Bulgaria — the Hidden Student Holiday Destination

As a student, everything seems expensive. £3.50 for a pint! No thanks, we’ll go elsewhere. Paying that £5 nightclub entry is bank breaking, but a wholly necessary weekly ritual. In a world where financial payback comes in the form of ‘I’ll get ’em next time…’, it’s no wonder that a lot of student holidays revolve around the cheap and cheerful Greek and Spanish islands, with reputations for activities that parents don’t need to be concerned with. But has Bulgaria ever crossed your mind?…

Sun and Sand
Sunny Beach, the main USP is in its name, consistently runs the thermometer past 30 degrees in the summer months and it does indeed, have a beach, upon which the sun can be enjoyed. All along this beach you will find multiple bars selling pints with an average price of 2 lev, which for those not clued up on the exchange rate is about 89p. It seemed too good to be true for students on a budget. Surely there would be a catch. The flights, the hotels, something about this place must be bank busting? Don’t be daft, this is Bulgaria.

We booked the holiday mid-February, when naturally, the student loan had nearly all gone and ‘overdraft’ was a word more commonly used in conversation than sleep, food or work. Nevertheless, a holiday was needed and so the search began. Type ‘cheap student holiday’ into Google and 39 million results will come back. However, with a bit of digging, we had holiday valuations coming up for around £300-£400. Halfway through the search a flatmate came in to the kitchen saying he wants in. Search filters changed and we were amazed to see many holiday prices drop. Nestled in there was Sunny Beach, all inclusive, £270. UN-BE-LIEVABLE. It seems that when booking ‘group travel’ it really is the more the merrier, with our travel provider lowering the price for each additional member added to the trip. A few clicks, and a painfully long phone call later and our group had its first ‘lads holiday’ booked and in the bag.

Four months after booking, we arrived in Sunny Beach. The airport transfer was far from scenic. Not to beat around the bush, the surrounding area was run down. Every half-finished and abandoned building passed was a relief. 40 minutes later we reached the hotel, checked in and headed straight for the restaurant, where the buffet soon met its match. Satisfied, we wore down the rest of the afternoon, waiting for our long-anticipated first night; this night, along with the six others, which would follow, did not disappoint.

The Sunny Beach strip was just as expected. A strip of road, probably about 300 metres long, lined with bars and clubs, who’s reps were selling the dream in an attempt to get the punters flocking through the front door. These reps used annoying, in your face sales tactics as an attempt to lure us in. However, we soon learned that the desperation of these poor reps could be turned to our advantage. It really is simple; the more travel buddies, the better. It pays to have numbers, it gives you the opportunity to haggle, and more often than not free drinks are thrown in to get you through the door. The best bit … There’s absolutely nothing stopping you having those free drinks and then leaving.

Ruthlessness and efficiency are key! It’s easy to get drawn in to sales pitches, and easier still to have time wasted. Two main clubs, Den Glade Viking and Iceberg, will have reps out every night, offering ‘special deals’, that will guarantee you one of the best nights out you’ll have. The best night we got was 10 lev for club entry, one hour free bar and a bar crawl. A lot of the smaller bars have incredibly good deals; cocktails, if they can be called that, are filled with every top-shelf spirit imaginable and served to you far cheaper than should be possible.

On Land and Sea
If partying on land is too standard for your liking, reps on the strip also offer boat parties. They are a good deal and the boat party is undeniably a good way to start the evening. You and your travel buddies are obliged to mingle with others on the boat and given that it is a relatively small space, relationships can be made. Be aware though, once you’re on the boat, the only place to buy alcohol is the overpriced (I say overpriced, at home it would be termed normal price) bar.

Stay together
Obviously, the usual boring warning about staying together has to be mentioned. Whilst Sunny Beach is a massive tourist attraction, groups of locals will keep an eye out for drunk holiday goers to extort a bit of money from. Strength really does come in numbers, and it’s safer to stay amongst larger groups than chance it in twos and threes.

Daytime activities
Often struggling to recover from the activities of the previous night, a lot of time was spent at the beach, an extremely busy area of the resort, which can’t be faulted. It’s cleaned nightly and offers all you would expect from a commercialised beachfront, including pedalo’s and dinghy rides on the back of speedboats. The only slight downside was the lack of beach lockers, meaning it was either leave one person with the bags or chance it and hope that nobody will pocket your belongings (We chanced it a few times and luckily got away with it. We did, however, see a couple of people who weren’t as lucky).

The best daytime activity, without a doubt, are the waterparks around the Sunny Beach area. Similar to the nightclubs, reps for the parks can be found, mainly near bus stops or on the strip. We went to Aqua Paradise, which was about a 25-30 minute bus ride from the resort, each paying 32 lev (roughly £15) for a half day. Expensive on a student budget, especially for half a day, but well worth it. The park caters for those in need of a calm day out and adrenaline seekers. Having been on a sweaty bus ride to get there, we headed immediately for 60 km/h slides, which were undoubtedly worth the trip. Food and drink are served at the park, but the exhilaration of the rides left half our group to busy to focus on our stomachs.

In summary
It’s not somewhere you’d go for culture or a romantic getaway and it’s certainly not a family holiday destination. But Sunny Beach IS a good place to go for an unforgettable trip with your mates. It’s what I’d describe as a one stop wonder, not somewhere you’d visit again and again but for an inexpensive, fun and freaky holiday, I don’t think there would be many places like it.

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