We were sitting on a bench in front of our hostel in Zagreb, while our new friend Iva zoomed in and out on my phone on Google maps: “The Zeljava air base should be here. Don't accidentally cross the border to Bosnia”. Seeing my confused stare she added “Exits one to three are in Croatia, exit four is Bosnia Herzegovina. Don't take exit four. And bring your ID, the police will come, but you will be fine”.
I was seriously doubting our idea of visiting this air base. It sounded too cool though:
The Zeljava air base is an old underground airport and military air base of the former Yugoslavia. It's a construction of four huge tunnels, each made to have enough space for several airplanes. They run a total length of 3.5km. Topside, there are five runways.
The reason that the police usually shows up, is that the tunnel could also be used by immigrants trying to
enter the EU from Bosnia.
Although Iva's description intimidated us, J and I decided to at least have a look.
The drive from Zagreb took us about two hours, where we got to see some of Croatia's country side, which is worth a trip by itself. We were actually on our way to Plitvice National Park, which is right next to it, so we decided to combine the two trips (I'll tell you about that in my next post).
Iva had also told us about an abandoned American airplane close to the air base. It's simply standing in a
field next to the road and is all open, so you can easily climb in. Someone actually built a ladder from
scrap wood, which we used to climb onto one of the wings.
Getting into the actual airplane looked tricky, but since the windows didn't have glass any more, we could
climb through one of them. Inside you can step onto the beams and walk all the way into the cockpit.
We spent at least half an hour in there, looking at all the rusty old things and taking pictures.
We decided to take another way out and jumped off the loading area. It's not that high and I only ripped
my jeans a little bit.
While I was waiting for J to jump, a police car pulled up next to the plane. I assumed that we'd get into
trouble for climbing around on it, but the two gentlemen were super friendly, just checked our ID and told
us to be aware of the land mines.
Oh, I forgot to mention the mines: Just stay on the road and you'll be fine.
From there it's only about a kilometre to the base. We only realised that we were there once we were standing on one of the landing strips.
To get into the tunnels, we had to climb a small hill, which was put there so people couldn't drive their cars
inside. Once we were standing on the hill looking in, we both had the same thought: “We should have
brought a bigger lamp”.
We only had our phones, which didn't really help. As the space is so big, they didn't have anything to shine
on. There are holes in the floor and metal dangling from the ceiling, so we only walked in as far as we
could see, but it was already pretty exciting.
These rooms are massive and pitch black after only a couple of metres.
If you have a big lamp, you can walk into one of the tunnels and use another one to get out.
After our eyes got used to the light again, we drove up one of the landing strips all the way to the end,
which feels amazing if you're driving a tiny car instead of sitting in a big airplane.
This day was absolutely worth ripping my new pair of shorts!
Thanks Iva for all the advice!
How to get there
+ you will need a car
+ check the map below to get there using gps (I don't think there is an actual adress)
+ the airplane will be on your left side before you pass the blue gate
+ bring your passport, the police will probably show up
+ crossing the border to Bosnia is illegal, just saying
+ if you want to go into the tunnels, you'll need a big ass lamp
+ stay on the roads, there are land mines
+ wear proper shoes and bring some water, there are no shops around
+ the air base is close to the Plitvice National Park and almost half way between Zagreb and Zadar, so it's
in the perfect spot if you want to visit all these places
If you don't want to go alone:
Iva, who told us about this trip works for Swanky Travel. You can meet her at Swanky Mint, the hostel we
stayed at in Zagreb. We did the trip by ourselves, but Iva also offers tours to Zeljava. You can get in touch