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Adventures in Bulgaria: A Thrillseeker's Guidebook

Thanks to the rugged natural beauty and the long list of adventurous activities, Bulgaria is the perfect place to mix in a few thrills and take an unforgettable journey to the next level. The breathtaking mountains, glacial lakes, and unique geographical features scattered throughout Bulgaria can provide enough eye candy and excitement for a lifetime, making the southeastern European nation an outstanding destination for explorers of all appetites and interests. Before putting together an itinerary for a Bulgarian adventure, consider these options that highlight some of the best places to thrill-seek in Bulgaria.

Finding utopia for rafters and kayakers in Bulgaria.

Not far from Sofia, the Iskar Gorge in western Bulgaria is a terrific place to find some adventure without going overboard. Particularly suitable for beginners, Iskar River rafting is known for having a handful of legitimate thrills but also for a very scenic trip through the heart of the gorge, which is dominated by striking forests and rocky bluffs. From spring to the early part of summer, adrenaline levels tend to be elevated due to the increased speeds of the river, although the rafting remains spectacular all the way through the very colorful fall.
A couple of hours south of Sofia by car, near the southwestern corner of Bulgaria, the Kresna Gorge is where the more experienced rafters congregate for a whirlwind trip down the Struma River. Starting at the Vitosha Mountain and emptying into the Strymonian Gulf in the Aegean Sea, Struma is known for providing some intense rafting experiences through the Kresna Gorge that can be as challenging as they are beautiful to behold. Kresna Gorge also offers some excellent hiking, and the entire area is teeming with plant and animal life that are also major draws in the region.
Back to the more peaceful side of the adventure spectrum, kayaking down the mostly calm Kamchia River can be another exciting way to enjoy the Bulgarian countryside. Kayakers who paddle the Kamchia River Reserve on the way to the Black Sea enjoy thick forests, lush backdrops that seem lifted from a daydream (or painting), and plenty of great stopping points to break out a picnic lunch or camera.

Hiking to the famous Seven Rila Lakes.

Starting more than a mile above sea level, the Seven Rila Lakes are a natural attraction for Bulgarians looking to escape the summer heat and disappear into the lush green and blue landscapes the region is known for. A little more than an hour north of Sofia in western Bulgaria, it’s a hiker’s fantasy of mountain paths leading up to some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, with green-coated bluffs hovering over the crystal-clear lakes that each come with unique and unforgettable features. Although swimming in glacial lakes like the Rila is typically only for the brave, the clear waters are a wonder to see once they thaw in June until the weather turns again in October. It also helps that the peak of summer is when the area sees a marked drop in storm activity.
Although it’s effortless to link up with a hiking tour company, it’s just as easy to independently put together a hiking trip from Sofia or one of the well-rated resorts or rentals of Sapareva Banya, a sleepy little town at the base of the mountains. For those who make it to Lake Peak and still aren’t done enjoying the scenic area, a separate trip to the Skakavitsa waterfall—the highest in the mountain range—is a thrill in itself merely due to the astounding power of the water’s plunge.
The Seven Rila Lakes aren’t the only source of terrific hiking in the area either, particularly for those hunting for an experience bordering on harrowing. From Govedartsi, hikers have an assortment of paths to choose from, including one that will take you to the so-called Scary Lake. Not only does the lake itself look like the backdrop of a horror movie but thunderstorms that rip through are naturally amplified by the setting, making for spectacular booms that have turned the lake into a legend (don’t worry, there’s a large and safe shelter right at the waterfront). The nearby Musala trail is also where you can find the highest point in Bulgaria, a stunning peak above the Borovets ski resort that is challenging but very doable for most regular hikers.

Hunt for a waterfall in a cave.

You can find Devil’s Throat Cave in southern Bulgaria nearly all the way to the Greece border, a scenic region in the Rhodopes mountain range that has all sorts of picturesque forests, blue lakes, and stream-spanning stone bridges. A stone’s throw from Trigrad Gorge, Devil’s Throat Cave isn’t for the claustrophobic, but visitors are typically enchanted with the experience of plunging down a winding, narrow path to the “Hall of Thunder” (or “Booming Hall“), where you can take in the roar of an underground waterfall. The descent is also filled with ominous rock formations that showcase the dark sense of mystery that has forever surrounded the cave.
With its nefarious rock formations and eerie setting, there are plenty of myths that have popped up about the cave, most notably that it’s the place where Orpheus descended into Hades chasing after his lover, Eurydice. Whether you believe any of the legends is up to you, but the journey tends to be one that piques the imagination and gives thrillseekers a memorable jaunt down into one of the unique settings you’ll encounter in Bulgaria.

Adventures along the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast.

The Black Sea Coast is gorgeous enough to make many visitors want to just lounge and chew on the exotic backdrop, yet the adventure-traveler has more than a few options to spice things up a bit. The scuba diving season between April and November has also really started to catch on in recent years as a major draw for divers, mostly thanks to the spread of different shipwrecks that are known to be clinging to the sea floor. Historical artifacts have been found in Bulgarian Black Sea waters from as far back as 3,000 years ago, although a variety of shipwrecks from the 20th century are also natural draws for divers.
One of the most popular spots is just off Varna, where you can spot a Roman port wholly submerged. There are also submarines, Russian destroyer ships, and plenty of other vessels that reached their demise in the Black Sea, with many coming during WWII. While you’ll need to find a certified diving academy to get started no matter your experience level, there are plenty of great dives for beginners not quite ready to head all the way down to the famous shipwrecks. The marine life is also known for being outstanding in the Bulgarian Black Sea, showcasing anything from seahorses and needlefish to all kinds of shellfish that make for an inspiring and colorful dive.

Final thoughts and ideas before the trip.

Anyone who thinks Bulgaria is a place to find a beach without breaking the bank hasn’t considered the country’s many outstanding highlights—particularly for the traveling adventurer. No matter where you go in Bulgaria, the stunning natural backdrops and the long list of activities provide more than enough ways to fill up your itinerary, however long your trip happens to be. While many of the top spots for adventure are best experienced in the spring, summer, and early fall, the fantastic skiing spots (e.g., Borovets, Pamporovo, and Bansko) also give a thrillseeker four seasons of possibilities. Although you may not need as large of a budget as some of Europe’s other top destinations for thrillseekers, Bulgaria more than holds its own and is ideal for letting an adventurous spirit run wild.
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