Most travelers in Bosnia in Herzegovina only hit up the two highlights of the country, racing down to Mostar immediately after exploring Sarajevo. For a country teaming with history, castles, and small towns, it would be a shame to not venture outside of the main tourist highway. Two of the more popular off the beaten path destinations lie just a 2-3 hour bus ride northwest of Sarajevo, Travnik and Jajce. If you decide to travel here, you will be rewarded with having these places mostly to yourself and still be just a five hour bus ride away from Mostar by the time your ready to head south.
Travnik: Castle on High
There is no mistaking when you arrive in Travnik, with its well preserved castle overlooking everything in town and down the narrow valley beyond. Travnik lies just around 2 hours away from Sarajevo using public transportation. As the castle is the only thing to really see here, stopping here for a few hours on your way to Jajce is your best option.
From the bus station, old town and the castle are a short ten minute walk towards the edge of town. Strolling alongside the traditional Bosnian buildings, Islamic graveyard, and mosques, help get you into the mood of pretending to be a fortress guard defending the city once you enter the castle.
Walking along the walls of the fortress, imagining yourself as a guard fighting off an invasion will keep you occupied here for a little while. Be sure to sit down and take in the views for a bit while. There is also a small, unimpressive museum inside the main building of the castle which I ended up using more to wait for the rain to slow down than anything else.
After making your rounds through the castle, the hill directly behind the castle offers the best views of the fortress itself. From the main entrance, follow the trail up the hill on your rights until you reach the ridge. Once you reach an opening, head up onto the open field next to the trail as the trail is covered in vegetation, making it hard to take photographs.
From Travnik, you can then make your way to Jajce, which lies just under two hours by bus. The route descends sharply down into a valley, making it a rather scenic route.
Jajce: More Castles…. but with a waterfall!
Jajce, an old capital of the Kingdom of Bosnia dating back to the 14th century, is now most widely known for its waterfall that greets visitors on their way into old town. The hill behind the falls is littered with old buildings dating back to various eras of history. Above it all lies Jajce castle which was the residence of the Kings of Bosnia.
The town can be thoroughly explored in a couple of hours but you will want a full day to really appreciate the town and waterfall. Start your exploration in old town as you slowly make your way up to the castle. If you are there during the low season, you will have to find the gate keeper in order to get in. If you mull around the area long enough, someone will most likely come and find you.
After exploring the castle, make your way down the hill and to the waterfalls. There are several viewpoints to appreciate the water crashing down but our favorite spot was a 15 minute walk across the bridge that brings you to the opposite side of the river. From this angle, you can see the falls and old town in one frame. Bring some snacks to relax amid the scenery for a while.
Where to Stay
For budget travelers, your best bet for accommodation is Jajce Youth Hostel which is within reasonable walking distance from the bus station, old town, and the biggest supermarket. Rooms are basic but clean and the kitchen has just enough for you to make your own meals with. The hostel is connected to a bar/restaurant which is where reception is. Always filled with locals, the bar is shrouded in a cloud of smoke startung around lunch time. After spending just a few minutes in there, I felt like I was a veteran smoker.
Getting to Mostar
Jajce is around 5 hours from Mostar down south. The bus ride, like most bus rides in Bosnia and Herzegovina is very scenic as you pass by mountains, large valleys, and catch glimpses of Croatia from your bus window. If you want to venture a little deeper into Bosnia and Herzegovina than most people do, take a couple of days to venture north a bit. You will have it mostly to yourself and as anywhere in the country, the locals are a delight.