Getting behind the wheel in a new country has become sort of standard practice whenever I travel. It’s always an adventure to hit the open road, to go somewhere maybe inaccessible by other modes of transport and to see a country or place in the way most locals do.
From Prague I drove to Krakow, in the Philippines to Mount Pinatubo and my travel buddy Natalie and I spent a week driving around the whole of Israel. When the two of us found ourselves in Dubrovnik this June, a car fueled journey was clearly in the books.
We had been spending a few days in Dubrovnik, a beautiful city bombarded by hordes of tourist bus crowds each summer season. After a day or two of fighting our way through the roadblock of people, we looked at a map and saw just how close Bosnia and Herzegovina actually was. Without putting too much thought into it, we booked possibly the only automatic vehicle in the country and planned to drive out to Sarajevo the next morning.
There’s not so much information out there on how to get from Dubrovnik to Sarajevo. Judging from the few blog posts we stumbled across it seems as if most people where making there way between the two with the main point behind their trip to stop in the fascinating Ottoman inspired city of Mostar.
But Natty and I didn’t want to go to Mostar- we wanted to see Sarajevo, the infamous and diverse capital that became known as the tragic epicenter of the Bosnian War. The few blog posts we found on driving there were no help. They all recommended the out of the way drive to Mostar. We had only one day to make it there and back so needed to make sure we took the fastest route.
Google Maps clearly showed us a different direction, one that would hug the border of Montenegro and get us to Sarajevo in under 300 kilometers instead of over 400. Done deal we thought, but little did we know Google Maps was where our adventure would really begin.
We set out early, going in the exact opposite direction from the main highway and quickly found ourselves on unpaved backroads in the Bosnia and Herzegovina back country. After turning around and then starting again down the same path, we figured let’s go with it; eventually, we have to get there.
Seven hours and almost a heart attack or two later we did. While Google Maps was quick to point out the route it directed us on was about 100 kilometers shorter than the way through Mostar, if neglected to mention the entire journey would be on steep, unpaved switchback roads through a densely forested and mountainous National Park. I’m pretty sure the max speed we hit the whole time was 20km as we clung to the side of the narrow mountain pass drive.
Occasionally we would see a car or some form of shelter, but basically had our less than trusty car given out- we would have been screwed. We wanted Sarajevo to be an adventure but being stranded along a Bosnian road in the middle of nowhere wasn’t exactly what Natty and I had had in mind. We didn’t get stuck, though we came close a number of times, especially when the descending path would abruptly end and I was forced to navigate our two wheel drive vehicle back to the start and up a mountain all in reverse.
Though harrowing, however, the ride was stunning. Unfortunately, I don’t have many pictures since my hands were tightly and desperately gripping the wheel the whole time. The golden meadows of Sutjeska National Park seemed to stretch on forever. The Medieval forest was as enchanting as one would expect a Medieval forest to be- I half suspected we would see Hansel and Gretel to be running about. At one point we did stop to take a few photographs; at a river who’s water was so turquoise blue it looked as if someone had dyed it that way.
We eventually did make it to Sarajevo and I’m glad we did. For the horrors that claimed the city not too long ago, Sarajevo is bustling and alive. Young people fill the streets and every available restaurant table and bar stool that line the city’s main thoroughfares. The people were friendly and the food was good. You couldn’t help but marvel at the intense diversity of culture that poured out of the city’s pores, nor the very visible scars on buildings that remain a testament to the war. I’ll go into detail on Sarajevo later, this post is about the adventure we took to get there.
The way back through Mostar was far easier and the longer route took less than half the time it took Natty and I to get there. The highway was paved, flat and had two lanes- no wonder this was the route most people chose to take. Mostar, as well, was a beautiful city. I hope I get the chance to return there one day.
Though our road trip to Sarajevo was a bit more of a thrill ride than we had bargained for, I think we were lucky to have taken the route through Sutjeska. Natty and I witnessed the awe-inspiring beauty of a little visited region in a rarely visited country; had we not taken the directions provided by Google Maps we would have never known the pristine beauty and cherished corner of the country.
If you do ever decide to drive from Dubrovnik to Sarajevo, I’d even suggest the trip through Sutjeska. Just do so with a four wheel drive, manual transmission and the mindset that you’re about to embark on an amazing but bumpy ride.