Rila Mountains, Bulgaria

We landed at the Sofia airport on a cool October afternoon and made a beeline for the Sixt car rental counter. We’d booked a car for seven days for 107€. After some issues with the first car’s engine (thankfully I’m a wary traveler and knew not to take the car that was violently shaking when started), my husband and I were off to the Rila mountains. The drive was pleasantly smooth and road signs were usually in both the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets.

We arrived at the Rila Monestary at 5 p.m. and asked about staying in the monastery itself. It took a few minutes and all of our horrible Bulgarian language skills, but we did it. We met one of priests who lives at the monastery and he gave us the option of a room with a shower (25BGN per person) or without a shower (20BGN per person). We chose the latter to save a little money. The room had 5 cots, a table and chairs, and a sink. There were also some beautiful carved wooden wardrobes and a lovely painted ceiling. While the room had electricity, it did not have heat. The temperature that evening dropped to 44 degrees Fahrenheit. We made due by sleeping under all of the wool blankets from the five cots and wearing a lot of clothes.

This is the church in the center of the Rila monastery.
This is the church in the center of the Rila monastery.
IMG_0177-rila
Our room at the monastery.

The monastery does not offer meals, so we walked over to Hotel Tzarev Vrah (through the North gate of the monastery) for dinner and breakfast the next morning. The food was tasty, although nothing to rave about, and the prices were reasonable. We split a generous sized shopska salad, each ordered a meat dish, each had a drink (beer and wine), and split a rakia for about 31BGN total.

While in the area, we hiked to the Seven Lakes. If you are in Bulgaria, you need to do this. It’s one of the most beautiful and magical places I have ever been. To get there, we drove to the chair lift. We had planned to take the chair lift instead of hiking the 1.5 hours but we found out that it only runs on the weekends outside of summertime. Our other option was to take a ride in a Jeep from a man that hangs out nearby for this exact reason. We decided to do it as it was already 1 p.m. and we wanted to make the hike that day. The Jeep ride, round-trip for two people, was 50BGN. This is definitely not budget friendly but we went for it. Once we got up to the top of the ski lift, the man with the Jeep gave us his card and told us to call him when we were ready to come back down the mountain.

The center sign is for the chair lift. This should also get you close to the trailhead for the Seven Lakes.
The center sign is for the chair lift. This should also get you close to the trailhead for the Seven Lakes.

We started the hike up the hill, then the path flattened out for about 30 minutes. From here, you can see three or four of the lakes. We then hiked another 45 minutes up a rocky mountainside. It took us about two hours from the top of the chair lift to the point above all seven lakes. If we were to hike from the bottom of the ski lift, round-trip it would have been a seven hour hike. We made our way back down to the Rilski Ezera Hut and hopped in the Jeep. I do want to make it clear that the Jeep ride was incredibly bumpy and unnerving for those who are not use to off-roading. While in reality the ride down took only 25 minutes, it seemed to take forever as I feared we would tip over. I also want to note that the Rilski Ezera Hut seemed to be closed for the season, but I cannot be sure of this.

After hiking, we spent a few minutes in the car to make a plan of where to stay that night. It was 5 p.m. and we didn’t have accommodations. We picked a guesthouse room (40BGN a night for a double room with bathroom, balcony, and access to a communal kitchen) on Booking.com in the town of Sapareva Banya. The room was lovely, as was the owner of the guesthouse. We only stayed one night but this would have been an ideal base for exploring the Sapareva Banya area.

The next day we packed up into our VW Polo and headed back up the mountain to find the trail head for Skakavitsa waterfall. This was hard to find, but we did it! We parked at the Zeleni Preslap Guesthouse (Google Зелени Преслап to find the location or follow this link to the Booking.com for the location) and walked up the trail that kind of looks like a gravel road. In high season, you might want to ask about leaving your car there but in mid-October there were only two cars there and no people. From the guesthouse parking lot, the hike to the Skakavitsa Hut took one hour. Once again, it seemed like the Skakavitsa Hut was closed for the season but I cannot be sure. From the hut to the waterfall is another 30 minutes. While the trail starts off very flat and road-like, it makes a turn and you are quickly in a pine forest. From there, it’s all uphill to the hut. Both the Seven Lakes and Skakavitsa hikes were some of my favorite experiences in Bulgaria. They were well worth the effort and energy. If we had more time, I would have loved to stay in one of the huts overnight.

Look for signs like this along the hiking trails.
Look for signs like this along the hiking trails.
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Rila Mountains, Bulgaria

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