The potholes of Bulgaria deserve some positive media attention for a change! They are a Bulgarian institution just like the Lada, Communist panel blocks and Rakiya. Of course, it’s easy to complain about Bulgaria’s potholed roads when your Renault Megane or Honda Civic suffer from regular punctures, rattles and issues with the suspension all caused by the poor state of the roads in rural Bulgaria. The fact is though that few expats consider the severity of driving on roads, where the tarmac has worn away to reveal the dirt beneath. The effect on your vehicle is not good vis a vis long term maintenance, but the simple answer here is, “you should have bought a 4x4.” Those savvy expats who did invest in a jeep or ATV may not realise that they have one of the best motor toys around and are living in off road heaven.
Experience Off-Road Bulgaria
If you have never experienced off-roading, you need to get used to handling your vehicle on Bulgaria’s rural roads first. Bounce along a few potholed roads and try a few established dirt tracks and gradually build your confidence so that you can increase your speed. Your aim during you practice sessions is to build up to tackle some real off road terrain like sand, snow, gravel, mud and even rocks.
The Best ATV’s
Most car manufacturers feature an all terrain vehicle (ATV) in their range nowadays and these are usually priced somewhere near the top of the range, however, with much choice on offer and some bargains to be had in the strong second hand car market, you should be able to pick up a suitable vehicle, which will serve your needs on and off road. Land Rovers, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Suzuki Vitara and Suzuki Samurai are all perfect for off-roading. Avoid Russian buys in Bulgaria like the Lada Niva or UAZ; whilst the Lada Niva it looks like jeep it is actually a car and is fraught with problems because it does not have solid metal frame for a chassis and has poor articulation with its original suspension. It is vehicle that is cheap to buy, but needs constant maintenance, and if you are not capable of performing basic mechanics you could find yourself left high and dry stuck in the mud in the middle of nowhere. If you have your heart set on a Russian model you should get rid of the Volga engine and replace it with a simple V8 with electronic fuel injection.
If you are looking for low cost off-roader that is reliable then a Land Rover Discovery 1 is a good choice; it is very strong, cheap in parts and easy to work on. Alternatively, a Suzuki Vitara with a long base and with BF Goodrich T/A tyres will survive some of the most challenging off-road terrain. The Long Vitara 2L 16V with air-con is the best choice and very cost effective for those who want a reliable on and off road vehicle, which does not drink too much juice, it is a vehicle that can also be converted to LPG making it even cheaper to run.
Bulgaria really is off-road heaven with virtually every rural area providing some exciting terrain. The only places you cannot off-road in are the National Parks. The sport has grown so much in popularity that people come from neighbouring countries every weekend to participate in organised events or just to do their own off-road thing. There are so many great routes to choose from but the following list was put together by keen off-road enthusiasts:
Vidin to Malko Tarnovo
Petrich to Varna
Melnik to Bansko
Kovatchevitsa to Velingrad
Undola to Belmeken Lake
Kostenets to Vada
The Rhodope Mountains
You will need to ensure that you have a GPS system installed in your car. Most off-roaders use Garmin -compatible GPS-maps of Bulgarian off road routes and you can download new maps by contacting members at the Bulgarian off road website at http://forum.offroad-bulgaria.com/index.php. They have a forum for foreigners so that you can link up with other expat off-roaders and swap experiences.
There are a number of companies that offer tailor-made off-road activities as part of your Bulgarian vacation, and offer exhilarating off-road safaris through the Pirin and Rila Mountains. They take in some breath-taking scenery and offer fully guided and supported trips for beginners and experienced drivers around the villages of Bansko, Obidem, Kremen, Dobrinishte and Bachevo and provide a full recovery service should you find yourself in difficulty.
Once you have finished your off-road experience remember to wipe down your windows and number plates because you could be subject to a fine if you are stopped by the roadside police and do not conform to this new law.