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Driving in Bosnia

Hmm. Am concerned.

We were planning a trip to Serbia, Bosnia - Hercegovinia - have been to Romania, Croatia, Hungary, etc. so thought we would give those 2 countries a try.

Seems there is quite a bit on the Internet about how unwise it would be to drive - no good roads, unsafe mountain tunnels, very slow driving conditions, etc. etc.

Only ONE way to get the straight scoop; from our fellow travelers on the Rick Steves Helpline.

Many, many thanks in advance.

Posted by
6060 posts

Here are two old threads from this forum in this regard:
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/to-the-east/travel-in-bosnia
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/to-the-east/drive-through-bosnia

Truthfully, you're going to get a teeny, tiny sample of people on this forum who traveled in Bosnia (outside of day tours of Mostar) and even lesser number of those who did it by car. But that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the roads everywhere. Just make sure your rental car company allows crossing into Bosnia and Serbia, depending where you're starting from (I imagine you're flying into Sarajevo?). I traveled by bus and train and they were fine. The train was really old school (almost like still back in old Yugoslavia period), the bus was nice and modern.

Posted by
4684 posts

Driving in Bosnia is easy if you've driven in other European countries - don't even give it a second thought. All of those reports about how bad the roads are...are long out of date. The roads have come a long way in the 20 years since the war ended, just like the country has.

In 2015, I drove from Montenegro to Tribinje, to Mostar, to Sarajevo, and from there back to Plitvice Lakes in Croatia, with stops in Travnik and Jajce (overnight). I also detoured to the relatively new Una National Park near Bihac (not too far from Plitvice but very different in character - barely developed at all as park). So I drove over major roads and a lot of minor roads. I never had any problem driving anywhere - roads clearly weren't as good as Croatia's but were still just fine.

I had a Garmin GPS with me for that trip, and as expected many maps were wrong. Today I'd have my Android phone and Google Maps and expect it to be more accurate. Even so, I got by with the occasional wrong map - just winging it and being patient, using my GPS as a rough guide and just driving on until my GPS found where it was again on a real road. For example, I couldn't quite find Kravice Falls with the GPS - some roads it wanted to guide me on simply didn't exist. But I found my way to the town of Ljubuški and followed signs from there to the falls.

I would advise you to have a working smart phone for your trip. I bought a SIM card in Tribenje for next to nothing and had decent reception in much of the country.

Posted by
971 posts

I have travelled by bus in Bosnia (from Croatia to Banja Luka, Jajce, Sarajevo, Mostar and onwards to Montenegro) and driven in Montenegro. While I didnt drive myself I never got the impression that Bosnien roads were particularly dangerous (it’s not like ridning a bus in Bolivia or Nepal, where you can have some near death experiences).

Posted by
13 posts

We drove through Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia last September and I didn't find that the roads were any worse in Bosnia than in the other countries (we drove from Dubrovnik to Mostar and then from Mostar to Plitvice Lakes). The thing I felt the most unsafe about were the locals that would speed around you on a curve in the road. But I guess they know those roads like the back of their hand. We drove through Romania in May and I honestly found the condition of the roads there to be a good deal worse than in Bosnia - potholes like I've never seen before!

Posted by
113 posts

Thanks to all of you for replying.

The picture is now much clearer.

Happy Holidays!

Posted by
1892 posts

In 2014, we drove from Sarajevo to Mostar, through the mountains to Kotor, and then along the coast to Dubrovnik. We had a driver, but the roads were fine. I did not see a huge number of gas stations, however, and this may suggest that some planning is important in gas, etc. In addition, it is not as common to find English in these areas - you need Yugoslavian language skills. But the roads were fine.

I'm an ex-resident of Arlington Heights, but lived in Des Plaines as a very small child.

Posted by
4684 posts

Paul, I didn't have any "Yugoslavian language" skills on my long drive through Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro, and I managed just fine. I wouldn't worry about the language at all. Many people will speak at least a little English (remember, the US had troops on Bosnia for a long time, so it's not like the locals have never met anyone who speaks English). Having a phone or tablet with Google Translate on it might offer some comfort if you get stuck in some weird situation where you are unable to communicate with someone, but I didn't have even that in 2015 when driving.

One note: in the Republika Srpska (the Bosnian Serbia-ruled part of Bosnia - not a clear division like a straight line or fixed border or anything, it's like driving into a different county), the official alphabet is Cyrillic, not Roman, so some road signs will be in Cyrillic (especially on minor roads). On major roads, the signs tend to be in both alphabets. I admit that I was nervous about this before heading over there, but once I started driving through these areas, I never worried about it or felt nervous, and I wound up going off the main roads numerous times. (Don't get out of your car in some off-road area and walk carelessly anywhere; there are still unexploded mines in Bosnia, but minefields are usually well marked. I never encountered any mines but didn't really walk much off the side of the road or in towns and in Una National Park.)

Posted by
1892 posts

Andrew: I call it "Yugoslavian language", because Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, Macedonian, Montenegran, are all pretty much the same, and picking one name is picking a side. As they say, learn Serbian, you know 6 languages.

Indeed in Republika Srbska, and Serbia, Cyrillic is the script. In Serbia, they use Latin and Cyrillic. In Republika Srbska, it's all Cyrillic. I can read it, but often don't know the meaning of the words. And, yes, often there is a little English, but it's much less likely to have a little English there than in, say, Bretagne or Catalonia. We spent time in Serbia going to small villages looking for family graves, and there were a number in which no English was spoken. I could get by sometimes with a little German, and we had a Serbian guide from the Beograd TI. i don't usually go with guides, but it was a good idea in Serbia, and I think depending on your interest, possibly in Bosnia as well.

We had a driver take us by car from Beograd to Sarajevo - about 300 €, which was comparable to airfare, but he dropped us right at the hotel. We also had a driver from Sarajevo to Mostar. Since buses had stopped from Mostar to Dubrovnik, he drove us to Dubrovnik, but via Kotor. Again, not hugely expensive.

Good point about the mines. Not a place to go for a stroll in the woods.

Posted by
4684 posts

Paul, if you are interacting with locals in small towns, with people who aren't used to talking to foreigners and can't speak English (e.g. trying to locate grave sites), I can see how some local language skills could help.

The point I'm trying to make isn't that visitors to Bosnia shouldn't bother to learn any of the language - it's always nice to know a few local words like "hello" and "please" and "thank you;" I think the locals appreciate that.

What I'm trying to say is that visitors need not know the local language to visit or even go on a long driving trip in Bosnia. You can get by without it - I did, and no one could know less of the language than I do. (Nor can I read or pronounce Cyrillic words.) I've gotten comfortable over the years when visiting Europe to communicate in a pinch with people who can't speak English - at least enough to get by. If you're a tourist checking into a hotel or buying gas, the person you're dealing with knows why you are there. I want to check in, I need the room key, the WiFi password. At a little hotel in Jajce in Bosnia, where the manager didn't almost any English, I still managed to check in and get what I ordered for breakfast the next morning. But I didn't try to have a conversation with him.

And this was before I had a good smart phone with Google Translate on it. That makes it much easier yet to communicate, at least a little.

Some people I talk to seem completely intimidated to visit somewhere without knowing the language. You can certainly visit Bosnia on your own without knowing the language, at least as a typical tourist. The best thing I can suggest though is to be patient and don't get intimidated if trying to communicate with a non-English speaker. Take your time and don't get flustered if it takes you a few minutes to communicate. Be patient.

And as I said earlier, I did think driving in Bosnia was easy - and I was driving alone. The roads were fine. I can see why some people might want to hire a driver, but it's not necessarily especially if you've driven in other countries before.

Posted by
1 posts

Flying into VCE, renting and driving through the east Adriatic countries. Was told by Hertz and Sixt they will not allow their cars in Bosnia. Europcar agent couldn't provide an answer. Can someone suggest a rental company that will?

Posted by
4684 posts

Flying into VCE, renting and driving through the east Adriatic countries. Was told by Hertz and Sixt they will not allow their cars in Bosnia. Europcar agent couldn't provide an answer. Can someone suggest a rental company that will?

I think what you mean is, you can't rent a car in Italy and drive into Bosnia.

But if you rent in Slovenia or Croatia, you should be able to. I know I rented in Croatia twice (once from Sixt) and drive into Bosnia - had to make sure I had an insurance card ("green card") for driving the car out of the EU. It may cost a little extra.

Not sure what your itinerary is, but you can go directly from VCE to Slovenia or Croatia if you like. For example, take DRD or GoOpti from the airport to Ljubljana; spend a day or two there, then pick up the car as you leave - you won't want a car there. However, a one-way rental from Slovenia, even though it may be allowed to drive in Bosnia, may be expensive if you drop in another country. If you can start and end in Croatia, you might save some money - e.g. rent in Zagreb, drive through Bosnia and drop in Dubrovnik or something. If you will be in Slovenia, you could rent a car separately there if need be then take the train to Zagreb or Rijeka or a bus down to Istria, depending on your agenda. My last trip, I took a train from Ljubljana to Rijeka, rented a car for two weeks, drove down to Montenegro and then back north through Bosnia and dropped the car in Zagreb.

Posted by
1892 posts

Andrew: Your points about driving are quite interesting. We will be going back to B-H in the near future. I have family connections mostly in Republika Srbska - my family is Germanic in the Donau Schwaben group, which used to have a large colony in N Serbia, E B-H, W Roumania - all the areas which were Austria-Hungary. I am trying to get the information from my mom (91) before she passes. She has a good memory, but doesn't know everything - I know my grandfather was PROBABLY born NW of Novi Sad (little villages we have gone to), but the exact one I'm not sure about. We have a couple documents which hint at locations. Bijeljina, Feketisch, Savina Selo, Kula - all names in the family history. Driving around ourselves is going to be necessary.

I've also learned recently that the various family members of the "Yugoslavian language" family are a bit more distinct than I thought - great dialect variation between Serbian and Croatian. Of course, in the 25 years since the civil war, there is an entire generation who have had little contact, and this creates more distinctions.

Posted by
113 posts

I am the fellow who posted the above. Thanks again very much to all of you. Collectively, you have helped us make a decision.

As to the person who inquired about a rental car for Bosnia; I have used AutoEurope MANY times over the years. They have a page dedicated to Bosnia. I will, of course, be using them for this trip.

Thanks again, everybody.

Richard and Mary
Chicago

Posted by
113 posts

To Paul -

Thanks for replying. Note also that you said you are an ex-resident of Arlington Heights but grew up in Des Plaines - now residing in Sioux Falls.

Lived in Arlington Heights in the 70', 80's and 90's. Lived in Pioneer Park, Our Lady of the Wayside parish. Had worked and lived in Chicago for MANY years and now live in the very nearby (as you know) city of Des Plaines.

We always sign as Richard and Mary, Chicago, as we are heavy promoters of the Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, Cubs and Sox.

Richard and Mary

P.S. When working in Chicago worked closely with a fellow born and raised in Sioux Falls. Whenever we had a bad winter day here in Chicago, this fellow from Sioux Falls would simply say "if you haven't seen a blizzard in Sioux Falls, you don't even know what winter is."