Young Pioneer Tours

Visiting Zeljava Airbase, Croatia’s Underground Military Airbase

Photos wechat joel

During our latest epic adventure tour through the Balkans, I received a vague tip-off about a vast underground military air base, long abandoned since the outbreak of the Yugoslav wars. I was immediately interested, but soon found out that for obvious reasons, entry to the site was apparently off limits, not to mention that is was still surrounded by some active minefields.

But undeterred, I made a few phone calls and it did not take long to arrange a fixer who promised that they were able to get us in. We were to meet our driver at 9am the next day.

Our group woke up early and excited, we grabbed breakfast and waited at the pickup point. But 9am came and went. I began to think our fixer had backed out, but soon enough, he appeared albeit heavily hungover but we were soon on our way into the Croatian wilderness as heavy snow began to fall. On route, we passed through a town that had taken the brunt of some heavy fighting during the Yugoslav wars. No houses or structures had escaped unscathed from a barrage of assault rifle and artillery fire. Turning a corner, we discovered a mass of tanks, an incredible MiG fighter jet mounted in mid air contrasted with a destroyed MiG opposite, and strange looking bullet riddled armoured cars which we soon discovered were tractors and turnip trucks that had been improvised with heavy armour plating and machine guns. The backdrop to this display was an array of bombed buildings. We wasted no time in exploring all of these now abandoned killing machines and getting some great photos.

We moved on and after a short drive, civilisation began to disappear. Our driver stopped the car right at a lonely border checkpoint, which was eerily void of vehicles and people but made up for with a large array of stray dogs. He ran into a blockhouse, presumably to smooth over our imminent visit to the base, he returned and we were on our way. Driving down dirt tracks, we pressed against the windows of our bus on the sight of a huge, bullet-riddled military cargo plane left abandoned in the trees, vowing to return later and explore it. We soon found ourselves driving on miles of open, abandoned runway and took a sharp turn, through the trees was the hidden entrance to a vast underground airbase, reminiscent of the base from Thunderbirds, minus the mobile palm trees.

Excitedly jumping out of the van, I turned around to find myself face to face with some, very stealthy, local armed police, who had silently been tailing us. They demanded ID and a native speaker, luckily our driver knew how to handle them and with a warning not to enter the minefields a few metres away, they surprisingly left us alone to explore. Inside the base was a welcome rest from the heavy snow and we were blown away by its vast size once inside, it had four entrances, one of which exits in Bosnian territory and is obviously not advised to exit from. The base had an almost Chernobyl like feel to it and felt as if it had been evacuated yesterday. Inside we found abandoned MiG fighter jets, wings, wheels and cockpit equipment, office equipment and military drawings as well as the odd abandoned missile left on the ground. We spent hours exploring every fascinating part of this complex. This was urban exploration at its finest!

Our bunker exit was different to the entrance, this one was shaped for a MiG fighter to launch out of, it was unique and made for some great photos. Outside on the runway, we wasted no time getting some photo ops next to the landmine signs and having the runway to ourselves. With our fixer getting edgy about being out on the open runway for too long, we moved on to our next stop, the abandoned cargo plane!

The plane didn’t disappoint, we sound clambered inside and explored and soon discovered that the rudder could still be controlled and moved from side to side. Again, we wasted no time in taking lots of awesome photographs all over the plane. Completely satisfied with the ultimate day of urban exploring, we began the drive back through stunning scenery and rounded the day off with some incredible local food!


After months of research, our new June Balkan Badlands tour takes us on an epic journey through the most wild countries of the Balkans. The tour kick starts in Croatia with a visit to this abandoned airbase and then takes in five countries in 12 days, taking us on a wild road trip through Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania, a melting pot of countries who have all been at the forefront of modern history and still bear the scars.

Taking in edgy arms markets in Albania, firing Kalashnikovs, exploring vast nuclear bunkers and underground bases, sites of genocide, war damage and mass bombing campaigns, and not to mention unique, stunning scenery! The Balkan Badlands tour guarantees to be a mind blowing tour!

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