The destination Banja Luka is a typical "visiting friends and relatives" destination in the route networks of the low-cost airlines Ryanair and Wizz Air. In terms of tourism, the region only plays a subordinate role, since the infrastructure required for mass tourism does not exist. On the way between the airport and the city of Banja Luka, there is a quite interesting thermal hotel in Laktasi.
The region can be reached very easily by air. Ryanair and Wizz Air connect numerous airports in the DA-CH region with the small Banja Luka Airport. There are also connections with Air Serbia via Belgrade. In addition, it is possible to use Zagreb as a destination airport. Various long-distance bus providers, including Flixbus, offer trips to Banja Luka (via Laktasi) several times a day. It should be noted, however, that these do not run from the Croatian capital airport, but from the international bus station. However, there is a paid shuttle bus that operates in Croatia Airlines branding, among others. The travel time between Zagreb and Laktasi or Banja Luka is around 2,5 hours, although the waiting times at the border between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina can inflate the actual travel time. Incidentally, the long-distance bus from Zagreb stops right in front of the entrance to the thermal hotel.
Banja Luka Airport is not publicly connected
If you use the nearby Banja Luka airport for your arrival, you should note that there are no public transport connections. There are simply no bus or train lines connecting the airport with Banja Luka and/or Laktasi. There is an on-demand shuttle bus that needs to be booked in advance, but it's marginally cheaper than a taxi. A classic taxi ride between Banja Luka Airport and Laktasi costs around ten euros. A pre-order is not necessary, as after each landing numerous taxi drivers hope for passengers and are therefore already ready.
The thermal hotel is located about halfway between the airport and the city of Banja Luka. It is embedded in a small park. At the time of the visit, this was in good condition and offered numerous opportunities to linger. Diagonally behind the hotel is the public outdoor pool, which can be used by hotel guests during the summer months at no extra charge. This makes a modern impression and appears to have been renovated only in recent years. The "tickets" for the outdoor pool can easily be picked up at the reception and you don't have to use the general entrance, which would be at the other end of the area, but there is a shortcut for hotel guests.
Historical thermal baths have a special charm
A highlight, however, is the so-called historic thermal baths. This is outside the main building. After a few steps through the park, you reach a building that is somewhat reminiscent of Roman times. This impression continues in the interior, because the design corresponds completely to the construction method in which thermal baths were built centuries ago. In other words: these are so-called circular thermal baths with different depths. The flooring consists of large, rounded stones. The changing rooms are arranged around the pools directly in front of the deckchairs, as was customary in the past.
But anyone who fears entering an old, run-down thermal bath is wrong. At the time of the visit, the historic building was in top condition inside and out and, in particular, immaculately clean. Obviously, temporary closures during the corona pandemic were used to carry out renovations. In any case, one has the impression that it has just been freshly painted. In the historic building there are also solariums, a sauna and the possibility of paying for massages. However, these must be reserved in advance at the reception.
The “actual thermal bath” is located in the main building. It is a pool with warm water that offers an interesting view of the landscape. There are no slides or diving boards, but there are plenty of free loungers and an outdoor terrace to lounge on. The cleanliness and the general condition are very good, but there is one downside: the washroom, in which you are supposed to shower before and after, simply has far too few showers. For whatever reason, many shower facilities have simply been dismantled. The pool is very nice for lingering in the warm water, although the historic thermal baths have a very special charm and are also visited by far fewer guests. Sure, you have to walk a few steps first...
Decent hotel rooms for little money
The hotel itself offers spacious, clean rooms with a terrace or balcony. The room rate includes the use of the thermal baths and the fitness studio. Any treatments such as massages or water aerobics have to be paid extra. In terms of price, however, you have "Bosnian prices", which are well below the level of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Free WiFi is available throughout the facility. This offers acceptable speeds that are roughly on the level that you are used to at home. Streaming is therefore possible without any problems and without restrictions.
The Hotel San Terme Laktasi offers various packages for overnight stays. The cheapest rates include use of the thermal baths and breakfast. However, you can also book half and full board at comparatively low prices or order spontaneously from the menu for a fee. In the vicinity of the hotel there are numerous restaurants offering local specialties at affordable prices. Directly opposite the hotel entrance are several banks with ATMs and a supermarket where you can get pretty much everything you would expect in a supermarket. The prices for water, cola and Co. are of course much lower than in hotels or restaurants. In any case, you should note that you can easily pay with a debit or credit card in the hotel and in the supermarket, but the local gastronomy, the bus from Laktasi to Banja Luka (tickets available from the bus driver), the taxi drivers and so on in most only accept cash in cases. The local currency, the convertible mark, is preferred, but euros are often accepted upon prior request. Any change will be given in local currency.
A second accommodation facility is also attached to the thermal hotel complex. This is located in the entrance area and is called Hostel Banja Laktasi. As the name suggests: It is not a hotel, but a hostel, i.e. a youth hostel. The standard is much lower here, but the accommodation prices are extremely low. Here, too, the use of the thermal baths is usually included.
Banja Luka Airport is very small
If you use Banja Luka Airport for the journey home, you should pay attention to a few special features. The airport is very small and does not have many flights per day. However, you notice very clearly when a fully occupied A320 or a 737 is being handled. So it can get tight and even tighter if there are two or more machines at the same time. In front of the security check there is a buffet operated by the airport itself, which offers snacks and drinks at comparatively very reasonable prices. There is also a tobacconist. After security and passport control, the highlight of the infrastructure is the toilet.
There are no shops and certainly no gastronomy. You should definitely take this into account, although there is nothing wrong with going through security and passport control very closely for boarding. The few gates are located directly behind them anyway. On the positive side, Banja Luka Airport gives out free water in the security area. Depending on the number of passengers, water dispensers and disposable cups or water bottles are offered for free use. By the way: Anyone hoping for a "cool lounge" is completely wrong in Banja Luka. There simply aren't any.
Little focus on international tourists
The Republic of Srpska, which is part of Bosnia-Herzegovina, may not be on the radar of many as a holiday destination. Especially not when it comes to a spa holiday. However, the thermal baths in Laktasi have a lot to offer for comparatively little money. The condition of the entire facility is on a level that is on par with that you get in Austria. The main difference is that the prices are significantly lower. For "locals" the operation is about as expensive as for Austrians local thermal baths.
The fact that the potential to attract foreign guests on a large scale has not yet been recognized is obvious. The hotel's website offers neither a German nor an English version. In any case, English isn't a big deal in the entire region, since this foreign language is hardly spoken locally. The German language skills of many are considerable and some even speak almost accent-free German and do so with great pleasure and pride. An older waiter told us in a bar that he had worked in production at Porsche in Stuttgart for almost 40 years and was now helping out in his son's restaurant when he was in retirement when there was a shortage of staff.
Bookings in the thermal hotel are usually the cheapest directly, especially since the prices on the homepage are published in the local currency. There is no "booking engine"; it is a classic request form. But it never hurts to ask for "specials" by phone or e-mail. You can easily ask in German, because it's much easier to get where you want to be than in English. Anyone who speaks the locally dominant Serbian language can also communicate in it.
Conclusion: Sensational value for money
The thermal hotel offers a surprising amount for comparatively little money. The fact that the potential of the low-cost airlines, which are highly subsidized by the local government of the Republic of Srpska, has not yet been recognized is more of an advantage for guests, because the prices have not (yet) gone through the roof. In other places in this region of Europe, it can be observed that with the arrival of more international guests, prices have also increased gradually but sharply. In some places, these have reached a level that is almost unaffordable for the local population. This is not yet the case in Laktasi.
All flights offered from/to Banja Luka are mainly used by people who come from this region but work in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and other countries. This is the VFR traffic mentioned at the beginning. Due to lavish subsidies, low costers often get very cheap tickets, so that a thermal spa weekend in Laktasi is extremely attractive in terms of price, since accommodation including thermal spa and meals are comparatively much cheaper than in Austria. In any case, the quality is right and anyone who wants to try something "new" should give Laktasi a chance.
Using Banja Luka Airport for arrival and departure is highly recommended as it is only a short taxi ride from Laktasi. Unfortunately, there is no regular bus service to the airport, which fits in with the overall picture that you play almost no role in international tourism. Zagreb Airport is definitely an alternative, but it should be noted that you have to first take a shuttle bus or a taxi to the bus station and then use Flixbus or other local providers to get to Laktasi. The bus stop is right in front of the hotel entrance. If you want to make a combined trip, Zagreb + Therme, it can be ideal to use Banja Luka as an airport in one direction and Zagreb in the other. You don't have to be "afraid" of the long-distance buses either, they are modern coaches that are on exactly the same level as in Germany and Austria. Strange, but unfortunately true: the bus ride between Zagreb and Laktasi can be more expensive than the plane tickets...