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Riding the Bulgarian Rapids

Imagine sailing the rapids amidst the wilds of the Bulgarian landscape. Rafting has been given a real boost among the Bulgarian population ever since trendy Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev sailed the rapids of the Struma River and the country offers much in the way of diverse locations where you can carry out this exciting sport. A rafting holiday in Bulgaria is a great way to satisfy your hunger for excitement with the opportunity to see a little more of what lies beyond the purpose built tourist resorts. Bulgaria has many fast flowing rivers to provide adrenalin seekers with the perfect experience at exceptionally low costs.


How it’s done

Since the 1970’s, rafting has become a challenging recreational pastime but it can be somewhat dangerous activity, especially if basic safety measures are not followed.  The basic principle of rafting involves using an inflatable raft to navigate a fast flowing river. Rafters proffer towards whitewater for which rafting associations have a measurement scale to assess the degrees of rough water. In Bulgaria rivers fall into the categories 2 to 5. Early summer and autumn and spring are probably the best times to raft here, but the choice is really down to the individual as most companies offer rides nearly all year round, although the height of summer is not a good time for rafting as water levels are generally too low to permit it. Rafters in Bulgaria are provided with helmets and life jackets to ensure their protection in the water. Instruction is given before every ride with each guide detailing how to behave on board and listing the rafting commands, which help steer the craft on the river. There are also a series of "dry" runs to help everyone familiarise themselves with the tasks required. Then the boat is carried by the rafting group to the river. Each raft has a crew of four to six people. Heavier members sit at the front to maintain the raft’s balance. Each boat has an experienced guide on board to ensure that no-one runs into any danger. The idea at the start is to row in unison. Each oarsman is securely attached to the raft by their feet, making it impossible to fall overboard.

Rafting Locations

The Struma River is Bulgaria’s most popular rafting location, renowned for its fast currents; it is a category 3 to 5 river on the international rafting measurement scale with a high propensity of white waves. The stretch of river suitable for rafting is around 10 to 12 km long, which equates to about an hour and a half’s raft time. The Struma flows close to the town of Kresna in the south of the country taking its source from the Vitosha Mountain and exiting in the Aegean Sea in Greece. As the country’s fifth longest river, it is 415 km in length, 290 km of which are on Bulgarian territory.  The waters are calm in parts allowing you to enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the Pirin Mountains and the lush forests. Water becomes faster flowing around one of the most scenic parts of the river - the magnificent Kresna Gorge, which extends over 25 km. The Gorge played host this year to a round of the European Rafting Cup, which attracted around 300 competitors from across Europe. Finally the rafting ride down this river ends in a beautiful valley around Sandanski, Bulgaria’s sunniest town.

The Mesta River also skirts the Pirin National Park, but is much calmer than the Struma and ideal for beginners or those who want to perfect their paddling and navigation techniques. The surrounding countryside is amazing, with plenty of rich forests and mountain peaks. After your ride you can visit the quaint town of Bansko, famous for its international ski resort.

The Arda River in the Rhodope Mountains flows close to the charming town on Smolyan.  The river is the largest in the Rhodopes with 241 km flowing on Bulgarian soil against a total length of 290 km. In Bulgaria, the river flows eastward past the towns of Kardzhali and Ivailovgrad into Greece and Turkey where it joins the Maritsa River to the west of Edirne. The Bulgarian part of this river provides a home to three hydroelectric and irrigation dams, they are Kardzhali Dam, Studen Kladenets Dam and Ivailovgrad Dam. One of the rivers most scenic sights is the medieval arched bridge called the Dyavilski Bridge, which straddles the river 10 km outside of the town of Ardino.

The Osam River in the north of Bulgaria is a total of 314 km in length. Its source originates at an altitude of 1821 m at the foot of Levski Peak in the Balkan Mountains.  Its destination is the River Danube close to the town of Nikopol.

The Cost of Excitement

Companies like Adventure Net ( one-day rafting trips for around 50 lv. per person and the cost  includes the use of professional equipment, training, insurance and experienced guides. It takes about an hour to train and prepare everyone on board for the journey through the rapids and the raft ride itself lasts up to an hour and a half. If you enjoy your experience you can book a two day trip, which includes a hike by bicycle with the raft ride and accommodation in a tent close to the river. You can even combine your holiday with horse riding for an extra cost for a two day experience. Most companies “secretly” film your ride and sell pictures at the end.

Pictures courtesy of Atanas Grozdanov