Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of Europe’s most underrated tourist destinations. Sure, it is a nation irrevocably shaped by the violence and war that it has seen. But it is also country full of beautiful nature, eclectic cities, and welcoming people. Sharing a border with Croatia makes it easily accessible from Balkan hubs like Dubrovnik and Split, making it the perfect day trip. You’ll find the prices are much cheaper in Bosnia too!
While Croatia and Montenegro architecture is heavy on Venetian influence, Bosnia and Herzegovina is heavy on Turkish. During the 14th and 15th centuries, the region fell under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. It remained there until the Great Turkish War in the 17th century. But the Ottoman influence is reflected in the architecture of the country and the large Muslim population it boasts.
We considered taking a bus to Mostar and spending a night before continuing on to Split, but instead opted to take a day trip while remaining based in Dubrovnik. Both are viable options! I do wish we’d had more time in Mostar to idle at riverside restaurants and explore more of the town, but the day tour allowed us to visit other scenic stops like Kravice waterfalls and the village of Počitelj. It certainly makes for a long day, so come well rested and don’t forget your passport! The drive involves crossing three borders – once into the coastal region of Bosnia, then back into Croatia, and then a third time into Bosnia.
The drive through the Herzegovina countryside isn’t particularly scenic. The terrain is dry and rugged, the climate scorching, and every now and then you’ll pass a building or two. But then the bus pulls to the side of the road and you climb down a hill and suddenly you’re inside a little Eden. This country seems to be full of gems in that sense.
The Kravice (Kravica) waterfalls sit some forty kilometers south of Mostar along the Trebižat River. There isn’t much in the way of public transportation to reach Kravice, but many tour companies offer it as a stop on the road to Mostar. Tall cascades fall along the cliffsides into pools below, where the water levels are particularly high due to the snow still melting in the hilltops. In the summer, it becomes a watering hole where visitors come to swim under the mist of the falls.
Further along the road to Mostar, a medieval village clings to the hillside. Počitelj, a village in the Čapljina municipality, is paved with steep stone pathways. It sits along the green River Neretva, which flows onward towards the city. The architecture shows off the influences of the Ottoman Empire. The Hadži Alijina mosque dates back to 1562. Atop the hill, visitors can climb the Gavrakapetan Tower that stands as part of the Utvrda fortress. Its a small village, but the locals are welcoming. Down by the road, old women sell fresh strawberries and dried apricots in a marketplace to the tour buses that roll through. Another gem in the heart of Herzegovina.
If Kravice and Počitelj are gems, then Mostar is the Bosnian crown jewel. It was the highlight of the day, and I wish we’d had more time to explore the warren of bustling streets and marketplaces. Nestled into a valley, Mostar’s old town is a glimpse back into the influence of the Ottoman empire. With a population of nearly 100,000 people, it serves as the cultural capital of the Herzegovina region.
In the outskirts of town, you can still see the scars of bullets in the buildings. It’s a sobering reminder of the country’s all-too-recent history. But where the old town meets the River Neretva, the city feels ancient and timeless.
The city is named after the mostari, who were the keepers that guarded the Old Bridge (Stari Most) in medieval times. This bridge is the iconic landmark of Mostar. The Ottomans built the steep arch and slick stone path in the 16th century. The bridge connected the two sides of the city for well over four centuries until it was destroyed during the Croat-Bosniak War. The city rebuilt the bridge and opened it in 2004.
Further along the river, the Koski Mehmed Pasha mosque sits on the bank. Beyond it sits the Karadojoz-bey mosque, the largest mosque in the Herzegovina region. Their blue domes and towering minaret’s stand out along the old town’s skyline. They were also both destroyed during the war and later restored to their former beauty.
My favorite part of the city, perhaps, was the Turkish market that lined the main streets. Stall after stall touted souvenirs and goods unique to the region. This one sold stunning chandelier lamps of stained glass, while that one sold handmade copper coffee sets. Another one sold authentic memorabilia from the war, another reminder that it wasn’t so long ago. I bought a pashima while my mom bartered for some ornately printed pillow covers.
After a few hours in Mostar, we boarded our bus and headed back to Dubrovnik, crossing the three borders on our return. It was a full day, but we were back in town by 7 PM – early enough to still enjoy a nice dinner in the old town. Certainly worth the excursion, and I recommend the trek to Bosnia for anyone visiting Croatia!
What’s your favorite day trip from Croatia?