While I am writing this post, my big overland trip from the Netherlands to Indonesia has started. When you decide to travel for a longer period of time, people automatically think you are going far away. I often got the question: where is your first flight going to? My answer: I am not taking any planes this time, I chose the bus and train instead. My boyfriend and I are traveling overland. This means that we stay ‘close’ for the first few months. We will be discovering more of Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkan region. I am in love with this side of Europe. It is a beautiful authentic region where there is still a lot to explore.
Take for instance the Balkan region, a cultural hotpot of different languages, religions and cultures. A fascinating region for traveling. In the summer of 2017 I traveled to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Montenegro and I still look back on this trip with a big smile on my face. It proofs that you do not have to go far away to have a great travel experience. I even dare to say that my Balkan trip is one of my favorite trips so far. It formed the inspiration for our current overland. I think traveling with public transport is a green and fun way to travel and it is super easy in the Balkan region. I will show you which countries I have visited and I will share my tips for traveling around by bus in the Balkan.
First stop Balkan: Pure Bosnia & Herzegovina
The first stop of my trip was Bosnia and Herzegovina. A country with a fascinating history and culture. A lot of people have a distorted image when they think of this country. A country of war, pain, loss and broken down buildings. Admittedly, you will see a lot of cemeteries and bullet holes. You cannot avoid the remnants of the war. It is part of the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but it does not say everything about the country. Bosnia and Herzegovina has rebuilt itself. You can come here for the beautiful nature, old cities, strong cups of coffee and traditional bites such as the Borek.
I visited the cities Tuzla, Sarajevo and Mostar. All three different destinations: unknown Tuzla is the city of the salt lakes, in capital city Sarajevo you will see a multicultural mix of people and raw Mostar has the iconic Stari Most (Old Bridge). This last city is also a great base for day trips to the Kravica waterfalls, the cliff monastery Blagaj Tekija and the medieval town of Pocitelj.
How to travel around Bosnia and Herzegovina by bus?
- Twice a day a bus departs from Tuzla bus station to Sarajevo bus station. A ride takes a little over three hours and can be quite hilly. Bring your motion sickness pills just for safety.
- The bus route Sarajevo – Mostar is a popular drive. A bus departs every hour, so you do not have to worry about getting there at a fixed time. The bus ride to Mostar takes 2,5 hours.
From Mostar we drove to the popular Croatian city Dubrovnik. We took a break there before heading to Montenegro. Not a bad place to stop for a while, because Dubrovnik is gorgeous. Azur-blue water, a beautiful old city center, alleys to fall in love with and an Italian vibe: what is not to love? Well, the city has also suffered under the masses of tourists: hundreds of cruise ship tourists, high prices for food and drinks and crowds everywhere. I loved Dubrovnik and hated it at the same time. I tried to avoid the masses by getting up early, climbing high up in the city alleys, going to the quiet War Photo Limited Museum and wandering around in the abandoned Hotel Belvedere (a cool Game of Thrones location without the tours).
How to travel around in Croatia by bus?
- Take extra travel time into consideration when you travel from Mostar to Dubrovnik. You are traveling from a non-EU country to an EU country. During our bus ride we had to deal with three border crossings: first from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Croatia, then from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina and lastly from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Croatia. The coastal road to Dubrovnik goes through the Bosnian area of Neum. In the summer there is often a traffic jam before the border crossings and if you arrive with a full bus, it can some time to check all passports.
- Three to four times a day busses depart from Mostar to Dubrovnik. Most busses depart in the morning. Travel time on paper is four hours, but in reality it can easily be double. Don’t plan to do anything else on this day, because you don’t know how it is going to be.
Mountain landscape in Montenegro
After Dubrovnik it was time for our final stop during our trip: Montenegro. This is a country fit for nature lovers. In Montenegro you can find a beautiful mountainous landscape. I am a culture lover, but even I thought that the nature in Montenegro was impressive. We spent a full week in the bay of Kotor and enjoyed the views on the fjord landscape. This place is also quite popular with cruise ships, but luckily the ships leave in the late afternoon. Our base for the week was Kotor, a beautiful old walled city full with charming alleys and lazy cats. We took day trips to Budva and Perast. We especially loved this last town. Perast is compact and known for the two church islands in front of the coast. You can visit one of these islands, the boat cost 5 euros (round trip).
How to travel around in Montenegro by bus?
- Take extra travel time into consideration if you travel from Dubrovnik to Kotor. You are traveling from an EU country to a non-EU country. Luckily there is only one border crossing, so the waiting time is not too bad.
- Four to five busses a day depart from Dubrovnik to Kotor. On paper these rides take two to three hours, but in reality it can again be double.
- Good to know: despite that fact that Montenegro is not an EU member state, you can still pay here with euros. You do not have to exchange anything.
Want to see more of the Balkan region?
After Montenegro our trip ended and we returned to the Netherlands. Do you have more time to explore this region? Travel with the Montenegro Express from the city Bar to Belgrade (Serbia). I have heard that this is the most beautiful train journey of the Balkan. You can also continue by bus to Albania and visit Shkodër and capital city Tirana. Or go to Kosovo and discover the youngest country of Europe. Capital city Pristina and Prizren are good places to visit! You can also combine Kosovo with North Macedonia very easily. Within 2,5 hours you can travel from Pristina to fascinating Skopje.
Practical tips for traveling by bus in the Balkan region:
- Useful website for looking up bus schedules in the Balkan are Get By Bus and Balkan Viator.
- In summer it is good to book the bus tickets in advance, because buses can fill up pretty quickly (especially in Croatia). Please note: tickets that are booked online still need to be printed.
- Large luggage pieces (trolleys, suitcases, big backpacks) need to be stored in the compartment under the bus. You need to pay a small fee to the driver for this (about 1 euro).
Responsible and sustainable travel with Better Places
I am a big fan of traveling with public transport and I like working with organisations who also have a sustainable view on traveling. One of these travel organisations is Better Places. Better Places offers travel experiences in a responsible way with a strong focus on nature and the local population. They want to boost the positive impact of tourism by making a trip an unforgettable experience for you as well as a direct source of income for the local people. I have traveled with Better Places before, to China and India, and I am a big fan of their 100% tailor-made approach. Get inspired by the offer of travel specialist Better Places.
Do you like to travel by bus?