Serbia is right in the heart of the Balkans, but sadly it is not on the radar for most climbers and tourists. For example, Spain receives around 120 times more tourists per year than Serbia. Those who make the effort to go will be rewarded with stunning mountains, rivers and serene forests that can be enjoyed in solitude. For climbers, there are already several great crags to choose from, but like most of the Balkans there is the potential for much more development in the future.
There is no official climbing guidebook for Serbia, as of April 2021. The best information we could find currently is on this website here. The Serbian climbing website has a helpful interactive map, GPS coordinates and route lists. At the crag, matching names on the list to routes can be confusing, but its all makes sense once you have your eye in.
There is a guidebook currently being produced by Serbian climber Nemanja Čizmić, and authors of the Bosnia and Herzegovina guidebook Igor Vukić and David Lemmerer. Once it is available we will link to it on here.
Dubočka Pećina is an enormous cave in Eastern Serbia. The cave is 2,275 meters long and the ceiling reaches a height of over 30 meters. A river runs through the cave, and outside there are numerous beautiful waterfalls. The ceiling is dripping with stalactites and the huge passage lures you further into the cave. With only a head torch, an easy walk takes you to the stunning plunge pool. This is where climbing terrain stops and troglodyte terrain starts. Dubočka has been explored by cavers and is surely amazing, but not something to head off down when you have no equipment or any idea where it goes!
The climbing here was completely different to what we expected upon arrival. Some of the cave walls look loose and blocky, but to our surprise were totally solid. The climbing was very devious and technical. There were almost no holds that you pulled down on, instead lots of side pulls, undercuts, pinches and hard to spot footholds. The style made me reminisce of the catwalk at Malham Cove but at much lower grades.
The routes range from 6a-7b+, but the potential for the cave is massive. At the moment the routes are only on the vertical walls of the cave, shaded under the roof. The enormous cave ceiling above remains untouched. If the rock here is as solid as the walls (it looks it), there could be some future test pieces here. Most of the routes were dry in the spring, even after the winter rainfall. There are 17 routes in total, 15 of which were bone dry, if a little dusty.
Jelašnička Klisura is around 15km from Niš, in Southern Serbia. The gorge has more than 230 sport routes, including some multi-pitch routes and around 150 boulder problems as well. Jelašnička is one of the oldest climbing areas in Serbia and has routes ranging from 5a to 8c. The rock is mostly very compact grey limestone which has crimpy and technical climbing. Although one particular sector features steeper brown and orange rock which gives a nice variety of climbing styles.
There are around 16 small sectors dotted around the gorge, all within walking distance of each other. The nature of the sectors mean it is easy to follow the sun or the shade depending on the time of year. The gorge has an active local climbing scene and although it is never busy, it is common to meet other climbers on good weather days.
The climbing here was reliable and enjoyable. Although its not a huge area, there is enough good quality climbing to spend a week here before exploring other crags in Serbia. Having local climbers around makes Jelašnička even better as you can get good tips and information to help you during your stay.
On the ‘other side of the hill’ to Jelašnička Klisura is another beauitful gorge with more climbing. Here the rock is totally different, much more of an orange-brown colour with some creamy white streaks in it. The climbing was quite burly and fingery, with the rock not having much friction but somehow still managing to be sharp! The grades here and at Jelašnička are quite harsh and we got ‘schooled’ on our first few days here.
A video from “A World Less Traveled” linked below, is about a new sector they developed in Sićevačka Klisura. We managed to spot the cave from the road, but unfortunately we couldn’t find the Tyrolean traverse over the river. We aren’t sure if we just couldn’t see it, it was removed or the water in the river had risen above the cable. It was a shame not to visit this sector as it looks fantastic.
Slightly further up the road from the main sectors, there is a path leading to an absolutely enormous amphitheatre of rock. We spent ages wandering around looking at the walls (we also avoided a rather moody nose horned viper along the way!) We spotted some old pegs, bolts and a couple of fixed ropes. The rest remained untouched. The rock looks poor in some areas but reasonable in others, no doubt the adventurous of heart would find some exciting multi pitch routes here.
Rest day activities
The Serbian capital Belgrade is famous throughout Europe as a vibrant city of culture. Belgrade sits on the confluence of the famous Danube river with the Sava river. With a population of around 1.7 million, the city is full of life and interesting things to see. Belgrade is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in Europe and settlements were established here earlier than 279 B.C.
Belgrade is a great place to visit while you’re in Serbia, it has major transport links to the rest of Serbia and surrounding countries. We arrived in Belgrade by bus from Sarajevo and after spending a few days there, got a bus to Niš. The buses are frequent and really well priced, although they always take longer than you think they will.
Niš is another historical city that is perfectly located for anyone climbing at Jelašnička Klisura or Sićevačka Klisura. In the city there is a nazi concentration camp museum as well as an unusual Skull Tower which dates back to the Ottoman Empire. Both of these are sombre but interesting places to visit. They serve as reminder that conflict is never the answer and that people should be tolerant and kind to one another.
There are lots of more upbeat and positive things to do and see in Niš as well, so don’t let some darker history put you off. The city has great transport links to places like Skopje or Sofia, we followed up our Serbia trip by getting the bus to North Macedonia. Niš has lots of nice places to eat and drink coffee as well as affordable accommodation.
The impressive stone arches of the Vratna Gates are found in Eastern Serbia, a stones throw away from the Danube River, that forms the border with Romania. The location is extremely peaceful and remote, set in nature, surrounded by wildlife. We saw a mother deer and her fawn drinking from the river, totally at home in their environment. There are several hiking trails that you can take that explore both the different stone arches as well as various viewpoints along the way.
There are currently no routes that climb any of the gates, the rock looks good enough quality and not blank so it would be possible. Without knowing who owns the land or if the environment has protected status, it is hard to know if climbing would be allowed. It would be a major undertaking to clean and equipping routes here but the results would be amazing.
At the base of the gates lies a 14th century monastery on large grounds. Inside the church, there is a stall where you can buy their produce. The people here are friendly, they have some nice wares like honey from their bees and homemade Rakija.
We only scratched the surface of what is on offer in Serbia. For both climbers and travellers it is an interesting and beautiful country that shouldn’t be missed from a trip to the Balkans. We know there is a guidebook in the works and that more and more crags are being developed. We would definitely go back to Serbia again.
For more articles about climbing in the Balkans, read our Balkans series here.
Relevant links and resources
Serbia climbing topos and information
“A world less traveled” Serbia climbing video