The seven lakes located northwest of the Rila Mountains, near the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, were one of the main reasons why Johnny and I decided to visit the Bulgarian interior. The Seven Rila Lakes hike is considered one of the most beautiful hiking trails in Bulgaria.
It takes no more than an hour by car to get there from Sofia. However, we recommend the shuttle service of the Traventuria agency, which is not very expensive, starts daily from the centre of Sofia (from the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral) and takes you to the bottom of the cable car. Besides the Rila Lakes, Traventuria also offers trips to the Rila Monastery (Rila Monastir), to historic Plovdiv but especially to the Belogradchik rocks and the monumental caves of Saeva Dupka, Devetashka and Prohodna Cave.
Rila lakes are glacial lakes. You can find them between the hills of Suhi Chal (Dry Hill), Otovishki and Haramiya. The lakes were named after their shapes and features. The highest is the Lake of Tears, which got its name for its crystal clear water at 2 535 metres above sea level, directly below Mount Otovishki. The adjacent Eye Lake is the deepest at 37.5 metres. It is oval, and when the weather is good, it is intensely blue.
Returning via the lower trail, you will discover Eye Lake (Kidney Lake), named for its kidney shape, with an area of 85 hectares and steep rocky shores. Next comes the Twin Lakes. Wide at both ends and narrow in the middle, the lake resembles an hourglass. During dry years, the lake changes into two smaller ones, hence its name. Three-leaf and Fish Lake are the lowest, and a little way down the road is Lower Lake. Narrow streams connect all the lakes.
The hiking trail around the lakes is the most visited natural place in Bulgaria. As we boarded two 9-seater minibuses in the off-season, Jano commented that, hopefully, we wouldn’t be the only ones there. After half an hour of meandering around the serpentine trails, our guides dropped us off at the completely packed parking lot by the cable cars, and we finally enjoyed the perks of senior age. That’s when we talked our aunt cashier into telling us that as a 60+, we were entitled to half price on the cable car.
Seven Rila lakes hike
The Pionerska cable car took us up to the Rila Lakes Hut, where all the hiking trails start in the summer, and all the ski slopes start in the winter. The main trail along the ridge to the Ivan Vazov hut opens up incredible scenery. The view of the lakes from above is disturbed only by the constant movement of hikers and the clicking of cameras. We are discovering multiculturalism.
Next to us moves an eternally smiling elderly Japanese couple, whom we advised yesterday in Sofia how to order Tarator soup. In the car with us were two Germans, two Australian girls, one Mexican, an English couple and us Slovak hikers. Although several of us had a hard time understanding each other, the climb up the ridge and the help with the shooting up selfies helped us to overcome all our inhibitions. The guide, who knew about these mountains almost all, also contributed a lot.
Ivan Vazov hut
The Ivan Vazov hut is the ultimate over autumn for most tourists. Few people choose the big ridge circuit at this time, which can be pretty dangerous, thanks to gusty winds and solitude. However, the Pirin beer they serve here, which comes with a hefty alpine premium, is worth every glug.
On the way back, we chose the lower circuit around the shores of the lakes. Although the views are less panoramic and spectacular, the harmony with the lakes and the surrounding nature is all the more significant. The trail is mostly contour but works its way up, down, up, down. We knew that at the end, we were in for a climb of several hundred metres to the lodge. That wasn’t the biggest problem, though. The lower trail is much wilder and less hiking-friendly than the upper one. Our average dropped to 1.2 km/h, and we also started to worry about making the cable car and shuttle bus depart in time.
Back to the cable car
What to say in conclusion. Waterproof shoes helped. We often walked over creek-soaked trails, sometimes covered by a wooden footbridge. Thanks to intuitive navigation, we even got lost once. It took us over an hour to get back to the trail. Finally, we were happy to see the base lodge by the cable car.
As we descended the chairlift through really steep terrain, we listened to the whistles and laughter of three young men (ultramarathoners) training there. They reached the bottom station before the cable car. Down by the beer, it was just the standard torture going on. Exaggerating, exaggerating and showing photos eventually resulted in debates about living differences in our countries of origin. As usual, we discovered that the world is not so different after all.
Shuttle buses took us reliably to Sofia. Few people remember the way back because, except for the driver, everyone slept. Cold upstairs, 30 degrees downstairs. So, at least, we took shelter in the Alexander Nevsky Temple, which has a truly extraordinary atmosphere.
Seven Rila Lakes hike: Sofia has several bonuses for active people. Flights are cheap. It may not have the sea, but it can be a starting point for hiking and hiking to the Vitosha, Rila and Pirin mountains. Sofia is also nicknamed the green city because it’s full of endless parks and cycling routes, plus you’ll find very reasonable prices here.