Slovakia is an adventure travel paradise. Filled to the brim with sparsely populated national parks, rugged mountain peaks and glacier lakes, Slovakia is tailor made for adventure travel, and provides an endless playground for any intrepid traveller wanting to test themselves with some epic adventure activities.
Slovakia is one of Europe’s hidden gems, a fairy tale land of medieval castles, grand mountain peaks and a rugged, unspoiled natural beauty. A natural beauty that has on the whole been hidden from the itineraries of many travellers for a long time. That is slowly changing as backpackers and independent travellers start to realize they have been missing out, and increasing numbers of people are now discovering what an awesome destination Slovakia is.
Slovakia has so much to offer any traveller. History lovers like myself won’t be able to get enough of Spis Castle, one of the largest medieval fortresses in Europe with a resident archaeologist and blacksmith! Health and Wellness travel is booming here with the number of spas and facilities devoted to medicine, health, wellness and fitness. The surprisingly metropolitan sheen surrounding the Gothic architecture and medieval battlements of cities like Kosice, and even foodies will be pleasantly surprised at the amazingly hearty Slovak cuisine.
But there is only one real way to see the true heart of Slovakia, and that is to get out and experience the wild, rugged adventure its mountains, hills and lakes have to offer!
Slovakia is a rugged, beautifully untouched European wilderness that many adventure travellers have yet to discover.
I’m no stranger to adventure travel. I’ve done more than my fair share of jungle trekking, volcano climbing, diving and desert camping and even one particular incident where I was nearly blown to Venezuela when sea kayaking in Aruba, so it shouldn’t come as any great surprise that I couldn’t resist taking on the adventure travel challenges that Slovakia was presenting me with!
As amazingly diverse as Slovakia’s attractions are, it was the adventure activities that were drawing me here and it was Adventoura Slovakia, the adventure tour company that would guide me through everything Slovakia could throw at me!
Hiking in Stary Smokovec.
I started my Slovakian adventure in Stary Smokovec, a small resort town popular with hikers thanks to the range of hiking trails leading up into the Tatras mountains, the highest and most stunning part of the Carpathian mountain range.
It was a perfect way to start off slowly and ease myself into the adventures that were to come whilst exploring a little of the rugged landscape I had come to see. A short funicular cable ride to the starting point at Hrebienok left me surprised at the diversity of the hikers who were joining us that day, everyone from schoolchildren and families to pensioners and everyone in between, a testament to how accessible the hiking adventures are here. But my initial worries of a crowded trail proved to be premature.
The small ski resort of Hrebienok is surrounded by countless hiking trails of various difficulties, each one leading a different path around the mountains and valleys. As we all set off, the small crowds began to thin out as each took their own route to their destination, and before long there were very few hikers left with us as we strolled toward our final destination, a mountain cottage popular with hikers for its hearty, traditional food.
The trail itself was far from difficult, mostly made up of flattened dirt trails, wooden bridges and a rough hewn rock path leading up the mountains themselves, and the easy stroll in the mountain air was just enough to blow away the cobwebs of inactivity and remind my muscles they were still required to actually do something! But the whole point of a hike like this is not to test my endurance levels, but to enjoy the fresh air and stunning scenery!
The trail led us over raging mountain rivers, past crashing waterfalls made buoyant by recent rains, through thick mountain forests, and the snowy peaks of the Tatras mountains loomed overhead with promises of what awaited us in the coming week.
This may have been the softer, more accessible end of the adventure travel scale, but that didn’t make it any less stunning.
Meeting the local wildlife.
Slovakia’s High Tatras National Park is filled with an abundant and diverse range of wildlife, including Deer, Lynx, Grey Wolves, Chamoise and Brown Bears, and although the chance of spotting any of them from any regularly used hiking trail is low, Slovakia still didn’t disappoint the animal lover in me.
Reaching the end point of the trek, a picturesque mountain lodge serving traditional slovakian food, the hearty fare of meals made up of mostly cheese, pasta, meat and dumplings was perfect fuel for all that exercise.
But the best part was not the food, as amazing and as welcome as it was, it was our guest who joined us. A stunning husky dog whose owner was quite happy for her to sit with us and have a fuss for the entirety of the meal!
But a pet husky is not wild, and as much as I wanted to I couldn’t count her as such. It was on the way back down the mountain however that we got our first glimpse of true Slovakian wildlife as we were joined for a while by a liska, a beautiful Slovakian fox who quite regularly greets hikers on this stretch of the hiking trail.
Spotting her as she came closer to us, I sat down on the trail so as not to scare her or get too close. It turns out I needn’t have been concerned as she slowly trotted straight over to me and sat just out of arms reach, looking at us curiously. She seemed completely at ease as she sat down, allowing herself a large, lazy yawn as she stared at me and the camera I was silently pointing at her.
I don’t know exactly how long she sat there before she got up, stretched and slowly trotted past us, but it was an incredibly heartwarming and beautiful experience. To see a wild animal so up close, purely by chance, completely on her terms, without any interaction and without any negative impact to her at all.
I was still on a massive natural high from my experience with the liska when I woke up early to get ready for the experience I had been drawn to Slovakia for in the first place, bear watching!
Kitted out with the latest e bikes and safety gear, we set off early in the morning from our starting point at Podbanske, our guide leading us on a mountain trail to a series of lookout points along the Ticha Dolina valley, the biggest valley in the High Tatras mountains.
There are over 700 Bears present throughout Slovakia but they are concentrated most heavily here in this valley, a vast, ruggedly stunning stretch of the Tatras Mountains in the north western stretch of the Carpathian mountain range.
Our guide stopped at various viewing points across the valley, instructing us to point our binoculars at the hills and valleys that we were overlooking, giving us information on the bears themselves as well as their behavioural habits and conservation issues.
Unfortunately as we passed each viewing point without ever seeing a bear, it became less and less likely that I was actually going to see one on this trip, and as it happens I didn’t. But at the end of the day that didn’t matter.
Because the fact that I wasn’t guaranteed to see any bear at all meant that the bear watching tours were being run responsibly and ethically, and that meant this was a tour operator that loved, respected and cared for the wildlife it was bringing people out to see. That was far more important than my own instant gratification of seeing a bear in the wild.
What I did end up doing was having an epic mountain biking adventure into the Tatras mountains, getting to see some truly spectacular mountain wilderness along the way and having an awesome time doing it. That in and of itself was worth the trip.
White water rafting.
But Slovakia has much, much more to offer than just gentle hikes and wildlife watching.
The stunning river of Bela located near Podbanske is one of the most picturesque places in Slovakia, and given the untouched wild paradise that covers most of the country that is saying a lot! The spring weather melts the snow in the surrounding mountains and the flow causes heavy rapids that give even experienced rafters a solid workout!
But it was the softer and equally picturesque river of Dunajec where we started our rafting adventure. Nestled in a gorge that cuts between Slovakia and Poland, the natural border rises up on both sides of the river to form a forested battlement on each side reminiscent of something out of Jurassic Park.
Pushing the oar through the gentle rapids and steering yourself through the winding gorge, it is easy to forget you are in Europe as the current carries you down river. The landscape transports you to the jungles of Colombia or Belize, and what better way to enjoy scenery like this than hurling yourself down the river in an inflatable raft!
Rock climbing in Drevenik.
We couldn’t stay on the water forever though, as genuinely tempting as that may have been. Eventually we had to dry off and get back on dry land.
Fortunately Slovakia had many more adventure travel opportunities for me to look forward to, and a short hike to the rocky terrain at Drevenik didn’t disappoint.
Located near the famous Spis castle, where I had spent the morning dreaming of ancient knights and storming the battlements, Drevenik is home to huge limestone crags jutting out from the landscape like a giants gnarled fingers, the scarred, jagged rock face the perfect natural surface for practicing a bit of rock climbing.
The rocks here practically invite you to come and climb on them, and that is exactly what I did.
There are numerous routes here from a scale of 3 to 10 plus, making it ideal for beginners and experienced climbers alike, and with an expert climber on hand to teach and guide you up the rock.
I had an absolute blast hauling myself up and down the rock. There was never any point where I felt that I was out of my depth or that the rock was too much for me, and a large part of that feeling was down to having chosen the right guide. The rock climbing is as taxing as you want or need it to be, which means that you can go at your own level and just enjoy the fun side of climbing.
Enjoying the adventure sport resorts.
But there is more to adventure travel in Slovakia than just enjoying the ruggedly wild landscapes. There are plenty of organised adventure sports to take part in too.
Jasna Nizke Tatry is one of the largest all year round ski resorts in Slovakia, with perfect conditions for skiing throughout the winter and artificial snow on the slopes through many of the summer months, over 23 cable cars and lifts and even an illuminated evening slope allowing skiers, snowboarders, sledders and other snow sport enthusiasts more than enough opportunities to indulge in some snow filled fun.
And that is before you get to all the hiking and climbing opportunities at the resort!
Climbing the Tatra mountains.
The Tatra mountains, part of the Carpathian mountain range, form a naturally stunning border between Slovakia and Poland and are part of the ruggedly beautiful natural landscape that overlooks almost every adventure you can have in Slovakia.
Whether you are hiking through the vast, protected natural parkland directly below the mountains or rafting on a river underneath them, the Tatra mountains are always there, beckoning, and you cannot have an adventure in Slovakia without ending up at some point on the top of at least one of the majestic peaks.
There are climbing opportunities in the Tatra mountains for all ages and abilities with multiple routes and peaks to satisfy even the most adventurous climber. There are of course the most extreme expeditions, which require a high level of competency, gear and accreditation with the correct mountaineering clubs, various hiking trails starting from Stary Smokovec or Poprad that will take most people at least part way to some of the peaks, and of course there are always the easy options of taking the ski lifts up part of the way from Jasna.
I genuinely love being up in the mountains. I don’t know why exactly, maybe it is the views, the fresh air, the exercise, I’m not sure. Whatever the reason, being in the Tatra mountains was the absolute highlight of my time in Slovakia.
Apart from the obvious immediate reason of offering majestically spectacular views, mountains for me symbolise the ultimate escape. You can literally look down on everything below you and see how insignificant all of life’s petty little worries actually are. Mountains are the ultimate symbol of strength, not only in their sheer physical size and imposing permanance, but in the internal physical and mental battleground that countless mountain climbers have faced to reach the peaks you are standing on before you.
And like every mountain I have ever trekked or climbed, I was infinitely grateful for the Tatra mountains for reminding me of those feelings and allowing me to leave a piece of myself on its peaks.
Slovakia has been a dream adventure travel destination, but that isn’t the only reason to come here! I have had an absolute blast in this seriously underrated and untamed European paradise, I have discovered some of the country’s medieval past at Spis castle and swung a sword or two over my head with fantasies of storming the battlements.
I have eaten my way through entire delicious menus at places as varied as traditional Slovakian restaurants and mountain huts to modern American sports bars. I have tried and sworn off the lethal Tatratea on awesome nights out, met amazing friends, and I have been made to feel welcome by the most hospitable people and even forgiven for endlessly butchering their difficult language!
I have had a taste of the focus on health and wellness in the country with the sheer amount of day spas, natural springs and resorts, spent time in endless spas, jacuzzis and even the latest cryo therapy chambers. A much needed respite from hurling myself through river rapids and almost falling off a cliff rock climbing!
Slovakia is an amazing destination that thoroughly deserves to move up every travellers bucket list immediately! And if you think you know all there is to see in this amazing country, you haven’t even scratched the surface.
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This article was written in partnership with Adventoura Slovakia. The views and opinions expressed are entirely the authors own based on personal experiences when travelling and are honest and factual without any bias.