If you wish to experience some manageable hiking in the highlands of Bosnia for even a day then don’t forego the chance to hike at the historic village of Lukomir.
The hike in the Bosnian highlands at Lukomir can be considered suitable for even recreational hikers who are in good health and suitably fit. The hike offers stunning scenery and beautiful highland landscapes; a well-defined hiking trail from Lukomir village into the adjacent Rakitnica valley; an amble through the authentic medieval village of Lukomir, itself a reason to visit; a drive across an expansive glacial karst as you approach the village; and reasonable access by car from Sarajevo, a city which is on the agenda of most visitors to Bosnia.
Getting to Lukomir in the Bosnian Highlands by Car from Sarajevo
The 50 kilometre road trip to Lukomir in the Dinaric Alps from Sarajevo takes about one and a half hours. You can get to Lukomir by car without issues between May and November. However, even in those warmer months it would be wise to check permissions and whether the prevailing road conditions in the vicinity of Lukomir village would be suitable for a two wheel drive vehicle. Should you be renting a vehicle, it would be wise to check whether this route is classified as ‘off road driving’ as some companies will not compensate damage or injury under these conditions.
An alternative is to book with one of the groups who use mini-buses to take tours to Lukomir. These words of caution are not meant to imply having to cope with scary alpine roads and mountain-side corners. There aren’t any. They are simply words of caution about the road conditions that may await you when driving across the flat valley floors and plains. And note, there aren’t any commercial bus services to Lukomir.
The Route to the Alps of Bosnia and Lukomir from Sarajevo
The easiest route to the Alps of Bosnia and Lukomir is to take the M18 from Sarajevo to Krupac, and then the R442a and R442b to the Bjelasnica Olympic Ski Resort.
The route will take you past the resort and at this point turn right onto another sealed road. This road is not in the best condition but you will be able to glimpse some traditional Bosnian villages nestled in the foothills.
When you will emerge from the forest you will be about 10 kilometres from Lukomir. You will see Mt Cvrsnica and the landscape akin to your hiking destination.
Drive to Lukomir Across An Expansive Glacial Karst
At this point on your way to the highlands in Bosnia you will drive onto what can’t be described as a road, but rather an unsealed limestone gravel track. The foliage of the forest and fields starts to yield to a harsher, barer landscape.
It becomes clear that you have driven onto a landscape which is characteristic of the Dinaric Alps, a desolate glacial karst. Although some might find the karst featureless, others will revel in the evidence of previous glaciation in the form of rounded valley floors and smoothed valley walls. The fertility of the valley floors appears contradictory but they benefited from the deposition of sedimentary material that is transported during glaciation. The karst landscape continues into Montenegro where it is featured in our post about the Lovcen National Park.
The limestone gravel road that takes you to Lukomir can become almost impassable, even for two wheel drive vehicles. You will crawl along a potholed and jarring road, lurching from side to side. You may have to stop occasionally and get out of your vehicle so you can consider the best option of how to proceed. Think about renting an off-road vehicle for your hike and visit to Lukomir.
If you are interested in other types of limestone and associated landscapes, you might enjoy the dolomite landscapes described in our post A Guide To Your Scenic Road Trip Through The Dolomites. This region was formed from the uplift of the ancient sea floor and then subjected to glaciation and tectonics.
The Village of Lukomir in the Bosnian Highlands
When you arrive at the highland village of Lukomir you will be pleased with your decision to hike here. You will feel that you are in yesteryear. Time appeared to stop here many decades ago. Celebrate your arrival by drinking some cool, pure, crystal-clear water from a cistern that has its source the waters from the surrounding mountains.
Lukomir is the most remote, permanent settlement in the country; as well as being at the highest elevation. Lukomir therefore qualifies to exemplify the traditional features of village life in the Bosnian highlands including sustainable living.
Lukomir is an important cultural identifier for Bosnia. Evidence suggests that Lukomir was occupied in the 15th Century and some historic customs associated with itinerant highland populations are still being practised. As you make your way through the village you will see grave sites (stećci) that are scattered throughout the village. These are important markers that date Lukomir to the 14th and 15th centuries. The gravesites, carved from the local limestone, are arranged in rows as has been the custom from the Medieval. These are also very evident in some of the other villages along the road towards Lukomir.
The origin of the alpine village at Lukomir shares some consistency with its current habitation. Shepherds traditionally returned to Lukomir in summer to provide water and pastures for their flocks. The villagers then returned to Herzegovina for the winter. This seasonal cycle led to the establishment of a permanent village at Lukomir. Now, however, the villagers don’t return to Herzegovina in the winter but seek the warmer comforts of Sarajevo. Most of the residents in recent times have left the village and young people long ago sought permanent work in Sarajevo. On the day we visited in late spring there were only seven villagers at Lukomir.
The most material and fundamental evidence of Lukomir’s connection with its past is its housing and the attire and customs of the villagers. The village is populated by both older, traditional structures, some of which have been abandoned, and larger structures that have been erected in recent times. The older houses are rectangular in shape, some approximately square. They are constructed from blocks fashioned from the local limestone and sit underneath steeply pitched rooves that ensure as little snow as possible accumulates overhead.
The villagers originally used shingles that were shaped from the timber of surrounding beech, oak and fir forests. The timber also served as firewood. As additional materials became available, villagers sought to improve the water proofing and general insulation of their rooves by overlaying them with products such as tin sheet. These extra sheets of roofing were often fixed from the ridge to the ground, covering the small windows, resulting in an A-frame.
As you amble through Lukomir towards the start of the hiking track you will encounter some of the friendly villagers. Some use their traditional skills to farm, some shepherd their flocks or herd their cows, while others will have set up small stalls to encourage you to purchase some local wares. Irrespective, you will see many of the villagers dressed in their often hand-knitted traditional garments, particularly women, which has been the custom since the medieval.
And so you raise the question, ‘Did Lukomir survive the devastation of the Balkans conflict’? Yes, they did. Lukomir was just far enough away at altitude for the invading force to consider it not sufficiently worthwhile to travel to it. The village and its inhabitants were saved by its elevation and remoteness.
The Hike at Lukomir in the Bosnian Highlands
A hike in the highlands of Bosnia at Lukomir can be enjoyed as a day hike or as part of a longer hike on a track that passes through Lukomir. Irrespective, you must come prepared. There aren’t any shops at Lukomir and the only maps you will have are those you bring. The same applies to food and drink. Even the day hike requires exertion and so it is necessary to be well supplied. The track is uneven and loose gravels abound. Proper hiking boots are much superior to joggers in these conditions. Check carefully the expected weather for the period you will be hiking because the area can get extremely hot in summer and the slopes would have to be dangerous when wet.
The day hike starts at the village of Lukomir and descends into the Rakitnica valley within the Dinaric Highlands. The path for the hike is well-defined and follows major changes in topography which open up a stunning landscape and beautiful scenery.
The changes in topography at Lukomir and the formation of the Rakitnica valley can be attributed to two adjacent mountains, Mt Bjelasnica and Mt Visocica. Mt Bjelasnica is one of three mountains which are located generally south-east of Sarajevo and which are referred to as the Olympic Mountains because of the role they played in the Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo in 1984. You saw Mt Bjelasnic as you drove towards Lukomir. The others are Mt Trebevic which overlooks Sarajevo (chairlifts), and Mt Igman which is adjacent to Mt Bjelasnic. Mt Visocica is located further west of Lukomir towards the city of Mostar.
The landscape within the Bosnian highlands surrounding Lukomir and the topography of the hike has been significantly influenced by tectonic events at Mt Bjelasnica and Mt Igman. These mountains form a large tectonic remnant which resulted from the erosion of a large rock sheet which had been displaced several kilometres across the older rock beneath it. Mt. Bjelasnica was mildly folded and its main ridge is the fold’s north-eastern extremity. And there, perched precariously at an elevation of 1450 metres, is Lukomir.
Lukomir’s stunning position also means that the village sits on the precipice of a deep canyon which is the contact of two folded blocks; Mt Bjelasnica (2067m) on the right hand side of the canyon and Mt Visocica (1970m) on the left hand side. The folding of Mt Bjelasnica can be discerned from the image below.
The deep, long canyon between the two blocks is the 32 kilometre-long Rakitnica River Canyon, second in depth in Europe to the Tara River Canyon. What is amazing is that the bottom of the Rakitnica Valley is the intersection of the Bjelasnica and Visocica blocks. One side of the valley belongs to the slopes of Mt. Bjelasnica and the other side of the valley belongs to the slopes of Mt. Visocica. Theoretically, you could stand at the base of the valley with a foot on each block.
The Lukomir Hiking Trail in the Bosnian Highlands
You will be able to see before you set off on your hike from Lukomir that the well-defined hiking track cuts into the face of the continuing ridge of Mt. Bjelasnica.
Your hike will start on a gravelly track which may require you to jump over some tricky sections where water has found its way down the slope and eroded the track.
Given that the Rakitnica River Canyon beneath Lukomir is situated in the Central High Dinarides, the area would be expected to feature karst fields of limestone and dolomite overlying other sedimentary rocks. Hikers will see where the dominant limestone rock has overlaid other sedimentary rocks, distinguishable by their minerals and composition. These rocks have been folded which is only a gentle reminder of the enormous forces that once prevailed here.
The hiking trail continues through heavily grassed areas. The side of the valley occupied by Mt Bjelasnica is more openly exposed when compared to the opposite side of the valley and has been subject to a loss of vegetation resulting in increased erosion. But most interesting is that the region reflects three climate zones such that conifers dominate above 1200 metres and grasses and junipers on the plateau. This was very evident as you drove across the karst into Lukomir.
The hiking trail again meets up with the side of the valley with a precipitous drop on one side. There is no respite. It is a matter of descending down into the Rakitnica River Canyon – descending, descending, descending, descending you will go … never trekking horizontally; never ascending. Down, down, down you go, becoming numb with the thought that at some point you are going to have to do it all again in the opposite direction.
Hiking in the highlands of Bosnia at Lukomir is a wonderful, multidimensional experience. There is no end to the stunning scenery of the Rakitnica valley; no alternative but to confront the power that was invested in the formation of the highland landscape; the eerie desolation of the karst in comparison to the surrounding forests; the history and authenticity of the village of Lukomir; and the exhilaration of hiking through the highlands in Bosnia.
As you leave Lukomir you can again glimpse another important mountain in the Bosnian highlands, Mt Cvrsnica, its highest peak being Plocno at 2228 metres.
Final Thoughts on the Hike at Lukomir in the Highlands of Bosnia
If you are not in good condition you will find the hike challenging and you should reconsider. You will be able to assess your risk from the hiking trail when you stand at the top of the descent down into the Rakitnica valley. Should you choose not to participate in a hike, you will still find plenty to enjoy around the village of Lukomir and its landscape.
If you can find a tour rather than organise the hike yourself then we recommend you book the tour at least one week before the tour date. Be aware that sometimes the tours don’t always run on the preferred date and they are also usually contingent on having a minimum number of participants.
We would not rate the hike as particularly family friendly although we would not discourage parents from taking their children. Children should not have problems with the terrain but sometimes it is necessary to manoeuvre around parts of the gravelly mountain-side track that have been eroded.
The ascent out of the valley is steep and children are likely to tire. Additionally, the edges of the tracks are not the place for children to play. So it comes down to parents knowing their children.