Being the first collective of nations to bar tourism in the wake of Covid, Europe is ironically paving the way for the reinstatement of international travel and pushing for pre-pandemic normality. More than half of the continent has dropped Covid entry requirements, and along its Eastern front, the Balkans have become the most-restriction free area in the world.
Especially after major setbacks like Omicron, the continent’s barriers were put up high and complex travel rules made it virtually impossible for many to visit. Even though the Balkans have always had a more relaxed approach to Covid, with countries like Croatia and Albania for the best part, the whole peninsula has now decided to abolish entry curbs fully.
These are wonderful news, considering that navigating Covid rules while crossing the Balkans’ borders was extremely challenging before:
What Are The Balkans?
Geographically, the Balkans are a peninsula in Eastern Europe comprising 12 countries. 9 of those are located almost entirely in the peninsula, including Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia, and Bulgaria. Also included are parts of Slovenia and Romania, the Greek mainland, and European Turkey.
Politically, the term ‘The Balkans’ traditionally refers to modern states that were once aligned with Post-War Communism, including those that were once part of a wider, now-defunct country called Yugoslavia (Croatia, BiH, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Slovenia), and then Albania, Romania, and Bulgaria.
The Balkans Are Open For Travel
Irrespective of what definition of the Balkans you use – whether it’s the purely geographical or political – this region is entirely open for tourism, irrespective of nationality or vaccination status. From the castle-dotted, alpine peaks of Westernmost Slovenia, to Easternmost Turkey’s vibrant metropolises, the Balkans have no restrictions in place whatsoever.
Even though other European countries have also reopened, some in the West have staunchly refused to drop all rules. That is the case with France and Portugal, which still require at least one type of Covid certification from a majority of travelers. As it is open, and geographically being a group of 12 states, the Balkans are officially the freest region in the world for travelers right now.
As can be seen on IATA’s Covid-19 Travel Regulations Map, the Balkan Freedom Bubble, as we are dubbing it, is clearly the easiest zone to country-hop at the moment:
Crossing Borders In The Balkans Is As Easy As Ever
Even if you have your heart set on visiting a single country, such as Croatia, it is very likely you will end up crossing a border or two. As Balkan states are tiny, in most cases you will be passing through other countries to reach your final destination, which makes country-hopping across the peninsula super easy – especially when driving.
For example, when using Dubrovnik as your entry point into the Balkans, you will likely pass through a section of Bosnia and Herzegovina to reach other hotspots in Croatia, such as Split or Zadar. That is because Bosnia’s only access to the sea separates Dubrovnik from the rest of Croatia’s coast by a 9 km stretch.
While this may sound exciting for those looking to tick off as many countries as possible, crossings in the region can be a very unpleasant experience when there is traffic. During Covid it was a big hassle, as each Balkan country had set out their own entry guidelines: being allowed into Croatia did not necessarily mean you would be granted entry into Bosnia.
Now, the whole peninsula has re-established pre-pandemic entry guidelines, and you are free to travel the Balkan countries extensively without having to worry about testing for Covid prior to a border crossing, or even presenting a vaccine pass. Traveling from Croatia to Bosnia, then Croatia again, ending up in Slovenia or vice-versa is as easy as ever.
All Are Welcome Irrespective Of Covid Status
In sum, there are:
- No pre-departure tests, irrespective of vaccination
- No vaccination requirements
- No recovery letter for the unvaccinated
- No post-arrival tests
- No mandatory quarantine
- No other health-related entry requirement
Countries that have at least a part of their territory in the Balkans, and that are open for travel are the following:
- Albania (100% in the Balkans)
- Bosnia and Herzegovina (100%)
- Bulgaria (100%)
- Kosovo (100%)
- Montenegro (100%)
- North Macedonia (100%)
- Greece (83.7%)
- Serbia (65.8%)
- Croatia (42.4%)
- Slovenia (24.7%)
- Romania (4.6%)
- Turkey (3%)
- Italy (0.1%)*
*Italy, yet another country that has removed all entry requirements recently, also has 0.1% of its territory in the Balkan Peninsula.
Even though all of the above countries are again welcoming tourists, we advise you to read more on the History of the Balkans and plan your trip accordingly, as some countries – particularly Serbia and Kosovo – still have unresolved conflicts that may affect travelers. The definition of ‘Balkans’ used on this article has been mostly the geographical one.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com