Nestled among soul-stirring mountains, picturesque lakes, and golden beaches, Bulgaria is a melting pot of natural wonders.
The Balkan country, located in Southeastern Europe’s geographical area, is a key land between the Old Continent and the Middle East. Its historical heritage and diverse terrain make Bulgaria the perfect playground for an unforgettable hiking trip. The country’s extensive system of hiking trails and mountain huts open throughout the year offer you easy access to a majesty of landscapes. Whether you are looking for a heart-racing experience on Pirin’s ridges, a breathtaking hike in Rila or a mystical dive in the Rhodope Mountains, this small country offers it all.
Photos courtesy of Tzvetelina Ignatova
So where is it?
Bulgaria is a Balkan country situated in the Southeast part of Europe. Its neighbouring countries are Romania to the north, Macedonia and Serbia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, and the entire east coast borders with the Black Sea. Even though it is a fairly small country, its diverse terrain offers a beguiling blend of natural wonders. The geographical location has ensured its long and colourful history. As you roam around you will come across dramatic mountain ranges, Roman ruins, incredible forests and medieval villages. Here are some of the most iconic places this land of adventure has to offer…
Rila Mountain Range
Rila is the highest mountain range in Bulgaria. Home to the Balkan’s highest peak, Musala (2925m), and to the famous Seven Rila Lakes, and hosts two major hikes. Just 100km away from the capital awaits the beginning of the emblematic Skakavitsa Waterfall, Seven Rila Lakes to Malyovitsa trek. With huts open along the way all year round, you can then hike it in two or three days depending on your level of fitness and pace. Witness some of the rituals for peace and prosperity of the local White Brotherhood who believe that the area around the lakes draw divine energy, then dive into the mecca of alpinism in the Malyovitsa range.
Rila is a great way to experience both the natural beauty and the rich cultural heritage of the region. You can enjoy magnificent mountain sceneries on horseback or bike while rafting or challenge yourself by hiking up the highest peak in the Balkans.
The starting point of the second major trek is the popular Borovetz ski resort. On your way up to Musala (2925m), you could spend the night at the footstep of the peak at Ledeno Ezero hut (2710m). Another option would be Musala hut (2398m) for an easier start. Once you reach the top of the Balkans, the trek continues to huts Granchar and Ribni Ezera with the final stop at the biggest and most famous Rila Monastery. It takes about 4 days with about 6 hours of hiking a day, yet it could be done both faster and at a slower pace.
Rila is an extremely friendly place for hikers, rich in water basins and with perfect options for pitching tents along the way.
The Pirin National Park, noted for its rich flora and fauna, is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name of the mountain originates from the name Perun – the Slavonic god of thunder and lightning. And you are bound to be struck by its beauty. It compromises predominantly of coniferous forests and limestone rock. With its numerous natural phenomena and breath-taking views, Pirin offers hiking routes with different duration and difficulty, yet equally fascinating and unforgettable.
Challenge yourself by hiking up Vihren Peak (2914m) to enjoy the view towards a field of pointed peaks. Feel the adrenaline rush at Koncheto (the small horse), a knife-edged ridge between the peaks Banski Suhodol (2884m) and Kutelo (2908m). The name presumably comes from stories of inexperienced tourists who crossed the ridge by straddling it like a horse and crawling to the other side. Nowadays there is a metal rope installed for support, so you don’t have to worry about your horseback skills. It is truly an experience that you will hold in your memories for years to come.
For those of you who prefer your levels of adrenaline down on the low, but would like to feed your soul with picturesque views, the mountain range offers a variety of trails that would fit your preference. Here too, you can enjoy mountain biking, rafting or bird watching. A light hike away from Bansko ski resort and you can rest your eyes upon the 1350-year-old Baykuchevata Macedonian pine tree.
Rhodope Mountain Range
The Rhodope Mountain range is perfect for family trips. Far from the jaw-dropping ridges of Prin and Rila, Rhodope offers another type of thrill. Home of legends, it is a fairytale mosaic of green forests, emerald dams, breathtaking meadows and bizarre rock formations such as the Karadzhov Boulder and the Stone Mushrooms formations.
The Rhodope mountain offers a vast amount of options for hikers from trails of a few hours to ones that could take up to 5-6 days. Passing by waterfalls, the marvellous rock formation of Chudnite Mostove, peaks such as Mechi Chal and Persenk, Orpheus’ Rocks and onwards – the Hvoina trail is the longest eco-trail in the country. The whole trek would take up to 6 days, but it could easily be broken down into sections.
The Rhodope range offers hikes with softer ups and downs, and while there is an extensive network of trails and huts, the latter are far from well maintained. You can enhance your trip by staying in local guest houses where you will feel the warm welcoming hearts of the locals and taste homemade traditional dishes.
Enjoy a bike or a wine tasting tour. Marvel at the wonderful variety of species, among which is the globally threatened Egyptian vulture. Visit the Devil’s Throat Cave or if you’d prefer the Devil’s Bridge. Travel back in time by visiting the old city of Perperikon. The Rhodope offers it all.
The Balkan Mountains
This is a 560km mountain range that separates Bulgaria into two parts – southern and northern. Known also as Stara Planina, which means Old Mountain, it is, in fact, the youngest one.
For those of you who want to test their endurance, The Balkans is home to the Bulgarian part of the European trail E3. Starting at peak Kom crossing the entire range only to reach horn Emine, this is the most eminent hiking route in the country. Some 650km of adventure, more than 100 peaks and over 21 passes, with a total denivelation of 24,000m, it is an experience that could easily change your life. With a daily dose of 20-40km (5-8 hours), for around 20 days, the Kom-Emine trail is a challenge to both mind and body.
If you prefer something shorter, Mount Botev (2367m) is the highest and most popular peak on the range. With a starting point at Pleven hut, a steep rise passing close to the reserve of Severen Dzendem will take you to the top. Descending towards Tuza hut, it is a 6-hour day of effort. From Tuza Hut to the geographic centre of the country, Uzana, an 8-hour hike will lead you through three biodiversity reserves: The Singing Rocks, Falcon, The Deer Forest, continuing to the lodge of Mazalat and Korita peak.
Stara Planina is perfect for combining an outdoor experience with a first-hand one of the country’s rich history and culture. Gorgeous waterfalls, mystic caves, and monumental monasteries are all nestled in the range.
One day trips offer treks along the Vratsa Gorge with its cathedral-like rock walls, or a travel back in time by visiting the Etar – an open-air ethnographic complex presenting Revival-style architecture and typical crafts related to this period.