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Bulgaria: Realm of the Brown bear

from $1,749.00

Brown bear conservation project in the remote Rodopi Mountains

  • Reviews 10 Reviews
    5/5
  • Vacation Style Holiday Type
    Guided
  • Activity Level Moderate
    5/8
  • Group Size Small Group
    5 - 12
All about the Bulgaria: Realm of the Brown bear.

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.

The tour package inclusions and exclusions at a glance
What is included in this tour?Items that are included in the cost of tour price.

* All breakfasts, 6 lunches and 7 dinners included
* 7 nights hotel accommodation, all rooms ensuite
* Airport transfers (at designated times)

6 days centre-based bear tracking walks. Group normally 5 to 12, plus leader Min age 16 years

What is not included in this tour?
  • Flights
  • Single Accommodation (available on request, inquire for supplement)

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
  • Elusive mammals, birds, butterflies, reptiles and rare orchids
  • Remote landscapes in the Rodopi Mountains
  • Delicious traditional local cuisine
  1. 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*

  2. 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*

  3. 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*

  4. Day 4 Panoramic walk in rugged and rocky karst terrain, rich in birds, butterflies and orchids.

    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 *

  5. 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*

  6. 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*

  7. Day 7 Forest and riverside walk 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*

  8. Day 8 End Sofia.

    End Sofia.

wbb_1
Where you stay

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.

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.

The trip is Activity Level 3 (moderate) and has a Safari Rating of 4.

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 unique opportunity for those wanting not only to observe truly wild Brown bears but also to discover more about the daily life of these secretive animals whilst at the same time contributing to their conservation. Guided throughout by Julian 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, helping to gather vital data about their ecology and behaviour as part of an on-going conservation project.

Our daily bear tracking activities and wildlife observation will involve exploring the mountains on foot. Although the pace of walking will be mostly relaxed and leisurely, allowing time to search for and record signs of Brown bear activity, and provide opportunities to observe and photograph any other wildlife we may encounter, the holiday also involves some strenuous walking in fairly rugged mountainous terrain, where trails are rarely flat, and typically rough and stony. To get the full enjoyment out of this holiday, therefore, you should be prepared for some long steady ascents as we climb over ridges, and in particular confident and comfortable in your ability to make steep descents over rocky paths as we drop down into deep valleys and gorges.

The reward for this effort is a unique chance to venture into remote bear habitats and observe a wonderful variety of rare European wildlife, including secretive mammals, elusive birds, beautiful butterflies, unusual reptiles and amphibians, plus many endemic plants, including several scarce orchids. Needless to say, the flora and fauna varies from season to season, and it is impossible to guarantee what wildlife observations one will be lucky enough to make on any day or week.

Furthermore, although Brown bears and other wildlife are regularly seen at the bear hide, it is important to remember that these are truly wild animals foraging freely in their natural habitat, and in no way reliant on the small quantities of maize put out as a supplementary snack for them, so there may be occasions when they do not show. However, 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.

Overall Rating
5/5
Reviewed On 26/07/2019
5/5

Wonderful wildlife adventure

  • What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Too many to pick one! Walking along mountain trails and finding evidence of bear activity all around us. Seeing bears from the hide. Walking through alpine meadows filled with wildflowers and beautiful butterflies.
  • What did you think of your group leader?

    Julian is an excellent guide to the bears and wildlife of Rodopi. He is passionate about his subject and has built up his learning over so many years, I know and understand so much more now about the lives and habitat of brown bears. He is also an amusing storyteller and we all had a lot of laughs along the way.
  • Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Some of the trails can be challenging and I found walking poles a great help. Otherwise, just go and enjoy yourself, you will have an amazing time. I spent a couple of extra nights in Sofia at the end of the trip. It’s an ancient and interesting city and well worth the time spent there.

Reviewed On 26/07/2019
5/5

A wonderful walking and wildlife experience!

  • What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    The most inspiration part of the trip was witnessing bears during the day, a mother and her cubs foraging around in the open! This was truly amazing!
  • What did you think of your group leader?

    Julian really is such a great guide, he certainly knows his stuff and is extremely passionate about it. Julian obviously loves his job and therefore he's such fantastic company to be around. As a group we were all traveling on our own and Julian really helped gel the group together, it was a really fun and informative week, loved it so much! Julian was also extremely professional when it came to safety and giving us information in great detail about each walk for the day ahead. Loved that he offered us little snacks just when we needed them! Thanks so much Julian, you're a really great asset to Exodus.
  • Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    I would suggest don't go with expectations that you're definitely going to see bears in the wild then you'll be really excited when you do! Make to most of going to the bear hide, try not to miss a night...... when will be your next opportunity be to spend the evening in a bear hide! Make sure you've got a good level of fitness and these wonderful walks are hilly. Take binoculars!

Reviewed On 26/07/2019
5/5

Beartastic!

  • What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Being able to see the bears behaving entirely naturally was something I'll never forget. I realised just how gentle they are. In Bulgaria, where they are fully protected and therefore not hunted, it is possible to see them behaving as they should. Simply minding their own business and quietly eating their berries.
  • What did you think of your group leader?

    Julian is a wonderful guide. His knowledge of the bears and the local wildlife is second to none. His sense of humour and friendliness contributed to making this a very enjoyable tour.

Reviewed On 26/07/2019
5/5

Unforgettable Trip!

  • What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    All the bear sightings - especially the cubs! I was also blown away by how spectacular the views were in the mountains.
  • What did you think of your group leader?

    Julian was a truly excellent group leader. He's a real expert in bears and other wildlife in this area, and it's very evident how important their welfare is to him. He has also had such a fascinating life so far, and has a lot of amazing and hilarious stories to tell! We had a real laugh with him during our week in the mountains, and I really think that this trip wouldn't be the same without him. He really made it special.
  • Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Expect to walk a lot, and some of the peaks are quite high if you have issues with heights. The food in Yagodina is delicious, but the portions are huge so don't expect to lose any weight! Also take some binoculars - I didn't and I really wish I had!
  • Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Thank you Julian and the rest of the group for an unforgettable week :) I hope this trip is still running for years to come.

Reviewed On 26/07/2019
5/5

Great and Informative Outdoor Adventure!

  • What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    I didn't have any one particular moment that was the most inspirational, but taking in the vistas at the top of mountains we climbed after a long hike were serene moments. It was relaxing and inspiring to look out at all the pristine nature.
  • What did you think of your group leader?

    Julian was an enthusiastic and well informed group leader. He is very passionate about bears and Bulgaria, and was happy to share his knowledge with the group. He was also well informed about many other aspects of Bulgarian wild life and Bulgarian culture. He made sure we were healthy, happy, and well taken care of.
  • Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Wear good hiking shoes and be prepared to fill up on delicious Bulgarian food for the hikes! Also make sure to carry some of the local currency with you, there is the possibility to purchase locally-made traditional crafts from the village. I purchased some beautiful hand-made items in the village.

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