A land where turquoise rivers run swift and sheep huddle on steep hillsides, Bosnia-Herzegovina is one of Europe’s most visually stunning corners. With muezzins calling the faithful to prayer under a backdrop of church bells, it also provides a delightful fusion of East and West in the heart of the Balkans. Appropriately, the country is now marketing itself as the “heart-shaped land”, unintentionally revealing more perhaps than just the shape of its borders: this remains a country cleaved into two distinct entities, the result of a bloody war in the mid-1990s. However, while Bosnia-Herzegovina was not too long ago making headlines for all the wrong reasons, it’s now busily, and deservedly, re-etching itself on the world travel map as a bona fide backpacker magnet of some repute.
Where to go in Bosnia-Herzegovina
Most travellers spend their time in the country’s two major draws: Sarajevo and Mostar. Sarajevo has shrugged off its years under siege to become one of Europe’s most likeable capitals, while the delightful city of Mostar is focused on an Old Bridge that, meticulously rebuilt after destruction during the war, must be the most photographed object in the Balkans. There are also some beguiling smaller towns to choose from, such as Bosnia’s Jajce, or Herzegovina’s Blagaj, while outdoor enthusiasts will be in their element in Bihać, one of Europe’s foremost rafting destinations. Trebinje is easily the pick of the towns in the Republika Srpska.
Top image: Jajce town in Bosnia and Herzegovina, famous for the beautiful Pliva waterfall © Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock
The Bosnian language is essentially the same as Serbian, which in turn is essentially the same as Croatian, and all three are listed as official languages in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Note that the Republika Srpska uses the Cyrillic alphabet, which may cause some problems with street signs, menus and timetables.
LanguagesBosnian, Croatian, Serbian
CurrencyConvertible Mark (BAM or KM)
International phone code387
Time zoneGMT +1hr
A tale of two entities
Travellers should be aware that, in many ways, Bosnia-Herzegovina functions as two separate countries. These are not Bosnia and Herzegovina, as one might infer from the name, since these are geographical regions (Bosnia makes up around 80 percent of the country, with Herzegovina a small triangle south of Sarajevo). Rather, the country is split along ethnic lines. To the west, and including Sarajevo, is the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a Muslim-Croat alliance; while to the east and north is the Republika Srpska, an ethnic-Serb territory of almost equal size, centred on its capital Banja Luka. To add to the confusion, there are three official languages – all essentially the same – and three presidents. “Most countries just have one idiot in charge”, says a local, “but we’ve got three.”