This undisputed Bulgarian wonder spot has fascinated mountaineers for over a hundred years. It has inspired a religious cult whose followers gather here every year in mid-August and has decorated numerous postcards.
The area has a special place in the hearts of many.
Until recently, the Seven Rila Lakes were only accessible by a steep 2-hour hike from Pionerska Hut near Panichishte.
In 2009 it all changed when a chair lift leading from the asphalt road near Pionerska Hut directly to the lakes was built.
The Seven Rila Lakes now get trampled over by several thousand tourists per day, while off road vehicles continue to destroy delicate ground-level vegetation bringing tourists up for a small fee. Specialists argue that the tenfold increase in the number of visitors after the lift started operating is what is causing the Rila Lakes to gradually turn into swamps.
Still, we can’t blame the humans wanting to get a glimpse of this magical spot.
Sitting at between 2095 and 2535 m above sea level the deep-blue to emerald lakes have names like the Tear (the highest at 2535 m), the Eye (the deepest at 37.7 m) and the Twin (the biggest with an area of just 91 000 sq m). Many liken them to a giant’s footsteps leading up into the mountain.
Rugged mountain peaks surround the Seven Rila Lakes, forming a shimmering panorama of blues and greens that is hard to forget.
A relatively flat trail loops around all the seven lakes (3h).
For a view of the all seven Rila Lakes from above climb to Haramiata peak- 2465 m (1 h).
RIla Mountain’s Seven Rila Lakes are a place of special religious significance to the followers of a religious cult called Danovism.
The movement is also known as the “White Brotherhood”, reference to spiritual, rather than racial purity.
Danovism formed in the beginning of the 20th century around the Bulgarian mystic Petar Danov.
Son of a Bulgarian Orthodox priest, later educated in Boston, Danov combined elements of Eastern Orthodoxy and paganism with practices like yoga, meditation and nature-worship.
With its simple and positive message the community quickly gathered followers among Bulgaria’s intelligentsia and soon spread to other countries.
The Brotherhood reemerged after the fall of Communism in Bulgaria and renewed the practice of gathering in the area of the Seven Rila Lakes each year in the week around August 19, the date designated by the teacher Danov as the beginning of the New Year.
Dressed in white, thousands of devotees dance a panreuthmic sun-worshipping dance arranged in concentric circles at the lakes’ shores.
GETTING FROM SOFIA TO THE SEVEN RILA LAKES
Here are a few ways to get from Sofia to Rila Lakes chair lift station.
The easiest and the fastest way to get from Sofia to the Seven RIla lakes is by car.
Drive from Sofia to Sapareva Bania via Dupnitsa (82 km).
From Sapareva Bania, a well paved road climbs up the mountain passing the RIla Visitor Center and the church of St. John of Rila and ends at the bottom station of the Rila Lakes Lift.
Parking at the lift (5lv) is limited. On busy days expect to have to park several km down the road.
There are no direct buses to the Seven Rila Lakes Lift station from Sofia. You wil have to change buses in Dupnitsa or Sapareva Bania.
Buses from Sofia to Dupnitsa depart from both stations roughly every 2 hours.
Travel time: approx. 1.5 h.
Price: 6 lv.
One direct bus from Sofia to Sapareva Bania departs daily at 2.20 pm from Sofia's Bus Station West.
Read more about bus stations in Sofia.
At Dupnitsa's bus station wait for the minivans to the lift that depart several times per day, passing through Sapareva Bania. Check in advance on the schedule. Travel time is approx. 1.5 h.
Alternatively, take a minivan from Dupnitsa to Sapareva Bania (every 30 min) and a taxi or a minivan from Sapareva Bania to the lift. The taxi will cost you approx. 15 lv, but be ready to negotiate. The minivan costs 5 lv and will leave only when full.
Fit hikers can choose to hike from Sapareva Bania to the Seven Rila lakes. Get ready for an approx. 6- hour moderate hike with a strenuous final part. The trail is well-marked.
Organized, guided one-day bus tours depart from Sofia on weekends in the summer or upon request. Prices vary greatly from 15 Euro for the basic bus transfer to 150 Euro for a private English-speaking guide.
Check with a travel agency or online for more information.
RILA LAKES CHAIR LIFT
The Rila Lakes Chair Lift offers great views.
Built in 2009, Rila Lakes Chair Lift (lift Rilski Ezera) is one of the newest lifts in Bulagria. It connects Pionerska Hut area with the Seven Rila Lakes area.
CHAIR LIFT FACTS
- Length: 2.16 km
- Travel Time: 16 min
- Built: 2009
- Bottom Station: Pionerska Hut (1585 m)
- Top Station: Rilski Ezera Hut (2100 m)
- Adults: 10 lv / 18 lv two-ways
- Students: 8 one way /12 lv two-ways
Group discounts and day passes are available.
RILSKI EZERA CHAIR LIFT OPENING HOURS
Tue-Sun: 8.30 am – 7.30 pm
Mon: 12.30-7.30 pm
- June and September
Tue-Sun: 8.30 am – 6.30 pm
Mon: 12.30-6.30 pm
Fri-Mon: 9.00- 4.30 pm
If relying on the lift to get back down, double check the lift’s closing time and be back at the station at least 15 min before.
CAR PARKING AT RILSKI EZERA CHAIR LIFT
Limited parking is available around the bottom station. On busy summer weekends be ready to park up to several kilometers down the road.
Price: 5 lv per day
ACCOMMODATIONS AROUND THE SEVEN RILA LAKES
Can’t get enough of the view and would like to stay for the night?
Rilski Ezera mountain hut / хижа Рилски Езера (2100 m above sea level) is your best bet.
RILSKI EZERA MOUNTAIN HUT
Rilski Ezera Mountain Lodge is the best accommodation option in the area of the Seven Rila Lakes.
Rilski Ezera Mountain Hut offers 92 beds in private rooms, some with a private bathroom, and over 100 beds in communal sleeping rooms for 6 to 18 people with shared bathrooms.
The beds fill up quickly in summer so advance reservations, up to 2 weeks with full prepayment, are a must.
Call +359 886 509 409 for reservations.
If you plan to be in the area in the week around August 19 reserve even earlier as the crowds ascending to the lakes for the annual White Brotherhood New Year’s celebrations can reach several thousand.
The hut has a large cafeteria that offers hot meals.
Learn more about Rilski Ezera Hut (in Bulgarian).
Camping in the area of the Seven Rila Lakes is forbidden. Regardless, you will see quite a few tents, especially in August when the followers of Peter Danov gather in the area around the Seven Rila Lakes.
Sapareva Bania is just 13.5 km from the bottom station of the Rilski Ezera chair lift. The town is famous for its hot mineral springs, including the hottest mineral spring in Bulgaria (102 degrees C). The hot water fills the hotel and public pools of the town. Several family-owned, mid-range hotels are available.
Distance from Sofia to Sapareva Bania: 82 km
Panichishte is a small resort 9 km above Separeva Bania and 4 km, or 45 min if hiking, from the Rilski Ezera Chair Lift. It offers several large but basic hotels surrounded by a lush pine forest.
FOOD AND DRINKS
Food, drinks and tacky souvenirs are on display at the bottom station of the lift in summer.
Once in the area of the lakes, head to Rilski Ezera hut for a cooked meal or to stock up on various junk food items.
Sunrise seen from Rila's highest part.
Apart from the Rila Lakes, the majestic Rila Mountain is home to Mt Musala, the highest mountain peak on the Balkan Peninsula (2925 m above sea level), coming ahead of the famous lounge of the Greek gods Mt Olympus (2915 m) by only 7 meters.
Rila Mountain is also well-known for its thick pine forests, bare alpine terrain, rock climbing, avalanche prone areas, the ski resort of Borovets and above all the Rila Monastery.
Rila is the largest national park in Bulgaria, covering an area of 810.46 km².
Learn more about Rila from the Rila National Park’s official website.
HIKING TRAILS STARTING FROM THE RILA LAKES AREA
Maliovitsa Hut surrounded by rugged mountain peaks.
The Seven RIla Lakes area is a good launching pad for longer hikes around Rila Mountain. Well marked trails to Rila’s most popular spots start from here.
- Rila Lakes to Rila Monastery (5 h)
- Rila Lakes to Ivan Vazov Hut (3.5 h)
- Rila Lakes to Skakavitsa Hut (1.45 h)
- Rila Lakes to Maliovitsa hut (6 h)
Remember to always make advanced reservations for mountain huts in the busy summer months. While you will never be turned away you might end up sleeping on the floor or on the kitchen table.
Most huts offer hot food and drinks.
PRACTICAL TIPS FOR HIKERS IN RILA
Rila is a real mountain, not a walk in the park. It should be taken seriously.
Here are some safety tips on how to prepare for your hike, what to pack and how to behave.
- Tell someone where you are going and when you will be back.
- Avoid hiking alone. If hiking in a group, never stray from the group.
- Dress for the mountain. The weather changes quickly and temperatures can fall below freezing at night. Always carry a sweatshirt and a wind-proof jacket, as well as a light sports winter hat with you. Yes, even in summer!
- Carry a good-quality raincoat that comfortably covers you and your backpack.
- Wear tried and tested hiking boots. The boots will also protect from snake bites. And don’t forget to cut your toenails. For shorter hikes tennis shoes might also do, but you will not be comfortable.
- Apply generous amount of sunscreen on your face and neck in all seasons. Have a lip balm handy and wear a baseball or a bucket hat and sunglasses.
- Carry some food or power bars and a water bottle. Stream water above 2000 m is generally safe to drink, but if you want to be on the safe side carry water purifying tablets.
- If using the lift double check the lift’s closing time and be back at the station at least 15 min before.
- If planning a longer hike don’t leave without a detailed map of the mountain, a GPS, compass and a fully charged phone. Hikers do get lost in Rila every year.
- Stay on marked trails. Making shortcuts and “bushwhacking” causes erosion and greatly increases your chance of becoming lost. As you hike, pay attention to trail blazes (paint marks on trees) and landmarks.
- Have a headlight or a pocket light with fully charged batteries and a small knife.
- Don’t leave without any medicine you might need plus a strong painrelief medicine and bandage. The bandage will help to immobilize a sprained wrist or ankle or a broken limb. For a broken limb use a tree branch.
- Carry a backpack even if going on short walks. The backpack will comfortably fit the above items and can serve as your protection against hail.
CAUTION: Hikes in the winter are not recommended for the unexperienced. Never hike in winter without an experienced mountain guide who is very familiar with the area. Rila is avalanche prone and even famous Bulgarian mountain climbers have lost their lives here.
In emergency call 112.
RULES OF THE GAME
Rila is a natural reserve. Treat it with the respect it deserves.
Here are some do's and don't for hiking in Rila Mountain.
- Do not pick flowers. Wild mountain flowers will not last. We bet you they will be dry within 2 hours. There is no point in picking them, plus it is forbidden.
- Avoid using off road vehicles. It might sound exciting but it destroys the delicate surface fauna of the mountain, plus the noise scares off the wild life and disturbs other tourists. If you are not up for the climb, take the lift.
- If camping, use only the designated spots. Camping around the Seven RIla Lakes is forbidden.
- Once in the area of the Seven Rila lakes use only the designated trails. Trampling of the area by tourists might cause the lakes to turn into swamps.
- No bathing or swimming in lakes and rivers.
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