If you’re lucky enough to be visiting the beautiful lands of Bulgaria, there’s one adventure you might want to add to your to-do list: conquering the Musala Peak, aka the highest mountain in the Balkans.
Sounds big, right?
Despite what tour agencies say, you can ascend the Musala peak on your own. It’s not easy, mind you, but it’s definitely doable.
Of course, you can do a guided tour to Musala from Sofia, which will come at a cost of around 100 Euros. But if you’re looking to sparing some money — and also hate the idea of being stuck to a tour guide who never shuts up — here’s a detailed guide to how to climb the Musala peak completely solo.
The Solo Hiker’s Guide to
the Musala Peak in Bulgaria
Before doing this hike in October 2016, I found very scarce amount of information available on the web on how to get to Musala, where to stay, etc. So in this article, I’m putting together all the research pieces I’ve collected before combined with the first-hand information I’ve learned after my hike.
Before I start, do remember to that any mountain hike is no joke. You have to come prepared! I was dumb enough to do the climb completely unprepared — no water, no snacks, no map — and I could have seriously endangered myself. At a certain point, I almost collapsed from exhaustion, since I was hiking for 5 hours straight with no food or refreshments.
Don’t make my mistake! Instead, follow these 6 quick tips for climbing the Musala peak:
- The best time to climb is from June to September. Off-season begins in early October.
- Don’t forget to take high-calories protein snacks and a 0.5-1L bottle of water. You will be able to refill it from the rivers, waterfalls and lakes later on. The water is clean.
- Comfortable hiking shoes are a must.
- As soon as the sun comes out, it gets very hot. As soon as it hides behind the clouds, it gets very cold. Dress like an onion — in layers.
- Take sunscreen and moisturizer with you. Up in the mountains the sun rays hit way harder, leaving your skin very dried out.
- And finally, don’t throw trash in the nature! Take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints!
Beginning the hike to the Musala Peak
The ultimate starting point of the hike of your life lies in the small town of Borovets located on the northern slopes of Rila around 70 km from Sofia.
To get there, you should first take a bus to Samokov from Sofia’s South Bus Station (“Автогара Юг”), which departs every half an hour starting at 7am. It will take about an hour and will cost you 4 leva (=2 Eurs).
From there, it’s a jut a 15-minute trip on a minibus to Borovets (1.3 leva or 0.6 Eurs). There might be some waiting time involved, though.
Useful link: Bus schedules in Bulgaria, http://avtogari.info/ (in Bulgarian only)
During winter, Borovets transforms into a typical ski resort, where you can spend your days snowboarding, skiing, horseback riding, snowball fighting, snow man making, and every other winter activity that your heart might desire. Thankfully, global warming hasn’t got to this part of the world yet, so you’re assured to have lots of snow every single winter, every single year.
Once in Borovets, you have different hiking options to choose from.
You can either do a day hike, going into the mountains early in the morning and coming back to the town in the evening, which will take you around 12-14 hours. In this case, you might want to spend a night in Borovets beforehand, to make sure that you can begin your hike early enough. (Or, take the earliest 7-30 am bus from Sofia to Samokov, from there take a taxi to Borovets (the fastest solution), and start your day at around 9am.)
Alternatively, you can also take a chair lift to Sytnakovo, which is approximately the middle of Mt. Musala, and hike from there. You would still need to start early, though.
Lastly, the easiest option is to take a gondola lift to Yastrebets — it is the highest point, from which you can start your climb.
A return ticket for the lift costs 18 leva (=9 Eurs), but be aware that from the end of September until the beginning of the winter season all lifts are closed for maintenance work — all with the exception of the one to Sytnakovo.
The ultimate Mt. Musala climb
Since my climb to Musala happened in early October, and because I arrived to Borovets relatively late already, I had no choice but take a lift to Sytnakovo. Equipped with nothing but a basic map (which wasn’t that helpful, to be honest), I would see few signs occasionally popping up here and there, which were pointing me in the right direction. I first had to go a bit up the mountain and then a bit down path built for mountain bikers (which was a bit scary, since those crazy people bike at a super high speed — so watch out to prevent an accident!). Then, there was a little forest waterfall where I found indications to go up the hill. From there, the “real” hike started, as I was finally on the “official” Musala Path.
There are three mountain huts on the way to the peak: Musala hut (xижа Мусала), Icy Lake hut (хижа Ледено езеро), and the Musala Summit hut.
Musala hut (2389m) is the perfect stop to make before conquering the peak. Since it took me 5-6 hours to get there from Sytnakovo and at that point I was already pushing all the limits of exhaustion, I decided to spend the night there and climb the peak the next morning.
The hut is very basic, nothing luxurious — there’s no shower, the toilet is outside, and if you don’t trust the hygiene level of the place, you might want to prefer a sleeping bag to a mattress. There’s a tiny dining room where you can also get some food, refreshments and snacks if you want to continue your trip. And the hut owner, Valentin, is one friendly Bulgarian!
As for prices, I paid 20 leva (=10 Eurs) for one night of accommodation, few cups of tea and few bowls of beans soup (the type of “boring” meal you get when hiking in the mountains).
There was a gorgeous lake right nearby the Musala hut, which gave an exciting teaser of the gorgeous views I were to witness the following day.
In the morning, I had a quick breakfast (the beans soup again) and resumed my hike. There’s a very clear path with indicators that lead you through — you can see signs here and there. That early morning, Musala still looked pretty sleepy, cozily covered in thick fog. Everything surrounding me was wrapped up in this white, dense, beautiful fog, creating a mystical, moody atmosphere. In fact, the visibility was down to just a few metres. As you go up, you pass by one or two lakes, where you can refill the bottle with some water, and see how the scenery changes from bright green to grey mineral. The path is lined with huge, uneven stones, making the hike even more demanding than it already is. I had to constantly watch my step, and was unable to keep my breath with my own pace.
But let’s face it: climbing a real mountain is freaking, freaking hard. It is an arduous, tiring deed. So occasionally, I did have to make some stops, using this time to recharge my batteries, acknowledge all the way I’ve already made, and appreciate the magical views around me.
In 2 hours and 10 minutes, however, I finally reached the end.
And must I say, it’s a tremendous sensation of joy, pride, marvel, and empowerment that you feel once you reach the peak! It was honestly amazing and I felt like after doing THIS, I could literally do ANYTHING in life.
At the top of the mountain, I’ve laid out a little picnic for myself, indulging in well-deserved chocolate, candies, and sweetened nuts. As the sun finally decided to make a little sneak peek out of the clouds, the scenery started to break through the swirling mist, exposing the mountains in all their naked gorgeousness.
As I was descending, I saw details I never noticed before. Here’s a little spring of fresh water, where unknown hikers have left some soap to someone who might need it. Here’s a lantern, that somebody else has left in case you’re going back too late in the evening. So even though I was going back to Borovets in complete solitude, these sweet little details reminded me that I wasn’t alone.
Getting back from the very top of the mountain to the very bottom of it took me about five hours. I would occasionally make stops again, enjoying the silence, freeing my mind, and thanking my lucky stars for gifting me such an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Over to you! Would you climb Musala peak on your own?
If you need more inspiration and information about how to climb Mount Musala, check out this guide!