Visiting Blagaj, Počitelj and the Kravice Waterfalls from Mostar is arguably Herzegovina’s most popular day trip – and for good reason. The excursion provides visitors with the perfect blend of history, culture and natural scenery. What’s more, is that most tour companies throw in an extra destination – Žitomislići Monastery, in my case.
In the guide below, we’ll be going over what makes each location special. And at the very end, you can learn more about how to arrange your full-day trip from Mostar.
Arriving at Blagaj in the morning, we briefly stopped to admire Blagaj Fortress from below. It’s here that pre-Ottoman Bosnian rulers based themselves in the 15th century before the eventual Ottoman takeover. And the Ottomans would refurbish and expand the fortress over the following decades.
The fortress is indeed accessible, either by hiking or driving up a narrow dirt road. But on this day trip, with multiple other destinations to see, visiting Blagaj’s tekke (dervish lodge) was all we’d have time for.
The Blagaj Dervish Tekke was established in the 15th century. But the spot on which it’s located is believed to have had religious significance well before the Ottomans arrived.
Situated right at the source of the Buna River, the cave entrance and its emerald waters can be admired from all over the complex.
The Blagaj Tekke was established by the Bektashi order, a Sufi order founded in 15th-century Anatolia, though it’s named after the 13th-century Iranian saint Haji Bektash Veli.
Yet another prominent Bektashi saint is Sari Salltiku, who lived in the late 13th century. According to legend, he requested in his will that various dummy coffins be taken to non-Islamic countries so that the true location of his body would never be known.
And Blagaj is home to one of those supposed tombs. The coffin beneath the lodge may or may not contain Sari Salltiku’s actual remains, but religious pilgrims nevertheless treat it as such.
Yet another supposed tomb of the saint is in Krujë, Albania while another is in the town of Babadag, Romania.
Like other Sufi orders, the Bektashis revere figures like Rumi. And many of their customs, rituals and beliefs have been inspired by various pre-Islamic traditions. Today, the world headquarters of Bektashism can be found in Tirana, Albania.
Unlike at other Bektashi lodges, according to our guide, the Whirling Dervish, or sema ceremony, was not practiced at this particular tekke. Instead, you’ll find things like a guest room, prayer room, kitchen, hammam (bath) and more.
Throughout the Ottoman period, people would travel here from far and wide to seek advice – both spiritual and practical – from local religious elders.
The Blagaj tekke is elegantly decorated yet modest in size. Many of the rooms and terraces offer clear views of the cave and river below. And upon first glance, it’s clear why the Bektashis chose this spot for religious contemplation.
The Bektashis are unique in Islam for practicing monasticism, and this lodge was long home to a sizable community of dervishes. It remained this way until the last sheikh died in 1923. After that, dervish activities were banned in the region following World War II.
No longer prohibited, the tekke regularly hosts religious ceremonies to this day, though it no longer functions as a monastery. Visiting Blagaj in the morning, most of those you’ll see are other tourists.
Before leaving, be sure to walk across the bridge to the other side of the river, from which you can enjoy a spectacular view of the main lodge and cave.
The outcrop next to the tekke rises up to 240 m high, and due to numerous rockfalls over the years, the complex has required many renovations and restorations.
Now managed by the Islamic Community of Mostar, the most recent reconstructions took place in 2013.
Žitomislići Monastery was established at a time when Christians needed special permission from the Ottoman government to build new churches. Permission was granted in 1566, but construction wasn’t completed until 1606.
Sadly, however, little of what we see today dates from this period. During World War II, much of the compound was destroyed by the fascist Croatian organization Ustaše. The Ustaše even murdered the local monks, throwing their bodies into a pit.
Decades later, following the collapse of Yugoslavia that triggered the civil conflict in the Mostar region, the monastery was destroyed yet again by the Croatian Defense Council in 1992.
Reconstruction of the monastery wouldn’t begin until 2002, with regular services resuming in 2005.
At first glance, it appears to be your fairly standard Serbian Orthodox Church. But look more closely at some of the peculiar carvings atop the columns.
You’ll find a man with a bow, birds and some deer in a style that doesn’t resemble traditional Orthodox artwork at all.
During the Middle Ages, Bosnia & Herzegovina was at the crossroads between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. With neither Church having a particularly strong hold over the region, a new Church emerged that historians simply call the ‘Bosnian Church.’
We don’t know much about the Bosnian Church’s core beliefs, but some historians have associated them with the Gnostic Bogomil sect that emerged in Bulgaria. What we do know is that they were regarded as heretics by both Catholics and Orthodox. And they also left behind distinct artwork, as can be seen here.
More famously, the monumental tombstones known as Stećci that can be found throughout the region are also associated with the Bosnian Church.
While the Bosnian Church survived up until Ottoman times, it was eventually overtaken by Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity. Nevertheless, its artistic traditions survived for much longer, as evidenced here at Žitomislić Monastery.
While the relief carvings inside the church are replicas, back near the entrance you can find some of the original stones that were salvaged from the wreckage.
Počitelj, located about 30 km south of Mostar, was built along a natural karst facing the Neretva River. While we know it was founded as a medieval fortress, its true origins remain unclear.
It was first referred to in documents from the 1440s which mentioned it belonging to Duke Stjepan Vukčić Kosača.
The Ottomans then came to the region in 1463, and they used Počitelj as an important defensive stronghold. But just two years later, the fortress was taken by joint Hungarian and Croatian king Matthias Corvinus.
Over the next several years, he would work to further strengthen the fortress’s walls and towers in anticipation of Ottoman retaliation. But by 1471, the Ottomans would manage to take everything back.
During the Ottoman period, Počitelj became less important as a strategic outpost, with its residential and economic zones expanding instead. Even today, numerous local families still inhabit the craggy karst.
Počitelj, however, would have one last run as a defensive fortress due to fears of a Venetian takeover in the late 17th century. While the Venetians wouldn’t make it here, all over Bosnia & Herzegovina was eventually taken over by the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 19th century.
After that, Počitelj started to decline in importance once again. Be that as it may, it’s now regarded as one of Bosnia & Herzegovina’s most outstanding tourist attractions.
The area around the top, as one might expect, features the best views. And that’s where our journey started. After a brief explanation from our guide, we were free to walk around for the next hour or so.
Around the top is the Kulina, one of the earliest surviving defensive towers established by King Matthias Corvinus. On the opposite side, meanwhile, is the Pasha’s Bastion, which has recently been reinforced with glass flooring.
Making your way downward, you’ll find that the narrow, cobblestone streets of Počitelj maintain their old charm. Exploring the area, you’ll pass by local residents (and animals) going about their day.
During your visit, be sure to head over to the octagonal Gavrakapetan Tower. It’s from here that you can get more great views of numerous other Ottoman landmarks below, not to mention the river.
Reaching the bottom, you’ll encounter the Hajji Alijia Mosque, the prominent center of worship of Ottoman Počitelj. Originally built in 1563, it was heavily damaged in the fighting of 1993 before being restored in the early 2000s.
Other important landmarks include the well-preserved hammam, or bathhouse complex – best seen from above.
You’ll also pass by the Gavrankapetanović House, established by a prominent local family in the late 16th century. Sadly, it too was set on fire in 1993 before being reconstructed.
Reaching the area near the main road, you’ll encounter plenty of locals selling freshly squeezed juice. I bought some and it was delicious – just what I needed on this sweltering summer day.
Though we’d been dropped off at the top, our guide/driver was there to meet us at the bottom. Getting in the van, we still had one more destination on our itinerary.
The Kravice Waterfalls
While there’s no denying the natural beauty of the cascading Kravice Waterfalls, the site today is your textbook tourist trap.
The area surely would’ve been a unique and amazing experience just several years ago, but it’s since been ruined by over-tourism. Restaurants have been built right over the Trebižat River, and there’s no way to get an unobstructed view of the falls.
Somehow, I also missed the memo that the area was swimmable. And as it was cloudy that morning, I didn’t even consider bringing my swimsuit for the day trip.
And so, after taking several pictures, I passed the time at one of the nearby restaurants at which I ate a dry and bland ćevapi.
The entry fee to the Kravice Waterfalls has recently increased to a whopping 20 KM (10 euro), which should be included in your total tour price.
If you plan on visiting Blagaj and Počitelj independently via public transport, don’t feel like you’re missing out on too much by skipping Kravice. There are certainly more interesting locations in the Mostar region, such as Stolac, that are worth spending your time and money on.
The easiest way to get to the locations mentioned above is through a tour from Mostar. There are a number of different tour companies to choose from, but I went with iHouse Travel, located relatively near the Old Bridge.
I paid 90 KM (45 euro) for the excursion which included all transport and entry fees. The guide was friendly and knowledgeable, and he even kindly purchased us all ice cream on the way back. I had a great experience with iHouse overall and would definitely recommend them.
Note that while all tours visit Blagaj, Počitelj & Kravice, the fourth location may vary depending on your company. As mentioned above, my tour included a trip to Žitomislić Monastery, but other tour companies take their visitors to the Catholic pilgrimage site of Međugorje.
Whichever company you go for, it would be wise to go to their office as soon as you arrive in Mostar to confirm their schedule, as not all tours depart daily.
If you’re not into tours and have plenty of time in the Mostar area, you may also consider visiting Blagaj or Počitelj independently.
Direct buses (number 10 or 11) to Blagaj leave from Mostar’s Spanish Square in the mornings. And buses from Mostar to Čapljina or Metković, Croatia can drop you off at Pocitelj. At the time of writing, there’s no public transport option for the Kravice Waterfalls.
As things are always changing in the Balkans, be sure to confirm with your hotel or at the bus station in advance.
The most common way to reach Mostar is by bus. Frequent buses depart from Sarajevo daily. There are also a few buses every day from Trebinje
There are also direct connections between Mostar and Dubrovnik, Croatia and various cities in Montenegro. As there’s no centralized source of information and schedules are often changing, it’s best to confirm at the bus station of wherever it is you’ll be coming from.
Mostar also has a small international airport with flights from various cities in Italy.
Note that Mostar actually has two bus stations. Most tourists will arrive and depart from the main one to the east, which is an easy walk from the Old Town area and most of the sites in the Mostar guide above.
The west bus station is located rather far away in the northwest part of the city, but most tourists won’t need to use it. For some day trips outside of Mostar, however, such as the pilgrimage site of Međugorje, that’s the station you’ll need.
Tourism in Mostar is currently booming and the city has accommodation options for all budgets. To visit all the locations in the Mostar Guide above, the closer you are to the Old Town area, the better.
As a budget traveler who dislikes dorm rooms, I was able to find a private room for just €10 a night (including VAT) that was right by the Old Town. For whatever reason, it’s called Two Babies, and it’s situated in the top floor of a family’s home.
While the bathroom was shared, there are only a few rooms so the bathroom/shower was usually available when I needed it. Communication goes through one of the family’s daughters, who speaks impeccable English.
During my stay, the parents of the family even arranged a one-day tour of Stolac and surrounding sites such as Daorson for €50. This was great because no tour companies in town can take you there at the time of writing.
While the house could be rather loud at times, I enjoyed my stay overall and would recommend Two Babies to other budget travelers.