Hiking to Lake Trnovačko on the Bosnia Herzegovina and Montenegro border, don't drink coffee with the ranger if you have to drive back

Lake Trnovačko in Montenegro, only accessible hiking from the Sutjeska National Park in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina probably doesn't score high on most people's travel bucketlist. However, I think it should. Bosnia and Herzegovina has a lot to offer to travellers, both cultural and natural. One natural treasure of Bosnia and Herzegovina that I accidentally came across while travelling through Eastern Europe is the Sutjeska National Park: a forgotten hikers paradise in the south of Bosnia and Herzegovina, near the border with Montenegro.

In 1992-1995, a terrible civil war claimed many lives in Bosnia and Herzegovina. After the war ended, Bosnia was in ruins. This war had been one of the worst atrocities seen in Europe since the second world war, and two decades later, divisions still remain. Development in Bosnia is going slow, and poverty wide-spread. However, don't let this history of war discourage you. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country of friendly people, beautiful natural areas and interesting cultures. In addition, tourism is a great way to contribute to the country's economy.

Enough with the history lesson and back to hiking, for that is what you're here for right?

Travelling to Bosnia and Herzegovina is one thing, but deciding what to do in a country that is not very touristy is another thing. So, as we all do in difficult situations, I asked Google for help before heading to Bosnia. After clicking through website after website, I came across a few pictures of the Sutjeska National Park, which was right along our route in-between Mostar (beautiful historic town) and Srebrenica (place of the worst massacre of Europe since the second world war). 

Once in Sutjeska, we found out about a cross border hike into Montenegro to a beautiful heart-shaped lake surrounded by spectacular mountains. In this post, I will tell you about our hike to Lake Trnovačko, where we met a ranger who invited us to his camp for a 'coffee'. This taught me two important life lessons: 1) 'coffee' does not mean just coffee for a Bosnian ranger, and 2) hiking while drunk is not something I wish to do again (more on that later). 

Our hike to Lake Trnovačko in Montenegro

The night before hiking to Lake Trnovačko we'd found a great campsite near the town of Foča. The next morning, we woke up early to prepare for our hike. While having our breakfast, the camping owner came to bring cup of homemade herbal tea. Later, upon hearing we had to stop in town to buy a bread before heading into the mountains, the camping owner gave us a loaf of the best (and heaviest) homemade bread I've ever had. That deserves a little free and non-sponsored advertising, so here it is:

Whenever you're in the area of the Sutjeska National Park in Bosnia and Herzegovina, make sure to stay at Autocamp Drina. Autocamp Drina is perfectly situated along the Drina River just outside of the town of Foča. Various types of accommodations available, from log cabins to camping spaces, and the staff is the friendliest. A great place to prepare for hiking in the Sutjeska National Park or a stop-over on your roadtrip through the scenic south of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

When our tea was finished and our backpacks packed, we set off to the start of the hike. From Foča, we drove south along the M20 to the town of Tjentište. Here, we turned into a gravel road winding up the mountain to a parking under the Maglić Mountain (±15 to 20 kilometres). 

Road to the parking under the Maglić Mountain, Sutjeska National Park, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Eastern Europe
Road to the parking under the Maglić Mountain.

Even if you're not here to go hiking, this road may be worth driving. Maglić is the highest mountain in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the parking at the end of this road provides great views of Maglić and the surrounding valleys and peaks. In addition, a viewpoint along the way provides views of the Skakavac Waterfall (75 metres) and the Perućica primeval forest.

Note: The road to Maglić is small and narrow and is, according to Emir Mulabegovic at Balkanvibe, best driven in someone else's vehicle. However, as you may not have someone else's vehicle at your disposal, I recommend driving carefully. This road may not be suitable for large campervans.

Hiking trail to Lake Trnovačko, Montenegro, from Bosnia Herzegovina Sutjeska National Park, Eastern Europe
First section of the hike.

The trail to Lake Trnovačko starts at the parking at the end of the road and is signposted at the start (5 kilometres, 2 hours). The first section of the trail follows the flank of the Maglić Mountain over old avalanche paths with sporadic trees, until it slowly descends to a meadow in the valley. 

When crossing this meadow, take your time to enjoy the wide array of blooming flowers, among which are several orchids, attracting many species of butterflies. You don't want to miss them!

Hiking trail to Lake Trnovačko, Montenegro, from Bosnia Herzegovina Sutjeska National Park, Eastern Europe
The trail slowly descends to a meadow in the valley.

After crossing the meadow, the trail enters a forest and winds its way uphill to the Lake Trnovačko. Until here, the hike has been no more than an easy stroll. This last uphill section of the hike is the most challenging part, though I don't think it will be too difficult if you've already made it this far.

At the top of the uphill section, the forest slowly opens up and you'll get your first glimpses of Lake Trnovačko and the towering mountains that surround it. Congratulations, you've made it! Time to take out the picnic basket, and remember: don't drink coffee with the ranger if you have to drive back!

Welcome to Lake Trnovačko, Montenegro, from Bosnia Herzegovina Sutjeska National Park, Eastern Europe
Welcome to Lake Trnovačko, you've made it!

At the lake, we were welcomed by a Bosnian forest ranger/border guard who charged us a few Euros for crossing the border (or whatever reason, I don't remember). After checking our ID's and seeing that we're Dutch, he told us he looked like Johan Cruijf (a famous Dutch soccer player and coach). Though I did not really see the similarities, we politely agreed.

After a small chat with the ranger, he invited us to his camp in the forest for a 'coffee' with him and his friends. This is when I learned that 'coffee' does not mean just coffee for a Bosnian ranger. 

After introducing ourselves to our new Bosnian friends, we sat down at a picnic table. Even before the coffee was ready, one of them took out a set of small shot-glasses and a bottle of non-recognizable booze (home-brew I guessed).

After something that sounded like a Bosnian 'cheers', we took our glasses and emptied them. Not even a second later, they were re-filled. At the next 'cheers', we emptied them again, and they magically filled up again. I lost count, but it took about 5 cheers' until the coffee was ready.

After about 10 shots we'd had enough. However, 'I have to drive' was no valid excuse, and was met with 'Police do not check'. Luckily we'd sobered up before driving back to our camping, as we were stopped by the police for speeding that afternoon (we didn't speed though). We got away with a 10 Euro bribe so the officers could go get a drink in town later. 

That was our experience with the Bosnian police throughout the country. In our 5 days in Bosnia, we have been stopped by police 4 times for no valid reason, had to discuss with them 4 times, given a small 'donation' twice, and got out of it without a fine all 4 times.

Encampment of the ranger at Lake Trnovačko Lake

The hike back is one to remember, but not really one to be proud of. We stumbled our way back while calling out to bears to come and show themselves (we really wanted to see bears). I don't think any self-respecting bear would have responded to our calls though.

Hiking did prove to be a great way to sober up. Once back at the parking I was almost sober. Despite, we still spent a few hours at the parking sobering up before driving back down the winding gravel road. Don't drink and drive kids!

Also, don't drink and hike! Nothing good will come from that. 

Don't drink and hike kids! Not my proudest moment...

While sobering up at the parking, we met a Dutch-Bosnian guy who'd just returned from a few nights camping at Lake Trnovačko with his family. He was surprised to hear that we'd been invited for a coffee by the ranger, as the ranger (or his friends) had used the tent of two other Dutch guys for target practice a few nights earlier.

Okay, not really, but they did try to frighten them by shooting over their tent at a log in the lake.

Apparently, these other Dutch guys had been disrespectful, blaming the ranger and his friends (Bosnian Serbs) for the atrocities committed by the Serbs during the 1992-1995 war. After drinking a little too much of their 'coffee' one the evening, the ranger (or his friends) decided to take out their AK-47 (according to the guy) and have some target practice. However, there happened to be a tent in the way...

Needless to say, the Dutch guys were gone by morning.

Note to myself: Never piss off a Bosnian ranger!

Hiking Sutjeska National Park, Bosnia Herzegovina, Eastern Europe
Last part of the way back, we made it!

Practical information

Acces: By car, turn of the M20 at this crossing in the town of Tjentište and follow the gravel road winding up the mountain to a parking under the Maglić Mountain. Having a GPS could be helpful here, as you may come across unmarked crossroads and your navigation may not know these roads. From the M20 to the parking is about 15 to 20 kilometres.
Distances: Parking - Lake Trnovačko, 2 to 3 hours; Lake Trnovačko - Parking, 2 to 3 hours. (Distances are personal estimates and may differ depending on experience and fitness)
Highest point: About 1620 metres at the parking (1570 metres at the lake).
Height difference: Descend 230 metres to the meadow in the valley, ascend 180 metres to the lake. Totaling 410 metres ascend and 410 metres descend when going both ways.
Prices: Free, though the ranger may charge some Euros for crossing the border into Montenegro.
Highlights: Lake Trnovačko, mountain scenery, flowers and butterflies in the meadow, and possibly chamois deer.
Safety: Throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, you can still find remainders of minefields. Many of these fields are known but not yet cleared. Whenever you come across a sign warning of mines, do not proceed.

So, planning a trip to eastern Europe? Make sure not to skip Bosnia and Herzegovina's Sutjeska National Park. It has all the charm and beauty of other European national parks, but without the mass tourism. If you decide to hike to Lake Trnovačko and the ranger offers you coffee, make sure that at least the person driving you out does not drink.

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