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Day by Day Itinerary

Journey with OAT to the countries of Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Slovenia—southeastern Europe’s multicultural lands of forgotten beauty. United as Yugoslavia after World War I, these diverse countries at the crossroads of Eastern and Western cultures have co-existed peacefully for centuries—yet have been at the center of intermittent hostilities from the Middle Ages to the late 20th century. Discover the fascinating heritage of the Balkans while witnessing stunning coastal scenery, exploring ancient walled cities, and experiencing the pride and resilience of the people of these re-emerging nations in the heart of the Balkans.

Delve into the many facets of Croatia, from the elegant walled city of Dubrovnik to the seaside resorts dotted with Roman ruins along the Istrian Peninsula. In Bosnia & Herzegovina, discover Sarajevo’s long history of multicultural tolerance—and explore the ancient town of Mostar, whose elegantly restored Ottoman-era bridge stands as a metaphor for reconciliation. In tiny Montenegro, witness bare mountains plunging into the sea at the Bay of Kotor; and journey inland to Slovenia, a forest-clad country of emerald meadows, clear lakes, and the towering peaks of the Julian Alps. Immerse yourself in the history, natural beauty, and diverse cultures of the Balkans as you witness the transformation of a region that is rapidly reestablishing its rightful position among the world’s great travel destinations.

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    Fly overnight from the U.S. to Dubrovnik, Croatia.

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    Today, arrive in Dubrovnik, Croatia. After you are met and transferred to your hotel, you'll enjoy an orientation walk and a Welcome Drink with your fellow travelers and Trip Leader. You'll also meet those who traveled on our optional Tirana, Albania extension. Dinner is included at our hotel this evening.

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    After breakfast, we’ll use public transport to reach the gates of Dubrovnik’s Old Town, Croatia’s crowning jewel. Situated on a rocky spur at the country’s southernmost tip, Dubrovnik is renowned for its medieval walls and historic monuments. Today, Dubrovnik’s character reflects its storied past as an independent city-state that rivaled Venice. Also known by its Latin name, Ragusa, this was a fortress city that served as the base for a fleet of ships that carried trade between much of Europe and the Middle East. The city-state’s period of autonomy extended from 1358 to 1808 and endowed it with a wealth of historic architecture.

    In spite of heavy damage sustained during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the city has regained its former splendor with the help of UNESCO (OAT contributed to the restoration of Dubrovnik’s main promenade, the Placa, through a donation from Grand Circle Foundation). Our walking tour includes visits to the fortified town center, where we’ll see the 15th-century Rector’s Palace that now houses the Museum of Dubrovnik; and an early 14th-century Franciscan Monastery that is home to one of Europe’s oldest pharmacies. Our tour also features an opportunity to join an elective hike atop the city’s ancient ramparts (a little over a mile in length), where you can enjoy breathtaking views of the rooftops of Old Town and out into the blue Adriatic.

    Lunch is on your own and your afternoon is free for independent exploration. You may wish to remain in Old Town and spend more time along the Placa (also called Stradun), return to your hotel; or use your all-day bus pass to explore another part of the city.

    Later, we’ll gather together for a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

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    After breakfast, we journey south for a full-day excursion to Montenegro, a small country that is home to vast natural beauty, from rugged alpine mountains to a scenic coastline dotted with historic cities. Montenegro’s history is unique in this region in that it managed to avoid being conquered by the Ottoman Turks in the 1300s, when they took control of the rest of the Balkans for the next four centuries. Our first stop is Perast, an ancient village along the Bay of Kotor that is rich in Venetian architecture and historic stone churches. After a brief tour of the village, we’ll board a small boat to visit the baroque “Our Lady of the Rocks” shrine on a man-made islet. According to legend, the islet was formed by local fishermen who, after seeing the Virgin Mary in the reef, began dropping stones on the spot each time they sailed by. The shrine now contains 68 paintings by local 17th-century artist Tripo Kokolja, while its greatest treasure is the icon of Our Lady of the Rock, painted by the Dubrovnik artist Lovro Marinov Dobricevic.

    Afterwards, we’ll continue by boat further south to Kotor, a wonderfully preserved medieval walled town situated at the head of southern Europe’s deepest natural bay. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kotor’s Stari Grad, or Old Town, is filled with ancient churches and former aristocratic mansions that line winding, cobbled streets. After a guided tour of Kotor and free time for lunch on your own, you may join an elective hike that climbs up a steep, rocky trail (part of the city’s medieval walls) to the Church of Our Lady of Remedy. Built early in the 16th century, the old stone structure perched on a mountain slope offers splendid views of the red roofs of Kotor and out across the enchanting bay. Then, we return to Dubrovnik, arriving in late afternoon.

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    After breakfast, we’ll journey north and inland to Sarajevo, the capital of independent Bosnia & Herzegovina. Along the way, we’ll first stop in Pocitelj, a small village on the banks of the river Neretva crowned by the ruins of a medieval fortress. Then, we continue to the ancient town of Mostar. Established by the Ottoman Turks in the late 15th century, Mostar became a place where the cultures of the Middle East and Western Europe mingled, blending influences from the mainland and the Adriatic Sea. Mostar is named for the former watchtower keepers (mostari in Bosnian) of its historic bridge. A masterpiece of Ottoman Turkish architecture, the graceful 16th-century bridge has long spanned the Neretva River, whose emerald waters divided the town into Muslim and Croat sections. Destroyed in 1993 during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, the bridge and Mostar’s historic city center were restored in 2004 and are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The bridge also represents a powerful symbol of reconciliation and continued peace for the region.

    During our time in Mostar, we’ll enjoy an included lunch at a local restaurant before we continue on to Sarajevo, arriving late this afternoon. Enjoy time to relax and settle into your room, then gather for an included dinner together at a local restaurant.

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    After breakfast, we'll embark on a walking tour of Sarajevo. Founded by the Ottomans in the 15th century, for hundreds of years Sarajevo flourished as a multicultural haven where Muslims, Serbs, Croats, Turks, Jews, and others co-existed. By the late 17th century, Sarajevo was considered the most important city in the Balkans after Istanbul, and it is said to be the only city in the world where prayer calls can be heard simultaneously from mosques, synagogues, and churches. After hosting the 1984 Olympics, Sarajevo, this once-shining example of ethnic diversity, descended into chaos during the Yugoslav wars of the early 1990s. Although Bosnian Serb artillery pounded the city during a three-and-a-half-year siege—the longest in the history of modern warfare—most of Sarajevo has since been rebuilt, and the city is rapidly reclaiming its spirit of religious tolerance.

    In Bascarsija, or Old Town, we'll see shining examples of the city's Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian influences, including a 16th-century mosque complex that is considered one of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture in the Balkans. Here, we'll walk through an old alleyway where copper-smiths still ply their trade and enjoy a taste of local snacks. We'll also explore Ferhadija, the Austrian quarter, along with the historic Latin Bridge—site of the assassination of Austrian of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that set the spark for World War I. Then, you'll have a portion of the afternoon free to explore on your own, perhaps to visit the picturesque Turkish bazaar, or just to mingle with the locals. Lunch on your own might be a great time to sample the delicious cevapi, traditional minced lamb or beef, a savory reminder of the city's Turkish heritage. The afternoon is free for independent exploring.

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    After breakfast, we focus on Sarajevo’s more recent past, including the events that occurred following the violent breakup of the former Yugoslavia in 1992. More than 10,000 people were killed during a three-and-a-half year siege of the city by Bosnian Serbs, shelling from hills above the city. We’ll visit the famous Sarajevo Tunnel (also called the Tunnel of Hope), a vast underground passage dug in 1993 to ferry people out and bring supplies into the beleaguered city.

    After lunch on your own, your afternoon is at leisure. Later this evening, we'll gather for an enlightening discussion on the region's present and past before delving into contemporary life in Bosnia as we split up to visit the homes of some local families. We'll sit down to dinner with our hosts, and experience a taste of genuine Bosnian hospitality.

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    After breakfast, we journey overland to Slavonia, enjoying lunch en route. Slavonia is the easternmost province of Croatia, bounded by the Drava, Sava, and Danube rivers. Despite its history as part of a Roman province, Slavonia (as its name suggests) has been a Slavic state for more than 13 centuries. In 1745, Slavonia was declared a semi-autonomous kingdom, belonging to both the Kingdom of Croatia and the Kingdom of Hungary. Slavonia and Croatia merged in 1868 and became part of Yugoslavia in 1918. When Croatia declared its independence in 1991, a struggle for Slavonia ensued between Croatia and Serbia—which wasn’t too surprising. Slavonia’s fertile agricultural lands, rich hunting grounds, and robust wine industry make it Croatia’s “breadbasket.” In contrast to the rugged Croatian coastline, you are sure to notice that the terrain in this region is very flat, which prompts local Croatians to joke that “the highest mountain is a cabbage.”

    Our destination here is Karanac, a charming rural village outside Slavonia’s largest city, Osijek. Upon our arrival in this tranquil agricultural region, we’ll enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.

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    After breakfast, we'll learn about everyday life in the village of Karanac. Following a meeting with a village representative, we'll spend some time with students at a local school (when in session)—or another site supported in part by Grand Circle Foundation. Then, we'll learn about regional specialties during an informal cooking lesson while we enjoy a Home-Hosted lunch at a local farmstead. After our day experiencing village life, we’ll leave the past behind us and journey overland to Zagreb, Croatia’s modern capital.

    Upon our arrival in Zagreb, we’ll enjoy dinner together at a local restaurant.

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    Today we’ll discover Zagreb, a city of about 800,000 people that has been Croatia’s capital, intermittently, since 1557. After breakfast, we’ll set off on a walking tour of Zagreb’s modern Donji Grad, or Lower Town, whose well-designed street grid was laid out in the 19th century. This area is home to many of Zagreb’s civic and historic monuments. Then, we ride a funicular to view the medieval monuments in the city’s Gornji Grad, or Upper Town. In this older part of the city, two medieval settlements, Gradec and Kaptol, developed between the eleventh and 14th centuries on neighboring hilltops divided by a brook. Fortified by ramparts and moats, the two rival towns fought over the centuries—the nearby street called Krvavi Most, or Bridge of Blood, is a vivid testament to the historic rivalry.

    In contemporary times, Gradec and Kaptol form two of the districts that make up Zagreb’s hilly and picturesque Upper Town. Among the highlights of Upper Town are the tall twin spires of the Cathedral of St. Stephen, an ancient church dedicated to the Assumption. The cathedral’s beautiful neo-Gothic façade was added after an earthquake in 1880 destroyed its dome and bell tower. Our tour concludes with a visit to the Dolac Market, a bustling collection of open-air stalls located across from the Cathedral near the 14th-century church of St. Mary. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure in Zagreb to explore on your own.

    Lunch and dinner are on your own today.

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    Today, we’ll travel north of Zagreb to explore some of the quaint villages of Zagorje, an idyllic region of winding country roads, natural springs, and unspoiled green hills. Our first stop is the small town of Samobor, noted for its gastronomy, crystal cutting, and medieval atmosphere. First, we’ll set out on a leisurely-paced nature hike of about 1.5 hours into the picturesque forested hills that surround the town. Then, we’ll stop at the spectacular ruins of Samobor Castle, perched on a hill high above the town. Back in Samobor, we’ll stop in the charming main square for coffee and to sample some of the town’s famous “samoborska kremsnita,” a delicious local custard cake. Then you’ll have some time for independent exploring before we gather together for a quick stop outside the Veliki Tabor Castle and then enjoy lunch in a local restaurant.

    After lunch, we’ll visit the old village of Kumrovec, a unique open-air museum focusing on traditional ways of life a century ago—and renowned as the birthplace of Marshal Tito, president of the former Yugoslavia. We return to Zagreb and arrive back at our hotel in the late afternoon.

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    After breakfast, we begin an overland transfer to Opatija. En route, we’ll stop to explore Croatia’s magnificent Plitvice Lakes, a 114-square-mile national park that has, at its heart, 16 turquoise lakes linked by a series of waterfalls and cascades. Bears and wolves call this region home, along with deer, boar, foxes, and more than 120 different species of birds, including hawks, wild ducks, and herons. This natural wonder has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. The lake system is divided into the upper and lower lakes, with about 440 feet of elevation between them. We’ll take a walking tour along some of the wooden footbridges of the lower lakes.  

    Afterwards, we’ll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before we continue to Opatija.

    Located in the Kvarner Gulf that separates Dalmatia from Istria, Opatija is a seaside resort town situated in a heart-shaped peninsula just south of Trieste, Italy. Surrounded by landscaped parks and lush gardens dotted with grand villas with elegant facades, Opatija's history as a Mediterranean resort destination for wealthy European aristocrats, dignitaries, and artists stretches back to 1844.

    We'll have an included dinner at a local restaurant this evening.

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    Today is at leisure in Opatija, or you may wish to join our optional Hill Towns of Istria tour featuring some of the hilltop villages and towns that surround the region. The tour includes a visit to Motovun, one of the region’s 136 medieval hill towns; a visit to Hum, known as "the smallest town in the world;" and lunch. Travelers not choosing our optional tour may wish to relax in Opatija or stroll along a section of the famous Lungomare, a 7.5-mile-long waterfront promenade linking Opatija with Lovran, another small resort town dotted with aristocratic villas and manicured gardens. Dinner is on your own this evening

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    After breakfast, we begin our overland transfer to Ljubljana. We’ll observe a sharp contrast to the scenery as we journey inland into Slovenia, a delightful forest-clad country of emerald meadows, alpine villages, and soaring mountain peaks. This Slavic nation was the first to claim independence and break away from the Yugoslav federation, and it largely escaped involvement in the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Along the way, we’ll stop for a visit to Postojna Cave, a twelve-mile-long underground labyrinth in eastern Slovenia that is considered one of the finest karst limestone formations in the world. On your train ride through the cave, view a diverse collection of tunnels, sculpted galleries, waterfalls, stalactites and stalagmites, chambers, and cave-dwelling olms—sightless, snake-like amphibians that can only be seen here.

    Shortly after our included lunch at Postojna, we’ll arrive at Slovenia’s charming capital of Ljubljana, a thriving university town. A walking tour of Ljubljana will highlight the quaint bridges spanning the gently flowing Ljubljanica River, and the narrow streets of its café-lined Old Town. Most of the city’s buildings, parks, and monuments (and all of the bridges spanning the city center) were designed by innovative local architect Joze Plecnik.

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    You can further explore Ljubljana on your own today or join our optional full-day excursion to Lake Bled (subject to local weather conditions). The picturesque resort area of Lake Bled features a 17th-century church perched on an islet in the middle of the lake and an 800-year-old castle clinging to a rocky cliff, all against a backdrop of the majestic Julian Alps. Your optional tour includes a ride on the emerald lake by pletna boat, the locals’ version of a gondola, to reach the island church, and a light lunch.

    Those not taking our optional tour can discover the charms of Ljubljana. Much of this city of about 300,000 was rebuilt after an 1895 earthquake, and it has a unique architectural style that has integrated surviving historic structures with more modern designs. The work of Joze Plecnik, a 20th-century architect and Ljubljana native, is particularly remarkable for the way it incorporates Roman, Medieval, Baroque, and Habsburg elements. A number of buildings that survived the earthquake still stand in the historic part of town, Old Ljubljana. Lunch is on your own.

    Dinner is also on your own this evening.

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    After breakfast, the day is free to explore Ljubljana on your own. There are also many pleasant cafés here, and you may want to try one as you take today’s lunch on your own.

    Later this evening, rejoin your group for a Farewell Drink and then celebrate your journey during a Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.

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    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, depart to the airport for your return flight home. Or, begin your post-trip extension to Budapest, Hungary.

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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.  Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Pacing

  • 6 locations in 16 days with one 1-night stay

Physical Requirements

  • Not appropriate for travelers using wheelchairs, walkers, or other mobility aids
  • You must be able to walk 3 miles unassisted and participate in 6-8 hours of physical activities each day

Climate

  • Temperatures are mild and seasonable year round, with the hottest temperatures in July and August averaging 80°F

Terrain

  • Walk on rugged paths and cobblestoned streets, and travel by bus over rural roads that may be bumpy and narrow
  • Hike along steep trails at Bjelanica Mountain and up and down hills in the Croatian countryside
  • Agility and balance are required for boarding or disembarking boats on optional Lake Bled tour

Transportation

  • Travel by air-conditioned minibus and funicular, as well as by boat on the optional Lake Bled tour

Accommodations & Facilities

  • Hotel rooms are smaller than those in the U.S. and offer basic amenities
  • 1-night stay in Karanac village at a small family-run accommodation
  • All accommodations feature private baths with showers

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary:

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens do not need a visa for this trip.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then you may need a visa. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your adventure, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Trip Leaders and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • Valamar Argosy Hotel

    Dubrovnik, Croatia | Rating: First Class

    Located on the scenic Babin Kuk Peninsula, the newly renovated First-Class Valamar Argosy Hotel features a range of amenities including a fitness room, sauna, indoor and outdoor swimming pool, restaurant, and bar. Each of its 308 air-conditioned rooms include cable TV, wireless Internet, minibar, telephone, safe, private bath, and more.

  • Hotel Europe

    Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina

    Housed in a classic Austro-Hungarian building constructed in 1882, Hotel Europe is conveniently situated just steps away from Old Town, Sarajevo’s historic core. Hotel amenities include a restaurant and café, indoor swimming pool, Turkish bath, spa facilities, and a fitness center. There are 160 rooms, each with air-conditioning, cable TV, Internet access, safe, minibar, and private bath with robe, slippers, and hair dryer.

  • Rural Homestead Sklepic

    Karanac, Croatia

    Situated in the tranquil village of Karanac, the Rural Homestead Sklepic features a restaurant and large common area with cozy fireplace. There are 13 country-style guest rooms at the hotel, each with a private bath with shower.

  • Best Western Astoria Hotel

    Zagreb, Croatia | Rating: Superior First Class

    The Best Western Astoria Hotel is a 15-minute walk from the historic city center in Jelacic Square. There is a restaurant featuring international cuisine and Croatian specialties. The six-story hotel has 100 rooms, each with satellite TV, a refrigerator, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Grand Hotel 4 Flowers

    Opatija, Croatia

    The Grand Hotel 4 Flowers is situated along Opatija’s famous waterfront promenade, the Lungomare. The hotel’s 262 rooms are located in one of four villas, each named for the region’s most famous flowers: Camellia, Wisteria, Melia, and Magnolia. There is a restaurant, bar, terrace, cafe, pool, and wellness center on the premises. Rooms are air-conditioned and feature satellite TV, a phone, minibar, and private bath with shower and hair dryer.

  • Grand Hotel Union Executive

    Ljubljana, Slovenia

    The Grand Hotel Union Executive is an Art Nouveau-style hotel situated in the heart of Ljubljana, within walking distance of Ljubljana River, the city’s famous Triple Bridge, and St. Nicholas Cathedral. Amenities include an indoor pool, sauna, fitness center, restaurant, café, and bar/lounge. There are 173 air-conditioned rooms, each featuring complimentary wireless Internet, satellite TV, private bath with robe and hair dryer.

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  • Tirana International Hotelenna

    Tirana, Albania

    Tirana International Hotel is conveniently situated in Tirana’s city center, within walking distance of the National Museum and Opera House. Hotel amenities include the Terrace Bar Restaurant, serving traditional Albanian and international cuisine, a nightclub, gym, sauna, and swimming pool. There are 166 rooms, each with air-conditioning, complimentary wireless Internet, desk, safe, cable TV, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Danubius Hotel Astoria

    Budapest, Hungary

    Built in 1914, the Danubius Hotel Astoria is conveniently located in central Budapest, about a five-minute walk from Pest’s main pedestrian shopping street, the Vaci utca. There is a shop, café, and popular Mirror Café & Restaurant at the classic hotel, along with 135 air-conditioned rooms, each with soundproof windows, telephone, safe, minibar, satellite TV, and private bath.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

Whether you choose to take just a base trip or add an optional pre- and post-trip extension, you have many options when it comes to personalizing your air—and creating the OAT adventure that’s right for you:

Personalized Air Routing

  • Work with our expert Air Travel Consultants to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Upgrade to business or premium economy class
  • Customize your trip by staying overnight in a connecting city, arriving at your destination a few days early, or spending additional time in a nearby city on your own
  • Combine your choice of OAT adventures to maximize your value

Your Own Air Routing

  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline
  • Purchase optional airport transfers to and from your hotel
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent flyer miles

OR, leave your air routing up to us and your airfare (as well as airport transfers) will be included in your final trip cost.

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $2995
w/ standard air $4195

Private Adventures—New for 2015

How do you arrange a Private Adventure?

It’s simple: You choose the people you travel with. You choose the departure date. You choose the size of your group. OAT does the rest.

Your lifelong memories are only a phone call away: Call us toll-free at
1-800-955-1925

Group Size Additional Cost
4-6 $1600 per person
7-9 $750 per person

Now you can reserve an EXCLUSIVE departure of Crossroads of the Adriatic: Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Slovenia with just 8 travelers. Enjoy a truly special adventure—starting from only $750 per person more than our published trip price.

The benefits of your Private Adventure …

  • Travel in an exclusive group of friends or family members
  • Work with your Trip Leader to create unique experiences and special memories
  • Tailor the pacing of activities—spending more time doing what interests your group most at the speed that fits your comfort level
  • Enjoy the security of knowing we have regional offices nearby

This program is available on new reservations in 2015 only, and cannot be combined with any offer within 60 days to departure or with our Group Travel program. The additional cost of a Private Departure is per person, on top of the departure price and varies by trip. Private Departures do not include any changes or additions to our standard itineraries. Age restrictions may apply to some itineraries and must be at least 13 years old to travel with Overseas Adventure Travel. Ask your Group Sales Team for details. Additional taxes and fees will apply. Standard Terms & Conditions apply. Every effort has been made to present this information accurately. We reserve the right to correct errors.

Redefining a Nation

Bosnia’s hope for the future

by Philip McCluskey, for Grand Circle

Though it has been a long road, Bosnians are coming together to work toward a more prosperous future.

In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the people of Yugoslavia suddenly felt something very foreign to them: freedom.

Yugoslavia was created after World War I, and for decades was ruled by Josip Broz Tito, a Communist who was president-for-life during a period of relative stability in the region. After he died in 1980, the tenuous association began to dissolve. Following the dissolution of the USSR, portions of Yugoslavia—a country made up of present-day Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina—began declaring their independence as sovereign states.  For Bosnia (the short version of the country's name) this new era of liberty also unleashed tensions that had long been suppressed, and it resulted in a horrific three-year war that was the worst Europe had seen since World War II.

Battling ethnic divisions

To understand what had precipitated the conflict, it helps to get a sense of the make-up of this Balkan state. Unlike other former Yugoslav states which were composed of dominant ethnic groups, Bosnia is primarily made up of three ethnic groups: Bosniaks (who are generally Muslim), Croats (mostly Roman Catholics), and Serbs (Eastern Orthodox).  Over the years, relations between these different groups ranged from indifferent to bitterly fractured.

When Yugoslavia disbanded, Bosnian Serbs wanted their country to be a part of Serbia, rather than an independent state of its own.  So, shortly after Bosnia voted for independence in 1992, Bosnian Serbs—who were supported by members of the (largely Serbian) Yugoslavian army—began a campaign of violence against Bosniaks and Croats in an effort to take over the country. The results were catastrophic.

At least 100,000 were killed as part of systematic “ethnic cleansing,” and more than half of the country’s 4.5 million people were displaced. The world shuddered as word of the atrocities in the Balkans surfaced.  Finally, the war ended in the Dayton Peace Agreement, signed in the titular Ohio city in 1995, which created a power-sharing system among the different ethnic constituencies. The people of Bosnia have been attempting to recover ever since.

Signs of hope

Though it has been a long road, there are signs that Bosnians are coming together to work toward a more prosperous future. For example, the country is in the process of attempting to join the European Union (EU)—and 70 percent of its people are in favor of the move.  This overwhelming support has forced the usually uncooperative sectors in the Bosnian political spectrum to come together and pass laws essential to being considered for membership. In addition to creating a new department to coordinate EU aid programs, Bosnia’s leaders agreed to conduct the country’s first census in October 2013.

The census asked citizens to define themselves as one of the three main constituencies (Bosniak, Croat, or Serb), with a fourth option defined simply as “Other.” While each of the ethnic groups were encouraging participation so they could showcase their numbers (and thus, retain or improve their standing in the current power-sharing system), there was also a movement to reject traditional ethnic and religious labels that have divided the country for so long.  Many Bosnians went online to express support for this effort, which was organized by Koalicija Jednakost (Coalition for Equality). In the run-up to the census, many shared their feelings in unique ways, including posting pictures of themselves online holding up signs that read “Ethnically challenged” and “A citizen above all”.

Results of the census will come out in 2014, but in the meantime, economic self-interest is engendering cooperation between the countries of the region. Some of the same nations that once wanted a piece of Bosnia now have a vested interest in seeing it become part of the EU. Croatia has already joined the union, and Serbia and Montenegro are candidates for inclusion.  It behooves these nations to create stability and economic growth in neighboring countries, which is one of the reasons that Serbia is one of the largest foreign investors in Bosnia.

The sense of Bosnian national unity is growing in other areas as well. Recently, the country came together in celebration as Bosnia and Herzegovina’s national soccer team earned a trip to the World Cup for the first time ever. The team’s multi-ethnic makeup served as proof that the divisions that have so long been a part of Bosnian life are not the only way to move forward, and provides an example of an oft-ignored truth in the region: success often comes from putting aside differences and working together.

So, though it is still possible to see the scars of war here, Bosnia’s proud and resilient people continue to show that healing is happening—and that there can be hope for a bright future.