Bulgaria: Realm of the Brown bear

8 days
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1 205 €
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4.8 / 5 from 4 reviews >
Moderate
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Trip code: 
WBB
Way to Travel:
Guided Group
Activity:
Wildlife
Min age:
16
Group size:
4–12

Brown bear conservation project in the remote Rodopi Mountains

Spend a week in the Rodopi Mountains discovering the realm of the Brown bear. Joined by European Brown bear expert Julian Perry, this holiday gives a unique insight into the behaviour and ecology of these most iconic yet secretive carnivores.

During the course of the week we make daily hikes through the heart of prime Brown bear habitat, recording tracks, scats and other signs of bear activity as part of an on-going Brown bear conservation project.

On two evenings there will be the chance to visit a specially constructed bear watching hide from where there are good opportunities to see some of the bears whose activity we have been monitoring during our days in the mountains. In addition, we will also be collecting and collating images from several camera traps that will be set up in the surrounding forests.

By the end of this holiday we hope you will not only have seen Brown bears in the wild but also have an understanding and appreciation of the fascinating way of life of these mysterious and often misunderstood animals.

Highlights

  • Become directly involved in a Brown bear conservation project
  • Informative daily bear tracking walks
  • Two visits to a hide for wild Brown bear observation
  • Birds, butterflies and rare orchids
  • Remote landscapes in the Rodopi Mountains
  • Delicious traditional local cuisine

Key information

  • 7 nights hotel, all rooms en suite
  • Travel by private minibus, 4WD and on foot
  • Normally 4 to 12, plus leader. Min age 16 years
  • Travel by private minibus, 4WD and on foot

What's included

  • All breakfasts, 6 lunches and 7 dinners included
  • All accommodation
  • Transfers for group flights

What's not included

  • Travel insurance
  • Visa's and Vaccinations
  • Single Supplement
Call for general departures:
+47-22 41 30 30
Call for tailormade trips:
+44 (0)20 8772 3874
Trip Notes

Click on the button below for detailed Trip Notes containing all the particulars about this trip, including kit lists and practical information.

Note: these can vary by departure; you can check out the specific Trip Notes for your chosen adventure on the dates & prices page.

Day by day breakdown
Day 210.0km/6.0miles
Day 314.0km/8.0miles
Day 411.0km/6.0miles
Day 516.0km/10.0miles
Day 612.0km/7.0miles
Day 710.0km/6.0miles

Responsible Travel

At Exodus we believe in the power of Responsible Travel.

Every time we travel, we are part of a global movement that creates jobs, builds more sustainable societies, encourages cultural understanding and safeguards common natural and cultural heritage. To learn more about what Responsible Travel means to Exodus click here… 

Itinerary

  • Day 1

    Start Sofia Airport. Transfer to the village of Yagodina in the remote Rodopi Mountains

    Setting off from Sofia airport we begin a long but interesting 4-hour transfer to the Rodopi Mountains. Our destination is the remote mountain village of Yagodina, where we will be based for the next 6 nights. During dinner, our leader will give an opening briefing about the week ahead and the work of the local NGO ‘Wild Rodopi’ whose Brown bear research and conservation project you will be assisting.

    Hotel Yagodina or similar

    Meals included: Dinner
  • Day 2

    Visit the caves at Yagodinska Peshtera. Circular bear tracking walk in the forests above Yagodina; evening visit to bear hide

    After breakfast, we start the day with a visit to the nearby Yagodinska Peshtera to discover the rich variety of cave formations and cave life that are found within, including some rare cave invertebrates, several species of bat, and a family of Fat (or Edible) dormice. Part of the cave system was once utilized as a prehistoric dwelling, so provides the ideal place to discuss the evolution of bears and their relationship with early Man.

    Returning to the village, we then set off on our first bear tracking walk, which will lead us into the surrounding forests searching for, recording and interpreting evidence of Brown bear activity such as scats, prints and various feeding signs. During the walk, there will be an introduction to safe bear/human interaction and behaviour. In the evening, half the group will have their first visit to the bear hide. Visiting the hide usually necessitates having an early dinner so that we can be in position before darkness falls. Bears are attracted to the hide by the presence of corn but are not dependant on this for their diet. Depending on the amount of activity in the clearing we may stay until around 11 pm, or with permission of the group earlier or later. 

    Hotel Yagodina or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast Lunch Dinner
  • Day 3

    Circular bear tracking walk through forests and meadows; evening visit bear hide

    After breakfast, a short drive brings us to the trailhead for the start of a beautifully varied walk in a little-visited part of the region. Having forded a shallow stream, we then follow a series of old forestry tracks that are also used as a convenient network of trails by Brown bears. This area is not only rich in butterflies and birds, but also of great historical interest. During our walk, we will visit a site, which according to some historians and archaeologists, was the place where Orpheus was torn to pieces by the wild Maenads, the female followers of Dionysus. It certainly seems a suitably mystical and atmospheric spot that fits in well with Ovid’s poetic description of these dramatic events. After dinner, the second half of the group will have its first visit to the bear hide.

    Hotel Yagodina or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast Lunch Dinner
  • Day 4

    Panoramic walk in rugged and rocky karst terrain, rich in birds, butterflies and orchids; evening visit bear hide.

    Setting off on foot from our hotel, we make a steep, steady climb up the stony flank of the mountain ridge above the village. Here in spring and early summer, there are several interesting species of orchid to be found, as well as numerous butterflies. On reaching the ridgeback, we climb up to the highest peak where we are rewarded with a wonderful cliff-top viewpoint. The rocks here are home to several typical cliff-dwelling species of bird including the beautiful wallcreeper, Peregrine falcon, Rock thrush, Crag martin and Alpine swift. It is also possible to spot other raptors gliding over, such as Golden eagle, Short-toed eagle, Booted eagle, Long-legged buzzard, Eurasian hobby and Common kestrel. The wonderful views remain with us throughout the day as we continue our walk, zig-zagging steeply down into the depths of the Buynovsko Gorge on a rough and stony path that leads through a favoured feeding region for both Brown bear and Balkan chamois. This evening, the first half of the group will have their second visit to the bear hide.

    Hotel Yagodina or similar 

  • Day 5

    Bear tracking walk through a mosaic of bear habitats in the mountains south of Yagodina; evening visit bear hide

    Having made our way out of the village on foot and crossed an area of rolling open pastures, we begin a steady climb into the forest, following a route that is frequently used by both wolves and bears. The further we climb, the wilder the landscape feels, and in places, the forests are punctuated with clearings and meadows that are often grazed by Roe deer and Wild boar, and where in early summer a variety of rare flowers and butterflies can be seen. Later in the day, we drop into the dappled shade of a river valley, a favoured place for bears, and also a suitable habitat for more interesting plants and butterflies. After supper, there will be another visit to the bear hide for the second half of the group.

    Hotel Yagodina or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast Lunch Dinner
  • Day 6

    Circular bear tracking walk through remote carnivore habitat

    After breakfast we set off from the hotel on foot, beginning a strenuous but highly rewarding bear tracking walk. Having left the village pastures behind, we begin a long steep climb that sees us enter a densely forested region that is roamed not only by several Brown bears, but as our camera traps have shown, a variety of other carnivores including Wildcat, Grey wolf, Red fox, European badger, Pine marten and Stone marten. Especially exciting is the fact that Balkan lynx, a species considered extinct in Bulgaria for almost a century, has very recently been recorded here again! The forests here also harbour many secretive birds such as Hazel grouse, Black woodpecker and Crested tit. The midpoint of our trail brings us out onto some wonderful rock outcrops from where there are stunning views towards Greece, across waves of forested ridges that make a perfect trans-border corridor by which the large carnivore populations of Bulgaria and Greece can intermix. Our descent then leads us down through more silent forest, and what is the heart of core Brown bear habitat. Here we should see plenty of signs of bear activity, including several trees that they have bitten, scratched and rubbed, giving us a chance to learn more about other fascinating aspects of Brown bear behaviour.

    Hotel Yagodina or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast Lunch Dinner
  • Day 7

    Forest and riverside walks in search of orchids, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians; transfer to Sofia

    Leaving Yagodina on foot, we start the day with a short walk along a beautiful forest path, which in spring and early summer is renowned for its exceptional variety of orchids. Formerly an ancient Thracian packhorse route, this path is often used by bears when feeding in the surrounding forests on beech mast and ants. After meeting our bus, a 45-minute drive brings us to the beautiful valley of the Devinska Reka, where we will spend a couple of hours walking a delightful riverside trail. As well as being home to Eurasian otter and a variety of typical riverine birds such as Dipper and Grey wagtail, the valley also forms the heart of a specially designated Prime Butterfly Area and provides the perfect habitat for many rare and beautiful butterfly species. Having enjoyed a picnic lunch beside the river, we then complete the transfer (3 hours 30 minutes) back to Sofia.

    Hotel Hill or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast Lunch Dinner
  • Day 8

    End Sofia.

    For those on the BA group flight, we will check out of the hotel straight after breakfast and drive into the city centre where there will be time for a short sightseeing tour on foot to see some of Sofia's main sites, before transferring to the airport for the flight to London.

    Meals included: Breakfast
Trip Notes

Click on the button below for detailed Trip Notes containing all the particulars about this trip, including kit lists and practical information.

Note: these can vary by departure; you can check out the specific Trip Notes for your chosen adventure on the dates & prices page.

Essential Info

Visas

Bulgaria

Visas are not required for Bulgaria for British and other EU passport holders. Other nationalities should check with the relevant authorities.

Vaccinations

Bulgaria

There are no mandatory vaccination requirements. Recommended vaccinations are: Polio, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Yellow Fever. The risk of malaria is slight but you may wish to consult your GP or travel health clinic for further advice.

Eating and Drinking

Hotel ‘Yagodina’ is renowned for its delicious traditional local cuisine, offering generous sized servings of hearty, healthy food, much of it made from home-produced or locally sourced products. Typical meals whilst in the mountains will comprise of:

Breakfast: tea, coffee and milk, with bread, jam, honey and cheese, supplemented in Yagodina by fresh home-made yoghurt and traditional local specialities such as thick pancakes known as 'katmi' and a rice-based dish called 'rodopski klin'.

Lunch: picnic lunches will be eaten in the mountains and typically comprise bread, cheese, salami, salad, a chocolate bar and fruit. Many guests also like to take with them an extra portion of the local speciality that was served up for them at breakfast.

Dinner: will be taken in our hotel restaurant, and will normally include three courses comprising either a salad or vegetarian soup, followed by a main course, and a dessert of fruit, ice cream, or cake/pudding. The cuisine reflects a mixture of Bulgarian, Greek, Turkish and Slavonic influences. We sample many traditional local specialities including 'smilyanski fasul', a delicious bean soup, and 'patatnik', a local delicacy made with grated potatoes, onions, and cheese, then seasoned with mint and other herbs. Jugs of tap water will be provided on the table with the evening meal. Bottled mineral water, soft drinks and alcohol are not included but can be purchased.

There are several Bulgarian wines that you may wish to try, including an excellent red 'Mavrud' from vineyards on the northern slopes of the Rodopi Mountains.

Vegetarians and Vegans: Bulgaria is famed for its fresh vegetables and fruit, so vegetarians are usually well catered for, although in the mountains the variety may sometimes by limited to what is seasonally available. 'Vegans need to be aware that eggs and dairy produce, especially cheese, form the staple part of the diet in the Rodopi region, and occur in the vast majority of traditional meals, so they may find their daily menu somewhat more restricted and less varied. Likewise special gluten-free products are not available, so those clients with wheat/gluten intolerance should, if needed, bring with them something to replace the local bread and pastries that make up the breakfasts and picnic lunches.

Weather

Spring and summer days are usually warm and sunny, with a refreshing mountain breeze that moderates temperatures; but please note that changeable weather and cold temperatures can be encountered at any time in the mountains. Occasionally during spring and summer, there are sudden short violent storms, which require that suitable waterproof clothing is always carried on all walks, and which may force minor amendments to the itinerary; however, after such storms, there is often a prolonged period of settled weather. Later in autumn, overnight frosts and misty dawns typically give way to beautiful sunny days, but it is always worth keeping a pair of gloves and a spare warm layer in the pack for shadier paths or when picnicking on breezy rock outcrops.

Is this trip for you?

This exciting holiday is focused in core Brown bear habitat, dominated by remote forested ridges and gorges, studded by glades and some stunning rocky karst terrain. It offers a wonderful opportunity for those wanting to observe Brown bears in the wild and to discover more about the daily life of these secretive animals. Guided throughout by Julain Perry, a bear researcher from the local NGO ‘Wild Rodopi’ you will learn how to find, identify, interpret and record signs of bear presence and activity, including footprints, scats, rub trees and feeding signs. At the same time the holiday offers a wonderful opportunity to see and photograph a great variety of other unusual wildlife including many scarce birds, butterflies, interesting reptiles and amphibians, plus many endemic plants, including several rare orchids. Our daily bear tracking activities and wildlife observation will involve exploring the mountains on foot. The routes followed on this holiday will often be quite undulating and rough and occasionally be off trail, with some steep stony ascents and descents as we climb out of deep valleys and over intervening ridges. Throughout the trip the pace of walking will remain gentle and slow so that we can search for and record signs of Brown bear activity and take time to enjoy and photograph any other wildlife we may encounter. Needless to say, it is impossible to guarantee what wildlife observations one will be lucky enough to make on any day or week, and although Brown bears and other wildlife are regularly seen at the bear hide, being wild animals foraging freely in their natural habitat, there may be occasions when they do not show. Our guide for this holiday will enthusiastically pass on skills and knowledge not only about the bears but also the other flora and fauna of the region, thus ensuring a highly rewarding, memorable and informative wildlife experience.

Call for general departures:
+47-22 41 30 30
Call for tailormade trips:
+44 (0)20 8772 3874
Trip Notes

Click on the button below for detailed Trip Notes containing all the particulars about this trip, including kit lists and practical information.

Note: these can vary by departure; you can check out the specific Trip Notes for your chosen adventure on the dates & prices page.

Accommodation

Hotel

Our base for six nights will be the village of Yagodina, a traditional rural settlement famed for its self-sufficiency and the hospitality of its inhabitants. The village lies isolated and tucked away in the Trigrad Karst region, one of the most remote parts of the Rodopi Mountains. Here we stay in the ‘Yagodina’ Family Hotel, a small village hotel offering comfortable twin and single rooms with en-suite facilities and Wifi. The hotel is owned and run by a local family and most of the food (including milk, cheese, butter, jam, honey etc.) is either home produced or locally sourced. Our final night will be at Hotel ‘Hill’, a conveniently located 4-star hotel in the Bulgarian capital Sofia.

Call for general departures:
+47-22 41 30 30
Call for tailormade trips:
+44 (0)20 8772 3874
Trip Notes

Click on the button below for detailed Trip Notes containing all the particulars about this trip, including kit lists and practical information.

Note: these can vary by departure; you can check out the specific Trip Notes for your chosen adventure on the dates & prices page.

Expert Blog Entries

  • Reviewed November 2017
    Holly Tappenden

    What an amazing place!

    This was my first ever trip with exodus and it was absolutely incredible. The scenery was beautiful, the walks were great, plenty of opportunity to look for bear activity, and one of the best experiences in my life. We saw a bear and cubs, and that was such an amazing sight! Julian and the staff at Yagodina were lovely, the group were very friendly, and it was just simply a lovely trip!

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    I think it was the 4 hours spent in the hide one night not actually seeing anything and remembering that the bears are wild animals and so when we went on another night and seeing the bear and cubs arrive, that was the most awe inspiring moment! I also loved going to the summit of the mountain and looking at the incredible panoramic view of mountains and forest! simply a view that would take me back there in a heartbeat!

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Julian was very accommodating, very friendly and very knowledgeable. He could answer any question that the group had and more!

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Take a moment to sit on the side of the mountain and take in the views. Even if you don't see a bear the walks are worth it!

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Thank you so much for making my first exodus trip a memorable one!
  • Reviewed October 2017
    v Roberts

    Wonderful bears!

    Beautiful scenery, fantastic guide. Observing bears was a real highlight.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Seeing mother and cubs at the hide and their interaction with the wild boars.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Julian "I'll tell you later" is a charming, knowledgeable, engaging guide. We learned a lot about bears, other fauna and flora, the culture and history. I've done a number of these trips and he's one of the best guides I've ever had.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    I found some of the walking quite strenuous - you must be fit. Walking sticks are useful.
  • Reviewed August 2017
    N H

    Bulgaria: The Realm of the Brown Bear

    A wonderful week in the magnificent Rodopi Mountains. Excellent walks, lots of flora and fauna with very good photographic opportunities. Led by such a great guide who gave us insights into the local culture and taught us so much about the bears that roam this fascinating wild corner of Europe.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Seeing a bear from hide (as well as the wild boar and their piglets). The wonderful array of wild flowers and butterflies in the alpine meadows were just stunning. Some awesome lizards! The traditional local dishes made with naturally grown ingredients are very tasty too :-)

    What did you think of your group leader?

    You would be hard pressed to find another guide as passionate and informative as Julian. He has such an in depth understanding of the bears and wildlife as well as the language, culture and customs of Bulgaria. A very likeable and friendly guide.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Take the opportunity on the non-bear hide evenings to walk around the village. We saw hedgehogs snuffling about about early evening and stunning sunset views can be seen from the little white church on the hill.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    If you are interested in wildlife and walking in a beautiful natural alpine region then this is the trip for you!
  • Reviewed June 2017
    Hilary Bailey

    Bulgaria, The Realm of the Brown Bear

    We had an excellent trip, learning about the evolution, distribution, habitat, food and habits of bears. We studied and measured " bear " trees and scats and were able to deduce the age and sex from these! The walks were well varied through stunning scenery.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Seeing a bear from the hide for the first time. There was also stunning mountain scenery

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Julian was very knowledgeable, well organised and kind and patient.He has built up an excellent relationship with the local villagers . I was very impressed with his Bulgarian !

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    There was (for me) some quite strenuous hiking and I was very glad I had taken good boots and walking poles.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    I Love Bulgaria !

Dates & Prices

An overview of flight options

Exodus is committed to making joining our tours as easy as possible, wherever you live. We generally only block book seats from London, but this certainly does not mean that you need to fly from there. Depending on the route and airlines available, there will usually be various options available for those who want to fly from their local airport.

This page aims to provide a useful overview of the options available to our clients. However, the best flight arrangements should be tailored to your personal requirements, so please contact our Sales team for expert advice.

 

What kind of options do I have ?

1. We can book for you: Flights from anywhere in the world - not via London  

Depending on the route, this may be direct or via an overseas hub like Amsterdam, the Middle East or elsewhere. On short haul routes there may be direct flights with low cost airlines, charter flights or scheduled airlines. Exodus can book most, but not all, of these for you. The most appropriate airline may be different to that which we use for the group flight from London, but many people now travel on different airlines and meet up with their fellow passengers at the destination.

Pros Cons
  • May be the most direct route
  • Often the extra fare compared to the London flight is minimal.
  • As you will be in the hands a single airline for your entire journey, the airline will be responsible for your bags and your connections.
  • You may not be able to join the group transfers. However, we can usually arrange private transfers, or book your flights to try and coincide with the group transfers. See notes on transfer arrangements below.

 

2. We can book for you: Connecting flights from your local airport to London

Exodus can book connecting flights to London so you can join the group flight there. Connecting times will be followed according to airline advice, or as requested by clients. There are two types of fares we can use for this option: a 'through-fare' or a 'published fare'.
 
a) A 'through-fare' is where you will be in the main airline's care throughout. You change planes, but your bags are checked all the way through to your final destination. 

b) A 'published fare' ticket is completely seperate from your onward ticket from London. It is usually cheaper than a through-fare but will need to be paid for and issued as soon as it is booked. This can be a problem if your tour has not yet reached minimum numbers. On 'published fares' neither airline is aware that you have connecting flights, so Exodus is responsible for timing your connection, not the airlines involved. The tickets are also usually non changeable and non refundable.

Pros Cons
  • Depending on the fare type, Exodus or the airline is responsible for flight connections.
  • Through fare tickets can be expensive.
  • On a published fare, tickets must be issued immediately; tickets on published fares can be very difficult to change if onward flight times change; bags are not checked though to your final destination.
  • Published fares are non-refundable.

 

3. Booking some or all of the flights yourself

You can also book connecting air travel yourself, either to London, or all the way to the start point. There may be certain airlines or routes we don't have access to, so this is always an option. However, if you make your own travel arrangements you become liable for any delays, cancellations or missed connections, and Exodus is not required to offer refunds if you have trouble reaching the start of your trip.

Pros Cons
  • You might find cheaper fares, or routes not available to Exodus.
  • You are responsible for any delays or missed connections, and the cost of the tour is not protected should you miss your flight be cancelled.

 

 Notes on transfer arrangements

Sometimes it is possible to travel on a different airline to the group flight from London. Where this is the case, we need to think about ensuring you meet up with the group with minimum extra cost and hassle.

  • On certain trips, it is easy to arrive on a different flight and still meet the group at the hotel with time in hand. We can usually arrange private transfers (at extra cost) or offer advice on taking a taxi to the start hotel.
  • On other trips (especially in Europe), the transfer meets the group flight and then travels some distance to the first night's accommodation. Where this is the case, our Sales team will try to arrange flights that arrive before (and depart after) the group. However, we do have to make it clear in your final documentation that if your flights are delayed, the transfer cannot wait for you. While Exodus or our local operators will do what we can to help you reach the start point of the tour, any additional costs must be paid by the client. 

 

Next steps? 

Call our Sales team on: 0203 733 0698

Email your query: [email protected]

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