Just an hour and a half driving distance from Sofia, you’ll find one of the most spectacular caves in all of Bulgaria. The Saeva Dupka cave (Пещера “Съева Дупка” in Bulgarian) is a stunning natural cave in Northern Bulgaria, roughly halfway between Sofia and Veliko Tarnovo. The cave got the name Saeva Dupka from two brothers who hid there during the Ottoman occupation. A short drive from the nearby village of Brestnitsa, Saeva Dupka is well-loved by Bulgarians but not very well-known to foreign tourists yet.
The cave is absolutely gorgeous, filled with massive stalagmites, stalactites, and other cave formations. The size is quite impressive as well, much more spacious than you’d ever imagine looking at the outside. The height of the cave varies from 8 meters to 32.5 meters over the various halls, with a total area of about 3,500 square meters.
Saeva Dupka cave is somewhere between 1 and 3.5 million years old. Declared a national landmark in 1962, the cave has since been developed to make access easier for tourists, adding stairs, pathways, and ladders to access the upper chambers of the cave. During the development, workers found evidence that the caves had been occupied for over a thousand years — in the form of Roman coins. The cave is absolutely stunning, and you can see why it’s earned the nickname the “underground pearl of Bulgaria”.
Saeva Dupka is composed of five main galleries, each with a different name. If you speak Bulgarian, the guide will explain the names to you and point out different formations and what they resemble. However, I don’t speak much Bulgarian so I missed most of this at the time, so I had to research the names given to me on the informational card (which is in both Bulgarian and English) when I bought my ticket.
The first gallery is called Kupena, and it’s not nearly as impressive compared to the others. The next one, Srutishteto, (aka Collapse/Ruin) is strewn with boulders which fell down during an earthquake many hundreds of years ago. This is the room you’ll see tons of mini-stalactites hanging from the ceiling, which is something I’ve never seen in any other cave. This room also has a petrified waterfall and the largest stalactite, with a 13-meter circumference.
Next, you’ll find Koncertna (“Concert”), the large room with great acoustics which is apparently host to both choral performances and weddings, and even a movie once. There’s also Beliyat Kamak (“The White Castle”) and Kosmos (“Space”) which are accessible via ladders and stairs.
How to Get to Saeva Dupka from Sofia
The best way to get from Sofia to Saeva Dupka is to rent a car for the day. Renting a car in Bulgaria is inexpensive, and driving in Bulgaria is fairly easy. There is not a lot of traffic and the roads are generally in good condition.
To get to Saeva Dupka, we picked up our rental car at Sofia airport and drove to Botevgradsko Shose Boulevard, then took the A2 towards Varna until we turned off on E83. We used our phone’s GPS to direct us and recommend you do the same. Bulgarian SIM cards are very affordable if you have an unlocked phone; mine cost 10 leva (5 euro) for one month from Vivacom.
Parking is available, and the walk from the parking lot to the caves takes about 5-10 minutes.
If you don’t know how to drive or don’t want to rent a car, it is possible to take a tour that combines the Saeva Dupka Cave and the Prohodna Cave (Eyes of God). Check it out here – prices start at 35 euros per person.
Where to Go After Saeva Dupka
If you’ve rented a car for the day and plan to visit Saeva Dupka, there are plenty of places you should add to your road trip itinerary.
– Krushuna Waterfalls are located approximately 1.5 hours further east of Sofia past Saeva Dupka. We tried to add this to our itinerary and made it to the Krushuna Waterfalls, but it started pouring rain when we started our walk to the waterfalls, so we’ll have to come back and do this another time.
– The Devetashka cave is also located near Krushuna Waterfalls and is good to combine with a trip to Saeva Dupka and the Krushuna Waterfalls.
– After we realized we couldn’t visit the Krushuna Waterfalls and Devetashka cave like we originally wanted, we went to Troyan Monastery near the villages of Milencha and Cherni Osam.
– You could also combine Saeva Dupka and Prohodna Cave (the Eyes of God) on a one-day trip.
Advice for Visiting Saeva Dupka
Be aware that the cave floor can be a bit wet and slippery, and there are ladders that you can climb if you want to see the highest levels of the cave (you don’t have to do this, though, if you are afraid of heights)
They do not speak much English at the ticket booth or on the guided tour, so it may be difficult to have your questions answered if you don’t speak Bulgarian. We purchased tickets for 4 leva each (2 euro).
Wait for the group to begin before entering the cave. Tours take approximately 30 minutes so you may have to wait a bit after purchasing your ticket to enter the cave. Again, the tour guide didn’t speak much English so we didn’t get to learn too much about the names of the different cave formations or the history of the cave, but he helped show us around the cave and lit the way.
The cave is quite large and spacious, and it should not be a big problem for people with claustrophobia unless your claustrophobia is very severe. It’s well-lit by both lights and a flashlight, so no need to be nervous to visit.
Photos are permitted so long as you do not use flash, as it can disturb some of the bats who call the cave home (however, we didn’t see any during our tour). I recommend using a digital camera with manual settings and setting the ISO high and the aperture wide, in order to capture more light. You will have to hold your camera quite steady in order for it to not be blurry.
The temperature varies from 7 C to 11 C, so you may want to bring a jacket if you are visiting in the summer.
There are “bathrooms” available, but they are a bit gnarly — literally just holes in the ground! Bring your own toilet paper, or maybe just wait for a cleaner bathroom.
The cave is open from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM (last visit 6:30 PM) in peak season (April to September) and from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM (last visit 4:30 PM) outside peak season.