Planning a visit to Mostar? Don’t skip the nearby town of Pocitelj. This Mostar to Pocitelj guide covers public transport instructions, the best things to do in Pocitelj, and everything else you need to know for a perfect Mostar to Pocitelj day trip.
‘You have to go to Pocitelj. It’s my favourite place—not just in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but in the world’. I was a little skeptical when Dalida, my guide in Sarajevo, told me this. She had just finished showing me her Instagram feed, filled with photos of her hiking in Montenegro and travelling all around Europe. But she was right—there’s something outstanding about Pocitelj. After spending a month travelling all around Bosnia and Herzegovina, this was my favourite place in the country. The crumbling ruins, the fascinating but tragic history, the turquoise Nevreta river winding its way through the town—there’s nowhere else quite like it.
It’s especially wonderful in spring, when the first wildflowers start to appear and last season’s pomegranates are still hanging from the trees.
A little dot on the map 30 km south of Mostar, we visited Pocitelj from Mostar twice: The first time as part of a guided tour from Sarajevo, and the second time independently from Mostar using public transport.
There’s a lot of misinformation out there regarding travelling from Mostar to Pocitelj by bus. This post is mainly designed to clear that up by providing instructions for anyone who, like us, wants to travel from Mostar to Pocitelj but doesn’t have a car.
As well as practical information, I’ve tried to fill this post with photos and other tips to inspire your visit.
In This Post:
- What is Pocitelj?
- Where is Pocitelj located?
- Tips for a Mostar to Pocitelj day trip
- Getting from Mostar to Pocitelj
- Things to do in Pocitelj: Photo guide
- Pocitelj video
- Where to eat in Pocitelj
- Where to stay in Mostar
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What is Pocitelj?
Often referred to as Bosnia and Herzegovin’s ‘open-air museum’, Pocitelj is a hillside stone village that dates back to the Middle Ages. Its location in a natural karst amphitheatre on the bank of the Nevreta river is both stunning and strategic—throughout its long history of human settlement, Pocitelj was fortified and occupied by Bosnian, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian forces. Eventually Pocitelj lost its military value and was largely abandoned.
In a way, Pocitelj was a microcosm for what happened in the region in the 1990s. When war knocked on Pocitelj’s door in 1993, large portions of the complex became collateral damage in bombardments. Most of Pocitelj’s residents were displaced, and only a dozen or so families chose to return after the war had ended. Much of the priceless Islamic art and architecture was destroyed.
Efforts to restore what was left of Pocitelj took off in 2000, when the government devised a program to protect the village’s monuments. Many key buildings have since been restored, and families have been given incentives to return to Pocitelj.
During my visit, I spoke to one man who grew up in the village but has since moved to Mostar because of the lack of education and business opportunities (most families who dwell in Pocitelj’s gorgeous stone houses tend olive and pomegranate trees for a living).
In 1996, the World Monuments Watch named Pocitelj as one of the world’s 100 most endangered cultural heritage sites. Pocitelj has been shortlisted by UNESCO for World Heritage Listing—something that would surely help with restoration efforts. Sadly its chances of making it off the Tentative List have been compromised by recent restorations, which perhaps weren’t up to par.
Where is Pocitelj located?
Pocitelj is located in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s southern Herzegovina-Neretva Canton, 32km south of Mostar and 160km south-west of Sarajevo. The village looks directly onto the Neretva river. Its location on the edge of the E73 (the highway that connects Mostar with the Croatian border) makes it impossible to miss.
You can visit Pocitelj as a day trip from Sarajevo, but I think it makes the most sense to visit from Mostar, or as part of a longer itinerary from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik or Split. I’ve provided some links in the transport section.
Tips for a Mostar to Pocitelj day trip
- Pocitelj is pronounced potch-tell (or something close to that!). It’s a good idea to practice a few times before you go to buy bus tickets.
- Like Mostar, Pocitelj gets really hot. A lot of the walking paths are exposed, so a hat and sunscreen are essential. I also strongly recommend you avoid visiting Pocitelj in the middle of the day during summer.
- A lot of group tours visit Pocitelj, but they’re never around for more than 20-30 minutes. If you see a bus arriving, hang back and wait for the group to pass. It’s also worth timing your visit to arrive before lunch, as most groups arrive in the early afternoon.
- Pocitelj is linked by stone pathways that are steep in sections. There’s also a hell of a lot of shallow stairs, and a bit of off-path walking/climbing involved if you want to visit the towers and lookout points. Wear enclosed shoes, and remember that it’s an option to drive all the way to the top and walk down instead.
- The bastions and towers are in various states of disrepair and there’s a complete lack of fencing, barriers or handrails, even in sections where there’s a long drop. Watch your step, proceed with caution and at your own risk—and be extra careful with kids.
- It’s hard to believe, but a dozen or so families still live in Pocitelj. Take care not to wander onto anyone’s private property (most houses and gardens are gated), and be respectful when taking photos.
- Entrance to Pocitelj, including the mosque, is completely free. Consider supporting the local economy by purchasing a bottle of juice or some snacks from one of the stallholders, or by making a donation inside the mosque.
- Yes, it’s possible to get from Mostar to Pocitelj by bus! And contrary to some reports, you won’t get stranded there. Read on for detailed instructions based on our experience travelling in March 2019.
Getting from Mostar to Pocitelj
To get to Pocitelj from Mostar, you can self-drive, take a taxi, use a combination of train and taxi, join a tour—or just catch a public bus. Since this post is all about how to visit Pocitelj using public transport (by far the most affordable option), I’ve focused on instructions for taking the bus. If you’re driving from Mostar, know that it’s an easy 30 minute jaunt along the E73, a very well maintained stretch of two-lane highway (one of the best roads I saw in BiH). There’s free parking available at the bottom or top of the Pocitelj complex.
If you prefer to take a taxi, I recommend hiring one of the white ‘1KM=1KM’ taxis from the newer part of Mostar. Pocitelj is 32km from Mostar, so a taxi should cost around 32 KM each way, plus flagfall and other fees. You might be able to strike a deal for a return fare, but you’ll need to pay more if you expect the driver to wait for you in Pocitelj.
(I tried to get more concrete information about taxis, but unfortunately the Mostar tourist information office was closed every time I tried to visit (including on weekends). If you have any more info to add, I’d be grateful if you dropped a note in the comments below.)
If you’re travelling independently, I highly recommend using buses to get between Mostar and Pocitelj. The bus is easy and affordable, and gives you greater flexibility to explore the area at your own pace.
Mostar to Pocitelj by bus
The first thing to know is that there’s no official bus station in Pocitelj. Pocitelj doesn’t show up on scheduling websites or apps if you try to search for a timetable. Having said that, drivers are more than happy to drop off and pick up passengers from the road outside Pocitelj—it just makes it a bit trickier to check bus times. The nearest official bus station to Pocitelj is 6km down the road at Capljina, so you should check times for services between Mostar and there. Capljina is about a 7 minute drive from Pocitelj so you just need to add or subtract 7 minutes from the scheduled bus time depending on your direction of travel.
There are only a handful of buses between Mostar and Capljina each day (note that the schedule is the same on weekdays and weekends). The most convenient option for anyone visiting Pocitelj from Mostar as a day trip is to depart Mostar on the 11.10am bus and return on the 2.45pm bus. The journey takes approximately 40 minutes, so that gives you a good 2.5 hours in Pocitelj—enough time to explore the complex and eat lunch.
In case things have changed, you can double check bus times online here or at the station.
Buses bound for Pocitelj depart from the Mostar East station (view the location here on Google Maps). We purchased our tickets at the station half an hour before departure for 7 KM each. Since our tickets read ‘Capljina’ as our end destination, the lady at the cash desk (who speaks perfect English and is extremely helpful) scribbled ‘Pocitelj’ on the corner. We confirmed our destination with the driver when boarding, and when it came to get out, he stopped and signalled for us to get off the bus right outside. From there, we simply crossed the road to enter Pocitelj.
Pocitelj to Mostar by bus: The return journey
Having read on another blog that buses refuse to stop and pick up passengers in Pocitelj, I was a bit nervous about the return journey to Mostar. But I had nothing to worry about.
When we first arrived in Pocitelj, Ross noticed some yellow markings on the opposite side of the road to where we were dropped off: Zigzag lines and the word ‘BUS’ is clearly painted. (As a reference, it’s right next to the white crucifix, opposite the row of restaurants). Knowing that a bus was departing Capljina at 2.45pm, we went back to the spot 10 minutes prior and waited. At 2.52pm on the dot, sure enough the bus appeared. We made a ridiculously conspicuous hailing gesture, but the driver had already spotted us and was indicating to pull over.
We got on, and paid the steward 5 KM each for the trip back to Mostar. The bus we caught down was bound for Split, and this time, the bus was continuing all the way to Tuzla. We jumped off just before the Mostar East bus station and walked back to our hotel. It was as easy as that.
Mostar to Pocitelj on an organised tour
It’s also possible to visit Pocitelj as part of a group tour from Sarajevo, Mostar, or even Dubrovnik. If you opt for the guided option, chances are Pocitelj will be one of many stops, so you won’t get to spend as long as you might like. The trade off is that you’ll have a guide who can give you some context. There are information plaques for all major landmarks throughout the complex.
This full-day trip from Dubrovnik visits Poitelj on the way to Mostar; or for nature lovers, this day trip, also departing Dubrovnik, includes a visit to Kravice Waterfalls. This itinerary combines two of Herzegovina’s top sights, Pocitelj and the Dervish Monastery at Blagaj. And if you want a personalised experience that also includes Medjugorje, this private tour from Dubrovnik is a great choice.
If you’re coming from Sarajevo, I highly recommend looking at this itinerary with Sarajevo Funky Tours. It hits all the major sights in Herzegovina, including Pocitelj and Mostar itself. Travellers have the option of doing it as a Sarajevo day trip or getting dropped off in Mostar at the end of the day like we did.
Things to do in Pocitelj: Photo guide
The lower part of Pocitelj is fully contained within a stone wall, with the hill forming natural land barriers on two of its four sides. To give you an idea of the scale, the distance from the mosque (close to the entrance) to Pasha’s Bastion (in the upper northeast corner) is 270 metres.
Exploring Pocitelj on foot with a DIY-walking tour is a breeze: Just follow the stone pathways that track up and down the hill. Some of the main sights, notably the fort, are signposted. If you want to see everything, I recommend spending 1.5–2 hours in Pocitelj.
Here are the things you shouldn’t miss in Pocitelj, roughly organised in the order of visit when entering via the lower gate.
Pocitelj medresa, hammam & inn
When it was developed by the Ottomans, Pocitelj had all the mod-cons, including a caravanserai, a unisex hammam (women and men bathed at different times of day), and a medresa. The hammam was built by craftsmen from Istanbul and fed with water from the nearby river. Abandoned and later ruined during the war, it’s the only hammam in Bosnia and Herzegovina that hasn’t been converted to new use (yet). The badly damaged lead-covered domes are visible as you climb the steps to enter Pocitelj.
Although the bathhouse and medresa remain closed, the inn was turned into a restaurant. Along with the 16-metre tall Sahat Kula clock tower, also located nearby, these edifices were all the gifts of one man, Sisman Ibrahim Pasha, deputy to the Grand Vizier in the 17th century. Money raised from the hammam and han inn were used to fund the medresa school.
Pocitelj Artists’ Colony
A large portion of Pocitelj is residential. Stone houses blend in perfectly with their karst surroundings, their productive gardens and courtyards hidden behind heavy wooden doors.
The Gavrankapetanovic House, built in the 16th century, is the largest residential building in Pocitelj. In the 1960s, the property was purchased by The Association of Visual Artists of Bosnia and Herzegovina and transformed ino Pocitelj International Artists Colony. It was the longest running artist’ colony in the region before it was closed due to fire damage in the 90s. It’s now back up and running, and regularly hosts visiting artists plus events in the first week of June.
Built in 1563 and added to in the 17th century, this is one of the most beautiful mosques in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The bare dome and wall panels that reveal the inner stonework are unique. Inside, you can visit the main prayer hall and the upper ‘loft’ space (unlike the mosque in Mostar, it’s not possible to climb the minaret).
As mentioned, entrance is free, but there’s a donation box just inside the door. This is an active mosque, so it’s only possible to visit outside of prayer time.
For most people, Gavrankapetan’s Tower is the highlight of a visit to Pocitelj. The octagonal stone tower cuts a fine figure above Pocitelj and along with the clocktower and minaret, it defines the town’s skyline.
Inside, the tower is a playground of deformed walls, passageways and peep holes. You can climb all the way to the top of the tower to observe the roof (it’s reinforced with wood beams) and get a view of Pocitelj and the mosque framed by the stone slot windows.
I must admit, I was pretty terrified climbing the tower by myself. The stairs are crumbling and uneven, and there are no safety rails to speak of. The view from the top is definitely worth it—but I wouldn’t attempt the climb unless you’re sure-footed.
If you’re visiting Pocitelj from Mostar or Sarajevo on a tour, this lookout point is probably the first place your guide will bring you. It offers disputably the best views of Pocitelj, plus a good look at the Gavrankapetan’s Tower. From the arsenal, you can look directly down on the colourful dome of the mosque, the Nevreta river snaking past in the distance.
Bastions & upper gate
Pocitelj is cupped by a stone wall fortified with bastions and with two main gates (marked with a number 1 on the map). The lower gate, the main entrance, is surrounded by a cluster of shops and cafes. The upper gate is also accessible by driving up through the complex. The Kulina, Bastion of the Pilavdzics and Pasha’s Bastion all feature along the complex’s perimeter, between the two gates. Each of the former watchtowers can be climbed and offers a slightly different outlook over Pocitelj.
Pasha’s Bastion is the largest and best set-up of the three, with guard rails and designated lookout points. Unfortunately it was closed off at the time of my visit, which leads me to believe it’s only open during the summer months.
Watch my short video for a virtual tour of Pocitelj!
Where to eat in Pocitelj
While I was out exploring Pocitelj the second time around, Ross opted to find a table at a restaurant and sip coffee and read instead (I don’t blame him—it was really hot on the day of our visit, and it takes me a really long time to do my photos!). He did the research on where to eat in Pocitelj and shortlisted a couple of options.
In the end, he settled on Caffe Grill Almir, one of the roadside restaurants opposite the complex entrance, right where the bus drops passengers off. The setting is nice, with a fountain and shaded tables. I enjoyed my cappuccino and Ross liked the traditional Bosnian meal he ordered for lunch. Even more important for us, seating is outdoors so smoking isn’t such an issue; staff are extremely friendly; and there’s a clean bathroom around the back. There are more food options on either side of Almir, plus a few cafes on the other side of the road at the entrance to Pocitelj.
There’s one restaurant inside Pocitelj, housed in the old inn. When I poked my head inside I saw it was pretty dark and dingy. It’s a shame they haven’t done a better job of restoring the interior. Food and service reviews are mixed, which is another reason we decided to skip it. If you’ve had a positive experience at another Pocitelj restaurant, let me know in the comments below.
Where to stay in Mostar
There are no hotels in Pocitelj, so your only option is to stay in Mostar. We spent 7 nights at Mana Apartments and highly recommend it, especially if you’re staying for longer than the usual night or two. Located a bit out of the Old Town, it’s walking distance from the Old Bridge but with local food options and a grocery store nearby. As much as we would have loved to stay in the Old Town, it would have gotten too overbearing. We really valued being able to separate ourselves from the chaos and go ‘home’ to a quiet, local neighbourhood each evening.
There are a couple of rooms to choose from, including a spacious one-bedroom with a full kitchen and outdoor courtyard, and a cosy studio that’s perfect for two.
Have you been to Pocitelj? What are your favourite things to do in Mostar?