The “Bear Sanctuary of Belitsa” or “The park for re-adaptation of dancing bears” is nestled in the foothills of South Rila.
More precisely 12 km away from the town of Belitsa, Blagoevgrad region. The area in which it is located has forests, which are the natural habitat of the animals.
It covers an area of about 120,000 sq.m. and at an altitude of 1,200 to 1,345 m. It was built in 2000. by Four Paws and the Brigitte Bardot Foundation. It is currently funded and managed by both organizations. Most of the asylum’s inhabitants are former “dancing bears” from Bulgaria, Serbia and Albania.
Belitsa Park was specially designed with the help of world-renowned experts studying the behavior and habits of the brown bear.
“Belitsa Park offers its residents dense forests and hills for a walk and privacy, meadows and specially built sunny places for rest. Bathing ponds and sleeping dens of various sizes and shapes were also built. This way, the bears are provided with a natural environment and a protected place for a peaceful life, close to what is normal for their species. In this place, the bears can for the first time feel and demonstrate their wild instincts and innate behavior, suppressed during their captivity,” the park’s official website says.
Read more below about the The Bear Sanctuary of Belitsa
The Founding of the Park
The official opening of “Bear Park”, then known as Dancing Bear Park, was on November 17, 2000. Although the initiative for its creation was European, the ceremony took place in a traditional native manner. More than 2,500 people attended the event. The local priest consecrates the site, according to an old custom. The presence of 200 folk singers and dancers turn the event into a true folklore celebration. Since its opening, the Park has been a unique and inseparable part of tourism in Bulgaria, and in particular the Rhodopes The aim of the park is to rescue and re-adapt bears that have been kept in questionable conditions and trained by bear handlers to dance.
The first bears to be accommodated in “Bear Park” are Mariana, Stefan and Kalinka. In 2001, the bear Stanka, who was in very poor phisical and mental condition, was also brought. On June 11, 2001, the male bears Gosho and Bobby were accommodated. All 25 registered dancing bears in Bulgaria live in the park, as well as 3 from Serbia. In 2017, the bear Riku was also brought from Albania.
The Sad Story of the Dancing Bears
Dancing bears are caught by cubs. They are trained by a bear trainer and used to entertain an audience for money. Dancing bears were a popular attraction around the city streets of Eastern Europe in the 20th century. These were mostly cubs caught from the wild, torn from their mothers and raised in captivity. Often chained and kept in solitary confinement to be forced to perform various tricks and stunts for the entertainment of the audience. This cruel “training” was banned by law in Bulgaria in 1998, but the vicious practice continued until 2007, when “Four Paws Foundation” rescued the last dancing bears and brought them to the park, where they found a new home in conditions closest to the natural ones for the species them Today, the animals are now safe in dense forests, hills for walking and spaces for solitude. They also have swimming pools available, as well as purpose-built dens for those who don’t make their own hibernation holes. At Belica Bear Park, they can finally live the life they deserve and rediscover their instincts.
Visits to “The Bear Sanctuary of Belitsa”
Although most people associate summer with a vacation at the sea, many choose the peaceful Bulgarian mountains for their summer vacation. If you have chosen to stay in the Velingrad, Bansko or Razlog area, we have a proposal for the ideal day trip – the Park for Dancing Bears in Belitsa. Walks are organized in the park every half hour between 12:00 and 18:00 in April and June, 10:00 – 12:00 and 13:00 – 18:00 in July and August, and from 12:00pm to 6:00pm September to November. It can be reached by car, with the last 2 kilometers before the park being a dirt road, but there is also the option of leaving your car at the beginning and walking the distance. You can also arrive by narrow gauge train, but you have to walk about 10 km. on foot. You can get wheels on the narrow gauge train – it will be faster that way.
At the entrance to the reserve there is a picnic area with tables and gazebos, as well as a shop where you can buy drinks, food, souvenirs, sweets, honey and more. Tickets for “Bear Park” cost BGN 6 for adults and BGN 3 for children. There is also the option of hiring a tour guide. You can walk along protected paths that pass by the seven sectors where the bears live in the forest. Many places have staff to explain if you have questions. The bears in the park are extremely calm and are not bothered by visitors. Walking along the trail, you may come across bears eating apples, carrots or melons, playing, swimming, etc.