One place that all mountain lovers in Bulgaria want to visit or have already been to is Rayskoto praskalo waterfall – the highest waterfall in Bulgaria (124.5 m). In English it is translated as “the heavenly spray” and it is located right next to Ray chalet (chalet in Bulgarian is “hizha”).
The waterfall and the chalet are located in the Dzhendema reserve of the Central Balkan National Park. The nearest town is Kalofer – you should be able to reach it by car, train or bus. The railway station is out of the town, but there was a minivan driver waiting outside the station who took us to the city center and charged us around 1 lv for the transport. The town has a couple of museums, so you can stay there longer, if you wish to. In any case, an important detail is that the hike to the waterfall actually starts around 5 km away from Kalofer - at Panitsite area. I personally asked the minivan driver to take us there (and just paid him something on top), because there are no taxis in Kalofer. If you are into hiking, I recommend you do not visit this place by car, as there are many mountain trails around Ray chalet and the waterfall – some of them take you to Botev peak (the highest peak of the Balkan mountains) or other chalets in the area. This mean you can make a really long trip and not come back to Kalofer at all.
From Panitsite area there are signs in blue and white as well as signs saying “Ray chalet” (хижа Рай) that will take you to the final destination. Only the first 10 minutes and the last 30 to 50 minutes of the trail are rather steep. The rest of the “hike” is very pleasant – you walk on a mountain road and you can see the waterfall and Botev peak from far away. In total, it should take you 2 to 4 hours to reach Ray chalet from Panitsite area – it really depends on your pace as well as the number of breaks you take. Once you reach Ray chalet, you can have some rest there and head to Rayskoto praskalo waterfall – it is visible from the chalet, so you can’t miss it. Keep in mind that the road to the waterfall is quite steep and it takes around 30 minutes in one direction.
As for accommodation, you can sleep at Ray chalet (they also offer food there), but the rooms are big (and of course, rather old) and fit around 10 to 20 people. So don’t expect any luxurious facilities and you may have to sleep with other people in the same room. Also, the bathroom and toilet are shared and located outside the chalet. There is a toilet in the chalet as well, but it is used only at night time. Keep in mind that all rooms might be booked out over the weekend – it is a very popular location among tourists, so make sure you book a bed in advance (try to contact this number: 00359882966494)!
If you are an adventurer, there is a bonus: you can sleep in a tent outside the chalet (a small fee still has to be paid, though). Although there is food and water at Ray chalet, I recommend you bring something on the way to reach the chalet just in case you get hungry or thirsty. Also, wearing sports shoes and sun protection is a must.
If you love hiking, I definitely recommend buying a map of the Central Balkan National Park (there are over 5 – 6 maps that cover different parts of the Balkan mountains, so make sure you buy the one that includes the Ray chalet and the region) and get inspired by different trails around the waterfall. A very popular route after visiting Ray chalet is to go to Tarzan trail (a very scenic and steep route on the rocks that will take you to Botev peak). Personally I am afraid of heights, so we headed for the route that took us to Bashmandra area, then Petolachkata area, then the Ravnets chalet and finally, to the town of Karlovo - another popular historic town in Bulgaria. In total, we made it from Ray chalet to Karlovo in around 8 hours (from Ray chalet to Karlovo), so it is definitely not an option for everyone, but the trail was very pleasant and scenic! Again, buying a map is a must, so that you don’t get lost!