How safe is Bulgaria?
This is the question every traveler to Bulgaria always asks me early on when we start planning a trip. It's understandable that there is a level of apprehension when you're thinking of this still obscure, former communist country. Bulgaria remains an off the grid travel destination and that might not be a bad thing. Fewer tourists and an authentic, deep-rooted culture is what you can expect. This little country - the South-easternmost point in the European Union - boasts diverse and oftentimes untouched landscapes from golden beaches to the lush green mountains. But is it a safe destination to travel to? Last summer, I spent three months traversing the roads of Bulgaria in a little old Skoda Czech car as a woman solo traveler. But there is a major disclaimer - I have been living in the US for 18 years but I am originally Bulgarian. That gives me an advantage - I speak the language and understand the culture. So for this blog post, I set out to research the opinions of other explorers, including interviewing two American travelers I met during my journey. Here is the picture that emerged.
1) ONE OF THE SAFEST COUNTRIES IN EUROPE (AND THE WORLD)
According to the 2018 Global Peace Index report, Bulgaria comes in 28th in the world and 18th in Europe - ahead of countries such as Spain, Italy, France and Croatia. Despite pickpockets that can be around in busier areas and on public transport, the crime rate is very low - even lower in less busy cities outside of the capital Sofia.
2) KIND AND WELCOMING LOCALS
Bulgarians are very welcoming as part of their culture. They might not always speak English and you should know - to avoid confusion especially when communicating with your hands and feet - that they use opposite expressions when meaning yes and no, but they are a helpful lot. Bulgarian hospitality is one reason you can certainly feel safe when deciding to take a trip there.
3) BULGARIAN PRIDE AND TRADITION
It won't take long after arrival for you to realize that Bulgarians are very proud of their roots. They show their pride by being kind and are so excited to help you have a great visit. They care very much about folklore, food and the country's long history. Being proud of their heritage, to this day traditions and stories are being passed on to younger generations and showcased to guests with pride and enthusiasm.
4) AN AUTHENTIC COUNTRY WITHOUT A SPARKLING TOURIST FACADE
Bulgaria is still a rather off-the-beaten-path travel destination so you will be greeted by authenticity without fake and sparkling tourist facades (also meaning less scams), especially away from large Black Sea resorts. Far away from mass tourism, expect laid back vibes and calm streets in historic, unchanged settings. There is no need to worry, simply take general precautions as you would at home, such as being aware of your environment and not hanging around alone in dark street corners with tons of cash in your pockets.
5) NON-VIOLENT AND FUN NIGHTLIFE
Bulgarians like to be out and about and that, all too often, results in drinking, eating, and being merry until the early morning hours. Unlike in other countries, however, where drinking might be a game of “who gets drunk in the least amount of time”, Bulgarians enjoy the social side of nightlife, rather than putting the emphasis on the alcohol and its effects. This spirit allows for fewer aggressive, violent people and friendly locals who make sure that your glass is always half full instead of half empty. It is, of course, smart to be aware of your environment, but you will see many women walk home alone late at night and streets are well-lit, which speaks for the general safety level.
Bulgaria is a travel destination that has succeeded in preserving its authentic charm and traditional culture. Not being on everyone's bucket list makes it a hidden gem worth exploring. The real Bulgaria, away from a handful of large Black Sea resorts, remains, to this day, a safe place to discover far away from mass tourism.
And here is what two fellow American travelers I was fortunate to meet during my travels had to say.
Chelsea London is a deeply talented American photographer who recently spent several months in Bulgaria. Here's her input:
"As an American traveller who has visited around 40 countries, I have experienced many levels of feelings of security. With modern infrastructure, and locals always willing to help out, I have never felt unsafe in any of the cities I’ve visited in Bulgaria."
You can view Chelsea's impressive work here: http://www.clondon.me. Following her travels and impressions of Eastern Europe has been a veritable delight.
I met Bob through Instagram and loved the adventurous spirit he exhibited in exploring Bulgaria - he is very fateful to his description of being a "wanderlustful nomadic traveler". Here's how he described Bulgaria for this article:
"Statistical global safety rankings aside - which generally rank Bulgaria in the top 20 percentile - I've personally found Bulgaria to be an extremely safe country for travelers. Especially relevant to the (low) threat of violent crime. Traipsing through the inner city streets of Sofia in predawn hours has (refreshingly, from my U.S. perspective) never been a challenge."
You can find Bob at https://www.instagram.com/vagabob_/ - his pictures and musings are a lot of fun to follow.
Now, are you ready to venture into this beautiful sliver of the Balkans called Bulgaria? Send me your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to be your partner in planning your Bulgarian adventure.