Probably the best time of my travels was the two months I spent backpacking around the Balkans. It was cheap, there was delicious food, and the people were super friendly.
What Countries Are in the Balkans?
This is a tough question and varies depending on who you ask. The Balkans gets its name from the mountain range in Bulgaria. There’s also the Balkan Peninsula, but the countries aren’t confined to the peninsula.
The main countries in the Balkans are Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, and North Macedonia. There’s also Kosovo, which is a disputed territory within Serbia. Three other countries that are sometimes considered part of the Balkans are Bulgaria, Romania, and Moldova. Then there are Greece and Turkey, which are around the peninsula but usually not counted as Balkan countries.
For the purpose of this article, I’ll stick to the main Balkan countries, ie the first ones listed above.
Are the Balkans Safe?
Absolutely. The Albanian mafia you see in Taken doesn’t exist, the locals are super friendly and helpful, and I found plenty of solo backpackers of all genders traveling around without trouble.
Sure, a small percentage of the human race (about 3%) are quite evil, but they’re not limited to country, culture or creed. You’re just as likely to find them in your own hometown as you are abroad. On a whole, I found the Balkans safer than many other countries I visited (like Malaysia, Italy, the USA, etc). I also found fewer scams than places like Turkey and Thailand.
What Do They Eat in the Balkans?
Meat, and lots of it. It’s not to say you can’t be vegetarian or vegan in these countries, but they eat a ton of meat. In fact, probably due to amount of protein consumed, Montenegrans and Bosnians have both been labeled the tallest citizens in the world at different times, although the Dutch always challenge them (all are in the top three year after year).
Most of my savory dishes around the world are in the Balkans, including borek (savory pastries), kofte (meatballs), and cevapi (lamb kebabs).
Which Balkan Country is the Best?
The problems with this question is there is no right answer. It probably comes down to what you consider best. If you want the best beaches, head to Croatia. If you want history, choose Serbia. If you want cheap, Montenegro and Bosnian and Herzegovina are marginally cheaper, but only by a few pennies. The Balkans (except for Croatia) are the cheapest countries in Europe, along with Ukraine, Moldova and Lithuania. If you want good food, you’ll find that in every one of them.
I had so many adventuers in my two months wandering through the Balkans. I spent three weeks working at a hostel in Tirana, Albania. I swam across the bay in Kotor, Montenegro. I almost jumped 75 feet off the Stari Most bridge in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I tried 80% rakia liquor at several of the restaurants. I hiked throught the Plitvice Lakes, the most beautiful national park in the world. Overall, I had the time of my life.
As soon as travel goes back to some semblance of normality, I highly recommend a trip to the Balkans. I know I’ll be headed back there as soon as I can.