Not long ago, Mostar was the front line, split in half with Croatian forces on one side and Serbian forces on the other. Since then, it has become an international city. The first people I met who live in Mostar were two high school students, one from California, and one from Mozambique, attending the international high school. Every year tourists from all over the world flock to the city for the Red Bull Cliff Diving Competition, where competitors leap of the UNESCO protected bridge. Despite its new found international appeal, when you walk down the street you can still see the scars of the war. Bullet holes riddle old buildings and plants grow free. To understand Mostar is to experience all of its history, both painful and joyful.
Here’s what to do in Mostar
See the famous Stari Most Bridge
This is the bridge that put Mostar on the map. At almost 80 feet high, the bridge is quite imposing up close and made me question the sanity of the divers in the Red Bull Competition. They are much bolder than I. If you’re lucky, on a nice day, a young member of the divers club will stand on the bridge collecting money. If he gets enough money, he will dive for his audience. The original bridge was destroyed in the war, but in 2001 UNESCO began reconstruction of the bridge which was completed in 2005. Since then tourism to the city, and the country has increased dramatically. Bosnia and Herzegovina now has the fastest growing tourism market in the world.
Explore the quaint old town
The old town of Mostar is like something out of a fairytale. Stone buildings line cobblestoned streets and you can always find a cafe nearby for some Bosnian coffee. Unfortunately with a growth in tourism comes a growth in souvenir shops. In front of every other store was colorful cloth, Bosnian coffee makers, and kitschy magnets. We skipped souvenir shopping in favor of settling in at a cafe and people watching. Despite the growth in tourism, Bosnia is still very reasonably priced. A Bosnian coffee will run you around 1.5 dollars and a beer around 2 dollars for a nice, local beer. More upscale restaurants offer meals for two for no more that 15 dollars, including drinks and dessert.
Find some familiarity at a local spot
We headed to the Black Dog, a beer bar decorated like an American sports bar with live music nightly. The owner moved from Michigan, and brought his love for the NCAA with him. It was nice to spot a Jayhawk on the wall of this local pub miles from home. The Balkans aren’t known for craft beer, most of the beer we found was light lagers. At the Black Dog, we discovered our first and only taste of Balkan craft beer, Oldbridz brewery. It had a variety of beers, a pale ale, red ale, and even an IPA. The IPA was milder than American IPA’s, but still satisfied our craving for some hops.
Understand the war
The entire city still shows scars from the war. In the center of the city, lies an abandoned bank building turned sniper tower, with all the windows blown out and graffiti everywhere. Many will hop the walls and climb to the top of the tower for views of the city, although proceed with caution as right before we arrived, a young boy died falling from the tower. Serbian forces used this tower to prevent Bosnian civilians from crossing the front line into a safer part of the city. We learned about the war from the owner of our hostel, Miran, who grew up during the war. He now runs a daily tour where he takes you around Herzegovina, then back to Mostar and shares some of his experiences with the war. You can take the tour whether you stay at his hostel or not. Mostar itself is small and can be done in one day, so if you have some time there make sure to get out of the city.
Herzegovina is the southern half of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is not a separate country or colony, simply a region that united with Bosnia hundreds of years ago through marriage. It is famous for its nice weather and beautiful scenery.
Blagaj is a series of mountain caves, and the mouth of the Buna river. A historic Dervish house is built into the cliff along the river and in the summer the cafes that line the river fill with people enjoying the clear water view.
This preserved fortified city dates back to 1383 and features both medieval and Ottoman architecture. There are under 50 residents of this town, all of whom must climb the city’s many stairs daily just to get from their home to their car. Every part of this city looks like it could have been in Game of Thrones. It is reminiscent of Dubrovnik but even more hilly and with
This waterfall on the Trebižat River is reminiscent of Plitvice park in Croatia. Even in winter the waterfalls are worth a visit. In the summer, it becomes a must. People come from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina to swim in these waterfalls. In line with Bosnian culture, there is also a cafe if swimming isn’t your thing.
End your time in Mostar with a climb to the top of Mount Velez. This large mountain behind the city offers beautiful views of Mostar and the surrounding area. Try to time it just around sunset, and see the sun vanish behind the mountains.