Bosnia and Herzegovina is a beautiful country, with relatively few tourists compared to nearby Croatia. Sadly, when some people think about Bosnia and Herzegovina, the war is what comes into their mind. What most people don’t think about is gorgeous mountains, crags and crystal clear rivers. So we don’t want to talk about the war, which so many already know of, we want to talk about all the great things on offer for climbers and tourists today.
One of Bosnian climbings greatest assets is the guidebook. Written by Igor Vukić and David Lemmerer, it is one of the best guidebooks you will ever use. The guys, along with lots of local climbers, have put so much hard work into the guidebook and it really shows. It is a brilliant book, they have done a great job. So many countries in the Balkans have no climbing guidebook, or a very basic one. The guidebook for Bosnia and Herzegovina is so well made it easily rivals those found in major climbing destinations like Spain and France. You can find the guidebook here. There are also several climbing festivals, such as Drill and Chill and the Pecka Climbing Festival, so make sure to check those out as well.
The climbing on offer here is of an equally high standard. With around a thousand routes and counting, climbing is expanding as new crags are developed every year. There is a variety of styles ranging from technical, crimpy grey limestone and snaking tufas to Margalef style pocket pulling. As well as many single pitch routes, there are some fantastic multi pitch routes and some bouldering.
There is a lot of rock in the country and relatively few climbers, so the routes are never polished and the crags are quiet, you will never have to queue for a route here! The crags are well distributed throughout the country so you can base yourself in several different locations, with Banja Luka, Mostar and Sarajevo being the three obvious choices.
Pecka is a great crag, with lots of routes at a variety of grades there is something for everyone. The rock is pocketed conglomerate, just like the world famous Margalef, and is of a very high quality. The climbing is pumpy and onsighting at your limit here is a good test of stamina. The routes can be everything from slabby to extremely overhanging and don’t be fooled by ones that look easy…the pockets aren’t always as deep as they seem from the ground! The crag is south facing and can sometimes be windy so spring and autumn are the best times to climb here.
Pecka is around an hour and twenty minutes from Banja Luka, so it fits in perfectly with visits to other crags such as Kanjon Tijesno and Kameni Most. This gives you the option of single or multi pitch and different types of rock within a relatively short distance.
Kameni Most, Stone Bridge in English, is a natural stone arch, a feature that appeals to almost any climber. The crag is large and very beautiful arch set in a meadow and has a lots of routes at different grades. When you first arrive at the crag you will be greeted by a steep imposing section of orange rock. Here, routes like Šnenokle will be a good test of your strength and your skin. The rock is great quality but sharp and the climbing is big moves between good holds with steep starts.
As you go further you will find beautiful long routes, some thirty five meters, on technical grey limestone. The climbing here is devious and good footwork is worth more than pure finger strength. The difference in style between the two sectors is very marked and it is great to have such variety at one crag. There are other sectors just a short walk uphill past the arch with more lower grade routes, all of the climbs here are well equipped.
Kanjon Tijesno is a very impressive collection of crags, near Banja Luka, in a valley of the river Vrbas. There are both single and multi pitch routes and the rock is visually stunning. An area like Tijesno provides adventurous climbing with a remote feel, even though the approach from the road is relatively short. It is possible to reach crags from the bottom by walking, or from the top by either walking or abseil depending on the crag. From our experience approaching from the top is easier.
Kanjon Tijesno is the home of the Drill and Chill festival, where as well as great climbing you can enjoy massive highlines rigged across the Kanjon. Although some of the crags here can be quite hard, there are still plenty of moderate grade routes both single and multi pitch. From the crags, you will have a great view of the river Vrbas below. This river is popular with rafters and has beautiful clear water. Perfect for a swim, if you don’t mind the cold.
There are so many good things to say about Blagaj that it probably deserves an article all of its own. The climbing here is some of the best on offer in BiH. The small town of Blagaj is quite famous for the stunning Dervish monastery and Buna spring. The cliff behind the Buna spring gives a clue as to what awaits you in the hills behind Blagaj.
Not far from the Buna spring there are several crags with a variety of climbing styles, the best and most enjoyable are some fantastic tufa climbs. The rock at the tufa sector is great quality and the climbs there would be classic anywhere. The routes are well equipped and climb striking visual features which require both good technique and fitness. Before reaching the tufas you pass some other great routes on technical grey limestone, these are harder than they look! These crags are mostly in the sun so you can climb here throughout the winter.
There is a Via Ferrata through the canyon which leads to several other sectors, the most impressive being sector Rebro. It is also possible to reach Rebro by walking from Stjepan Grad, also known as Blagaj fortress.
Sector Rebro is a magnificent fin of limestone, rising out of the ground like the partially uncovered fossil of a Spinosaurus. The rock is very compact and the climbing is highly technical. Sneaking up the routes here requires total trust in your feet and the ability quickly unpick a sequence before you lose your balance. There are routes on both sides of the fin, allowing you to follow the sun or shade.
There is a mountain hut at sector Rebro which can provide some shelter if the weather turns bad. Local climbers have put a lot of effort into this hut, so please respect it and take all your rubbish away with you. When we visited the hut was in perfect condition, it is a very cool design and in a stunning location. Staying overnight in the hut is free of charge, but it is polite to check at the Eko Centre Blagaj first. The people at the Eko centre are really friendly and helpful, they have camping facilities and a bar as well.
Spijonik is a beautiful bouldering area set in the mountains, around an hour drive from Sarajevo. The boulders sit at an elevation of around 1700 meters so the environment has quite an alpine feel to it. Large crags tower above the boulder field, with some gorgeous lines just waiting to be climbed. We spotted a few sport routes in the area that weren’t in the guide, but undoubtedly there is the potential for many more.
There are currently around 50 problems developed, which are documented in the guidebook. With more development there could easily be over 200 problems and a similar amount of sport routes in this area alone. Other valleys nearby and on the other side of road also seem to have lots of boulders and crags that look worth exploring too.
The rock is high quality limestone which is generally solid. Harsh winter weather and snowmelt has weathered the blocks so they have lots of water runnels, scoops and sloping pockets. The rock can be extremely smooth in some places and extremely sharp in others. We climbed a couple of problems that weren’t in the guide and had no problems with loose holds.
The landings vary from flat and grassy to scary scree slopes. Considering the boulders here can get very high, having several pads will be an advantage. We climbed on a Saturday, in perfect weather and we were the only climbers here. No tick marks, no chalked holds and no polish. The perfect day. Spijonik is definitely worth visiting as it is one of the most unspoilt bouldering areas we’ve ever visited.
With so many mountainous and rural areas, hiking in BiH is something to be savoured. The scenery is very impressive and often you will have the whole mountain to yourself. Hiking areas are spread throughout the country and are often not far from the climbing either. The trails are generally well marked and are easy to follow if you don’t have a map.
One of the best and most popular hikes is Maglić, BiH’s highest mountain at 2386 meters. Maglić sits on the border with Montenegro and when you do the circular hike, you cross countries for a few hours. The best route was going up the steep Bosnian side, along the ridge and down into Montenegro. When you are descending you’ll find a stunning mountain lake which is perfect for a refreshing swim. After this you’ll begin heading back to your starting point in BiH.
Osječenica, a beautiful mountain near Petrovac, is a great hike with some newly developed climbing opportunities. It is not far from the climbing sector Klekovača. Both of these mountains have beautiful compact grey limestone, perfect for climbing. Unlike Klekovača, Osječenica is not in the guidebook. However, there were several bolted routes here which all looked good, no doubt in the future there will be many more.
Near Sarajevo is the Skakavac national park which has a lovely hike leading to a Beautiful waterfall. In addition to the hiking there are some climbing sectors in this area so it is perfect for having a half day climbing finished with a nice hike and a shower in the waterfall if you’re brave.
Food and Drink
The cuisine in BiH takes influence from different periods in history, such as the Ottoman Empire. One of the best things about food and drink here is that it is generally local and homemade. A great example of this is Rakija, a traditional fruit brandy, where we heard the expression ‘if it isn’t homemade rakija, it isn’t proper rakija’.
For main meals meat is usually the main event, with traditional favourites being Janjetina (a lamb spit roast) and ćevapi (small grilled sausages). The food can vary within the country, for example Banja Luka ćevapi and Sarajevo ćevapi are different. There are lots of restaurants in BiH as well as a thriving cafe culture. The price of food is very reasonable, even if compared to buying food from a supermarket within the same town.
One of the best things you can eat in BiH is Pita. Known elsewhere as Burek, in Bosnia Burek refers to a meat pita. Pita is a baked pastry, usually filo, with a variety of fillings such as meat, cheese and spinach. Bought from a bakery and eaten fresh and warm is the best way to enjoy it, although they make for a great crag lunch as well.
One of our favourite deserts is Tufahija, a poached apple stuffed with chopped walnuts and topped with whipped cream. Tufahija is the perfect desert after a big Bosnian meal or enjoyed alongside a coffee.
Of course there are many more culinary delights to try in BiH, but instead of trying to mention them all, we will keep some secrets. If you visit the country yourself you will be able to find out what your favourites are and enjoy time in the locals restaurants.
Perhaps the best advert for Bosnia and Herzegovina is that we spent six weeks in the country and still found it hard to leave. We always had other things we wanted to do, see and climb, it never felt like the right time to move on. We made lifelong friends here, who we stay in touch with, and will definitely visit again soon. When we first arrived we had no idea what to expect, needless to say we were very pleasantly surprised. This isn’t to say that BiH faces no challenges, it does. The country is not perfect, but neither is anywhere else. What is important is context. Being a tourist in BiH feels no different, or perhaps even better, than in other European countries.
Don’t allow your judgement to be skewed by people who have never visited but will tell you it’s dangerous. Instead, listen to those who have been and experienced the country for themselves. They will very likely have lots of positive things to say, just as we do. We hope you have enjoyed this article, and that we have shown why Bosnia and Herzegovina strongly deserves a place on any climbers European road trip.
We will leave you with the sunset from our last night in Bosnia and Herzegovina…
Camping and climbing centre at Blagaj
UK based company that sell the guidebook (copies can be bought in BiH by contacting the local climbing gyms)
Further information for climbing in BiH