We know Croatia’s beautiful. Who finds sunny beaches or marble, Roman towns perched above the Adriatic Sea hideous? Not many. And that’s why the destination has become so loaded with toursits over the past year.
For those who want to avoid the crowds, we have a suggestion that might surprise travelers: Bosnia. Yes, this country — just a bit smaller than West Virginia in size — had once witnessed one of the worst forms of genocide in the past twenty years. But, these days, there’s a ton of beauty hiding there too. Here’s what we love:
Unspoiled and often untouched scenery: For starters, Bosnia largely consists of countryside, and just cruising along the M-17 from Mostar to Sarajevo — possibly the most scenic drive we’ve ever experienced — shows you exactly that. Bosnia offers a much larger array of natural activities beyond beach-bumming and bikinis. The especially brave might want to head for hikes through the wild, untamed forests through the Dinaric Alps that stretch along the country. And “wild” is no exaggeration here; outside of the bears and wolves that frequent the forests, almost like something out of a Brothers Grimm story, you may even encounter active landmines hiding near trees. Of course, the mines are generally marked, so just be cautious. Otherwise, you can opt to spend an afternoon at Kravica waterfalls, in one of Europe’s last “jungles,” or relax on the Mediterranean in Neum. That’s an incredible amount of activity diversity in such a small place.
Complex history that you don’t have to dig deep to find: Rome ran Croatia, and they did a remarkable job constructing the marble palaces beautifully preserved today. Although both countries often existed under the same rule, Bosnia’s history remains deeper, darker, and more diverse than its neighbors, much thanks to Islamic Ottomans and a Serbian vitriol — both of which directly led to the war-torn events of the ‘90s. You’ll find an undercurrent of this history running through all the notable sites here. The five-hundred-year-old mosques stand a stone’s throw from victims of the Bosnian war. The Bosnian Historical Museum looks more like a concrete, bullet hole-laden prison than a proper “museum.” And let’s not forget that it was on a bridge in Sarajevo where Gavrilo Princip fired the shot that started WWI. Needless to say, it’s not about preserved history here — you’ll be walking through the remains of a history that’s hardly in the past.
Cheap, trendy, and perfectly located: As we’ve mention, Croatia’s ancient, beach-tastic spots are littered with tourists. That doesn’t mean it necessarily isn’t a country unworthy of visiting, but, for a quick comparison, Bosnia saw a little more than 800,000 tourists in 2013 — rather than 14 million. That said, Bosnia tourism continues to grow, over 5 percent in the past year. So we recommend arriving soon, before the prices hike up accordingly. Right now, there are few places where navigating a nation is doable on $20 per day, even less if you exclude the daily double baklava serving. (At least $50 per day is more realistic for the best shoestring traveler in Croatia.) Better yet, Bosnia’s location, a quick jaunt from historic Dubrovnik or Belgrade or the Bulgarian mountains, making it a perfect Balkan base.