Rila is the highest mountain in Bulgaria and also on the Balkan Peninsula. The origin of the name Rila comes from the Thracians, it means “well-watered mountain”. Some of Bulgaria’s major rivers (Iskar, Maritsa, Mesta) take their beginnings from Rila and more than 200 glacial lakes are situated in the mountain. It also boasts the hottest spring on the Balkans – in Sapareva Banya town in the foothills of Northern Rila (103?С). The larger part of the mountain is occupied by National Park Rila which is the biggest national park in Bulgaria. Within the boundaries of the park there are 4 nature reserves – “Parangalitsa”, “Skakavitsa”, “Ibar”, “Central Rila”, and one Nature park – “Rila Monastery Forest”. At an altitude of 1000m and above, the climate is typically mountainous. Otherwise, the foothills of the mountain are in the moderate-continental and the transitional-Mediterranean climatic zone. There is a danger of avalanches in many places during the winter. The relief of Rila is typically alpine. The mountain is a glacial range, mostly granite, with glacial Cirques, beautiful tarns, moraines and high peaks. There are 29 peaks above 2500m/8325ft.
Two major European long distance hiking routes – E4 and E8, pass through the territory of Rila Mountains. There are about 20 working huts and 5 refuges where you can overnight and order basic food. Some of them are heavily booked with groups in summer and you should always consider securing a place in advance for peace of mind. In the foothills of the mountain (besides Borovets resort) you can stay in some of the guesthouses and family-run hotels in the villages of Govedartsi, Madzhare, Mala Tsarkva, in hotels in the towns of Sapareva Banya and Blagoevgrad, or in the Rila Monastery. Public transportation from Sofia during the season is regular (but not frequent) and often requires at least one change in order to get to the trailhead (which sometimes takes a lot of time and leaves you insufficient time for the hike itself). The summer working schedule of the Gondola lift in Borovets (for the climb to Mt. Musala) and the chairlift to The Seven Rila Lakes should be checked online before you go there.
Rila (along with Pirin) is very popular for alpine walking in Bulgaria. Certain trekking routes are well-marked and can be done self-guided (details HERE), while for others (following harder trails) you’d better opt for a guided tour (details HERE). One-day hiking excursions to the most popular destinations – The Seven Rila Lakes (details HERE) and Mount Musala (details HERE), start from Sofia and can be booked well in advance. Independent one-day walking treks can also be booked with Sofia being the starting point for them (they run with organized transfers, detailed route notes and tourist map). Snowshoeing tours to Rila Mountains are also popular in winter, but these should always be done with a local guide due to the considerable avalanche threat (details HERE). Many people combine Rila and Pirin in an independent hiking trek with prearragnged luggage transfers and accommodations (details HERE).
Natural and cultural sights to be found in Rila:
• Rila Monastery – the biggest monastery in Bulgaria, listed in UNESCO and the most visited site in the country.
• Sapareva Banya – you can enjoy hot mineral waters after a long hike in the local modern public bath.
• Borovets – the second biggest ski resort in the country. A starting point for a lot of hiking trails.
• Seven Rila Lakes – a group of seven glacier lakes spread among impressive peaks and deep gorges.
• Musala peak – 2925m/9740ft, the highest peak on the Balkan Peninsula.
• Kalin dam – the highest dam on the Balkan Peninsula (2394m/7972ft), surrounded by the beautiful peaks Goliam Polich, Malak and Goliam Kalin (all higher than 2600m/8658ft).
There are more than 1400 plants, some of them are rare, endemic species (such as the Rila Cowslip, the Lady’s Mantle and the Rila Rhubarb), glacial relicts or endangered. There are more than 200 different kinds of mushrooms found in the park. The fauna of the mountain includes 172 vertebrate species. 48 of them are mammal species such as European ground squirrel (Spermophilus citellus), Brown Bear, deer, Balkan Chamois (wild goat) and others. Wallcreeper, Nutcracker, Alpine Accentor and Alpine Chough are among the most typical birds above the tree line.
No matter how many days you have for hiking, there is a suitable trail in Rila for you. Here are some exemplary trails with different durations. Most of them can be combined to make the hike longer (the durations of the hikes are approximate and depend on the physical shape and condition of the tourist)
• Panichishte – Seven Rila Lakes – Rila Monastery (3 days): The starting point is Panichishte resort. The hike around the lakes usually takes about 6 hours. You can sleep in one of the huts in the area – “Skakavitsa”, “Seven Lakes” or “Rila Lakes”. The next day the hike takes 3-4 hours to “Ivan Vazov” hut. On the third day the descent to Rila Monastery is steep (about 1000m total descent) and takes about 5 hours. Technically it is possible to have a transfer to Panichishte, ramble among the lakes and descent to Rila Monastery within one day (where you can spend the night or catch your transfer back to Sofia), but this is very tough trek, meant only for very well prepared hikers (contact us for details).
• Mechit hut – Malyovitsa hut (2 days): The starting point is Govedartsi village. The tourist trail will take you to “Mechit” hut in 2 hours. The next day you can climb Mechit peak and Lopushki peak and descend to Malyovitsa complex passing by Yonchevo Lake (about 6 hours).
• Musala Peak (1 day): The starting point is Borovets resort. From there you can take the cable car to Yastrebets. After that hiking to the peak takes appr. 3 hours. Then you can descend using the same way. Guided and self-guided one-day tours from Sofia are also organised (details HERE).
• Malyovitsa – Ivan Vazov hut – Seven Rila Lakes (3 days): The starting point is Malyovitsa complex, from there the hike to “Malyovitsa” hut is 1.30 hours. You can sleep at “Malyovitsa” hut. The next day the hike follows the main ridge of the mountain, passing some of the high peaks: Malyovita, Eleni, Goliam Mermer, Malak Mermer, Dodov, Damga to finish at “Ivan Vazov” hut (about 7 hours). You can devote the third day to the Seven Rila Lakes circus and descent at Sapareva Banya for a relaxing bath of hot mineral water at the local public bath.
• Musala peak – Granchar hut – Ribni Lakes hut – Mechit hut (4 days): The starting point is Borovets, where you can take the cable car, climb Musala peak for 3 hours and go to “Granchar” hut in another 4-5 hours. The next day the hike to “Ribni lakes” hut is about 6 hours. The third day is the longest, about 8-9 hours to “Mechit” hut. On the fourth day you can descend to Govedartsi village.
There are a few festivals and events taking place within the area of Rila:
• “Rila ni gleda” (Rila is watching us) – a national folklore festival with singing and dancing, which takes place in the towns of Dupnitsa and Sapareva Banya every year in the middle of June.
• “Rock in Rila” – an international rock festival, takes place in Beli Iskar village in August.
• White Brotherhood Summer Spiritual School – a gathering of the followers of Petar Deunov, a Bulgarian spiritual master. From the beginning of August till the third weekend of the month, when is the peak of the fest. It takes place in the area of Seven Rila Lakes.
And now listen to “Rila is singing”, performed by modern Bulgarian bard Todor Yankulov (video clip HERE).