Rock Climbing in the Balkans: Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a real hidden gem for rock climbers. Learn why you should plan your next climbing trip there.
Posted on Wed 1 Dec 2021 · Climbing destinations
Rock Climbing in Bosnia and Herzegovina: A Guide
A few weeks ago I sat down with climber, bolter and guidebook author Igor Vukic to learn more about rock climbing in Bosnia and Herzegovina. After asking me if I’d ever visited the country – to which my reply was, 'unfortunately, no' – he noted ‘well, you’ll be booking a ticket here right after this chat’. He couldn’t have been more right...
Dariva, Sarajevo. Armin Gazić in his project © Adi Kebo
Why go rock climbing in Bosnia and Herzegovina?
Bosnia and Herzegovina (or Bosnia as it’s known informally) is a real hidden gem for climbing enthusiasts. Despite the country’s stunning landscapes, fascinating culture, rich (at times dark) history, and incredibly hospitable people, Bosnia remains quite far off the tourist track, especially when compared to neighbouring Croatia and Montenegro. For us climbers this means unspoilt nature, quality rock and uncrowded crags.
According to Igor, rock climbing first started to be developed in Bosnia in the late 1970s and 80s. During this period, the focus was predominantly on trad and alpine climbing. While development slowly resumed in the late 1990s after the end of the Bosnian War, the majority of the country’s sport crags have been developed in the past 5 years. As a result, the routes tend to be well and safely bolted, and the rock incredibly fresh (read sharp). In fact, Igor notes that Bosnian climbers sometimes seek out polished crags just for ‘fun’ – or when they want to try a different style of climbing. The rock is predominantly limestone, but offers a fantastic range of grades, angles and styles.
There are also many things beyond rock climbing that make Bosnia and Herzegovina worth the visit. Nature enthusiasts – be prepared for some of the most scenic countryside you’ve ever seen! Forested mountain tops, steep gorges carved by crystalline rivers and picturesque alpine meadows constitute a stunning backdrop to your alpine adventures. For those of you that are into history, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been at the crossroads of civilizations for hundreds of years and as a result boasts numerous historical and cultural sites, ranging from the old bridge of Mostar to medieval fortresses and monasteries. And then there’s the legendary Bosnian hospitality: you’ll never go hungry or thirsty at any point in your trip.
Bacarsija, Sarajevo © Igor Vukic
Is there anything I should be aware of before climbing in Bosnia and Herzegovina?
NEVER mix rakija and beer! Aside from that, not much.
Some visitors may be concerned about mines left over from the war. Thankfully, the vast majority of the crags (all bar 2) are not located in areas affected by mines, and those that are will be clearly marked in the guidebook. The latter tend to be safe to visit, but it’s worth reading all the approach information carefully to put your mind at ease.
Bosnia and Herzegovina climbing logistics
While Bosnia and Herzegovina is a small country, the roads can be quite bad and getting around takes longer than you think. If you’re planning on just staying a few days, we recommend picking one area and exploring the crags nearby. There’s usually plenty of accommodation options – campsites, hostels, B&Bs – especially for the crags located near major cities.
If you’re planning a longer trip (say two weeks or more), it’s worth renting a car and exploring the country’s different regions. Climb, hike, try the local food, visit picturesque villages and historical sites... You’ll soon be wishing you booked a longer trip!
Maglic peak © TORS Archive
The best rock climbing areas in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Rock climbing around Banja Luka
Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s second largest city, is a great place to start if you’re planning a climbing trip. From a climber’s perspective, the city is incredibly well located ‒ you’ll find a good concentration of excellent crags nearby, some within just a 20 minute drive from the city centre. On rest days enjoy the city’s cafe culture, the hot springs, or wander the scenic banks of the Vrbas river which flows right through the heart of the city.
Kanjon Tijesno is the closest crag to Banja Luka, located about a 20 minute drive south of the city. Tijesno was the first crag developed during the annual Drill & Chill festival, and currently boasts the highest density of hard routes in the country ‒ including Highline, a 9a/+ bolted and climbed by Adam Ondra. You’ll find a good number of multi-pitch climbs up to 250m long, as well as plenty of sport routes from the 5th to 8th grades. The rock is a compact limestone (approved by Adam Ondra!) full of crimps, pockets and some tufas. Thanks to the differing orientations of various sectors, it’s possible to climb year round. Tijesno is also a great spot for highligning, so if this is something you enjoy be sure to pay it a visit.
Igor Vukic and Dzenan Hozic on Luxus Campe (6b+), 110m © Luka Tambaca
Highlining in Tijesno during the 2021 Drill & Chill festival © Naco Grgorinic
A crag located about 1.5 hours south of Banja Luka, near the village of Ubovica Brdo, Pecka is the perfect place to head if you're looking for some accessible climbing in a tranquil forested setting. With approximately 150 routes from 5a to 8a on a pocketed limestone conglomerate, the area has a similar feel to Margalef ‒ except that you won’t ever have to queue for a route! A short approach, flat belay ledges, plenty of climbs in the 6s, and sunny southern orientation makes this the perfect destination for a few days of laid-back climbing. There’s a range of different accommodation options in the area, from camping to a B&B. Visit in spring or autumn for the best conditions.
Klemen Becan bolting a new project and Klemen Vodlan climbing in Pecka © Anja Becan
Klekovaca and Preodac
Those looking for somewhere a little more remote should head to Klekovaca and Preodac. These two crags located about an hour’s drive from one another offer some unique climbing amidst stunning scenery, with nothing but forest for kilometers around.
Klekovaca is a small crag located in the mountains (around 1,200m a.s.l) 2.5 hours from Banja Luka. You’ll find perfect gray limestone walls surrounded by dense forest, offering around 40 sport routes. The climbing is on delicate slabs, with erosions described by Igor as similar to ‘the bars of a radiator’.
The village of Preodac, located about 3 hours from Banja Luka, is known as one of the most beautiful places in Bosnia thanks to its breathtaking views. In the Unac river canyon, just under a mysterious 14th century ruined fortress, you’ll find a crag boasting about 20 routes. Head here for some good climbing in the 6th and 7th grades, a tranquil setting and stunning views.
The slabs at Klekovaca © Igor Vukic
Rock climbing around Sarajevo: Bukovik
If you’re visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina, it’s likely that you’ll want to spend some time in Sarajevo. Fortunately you’ll find a pleasant crag just a 20 minute drive from the city centre: Bukovik.
Bukovik is a small crag located in the Skakavac nature reserve, which boasts some rich wildlife including brown bears, wolves and local flora. You’ll find around 40 routes spread across two sectors, offering a mixture of slabs and more vertical walls, shorter routes and endurance testpieces. The crag is perfect for beginner and intermediate climbers, offering lots around the 6th grade. There’s also an authentic Kafana (pub) nearby where you can enjoy some local refreshments post-climb, and a hike leading to the 100m Skakavac Waterfall ‒ the largest in the country!
Kafana Promaja and Bukovik climbing area © David Lemmerer
Rock climbing around Mostar : Blagaj
Blagaj is a must-visit crag for those heading to the Herzegovina region. Conveniently located a few minutes from Mostar, the crag sits on the edge of the charming Ottoman village from which it takes its name. You’ll find both sport climbing and multi-pitches up to 200m long here: at present there are about 180 routes navigating some pretty unique rock formations, and potential for plenty more development. Routes tend to be around the 6th grade, and get the sun all day making this the perfect winter crag. Whilst in the area, it’s well worth visiting some of the local historical sites, including the 600-year-old Blagaj Tekija monastery near the source of the stunning river Buna. There’s also a 15th century castle in the area, a couple of via ferrata routes and some pleasant hiking trails.
Abdullah Sudzuka on Powerline 7a in Blagaj © Tina Devrišvić
The Bosnia and Herzegovina Rock Climbing Guidebook
The above is just a small selection of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s incredible climbing crags. If you want to find out what else is available, we recommend purchasing the rock climbing guidebook for Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition to covering all the current rock climbing areas, you’ll find 100 pages of touristic information to help you get the most out of your trip. Plus, the guidebook will give you some insight into the Bosnian climbing community past and present, with in-depth interviews from 8 bolters. Available in both English or Bosnian.
Edin Zuhrić climbing in Tušila, Bjelašnica © unknown
The Drill & Chill Festival
Bolting and Highlining at the 2021 Drill & Chill Festival © Nace Grgorinic
If you’re a proficient climber and like what you’ve read so far, you may want to consider signing up for next year’s Drill & Chill Festival.
The first Drill & Chill festival was organised in 2015 by a group of enthusiasts from Climbing Club Extreme in Banja Luka. The idea was to get climbers from all over the world together to share knowledge and resources, and help kickstart the development of Kanjon Tijesno. Over the past six years, the festival has grown from 50 participants to over 250 climbers from 30 different countries. This year attendees were able to bolt over 40 new lines in Kanjon Tijesno, including some multi-pitches. While the focus is on bolting new lines ‒ the festival includes a bolting workshop for anyone who wants to learn the skill ‒ there’s also plenty of chilling: climbing, highligning, drinking beer, local food workshops… The festival runs in autumn each year for about 10 days and is open to anyone ‒ but book early as tickets are limited!
Camp life at the Drill & Chill festival © Nace Grgorinic
A huge thank you to Igor Vukic for helping us with this article and providing the exceptional photos. We are currently looking to organise some Mapo Tapo trips to Bosnia and Herzegovina, so keep an eye out for these!
Cover image © Nace Grgorinic