Slovenia’s the Perfect Place for Canyoning
Canyoning in Slovenia: Pushing Our Comfort Zones
By Kerri Duncan
As I watched my new husband struggle valiantly into his tight blue neoprene wet suit, I adjusted my own helmet straps and wondered what we had gotten ourselves into here in Slovenia.
We were getting ready for our first attempt at canyoning, in the beautiful Triglav National Park, Slovenia. Neither of us was particularly seasoned at extreme outdoor sports but had agreed our honeymoon was the perfect opportunity to push our comfort zones.
The town we were staying in, Bled, in on Lake Bled had given us an enticing taste of what the countryside had to offer, and I was excited to get outdoors, see the landscapes, and frolic in a few waterfalls.
A local tour operator called 3glav Adventures claimed their canyoning adventure tour in Grmecica canyon required no previous experience, so we signed right up – not really knowing, exactly, what canyoning involved. As our mini-van trundled off towards the mountains early one summer morning, I was comforted by the fact most of the other six participants were first-time canyoners, too.
What is Canyoning?
Our tour operator sold canyoning as being “like a natural water park, where you have lots of slides, jumps and abseiling.” Decked out in neck-to-toe neoprene, you wear a harness around your waist similar to those used for rock-climbing. A snug helmet protects your head, and grippy water shoes help you scramble over wet rocks.
Once you’ve been shown how to use your harness and have a safety briefing, it’s basically an obstacle course through the water-filled canyons.
Purposefully designed hooks have already been installed throughout the rocks to attach the abseiling ropes, and experienced canyoners have pre-tested the route.
They’ll instruct you to climb, swim, jump, abseil, slide and scramble your way along whatever course nature has built for you.
I’ve never had a problem with heights and felt cautiously optimistic about my abilities after the confidently delivered safety spiel from our charming guides. I even volunteered to go first to tackle task one – abseiling backward down a short cliff.
I’ll admit I let out a little squeak when first letting my bodyweight swing backward into nothing, but once my harness reassuringly caught me, I embraced the thrill of hanging down a cliff face by a rope and walked my feet steadily downwards.
Hitting the Cold Water
The real shock came when I hit the water – it was outrageously cold! It was supposed to be the middle of summer, yet my warmth-loving Australian face was in distress from the icy submersion.
Grmecica canyon is fed by melting snow from the Julian Alps, which keeps it quite chilly for most of the year.
Luckily our wet suits were fantastic at keeping our body warm, but our hands and face remained uncovered. This led to amusing scenes of canyoners keeping their hands in the air whenever submerged, giving the appearance of a mid-canyon, helmet-wearing rave party.
Triglav National Park
In-between throwing our hands in the air like we just didn’t care, we had time to marvel at the beauty of the park around us.
The canyon was often narrow enough to barely squeeze through single file, suspensefully obscuring our view before dramatically revealing the next fairy-tale scene of cascading falls, moss-covered rocks, and dainty ferns.
Thin, straight trees with delicate pastel leaves swayed above water so clear we could see every fallen leaf on the riverbed.
Triglav National Park is Slovenia’s only national park, and one of Europe’s largest. At 880 square kilometers, it takes up roughly four percent of the entire area of Slovenia.
At the center of the park is Mt Triglav, the country’s highest peak at 2864m, which feeds two major river systems – the Soca, flowing to the Adriatic Sea, and the Sava, flowing to the Black Sea.
These river systems carve gorges, ravines, and canyons throughout the park, as well as many beautiful waterfalls along the way.
Canyoning: Not for the Faint-Hearted
The waterfalls seemed much taller than expected when I found myself standing on top of one, being urged to jump off.
Especially when the landing pool was small enough to touch both sides simultaneously with outstretched hands, and was solidly walled by rocks.
Instinct nagged me to at least inspect the pool for depth before jumping, but that wasn’t an option – I simply had to trust the guides who assured me it was safe.
It was either that or give up and go back the way I’d come. Which wouldn’t be adequately pushing my comfort zone.
So I jumped and screamed. Safely landed, and laughed. And repeated this adrenaline-fueled challenge again and again, with a newfound appreciation of the rush.
At times there were trickier options for the most adventurous among the group, like having to pounce over an obstacle before plummeting downwards or jumping off a higher perch. Participation in these was about a 50/50 split for the group, with no pressure applied to those who weren’t as keen.
A particularly exciting maneuver involved having to squeeze through a small underwater opening while holding our breath. Using only our hands to guide us, it was impossible to effectively open our eyes in the fast-flowing water. With ears full of rushing chaos, the stunt certainly spiked the heart rate but was completed fairly quickly.
It was hugely satisfying to pop up and inhale dramatically on the other side like I was James Bond successfully escaping the villain after a daring boat chase.
To complete the canyon course in a climactic fashion, there was an especially tall waterfall pouring into a sandy pool that could be either jumped off or abseiled down from.
After a final huge thrill, wading out onto the gently sloping beach to watch the next person was a soothing end to the excitement.
What You Need for Canyoning
Throughout the two hours spent in the canyon, our guides passed a sturdy waterproof camera between them to capture mid-jump action shots and group happy snaps.
It was great to know our memories were being recorded without the worry of bringing personal valuables. They emailed all the photos to the group with a few days of the tour, completely free of charge.
So you don’t need to bring your camera, though you can at your risk. All canyoning equipment is provided (wet suits, neoprene socks, waterproof shoes, helmet, and harness). Some things you do require are:
- A swimsuit to wear under your wet suit
- Towel and change of clothes
- Confident swimming abilities
- Minimum age of 10 for half-day tours or 14 for full-day expeditions
- Minimum height of 140cm
- Maximum weight of 120kg
- Moderate fitness – there is unstable, uphill walking involved
As with most adventure sports, it’s not recommended for pregnant women. If you’re very uncomfortable with heights or small spaces, it’s probably not going to be your cup of tea. Don’t underestimate the amount of walking involved either – these are mountains after all; the walk uphill in the summer heat to the starting point almost had me tuckered out before we’d even entered the canyon.
There are several tour operators based in the town of Bled that run canyoning trips to Triglav National Park. Being an adorably small town, it’s only a 10-minute walk to the main street where offices are located from pretty much any accommodation option.
If timing allows, some operators will pick you up along the way, as ours did. Speaking of accommodation, if you’re happy to stay in a guesthouse with shared facilities, I highly recommend Guesthouse Marko in Bled. Their only “Employee of the Month” picture was of their amazingly fluffy resident dog. That alone scored major points for me.
Bled is popular enough to be accessible by public transport, but still requires a bit of planning. It can get super busy in the peak months of July and August, so it’s worth booking ahead where you can to avoid disappointment.
We caught scenic regional trains from Postojna, via the capital city of Ljubljana in about 2 hours.
Trains run roughly every hour from Ljubljana to Bled and take just under an hour. Buses also depart from Ljubljana regularly; they take a bit longer but will bring you closer to the center of town than the train station.
Aside from the stunning landscapes and exciting adventures on offer, Slovenia also pleasantly surprised me with warm, hospitable, and humorous locals.
From our canyoning guides and guesthouse owners to helpful locals on the street, almost everyone we met was friendly and often had subtle dry humor that was thoroughly amusing.
They weren’t loud or boisterous, but laid-back and cruisy, which I found very welcoming. It’s one of the many reasons Slovenia remains one of my favorite destinations to date.
We consistently felt safe, welcomed, and in awe of the place, even while jumping off cliffs in the Julian Alps. We can confidently say our comfort zones were pushed, and would now more than happily do it all again.
Contact 3Glav Adventures in Bled, Slovenia
Kerri Duncan is a natural scientist by day, travel enthusiast, and writer by any other time she can squeeze in. Currently based in Adelaide, South Australia, she loves to seek out scenic splendor and is a little obsessed with waterfalls.