Imagine a series of seven glacial lakes in ombré shades of blues and greens, each distinct in their shape and color. While in India, you would have to trek for a week to see such a beauty (read: Great Lakes of Kashmir), do you know that Bulgaria offers a similar experience in a day trip. Yes, all of these beautiful glacial lakes and a sweeping panoramic view are easily accessible on a day trip from Bulgaria’s capital city, Sofia.
The seven Rila lakes are naturally created glacial lakes and as the name says they are a total of 7 and each one carries a name associated with its most characteristic feature. Salzata (“The Tear”) due to its clear waters that allow visibility in depth. Okoto (“The Eye”) after its almost perfectly oval form. Babreka (“The Kidney”) after its shape resembling a kidney. Bliznaka (“The Twin”) consisting of inner and outer “twin” that are connected. Trilistnika (“The Trefoil”) after its shape resembling a three-leafed clover. Ribnoto (“Fish lake”) is the shallowest of all and last but not least is Dolnoto ezero (“The Lower lake”), because it’s the lowest of all. Locals and visitors alike believe that this is one of the most beautiful places in the entire country of Bulgaria, and once you visit this beauty, you’ll agree.
How To Reach
1. If you don’t want any hassle, then you could go for a guided tour. You’ll find many tour operators offering this tour in Sofia. The cost starts from approx 50 USD.
2. If you want top plan everything on your own, then there are 2 ways. You can rent a car and drive all the way to the parking lot of the Pionerska chairlift. which will then take you to the starting point of the hike. The drive to the lakes will be about 60 miles and 1.5 hours each way from Sofia.
Renting a car can be a bit expensive, so if you are on a budget, you can catch a bus from Sofia to Sapareva Banya. There is a direct bus that departs every day at 14:00 from “Ovcha kupel” which is the West bus station. From Sapareva Banya one can take a shuttle to the Pionerska hut.
Note: The Pionerska chairlift runs from 9 to 4:30 every day except Monday, when it doesn’t start until noon. It’s also closed on the last Monday of every month.
Best Time To Visit
The months from June to September are the best months for a day trip to the Seven Rila Lakes. These mountains are at high altitude so don’t forget that the Rila weather and temperature will be very different from Sofia. If you go in June and September, expect colder temperatures at the Rila lakes and to see some snow on the trails. If you go in July and August you’ll get sunnier and warmer days, but you pay for the good weather by also dealing with crowds.
Many of the hikes in the area are 7-8 hour hikes, meaning you want to get started by 9 or 10am in order to finish before the sun sets. Remember that in most cases you’ll be hiking to higher elevations where the temperature is cooler.
Also, the weather can change quickly in the mountains- one minute the clouds are out and you need a sweatshirt, the next minute the sun comes out and you you will be sweating like anything. So I suggest you wear layers.
When you hike the Seven Rila Lakes you pass by each one of them from the lowest to the highest one. That’s what makes the hike so unique – you start with one, then two, three of them and when you get to the last one – The Tear, you can see all seven of them in unique harmony with the mountain.
1) The hike to The Kidney: When you get to the Rila Lakes hut you can start your hike. You have around one hour to get to “The Kidney” where you can take a nice picnic. The hike here is not very hard, you can take it easy and enjoy the beautiful views to the first 3-4 lakes. With this hike you pass around The Lower lake, The Fish lake, The Trefoil and The Twin and you get to The Kidney. There you can have your deserved break.
2) The hike to The Tear: This one is a bit harder if you are not a regular hiker. It takes again around an hour to get to the highest lake – The Tear, while you pass by The Eye. With many little breaks you can get to the highest point where you will forget all the pain and efforts! You have a 360 degree view to all the Seven Lakes in a perfect harmony with the Rila mountain landscape.
If you don’t want to climb all the way to the Otovitsa Ridge the Seven Rila Lakes are still worth visiting. Just hike an hour out to the Kidney Lake for a picnic, or even take a walk behind the chalet where it’s flat but you will still get stunning mountain views. But if you can, I suggest you do the entire route. After walking in Bulgaria’s picturesque countryside, it would be amazing finally seeing the seven lakes. All the hard work and effort is worth it.
Sleeping at the Rila Lakes
Many people come back the same day but few decide to stay in the mountains. Camping is not allowed near the lakes, but there are two small huts which provide accommodation. These huts are situated at the very top of the Rila Mountains and would require a hike for an hour or two to reach. It’s hard to describe the huts, but they are fascinating to the people coming here. With no hot water and limited electricity, it really is cut away from society. It is just you and the mountains; nothing more, nothing less.
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