HIKING THE NATIONAL PARKS – SLOVAKIA

Slovakia Saddle Hike

Right up in the Tatra Mountains near the Slovakian/Polish border, lies a little village called Ždiar. We first heard of Ždiar from a fellow traveller who had spent some time hiking there and highly recommended a visit. Having spent a few days in Zakopane Poland, we decided to cross over the border and check it out. We took a local bus from Zakopane to Lysander Polana, where we walked across the border to Slovakia. Crossing borders by foot in Europe is quite strange, as there are very few border posts, just signs saying which country you are in. We had to wait a while for a connecting bus, which stopped close to our hostel, en-route to Poprad.

Slovakia border Crossing

Ždiar and the Ginger Monkey Hostel

Zdair is a sweet little village with a population of less than 1500 people. It was quaint and everything we were hoping for.

We stayed at a hostel called The Ginger Monkey. It also came highly recommended by our fellow traveller and we can now see why! The building was quite old, but full of charm, attracting a good crowd of backpackers, keen for hiking and socialising, without the crazy party vibe. It was small, cosy, clean, very homely and felt a bit like staying with a distant cousin! We loved that it was well set up for backpackers with loads of information on hikes and the surrounding area.

After checking in and assessing the hiking options, we decided to do the ‘forest hike’ before dinner. The first part of this hike offered lovely views over Ždiar and the Tatras, before moving through the forest.

Sadly, we didn’t complete the hike as the path we were following turned into a wide, thick mud pit. As it looked like it was about to rain, we doubled back and headed back to our room, enjoying the views on the way back down.

Forest Trail

Hiking the ‘Saddle’ in the Tatra National Park

The following day we set off after breakfast for a 6-8 hour hike in the Tatra National Park, known as the ‘Saddle’. On a clear day, this hike promises stunning views over the High Tatras, from atop of the ridge where the name of the hike derived. After the first hour, the intensity of the hike increased and for the following 2 hours, we clambered up a slippery mountain, whilst watching the sun disappear behind the clouds which were moving in fast! It rained intermittently and was a tough slog to get the saddle, where we were greeted by thick cloud cover and more rain. Sigh.

Saddle Trail

The following 4 hours weren’t much better as we trekked through more rain and cloud. The intensity eased as most of trek was downhill, until we reached the green lake. It was tempting to go inside the restaurant by the lake and indulge in a hearty goulash or soup. However, we had packed a picnic lunch. So we made the most of the beautiful lake and the fact that the rain had stopped while we ate our lunch.

From the lake, we hiked a further 2 hours downhill, crossing a river at several points, which was really pretty. It rained on and off the entire time, however it was a lovely scenic walk back to the bus stop.

Saddle River

It took us the full 8 hours to complete the hike and think it was around 22kms in total. Needless to say, we were super happy to get back to Ginger Monkey’s and have a shower and beer!

Slovak Paradise National Park

We had one day left in Ždiar and decided to join a group from the hostel on a hike to ‘Paradise’. The hostel arranged for one of their volunteers to take us out for the day but didn’t charge us for this. We just paid for our transport. We all caught a bus to Poprad, about an hour away, then a train to Slovak Paradise National Park. From there, we made our way to the starting point of the hike. We had no idea where we were hiking. The volunteer had the instructions, so we followed along until we reached Tomášovský výhľad, with its stunning views from a cliff.

Tomášovský výhľad

From there, things went a bit downhill, well metaphorically, not literally! The markers and signs were a bit confusing and our lovely volunteer took us the wrong way. After continuing on for a while, there was a bit of panic as no one really knew where we were! It was supposed to be a 5 hour hike, with short 30 min uphill stretches and the end result was an additional 2-3 hours of hiking.

Slovak Paradise National Park hike

Ordinarily, this would have been a bonus. The beautiful trails took us through lovely gorges and even lead us to some critically endangered and endemic Tatra Chamois.

Paradise Hike Slovakia

But, we needed catch a specific train to ensure we made the bus connection back to Ždiar. Needless to say, the last 2 hours were a bit of a rush and not so enjoyable. We reached the train station on time, but the train was delayed. And we missed our bus connection. Sigh. But to our surprise, the hostel arranged and paid for a minibus to pick us up from Poprad and take us back to Ždiar!

The passport debacle!

If you’ve ever misplaced or lost your passport, you will appreciate this next part. We were heading to Budapest later in the afternoon, so we quickly went out to get some photos over Ždiar.

Beautiful Ždiar

After checking out, we caught a local bus to Poprad, where we bought train tickets to Budapest. As Chris popped out to grab lunch, I was putting something in my bag and realised our passports were missing. They were in our money purse which I had out when I paid the hostel. I either gave it to Chris to put away, or, left it on the reception desk at the hostel.

Of course, it was on the reception desk at the hostel. Our train was about to depart, but we needed our passports. After a few phone calls to the hostel and a chat with the ticket office, we managed to change our tickets to the following morning at no extra cost. In fact, we got a €26 refund as the fare was cheaper the following morning, (we highly recommend tears in these situations). We found a hotel near the train station which we paid for out of our ticket refund. Chris took a bus back to Ždiar to get our passports and we were off the Budapest the following morning, arriving at 10am. Phew, that was a close one!!!

We really loved everything about Ždiar. Small and quaint with stunning scenery and hiking trails. The Ginger Monkey really was one of the best hostels we’ve ever stayed in!

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