When I was planning out my time in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I wasn’t sure where else to visit other than Sarajevo and Mostar. I don’t recall where I first came across photos of Jajce, but the view of its wondrous waterfalls right by the town certainly grabbed my attention. I knew I had to visit it for myself.
After several hours on a small bus from Sarajevo, working our way through wooded hills and small villages, we crossed a rusting bridge and pulled in at the bus station on the edge of town. A short walk and across a little pedestrian bridge and I was faced with a medieval stone gate, the entrance to the walled town. Wandering through town, it became immediately apparent how small a place Jajce was and aside from a school group or two, how few tourists there were there.
Jajce actually has quite a distinguished pedigree. It was once the capital of the Kingdom of Bosnia during the Middle Ages before falling to the Ottoman’s in the 16th century. This goes to explain the town’s hilltop fortress and the quaint stone walls that surround the town. Another remnant of this time is St Mary’s Church and the classic-looking St Luke’s Bell Tower. The crumbled remains of the church are noteworthy because you don’t tend to find many churches in Bosnia Herzegovina, mostly mosques. One sight that I couldn’t bring myself to explore was the catacombs beneath the castle due to my unfortunate claustrophobia.
As the town is centred on the hill and its fortress, walking about generally means heading up hill but it also leads to some glorious views of the town and countryside. The best views by far are from the stoic walls of the fortress, whose own inner courtyards are now nothing but mown lawns. Once you’ve walked up the hillside to its gate, entrance to the castle is just 1€. The state of the fort seems to indicate that there are plans for more renovation work to be undertaken throughout the town to bolster tourism. A walk through town, stopping at all the above spots shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours.
But don’t worry there’s more to see.
This part of the world is increasingly becoming known for its gorgeous waterfalls, particularly Croatia’s Plitvice and Krka falls. However, the Pliva Falls at Jajce seem to have been wholly overlooked, despite their magnificent city backdrop. A 2-minute walk from the city gate and you arrive at the banks of the Pliva River, just above the falls. The river itself is a series of gentle cascades running from the nearby Pliva Lakes, but none compete with the power and splendour of the town’s 17m high waterfall. Crossing the river, you can take the forest trail down to the foot of the falls after paying a minor 1€ entrance fee. Be prepared for some mist!
The best vantage point in my opinion, is actually across from a small wooden shelter in the woods across from the falls and over the Vrbas River, the river that the falls run into. To get there, you need to head back past the bus station, over the rusting bridge I mentioned earlier and walk up along the road until you find a trail into the forest. It’s only from this little shelter that you can properly capture both the Pliva falls and the rest of Jajce in one shot. It took me a while to figure that angle out.
Fairytale town of Jajce
One of the benefits of being in a small town in Bosnia Herzegovina is that you have the chance to explore the countryside. Even a 10 minute walk from Jajce and you’ll be on the outskirts of town and coming across farmland and spots of wild nature. If you head north out of town along the Pliva river, you’ll pass a series of small falls and eventually reach the Pliva Lakes. Here you can find nearly untouched wilderness, just the occasional fishing boat or rickety dock. I had never thought of Bosnia Herzegovina as a nature destination until I reached the Pliva Lakes and saw the surrounding falls, woods, meadows and hills.
Now the Pliva Lakes are themselves connected by some small trickling falls. At the start of the river from the lower lake, is a large meadow popular with locals during summer. When I visited here, the only other person there was a lonely fisherman who recommended I press on further to see the rest of the lakes, despite our language barrier. Along the banks of the lower lake, you’ll find holiday houses that must be ideal for swimming in the lake during the warmer months.
Once I made my way between the lakes, I came across another of the region’s main attractions, the Pliva Watermills. These little antique huts sat along the trickling falls that flow through to the lower lake and once functioned as mills. Nowadays they are just another picturesque heritage sight, but there certainly worth the visit, especially if you are exploring the Pliva Lakes.
Being a small town with a minute tourism footprint, outside of daily school excursions, accommodation options in Jajce are pretty limited. During my visit I stayed at one of the few accommodation options situated within the city walls, Hotel Stari Grad (actually more of an inn). Pretty much in the centre of town, the rooms furnishing were a little dated but it was still a pleasant stay. The ground floor was the inn’s restaurant where I ate enjoyable local cuisine both nights. Aside from the inn, in town you’ll find plenty of cafes, a few fast-food options, several other restaurants and a quality bakery.
Pliva River, near Jajce
Whether you’re looking to see more of Bosnia Herzegovina or more of the Balkan’s majestic waterfalls, Jajce is a small town with plenty to offer. As tourism grows in Bosnia Herzegovina and the neighbouring countries, I can’t see how this quiet town and nearby countryside won’t develop an adoring international fan base.