9 mistakes to avoid when planning adventure travel in the Balkans
adventure travel in the Balkans - mountain hiking

The Balkans, a region rich in history, cultural diversity and natural beauty, is an increasingly popular destination for adventure travel seekers. With hundreds of mountains to hike, rivers to raft on and ancient cities to explore, who can blame them?

As a relative newcomer to the adventure travel space, there are some things to bear in mind when planning a trip to this part of the world.

Having been on the ground here since 2008, we’ve gotten to know and love all of this region’s quirks and some of the most common mistakes made by people planning a trip. Read on to avoid making them yourself and have the best possible experience.

1. Not preparing for the weather

The Balkan Peninsula is known for having unpredictable weather. Generally, the region gets gloriously hot summers with temperatures climbing to the high 20s and low 30s in July and August. But even in the height of summer, you can get caught out by torrential rainstorms and it’s not unheard of to still see snow on the mountains in June.

We advise packing lightweight, breathable layers of various lengths, closed shoes for rainy weather, and a decent waterproof jacket in case the heavens open. If it has some windproof properties, that’s a bonus. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than trying to carry on with a hike when you’re cold and wet.

On the other hand, heat stroke can be a risk in summer, especially in cities like Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or when out kayaking for the day. Pace yourself with your plans and make sure you pack a reusable water bottle* to keep hydrated. It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: keep slathering on that high SPF sunscreen and wear a hat and sunglasses.

*Tap water is generally safe to drink in the Balkans but if you prefer filtered water or you’re sensitive to the different mineral levels in tap water abroad, we recommend using a filtered water bottle such as the Water-to-Go to cut down on single-use plastic. Enjoy 15% off as a friend of Undiscovered Balkans.

Adventure travel in the Balkans - mountain hiking

2. Skimping on gear

Many Balkan countries aren’t as geared up for outdoor activities as the UK, and Western Europe, meaning you would struggle to find good quality outdoor clothing, shoes and equipment in shops out there.

Therefore, it’s best to bring any specialist outdoor equipment such as waterproofs, walking boots and backpacks, sportswear, and sleeping bags out with you. While we’re not advising you to go out and buy the most expensive, top of the range things you can find, investing in good quality does make all the difference.

3. Being unaware of local customs

There are various customs and traditions across the Balkans that visitors may not be aware of. For example, it’s polite to leave a bit of food on your plate so your host knows they have fed you enough and doesn’t get offended (trust us, you would struggle not to do this as the people here are feeders!).

And while you won’t necessarily offend anybody, you could get a few sniggers if you order a Bosnian coffee and plop a sugar cube into it or go to a Bosnian bakery and order Burek (it’s called Sirnica there).

The region is famously multi-faith with Catholic, Jewish Muslim and Orthodox communities living there. Many travellers ask if they need to cover up when walking around in predominantly Muslim countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina or Albania and the answer is no, unless you’re visiting a mosque, and the same goes for churches, synagogues and monasteries. Alcohol and tobacco is also sold in these countries. Most places have scarves to lend to visitors but if you know you’re going to visit, it’s best to wear something that covers your shoulders and knees in preparation.


4. Underestimating travel time between destinations

While distances may seem short on the map, winding mountain roads can make travel times longer than expected and in some places, there just isn’t the infrastructure to deal with an influx of tourists during busy periods.

For example, the drive from Tivat to Kotor in Montenegro is around 20 minutes under normal circumstances but because there is only one way in and out, this route gets clogged up during peak season and your journey time can stretch to over an hour. The same applies to coastal roads and border crossings in Croatia, Albania and Montenegro.

Always factor in extra time for travel to avoid missing out on planned activities and bring enough water and snacks to keep you going.

5. Having tunnel vision for the ‘must see’ sights

The Balkans are full of hidden spots that are just as alluring as the popular ones – with the bonus of being less crowded. While a stop in Dubrovnik or Kotor are considered a must-do for any first timer in Croatia and Montenegro, there are so many similar, sometimes even better, versions of those now overcrowded hot spots.

In Croatia, try Ston instead of Dubrovnik. Its old town walls are bigger than Dubrovnik’s and resemble a miniature version of the Great Wall of China. If you’re joining us on our 7 Day Croatia Multi Activity Holiday, you will have plenty of time to explore Ston as it’s our base for the trip.

Instead of Slovenia’s Lake Bled, try Lake Skadar which straddles the border between Montenegro and Albania. You’ll find charming islets with old churches on them just like the famous Bled Island – again without the crowds.

Do your research, ask the locals for recommendations or hire a guide who knows where to find these hidden beauty spots.

Europe’s longest fortified walls at Ston, Croatia, stretch for 5.5km

6. Neglecting your travel insurance

Adventure holidays come with their own set of risks so if you have an annual policy, make sure it covers outdoor activities such as mountain hiking, white water rafting and snow sports if they’re on your itinerary. If it doesn’t, see if you can add them on or take out a single-trip policy that will cover all the bases on that particular holiday.

As the Balkans aren’t in the EU (except Croatia), the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) will not cover you if you have a medical emergency, so it’s all the more important to have travel insurance.

7. Not being flexible

Things don’t always go to plan in the Balkans. Attractions can be closed without notice, a new national holiday might mean the shops are shut or it might pour down when the forecast says clear blue skies (weather stations are few and far between, especially in more remote areas).

It’s for this reason that one of our favourite phrases exists:  samo po lako meaning ‘just for easy’ (i.e. slow down and don’t get fixated on needing to do stuff). Think of it as the Balkan equivalent to hakuna matata!

It’s great to have an idea of what you want to do and see, but be prepared with a backup and embrace spontaneity. Sometimes the best experiences are the ones you didn’t plan for anyway.

8. Not having the right physical fitness to complete activities

Most outdoor activities require a reasonable level of fitness, even if labelled as “beginner friendly,” which means no prior knowledge or experience of an activity is required, nothing to do with fitness.

Over the years, we’ve seen the odd traveller struggle to keep up with the group on hikes or kayaking expeditions. Always check the activity grading of a tour before committing, be honest with yourself about your fitness level, and ask the holiday provider if you’re unsure.

We’ve labelled all of our holidays with an activity rating and we’re happy to elaborate if you get in touch. As a rule of thumb, we tend to advise that if you’re able to walk uphill or hold a paddle up for 30 minutes without stopping, you’re good to go for our standard multi-activity breaks. If not, the holiday isn’t for you or you need to put in some gym time to boost your fitness level in the weeks ahead of travelling.

Montenegro white water rafting
Family-friendly white water rafting in Montenegro

9. Not checking your tour company’s credentials

Outdoor recreational activities can deliver a huge adrenaline rush and be a lot of fun. But they can also be incredibly dangerous if not done with a professional. It’s paramount that you book activities such as white water rafting and canyoning with properly licensed companies who have the qualifications to say they know what they’re doing and have liability insurance should something happen.

A quick Google should reveal if the company is properly registered. Don’t be afraid to ask the tour operator about its credentials either. It’s different for every activity, for example the World Rafting Federation is one of the biggest qualifying bodies for white water rafting, so again,  Google is your best friend.

We are a UK registered tour operator and a member of the Adventure Travel Trade Association. We only work with qualified guides and third parties to deliver our outdoor recreational activities in the Balkans. Read more about that here.

Ready to plan your adventure in the Balkans? Whether you’re looking to hike, kayak or do a little bit of everything on one of our multi activity holidays, we’re here to help you plan an epic trip.


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