Rila is the highest mountain here in Bulgaria which is one of the reasons to attract touristic interest. Don't expect altitude sickness though as it still under 3,000 m. Besides the Musala peak there are a few interesting places in Rila that we'll tell you about.
You don't have to be a rock climber to enjoy visit to Rila - most of the places do not require special equipment except good shoes and warm clothes in the winter.
The Seven Rila Lakes Hut
Musala is the highest peak in Bulgaria standing at 2,925 m (9,596 ft). Despites this it's not hard to climb and a lot of unexperienced tourists go there especially in Summer. There is a lift which will save you a lot of climbing if you wish.
How to get there? It's not too far from Sofia. The easiest way is first to go to Borovets - a popular ski resort with a lot of hotels and attractions (so you can sleep there if you want). The route to Borovets goes through Samokov so if you want to take a bus get a ticket to Samokov. Note that these buses start from the South Bus Station ("Sofia - Yug") and not the central station in Sofia. There is a bus each 30 or 60 minutes. The trip is about 1 hour long.
From Samokov you need to take another bus going to Borovets (a shorter trip). Then take the Gondola lift to Yastrebets. Then follow the marking and in 2-3 hours you will be at the peak.
The Rila Monastery is probably the most popular touristic attraction in Rila and one of the most popular attractions of this type in the whole Bulgaria. Saying this I guess you now know what to expect - a lot of tourists and things made for tourists. You are warned :)
Saying all this, there is still a lot to see there so don't hesitate to go. You can sleep in the monastery ($15 per night) or in any of the surrounding hotels.
How to get there. The easiest way to go there is by car. If you want to go by bus you can do it in several ways:
- Bus from Sofia to Rila Town (approximately 2 hours). There are only 2-3 buses per day and they start from Sofia West bus station. This station is located in Ovcha Kupel near Tsar Boris Blvd. Then get the bus to the monastery.
- Bus or train from Sofia to Blagoevgrad. There are 7-8 trains per day and most trips take 2 hours and half. Approximate price is €4 - €5. More buses per day are available and take the same time to travel. The buses start from Sofia Central Bus Station. From Blagoevgrad get the bus to the monastery.
- Bus or train from Sofia to Dupnitsa and then bus to the monastery. Most trains take around 2 hours to Dupnitsa and cost €3 - €4. Direct buses are slightly faster.
A direct bus is supposed to be available from Sofia West Bus Station to the Rila Monastery but the information about it is scarce. A lot of companies offer organized trips to the monastery so this is an option if you want to handle going there and returning back in a day.
The Seven Rila Lakes
Many locals will tell you this is one of the most beautiful things to see here. The seven lakes are located between 2,100m and 2,500m above the sea level and are close enough to each other to be visited by foot (once you are there). The seven lakes are: The Tear (Salzata), The Eye (Okoto), The Kidney (Babreka), The Twin (Bliznaka), The Trefoil (Trilistnika), The Fish Lake (Ribnoto ezero), and The Lower Lake (Dolnoto ezero).
How to get there. Most touristic tracks start from Panichishte. Getting to Panichishte is a bit tricky because there is no regular bus service from any big city. The resort is located just 10km away from Sapareva Banya so if you are going by car things are easy. If you don't have a car you may look for a taxi or small buses going to Panichishte in the summer.
Several buses per day go from Sofia to Saparevo and Sapareva banya. The trip takes an hour - hour and half. The buses start from Sofia West bus station.
Malyovitsa is 2729 m high peak very popular among climbers. The whole area is very popular touristic attraction because of the good ski slopes and the natural beauty. The Malyovitsa hut is the starting point for most touristic tracks and for climbing the peak.
How to get there. From Sofia South bus station there are buses going to Samokov each 30 minutes during the day. Then from Samokov get a bus to Govedartsi and then to Malyovitsa. You can also sometimes get a bus directly from Samokov but you'll have to check locally as there is no reliable info online (as usual here :D).
Parangalitsa is a natural reserve created to preserve spruce forest. There are also bears, wolves, deers, roes, wild cats. Going there is allowed only within a marked trail.
Getting there. The reserve is located 30 km west from Blagoevgrad so you first need to go there - several buses and trains go there from Sofia. Information how to enter the reserve is literally missing so I guess you should go there and ask. Sorry, our country is best in hiding information from travellers unless you want to drink cheap vodka in Sunny Beach of course.
Skakvitsa means several things in Rila: a waterfall, a mountain hut, and a natural reserve. Typically you would go to the hut to see the waterfall. Visiting the natural reserve Skakvitsa is questionable, as usual.
How to get to Skakavitsa hut? The hut is 2 hours walking distance from Panichishte. See The Seven Rila Lakes description above to learn how to get to Panichishte.
Dancing Bears Park
Here is one less known place of interest. This park is created for rehabilitation of brown bears used in the past to dance on the streets (learn more here). The park is open for guided tours during April - November.
Getting there: the park is located 12 km away from Belitsa. There are 3-4 trains per day going from Sofia Central Station to Belitsa. The train trip takes 5-6 hours so you may want to look for alternatives. There is no information about public transportation from Belitsa to the park however. Hopefully taxis will be available.
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