Guest Post: 8 Things to be aware of when backpacking and hitchhiking in Bulgaria
1) Mostly stress free, especially if you’re from Europe
ⓐ No Visa needed & Entry with ID
Citizens of the EU, EFTA (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway) and Switzerland only need an officially approved ID card (or a passport) for entry.
ⓑ Visa free policy for those who have permission to enter Schengen Area.
Nationals of the following non-EEA countries do not need a visa for entry into the Schengen Area:
Albania*, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina,Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina*, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Macedonia*,Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro*, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Serbia*/**, Seychelles,Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan*** (Republic of China), United States, Uruguay, Vatican City, Venezuela, additionally persons holding British National (Overseas), Hong Kong SAR or Macau SAR passports.
These non-EU/EFTA visa-free visitors may stay no more than 90 days in a 180 day period in the Schengen Area as a whole and, in general, may not work during their stay.
Holders of a Schengen visa have the right to enter and reside in the Republic of Bulgaria for a period of no more than three months in any six-month period from the date of the first entry, without needing to have a Bulgarian short-stay visa.
(*) nationals of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia need a biometric passport to enjoy visa-free travel,
(**) Serbian nationals with passports issued by the Serbian Coordination Directorate (residents of Kosovo with Serbian passports) do need a visa.
(***) Taiwan nationals need their ID number to be stipulated in their passport to enjoy visa-free travel.
ⓒ For the rest of world, these are the options
- Visa A (for airport transit) The airport transit visa entitles the foreigner to cross or to stay in the international transit zone of the airport in the case of a transit landing or of changing flights for the purpose of continuing travel to another state. Not interesting for hitchhikers, but anyway, you can download the information HERE
- Visa C (for a short stay for the purpose of transit or a planned stay)
A short-stay visa for the purpose of transit is issued to a foreigner who wishes to transit through the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria en route to another state, for which he/she has a visa, if required. The transit visa entitles the foreigner to one, two, or as an exception – three, transit passages each for a term of 2 (two) days and may be with a validity term of up to 12 months. The overall duration of stay on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria with a transit visa may not exceed 90 days within every 6 months as of the date of the first entry.
A short-stay visa for the purposes of planned stay is issued to a foreigner who enters the country once, twice or multiple times for a total term of stay up to 90 days within each 6 months as of the date of the first entry. With some additional paperwork there is an option of obtaining multiple short-stay visa may be with a validity term of up to twelve months or, as an exception – up to five years.
You can download the information HERE.
- Visa D (for a long stay)
A long-stay visa is issued to a foreigner who wishes to settle long term or permanently in the Republic of Bulgaria. The duration is usually of up to 6 months and a right to stay of up to 180 days.
A long-stay visa with a validity term of up to one year and a right to stay up to 360 days may be issued to foreigners who perform science research, students under tuition programmes for up to one year, post-graduate or trainee students, foreigners sent on assignment by a foreign employer for the performance of specific tasks, related to control and coordination of a tourist services contract as well as foreigners sent on assignment by a foreign employer for implementing investments under the Investment Promotion Act.
You can download the information HERE.
All visa information obtained from The Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. [Dec’ 14]. Check with the nearest Bulgarian Consulate if you have any doubts.
2) Where to set up your tent
Camping is easy in Bulgaria. Wild camping is common, and although officially forbidden, it is tolerated as long as one is discreet and respectful to the environment. Camping on the beach on the Black Sea is common amongst young people and families during the summer months, especially on the beaches of Karadere and Irakli, although it has recently been expressly forbidden in the latter. In villages you may be able to camp in peoples yards or fields. There are also many camping sites around Bulgaria (10-15 €). Urban camping might be a bit tricky, given the possibility of petty thefts in parks and urban areas. Use your common sense, hide well and, if possible, stay away from the city centres while urban camping.
3) Other sleeping option
If you change hitchhiking for hiking in mountainous areas, there are two types of huts along the trekking trails: paid huts (5-10 €) – accommodation in large dormitories, basic facilities and a common dining area where food can also be purchased or free huts – smaller edifices or shelters, often built by local people in the mountains. In both cases you may also camp nearby and use the facilities or dine in the common areas.
There is a good range of accommodation in hostels in the cities and guesthouses in smaller towns (10-20 €.). In tourist hotspots it is apparently common to pay for accomodation in people’s homes. But in many places people will simply take you home.
4) What to expect and beware of regional differences
Bulgaria prides in having four beautiful seasons, with two prominent in terms of climate: hot, dry summers and cold, wet winters. Throughout the summer months, from June to August, temperatures in Bulgaria climb to around 30°C while the low fluctuates between 20 and 25°C. Spring is generally the rainiest season, with May being traditionally the wettest month. Temperatures fall gradually during the winter months, from late November till March, and heavy snow is common during these months. January is considered the coldest month of the year when the high temperature hardly climbs to 6°C and the low fluctuates between -2 to -4ºC but can reach around -15ºC
There are small regional differences: Southern Bulgarian and the Black Sea coast enjoy warmer temperatures, while the Danube is influenced in winter by the continental extremes of Central Europe, and mountainous areas suffer the heaviest snows during winter months, with access to villages becoming difficult.
5) The best times to visit
The best time to visit is spring (April-June) when the country dresses in green, herbs abound and even culturally the country wakes up to a whole range of festivals, exhibitions and activities or Autumn (specially September – October) when the caducifolias forests turn the countryside into a colourful painting. In Summer, travellers concentrate on the Black Sea coast, and in winter snow sports and winter hiking are the main attractions.
6) Crime Issues
Bulgaria is generally a safe country to travel. You may often hear people referring to the Bulgarian mafia, and organised crime is a big issue for the country, but it is not likely to affect you as a traveller and hitchhiker. A problem that you might be more likely to encounter is petty theft, especially in city centres and tourist areas, or while sleeping in parks, so keep the general precautions – avoid showing money, stay attentive and hide when sleeping outdoors.
As hitchhikers you are not usually asked for money, although, as always, try to clarify you travel for free before entering a car. If, by any chance, you need to take a cab be very careful as taxi scams are an everyday issue – always check the price per km written on the window (it should by all means be below 1 lev per km. If it says 6lv, get off straight away). It is common for taxi drivers to keep small change, adding a few “stotinki” (cents).
7) Health Issues
The cities, especially Sofia, are home to many stray dogs. Although they are not generally aggressive, and sometimes may walk home with you in exchange for some food, beware of them during winter months or when they are in packs. If you are bitten by a stray dog follow the rabies precautions – wash the injury with soap straight away, if possible observe the dog for rabies symptoms and get a rabies vaccine (if you are an anti-vaccines person, at least consider it, rabies kills). When hitchhiking in the countryside or hiking in the mountains you may have encounters with wild animals; Bulgaria is still home to bears and wolves, although you may be more likely to see foxes or hear jackals so take precautions while camping.
8) Festivals, gatherings, and other stuff
Especially from Spring to Autum, Bulgaria hosts many different festivals, of all sorts (Music, Film, Arts), that might be interesting for travellers and hitchhikers, simply because most (if not all) of them accept volunteers or host free activities. A curious one is the traditional Kukkeri festival, featuring masked men and women dressed up to scare away the winter spirits and welcome the spring (February in several towns. Famous in Pernik). Goat Milk (free participatory arts and crafts festival in Bela Reshka, a village of the Bulgarian North West), Beglika (collaborative festival focused on arts and nature), The family of One Design, Architecture and Dance Weeks (taking place throughout the year), WaterTower Art Festival, Sofia Jazz Festival, Sofia Film Festival, In the Palace (International Short Film Festival in Balchik, by the Black Sea) are just some of the things to check out. Furthermore, in August, Shiroka Luka hosts a bagpipes festival.
Roving snails are Boris (Bulgaria) and Marta (Spain). They have been hitchhiking together since the day they met. After covering Bulgaria west to east and Europe north to south they left home in October 2013 on a long travel east searching for an overland way to India. they are still searching…
Follow their blog at rovingsnails.com