If you’re travelling to this waterfall from Sofia, you’ll need an early start. It’s a ten-hour day – a two-hour drive in both directions, a two-hour walk in both directions and two hours to spend at the waterfall. Is it worth it? Well, you will get a real taste of the Balkan and will visit what for me is the most beautiful waterfall in Bulgaria. So, yes.
You need to take the E871 east of Sofia, in the direction of Burgas. This is one of my favourite roads. It starts very straight, then it climbs and winds over a couple of forested hills, passing a monument to Bulgaria’s freedom fighter Vasil Levski, after which it seems to pass through a landscape straight out of The Hobbit, as if elevated fifty feet in the air. The road hugs the southern slopes of the Balkan, the ‘Old Mountain’ as it’s known in Bulgarian. It’s like an arrow flying east.
Leave Sofia on the road for Varna/Burgas, but then follow the signs for Burgas. Having passed through the outlying village of Dolni Bogrov (where there always seems to be a market at the weekend, and lots of cars parked at both sides of the road), you turn right, and the E871 stretches out in front of you. The drive from Sofia to the village of Hristo Danovo is 130 km. About halfway, you pass the turning for another waterfall, Chavdar, to the south, then you go through the more industrial towns of Zlatitsa-Pirdop (it’s difficult to distinguish them) and after Rozino, just as you are about to enter Karnare (from where there is a road that memorably crosses the Balkan north to Troyan), there is a turning on the left marked Hristo Danovo, 4 km. Take this turning until you reach the central square of Hristo Danovo, where there are signs for the waterfall (known as ‘Suvcharsko Praskalo’) and the Balkan Central National Park which it is part of. Park the car.
Above the village is an old tarmac road that will take you all the way to the waterfall. Some people drive their cars some of the way, but it’s really not necessary (and also the road is not very good). Enough with the driving. You leave the square along a short road to the right of all the signs and immediately turn right and climb a paved road. This road becomes a track. Keep on climbing out of the village. After ten minutes, the track divides, you head right, next to a field with a view over the village, and in another five minutes you reach the tarmac road. Avoid the temptation to continue along the dirt track opposite, and turn left along the tarmac road.
Savour the views of the Balkan Mountain. On your left is a deep gorge formed by the Damladere River (the same that forms the waterfall). After forty-five minutes, you will see a smaller waterfall. In another twenty minutes, you will reach an orange barrier, followed by a table and benches, which is an ideal spot to stop and take a rest. Exactly an hour and a half after leaving the village, the road veers to the left over a concrete bridge that crosses the Damladere – this is where you part ways. Immediately after the bridge, a narrow track heads upstream through the forest. You continue along the left bank of the river for five minutes, and then you are forced to climb (not to follow the course of the river, which is protected). Fifteen minutes after leaving the bridge, you will reach the waterfall. Prepare yourself for a wonderful sight. The waterfall is a straight line falling 54 metres, like a windpipe between two lungs. The water glistens in the sun, throwing off drops that bombard your face. Let them.
I have been to more than thirty waterfalls in Bulgaria, including the more famous Raysko Praskalo a little further east, also in the Central Balkan National Park. Hristo Danovo is my favourite. You have a sense of the power and purity of nature. You also learn a little bit about the Balkan Mountain. One of the amazing things about Bulgaria is how distinct its mountain ranges are from each other – the Balkan, Vitosha, Rila, Pirin, Rhodope… Not one of them is alike. I am actually a fan of Vitosha, because this is the mountain I visit most often from Sofia (it overlooks Sofia from the south), but they are all remarkable. My wife says Bulgaria is in the perfect location – far enough north for the mountains not to be dry, far enough south for them not to be cold. Of course, she’s right!