One of the questions we receive quite often is “How to get to the Rila Lakes by bus?”. This is pretty straight forward and we decided to collect some info together in this article.
Rila Mountains, the highest mountain range on the whole Balkan Peninsula and Eastern Europe, is located just south from the capital of Bulgaria – Sofia. The main starting points for walking and trekking in the Rila Mountains are easily accessible by public transport from Sofia. In the northern parts of the mountain (i.e. in a close proximity to Sofia) are located some of the best sights to see there – The Seven Rila Lakes, Skakavitsa Waterfall, Malyovitsa area, as well as Musala – the highest peak on the Balkans (2925 m). Driving to the mountains takes around 1,5h, a little more if using public transportation.
The Seven Rila Lakes are undoubtedly the attraction that draws most visitors in Rila, together with the famous Rila Monastery. The popularity of the lakes has its dark side – the hot topic for the last years is the negative influence on the ecosystem by the thousands visiting tourists, mainly during the summer holidays – July and August. We strongly recommend you to avoid visiting during this time or to choose any alternative routes – some of them are described in our article on the Walking at the Rila Lakes – how to plan your route and when to go.
How to get to the lakes by bus from Sofia:
Firstly, you need to get a bus to the town of Dupnitsa, located on the main E79 road from Sofia to Kulata (the border with Greece) and further south to Greece. Most buses that head down to Blagoevgrad, Bansko, Gotse Delchev, Sandanski, Petrich, Thessaloniki, will drop you at Dupnitsa. With the new highway built the ride takes a little more than an hour. All these buses start from Sofia Central Bus Station as well as from Ovhca Kupel Bus Station. You can check the schedule of the buses from Sofia Central on their website: http://www.centralnaavtogara.bg. There are different buses departing nearly every hour, but there is a gap between 7.10 and 10 o`clock. So if you want to hike early, don`t miss the 7.10 Union Ivkoni bus towards Dupnitsa. The buses from Ovcha Kupel (known as Sofia Zapad – Sofia West station) are mainly a smaller ones heading to minor destinations, for the up-to-date schedule you may call +359 2 955 5362
There is also an option to take a train to Dupnitsa from the Sofia Central Train Station. These are more infrequent, you may check the time table here.
Second, from the bus station (or the train station in Dupnitsa, located next to the bus station) you`ve got a couple of options:
- to get a taxi from in front of the bus station directly to Pionerska Hut, located next to the bottom lift station of the Rila Lakes Hut. The other trail head, next to this one, is called Zeleni Preslop – a start point for the route to Skakavitsa Hut and the waterfall. The junction for Zeleni Preslop is a couple of km before Pionerska Hut, signposted. In both cases you first pass the holiday area of Panichishte and than continue a little bit higher up the mountain to the final destination. Many locals would call the start point for the lift “Panichishte” so this could lead to some misunderstandings, as the real Panichishte is 4 km before the lift station and Pionerska Hut. The taxi ride should cost no more than 30 BGN total and takes around 45 min.
- to get the local bus to the village of Sapareva Banya – the buses are infrequent and you need to check when is the next one at the bus station. The ride would take around 20-25 min and costs a little more than 2 BGN/person. Get off in front of the municipality hall of Sapareva Banya where shuttle buses are usually waiting (during the high season only). The van would start when gained enough passengers for the ride. There is no regular year round line up to the mountain unfortunately. Expect to pay around 5-7 BGN/person for the shuttle ride.
How to get to the lakes by bus from Plovdiv:
There are buses from Plovdiv to Blagoevgrad at 7.30 and 13h every day. They all start from the Plovdiv South Bus Station аnd will drop you at Dupnitsa, from where you can follow the above guidelines, i.e. take the local bus to Sapareva Banya and further transfer up to Pionerska Hut above Panichishte area. The ride Plovdiv-Dupnitsa would take around 3 hours, additional 45 min – 2 hours, depending on the connections, to get up to the trail head.