17 Feb A Bulgarian Ski Trip (Part 2: Sofia to Borovets)
Some of the toughest things I’ve encountered while traveling aren’t the big questions, like where the main train station is, or how to navigate immigration at an airport. Instead, I often find the real challenges come in the form of what look like otherwise minor logistics issues. It’s those last few details that get you where you need to go.
For example, Ellen and I flew to a tiny town in Norway and walked into a stranger’s home because the airbnb details didn’t have the actual house number (we were quickly and politely directed to the house across the street). In another example, we had an address but didn’t realize the residence wasn’t visible from the street. A satellite photo with a marker would have prevented both issues, but my point is we got 98% percent of the way there only to be tripped up by little details.
This post will hopefully help complete that last 2% gap for when you’re traveling from Sofia to Borovets, Bulgaria.
Keep in mind: I was going on a budget ski trip and willing to spend more time planning the trip to save some cash. I found pretty much all the details for Borovets before I’d arrived, but when it came to the buses, there were a few things I would have liked knowing in advance.
How to get from Sofia to Borovets by bus
Find the correct Sofia bus station
Borovets is about an hour and a half from Sofia and requires two buses. There are tons of all-inclusive ski packages with direct airport transfers, but again, I prefer the DIY style. I’d read in various forums that to get to Borovets, you first go to the Sofia Central Bus Station. You catch a bus to Samokov, and from there change to a bus to Borovets. Easy enough, right? Fun fact: the bus to Samokov definitely doesn’t leave from the Sofia Central Bus Station. Oops.
The bus from Sofia to Samokov leaves from the Sofia South Bus Station. I’d left myself plenty of time in the day, but it was still getting late in the afternoon and I had no idea when and/or if the buses stopped running (the forums said buses ran once an hour). In writing this post, I came across some bus schedules (here and here – more on that later) that would have been super helpful to have while I was there. All of this is to say: don’t go to the Central Bus Station, which is here:
(Even the rome2rio page recommends departing from the Central Station. It’s wrong.)
Instead, go to the South Bus Station, which is here:
The South Bus Station is located a few minutes walk south (down the hill) from the Joliot Curie metro stop. While the road and metro head south up and over a bridge, the bus station is underneath the bridge. It did not feel shady at all. Nope, not one bit. Er, um…anyhoo, the buses are really just shuttles, so don’t expect anything fancy.
Finding the right bus in Sofia
I meant to get pictures of the bus station but forgot to – fortunately, it’s fairly small, so there are only so many possible options. In this case, find the bay for Samokov (it might look like “CaMOKOB” on the front of the bus). Really, it’s a matching game – find the bus that has the same symbols as google maps:
Once you find the right bus, get your cash out, because credit cards aren’t accepted here (what? who would have guessed?). Expect to pay around 5 lev (€2.50ish) one-way (I think my ticket back to Sofia was 5.50лв). The bus driver sells the tickets; just hop on and hand over your cash. If you’re really lucky, you’ll be handed a paper ticket, which is completely useless, but whatever:
If you’re really really lucky, the bus will have seat belts. Don’t expect any other fancy-schmancy features like power outlets or drop-down screens. Instead, your in-flight entertainment option will be a carefully cultivated selection of whatever the hell music the driver feels like listening to. Your journey will be mostly on surprisingly pleasant two-lane roads, so kick back and enjoy the 90-minute (ish) ride.
Finding the right bus at the Samokov Bus Station
Once I arrived at the Samokov Bus Station, I really didn’t know which bus to look for. I had no idea where the bus station even was until I got there. Fun fact: it’s here:
As much of a planner as I am, I figured Samokov was small enough that I could wing it. Fortunately, I was right – I knew I wanted Borovets; it was a matter of finding the right bus. The options were plentiful and the guidance limited:
The Sofia bay was labeled in English and Bulgarian — helpful on the way back — but the Borovets one was not.
At this point, however, I obviously still needed to get to Borovets. I noticed some skiiers piling out of a different bus, so I went up and asked them if they were going to or coming from Borovets. In all my prep work, I found the two main Bulgarian ski resorts were Borovets and Bankso, so I assumed the skiiers had to be transiting to or from Borovets — I was right! I confirmed with the bus driver that I’d found the correct bus – I think this ticket was something like 2лв – whatever the price, it was cheap.
Again, match up the poster in the windshield with what you’ve seen on google maps:
Remember when I mentioned the online bus timetables I came across while writing this post? Well, it’d be really great if what I found online matched the schedule at the bus bay:
Ultimately, it’s all just figuring out buses in another language. Hop on the Borovets shuttle, hand over your money, and enjoy the short 15-20 minute ride to the resort!
Arriving in Borovets
The bus from Samokov gave me no indication of where we’d actually arrive in Borovets. Borovets isn’t that big, but it was still an element of uncertainly. After 15-20 minutes on the bus, we arrived right here:
In the six days I stayed in Borovets, I never actually saw the bus stop until I left (even then, I was already on the bus before I saw the actual stop). The official bus stop is basically on the other side of the road (to the northwest of where I was originally dropped off):
If you’ve made it this far…
Go explore Borovets and have a beer. Reward yourself with this deliciousness: kavarma. You’ve earned it.
Next up: part three!