The River Una: Cave Diving in Bosnia Herzegovina

The third dimension, a Bosnian experience

Cave divers are like rock-face climbers; their purpose is the same, only in the opposite direction, with one difference. Cave-diving is about as extreme as it gets.

"In a cave you are surrounded by velvet darkness and an unnatural silence, leaving you with a distinct impression that the fish can hear your heartbeat."

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It’s a very Zen experience and the next thing to absolute oblivion. You are quite literally in a parallel universe, totally removed from reality. If its peace and quiet and isolation you’re looking for, this is the place to be.

Cave diving is not about discovering what there is but determining what there isn’t. In a cave you are surrounded by velvet darkness and an unnatural silence, leaving you with a distinct impression that the fish can hear your heartbeat.

To a virgin cave diver, it looks somewhat frightening as this is a completely different type of diving, with different equipment. It appears somewhat dangerous too as there are no shotline attachments.

“The reason for this is pretty straight forward,” says Zeljko Mirkovic, of Una-Aquarius, a Speleologist, with numerous diving and instructor qualifications. If a cave diver is hoisted to the surface in an emergency, it could cause a further crisis as the dangers of becoming entangled is great. And of course there are the caves themselves - seldom are they straight up. Also, being tied to a line limits a diver’s movement and could have serious consequences if he is trying to sort out other problems.

For those who dream of travelling through time, the caves and the pits of the River Una are priceless, rich in unique aquatic flora and fauna.  “The River Una represents a primeval beauty only a few have seen,” says Zeljko, “Sometimes she is shallow, other times bottomless, often wild with unpredictable raging rapids, then at once, tranquil and at peace with nature.

But she is always beautiful and serene with cascading waterfalls and little pockets of quiet splendour. The Una is, I think, a little like a Latino woman - wild and reckless and full of surprises and at the same time desirable and evocative, only occasionally allowing you to think that you have conquered her.”

Una’s beauty can never be fully captured with a paintbrush; and a camera lens does her no justice, as her beauty extends beyond the visual. “She needs her emerald waters to be stroked, she needs you to smell the nettles of the blacks pines and inhale the scent of virgin nature, watch her re-dress herself as the daylight begins to fade, and watch the sun dance on her coat of diamonds at sunset,” says Zeljko. “Sometimes one wonders where she derives her beauty from, whose soul she carries and what is beneath her surface.”

Undeniably, the Una’s outer beauty captures all who meet her. But her inner beauty is a world of silence and secrets. For millions of years, the Una hid her other dimension, the one where the river’s dynamics have laboriously shaped, moulded and worn away the submerged landscape.

To understand her underwater splendour is to experience her currents and see them wash over the limestone rocks and sway the narrow fronds of underwater plants, playing with her riverbed sand, moving it here and there, like the desert winds move dunes. But this is only a small part of the Una. When gazing into her depths, you will periodically catch a glimpse of peculiar underwater figures and lustrous green stars glistening in the late afternoon sun—some call it a parallel universe where all her creatures live in harmony.

Some of Una’s children are large, like her 10kg Trout and the Grayling, indigenous to Bosnia, and the 25kg Huchen, fresh-water crayfish, and small insects like the Efemerela ignita, the Human fish (Proteus Anguinus), and the large assortment of ornamental underwater plants, which all bear witnesses to Europe’s cleanest river.

But these are only some of the abundant life-forms found in the Una. Many remain undiscovered and unrecorded. Una’s underwater world has remained hidden from the world for centuries and the native experts are cautious about divulging her secrets. “Perhaps the Una is ready for a fresh diversion, a new play-mate or two, in exchange for a glimpse at her most secret of places,” says Zeljko, a man clearly passionate about nature.

For more information, contact: Una-Aquartius, Bosanska 22, 77000 Bihaæ, Unsko-sanski kanton, Bosnia Herzegovina or visit: