Brown Bear Watching
Most of the tourists wishing to observe brown bears head for Finland and Romania, without considering the recently developed excellent opportunities in Bulgaria – a country with one of the richest biodiversity in Europe. The tour as a philosophy is an ecotourism product. Your visit will help preserve the fragile harmony between locals and the high concentration of large carnivores in the area, while you stimulate the pride of your hosts in their nature and cultural specialties. With a main focus on viewing Brown Bear in the pristine habitats of the Rhodope Moutains, the 5-day itinerary has great added value with soft hiking and loads of impressions from the numerous natural attractions in the region.
/The program can be changed in a way that you can get dropped off in Plovdiv on Day 5, instead of going back to Sofia. Or go for a full day culture tour on Day 5, incl. visits to Shiroka Laka, Bachkovo Monastery and Plovdiv before arriving to Sofia in the evening. Scroll down for details./
Day 1. Meeting at Sofia Airport. Transfer to the heart of the Western Rhodope Mountains and the village of Trigrad by the famous Trigrad Gorge (3,30hrs drive from Sofia).
Days 2-4. You will have three days dedicated to exploring the region, which will also give you the option for 3 stays inside a hide. During daytime different activities will be offered, depending on the weather conditions and your personal preferences.
– 3 attempts to spot Brown Bears from a hide. Normally we go there late in the afternoon, as the biggest chances to spot bears are around dusk. You can stay inside the hide as much as you want, normally until midnight. The hides we reach by 4×4 vehicles. Some hides may require additional 10-15min walk. As long as dinners cannot be eaten in the hotel these 3 evening, a packed dinner will be arranged for you. The hides are equipped with benches, beds and toilet. They are soundproof and completely safe.
– 1 trek with a local ranger in a hunting reserve, where you can also spot footprints or scratches on trees made by Brown Bears, Balkan Chamois, Wild Boar, Roe Deer, and variety of birds, including woodpeckers, Hazel Grouse etc. Our guide will tell us more about the annual and daily behaviour patterns of the animals, their food composition and distribution in the region, the GPS tracking projects etc. Normally this trek is done early in the morning, when wildlife is more active, and lasts for a couple of hours.
– Visits to the Devil’s Throat Cave (housing the highest underground waterfall on the Balkans – 42m high) and Yagodina Cave (among the biggest and most beautiful caves in Bulgaria).
– Visit to Trigrad Gorge. One of the most impressive feature of this part of the Rhodopes. The 350m high vertical cliffs of the gorge are home of the elusive Wallcreeper, which you may have the luck to spot around the entrance of the Devil’s Throat Cave.
– Hike from Trigrad on to Yagodina Cave (or vice versa) – 10km (appr. 2-2,30hrs). This walk is of moderate difficulty. There are no steep stages along this route. Most of the time we walk along easy forestry roads. The trail follows the upper edges of the Trigrad Gorge, and then over the hills and smallholdings it leads down to the village of Yagodina and further to the cave of the same name.
– Hike along the Devin eco-trail. An adventurous eco-path, weaving on wooden bridges over Devinska River, awaits us here as we make our way along the wild valley, crowned with steep rocks where Balkan Chamois (wild goats) may be seen resting. It can be combined with a relaxed few hours at the swimming pools (incl. Aqua Park Persenk) and SPAs, which Devin and its hotels can offer (see below for details).
– Full day circular trek to Zhrebevo village. Legend has it, the village was named after a stallion which shielded it from trouble and strife. Along the route, you observe the entry to the Trigrad Gorge and enjoy the wonderful panorama to surrounding parts. Magnetic sights expect you on every turn: meadows full of orchids in summer, century-old woods, and remote communities. Brown Bears footprints can also be seen in the mud along the trail. (5-6hrs of walking (hiking tie only, without stops for breaks); 18km, climbing and descending 700m)
Not included activities (payable locally):
– Jeep safari from Yagodina/Yagodina Cave on to the Eagle’s Eye viewpoint above the village of Yagodina (costs around 30-35 Euros per jeep). 30min adrenaline drive will take you to the top of mountains, where a purposely build platform provides breath-taking scenery over the Rhodope Mountains. These can be ordered and paid for on spot (no need to book in advance). The jeep safari can be combined with the hike from Trigrad to Yagodina Cave (see above for details).
– A visit to Haramiyska Cave. The cave can be entered and explored only with a special equipment. The lovers of the extreme sports can reach to the foot of the cave, but only under the leadership of the qualified guides and cave instructors they can proceed and enter inside. If you want to try something extraordinary, and you have no fear of heights, you can go for it, even without having any previous experience with rock climbing and/or caving. Reaching the cave requires some 15min very steep hike. After the shoving through the cave labyrinth, there is a 43 meters letting down to the center of the underground cavern, 180 meters long. The total length of the cave is 495m and the whole tour takes between 3 and 5hrs depending on the group size. The Haramiyska Cave visits are normally made once a day at 10.30 am (starting from the Devil’s Throat Cave), with a group of maximum 15 people, led by experienced guides. Joining these tours requires advance booking (payments are made on spot though). The price is around 15-20 Euros/person. You need to bring your own headlamp, shoes with good grip and clothes, which you should know will become rather dirty/muddy after visiting the cave. This is a true adrenaline activity, and a very good way to get over your fears of height, or passing through narrow tunnels in the darkness.
– SPA/Aquapark in Devin. You can devote half or a full day in the thermal SPAs of Devin. The high category hotels provide a plethora of SPA procedures (payable locally). Or you can simply relax by the swimming pools of the aqua park. The entry for the Aqua Park Persenk (operating between mid-June and mid-September) is appr. 5-6 Euros. Transportation there and back from Trigrad is free of charge. You can also combine a visit there, with a 2hrs leisure hike along the Devin eco-trail (see above).
Day 5. Transfer to Sofia Airport for departure.
N.B. Two other options can be offered for Day 5:
1) For those, who extend their stay in Bulgaria, we can offer a drop off in Plovdiv (visiting on the way Shiroka Laka architectural reserve, and Bachkovo Monastery (the second biggest in Bulgaria). Once dropped off in Plovdiv, you can proceed with your own arrangements (we can drop you off in the hotel you have booked by yourself). Price of the extension: 50 Euros per car (excl. entry fees and sightseeing tour of Plovdiv).
2) For those, who prolong their stay in Bulgaria, but still need to go back to Sofia on Day 5, we can offer a full day tour, starting from Trigrad and going through Shiroka Laka (architectural reserve), Bachkovo Monastery (the second biggest in Bulgaria), Plovdiv (exploring the Old Town) and then late afternoon arrival in Sofia. Enough time for sightseeing on each of these sites will be allowed. Price of the extension: 75 Euros per car (excl. entry fees).
Dates, Prices & Remarks
Though, in certain years Bulgarian brown bears are active throughout the year (even in winter time) the tour runs from April to late October – considering the features of the habitat and our experience, the most advisable time to come is late April to late May (period also good for birdwatching). Please do consider arrival, which matches (+/- 3 days) the full moon as brighter nights are better for nocturnal observations. There are between 400-700 brown bears in Bulgaria. The densest populations are in Central Balkans and in the Central Rodopi. A research in the region (60 000 ha) of Trigrad, Devin and Shiroka Luka shows that it is inhabited by about 40-50 bears. The hides are constructed along some of the most used bear routes. The use of experts, the fine location of hides, and the high density of the bears are all the factors needed to guarantee a first class experience. Having 3 attempts in consecutive evenings increases to a very high extend the chance of seeing this magnificent mammal (usually from a distance of 30-50 meters). However, we consider that all written percents referring to observation probabilities, to be a mere marketing speculation. Bears have large individual territories and can cover significant distances in one night. Their movement depends on numerous factors (season, food availability, sex…). Our program includes wildlife and cultural tours during the daytime and has an accent on local cuisine specialties. Even if you are unlucky of seeing a bear, you will still have worthwhile memories of Bulgaria’s nature, people and traditions.
Large carnivores and human relationship has very sensitive socio-economic aspects. Traventuria follows very strict responsible travel ethic, established by environmentalists and local professionals. Our company is a partner of BALKANI Wildlife Society (the leading Bulgarian NGO in protection of the Brown Bear, Wolf and Lynx) in their conservation activities.
Price: 690 Euro/person (for 2-4 pers.; larger grpups: please get a quote)
Single room supplement: 70 Euro
The tour price includes: English-speaking guide throughout the tour; local guide (ranger); all ground transportation; entrance fees to the hides and caves; accommodation in family ran hotel on half board.
The price does not include: International flights, beverages, tips, food outside of the mentioned meal plan.