Bulgaria: Realm of the Brown bear

The Rodopi Mountains, Bulgaria
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  • Exodus

Brown bear conservation project in the remote Rodopi Mountains

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 take 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.

* 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

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.

* 7 nights hotel, all rooms en suite * Travel by private minibus, 4WD and on foot * 6 days centre-based bear tracking walks * Normally 5 to 12, plus leader. Min age 16 years
  • Europe
  • Bulgaria
  • Rodopi Mountains
  • Sofia
Tour Types
  • Active
  • Wildlife
  • Adventure
  • Birdwatching Holidays
  • Mountains
  • Birdwatching
  • Singles
Day 1

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*

Day 2

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*

Day 3

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 is 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*

Day 4

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 *

Day 5

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*

Day 6

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*

Day 7

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*

Day 8

Fly to London.

* All breakfasts, 6 lunches and 7 dinners included * All accommodation * Transfers for group flights

A superb week of walking in beautiful scenery

Our base in a small, traditional village in the mountains was perfect for walks into the surrounding area. The biodiversity of the Rodopi mountains is amazing and our exceptionally knowledgeable leader helped us identify mammal scats and tracks, birds, reptiles, insects and plants, many of which were new to me. The walks were at a gentle pace, allowing plenty of time for photography.

Rating: 5

A Fascinating Adventure!

This was a truly wonderful trip that combines hiking, wildlife and scientific research, in a unique blend of 'eco-research-tourism'. Exodus - please offer more tours like this!

Rating: 5


An excellent trip in a lovely part of the world. Seeing an adult female bear at the bear hide was amazing. Pity she was scared off by a group of wild boar but they were great to see too. The walks were great and weren’t too challenging although be prepared for a lot of uphills!

Rating: 5

Great and Informative Outdoor Adventure!

Had a great time on the Bulgarian Brown Bear trip! Trip leader, Julian, was very enthusiastic and well-informed on the region and subject matter. Bulgaria is a beautiful country and the local people were wonderful. The owner of Hotel Yagodina, Maria, runs a great hotel and her and her staff serve fantastic food. Julian took us on some wonderful hikes and provided great information about bear behavior, habitat, biology, etc. Visiting the bear hide in the evening provided a fun opportunity to view the bears and other wild life. Julian made sure we had multiple opportunities to visit the bear hide in order to ensure we had an opportunity to see a bear. The hikes themselves were challenging, but not so difficult that we had any real problems completing them. Julian was willing to point out other wild life during our hikes, and was very engaging with people in the group. Julian is passionate about bears and excited to share the subject with others. He made sure we were taken care of and educated about the wonders of bears!

Rating: 5

Wow what a holiday!

Wildlife, conservation, expert patient guide, mountain hiking, remote rural village community, and an intimate family run hotel were all the components that blended perfectly together to form this holiday into my ultimate relaxing get away with a dusting of excitement, anticipation, and adventure on top!

Rating: 5

Wonderful wildlife adventure

This was one of the best holidays I’ve ever had, combining walking in the mountains with the opportunity to see and learn about bears in the company of a true expert and bear enthusiast and a great group of fellow travellers. I really can’t fault this trip, the scenery is stunning, the wildlife is all around you, and the food, accommodation and hospitality of the local people are a delight.

Rating: 5

A wonderful walking and wildlife experience!

This really is the best walking and wildlife combination I've ever been on. Loved that we did good mountain walks in the day time through varied and stunning scenery whilst focusing on wildlife along the way. Visiting the bear hide in the evenings was really fantastic, loved seeing so many bears in their natural habitat, so exciting! Julian was such a brilliant guide, so professional, knowledgeable, capable and fun, thanks Julian!

Rating: 5

Unforgettable Trip!

This was the best trip I've been on in years. It's so rare to have a trip which includes both walking and wildlife, but Julian created the perfect combination of the two with this trip. The scenery was spectacular, and it was just the right level of challenging for a townie who doesn't normally do that much walking! The locals in Yagodina are absolutely lovely, and the hotel staff couldn't do enough for us. The food was nearly all homemade and was so delicious. We certainly didn't go hungry! We were also so lucky to see as many bears and other wildlife as we did, and to have such a lovely group and guide who got on as well as we all did. We didn't stop laughing all week! I highly recommend this trip to anyone who likes walking, wildlife, stunning mountain and meadow views, delicious food and lovely people (what's not to like??)

Rating: 5


This is a thoroughly enjoyable holiday if you enjoy the outdoors, walking, sampling local cuisine and of course tracking and even seeing bears! Our week could hardly have been better, from the very comfortable and friendly hotel, which served local dishes for every meal, to our expert guide and to the stunning scenery and wildlife which surrounds the lovely village of Yagodina. It was great to be able to walk from our hotel and experience such diversity of habitats, including lush open meadows filled with wild flowers, a mind boggling diversity of butterflies and even Corncrakes, beech woodland, rocky escarpments offering fantastic views of the countryside as well as raptors such as Hobbys and Peregrine Falcons and of course pine forests where the evidence of bear activity is all around you. Seeing bears during the day is extremely difficult but we had great success up at the hide where we saw big, solitary males and mothers with their young cubs. We even saw a sounder of Wild Boar complete with a young family of beautifully marked piglets. However the highlight was undoubtedly when we were fortunate enough to spot a mother bear with 2 of this year's cubs in an open area below us. They were entirely oblivious to our presence and we could watch them behaving entirely naturally. Something I will never forget.

Rating: 5

Rodopi bears!

A brilliant trip in all respects! Scenery, group leader, wildlife, hotel, food all get top marks Great walking and was lucky to be with a lovely group of just 6 of us plus Julian our leader

Rating: 5


You will have the option to book your own flights independently with the operator.

Dates Price Single Availability
15-Jun-2019 for 7 Nights Flight inclusive adult Flight Included Visit Website
15-Jun-2019 for 7 Nights Land only Visit Website
14-Sep-2019 for 7 Nights Flight inclusive adult Flight Included Visit Website
14-Sep-2019 for 7 Nights Land only Visit Website
28-Sep-2019 for 7 Nights Flight inclusive adult Flight Included Visit Website
28-Sep-2019 for 7 Nights Land only Visit Website
05-Oct-2019 for 7 Nights Flight inclusive adult Flight Included Visit Website
05-Oct-2019 for 7 Nights Land only Visit Website
25-Apr-2020 for 7 Nights Flight inclusive adult Flight Included Visit Website
25-Apr-2020 for 7 Nights Land only Visit Website
02-May-2020 for 7 Nights Flight inclusive adult Flight Included Visit Website
02-May-2020 for 7 Nights Land only Visit Website
09-May-2020 for 7 Nights Flight inclusive adult Flight Included Visit Website
09-May-2020 for 7 Nights Land only Visit Website
06-Jun-2020 for 7 Nights Flight inclusive adult Flight Included Visit Website
06-Jun-2020 for 7 Nights Land only Visit Website
12-Sep-2020 for 7 Nights Flight inclusive adult Flight Included Visit Website
12-Sep-2020 for 7 Nights Land only Visit Website

Touring with Exodus

Exodus is an award-winning company built on adventures. It started life on 4 February 1974 when two friends got together to provide an overland truck to travel to the Minaret of Jam, deep in the heart of the Hindu Kush, the most inaccessible of the world’s great monuments. They continue to discover countries, cultures, environments, cities, mountain ranges, deserts, coasts and jungles - exploring this amazing planet we all live on.

At Exodus, they know what makes you tick when it comes to holidays. It’s a desire shared by so many others. A yearning to visit new places and come home with a real sense of what they’re all about. This means delving into local traditions, cultures, cuisine, lifestyles – anything that contributes to its unique identity. At the same time, they always remember that they are only guests. So they ensure they travel courteously and respectfully, in smaller groups to minimise their impact, to ensure that every Exodus holiday is a beneficial experience for everyone involved. This is a philosophy they take around the world, helping you reach some incredible destinations on 500 itineraries across 90 countries – choose from walking, cycling, culture, wildlife and even polar adventures in guided groups or self-guided, tailor-made for you or a ready-made itinerary in Peru or India, Costa Rica or Italy – the choices are endless. They also strive to provide as much flexibility and choice as possible, making it simple for you to experience a very different holiday.

All staff at Exodus have a passion for travel and adventure with their combined experiences spanning 171 different countries and in their former lives, some team members have been professional archaeologists, wildlife guides, overland drivers, mountain leaders, diving and ski specialists and mountain bike gurus – all guaranteed to give you the very best adventure possible. Extensive planning, research, fact-finding and training are just some of the ways this expertise comes through in your adventure.

Exodus recognises their obligation to operate their tours in a responsible and sustainable fashion to address the environmental, economic and social impact tourism can have. They are committed to the well-being of the communities that host you and the natural environment that you are there to experience. Key points in their philosophy include small groups which have less impact on local communities and environments, putting money directly into the communities visited by using locally owned and run accommodation and eating locally produced food, ensuring local staff and operators receive a fair rate for their services, encouraging their own staff to take an active interest in responsible and sustainable tourism and train them accordingly, endeavour to ensure that their practices help in the environmental conservation of the areas visited and provide their clients with advice and guidelines on how to respect the social, cultural and religious beliefs of local communities.


tour details

This tour is operated by Exodus

7 nights from pp exc.flights; per Night
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Group Size:5 - 12
Meals:6 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 6 dinners.
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