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Although small in area—about the size of the state of Virginia—Bulgaria has some of the most diverse, and often untamed, terrain in all of Europe. High mountain ranges, ancient forests, deep river valleys, vast plateaus, fertile farmlands, waterfalls, a rugged coastline, and even a desert of uncanny stone formations are all found within its borders.
Bulgaria sits in the eastern portion of the Balkan Peninsula surrounded by Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia, Romania and the Black Sea. Historically, the area has been a crucial crossroad between Western Europe and Istanbul. Bulgaria dates from at least 8000 years back in time and the long tracks of history are etched deeply on the land and the people. Thracian tribes, Romans, Turks, and dozens of others have all left their mark on the architecture, culture, traditions and cuisine.
The faith and spirit of the Bulgarian people has persevered throughout history and through turbulent times of war and occupation. Hundreds of picturesque monasteries—often built on high rocky exposures with stunning views—and over a thousand Orthodox churches dot the land. Medieval stone fortresses overlook steep river valleys, and farmlands—especially the Rose Valley stretching below the Balkan Mountain chain that crosses the country—where the renowned Damask rose is grown.
The Damask rose (Rosa damascena) is known for its celebrated aroma and high quality oil. From its introduction by a Turkish judge in 1420 to the first cultivated rose fields of the 16th century, the Damask rose remains a symbol of Bulgaria. The brilliant pink to light red blossoms of this Old Rose variety grow in vast hedge-rowed fields in the Rose Valley and must be harvested by hand in the early morning hours—the best time for photography—to preserve their delicate fragrance.
Discover some of the most photographically rewarding and culturally-rich regions of Bulgaria, from raw mountain landscapes of the interior to photogenic small seaside towns hugging the land on the edge of the Black Sea. Photograph the diverse architecture spanning the centuries. Roman ruins, medieval fortresses and monasteries perched on remote lofty crags, traditional wooden houses that offer tales of life in rural communities of past centuries, a bizarre saucer-shaped communist-era structure of concrete and steel, and modern cities of glass towers all attest to the long arc of history on this small country. Like the petals of a Damask rose, Bulgaria will charm and delight with its photogenic landscapes and rich cultural blend of a storied past upon the land and the people.

Tour Itinerary

Day 1
Fly to Sofia, Bulgaria.
Day 2 (May 24)
Arrive at Sofia Airport. You are met at the airport for the transfer to our hotel. Meet with the group for dinner a local restaurant. (D)
Day 3
We are up early to capture the morning’s “blue hour” in Sofia’s city center. Dating back to 7000 BCE, the city is a historical record encapsulating structures from ancient Roman ruins, to Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian fortresses, to communist-era architecture, and to modern glass towers.
Following our morning photo session, we drive eastward to Pavel Banya, a small town in Bulgaria’s renowned Rose Valley. The town is a perfect location from which to photograph the extensive fields of roses in the valley and explore the surrounding mountains. (BLD)
Days 4 & 5
These two days are devoted to photographing in the Rose Valley. Our focus is an ancient symbol of Bulgaria, the Damask rose. Our photo sessions capture the collection by hand of the delicate deep pink rose flowers in the early dawn hours—before the precious oils fade later in the day—by sometimes hundreds of pickers in the midst of the rose fields. The fragrant petals are transported to Bulgaria’s oldest rose oil distillery, established in 1909, where they are quickly poured into large barrels of steaming hot water to extract the precious oil. (BLD)
Day 6
We travel further east toward the Balkan Mountain village of Zheravna, an architectural-historical reserve of restored traditional 18th and 19th-century houses. (BLD)
Day 7
The village of Zheravna dates from the 12th century, becoming a wealthy cultural and handicraft center in the 18th century due to its location on the main route through the mountains. A rich architectural unity emerged as wooden houses with carved ceilings, exquisite decorations on doors and windows, and religious icons were built during the Bulgarian Revival. Around 200 restored 1- to 2-story houses are picturesquely sited amidst narrow cobblestone alleyways, stone walls and fountains. (BLD)
Day 8
Heading northeastward we drive to the small seaside town of Balchik on the Black Sea coast. En route, we explore the ship-like stone fortress of Ovech, built by the Byzantines high on a rocky hill with panoramic views of the town of Provadia and craggy outcrops emerging amidst lush green vegetation. We also stop to photograph the Stone Desert, the only desert in Bulgaria, where limestone pillars up to 20 feet high seem to grow out of the surrounding white sand. Descending a plateau, we stop in Varna, the largest city on the Black Sea, before continuing to the small fishing port of Balchik. (BLD)
Day 9
In Balchik, our focus is on the landmark Balchik Palace, the summer residence of Queen Marie of Romania built in the early 20th century, surrounded by a luxuriant botanical garden. In nearby Karvuna, at the tip of a nearly 5-mile-long cape jutting into the Black Sea, a 13th-century medieval fortress sits dramatically atop 200-foot-high red rock cliffs punctured with sea caves. (BLD)
Day 10
Turning away from the coast, we drive to Veliko Tarnovo. The former Bulgarian capital, known as the City of the Tsars, is situated in a strategic location connecting Eastern Europe with the Middle East. In the city’s still-operating craft shops set along cobblestone streets, we can photograph—or even take part in—the making of pottery, silver jewelry, wood carvings, woven carpets and knives. (BLD)
Days 11 & 12
The area surrounding Veliko Tarnovo abounds with superb photo subjects. This old city is built on three hills rising above the winding Yantra River. On one of the hills, Tsarevets, a magnificent medieval fortress dating back to the 12th century, is positioned high on one of the hills, guarded by thick 12-foot-high walls and three stone gates. We stop to photograph Preobrazhene and Dryanovo monasteries en route to a communist-era relic—built like a massive gray concete saucer-shaped UFO—looming over this remote mountainous region. Constructed with 3,000 tons of steel and 40 tons of glass, the ruins of the abandoned assembly hall rise over 200 feet atop a nearly 5,000-foot peak with a 360-degrees view. After dark, in Veliko Tarnovos, we photograph Tsarevets illuminated by a phenomenal lightshow washing the fortress walls with color. (BLD)
Day 13
We make our way back to Sofia, but not before we visit one of the most picturesquely-sited monasteries in Bulgaria—Glozhene Monastery. Perched on an exposed rocky hill in the Balkan Mountains, the small monastery was originally founded in the 13th century and remains the stuff of legends. The riveting setting and panoramic views from the steep hilltop offer superb photo opportunities. Once in Sofia, we have an early dinner and time to prepare for our departure the following day. (BLD)
Day 14 (June 5)
Transfer to Sofia Airport for flights home. (B)
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Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris Enrollment Information


May 23, 2020 - Jun 05, 2020

A deposit and completed and signed Registration Form are required to reserve a place for you on a Joseph Van Os Photo Safari.


All prices are quoted in US dollars and all payments must be paid in US dollars. For deposit only, we accept Visa, MasterCard or American Express. Final payment of the trip fee is due 120 days priors to departure and must be paid by check or bank transfer. Trip deposits are non-refundable and non-transferable.

We must receive written notice of your cancellation, at which time cancellation fees in the following amounts apply:

If Written Cancellation is Received:
90 days or prior:
89 to 61 days prior:
60 or fewer days:
Cancellation Fee:
100% of deposit
50% of trip fee
100% of trip fee

No partial refunds are made for unused portions or services of a trip for any reason whatsoever. Trips are sold as a package only. This policy also applies to tour extensions and independent travel arrangements. Cancellation fees are not transferable.

Protect your travel investment and purchase a trip insurance policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. A trip insurance brochure will be sent with your enrollment confirmation.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris are within the capabilities of average people in good health. Some of these trips require the capability of walking for several miles over uneven trails, stepping from a small boat to a wave-washed rocky beach, flying in small planes and helicopters, and occasionally hiking at high elevations—all while carrying an assortment of camera equipment. If you have concerns about your own capabilities and/or fitness as it relates to a trip, please inquire with our office before reserving a space. By forwarding a signed Registration Form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you or other trip participants and you agree to inform our office in writing if changes in your health occur any time prior to the tour. We reserve the right to request a doctor's statement of good health. The company's or trip leader's judgment shall provide the ultimate determination of an individual's ability to embark upon or to continue a trip. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements. “Meatless” meals are normally available at most locations. Due to the remote nature of many photo locations, and the growing diversity of today’s dietary trends, participants requiring special food items are encouraged to bring their own.

Tour members are asked to refrain from smoking with or near the group.

Participants will receive three emails before the trip departs: 1. Initial Tour Information sheet confirms the deposit and provides pre-departure information. 2. Invoice/Practical Information provides clothing and photo gear recommendations, climate data, applicable health advisories and reading list. Visa information will also be included (if applicable). 3. Final Tour Information includes arrival instructions, itinerary revisions (if any), hotel addresses, trip telephone contact information and participant list. We provide the trip leader's telephone number(s) and/or e-mail address with final documents so you can inquire about special photographic questions you may have regarding your trip. We welcome your calls or e-mail messages to info@photosafaris.com.

Information supplied upon enrollment describes the specific costs that are included in your trip fee. Generally these costs include lodging in double room occupancy, all meals (specified in the itinerary as BLD denoting breakfast, lunch or dinner), ground transportation during the trip in vans or small busses, air transportation as specified, meal and baggage tipping, and guide services provided by the trip leaders. Not included are airfare or other transportation from your home to the trip staging location, airport departure taxes, insurance, alcoholic beverages and bar expenses (plus bottled water and soft drink expenses on international tours outside of North America), tips and gratuities to local guides abroad, phone calls, passport or visa expenses, laundry or items of a personal nature. Gratuities to Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris trip leaders are optional and always appreciated. Rates are based on group tariffs; if the trip does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may be charged.

Single accommodations are available for a supplemental cost in many locations; see the pre-departure trip information or call our office for details. You will be charged the single supplement fee if you desire single accommodations or if you wish to have a roommate, but one is not available. In some remote locations, clients with single rooms are infrequently compelled to share a room due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, appropriate per diem refunds will be made reflecting the direct cost of the single room at the facility where clients are required to share. There is no additional single supplement fee on ship-based cruises, if you request a roommate and one is not available.

Cost increases may occur unexpectedly due to rising costs of airfares, ground transport, fuel surcharges, accommodations and currency fluctuations, among others. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. may be compelled to amend prices, and we reserve the right to do so without prior notice. An increase in trip prices shall not be sufficient grounds for any refund of funds paid for the trip other than as determined by the terms of our cancellation policy.

Whenever possible, our trip participants are lodged in comfortable, modern hotels. We select among the best available accommodations, but refrain from extravagance. Some interesting photographic destinations are far removed from modern amenities, however, and where necessary we will be accommodated in rustic country inns, cabins or tented camps.

Meals are always a special part of our trips for the camaraderie they engender and the opportunity they provide to try new foods from different areas. Depending on the trip and specific locale, participants order restaurant meals from the full menu or, less frequently, table d'hôte. Some trips include picnic lunches in the field. Fruit juice for breakfast and coffee or tea are included with the meals. Soft drinks are included with meals on tours within North America. Participants are responsible for their own bar tab (including bottled water, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages on tours outside of North America) at restaurant lunches and dinners.

Our itineraries are intended as examples only. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history or cultural events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. or our leaders.

The second tour leader (and any subsequent additional leaders) listed for each trip on the website will be added as the group size warrants. If only one space remains on a trip, and logistics permit, we accept two persons traveling together, even if it exceeds the trip maximum.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. and/or their Agents act only as agents for the passenger in regard to travel including, but not limited to, sightseeing, meals, lodging, transportation, and all other services whether by railroad, motorcar, motor coach, boat, ship or aircraft and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay or irregularity which may be occasioned either by reason of defect in any vehicle or for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts or default of any company or person engaged in conveying the passenger or in carrying out the arrangements of the trip.

They can accept no responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay or changes in air or other services, sickness, weather, strike, war, volcanic eruption, terrorist acts, political unrest, quarantine or other causes. All such losses or expenses will have to be borne by the passenger, as trip fees provide for arrangements only for the times and locations stated. Baggage is at the owner's risk entirely.

The right is reserved to 1) substitute hotels of similar category for those indicated and to make any changes in the itinerary or transport where deemed necessary, or caused by changes in air schedules or equipment substitution; 2) cancel any trip prior to departure, in which case full refund of the paid trip funds will be given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 3) substitute trip leader(s) for the leader(s) originally specified, in which case the substitution is not a basis for participant cancellation or refund other than provided by our normal cancellation policy; or 4) accept or retain any person as a member of any trip.

Trip prices are based on tariffs and exchange rates in effect at the time of publication and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein.

A Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section must be signed by each participant prior to the commencement of the trip. Participation by any trip member will be declined in the absence of the signed Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section, with no trip fee refund. No modification to the Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section will be accepted.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this agreement, the enrolling trip participant(s) agree(s) to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, the enrolling participant(s) agree(s) to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington. Certain ship owners require the use of pre-printed ticket forms that limit the ship owner's and operator's liability. When such tickets are used, the passenger is bound by the terms of these tickets with respect to the passenger's legal relationship to the owners and operators of the ship, their agents (Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc.), and the ship's crew.

Bulgaria: Easy Activity Level

Van transportation.  Expect relatively easy walking on ancient cobblestone streets while exploring villages.  Necessary to climb some stairs in a few locations.  Walk on worn trails or uneven ground while shooting rural landscapes.

Trip Details
May 23 - Jun 05, 2020
Fee: $6,195 from Sofia, Bulgaria
Deposit: $800
Limit: 12 participants
Activity Level: EasyEasy
  • Capture images of a diverse landscape—the lofty Balkan Mountains, vast forests, striking desert formations, and a rugged Black Sea coastline
  • Two days to photograph the age-old harvest of Damask roses in the Rose Valley
  • Vast range of architectural highlights from stunningly-sited medieval and Byzantine fortresses, monasteries and churches, to an intriguing remote communist-era relic
  • Full day to photograph exquisitely-detailed wooden 18th and 19th century houses in an historical reserve in a picturesque setting
Tour Leaders
Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas