PLEASE NOTE: The currency in Bulgaria is the Lev (I will refer to them as B$s). At the time of writing, US$1 = B$1.74.
We have just spent 2 months in Turkey.
It is, now, time for us to move on to Bulgaria …
The bus was comfortable. Each seat had Personal Entertainment that didn’t work, but each seat had a power supply (power plug – not USB) that did work. We arrived at the Turkey-Bulgaria border on the E87 at about 1:30pm.
It took about 30 minutes to clear the border. The bus staff help you through the process. We were dropped off on the main road in Burgas opposite the main Bus Terminal.
I went to an ATM and withdrew B$400 then walked to the Bus Terminal. Local buses leave to Nesebar / Sunny Beach about every 30 minutes. The price is B$6.
Sunny Beach has a very small permanent population, but during the summer the resort is home to many thousands of tourists. The main strip of high-rise hotels backing onto the beach is 5 km (3 miles) long and extends along a wide bay between Sveti Vlas and Nesebar.
The resort’s construction began back in Communist times: in 1958.
This is a very good beach for the Black Sea.
This is what you can expect to find at short notice in July:
PLEASE NOTE: HOTELS usually display prices INCLUSIVE of TAXES. But many search sites (like HOTELS) don’t provide a ‘private bathroom’ filter, so be careful with some of the cheap hotels and make sure that you read the room details.
AIRBnB / HOLIDAY RENTALS:
A good alternative is an AirBnB or Holiday Home:
PLEASE NOTE: Other sites (such as Homeaway, FlipKey and VRBO are also worth a look).
GRANDPAckers cannot afford to book through the normal Hotel Search Engines. AirBnB is the way to go. For the best discounts / prices, book at least 2+ months in advance.
I used BOOKING.COM to book an Economy Double Room with Private Bathroom (single occupancy) at the Balaton Hotel. The Balaton was the cheapest hotel available. The Economy Double is their cheapest option. This included Breakfast. I booked at short notice. BOOKING advertised that I was getting over 60% discount … this was not true … the rack rate in July was about US$28 / night (single or double occupancy). I got it at a discounted rate of US$21 / night. The accommodation buildings are 4 stories high and there is no lift.
I was not provided with the Double Bed option that I reserved. I was given a Twin. The bottom sheets were too small for the beds and didn’t stay tucked in. The top sheets were also too small and it was hard to keep underneath them during the night.
The room came with the promised TV and fridge. The TV was terrestrial channels only (about 25 of them). There was 1 English speaking channel: the Chinese International News service. The mini fridge was on maximum but couldn’t get below ‘cool’.
It was served between 8am and 10am. Even though there was plenty of food for everyone, it was always a ‘mad rush’ to get to the food. There was always a queue at the 2 drinks machines. The restaurant area was large but it was always a problem to find a table if you arrived after 8:30am.
But, as always in these sorts of places, almost all of the loungers were claimed by 10am with hardly anyone sitting on them.
WHERE TO STAY:
The Balaton Hotel was typical of what you find around the eastern streets albeit, perhaps, one of the more ‘tired’ options.
If you want to get to the beach regularly, I suggest that you keep east of the High Street. If you plan to ‘hang around your pool’, you can stay anywhere. Where you stay along the 5km beach is not important. The beach is the same: crowded.
Have a look yourself:
EAT & DRINK:
There are Supermarkets in town, so this makes an apartment option very viable.
Here is a typical ‘budget’ restaurant menu.
You can get a meal for as little as B$7. B$10 will get you an half chicken and chips.
A local 1L beer in a supermarket costs about B$2. A 2L B$3.
There are ‘2-for-1’ Cocktail Happy Hours everywhere for about B$6-B$8. Local (cheap) spirits of course.
An 11L bottle of water in a supermarket costs about B$3.
Expect Breakfast to be included in you hotel rate. If not, expect to pay an average of B$10 for a cheap local Breakfast with tea / coffee.
Expect to pay an average of B$7 for a cheap Lunch with fruit drink.
Expect to pay an average of B$12 for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / 500ml Beer.
Obviously, if you had your own apartment with a kitchen, you could bring in groceries and eat for half of this price … but, for comparative purposes, this is not GRANDPAcking Standard.
Most people who come to Sunny Beach fly into Burgas Airport 35kms to the south.
A public bus from Burgas Bus Station to Sunny Beach costs B$6 and takes just under 1 hour.
BANKS / ATMs / MONEY:
Most places take EUROs. Some accept GBPs. A few take US$s. For the best prices, pay in B$s.
There are lots of Bureau De Changes offering exchange rates at about 5% below the online wholesale rate. This isn’t bad really because most of the time you will have to pay about 3% anyway.
INTERNET / WIFI:
Don’t trust your hotel to provide good wifi in this price range.
First, I went to A1. They were unfriendly and unhelpful. In addition, their main store had no Tourist Holiday+ simcards. Their smallest 1 month option was 30GBs for B$30.
I went next door to Vivacom and bought their 15GB Prepaid Data Package for B$15 (this included the new SIMcard). Again, it was their smallest option. You need your passport. They configured in up for me. In the store, I immediately downloaded their Mobile App. They helped me sign in. Because I downloaded the App, Vivacom gave me an extra 10GBs for free.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
The first thing that you notice is the number of smokers; there is still a large % of smokers here. Not a surprise when you can get a 30g pack of rolling tobacco for only B$9.50.
As with Turkey, for the first time in 4 years I didn’t feel that I needed to be careful about getting ‘ripped off’ on everyday items. The shops charge you the same price as the locals. HOWEVER, for ‘tourist activities’ you should still try and ‘haggle’.
WHEN TO GO:
The summer lasts about five months from mid-May until late September. Winters are milder compared with the inland part of the country. Snow is possible in December, January, February and rarely in March.
Whilst I was there in mid July, we had scattered showers during the day twice, rain at night twice, and a cracking thunderstorm one morning that continued into rain all day.
My recommendation: for the Turquoise Coast (Turkey) is to arrive mid May. In contrast, I recommend that GRANDPAckers don’t come to the Black Sea Coast, Bulgaria until at least July (the good weather doesn’t really start until then). This makes Bulgaria a natural ‘next stop’ after Turkey for those travelling ‘on the cheap’.
WHAT TO DO:
A lot of people laze around their hotel pool all day and fill themselves up with as much as they can eat from the ‘All Inclusive’ Holiday buffet.
Take a walk down the beach to Nesebar and have a look around. It will take a few hours, but it is worth it.
Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.
MY ACTUAL COSTS:
My costs are broken down into:
- Cost of Existence: The basic costs of just being there
- Cost of Living: The additional costs that make being there fun
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):
You, probably, need to ignore my costs: I spent the whole week re-planning my next 1 year around the globe … I spent a lot of time working in my hotel’s pool area eating take-aways and drinking cheap local beer that I bought at the supermarket 🙂 I EXISTED well within GRANDPAcking standard.
My accommodation was only US$21 / night.
I bought a Vivacom SIMcard with a 1 month pre-paid 15GB Data Plan (the internet in my hotel was so frustrating that I used it all the time!).
I averaged about B$10 / day on food and water.
My COE worked out to be about B$42 (US$25) / day.
COST OF LIVING (COL):
I DID NOT LIVE to GRANDPAcking standard. I hardly ate out.
In / Out Costs: My public transport costs from Burgas to Sunny Beach was B$6.
Living Costs: I averaged about B$3 per night on drinks (a 2L bottle of local beer from the supermarket). I spent B$14 shopping.
My total COL was about B$47 (US$28) / day. This was only 52% of my budget.
COSTS FOR 2 GRANDPAckers:
Again, costs are broken down in Cost Of Existence (COE) and Cost Of Living (COL).
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):
Accommodation: I have booked you into a budget hotel that includes Breakfast at a long-term room rate. Alternatively, find an AirBnB with a kitchen for under US$25 / night and bring in groceries.
Transportation: I have budgeted a return trip to Burgas or Varna on a local bus each week.
Communications & Fees: I have budgeted a 1 month Vivacom SIMcard pre-paid 15GB data package.
Food: Your meals budget averages about B$39 (US$23) / day for 2 people. This is to eat all of your meals in Cheap Restaurants.
Your COE is about B$80 (US$47) / day. This is 11% UNDER budget.
COST OF LIVING (COL):
This leaves you B$10 / US$6 per day to LIVE on … thank God beer is so cheap!
Sunny Beach (to me) felt like the holiday that I had in Butlins, England when I was 4. It is not for me … I would prefer an apartment in the old streets of Old Town Nesebar. HOWEVER, there are plenty of people who love this place: sun, nice beach, cheap booze, cheap holiday package (compared to the rest of Europe), and a welcome break from toiling away in a job back home. BUT, GRANDPAckers are retired and can do better elsewhere.
To afford a month here you will need to:
- Come in Shoulder Season (July or October)
- Rent an AirBnB / Holiday Home (and, book it months in advance whilst the cheap ones are still available)
- Buy-in groceries so that you can eat (mostly) at home
- Remember that you can’t afford B$30 / day for 2 loungers and a sun umbrella down on the beach so … you probably want your accommodation to provide free access to a decent pool
If you do this, you can easily reduce your food costs by almost half and, by doing so, have enough spare money to LIVE on.
Could you afford to retire herer on a GRANDPAckig budget? NO …