Bosnia & Herzegovina

Avoiding land mines in Bosnia

Hiking and roadtripping through the heart-shaped land

Originally published on Twenty-Something Travel

 

When I first told people I was going to Bosnia for a month, there were a lot of raised eyebrows. “Bosnia? Why Bosnia?”, “Isn’t it dangerous?”, “Wasn’t there a war there?” and “I hear there are land mines.” I got that a lot.

Reading articles about people accidentally triggering land mines, land mines washing up in suburbs during the 2014 floods, or even this World Nomads travel warning had me thinking, ‘Holy crap, is this safe?’

Friends who had visited Bosnia reassured me I had nothing to worry about, but even my Dad joked that if I was driving on a highway in Bosnia and stopped to pee, I shouldn’t leave the car.

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Sorry, Dad. I left the car! (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

It turns out, there is a lot more paranoia than fact surrounding the discussion of land mines in Bosnia and what they mean for travellers.

While land mines are definitely a real thing, they shouldn’t stop you from exploring. Let me tell you why.

I went to Bosnia to work with Photographers Without Borders. While doing photo documentary work for them, I had time to go hiking and exploring in the Bosnian countryside. (Photo thanks to Jeffrey Garriock)
I went to Bosnia to work with Photographers Without Borders. While doing photo documentary work for them, I had time to  hike and explore in the Bosnian countryside. (Photo thanks to Jeffrey Garriock)

Bosnia is a wonderful place for travellers. Not only is the currency exchange extremely favourable and the people warm and friendly, but the climates and landscape are diverse. Mediterranean beaches and coastline turn into the Dinaric Alps mountain range, which then gives way to deciduous forests of spruce, oak, beech and silver fir. For hikers, it’s a real treat.

Those are some pretty nice forests. This is on Trebević mountain outside Sarajevo. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
Those are some pretty nice forests. This is on Trebević mountain outside Sarajevo. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

That sounds pretty nice. So, what’s up with these land mines?

Land mines are a legacy of the Bosnian War. Between 1992-1995 there was a huge, ugly, ethnic war fought in Bosnia during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Over 100,000 people died and millions were displaced. During the war, both sides buried land mines.

After the war, around 2 million land mines and explosives were left scattered across the country. Most affected are former front lines, like Sarajevo.

Since the war, NGOs have been demining the country. Bosnia had set a goal to finish removing landmines by 2019, but in May the Bosnia Herzegovina Mine Action Centre said that lack of funds meant it would probably take until 2025.

Stopping to stretch our legs on a road that runs through the Bjelašnica mountain. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
Stopping to stretch our legs on a road that runs through the Bjelašnica mountain. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Is it safe for travellers?

Yes. Yes. Emphatically, yes. Here’s the thing: land mines in Bosnia pose no threat to tourists who are hiking on marked, official trails or driving on marked roads.

Those areas have all been cleared or never had land mines in the first place.

To back me up, I want to introduce you to Maggie Cormack. I met Maggie over beers at Galerija Boris Smoje in Sarajevo. She’s an American who’s lived in Sarajevo for a year and a half.

Maggie works for Terra Dinarica, an NGO that focuses on sustainable tourism development and local economic growth. Their big project has been working on the Via Dinarica – a mega hiking trail that passes through seven Balkan countries.

Maggie! She came to Sarajevo after completing a degree in International Development from McGill University in Canada and has lots of experience hiking and traveling around Bosnia. Sorry the photo’s a bit dark. I took it in a bar. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
Maggie! She came to Sarajevo after completing a degree in International Development from McGill University in Canada and has lots of experience hiking and traveling around Bosnia. Sorry the photo’s a bit dark. I took it in a bar. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

When Maggie arrived in Bosnia, she headed for the hills, “I’m the kind of person who’s already outdoorsy and always hiking, plus I have a Labrador Retriever so I wanted to take her on hikes.” says Maggie, “My first real hike was this epic 14-mile hike to Lukomir village.”

Lukomir is the most remote and highest altitude village in Bosnia. I saw it too, only I did it as a road trip. The only thing we had to worry about was our Google Maps failing.

“After that I just got more and more interested in the nature of Bosnia. My friends and I always say Lord of the Rings should have been filmed here. It looks like Middle Earth,” says Maggie.

Bosnia, or Middle Earth? You decide. Just outside Lukomir. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
Bosnia, or Middle Earth? You decide. Just outside Lukomir. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Maggie did mandatory mine awareness training at the American embassy when she arrived for an internship in 2015.

“It’s definitely important to teach people about this, but I think especially for internationals,  they try to make you paranoid. Probably just to avoid trouble, of course… As I stayed here longer, I made more Bosnian friends and started going on hikes and realized that the areas that still have land mines are really well-marked. The only times there’s trouble is when people decide to go off-trail, or have lived here too long and don’t really worry about it. The actual hiking trails are totally safe, especially Via Dinarica. It makes large skirts around the areas that have potential land mines.”

Areas that are dangerous are marked with a red sign with a skull and crossbones on it. They can also be marked by a red ribbon, or a stick painted red or with a red rope tied on to it.

Pay attention to signs, stick to marked trails and roads, trust local advice and never go anywhere you’re uncomfortable with.

You may be more inconvenienced by local cattle and sheep than land mines. Travel slow on rural roads and keep an eye out. Animals will usually move as your drive towards them. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
You may be more inconvenienced by local cattle and sheep than land mines. Travel slow on rural roads and keep an eye out. Animals will usually move as your drive towards them. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

It’s also good to have a cell phone with a Bosnian SIM card and the number of the local mountaineering association or club in the area. Here’s the Sarajevo Mountain Rescue Service. If you get in any sort of trouble, they’re the best ones to call.


Okay, so where should I go?

I recommend the road trip to Lukomir, walking through the Trebević mountains, or driving to Mostar via Jablanica while following the Neretva river. Some of Maggie’s favourites are the highway to Montenegro via the Sutjeska National Park, or hiking directly from Sarajevo to a guest house called Vukov Konak in the surrounding mountains.

The best part about leaving the city is that you meet totally different people than those living in cities.

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Meeting this pair of shepherds on Bjelašnica mountain near Lukomir was one of the highlights of my trip. This looked ancient but were super youthful, chasing their sheep and cracking each other up while trying to communicate with us. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
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All the smiles. A regular Saint Nick with cigarettes and sheep. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
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Sevda invited us to her house for coffee as soon as we pulled into Lukomir. There’s not much industry in the remote village, but she makes a living selling coffee and knitted socks to travellers. You can read more about her and the potent coffee she makes in this story. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

 

If I still haven’t convinced you that hiking and road tripping in Bosnia is safe and worth it, maybe you’ll be convinced by these photos I took of the most amazing sunrise I’ve ever seen in the Trebević mountains.

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Early dawn. Just the first lickings of light. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
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The cloud barrier breaks and we’re treated to a creamsicle streak of sun. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
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Three fingers of light give the mountains form. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
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As the valleys heat up in the morning sun, mist rises. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
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A sunbeam lands on a house as a whisp of mist floats up towards the sunrise. These mountains are known as the ‘lungs’ of Sarajevo. During the war they ran along Serbian front lines, mined and unsafe. They’re now safe as long as you stay on the marked roads, and people are slowly returning to this beautiful forest. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

100% worth it and no land mines in sight.

About

Mel Hattie is an award-winning photographer and travel journalist based in Halifax. She's completing her MJ in New Ventures at the University of King's College. She appreciates a good cup of tea and extra legroom on long flights.

3 comments on “Avoiding land mines in Bosnia

  1. Man, you’re incredible. I love this article. <3

  2. Pingback: Travel & Inspirational Link Round-Up, February Edition | The Ramble

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