Must see places around Mostar

  When it comes to such an amazing town, I don’t even know where to start. Trying to write about my experience now brings all amazing images to my head, places I have seen, scenery I did not come across before. I did visit more than 45 countries, thinking that I’ve seen it all, but no, I could not be more wrong about it. Pictures, I am memorizing now, make my fingers want to write and write about it. It could be a messy blog without concentrating and thinking, how to shortly introduce Mostar and surrounded area to you all.

   Mostar is a city in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina by Neretva River.  Though, it is a must see place on every Balkans backpacker`s map, it does attract all kind of tourists from all over the world. It’s well known for the iconic Stari Most (Old Bridge), medieval arched bridge that has been found by Suleiman the Magnificent in 16th century. This Ottoman construction crosses the town river and connects two parts of the city. I was surprised to learn that after the 427 years it was destroyed in 1993 by Croat forces during the Croat–Bosniak War and rebuild again in 2004, achieving the title of the UNESCO side. As of 2017, It is one of the most remarkable bridges in Europe and a main point of tourist interest in the whole country. The images of Stari Most come as a first top mach on all internet search engines, associating Bosnia and Herzegovina with it. The simplicity of the design and structure, enriched by two medieval fortified towers along with beautiful and green river running underneath, makes it truly as a worth see place. The very interesting fact is that it is a most crowded place in the whole town, with people standing on it all day long. Crazy local jumpers (for money) probably participate in this fact too.  I, myself, was sitting on the wall near by staring at the bridge for hours. I really did not need more. Apart from this outstanding overpass, you can find the medieval spirit in Old Town, on the side of the bridge. Alleys are full of shops and market stalls, and the Museum explores the bridge’s long history.

  There is a bad in good in being in Mostar. I mean, it is bad if you have just one day to explore this town. Though, the uniqueness of this city will leave an amazing memories, it would be very unfortunate not to see the things around. So what are they?

Blagaj

  Blagaj is a village located just 10 kilometers south-west of Mostar. It can be reached by bus that unluckily does not operate very often, but it is an option. sdsds.jpgThe morning service leaves at 9.00 and 11.30. It is a yellow one that got few stops in the town, and one is located next to the main bus terminal. I would suggest a perfect option of catching this transport at 9.00 and coming back at 11.30. You will have enough time to look around and be able to plan something for the afternoon. The ticket cost just 4.20 Marks for both ways. The return service from Blagaj is at 11.30, 13.00, and 16.30, but please rechecked with locals, as I’ve been told that some might not run or are known to be late even for one hour. Road to Blagaj is also known as a good bike trial. The whole way is nice and easy, roads are not so busy, and the view of mountains and rivers is outstanding. dsdsdsdsdThe third option might be an organized tour from Mostar or a taxi, and that is not as pricey as you may think. Depending on the amount of people in your group and your negotiation skills, it could become a cheap and very convenient option to choose.

  Once there, the village itself is not really the place you want to see. The point of interest, called Blagaj Tekija, is a Dervish Monastery that’s nearly 600 years old. Situated at the base of a cliff next to the source of the river Buna, creates a very picturesque space. It can be accessible by both sides, and the view from them is impressive. On one side, next to the Monastery by the river, you can find few coffees and restaurant, where you can stop by and rest, eat, and drink or just enjoy this stunning place.

Kravice Waterfalls

  Beautiful waterfalls, called Kravice, are easily reachable from Mostar. The height  of the falls is about 25 meters,  and the radius of the lake in the base of the waterfall is 120 meters. The distance equal 40 km, so it would make a little bit difficult to cycle there, but can be easily approach by car or taxi. The last one, I mentioned, does not mean an expensive option if you are going in a group of 4, as the price for one way can start from just 50$.

This time I can’t advise you on the bus service, as I don`t think there`s any direct one from Mostar, at least I haven’t heard of it. I have bought a day tour from my hostel, and I would also highly recommend this way of doing so, as you will be able to visit a six different places in one day (including Blagaj and Počitelj). However, during the summer time, I would suggest spending there the whole day. Not only because of the pretty waterfalls. This place makes as a perfect day trip.  You can swim there, have a BBQ, sit and enjoy. The area around makes this place as a perfect recreation spot for families, group of friends, or just a single person.DSC_0852.jpg

Počitelj

 Fortress like village, called Počitelj, is one of the most picture-perfect architectural place in the country and a must see. The main construction dates from two periods – medieval and ottoman, same like Mostar and loads of other cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This one, however, just can`t escape your attention with the uniqueness of all the buildings, attached to each other by the tiny stairs in between, that lay on the hill side.

The history of this small village take us back to 1383 year. It is believed that the fortified town, along with its attendant settlements, were built by Bosnia’s King Stjepan Tvrtko I. In the 1562 the construction of the large Hadži Alijina Mosque has been completed, however it got destroyed later on in 1990s. People yet did want to make Počitelj as a magnificent and unique place again, so the mosque got restored. The most dominant residential structure in the village is probably Gavrakanpetanović House, a complex of one large and two smaller buildings, built during the 16th and 17th centuries. Following its destruction in 1993, it was restored in 2003 once again. The Sahat-kula, a silo-shaped fort that towers from the top of the hill above, is another magnificent structure that makes this village so unique. In January 2003, the historic part of town of Počitelj was proclaimed a national monument of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2007, Počitelj submitted an application for the UNESCO world heritage list and as of today is one of the most popular tourist attraction.

Must do activities while in Baños, Ecuador

   Without a long beginning about Baños, you can find here, I will take you straight to the best activities to do while in this marvelous Ecuadorian town.

1. Cycling day tour trough the waterfalls.

  Ruta de las Cascadas is the name you want to remember. This road goes via all the beautiful waterfalls ending right at the biggest one, called El Pailón del Diablo. Yep, the name perfectly describes the evil powers of these wild waters. But starting from the beginning, the road itself makes a perfect bike trial that you will need just half of a day to complete. The whole path is only 18 km long, and mostly downhill, which makes it easy to explore. Even that you will cycle mostly on the motorway (no worries, the nature will accompany you all the way trough), you will be safe, as it is a very touristic road, and you will probably see many cyclists on your way too. Alternatively, you can walk there as well, but that will be a day long trip, so really up to you. Whatever way of doing trial you pick, you will be fulfill with the stunning fauna (many eagles) and flora of this amazing part of the world. I personally would suggest renting a bike, as the whole way has been especially remake for cyclists, and that’s not so common in Ecuador ;). Please note that there is another option, bus, that can take you right by the entrance of El Pailón del Diablo, but you wont be able to see all other waterfalls on the way, just the biggest one at the end, thought most impressive one. Surprisingly, there are also minibuses, well vans, where you can put your bike in and ride back to Baños, if you are tired after your trip to el Diablo. They are easy to find, usually waiting just next to the entrance, and they leave once are full (5-6 people). I waited just 20 minutes and was first on the board.fdfdfdfdfd.jpg

  You can hire a bike from every singe corner in Baños, loads of hostels provide that service too. The price depend on the quality of the bike and the length of the rental time, but usually range from 5 to 10$ for the whole day. You will be given all the needed gear like: helmet, pump and spare tube. Look after your helmet, I’ve left mine somewhere on the road (dunno how) and had to pay 40$ to the agency. Even my Shrek like a smile did not help :/ Oh well….happens. Once you ready, you can head off. Every agency or hostel will provide you with a free map, you can fallow. Frankly, the road is so straight forward, with all the sights pointing the way, you really wont be needing it much. Just to locate all waterfalls.

  From the city center you will take a main road to the west. The name of it, surprisingly same like this trial, is Ruta de las Cascadas. During the course of the trip you will also get s chance to do a quick zipline or ride an old rickety cable car. I even saw a little bungee jump spot. Food stands with drinks are also on your way. Before the main attraction, El Pailón del Diablo, you will see many other waterfalls, but please note that not all of theme are visible from the road. To spot some you may have to walk downhill a bit or up. Just fallow the map, you have been given, it should explain how to get the best view of them.

   Once you are at your final destination, you will have to leave your bike somewhere. The hostel or agency will provide you with a good lock or you can climb right at the top of a tree to leave your bike there, if you don’t know how to use the padlock. The fee for the entrance is just 1.5 $, and that’s for the bottom part, from where you will see the whole waterfalls anyway. Please remember to bring a waterproof jacket if you’re planning on getting very close to the falling waters. There is another option too (with the fee of another 1.5$) to see the falls from the top, but by the time I was there, that part was closed due to some maintenance (April 2016). Wait! I think I know now who took my helmet.ecuador.jpg

  Now after seeing all the waterfalls, you can either cycle back or take the van, I mention previously. Just remember, while making your mind, that the way back will be uphill.

  Just quickly at the end, I would like to add that el Diablo was second most magnificent waterfalls, after Iquazu Falls in Brazil/Argentina, I have ever seen.

2. Swing high on Casa del Arbol.

  Fancy a swing right up to the sky? Why not! Seems like everything is possible in Baños. So called Swing at the End of the World is one of the most popular attractions there. Basically you are getting (by food, bike or bus) right to the top of the mountain 2600 meters above sea level. Once there, if the weather is good, you will get an amazing panorama of the surrounded area, town beneath  and mountain range around that will include the volcano itself. As of 2017 is still active, so you will be able to see the eruption that is accompanied by bursting ash clouds from caldera. So that’s pretty amazing already, but you still have to face swinging in to the air, don’t you? Yes you do! The tree-house is located just 200 meter above from the entrance to the side. Once you will see a little cute wooden building, you will see the swings too that are attached to it. There are two of them. The interesting fact is that nobody knows who set this whole thing up. I personally have a theory that it has been built by the aliens as a catapult, that was used by them to shot them back home. Well, whatever the destination of it was or is, go for it, have some fun, feel some adrenaline, swing. It is safe (relatively) and not as scary, as it may look on the photos. The restaurant, close by, is nice and not to pricey. I can’t say that they have a rich menu, but hungry and thirsty will find something for sure. Probably after an hour you will be done, since there’s not much to do around. Now you can cycle, walk or take a bus back to the town.

   So In order to get there by bus, you have to catch one from Rocafuerte and Pastaza stand, with first leaving at 6 a.m (for vampires). There is a more realistic option at 11 a.m. The ticket cost just 1$ each way and the bus, that will take you all the way up, will wait for you there. The return time is 1 p.m. That’s pretty much all the time you need there to spot the volcano, panorama and to have a swing.

   You can book a tour there too, but really, it is so easy to get there by yourself that in this case is just a waste of money. The bus will, as I mention, costs $1 each way per person, and entry to the side is an additional $1 per person….so that’s 3$ for the whole trip. Whaaat?

   Again, cycling and hiking is always an option. Regarding the bike ride, it really is for a fit person, as you will have to cycle right up. Having said that, road is nice and smooth.

   Walking? Much possible, but It will be a day tour, and I have heard of a better hiking paths than this one, so I would really suggest bus over the foot.

3. Relax in hot spring.

  Since the Baños means bath in Spanish, you can not go there without soaking in a hot spring. The town is well known for it, and loads of people come here for its natural healing goodness from all around the country. You don’t have to look to far to find one. Spring pools are very cheap, and they are open all they long everyday. If you are not keen on sharing the bath with to many visitors, try to go early morning. Maybe even that’s better, when the temperature of the air is still low. Either time you will pick, you will enjoy a lot both: the water and the background around. I, personally, couldn’t stay for too long in hot, but if you do like it, it is a perfect place for you. The price for the entrance is 2$ before 16.00 and 3$ after. The hair cover is available for borrowing with a fee of 1$. One of the most popular pool to choose is called Las Piscinas de la Virgen.

Soaked well? Feeling relaxed? So it`s time for the activity number 4.

4. Hiking

    I will be honest with you on this one. I did not do any hiking once in Baños. I was just simply lacking of time to do so.  I don’t really like writing or giving tips on something, I did not experience. However, since the hostel kitchen is better than Vikitravel, I got to learned that the area is full of great hiking trials that are easy to fallow and complete. Please ask locals or other travelers at your accommodation for some advice on it. I am sure most hotels will have a map with best ones to do. I can assure you, yet, that the entrance fee is as much as free, and you will be able to spend a day in a stunning Ecuadorian nature in peace.

5. Bike ride to Puyo

  This bike trip is very similar to the first one, I wrote about. It is just that the distance is way longer, finishing right at the village called Puyo. The whole road is 60 kilometers long, so if you are planning on going, I would suggest starting in the early morning. For a fit person is around 4 hours on a bike. Again you are taking a road towards west (Ruat de las Cascasas), and again, you will have loads of wonderfully waterfalls (yep, they are still there) on your way, combine with stunning Ecuadorian nature that will reward you with its magnificent beauty after all the cycling you will do. This time, I am not so sure if you can get back on a van from Puyo, but surly from the entrance by El Pailón del Diablo.

 

Baños de Aqua Santa

 Ever experience the duality of activeness that collaborates between land and humans? Sounds crazy? Ten you have to visit Baños. But first, let me explain my phrase, starting with the land.

  Baños (from Spanish bath) is a city in central part of Ecuador, the country I have visited during my six months backpacking trip around South America. It is located in the land of Tungurahua province and serve also as a gateway to the nearby Amazon Basin. The area of the town itself is absolutely unique. Volcano, high mountain range, rich in minerals hot springs, surrounded rivers and powerful, almost violent, waterfalls, that shapes the rocks around, are responsible for this fact. The volcano, I mentioned, is called same as province Tungurahua. It lies on the plateau just south of the town, and as of 2016 is still active.  The pick of this stratovolcano, on 5,023 meters high, belongs to the Cordillera Oriental of the Andes of central Ecuador, and it`s located 140 kilometers south of the capital Quito. The interesting fact is that Tungurahua’s top was previously snow-covered and did feature a small summit glacier. As of increase activity from 1999, melted away. Nearby impressively high summits are: Chimborazo (6,310 meters) and El Altar (5,319 meters). These statistics can already give you the clue that this landscape must be magnificent. The fact that the volcano spectacular eruption is visible from the town participates in it too. When the sky is clear at night, you can spot a red lava on the top, and trust me, that looks absolutely unreal. Combined with small earth shakes, that always accompany the eruption, can make you a bit thrill, but that feeling can be easily overtaken by the thoughts that you are witnessing and feeling something you have never experienced before. Its worth adding that when volcano is exploding, it is able to shoot an ash cloud 5,000 meters into the air. During the eruption dogs are barking all the time. How surreal is that? Volcano is so close to the town, yet you are in a safe environment to watch and enjoy this very rare moment, the moment when our earth shows you its real potential.

  It is not a secret that magnificent volcanoes are usually surrounded by little, probably everyone favorite, hot springs. Baños is well known for its hot baths with the temperature that range from 64 to 131 degrees Fahrenheit and are reputed to have healing properties. These waters are very rich in minerals and many contain sulfur as well as calcium, sulfate, magnesium, iron, chloride, potassium, zinc and many more. Baños is full of them, and they are open everyday all day long. You can soak your body and relax, and if you still not convinced, remember that you will be surrounded by a very pretty panorama. All hot baths are very cheap (2$ for the whole day till 16.00, 3$ for the evenings), so really once there, there is no excuse for you not to try it.

  So you can clearly feel the power of this place. It display itself by recently active volcano, powerful high waterfalls and hot springs. I don’t think there’s more I need to add, to convince you that this area is fulfill of force. The force that strikes through all the earth layers to finish right at the top, at the very soil you stand on! Its like almost this place is screaming for attention, exhibiting its magnificent strength. To show us that this land is overpowering the humans around, and we can not win!

   I started this blog by mentioning the duality. Are travelers really visiting Baños just to sit down to sip a cup of tea? No, of course not. This area is perfect for adventures people. The whole town is full of agencies where you can buy a kayaking trips, hiking tours etc. Some walking paths, up the high hills, are so easy and straight forward that can be done without any guide.  Baños is known as a good starting point for exploring the remote Llanganates National Park, surrounded mountains and hills. The city itself has a beautiful main central park with few waterfall close by.  A very popular destination is also perfect for a day biking trial that goes by loads of beautiful waterfalls nearby including: Virgen de Agua Santa, Inés María, Agoyán, El Manto de la Novia, Pailón del Diablo and Machay.  It is worth adding, that this town never sleeps. The cute narrow streets are packed with bars and restaurants that stay open till early hours of morning. Baños is small which also helps to navigate your way back to your hotel after night out, to be ready for the next adventures day! Ok, ok….if you really enjoyed your night out, then perhaps soaking in wonderful hot springs the next day to recover would be a better idea. Either way, you will love that place like me! And for sure, your time there will be far away from lazy, sleepy holiday, but that’s what we love, don’t we?

Long story short

    Once up on a time, I was in Nis, the city in Serbia. As advised by locals and all internet info, I went to see number one attraction and must see place there. Go, go…they said! Ok. It is an archeological side on the edge of the city, around 4.5 km away. I like to walk, also because it is a great exercise for my extremely ugly legs. So despite the fact that was raining,  I decided to go by foot.  I was really excited about it, as archeology was always my passion.IMG_2036

  After 1.5h of walk, wet and in heavy need of toilet,  I arrived at the entrance just to discover that the side is closed.   I cried and I head off back to the city. Lucky, close by Mc Donald saved my bladder again. The end!!!IMG_2072

Kosovo-Serbia border crossing issues

   This will be just a quick guide for all backpackers that are going to travel to Kosovo before Serbia, like myself. I will conclude all the information, you can find online, with my very recent experience on the issue (April 2017).

    First, and most important, thing is that of course you can travel to Kosovo before heading to Serbia. However you can not go directly from Kosovo. You have to do it via other country that is recognized by Serbian authorities. I, for example, from Pristina took a direct bus to Skopje in Macedonia (just 2h of journey). They ran very often from the main bus terminal, almost every hour. Mine was at 8.30 am. From Skopje you will catch another direct bus to Nis or Belgrade or other city in Serbia. My departure to Nis was at 13.10 from the same station.

   Ok, so this all seems not so complicated and easy, but there are loads of issues about not being allowed to Serbia with the Kosovo stamp in your passport.IMG_2068.JPG Official uk.gov page adds a real drama to it, as it is written there that you can not cross the border, once you got stamped. Well, how can you not believe the official UK government info? No you can’t. I guess its been written to warn travelers that having a stamp might cause some problems, but it really doesn’t in practice.IMG_2070.JPG I’ve had a 2 big, fat Kosovo stamps in my passport and I crossed the border with no drama. Just make sure to ask Macedonian side (or wherever you’re coming from) to stamp you, as they don’t always do so.  Serbian border control went through all my stamps with no issues and just put a new Serbian visa in.

  I have read that these two governments came to an agreement not to cause any further problem to the travelers, as it`s been known that some were refused to get in in the past.  With my confidence, as of April 2017, I can assure you that you can enter Serbia with stamps from Kosovo, but you need to be stamp after in the country you are going via! Much love and good luck xx.

Disappointing bus to amazing Kosovo

     What the hell outta a journey that was. I am not keen on overnight buses, but I did not expect this at all. I traveled by public transport in Nepal (from Kathmandu to Pokhara), just 2 days after the main earthquake and during the aftershocks, through a very tiny roads in Himalayas. I did the whole South and Central America by bus, even the most uncomfortable and dangerous road (well, not even a road-a stony path) from Sucre to Cochabamba in Bolivia. Yet, this one was the worst, I think, I have ever experienced.IMG_2054      I have to start with the fact that I’ve had no choice, but just to take an overnight bus from Podgorica (Montenegro) in order to reach Pristina in Kosovo. There is only one transport a day that connects these two capitals, and it departs from Podgorica’s main bus station at 21.30. I really would not recommend to do so, as at the terminal I have spotted a very nice connection to Prizren in early morning. I think at 7 am, as far as I remember. I have heard a great things from other travelers about this place, but was  a bit late for me, as I already bought a ticket.

   So why was it so bad? Well, I guess it wasn’t only the bus itself, but also other circumstances reflected on the level of discomfort, I have experienced. But starting from the beginning, I departed from lovely town on the cost of Montenegro, called Budva. I cached the bus at 11.15 am from the main station there, and I arrived to Podgorica around 14.00. This leg of my journey was a real pleasure, as the whole road was trough the high range of mountains. The view was just breathtaking. Once I arrived at the capital of Montenegro, I bought a ticket for 21.30, so I’ve had some spare time to look around. As much as I truly felt in love with this country, Podgorica, I am afraid, hasn’t got much to offer to the travelers. Well…maybe just a good dinner in the city center, but that’s about it. Instead of visiting things, I was just reading a book in the park. Not much of excitement for the place, I have never seen before. Around 19.00 I went to the main bus station to wait. It is a very small one, so you will get really bored by waiting, but what else I’ve had to do? At 20.30 I went to sit by the bus stand, and as always, drunk jerk had to sit next to me to bother me all the way trough. Unlucky, he had the same bus, but was so drank, he got kicked somewhere on the way. Or he kicked himself? Perhaps, as I haven’t whiteness any force involved in his termination. Anyway, while waiting, there were 2 incidents at the station where police had to be involved. First one was as of result of a violent fight between two guys. Second one I did not see, but heard. All that made me feel a bit unsafe. Finally the bus arrived and, as I could not ask for more (😂), it was just filed with male local passengers. I was under the watch all the time, human cctv. It was like back in Nicaragua…I was a black sheep again.

   All the way trough the border I was hoping Kosovar control will not stamp my passport, as I was going to Serbia next. Of course they did, and that fact made me even more stressed. Here I will just add, that later on I crossed the border to Serbia from Macedonia with no issues. Finally we arrived, and I was the last of 2 passengers remaining in the bus…what can I say.  It was still an early hour (5 am), so I had to wait at Pristina cold bus station before heading to my hotel.

    Well, the point of my pointless blog is that as bed as my journey was, as good I found the other side. I absolutely love people of Kosovo. They are very helpful, very kind, open to tourists and friendly. The owner of my hotel was amazing too, he even mad a traditional food for me.

   Sometimes while traveling you have to experience worst, to receive something  unforgettable and to fell the kind heart at the end.