3 Days in the Heart of the Balkans – The Heavenly Waterfall and Peak Botev Itinerary

Do you want to explore the Bulgarian part of the Balkans but don’t know where to start?

Why not start with the highest peak (Peak Botev) and the highest waterfall (Heavenly Waterfall) of the Balkans? When you don’t know where you’re headed, you might as well reach for the stars.

Here is a 3-day itinerary with the best advice, up-to-date contacts, and alternative routes.

Heavenly Waterfall seen from nearby
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General Information About the Heavenly Waterfall and Peak Botev

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The best time for hiking in the area is in June/July. The photos I took are made in August. May is still quite cold, while in June the weather starts warming up and the snows start melting. When the snows are melting the Heavenly Waterfall is even more spectacular because it’s full of water.

In addition, it’s always lighter to hike in warmer conditions. Of course, winter hikers do have a whole different perspective of the mountains.

Pro Tip: Please Keep In Mind, That While Researching The Rai Chalet, Heavenly Waterfall And Peak Botev, You Will Find Different Terms Which Are All Interchangeable. I Am Saying This, So You Don't Get Confused.

Rai (Ray) Chalet = Hija Rai = Heavenly Chalet

Raiskoto Praskalo = Heavenly Waterfall

Balkans (Balkan Mountains) = Stara Planina = Old Mountain

Peak Botev is the highest of the Balkan range and they say it’s more difficult to hike than Musala (Rila’s summit and highest on the Balkan peninsula).  Botev’s elevation is 2,376 m.
 
Together with the Heavenly Waterfall (124 m), they are part of the Central Balkan National Park and probably the most difficult stamps you could get on your 100 National Tourist Sites booklet.
 
Your hike will pass through the reserves of Dzhendem (Hell) and Stara Reka (Old River) which are also parts of the Central Balkan National Park.
  • Denivelation: around 1600 m
  • Distance: About 14 km (8 h)
  • Hiking difficulty: 4 out of 6
Close-up of white flowers/herbs with the water form heavenly waterfall in the background
Heavenly waterfall cliffs
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Day 1 - Arrive in Pavel Banya or Kalofer

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On your first day, I  would advise you to take it easy and just make your way from wherever you are to Pavel Banya or Kalofer.
 
Pavel Banya is a bit further away from our starting hiking point (about 20 minutes away by car) but is no problem if you have a car.
 
It does offer much cheaper accommodation if that is what you are looking for.
 
If you do not have a car and decide to stay in Pavel Banya, check the local busses. There should be busses to Kalofer at 07:00 and 07:30 am and it’s a 30-minute drive.
 
You could also ask if there is any organised transport by the hotel/AirBnB you are staying at. The route of interest is Pavel Banya – Kalofer – Mestnost Panitsite.
 
If you don’t want to be dependent on a bus timeline and don’t mind paying a bit more, you can stay in Kalofer or even Panitsite (the area from which the hike starts). There are quite a few campgrounds and hotels.
 
Anyway, wherever you are staying, make sure to take a look around and explore a bit. Find a nice place to eat and treat yourself, because the next couple of days will not be exactly relaxing.

Things to do in Pavel Banya

  • Walk around the village and find the mineral water source
  • SPA procedures – DianaMar or Balneo Sanatorium
  • Visit the park and monuments

Places to eat

  • Restaurant Arizona
  • Restaurant Bulgaria
  • Restaurant Markoni
  • Restaurant Mehana
  • Bistro Aso
  • SMania Cafe

Things to do in Kalofer

  • National museum Hristo Botev (100 national tourist sites)
  • Churches and the nun monastery
  • The monument of Kalifer Voivode

Places to eat

  • Restaurant Panorama
  • Restaurant Byala Reka
  • Restaurant Pri Chorbadjiikata
  • Mehana Kaloferska Kashta
  • Restaurant Prohlada
  • Hotel Mehana Kalifer
Pavel Banya Carved Trees
Pavel Banya Fountain
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Day 2 - Start Your Hike to the Heavenly Waterfall

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Morning

On day 2 you will need to find your way to Panitsite. 

Panitsite is an area located about 4 km from Kalofer and it is the starting place of the hike. You can get there by foot, taxi, car or ask somebody to take you there/hitchhike. Maybe the hotel you are staying at organizes some kind of transport to get there.

I advise you to be there around 08:00 am at the latest, so you can have a nice and cool hike.
 
A quick breakdown of the hike to follow:
  • Part 1 – 1.5 h beech and oak forests (entering the area of the National park Central Balkan)
  • Part 2 – 1 h through a vast flat field called Paradjika
  • Part 3 – 1.5 h steep upward hike through a Beech forest
  • 0.5 h for breaks, food and water
Total of 4.5 hours or less, depending on the pase. 
Beech tree forest on the way from Panitsite to the Heavenly Chalet

Lunch: Arriving at the Rai Chalet (Heavenly Chalet)

Check-in happens only after 2 pm, which means you have plenty of time.
 
Fresh cold water is running from the large stone sink in front of the chalet. You can refresh yourself and have a nice lunch. 
 
The chalet offers breakfast, lunch and dinner at certain hours of the day, so ask when you arrive (I think they were between 7 am – 8 am; 12 pm – 2 pm; 7 pm – 9pm). You can have your own lunch or buy one from the kitchen.
 
Keep in mind that the prices are more expensive than some other places and you’ll probably have the same thing for dinner or even the next day.
 
Before you get all judgy, try to think how they get their food and drink supply up all this way.
 
After you check-in, you can freely leave your luggage in the room and take a nap or just lay for a while for your muscles to rest.
 
The afternoon will be left for your gorgeous visit to the waterfall.
Heavenly Chalet/ Hija Rai

What You Need to Know About the Rai Chalet

Keep in mind that you’ll need to book your stay in advance, because it’s very popular for both Bulgarian and foreign tourists, especially during the summer months. If you show up there, probably you won’t have where to stay, unless you have brought a tent with you.

Typically, the weekends are busier than the weekdays. 

If you are from another country and don’t speak Bulgarian, you won’t be able to make a reservation by yourself, since the people there don’t speak English. 

Worry do not, and please don’t hesitate to contact me in order to help you out with the reservation arrangements. I’d be more than happy to help.

How to Book Your Stay

Updated information as of October 2021:
  • Contact this phone number for a reservation: 088 296 64 94
  • Fee per night (1 person): 20 lv
  • Campground per night: 5 lv
  • Pay your stay upfront via bank transfer
  • IBAN: BG41 STSA 9300 0005 1958 36
  • BIC: STSABGSF
  • Account holder: ТД “Хайдут” / TD “Haidut”

Pets

Pets are not allowed inside the chalet itself but can stay outside. Keep in mind that outside there are other animals, mainly horses which walk freely, a big dog which is on a leash and a few cats.

Toilets

There are two small buildings located outside the main building where you’ll find the squatting toilets. In all honesty, they were quite bad.
 
The doors don’t close very well, there is no lighting and no toilet paper, and the water tanks are a bit broken so the water keeps running.

Showers

The showers are located in another building also outside and can be used only after 4 pm.
 
There are two showers in one room (without separators), so you might have to wait if there are a lot of people staying.
Stone eagle monument in front of the high cliffs
Heavenly Waterfall Cliffs with the waterfall in the middle and dramatic sky

Afternoon: Hiking to the Heavenly Waterfall

After you have rested a bit, it is time to conquer the hike towards the Heavenly waterfall.
 
The hike is from 30 to 40 minutes but fooled be do not. I found it quite intense and fun because it was so different from the hike in the morning. 
 
And every time you turn around you have stunning viewpoints towards the Rai Chalet and the Dzhendem reserve. It really pays off.
 
When you finally reach the Heavenly Waterfalls you probably will not want to go back.
 
You can rest your feet or even dip in the fresh cold water which gathers in a pond under the waterfall.
 
Take lots of photos and take a walk around. The trekking poles will play a big role on your way back to the chalet.
 
Have a nice warm shower, eat some nutritious dinner, talk to the other tourists and go to bed early, because the next day will be hard.
Heavenly Waterfall seen from below
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Day 3: Hike to Peak Botev and Back to the Heaven Chalet or Panitsite

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Hiking up to Peak Botev through the Tarzan Way

I recommend getting up around 5 am, having some tea/coffee/breakfast, petting the horses and starting your hike around 6 am.
 
You will follow the route and it should take you around 3 h to get to the peak. 
 
I will soon publish another post with more details about the hike itself, so stay tuned if you are interested to read about it.

Staying at the Top

There is a place where you can buy some water, hot tea and coffee, some snacks and the best part – you can get a mark for your book “100 tourist sites of Bulgaria”. They say it’s the hardest stamp to get, which seems pretty accurate to me.

Part of Peak Botev's weather station with two silhouetteс
Monument at Peak Botev quoting Georgi K. Georgiev "get to know your homeland so you get to love her even more"
Monument at Peak Botev quoting part of the national anthem

Getting Back

So if you are following this itinerary, you will probably start descending from the peak no later than 11 am.
 
If you started in the early morning hours you should be back in the Rai Chalet by 1 pm. Take a break there and have a beer, some lunch, fresh water.
 
After that, you’ll have a shady walk through the forests back to Panitsite and enough water on the way.
 
In all honesty, all of that is a LOT for one day and especially if you are inexperienced in long mountain trekking. This is why here are some alternative itineraries:
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Alternative Itineraries

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Alternative 1

  • Day 1 – Arrive at Pavel Banya or Kalofer
  • Day 2 – Get to the Rai Chalet and waterfall
  • Day 3 – Climb peak Botev and back to the Rai Chalet
  • Day 4 – Descend from the chalet towards Panitsite

Alternative 2

  • Day 1 – Arrive at Pavel Banya or Kalofer
  • Day 2 – Get to the Rai Chalet and the Heavenly Waterfall
  • Day 3 – Rai Chalet – Peak Botev – Botev shelter
  • Day 4 – Botev Shelter – Levski Chalet – Balkanski rozi Chalet – Hubavets Chalet
  • Day 5 – Hubavets Chalet – Karlovo (this works if you are with 2 cars or rely on public transport/hitchhiking).

Please, keep in mind that there are other ways of getting to Peak Botev. However, the alternatives I gave above are the ones where you can see both the Heavenly Waterfall and the peak.

Washed sheets/laundry in the same colour with the heavenly cliffs in the background
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What to Bring: The Essentials

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  • Light food and snacks
  • Water
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • Clothes for cold and sunny weather
  • VERY good shoes
  • Toilet paper and wet wipes
  • Cash
  • Camera
  • Trekking poles or a wooden stick
  • Wind/waterproof jacket
  • Mountain insurance
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Panorama of what is seen from the waterfall - path, mountains, cliffs, sky

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