Bulgaria may not be the first European rock climbing destination to spring to mind. Yet here you’ll find everything that characterizes the more popular Western European destinations – limestone, quality routes, excellent food, phenomenal landscapes – without any of the polish or overcrowded crags.
A map of the rock climbing areas in Bulgaria © Francesco Bonvecchio
Why Bulgaria should be your next rock climbing destination
Europe's oldest country has much to offer the outdoor enthusiast. Undulating mountain ranges dominate Bulgaria's Central and Southwestern regions, acting as a haven for wildlife including populations of wolves, lynx and bears. To the East, you'll find the Black Sea coast with its golden beaches and shimmering waters. Ancient historical sites, richly adorned churches and monasteries, traditional villages where hospitality reigns supreme dot the landscape. And the rock rock climbing! Bulgaria may not be able to compete with Italy or Spain in terms of quantity of routes. Yet this is more than made up for by the quality and uniqueness of each crag - from etherial caves to phenomenal limestone formations, slabs to overhangs, alpine routes to deep water solo...
Rock climbing in Bulgaria is the perfect way to experience the country’s vibrant culture and varied landscapes. Rent a car, plan a few days at each crag and factor in some rest days to explore the hiking trails and cultural sites. It’s well worth learning a few phrases in Bulgarian, and remember that nodding means no and shaking your head yes!
Heather Weidner on 'Varna', a 7b climb in the Prohodna Cave. The cave's two symmetrical skylights, known as 'God's Eyes' can be seen in the background © Ruslan Vakrilov
What are the best rock climbing areas in Bulgaria?
Rock climbing in Vratsa
Start your rock climbing trip in the town of Vrasta, located about an hour’s drive West from Karluko on the edge of the Vratsa Balkan National Park. A grey-streaked limestone gorge near thee town holds over 600 routes, two-thirds of which are alpine-style trad up to 7c. Most of these are concentrated on the Central Wall, which, at 350m tall, offers the longest climbs in the country. You’ll also find a good number of single and multi-pitch sport routes between 5c and 8c on the shorter surrounding walls, although the bolting can be sparse so some additional trad gear may be required. For those climbing in the high 7s or 8s, the extremely overhanging Golyamata Dupka (Big Cave) offers some good challenges and fantastic views worth the hike.
Ivo Ninov eyes up the next move on 'Terminator' (7a), a route on the 350m tall Central Wall in the Vrasta Balkan National Park © Ruslan Vakrilov
Rock climbing in the Iskar Valley
Just South of Vrasta and only 60km from Sofia, you’ll find some good rock climbing near the village of Lakatnik in the valley of the Iskar river. The cliffs in the region have been eroded into some pretty spectacular formations – towers, needles, pyramids – and offer over 300 bolted routes. The area is also home to some rare flora, such as the only verified population of the Bulgarian medicinal plant Selne Velcevii. For the best sport climbing in this area, head to the Vrazhite Dupki crag in the Proboynitsa River canyon, a freestanding massif offering short, technical routes (15 to 18m long) between 5a and 8c+. The rock here is very unique: the climbing is on vertical routes or slabs, very technical with small edges and a lot of smearing. On rest days, we recommend exploring the hiking trails offering beautiful views of the Iskar Gorge and fascinating caves in the area.
Heather Weidner on 'Rebraritsa' (7a+), a climb in Ribaritsa - an area located about a 2 hour drive Southeast from Vrasta © Ruslan Vakrilov
Rock climbing in the Rila Mountains
For some Bulgarian alpine adventures, head to the Rila mountains, a couple hours South of Sofia. The ancient Thracians called these the ‘mountains of water’ because of the over 200 glacial lakes lying amidst the peaks. The stunning national park is home to populations of deer, wild goats and falcons – and, of course, great rock climbing! In the Malyovista valley, the ‘cradle of Bulgarian alpinism’, you’ll find a good few alpine-style trad routes between 150 and 200m long, on firm rock. The routes are graded 4a to 7c, with approaches between 1 to 4 hours long and spectacular views from the top!
Deep Water Soloing in Tyulenovo
Finally, for some laid-back deep water soloing head Tyulenovo on the Black Sea coast. With over 60 routes up to 8a, there’s plenty here to keep you occupied. The cliffs aren’t too tall – maximum 12 meters – but the routes are said to be of comparable quality to Mallorca. The best time to visit is in September, when the water is at its warmest but the area is less busy than in summer.
Genoveva Mihaylova on 'Mecho Buh' (6c+), Tyulenovo © Ruslan Vakrilov
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A huge thank you to Ruslan Vakrilov for the beautiful photos and information about these crags. Make sure to get in touch if you're planning to go rock climbing in Bulgaria.
Thanks also to Francesco Bonvecchio for the stunning illustrated map. Francesco's maps and artwork will feature in the Climbing
Travel Guide. You can find more of his work on his instagram page, @bonvecchiofrancesco
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Top photo caption: Sonya Dimitrova climbing on 'Naroden' (6b+) in the Vrasta Balkan National Park © Ruslan Vakrilov.
A version of this article will feature in the Climbing Travel Guide, out now! Buy your copy from the Mapo Tapo shop