Included in nearly every Bosnia and Herzegovina itinerary without question, a trip to Mostar and its surroundings are a must while in the country. Teeming with history and not so far away day trips, the region has something for everyone. While tensions may still be present between local ethnic groups, you are likely to only encounter warm hearts and big smiles as you traverse the region.
Pint sized Mostar is nestled dramatically on the floor of a narrow valley surrounded by mountains on three sides. Much like Sarajevo, taking the bus into town from the North is a jaw dropping experience at first sight. While exploring the city is possible to do within one long day, taking two days to split between old and new, taking time to sip on a coffee or munch on a Burek. In addition do wandering around town, there are a few worthy day trips around the area. We will highlight the main one, which we we did.
The new area of town is filled with buildings that show their scars from the civil war. This is the area of town with shopping malls and stores
Walking along the main artery of the city is where you will find most of the lasting destruction caused by the war in the 1990s. The ruined buildings that line the streets in this area now serve as a canvas for local artists to express themselves. Taking time to appreciate the works of art is the highlight of a trip to this part of the city. On the far end of the highway, the city opens up into a modern looking city, filled with malls, shops, and restaurants.
Small but incredibly beautiful, Mostar’s Old Town has been carefully restored over the past two decades. The town is lined with Ottoman era buildings that run along the brightly colored Neretva river, with its heart and soul around the country’s most famous landmark, Stari Most Bridge. Originally dating back to the 16th century, it was designed by the architect known for designing many landmarks in Istanbul and was the widest man-made arch after its completion. Unfortunately, the bridge was targeted during the war and sat in ruins until 2004 when it was carefully reconstructed.
Now the only thing attacking the bridge is the army of tourists that climb up and down the steep arch everyday. If you want to see the bridge in all its glory, get up around sunrise to visit the bridge. You will likely have it to yourself before the package tours descend upon the bridge by 8am. For two impressive viewpoints, head away from old town and head down to the river near the supermarket. Alternatively, follow the road until you reach Lucki Most bridge, which offers iconic vies of the bridge and old town.
If you’re looking for a bite to eat while in old town, head to Hindin Han restaurant. The portions are huge and really good. The mixed meat platter is enough to feed more than one and the veal stuffed with cheese and veggies is to die for. The restaurant is located on the west side of the river, not far from Stari Most Bridge.
Mostar’s Dark Past
Like much of the country, Mostar was not spared from the destructive forces of the civil war that shook the country in the 1990s. In addition to the main conflict for Bosnian independence, conflict between the ethnic Croats (Catholics) and ethnic Bosnians (Muslims) erupted in the Herzegovina region, centering itself in the city of Mostar. The city was sieged during the conflict, resulting in civilian deaths, war crimes, and destruction of the city. Our host, who was five at the time, told us of the struggles and dangers of even trying to cross the street during the war. Food was scarce and everyone helped everyone, strangers and friends alike. Even to this day, our host refuses to waste any food because he knows what it is like to have very little. Unfortunately, this was the childhood for many of those in the region. The city continues to slowly heal the wounds caused by the conflict, but tension still remains.
Much of the city still lays in destruction while other sections have been carefully restored. Along the main road, Kolodvorska, lies much of the war destruction that is visible today. Here the streets are lined with completely ruined or damaged buildings that have seem to be abandoned for quite some time. Street art is widespread in the area, using bullet holes as part of the canvas.
In addition to these buildings, most of the city’s landmarks were destroyed during the conflict, including the world famous Stari Most Bridge. Today, these sights have been carefully restored with the support of UNESCO.
Today, Mostar is still a very divided city between Croats and Bosniaks. Huge crosses along hillsides and mountaintops are seen as more of a provocation rather than a proclamation of faith here and spray paint covers much of the Cyrillic script found on many of the street signs outside of the city. These tensions are subtle to the average tourist but become more apparent the more you look around. While here, it is clear to see that this city has a lot of healing to do before full reconciliation can be complete.
Day Trip From Mostar
There are three main attractions surrounding Mostar and it is possible to do them all within one day. An hour or two at each sight is all that is needed. The best way to see all of these places is to join a group or rent your own car.
Oh how I wish we had visited here in the summer months when you can swim around in the waterfalls. Kravica looks like it belongs somewhere in the Amazon rather than Herzegovina. A dense forest grows on top of the waterfall as the water crashes down below into the emerald waters that form a giant pool at the bottom. If it was the right time of year, we could have easily spent the entire day here, but as it was winter, an hour appreciating the falls was more than enough.
Built into a natural amphitheater next the a river, this old Ottoman town is one of the best preserved examples in the region. Once the Austro-Hungarian Empire took control of the region, Pocitelj fell out of importance and as a result, became a time capsule filled with Ottoman Era buildings. On top of the hill lies a fortress which you can climb up to the top for fantastic views of the town and surrounding area. An hour is minimal here as you will want time to take in the atmosphere of the place from different angles.
Built next to a spring that gushes right out of the bottom of a cliff, this Dervish monastery is worth a look. The towering cliff above the area casts a long shadow over the area, and seemingly overhangs the monastery and spring. Blagaj is the closest to Mostar as it is just a few kilometers from the airport.
Where to Stay
While there are hostels in Mostar, we ended up staying with an Airbnb during our stay. The prices are very competitive with what it would cost in a hostel for two people and what you get for what you pay for is a lot better. We stayed at two different Airbnb apartments (first one was unable to extend due to another booking) where we had our own private apartment equipped with a basic kitchen and bathroom. Like hostels and hotels, the Airbnb owners offered day trips to the surrounding sights which were competitive with the what the hostels were offering. We opted to go with our host as we would have more freedom to decide how long to stay at places as we went and the tour would be more personable. Our host was great conversation and provided us with deeper insights into the culture and places surrounding the area. To be honest, the most memorable part of the day trip was our host, as we talked all day, listened to some of his rap, and learned a little bit about each other. This proved to be much better than going on a package tour and ended up being around the same price.