The city of Mostar, in the southern Herzegovina region of Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH), suffered vast damage during the Bosnian War from 1992-1995. Today, this city is characterized by its picturesque Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the famous Stari Most bridge, and for remaining intensely divided between the Bosnian-Muslim-east side, and the Bosnian-Croat-Catholic-west side of the river. The Old Town is beautiful, the vestiges of war are remarkable, and the surrounding countryside is stunning.
Stari Most is the symbol of Mostar: originally built in 1566, the bridge was destroyed during the war and painstakingly rebuilt. Construction was completed in 2004. Diving off the bridge is rite of passage for Bosnians, and when foreign tourists complete a jump you can get a certificate. If the divers collect enough tips from tourists, you might just be lucky enough to see a jump!
Wandering the winding streets of the Old Town is not to be missed during a trip to Mostar. Both the west and east sides of the river in the Old Town are fun to stroll through.
I stayed at an incredible hostel, Hostel Nina, for my stay in Mostar. The hostel itself was great, but the staff are really what made it an unforgettable experience. The hostel manager, Žika, took a group of us from the hostel on a 3-hour (completely free) walking tour of sites in Mostar related to the war. All of this was accompanied by Žika’s straightforward commentary, and stories from his own experiences in the war (which began when he was 17).
Mostar was under attack from all sides during the war from 1992-1995. Today, there is still a great deal of tension between the west and east sides of the city (more on that below). On our tour, we saw a large building, completely in ruins, on the east side of Mostar (on Marsala Tita street). Žika also took us to a cemetery for Bosnian soldiers killed during the war—half of his high school class is there.
Probably the highlight of this tour was seeing the abandoned bank building, which was used snipers during the war. We might have snuck in and climbed all the way up to the roof past trash, graffiti, and broken glass from the windows.
The views from the top were definitely worth it.
Today, the Bosnians who live on the west side of the river identify as Croats (and are mainly Catholics). Bosnians from the east side (mainly Muslims) are not necessarily welcome across the river—ordering a “Sarajevsko” (Bosnian) beer instead of a typical Croatian beer could be seen as provocation for a fight. Although of course a radical extreme group, some of the Bosnian-Croats are very far right and fascist. Our group was (I kid you not) “heiled” in the street in broad daylight by a couple of these young guys on the west side of the river. Part of me still can’t believe it happened—what the hell?!
I learned more from the tour with Žika in 3 hours than I think I could have learned from every book written on the war put together. Hearing his first-hand experience (“the second time I was shot…”) from the war was invaluable in understanding Bosnia & Herzegovina’s history.
As if Žika wasn’t already the coolest, on our way back from Blagaj (the Dervish tekke was definitely a highlight of BiH!) he took us to a deserted Yugoslav nuclear bunker. The president of Yugoslavia, Tito, was paranoid about being invaded during the Cold War in the 1970s and apparently built huge, secret bunkers hidden across the country that could sustain hundreds of people for up to 6 months. This bunker was located close to the airport, and could have hidden all of the fighter planes in case of attack.
We casually strolled through the bunker with just a flashlight. It was awesome.
The Basics: Mostar has a population of about 113,000. Like the capital Sarajevo, the currency is Bosnian Convertible Marks (BAM or abbreviated to km). Although prices might be in Euros, they’re not necessarily accepted everywhere. Mostar is still divided between the west and east sides of the city—Bosnians (mainly Muslims) live in the east, Bosnian-Croats (mainly Catholics) live in the west. The city is usually connected to nearby Dubrovnik (Croatia) and Kotor (Montenegro).
Getting Around: Mostar has a fairly compact city center. Everything in the Old Town and its surroundings is walkable. They have some buses, but I don’t know how far or how frequently the network goes.
Where I Stayed: I stayed at Hostel Nina, which I can only give the highest recommendations. If you’re going to Mostar, STAY HERE! I stayed in a double private room, with a very comfortable bed. The bathrooms were clean, and both the door to my room and the front door have key locks. You’ll get a home-cooked breakfast in the garden in the morning, and (of course), a great guide in Žika. He also runs a bar in the Old Town (Žika Backpacker’s Bar), which is where hostel guests typically hang out in the evening. I had a wonderful experience here, and I will definitely stay here again in Mostar.
Mostar is an incredible snapshot of Bosnia & Herzegovina’s history from the war. It was an incredible place to visit for the beautiful landscape, and there are several other places in the Mostar-area I’d love to visit (besides Blagaj) when I have more time: Pocitelj, Medjugorje, and the Kravice Waterfalls are all close by and meant to be amazing. If you’re planning on going to BiH, definitely plan to make a stop in Mostar!
Have you ever been to Mostar, or another place in BiH? Let me know in the comments!