Rafting the Drina River and Hiking Sutjeska in Bosnia and Montenegro

Our steeds

August 15-18

After Belgrade and spending a lot of time in cities Shell was aching to get out into the countryside, and now we had a car to do it with. She was able to find a great spot for us at the Drina Tara Rafting facility in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They have a lot of little cabins available along with a lot of day excursions. We chose white water rafting on the Drina, which has brilliant aquamarine waters suitable for swimming and drinking. Then, a full day of hiking in Sutjeska National Park, which this site rightly called the Yosemite of the Balkans.

Our drive into the rafting place was our toughest yet. Road ways would give way to narrow mountain passes, then turn to dirt, and eventually would yield cows and sheep. All the while speed limits would rise and dip with little notice accompanied by police officers around random blind corners. As one other car and I negotiated a one lane pass I’m fairly certain one front wheel left the cliff edge. Thankfully, I still had enough traction to reverse a smidge in our front wheel drive. My nerves were a bit bent by the time we got to camp, but done once it’s quite easy to do again.

The camp is remarkably efficient for not having any sort of computers or point-of-sale solution. Guest itineraries and requests were all kept via paper records. Spread sheet like pages would track who was to be where and when. They would even group us up in our activities to best match people for a good time. For example, on our rafting day, they paired us with a pair of Brits – father and daughter, and a pair of Italian sisters with their husbands, one of which is from Portland, OR. Splendid group to go with and we all could communicate without issue.

The river was not as full as it had been in the past. The British father had been at this camp one other time and remarked that the rapids were Class 6. The same class of rapids I had done in Colorado, which could be harrowing at times. However, our white water excursion in Bosnia was rather tame and involved a lot of rowing. But the swims were refreshing if not bone piercingly cold. The scenery in the canyon is something else. The rock rises up with the colors and sheer rock faces of Yosemite, with what trees and greenery that can attach, and the waters are a purely clear and translucent aquamarine, something out of Alberta and Banff.

We negotiate all the rapids with ease guided by our guide, Dan, who also spins us around some and has some fun along the way. He didn’t speak much English, but our crew had a good time. Along the way, there are swimming stops and jumping points, you also break for a pit spot where there are cold beers available.

The camp fed us three square meals a day, usually too much food for the two of us on each meal. Mornings were a selection of fried or scrambled eggs with cured meats and a side of bread. Lunch depended on the day, but dinner was a big meal and varied each day. It clearly was pre-planned ahead of time as they take no orders just our reservation name. Food would be delivered shortly after. We would also order the house red which came out of a large, unlabeled jug maybe 5L large. Hey, it was good and what was available.

For our day of hiking, we met early and would be gone some 14 hours. Dragan, our guide, got us squared away and into the Land Rover Defenders for a ~2 hour drive into the park. Then I got to see how the locals negotiate these roads, albeit in a Defender. There’s some advantage to the machinery.

The park is enormous and both days we would cross back and forth across the untamed Bosnian and Montenegrin borders. Officially, this area of Bosnia and Herzegovina is Republika of Srpska, which in a previous post I go over what that means. This is before we take in everything Sarajevo gave to us, and the knowledge that was needed to really understand Bosnia. On the way, Dragan shows us where a mountain hospital was ambushed in WWI, where the Germans stationed their guns and artillery in WWII.

We start our hike not far from a lookout tower that was once used by the Montenegrins to watch for Austro-Hungarian invaders. The hike would take us down to a valley floor and back up again around a ridge that would open to Trnovačko Lake. The lake was pristine with clear, deep green waters surrounded by mountains, one of which, Maglić, is the tallest in Bosnia. These mountains are part of the Dinaric Alps. They’re big.

Dragan is also keen to show us wild native plants and their medicinal purposes during the hike. The area is one of the most biodiverse in Europe. In the Defender, we bond over hacking video games, and he shares his taste in music. Turns out, that is largely how he learned English. Learning the lyrics and translating them word by word. The type of studying clearly didn’t stop because it seems he has since studied books of puns. He has a whole library of them memorized. I played as if not understanding one, and he quickly explained. He gets both the language and logic in them. He was full of surprises.

After the main hike was done, we took in a small ridge with a view that my photographs do not capture. We hike 200m in on a small path to reach a ridge and vertigo inducing drop off, expanding out onto lush greens of mountain valleys. A persistent wind blows in and up right into your nose delivering a scent of pine, cedar, and rose. In the distance, a massive water fall sparkles. Our last stop before heading back to camp was the Tjentiste War Memorial. The pictures in that link are much better than anything I captured, along with some info about the memorial. It is stark, brutalist, and somehow beautiful.

Leaving the camp, we headed to the coast of southern Montenegro. The scenery after crossing the border into Montenegro was out of this world and the country would just keep surprising us. Makes sense why so many oligarchs hang here.

Thanks for reading.

Southern Serbia on our way to Bosnia
Tunnels ranged from modern LED lit and ventilated – to dark, rocky and calcium drip ceilinged tunnels of questionable safety
A rather tame road, but one commonly shared
Upon arrival to camp, were quick to commune with nature that surrounds us
Donning our wetsuits and safety gear
Shot on iPhone – Crystal waters of the Drina
Shot on iPhone – Beer here!

Sutjeska – Trailheads
Sutjeska – Pre-hike photo op
Sutjeska – Montenegrin lookout in the distance
Sutjeska – Near our trailhead
Sutjeska – Mountain pass
Sutjeska – Mountain homes
Sutjeska – Crossing into Montenegro – See the valley floor below, then we hike up thru the greenery into the bowl just past 
Sutjeska – Valley floor
Trnovačko Lake
Trnovačko Lake
Hike to Dragoš Sedlo
Dragoš Sedlo – The overlook with winds of rose
Sutjeska – Adventuring with packs from Matador


By Daniel Hatke

The author was born and raised in Indiana. After graduating from Purdue University he worked in the asset management industry in New York City. He holds an MBA from Columbia Business School with concentrations in finance and entrepreneurship. Currently, he is fueling his curiosities through taking time off for extended travel and experiences in Europe and Asia, as chronicled here.