• Photo of Frog Lake in the Pirin Mountains of Bulgaria
  • Photo of the Seven Lakes Basin in the Rila Mountains of Bulgaria
  • Photo of hikers at Popovo Ezero (Priest Lake) in the Pirin Mountains of Bulgaria
  • Photo of frescoes at Rila Monastery, Bulgaria

Hiking in Bulgaria

Hikes in the Rila and Pirin Mountains

Printable version of trip itinerary

Bulgaria Slide Show

Mountains of Bulgaria video

Come to the edge of Europe and discover exotic Bulgaria! The trails of the Rila and Pirin National Parks will take you into the heart of some of the wildest mountain scenery left on the continent. Follow paths through streamside meadows and groves of pine. Ascend to gem-like lakes cupped in mountain basins, and revel in the joy of a ridgetop walk where you can let the mountain breezes sweep your cares away. Deep in a forested valley, contemplate the frescoes that grace the walls and ceilings of the Rila Monastery, a testimony to the pride and faith of the Bulgarian people. Under an ancient grape vine, immerse yourself in the palpable peace of Rozhen Monastery. Wander amidst the strange sandstone pinnacles of the sun-soaked Melnik badlands. Enjoy walks to Bulgarian mountain villages, and savor the pleasure of an overnight stay in a restored village kashta. In a traditional Bulgarian mehana, fine food, drink, and music cap off your adventure-filled days. Introduce yourself to Bulgaria; a warm welcome awaits you!

Day 1
Overnight in Govedartsi
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
From central Sofia, the bulk of Mount Vitosha (whose name means “twin peaks”) dominates the view to the south and hints at mountain adventures to come! Enjoy a walking tour of central Sofia including the imposing Aleksandar Nevski Church and the eye-catching Church of St. Nikolai (St. Nicholas). Following the tour of central Sofia, visit the Boyana Church, a World Heritage Site, in the village of Boyana (today a hill suburb of Sofia). The Boyana Church was built within the compound of one of thirty-five fortresses that once defended the city of Sredets (Sofia). The church consists of three buildings dating from the 11th, 13th and 19th centuries. The interior walls of the 13th century structure—the Kayolan Chuch (named after its donor)—are covered with frescoes executed in 1259 in Byzantine style by an anonymous artist. The murals depict 240 figures in 89 scenes and comprise one of the most important collections of medieval paintings in Europe. Boyana’s frescoes have undergone nearly 40 years worth of restoration work. Later in the afternoon, depart Boyana for the Rila Mountains and the village of Govedartsi, your base for two nights.

The Aleksandar Nevski church and the parliament building in central Sofia.

A high country tarn beneath the peak of Deno (center) and Musala (right), Rila National Park.

Day 2
Overnight in Govedartsi
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
Enjoy a choice of hikes in the Rila Mountains from your base in Govedartsi. A three-mile long cable car line lifts you 3,400 vertical feet into the Rila Mountains from its lower station in nearby Borovets. From the cable car’s upper station at Yastrebets Chalet (7,710 ft) enjoy a panorama of Rila’s high peaks. Looking south, you’ll gaze upon the summits of Deno, Irechek, Malka Musala, Musala, and Aleko. A gentle walk through alpine meadows and groves of stunted mugo pines brings you to the still waters of the Musala Lakes. Continue further along a well-built trail to the Aleko Lakes tucked away in a higher basin. A more challenging hiking option continues up the ridge past Ledenoto Ezero (“Icy Lake”) eventually gaining the summit of Musala at 9,597 feet, the highest point in Bulgaria and the entire Balkan Peninsula! From the summit, sweeping views extend to Mount Vitosha to the north and the Pirin Range to the south.

The trail to Musala skirts the shores of the Aleko Lake.

A field of crocus in the Rila Mountains.

Hiking through the Suhiya Rid, Rila National Park.

Day 3
Overnight in Sapareva Banya or Panichishte
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
Enjoy your choice of hikes in the Rila Seven Lakes Basin (Tsirkus Sedemte Rilski Ezera), one of the most splendid high country areas in Bulgaria. Starting from the Pionerska Chalet, hike through woods and meadows to reach the lip of the basin at the Rila Lake Chalet. From here, ascend a grassy, open ridge to the sweeping, “Sound of Music-style” meadow called Suhiya Rid. Below you lies the lake-spangled Seven Lakes Cirque carpeted by flower-filled meadows. All around you rise the snow-flecked ramparts of the Rila Mountains. A gentle walk brings you to the cobalt-blue waters of Bubreka Ezero (“Kidney Lake”). From this point, energetic hikers can ascend further to reach Okoto Ezero (“Eye Lake”), and Sulzata Ezero (“Teardrop Lake”), time and weather permitting. Otherwise, descend into the main part of the basin passing beautiful Bliznaka Ezero (“Twin Lake”), Trilistnika Ezero (“Three Leaf Lake”), and Ribnoto Ezero (“Fish Lake”). Loop back to the Rila Lake Chalet and continue through meadows and woods to return to the trailhead.

Three of the seven Rila Lakes. From front to back: Twin (Bliznaka) Lake, Trefoil (Trilistnika) Lake, Fish (Ribno) Lake.

Rila Monastery.

Day 4
Overnight in Bansko
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
Travel to the Rila Monastery nestled in a deep valley on the western flanks of the Rila Mountains. Portions of the monastery, which was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1983, date to the 14th century though a large portion of the monastery was reconstructed in the 19th century after a devastating fire. The monastery’s five-domed Sveta Borgoroditsa church dates from 1834 and is dedicated to the Birth of the Virgin; the walls and domed ceilings of its external gallery are graced with brilliant frescoes that will take your breath away! You can wander through the impressive 19th century monastery kitchen and beneath the multi-storied, arcaded verandahs that ring the interior of the monastery compound. After lunch, hike to the chapel of St. John of Rila set in lush, deciduous woods on the slopes of the valley. From the chapel, the path descends easily through flowering meadows and woodlands passing the chapel of St. Luke en route. After the hike, depart for the town of Bansko at the foot of the Pirin Mountains. Tonight, a splendid Bulgarian meal awaits at a traditional mehana (“tavern”).

Hiking near the Rila Monastery.

The peak of Vihren (right) as seen from the upper Bunderitsa Valley, Pirin National Park.

Day 5
Overnight in Bansko
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
Start your exploration of the Pirin Mountains with a choice of hikes in the Bunderitsa Valley. Green meadows accented with clumps of pine and picturesque boulders make for joyous walking at the start of the day. After about an hour of walking, arrive at the shores of the Ribno Ezero (“Fish Lake”), the largest lake in the valley nestled against the headwall of the lower Bunderishki Cirque. Proceed further into the mountains heading for the set of lakes that adorns the floor of the upper valley. Perhaps the most beautiful of these, Dulgo Ezero (“Long Lake”), is edged by granite boulders and clumps of mugo pine. Its cobalt waters reflect the grandeur of surrounding peaks including the brilliant limestone summit of Vichren, highest in the Pirin. For a longer hike, continue to the saddle known as Todorina Porta for far-ranging Pirin vistas. Descend into the Vasilashki Cirque and hike through the Demyanitsa valley to trail’s end.

Dulgo Ezero (Long Lake) as seen from the trail to Todorina Porta.

View of Bezbog Lake and Chalet from the trail to Popovo Ezero.

Day 6
Overnight in Bansko
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
Travel by vehicle from Bansko to the Gotse Delchev Chalet in the mountains south of the village of Dobrinishte. From there, a chairlift lifts you through conifer-clad Pirin foothills to the Bezbog Chalet set on the shores of a lovely mountain tarn of the same name. On a serene summer day, the beauty of this little lake (Bezbozhko Ezero) reflecting the surrounding mountain ridges belies its name, Bezbog, meaning “without God,” or “godforsaken.” Magnificent mountain vistas accompany you on the walk from Bezbog Chalet to the Popovo Ezero (“Priest Lake”), one of the most beautiful of Pirin high country lakes whose crystalline waters sparkle in a splendid mountain setting. If you desire, continue up the grassy valley to the south of the lake and ascend steadily to the pass of Zhelezni vrata (“Iron Gate”). From the pass wonderful views extend over the Popovo Cirque (Popovoezeren Tsirkus) to the north while to the south, the small mountain tarn of Argirovo Ezero (“Argir’s Lake”) shimmers below you.

View of Popovo Ezero from the hike to Zhelezni Vrata.

The Bunderitsa Valley en route to Bunderishka Porta.

Day 7
Overnight in Bansko
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
Depart Bansko bound for Melnik. Today you have the option of hiking across the Pirin Mountains via the pass known as Bunderishka Porta. Ascend past the lovely Hvoinato Ezero (“Juniper Lake”) to gain the crest of the range at Bunderishka Porta. Nearby, lie the lovely Georgiiski Ezera (“George Lakes”), a pair of deep blue tarns set in a rocky basin. Descend past the small tarns of the Spanopolski Ezera and on to the Yane Sandanski Chalet in the Popina Luka area on the southwestern slope of the Pirin Range. If you’d rather, you can enjoy a morning hike to Hvoinato Ezero before traveling by vehicle to the Yane Sandanski Chalet to meet up with those hiking across the mountains. Cool your heels at the pretty Popina Luka waterfall before traveling the rest of the way to Melnik by vehicle. Settle in for the night in the picturesque town of Melnik at the heart of a wine-producing region.

The George Lakes (Georgiiski Ezera).

Waterfall at Popina Luka.

Hiking near Melnik.

Day 8
Overnight in Kovachevitsa
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
In the early morning, set out on a short hike to the 18th century Sveti Nikola church, the ruins of a fortress, and the Sveta Zona chapel—all perched atop the bluffs south of Melnik. From atop the bluffs near the Sveta Zona chapel, enjoy classic views over Melnik. If you choose, you can continue through the sandstone pyramids of the Melnik “badlands” to the exquisite Rozhen Monastery. Sit under an ancient grape vine and absorb the special ambiance and tranquility of this place. Retreat to the cool comfort of a mehana in the nearby village of Rozhen for a mid-day meal. After lunch, travel by vehicle across the southern Pirin Range. A serpentine road twists its way to the meadows of Popovo Livadi at the crest of the range before descending to the Mesta River. The road then ascends into the Rhodope Mountains. Your destination is the well-preserved village of Kovachevitsa (3,500 feet above sea level) where you’ll enjoy an overnight stay at a tradtional kashta. Before dinner, wander through the streets of the village and soak up the ambiance of this special place.

Sandstone formations of the Melnik badlands.

I had seen your slide shows, so I wasn’t surprised by the beauty of the mountains. I found the architecture and culture—including music—more stimulating than I had expected.

–NANCY CHAPMAN

A Bulgarian National Revival style house in Melnik.

Houses in Kovachevitsa village.

Day 9
Overnight in Kovachevitsa
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
This morning explore Kovachevitsa village, set on a bench above the gorge of the Kanina River. (The village is filled with fine examples of National Revival architecture and has been named an architectural and historical reserve by the Bulgarian government.) Or, descend into the Kanina River Gorge following an ancient path that will bring you to the outskirts of the Rhodope Mountain village of Osikovo which enjoys a lovely view of the Pirin Range. In the afternoon, travel back to Sofia by vehicle. This evening, enjoy traditional Bulgarian cuisine at a farewell dinner! Your breakfast tomorrow is also included.

Hikers descending into the Kanina Gorge from Kovachevitsa village.

A view of the Pirin Mountains from the trail to Popovo Ezero.

Other Resources

Check out our “photo essay” about hiking to the summits of Musala and Vichren. Read UNESCO’s description of the Pirin National Park World Heritage Site. Learn more about the architecture and art of the World Heritage Boyana Church outside Sofia. The Sofia City Guide is a great little website that “cuts to the chase” with information on the city—things to watch for and watch out for! A great way to familiarize yourself with Bulgaria’s capital city.

Hikers at Suhiya Rid, Rila National Park.

Hiking in the Bunderitsa Valley, Pirin National Park.

Printable version of trip itinerary

Bulgaria Slide Show

Mountains of Bulgaria video

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Photos on this page are by John Osaki (© All Rights Reserved) except as otherwise credited.

Trip Dates
June 16-24, 2017

Price
$3,395

Single supplement
$275. Single accommodations are subject to availability and may be limited.

Meeting Point
Sofia, Bulgaria We suggest you plan your arrival in Sofoa for June 15.

Departure Point
Sofia, Bulgaria. You will be spending the evening of June 24 in Sofia. Please plan your departure from Sofia for June 25.

Accommodations
Ten nights in hotels and inns; all rooms with private bath. Ten breakfasts, nine lunches, and nine dinners are included. Please note that lodging in Sofia for the evening of June 15 is included in the trip price.

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