Driving in Bulgaria
Driving along the main road towards Romania, I had to sharply hit the brakes of my car as I watched, incredulously, as a horse and cart overtook a slow-moving lorry overloaded with logs as the on-coming traffic had to virtually stop to allow the cart to pass. Another time, a lorry overtaking truck nearly came to a fatal death as the approaching corner saw yet another lorry coming the other way. With both incidents, it’s been sheer luck that there wasn’t a head on collision but sights like these are relatively common when you’re driving in Bulgaria.
If you ask a Bulgarian about their attitudes to driving and rules of the road, most will tell you that there isn’t a problem but for a first time foreign driver, it can be quite a daunting task until you get used to some of their dubious driving habits. However, don’t let that put you off as generally speaking you can be well on way to having a safe and inexpensive drive through one of the Balkan’s most beautiful countries – just watch out for those potholes!
Bulgaria’s road infrastructure has seen the addition of new motorways just in the last eighteen months: from Sofia to Bourgas and towards the Turkish border, for example, and others in the north of the country are slowly opening up but are not yet fully completed just yet. This is good news if you are driving in Bulgaria, particularly as it makes the connections from the surrounding countries such as Serbia and Turkey less of a bumpy ride.
Practicalities of Planning a Bulgarian Road Trip
Vignettes: you won’t get very far without buying a vignette in Bulgaria as it works as a road tax for driving in the country. Unlike many other countries they can only be purchased inside Bulgaria so you won’t be able to plan ahead when you buy one. Once inside the country, they can be bought at the border, or from one of the petrol stations but you’d be wise not to travel too far without one incase of being fined by local police should they catch you.
Vignettes can be bought for a period of seven days (10lv), one month or yearly (67lv) but the latter is only valid on the calendar year: January to January.
Traffic Police: when you’re travelling in Bulgaria and you see an on-coming car coming towards you flashing their lights, they’re usually telling you that the traffic police are ahead and to slow right down. One recent story of a Bulgarian getting pulled over for speeding actually tried to use it as an excuse for his speeding because no-one flashed him to warn the police were doing speed checks!
Apart from not speeding, the traffic police can pull you over for not wearing a seat belt, believing your over the alcohol limit, not having your headlights on or anything else they deem to be wrong. Do not pay a bribe but ensure you receive a receipt which you ca take to the station and pay through the official channels!
Road Signs: destinations on the main roads will usually be written in both Cyrillic and Latin but if you are travelling in rural areas, it’s quite likely that you’ll only see signs in Cyrillic so it would be a good idea to have some basic knowledge of their language, or at least have your route written beforehand in Cyrillic. Make sure you have a good map as many signs can completely disappear from the road leaving you without a clue as to which direction to take!
For more in-depth information on driving in Bulgaria check out http://drivebulgaria.blogspot.com/
If you have any experiences of driving in Bulgaria, why not share them below?