Offroading in Serbia – how safe is it?

945209_10151566668683758_2123338288_nWritten by
Aleksandar Veljković

When talking to our friends abroad about coming over for an offroad tour in Serbia, we often come accross misconceptions – „facts“ which are exactly the opposite from what the situation really is, but which make people hesitant about coming to Serbia very strongly. In this article I’d like to address the most common ones. Most of them, actually, are security related – and all of them are utterly unfounded. Some are connected to the recent political developments, and some are misconceptions that date decades into the past. Ok, lets go!

    1. Serbia is an „unsafe“ country
      This is, I’d say the most general misconception, which has no founding in any statistic or fact. It probably has something to do with the past political demonization of the Serbian people in western media, who were pictured like bad guys holding knives in their mouths and roasting babies, which has, of course, nothing to do with reality. This is not something you have to take my word for, it’s enough just to ask ANYONE who has actually been in Serbia recently, and was simply blown away by the hospitality he received and the traditions of the people he met. Even official recommendations of western governments do not support this myth, and classify Serbia among the safest countries of Europe, in the same risk category like any western EU country. For example http://travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories (click on the interactive map for a quick comparison of Serbia to other countries) – the data is updated regularly, so all recent developments are taken into consideration.

      Serbia is in the green category - just like Germany or Austria
      Serbia is in the green category – just like Germany or Austria

      So, you’re NOT going to be robbed by road bandits disguised as the police, your 4×4 is NOT going to be stolen or burgled the moment you walk away for a short hike, and you can walk the streets of Serbian towns safely, unarmed, even in the middle of the night! There’s no need to take any more security precautions than you would in your home country (as a matter of fact, it may even be safer), so just take it easy and relax  😎

    2. What about the landmines?
      This is actually one of the funniest questions I regularly receive, and the source of it can be only complete ignorance about the wars in the Balkans in the 1990s. A risk of landmines can only exist in the territories where wars were actually taking place, and there were NO WARS IN SERBIA IN THE 90S. The wars were taking place on the territories of Bosnia and Croatia, so in those neighbouring countries there are certain areas that still pose a mine risk (but all well marked, and known), but NONE whatsoever in Serbia! The only war activities that were taking place in Serbia was the NATO bombing campaign in 1999, which was largely concentrated on the positions of Serbian troups in Kosovo. So after that a certain risk of unexploded cluster bombs remained only in the bordering area with Kosovo, but even that has been cleared in recent years. Anyway, we’re NOT conducting our 4×4 tours in Kosovo or anywhere near affected military installations, so the „risk“ of landmines in our tours is a clean 0%, just as it would be in Romania, Bulgaria or Greece.
    3. The migrant crisis is a considerable risk, isn’t it?
      Again, this is media inducted hype, which has no foundation in reality. The dramatic images from the borders shown in TV, with the police clashing with the migrants make one feel uneasy, but the media simply have to put things out of proportion to gain their ratings. Yes, Serbia is the country that most migrants pass through on their way to western Europe, and there is a considerable number of them in the refugee camps and on the borders, but the vast majority of those people travel along main roads, and cross borders near official border crossings. High up in the mountains where we conduct our tours there’s almost no chance of meeting any of them. Besides, 99% of those people are unarmed, and friendly, so there’s no risk of harm coming from them, either while moving, or camping. So to put things short, I’d say the answer to the question above is NO.
    4. What about the prohibited areas?
      „Prohibited“ areas? Here is another funny question 🙂 . I know of no such areas in Serbia. Even the biggest military base, Pasuljanske livade, can freely be driven through whenever military activities are not taking place. You can even move without restrictions through national parks, with the only exception being very few strict natural reservations, which form an insignificant percentage of the territory of Serbia. In fact there are much, much fewer restrictions on free 4×4 movement in Serbia than ANYWHERE in the EU countries – with all the nature protection EU laws, the EU countries are truly a „concentration camp“ for offroaders compared to Serbia. When you get here, you’re simply going to be overwhelmed with the freedom of movement just about ANYWHERE you desire. And not only movement, but also the possibility of wild camping, including the ability to make campfires (taking the safety precautions, of course – nature needs to be protected in Serbia just like anywhere else). After a week in Serbia, going home will seem like returning to jail for you  😉
    5. Why would I spend my vacation in Serbia? There’s nothing interesting there
      It’s enough just to take a quick peek into our photo album to find out just how much you’re wrong! Of course, it’s not your fault that you don’t know anything about Serbia – the tourist marketing of the country in recent years was a catastrophy. But you can become one of the privileged, who discovered all the beautiful mountains, rivers, lakes and forests, the ever changing wild landscape of the country, that falls in the same category with it’s attractions like our more promoted neighbours such as Romania or Montenegro. Just try it, and you’ll return for more!  😎
    6. What about the health risks? Should I use water filters?
      Serbian mountain springs are among the cleanest in Europe, and you can safely drink the water from them as it is, without additional filtering or decontamination. There are no diseases you have to fear while moving through the wilderness, and no vaccination precautions in effect – it’s a European country, with a 100% European ecosystem.
    7. Should I fear wild animals while camping?
      No, you shouldn’t. You’re not in Africa or Asia, so there are no big, dangerous predators here. Serbia actually has a big population of wolves (which is rapidly increasing due to the human depopulation of the rural areas), and also a small number of bears (most of which are concentrated in the Tara national park), but none of them are a threat to humans camping in the wild. All wild animals in Serbia fear humans, considering them to be the most dangerous predator of all (which is actually true). In fact, the further in the wilderness you choose your camping spot, the safer you are!
    8. Who’s going to travel all the way there? It would take ages!
      Are you sure? With only about 1000 km from Germany, and much less from Austria or Italy, on modern highways (which exist either through Hungary or Croatia) you’ll be in Serbia in notime! Serbia is just as close to western Europe as Romania, and closer than Albania or Greece, which are popular 4×4 destinations. It’s well worth the effort of a day’s drive to spend a week or two in the majestic Serbian scenery.
    9. I’ve heard that Serbia has bad fuel quality… What if I damage my engine there?
      Stories about „bad fuel quality“ can be often heard, but are NEVER substantiated by any evidence. Every time an independent lab tests fuel quality in Serbia, they come up with results that prove that it is up to European standards. Anyway, people in Serbia also buy and drive modern cars with sensitive engines, and have no fuel issues nevertheless.
    10. How much Serbian money will I need and where do I get it? What if I get ripped off with the exchange rate?
      Relax… You’re not going to some canibal tribe, but to a normal, modern European country, where the financial system works just the way you’re used to at home. That means that you can pay with all major credit / debit cards either for fuel, food or accomodation, needing almost no cash at all. You’ve got ATM machines everywhere a bank can be found (and even outside banks in tourist resorts). If you do want to exchange some „solid“, paper Euros for RSD (Serbian dinars), it is best to do it in the official exchange offices which can be found in every Serbian town – they will give you better exchange rate than either banks or hotel reception desks (the difference between the buying and selling rate is in the range of 2%).

So, those were the 10 most frequent issues that keep people away from Serbia. Still not convinced? Feel free to leave a comment on this post, or write me an e-mail – I’d be glad to answer additional questions! The very interesting ones may be used for an update to this article.

See you in Serbia!  😎

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