When a local invites you to see his town, offers you a place to sleep, and promises to set you up with experiences to help you enjoy your stay, how do you say no? You can’t, and I did not.
You know me, you know I love to travel as much as possible. A few months back, I received such an invitation and accepted it as fast as possible. It also seemed like a fun way to spend the weekend with several bloggers from Zagreb (Vedran & Mihaela, Boris, & Ribafish) and another great chance to get the kids out of Croatia and explore this big wide world.
When we expanded this blog from a single Croatian focus to share the bewitching stories of the neighboring countries, I did so in part as an excuse to travel and help readers discover lesser-known parts of the Balkans that people might not have otherwise found. And, so I’d like to introduce to you Una National Park, near Bihać.
To access the Una National Park, you first need to know about Bihać. Bihać resides on Una River banks in northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the region known as Bosanska Krajina. It has less than 60,000 residents, but what it lacks in numbers makes up for the water, adventure, and entertainment!
I was shocked when I googled Bihać and discovered it is just 150 km from Zadar, where I live – it really makes for the perfect weekend getaway with the kids. Bihać is also only 20 km from Croatia’s most famous national park – Plitvice Lakes National Park, which means you can see two parks in two countries in one day if you are a keen traveler.
Our weekend getaway began on Friday afternoon; I packed up the car (kids and husband in tow) and headed over the border to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Except for a 20 min wait at the border, it is an easy drive, with plenty of greenery to feast our eyes on.
We stayed at Hotel Kostelski Buk in a room fit for the royal family. My little family loved our three-day stay in the enormous room on the top floor with views overlooking the Una River and Kostelski waterfalls.
Our room had a double bed, two single beds, a sofa, and a balcony. Plentiful for our family of four – I only wish I had also brought along our nanny for the weekend; there was so much room!
During our three days, we saw a lot, experienced the warmth of the locals, and ate extremely generous portions of Bosnian cuisine. And as we left, I was already thinking about returning to Bihać to continue exploring what we missed.
One thing we did not miss was the Una National Park, and this post is about that, but I promise to also write later this month about the town of Bihac, and tell you the best things to see and do, and also where to get the BEST ice cream outside of Italy.
Una National Park
Established in 2008, Una National Park is the youngest of the three national parks in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The park encompasses the Unac and Upper Una Rivers and is the source of the famous Krka River. Clearly, this protects the area’s extraordinary flora, fauna, waterfalls, riverbank forests, and archaeological and cultural heritage sites.
Needless to say, there is plenty to see and do in Una National Park. The vast majority of the park lies in Bosnia and Herzegovina, situated along the border between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. It’s one of the country’s leading natural attractions—arguably even the greatest one because of its accessibility from the ever-popular Croatia.
Things To See And Do In Una National Park
I saw just a fraction of what the park offers during my weekend in the area, so if you are a nature lover, I suggest you consider staying for more than just a weekend. I could have easily stayed five nights and explored the park and surrounding area.
Water In The Una National Park
Water is the park’s main attraction, the very reason it exists, and the source of its sheer beauty. Three rivers form the heart and arteries, the life and blood of Una National Park—the Upper Una, Unac, and Krka Rivers.
The national park’s namesake, the Una River, is the most significant natural treasure in the area. Originating as a karst spring, the stream quickly swells and falls, featuring gorgeous travertine waterfalls—comparable to Plitvice Lakes in Croatia. The river’s waterfalls are absolutely glorious and a major attraction.
The Unac River, on the other hand, is of a very different nature. This exceptionally pure river is the Una River’s first main tributary, flowing through a gorge filled with fish. Forming the border with Croatia for about 5 kilometers, the Krka River is much smaller—this is its source region—but people looking to see how spectacular it gets should definitely visit Krka National Park in Croatia.
Una National Park Wildlife
A region characterized by pure rivers, ancient forests, and karst formations, Una National Park also boasts a tremendous variety of wildlife. In fact, it’s one of the most biodiverse areas in this part of Europe.
Numerous animal species call the park home, from more than 100 bird species and about 30 fish to various mammals, such as otters, bats, and deer. Moreover, this is one of the very few places left in Europe where the continent’s three largest predators still roam: wolves, lynxes, and bears.
Culture And History Of The Una National Park
In addition to all this natural wealth, there’s also a fascinating cultural-historical side to Una National Park and its surroundings. From archaeological sites and several fortresses to various religious buildings and medieval towns, culture and history buffs will definitely find something that tickles their fancy in this beautiful national park.
What To Do In Una National Park
As you can expect now, after getting to know the main features of Una National Park, there are plenty of things to do in Una National Park. Let’s zoom in on the park’s most incredible activities and attractions – several of which will stay with me as memories of a lifetime.
Štrbački Buk Waterfall
The premier natural attraction in Una National Park is Štrbački Buk, a collection of spectacular waterfalls and cascades in the Una River. This fantastic series of waterfalls and rapids is arguably also the most photogenic spot in the entire park—a major highlight that should not be missed.
Trust me when I say that this waterfall is totally amazing – these photos do not do it justice.
What makes this waterfall so beautiful is its crystal-clear water, filled with oxygen that brings out the vibrant colors of the river.
As our group approached the waterfalls, it began to rain; the rocky road to this glorious attraction was narrow and rugged, and it began to seem like the 5km bumpy ride would be a waste of time.
As we sat in the stuffy van, and I figured, ‘screw this,’ I am going to see this waterfall I have heard so much about – rain, hail, or shine! Our van parked, and then it poured down so hard that everyone in sight ran looking for cover from the freezing rain. Park workers, shopkeepers, and fellow tourists looked like drowned rats.
So, I left the group and wandered down the well-maintained wooden path. I slipped a few times as I stepped up my pace to outrace the rain. I never once doubted my choice, even though I saw streams of people walking back in the opposite direction, soaking wet.
The roaring sound of the cascades was enchanting, to say the least, and as I got closer to the rumblings of the main fall, I wished I had taken my backpack from the van with my camera – but alas, I had leaped in hast with just my cell phone in my back pocket.
Once at Štrbački Buk, I was in awe. I mean, it’s bigger, better and more impressive than the main waterfall at Plitvice (sorry, Croatia, but Bosnia wins this prize). And while Plitvice has 16 lakes and dozens of smaller falls with an easy-to-follow footpath, making it a more rounded offering – Štrbački Buk is indeed more impressive than Veliki Slap – the highest waterfall in the Plitvice National Park. Without question.
Štrbački Buk is the tallest waterfall you can access in the national park. Standing tall at 24.5 meters, this fall will not disappoint. Not even in the rain.
Cost: 6 BAM = 3 EUR
Another key tourist area in Una National Park is Martin Brod, located at the Una and Unac Rivers’ confluence. The name of the area means ‘Marta’s Boat.’
According to a local fable, the area is named after a young girl, Marta, who fell in love with a curly-haired man who lived on the opposite side of the river. Marta’s parents disapproved of their love, and one day when Marta was sneaking across the river to meet him, she tragically drowned while crossing the river to reach her lover.
The Bosnian word Brod translates into the boat but is also a word that the people of this county used to refer to anything used to cross a body of water – in this case, it was a sandbank that she tried to cross before she heartbreakingly lost her life.
Cost: 2 BAM = 1 EUR
Such a sad story for a beautiful waterfall.
This area encompasses the largest number of waterfalls, such as Milančev Buk, and an eco laundry known as “bučnica.” This collection of features gives the above-mentioned Štrbački Buk a run for its money.
This little village dates back to at least the 1300s, blessed with a rich history that has resulted in several interesting cultural attractions.
One of the main highlights here is the Rmanj Monastery, a significant spiritual destination at the crossroads of Dalmatia, Lika, and Bosnia. Dedicated to Saint Nicholas, this Serbian Orthodox monastery was beautifully restored after World War II and now a designated national monument. Regrettably, we did not visit here, though I had hoped we would. But that means it’s an excuse to come back another time!
Whitewater Rafting And Kayaking
A park that boasts such a wealth of river scenery, including waterfalls, pools, and rapids, is perfect for rafting. And two of the most popular things to do in Una National Park, if not some of the top activities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, are whitewater rafting and kayaking.
Dozens of rafting agencies offer organized rafting trips and kayak rentals. Check out the park’s website for an overview of agencies, prices, and other useful information.
We ‘rafted’ for a few hours. Still, it was on a smooth stretch of water more suited to drinking beers (as my group did) and sunbathing. It was less about the adrenaline rush of bouncing in and out of the white foam as I have experienced on the Cetina and Zrmanja Rivers in Croatia. I have spoken to several people I know who have rafted in this area, and I am told I must go back and try the real thing!
So I shall add white water rafting to the list of things I must go back and try!
The old Bosnian fortified town of Ostrovica is another of those wonderful historical Una National Park attractions. Perched at a rocky hilltop overlooking the Una River, the Burg of Ostrovica is built on a prehistoric “gradina” or fortification site, the walls of which are still partially there.
The central part of the structure, however, dates from the Middle Ages. It’s a significant historical site in the national park, a sight not to be missed.
Japod Islands, Račić
A touristic archaeological site in the northeastern corner of Una National Park, the five Japod Islands, is a great place to explore the park’s natural beauty. A network of walking trails, bridges, and boardwalks interlink the islands.
I wandered almost alone throughout my time here, choosing to walk far behind my group to take in the serene vibe. As you enter, there is a great sign telling you that it’s a stress-free zone. I knew instantly that this place would have a chilled vibe, one I needed to soak up before getting back to the realities of motherhood later that day.
There’s also unique accommodation here (see below for full details), which features WiFi, a picnic area, barbecue facilities, and wildlife watching opportunities.
Sultan Ahmed I Mosque, Kulen Vakuf
Kulen Vakuf, the largest historic town inside the park, was founded during Ottoman rule in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
There are many religious buildings within Una National Park, but the Sultan Ahmed I Mosque in Kulen Vakuf is probably the main one. Built in the early 17th century, the mosque was named after the then ruler of the Ottoman Empire—Sultan Ahmed I. It is the oldest mosque in the area.
The mosque itself was destroyed and rebuilt no fewer than three times, most recently during (and after) the Homeland War of the 1990s. However, some of the building is still original and dates back to the 1600s, including writing from the Holy Quran.
At the start or end of a day in Una National Park, you can enjoy Kulen Vakuf. There are several places along the water’s edge to have a drink and soak up the sunshine by the river Una.
Across the Una River from the Ostrovica Castle and Kulen Vakuf, you’ll find the remains of the once-powerful Burg of Havala. Dating back to the 1700s, this fortified town had tall protective walls, entrance gates, and two watchtowers. It used to be a strategically important stronghold, overlooking a major bridge across the Una and several important roads.
Near the Havala ruins, there is also an interesting graveyard, the last resting place of one of the fortress’ commanders. His tombstone is a bit weathered, but you can still notice carvings in Turkish and Arabic.
Medieval Burg Of Orašac
Yet another historic fortification that indicates the strategic importance of this area is the medieval burg of Orašac. This fortress sits atop a steep hill just above the town of Orašac, and its roots go back many centuries. Some of the fortified walls remain, but most of it now lies in ruins, including the many buildings and mosques that once occupied its inner core.
Fly Fishing In The Una And Unac Rivers
Una National Park is especially well-known for its world-class fly fishing opportunities. Fishing is another extremely popular activity in the park. However, in order to protect the fish living in the rivers, there are several designated fishing areas—fishing is not allowed in certain places.
During my visit, I was fortunate enough to spend time watching several fly fishermen in action, and boy-oh-boy, that sport is tricky. I admired their skill and laughed a little at my fellow travelers, who themselves attempted to cast the line. At least one of whom caught a tree and another a branch.
Cost: A daily permit starts at 40 BAM (22 euro), a 3-day permit is priced from 100 BAM (54 euro), and 5-day licenses start at 140 BAM (76 euro)
Enjoy A Picnic
I have to say our group was treated to a spectacular meal in one of the numerous picnic spots in Una National Park, one that I’ll write more about later! That said, you could – and should, pack a lunch to enjoy at one of the waterside picnic spots. Throw out a blanket or make use of the family-friendly style wooden tables dotted about the park.
In some areas, there are port-a-potties for use also. Remember to take with you all of your garbage or dispose of your trash in the bins provided. Be kind to the environment and think of the animals who inhabit the national park.
Eat On The River
You won’t get a better location to eat dinner in Bihać than sitting on a wooden boat bobbing on the Una River in the little village of Ripač. Head to the River Dock for lunch or dinner (dinner is better, thanks to the sunset!)
As the last rays of sunlight glitter on the water’s edge, you’ll be off on your merry way, chugging slowly towards a waterfall as you enjoy traditional Bosnian food. Sounds made up, right? I promise it is really true!
The surrounding green scenery makes you feel like you’re a million miles from anything, and the food is, of course, rather outstanding too. Cevapi and meats, trout, soups, you choose! The experience lasts an hour, and if you are not keen on being on a boat for that long, then yo.
Where To Stay Near Una National Park
There are numerous options for accommodation in Una National Park and outside the park. From campgrounds to apartments to hotels and even a traditional farm village, you’ll find whatever type of accommodation you’re looking for in this area. We would like to highlight a few specific places to stay near Una National Park for you.
Japodski Otoci – Japod Islands, Račić
A top choice and one which is a must for nature fans is Japodski Otoci. With this accommodation, you’re right in the heart of nature, and you can enjoy stunning views of the river and gardens every single morning by taking your breakfast out on the terrace.
With this hotel, you have two main accommodation options to go for, and you can either opt for a waterside bungalow or go for a chalet. Both offer modern and comfortable surroundings, but the main difference is how many they sleep.
The bungalow will comfortably sleep three people and is like a home away from home, with your own private cobbled path, terrace, and natural surroundings.
The chalet is a similar deal, but it can sleep more people, up to five, making it ideal for larger groups and families. Both options have air conditioning as standard and a flat-screen TV for chilling out. You’ll find free WiFi across the property.
The on-site restaurant offers local and international meals, and you can enjoy either a continental or vegetarian breakfast choice every morning. Afterward, head out and enjoy the on-site activities – plenty to choose from!
Rent a bike, head out cycling, grab your walking shoes, and explore on foot. There is also a private beach area on the grounds for total rest and relaxation.
Rooms and Apartment Neron in Lohovo comes highly recommended for its various room types and wonderful amenities. Located in the far northwestern corner of the park, there is a lake-view apartment, a river-view suite, a studio apartment, a two-person bungalow, a deluxe studio, and a deluxe triple room with river views. Amenities range from sun decks and room service to water sports facilities and karaoke.
Natura Art, Lohovo
Another fantastic place to stay in Lohovo is Natura Art, an eco-village that aims to increase the tourist potential of the Una National Park region. Not only does it offer accommodation in a villa with views of the Una River rapids and waterfalls, but Natura Art is an attraction in its own right.
There is an eco-friendly playground, a mini-zoo, a great restaurant (try the Una trout!), a congress hall, and buildings representing traditional Bosnian village life.
Čardaklije Farm, Vrtoče
One of the absolute best Una National Park activities is visiting the ethno-village of Čardaklije. Situated in the town of Vrtoče, this historic farmstead offers you a fantastic insight into how farm life used to be in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
This is a small village consisting of a bakery and kitchen, a Čardak (a building where milk and meat are prepared traditionally), a children’s corner, a workshop, a “House of Fun” where you can sample locally made schnapps, and a guest house.
This is a fantastic place to stay near Una National Park. Accommodation is available in two country homes equipped with 4 to 6 beds. Other accommodation options are Apartment Draginja and hostel Čardaklije. All accommodation types are very reasonably priced for the wonderful experience that you will undoubtedly get.
If you do not want to sleep here, please, please go for the food and homemade juices. We ate lunch here, and my taste buds are still tingling from the heavenly fried bread they served. I’ll cover Čardaklije Farm in detail in my post about Bihać to be sure to do it justice.
How To Get To Una National Park
Una National Park lies in the northwestern corner of Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the border with Croatia. The nearest sizable town is Bihać, which is accessible via the M5, which connects to E761. The park lies only about 30 kilometers from the famous Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, a place with which it shares many commonalities. Additionally, the park is only 115 kilometers from the Croatian coast, making it a great day trip option.
People coming from Croatia can cross into Bosnia and Herzegovina via three possible border crossings. The two first ones are the recommended options because of the lower traffic.
- Strmica. The nearest border crossing to the park’s southern entrance. It is best for people driving up from the Dalmatian coast, from cities such as Dubrovnik, Split, or Šibenik.
- Uzljebic. Small border crossing only three kilometers from Una National Park. This is not a border crossing for cargo and trucks, so it’s less busy—ideal for people traveling from the coast of Croatia in summer.
- Izacic. A border crossing for all types of traffic, including cargo. Therefore not a recommended option during the busy summer season because of traffic jams.
You can also reach Bihac from Vienna (500km), Budapest (490km), Ljubljana (230km), and loads of other cities in Europe, making it a tremendous long-weekend getaway.
This guide to Una National Park in Bosnia and Herzegovina should put you well on your way to planning a visit to this gorgeous nature park. If you have any more questions or suggestions, please, by all means, do leave a comment below!