I was roadtripping Bulgaria to catch the sunrise on July 1 – a Bulgarian tradition – when we discovered the magical pink lakes near Burgas. I had no idea these even existed!
Because they were just as magical as you might picture when hearing pink lakes in Bulgaria, here’s a little guide on how to find them, take a bathe and what else to know about Lake Atanasovsko in one of Bulgaria’s most popular beach destinations.
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I had seen pink lakes in Australia and know of some in Spain, Canada and Bolivia. But Bulgaria? Naturally, I was instantly intrugued and wanted to visit asap.
Good thing we were in the area. Burgas is such a popular spot, how come their pink lakes aren’t super popular with tourists? Don’t get me wrong, it’s perfect! You’ll find many locals here but it’s not as crowded as it would be were all kinds of tourists flocking in.
On top of that it turned out that Atanasovsko Lake in Burgas was not only pink (amazing!) but also a source for healing mud bathing (very nice!!)! Here’s all you need to know for this under-the-radar Burgas attraction.
Why is the Pink Lake in Burgas Pink?
Most pink lakes across the world get their colour from high saline levels mixed with high temperatures and little rain. Which is the reason why many pink lakes are also used for salt mining, like in Udon Thani in Thailand.
The Black Sea salt mining of the salt pans has been going on for 100 years but can actually be traced back to the 3rd century BC! Nowadays, the lake produces 40000 tons of salt per year!
The high saline levels surely help with the pink colour but they are not the main reason. Burgas’s Atanasovsko Lake, the pink colour comes from shrimp farming of the brine shrimp living in the pink lake.
It’s not the entire southern side of Atanasovsko Lake that is pink, though. Around its middle, several basins and pools were created for salt mining, called the Burgas Salterns (Burgas Salt Lakes).
Into these salt water is poured and when evaporated, salt is harvested. Depending on water and evaporation levels as well as sunshine, the colours change from deep red to soft pink.
Bathing in the Pink Lakes Burgas
Unlike pink Australia Lake near Melbourne and Lake Hillier near Perth, for instance, swimming in the Burgas pink lakes is allowed and possible. Burgas is located on the coast of the Black Sea and a major Bulgarian summer vacation hotspot.
When bathing in Burgas Salterns, you might end up getting up covered entirely in black mud. And that’s the goal! The special qualities of the lake go far beyond pink waters.
Its mud and lye (clay) actually have medicinal properties and locals swear by its healing and anti-aging powers. Use of the salt and mud pans is apparently no longer free.
Coming from the parking lot, you have to cross the old rail tracks and then can pick one of the pink lakes for a dip. Look out for no access signs to avoid off limit pools.
You will quickly see some locals floating on the salt lake, others locally applying the black mud and yet again others covered from head to toe. Let it dry for half an hour so your skin can soak up the nutrients. There are more pink lakes past the first one.
The pool water is about knee deep and the ground slippery. So it’s better to paddle forward or stand on the side to apply the mud. Bring a water bottle with you to stay hydrated and wash out potential salt water from your eyes and mouth. (It burns!)
Near the parking lot are showers and toilets, so you can clean yourself after. (Have a 50 stotinki coin ready for the toilet. Showering costs an extra 50 stotinki for 2 minutes.) The beach is right there as well if you fancy a dip.
Healing Mud Qualities of the Pink Lakes
Apart from needing certain amounts of salt in your diet, salt has amazing qualities when applied to the skin as well. Its wellness properties include tons of vital minerals, such as sulphur, calcium, sodium, magnesium, silicon, boron, potassium, bromine and strontium.
Table salt, however, has mostly lost the amazing goodness. So this is where salt and mud bath spa comes into play. (Plus, there is a massage shed if you want to get the full treatment.)
Thanks to them, you can see various healing effects, such as improved blood sugar levels, weight loss, asthma symptoms and heart rates. Sea salt on the skin helps with extra hydration and can help heal scars and tiny wounds.
It can close pores, kill acne-causing bacteria, restores your skin’s natural PH levels and reduces inflammation, just to name a few more salt health benefits.
(Just be aware that swimming in publicly accessible and regularly used baths like the Burgas Saltern, might irritate sensitive skin even more. Better do it in your home bath then.)
Bird Watching at the Pink Lake Burgas
Once you have had enough of mud bathing and floating on the pink lakes in Burgas, you can head up to the northern part of Lake Atanasovsko. At the Point especially, you can pull out your binoculars for bird watching. It is located in the wildlife sanctuary, which dates back to 1980.
Particularly migrating birds love nesting in this area – it’s the most migrating birds you can find in one spot in the Balkans, 316 species in total. If you are lucky you can spot rare ones. In fact, 83 bird species listed in the Red Book of Bulgarian can be found here.
During autumn especially, look out for storks, pink pelicans and spotted eagles. In winter, you might be able to see wintering mallards, Dalmatian pelican or Eurasian widgeon.
How to Get to the Black Sea Salt Pans
By public transport
You can easily reach Burgas from Varna, Nessebar and Sozopol, which takes 2 hours, 1 hour and 30 minutes respectively. From Sofia, it takes 5-6 hours and costs about 20-25 leva. There are local buses and minivans regularly operating between the cities. (Here’s your Bulgaria bus guide.)
However, they operate less frequently in off season. Check out bus timetables online. From the city centre, it takes 10 to 15 minutes to reach Atanasovsko Lake by taxi. There aren’t taxis waiting onsite. (Show them the name in Cyrillic: Бургаски солници).
On foot or by bike
Alternatively, you can walk or bike from the seaside park up to the Black Sea salt lake pans. Start from the South tip at the Sand Fest Burgas and follow the lake bends. Walking to the Burgas Salt parking lot takes around 40 minutes.
Driving is a good option as the lakes aren’t located in the city of Burgas, they are to its North east. Lake Atanasovsko may reach up until the seaside Park, but that’s not the spot to see the pink lakes.
The Lake itself is divided by the highway into North and South with the northern part being a protected natural reserve. Get off at the junction (near the airport) on the highway from Burgas to Varna and head south towards Kableshkovo Village.
There is a car park, which costs 1 leva per hour. If you park a little outside, there is no fee.
There used to be a guided tour to the pink lakes by Get Your Guide, but it seems that’s been taken down.
But if you’re already in Burgas, you could do a guided day trip to nearby St Anastasia Island with its gorgeous, old monastery. Trips can be cancelled up to 24 hours in advance in case you’re still uncertain. Check it out here*.
When to Visit the Burgas Salt Lakes
The best time to visit is in summer when you can actually enjoy a refreshing bath under the warm sun. August is the driest month and offers pleasant temperatures.
Burgas in July offers the most sunny days. Note that summer is prime season at the Black Sea coast, so it will be crowded. Plus, Bulgarian summer holidays go from June to mid September.
To see migrating birds, visit Lake Atanasovsko in autumn. Try to avoid November as it is the wettest month. Due to the high salt levels, the lakes don’t freeze over in winter and temperatures remain above freezing point, so don’t expect beautiful winter wonderlands or ice skating.
What to Pack
Burgas is prime beach holiday material. So you absolutely should pack swimwear. However, make sure you also have one that you don’t dote on so you can use it in the Burgas mud baths.
The same goes for your sandals or flip flops. Get cheap washable flip flops* (and keep good ones, like stylish Reef sandals* for the beach). Rinse them after your mud bath and then put in the washing machine so they’re as good as new.
Don’t forget the sunscreen as the sun can shine rather hot even though temperatures aren’t much over 30°C. Add sunglasses and a sunhat as well as summer holiday clothing to keep you fresh. Bring a quick dry towel* as well as beach towel for your after shower or reading by the beach.
There are shopping miles in Burgas’s city centre in case you forgot to pack something or just want to splurge on summer dresses and accessories.
Prices are normal but affordable as it’s a Bulgarian seaside hotspot. From the city centre shopping streets, it’s just a 10 to 15 minute walk to the beach and beach bars.
Where to Stay near the Pink Lakes in Burgas
Budget travelers don’t have many options when it comes to hostels. These are mostly houses converted into bed n breakfasts with multiple beds in one room. Hospitality is great, often with included breakfast and nice hosts, but don’t expect high quality hostels. Prices are between $9 and 12.
Good mid range hotels include Hotel Slivnitsa*, Milano Hotel* and Aqua Hotel*. In general, hotels in Bulgaria are quite affordable so if you want to treat yourself, you can check into Hotel Bulgaria* (~ $70 per night) or Diamond Beach Apartments* (~ $81 per night) in case you want to stay for a few days.
Is Visiting the Burgas Salt Lakes Worth It?
I love visiting oddly coloured landscapes, so a pink lake in Bulgaria was a must for me. We nearly missed it and I visited both for sunset as well as during noon the next day. Noon was definitely much better for seeing the colours pop! (For sunsets, visit Plovdiv.)
In case you are staying in Burgas, checking out the lakes is definitely worth it. And if you love everything wellness and want to give your skin some nurturing, you should definitely come over to Burgas Salterns.
Would you want to get covered in mud at the Burgas Salt Lakes? Comment below.
More Bulgaria travel tips
- How to Get to Bulgaria’s UFO
- What to see in Veliko Tarnovo
- What’s great about Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital
- What to expect in Assenowgrad
- Getting around Bulgaria without a rental car
- The magical stone forest in Varna
California Globetrotter says
Wish I had known about this when we went to Bulgaria as part of our honeymoon road trip through the Balkans!! Pinned for next time!
Oh, that would have been such a cool thing to do on a honeymoon together. Hopfeully next time. I hope you had a great honeymoon!