspiration, somewhere that looked like a tiny piece of ancient paradise in the middle of nowhere. That’s exactly what it was. The colours of the town and the surrounding hills and river were so beautifully vibrant, it makes you fall in love straight away. We parked our car and paid a few dollars to the local parking attendant that was “looking after” the cars parked in that street/area. Before our trip I read many blogs about driving in Bosnia and many complained about the “steep” prices that these attendants demanded for parking around Mostar’s Old Town. However, I would much rather pay a few euros than be worried about my car being stolen or damaged. It wasn’t even that much, only 3€ max. The attendant was so lovely and helpful, we had no issues at all paying him to watch over our car.
Walking through Mostar there is still so much evidence of the recent wars and battles that were fought here only twenty or so years ago. To think that these battles were fought in our life time is actually quite a sombering thought. The Siege of Mostar was fought during the Bosnian War between 1992 and 1995, which is ridiculously recently, after Bosnia & Herzegovnia declared it’s independence from Yugoslavia. Air strikes destroyed many of the important buildings and structures around Mostar, including the Stari Most (Old Bridge).
The main Old Town of Mostar is a web of cobbled streets, tiny boutiques and gift shops with locals making their products right there in their shop. I definitely could have come home with an extra suitcase full of gifts and nick nacks found in these streets, but luckily for my wallet and budget I was already on the wrong side of my baggage limit. Mixed amongst the gift shops were many cute restaurants and cafes, offering delicious traditional food. If you’re not sure, ask the friendly staff for a recommendation. I couldn’t tell you what we ate to be honest, but it was so good and very cheap!
The Old Town of Mostar is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Stari Most can be found in the centre of it. Many of the buildings in the streets surrounding the Old Town are still in ruins, covered in bullet holes, or even standing as just a frame. In many cases Bosnia just don’t have enough funds to start reconstructing these buildings.
Right in the middle of Mostar is where you will find the Stari Most, also known as the Old Bridge or Mostar Bridge. It’s one of Bosnia’s most visited and popular attractions and originally our main reason for making the trip to Bosnia from Croatia. The Stari Most is a 16th Century Ottoman-style Bridge sitting right in the middle of Old Town, which crosses the Neretva River and connects the two parts of the city to each other. During the Bosnian War the Stari Most was destroyed in 1993 after standing proud for 427 years. It was rebuilt almost immediately as an exact replica of the original bridge and reopened in 2004. The bridge reaches across 29 metres and stands 24 metres tall across the river. If you’re planning on walking across the bridge (and you should, I mean why wouldn’t you?!) it’s a good idea to wear good walking shoes as the bridge is on a slight incline can be very slippery, even on dry days.
Definitely one of the highlights of the Stari Most is watching the incredibly courageous locals jump from the top of the bridge and into the freezing river below. The tradition of jumping off the bridge began in 1664 as a rite of passage to the boys of the town. Legend has it that 16 year old boys had to jump from the bridge to mark his becoming a man, and more importantly believed that his life would be a complete failure if he doesn’t jump. Just a little bit of pressure hey!
I first found out about the Old Bridge and it’s unique history of bridge jumping from the comedy duo Hamish & Andy. For a very entertaining view of what it is like to jump off the Old Bridge and become a man, you should definitely check out their jump video here from their travel show Euro Gap Year. If you enjoy watching bizarre cultural experience from around the world then the Hamish & Andy Gap Year series, including Europe, America, Asia and South America definitely offers you a different and hilarious view on some of the lesser known attractions around the world.
Throughout the day you will find local men, often wearing a tight speedo, walking around on top of the bridge collecting money. After a certain amount has been collected you can watch them perform a perfect dive off the bridge and straight into the ice cold water of the river. It’s definitely worth hanging around for, it’s insane watching them fall through the air.
DO NOT attempt to jump off the bridge yourself. It is very dangerous, with many injuries and even deaths over the years from unaware tourists attempting to jump from the top. The men that are jumping from the bridge are very precise about their technique and have been doing it for many years. For the crazy determined people out there, you can pay about 25€ to receive training from the local members of the Mostar Diving Club who will teach you everything you need to know to do the jump safely (or as safely as jumping off a 24 metre high bridge can be). You will be required to practice your technique from a 10m training platform until they believe you are ready to go from the top. You will even receive a certificate for your successful jump!
Bosnia & Herzegovina definitely lived up to and even exceeded my expectations. It was such an unexpectedly beautiful and unique country, I felt so lucky to be experiencing it’s beauty and peacefulness. I can’t express enough how friendly all the locals were, more than happy to help with any questions you might have. If you’re travelling to Bosnia unexpectedly or just on a day trip, the local currency of Bosnia is the marka (km) but Euros and even Croatian kuna are widely accepted.
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