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Into the Abyss, Caving in the Rhodope Mountains

Bulgaria’s diverse landscape offers some fantastic opportunities for those who like to explore the deep depths of the earth’s caves. There are around 4,620 caves across the country all of which have a detailed history and most of which are open to the public, with some areas off limits to anyone who isn’t a member of a caving club. You don’t need to be an accomplished caver to explore some of these amazing sites, most offer guided tours to the general public during usually the summer months.

Ouhlovitsa Cave

Located close to Mogilitsa, this is possible the most beautiful cave in Bulgaria. It was first discovered in 1967 at an altitude of 1,040 m. Part of the cave is open to the public but can only be accessed by means of a long, steep path. Inside, there are some striking rock formations as well as cave lakes and waterfalls. The cave maintains a temperature of around 10 all year round. There are several levels within the cave and a metal staircase connects them.

Yagodinska Cave

Tucked away in the Rhodope Mountains close to the village of Yagodina, this cave is open to the general public from late spring to late autumn. The cave is chilly with temperatures of six degrees all year round and it takes an hour on the guided tour to explore the richness of this ancient cavern. There are three levels, but only one is open to the public; the remaining two levels can be visited by small groups of cavers with prior booking. The cave is full of stalagmites and stalactites, but the real treasure here are the cave pearls, which are pearl coloured pieces of rock formed when water drips over centuries into a shallow pool. This causes a loss of carbon dioxide, which precipitates calcite around a nucleus of sand or bone. One wall of the cave is known as “the wall of sin” – visitors are encouraged to stick a coin onto the clay-covered part of the wall; legend has it that only those who are innocent can accomplish. Many Bulgarian couples choose this cave as the perfect location for their marriage ceremony and on New Year’s Eve local cave lovers celebrate here.

Snezhanka Cave

This tiny cave lies close to the town of Peshtera and is not easily accessed unless you are prepared to climb a long, steep, rugged path.  It was discovered in 1961 derives its name which means Snow White from one of the rock formations inside, which is said to resemble the fairy tale heroine. Archaeologists have found all manner of relics inside the cave and believe that it was once a Thracian shelter. The cave is relatively small at only 145 m long but well lit thanks to the many holes in the caves ceiling. There are several chambers to explore with the best being tucked away inside the Big Chamber, the Magic Chamber and the Music Chamber.

Duavolskoto Gurlo

This cave is home to Bulgaria’s largest underground waterfall, in fact there is no other of this magnitude on the Balkan Peninsula. Its name which translates as “the devils throat” derives from the unusual shape of its entrance. The cave is open to the public during the summer months, but this is not a cave for the faint-hearted; if you fear heights then this cave will send you into spasms. Inside, the Bouchashtata Zala or roaring chamber swells with the sound of the waterfall.  Everything swept into the cave by the river that flows here never leaves and for this reason there are many legends associated with this cave including the myth that Orpheus entered this cave to try and reclaim his wife Eurydice from the devil. Orpheus was a gifted flautist who gave up playing his music when his wife died. People believed that the Devil had taken her into his cave and Orpheus went there to get here back. If you visit this cave it is easy to understand why centuries ago it was associated with the devil. Orpheus was allowed to take his wife back to earth on the condition that she followed him and that he didn't look round until they were safely back in the land of the living, but as she climbed the 300 tiny, vertical steps she fell, called out his name and he turned around to witness her being pulled back to Hell - easy to believe when you find yourself puffing and panting your way out of the eerie darkness of the cave via those crudely cut steps.

Haramiyska Cave

Archaeologists have found many treasures inside this cave including human remains, which are now displayed in the History Museum in nearby Smolyan.  The Haramiyska cave lies close to the Diavolskoto Gurlo cave. It is really two caves, separated by an abyss. To access this cave you need to be part of an organised caving group as you will need to scale the rock face to access the entrance. Several companies organise instruction, equipment and a qualified guide for those who want to visit and the cost is in the region of 180 lv. Once inside the cave you will have to crawl on your hands and knees. The cave has become popular with companies looking to stage team-building events.

Lepenitsa Cave

The Lepenitsa Cave is situated 10 km from the town of Rakitovo. It became a protected site 1962 because of its rock formations and the fact that over 8 types of bat live here and a further 20 animal species. It is not well kitted out for tourist visits but many extreme sports clubs come here and offer instruction and guidance.  The cave is 1525 m in length but there are still some inaccessible areas which have not been explored. The Lepenitsa River flows directly through the cave and in some parts it has caused internal lakes. Geologists have also found cave pearls here similar to those in the Yagodinska cave and these are now on display at the Sofia National Museum of Natural History.