There are few options to stay overnight in a different types of places if you are hiking or trekking in the mountains of Bulgaria:
- Using the mountain huts network;
- Staying in a guest houses and small hotels in the lower mountain areas and in the villages around;
- Combination of these types of lodging.
Using the mountain huts infrastructure: This gives a great chance to spend all your time surrounded by awesome sceneries as most of the huts are high up, between 1000 and 2500 m. elevation. Multiday treks in Rila, Pirin and Balkan Mountains are possible only if you use that sort of accommodation. Most of the huts in the mountains of Bulgaria were built during the Communist time. In that period the ownership and maintenance were centralized and there was a stable financing.
At present some of them are private, some – rented for a long period of time, enough long to motivate the occupiers to put money in reconstructions (if they can afford it), and some are still managed by BTS (Bulgarian Tourist Union, the old communist еrа organization with considerably lower potential today). This brings to big differences in the quality of the services. There are places that are renovated and offer good facilities and others where there is a struggle to keep the roof not to fell down. In general, in the high season (June-September), with or without reservation, you can expect to find somebody to welcome you and something to eat all around the huts on the popular routes. Lodging is usually in dormitories from 4 to 20+ people in each, inside or outside toilets, warm shower is probable.
Some practical advice:
- The quality of the hut accommodations in Rila, Pirin and Central Balkan greatly varies – from very basic to more hotel-like commercial properties. There is no common standard, so be prepared for the worst and enjoy the good meal, the shower and the hospitality wherever you meet them!
- Some of the huts have drop toilet only and no shower/hot water, other have only a couple of bathroom facilities, sometimes for a significant amount of people – be prepared for such discomfort. Carry toilet paper with you as it is generally not provided.
- Most huts offer basic food menu, chocolate/energy bars and drinks. The menu most often includes beans or lentil soup, skara (meatballs or similar) and shopska salad;
- The accommodation costs vary between 11-20 BGN, food: appx. 2 BGN for a soup, 3-5 BGN- salad, 2-4 BGN for a beer. You can expect to pay between 27-35 BGN per person if you request a full board in advance – dinner, breakfast, packed lunch and dorm bed;
- In many places English is barely spoken and learning a few words in Bulgarian would be useful:
breakfast – zakuska
dinner – vecherya
lunch – obyad
packed lunch – suh paket
shower – dush
- It is customary in the huts to do your own bed when leaving, also not to leave garbage, but bring it down with you;
- Carry your own travel liner – the huts (with a couple of exceptions) provide bed sheets, but first you reduce your impact of being there by limiting the waste water and second it is more hygienic; It is advisable to bring your own sleeping bag outside the summer season (from October until May/June), especially if you stay above 1800-2000 m, although there is no shortage of blankets anywhere;
- Booking the huts is advisable if you visit during the high season (July/August) and especially on Friday and Saturday night as some places are cramped with Bulgarian weekend visitors; This is especially important if your group consists of more than 1 or 2 persons. Booking could be a hassle, as there is no common booking platform, you need to connect to the hut operators of each place via phone, also the language barrier still exists. More info on How to Book the Huts;
- Most huts fully operate from April/May until November. Many would have staff during the winter weekends as well. If not, an emergency room is usually left open. There are also so called mountain shelters (like Koncheto, Strashno Ezero), which are maintained by volunteers and there is no hut guardian there;
- Please check the ‘Huts’ section of the website for more info and contacts of the huts in the mountains of Bulgaria.
If that sounds too rough to you, better stay lower down at the villages and get a hotel or a guest house. There is numerous villages, resorts and holiday areas in the foot of the mountains. Exception form this are Rhodope Mountains where the locations are everywhere into the mountains, so one can hike or cycle directly from one overnight point to another. If you plan to stay in a town or village in the foot of a certain mountain range, a good road or lift to the high parts should be an important consideration when choosing your location. The advantage is that you can pick between 2-3-4 stars accommodation and carry only a small rucksack with you while exploring the area, the disadvantage – a transport is needed to take you to the starting points for hiking in the mountains and back every day.
Camping – if you are keen to carry tent with you, you should know that camping is prohibited in national parks, nature parks, reserves and water supplement areas, unless you stay in a camping site. There is lack of such a facilities in Rila, Pirin and Balkan mountains and very often tents are placed near the huts in summer. This may be a good idea in August and save you from the noises of a crowded dormitory but according to national park regulations even these areas are prohibited for camping, or a limited number of tents is allowed near the hut – always ask the local guardians in advance, before setting your tent! There is no problem to camp free anywhere else outside protected areas but in general don’t expect to find any camping facilities in the mountains.