The European country of Bosnia-Herzegovina may not be a natural for the top of your vacation list, but if you’re on a budget, it’s one of the best bargains on the continent.
World travelers—especially Americans—have very long memories about former war zones. If you tell people you’re going to Bosnia, they’re probably going to scratch their head and tell you to look out for land mines. If you say you’re flying to Sarajevo though, they might have a more positive feeling: it was the host of the 1984 Winter Olympics, so those old enough to remember that may still have a warm and fuzzy feeling about it.
That was before the biggest war in Europe since WWII, however, and it’s an understatement to say the country is still recovering. It wasn’t even a country before though, since the whole big territory of eight ethnic groups was just Yugoslavia. All hell broke loose when parts of it started declaring independence though and the Serbs thought it would be a good idea to just take the whole thing for themselves. This war-torn region has seen plenty of strife and the Bosnians were generally the defenders and the aggrieved, not the aggressors. They revere Tito like a supernatural being since times were pretty good under a united Yugoslavia. It’s an ugly, convoluted, controversial story, so I’ll stop there. Make an effort to get schooled when you visit.
Wages are now less than half what they were in the early 1980s—without even adjusting for inflation. Guides routinely throw out an unemployment level of 45%—the highest in Europe—though it’s probably a bit less when you consider the underground economy in what is an almost completely cash society.
Speaking of cash, that’s what you’ll need for spending in Bosnia. Only higher-end hotels accept credit cards and you’ll rarely see a Visa or Mastercard sticker on a restaurant door. Fortunately ATMs are everywhere and the math is pretty easy: one Bosnian mark (km) equals half a euro and it takes 1.7 marks to equal one U.S. dollar.
In general this country is a pretty good deal at the low end, a terrific deal for mid-range travelers on vacation. It’s not quite as cheap as Romania and Bulgaria, but probably as cheap or cheaper than Slovakia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.
I’m doing all the prices in euros this time because you can actually use euros freely in Mostar and it’s the easiest currency to change or use outright here.
Hotel and Hostel Prices in Bosnia-Herzegovina
That picture above is when I splurged for a night in Mostar. It was €30 with a pool and fast WiFi. You probably couldn’t get a box on the street for that in Paris or Florence, but here you don’t have to spend a lot here for a nice room.
Hostel bed in dorm: €8 – 12
Private room with bath in hostel/guesthouse: €12 – 25
3-star hotel room with A/C, double: €18 – 40
Top hotels in town: most are under €100
Food and Drink Prices in Bosnia
Even at a tourist place, you’ll have to really chow down to spend more than 15 euros on dinner, and that’s with a beer or glass of wine. In a place where locals eat you can easily get by for under 5 and leave full. I had two big strips of meat burek, two of cheese burek, and a coffee for less than €3. So good I went back the next day. If you cook it’s even more of a bargain. This is also one of the cheapest destinations for beer in the world.
Seasonal fruit and vegetables: €0.2 (potatoes) per kilo to €1.5 (cherries and berries)
Kilo of rice: €0.75 – 1.50
Liter of milk: €0.5 – 0.75
Liter of cooking oil: €0.4 – 1
Liter of juice: €0.5 – 1
Local wine in store: €1.5 – 8
Local wine glass in restaurant: €1.5 – 3
Beer (.5 liter) in store: €0.4 – .75
Beer (.5 liter) in bar: €1.25 – 2.5
Espresso or cappuccino in cafe: €0.5 – 1
Bosnian coffee presentation: €1.25 – 1.5
Cherry brandy big shot: €1 – 1.50
Fast food sandwich: €1 – 2
Personal pizza: €1.25 – 2
Nice restaurant main dish: €3 – 8
Transportation Prices in Bosnia
Buses and streetcars in Sarajevo are €0.85
Local taxis are officially €0.75 to start and 0.5 for each kilometer. I paid 5 marks (2.5 euros) for one in Sarajevo that didn’t have a meter, less than €1.75 each time in Mostar with taxis that did.
Bus between cities: 8 to 18 euros (Sarajevo-Mostar was €10, Mostar to Dubrovnik was €16. Have a mark or two handy for the luggage charge.)
Train between cities: a euro or two less than the bus, but limited routes and often out of service
It’s not really worth flying within this small country as the drives are beautiful.
Other Travel Prices in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Haircut from a barber: €1.50 – 5
Museum admissions: €1.50 – 4
Attraction admissions: €2 – 4
All day 4-stop tour from Mostar: €30 – 35
All day hiking trip with Highlander Adventures from Sarajevo: €30 – 50
Sarajevo half day tour: €10
In general, this is a country where you could be on a vacation budget for less than 100 euros a day as a couple if you weren’t moving around too fast. A single backpacker could probably get by for €40 a day with a few excursions thrown in now and then. Outside the two main tourist centers where I was, prices are lower in restaurants. If you cook and snack from bakeries, you could get by quite cheaply.