Bulgaria Rila National Park 2002.09.17 - 09.19

Rila Mountains Trek

Rila National Park, located 120 km south of Sofia, has some hikes through forest and grassy hills. Transportation from Sofia is convenient, and a visit to Rila Monastery at the end of the trek makes Rila National Park a good weekend outing. Although the trek requires 2 days, someone with only 1 day of spare time can take public buses from Sofia to Rila Monastery as a day-trip.

The best source of Rila Mountain information is Odysseia-In Travel Agency in Sofia. Odysseia-In's address is Stamboliyski 20, but the entrance is on the side street Lavele. From Place Sveta Nedelya, it's a ½ block west and a ½ block north. Odysseia-In sells 1:55,000 scale topographical maps of trekking areas in Bulgaria. The map covering the Rila Mountains is simply titled, "RILA" in Cyrillic (BLV 5.00 which equals US$2.50). The map is accurate enough to know which direction to walk, but not as precise as most European topographical maps.

In addition to maps, Odysseia-In posts public transportation details in English. A helpful English speaking employee will recommend places to overnight, propose possible hiking routes, and review the transportation logistics based on how long and how strenuous a hike you want.

Mountain lodges with private rooms, hot showers, and electricity serve simple meals at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Mountain huts are much more basic and may not have food. In mid-September, it was freezing cold. If you plan to stay at a lodge, carry a sleeping bag, winter clothes, rain gear, sturdy hiking boots, towel, toilet paper, lunch, and 2 liters of water per person. Carry more food if you plan to stay at a hut. We didn't need our water filter. The lodge kitchen filled our water bottles with delicious tea for BLV 1.00 per liter.

There are 2 standard hiking routes starting at the north end of the Rila Mountains, staying overnight in the 7 Lakes area, crossing a pass over the mountaintops, and descending to the beautiful Rila Monastery on the south side. A short overview of each is below. We recommend route 1 because the lengthy first day walk on route 2 didn't look very interesting.



A small town surrounding Rila Monastery has proper hotels, simple dorms, and decent restaurants. For BLV 20 per person (or BLV 30 per person with WC), you can also stay in a basic monastic room in the monastery itself, but be warned: the water is ice cold. A hike over the Rila Mountains should bring you to Rila Monastery by 15:30, which is enough time to see the monastery and return to Sofia via Dupnitsa on the 17:00 bus. The town of Rila Monastery is much nicer than Sofia. We decided overnight in Rila Monastery, return to Sofia on the 09:00 bus, and depart Sofia that night on the night train to Belgrade.

This heart-shaped lake at 2350 meters is one of the prettier of the 7 Lakes. From this lake, it's only 250 meters up to cross the Rila Mountains before descending 1500 meters to Rila Monastery.
The center of Rila Monastery is the domed Holy Virgin Church. Exterior frescoes painted in the mid 1800s are bright and colorful. The Church interior glimmers in gold. The Rila Mountains we crossed make a photogenic backdrop.
A priest at Rila Monastery heads to Holy Virgin Church to pray.

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