Lying on the border with Poland, the HIGH TATRAS (Vysoké Tatry) are visible from space. The highest peak, pyramid-shaped Gerlach, is the tallest mountain in northern and eastern Central Europe at 2,655m high. The beauty and splendour of the mountains made them a magnet for Romantic and Nationalistic types in the eighteenth century, and in 1844 a student in Bratislava wrote a song beginning with the words “There is lightning over the Tatras” – today the national anthem. The mountains are awash with rare flora and fauna, and if you’re lucky you might glimpse a lynx, wild boar, brown bear or Tatra chamois (goat-antelope).
Poprad is an excellent transport hub, directly linked with Bratislava, Prague, Budapest and Kraków; however, there’s not much happening to keep you there. From Poprad you can catch a train or bus to the Smokovec resorts (divided into two adjoining halves, Nový (new) and Starý (old), bustling ski resort Tatranská Lomnica, or spindly Ždiar, one endless street of painted wooden cabins. Wherever you stay you’ll want to move between the villages; if you’re using public transport you’ll have to plan ahead a little because the trains and buses are erratically timed.
On average, twenty people a year die in the High Tatras. Keep safe by hiking with two or more people and making sure someone knows where you are going. Wear layers, a waterproof and windproof coat, and hiking boots. Always take plenty of water and some food. Buy a whistle – the emergency signal is 6 blasts. Weather conditions change fast, so check the prognosis before you leave; the Mountain Rescue Service in Starý Smokovec will give you a forecast. If you get in trouble, call Mountain Rescue (t 18300) right away. Don’t think of them as an easy fall-back, though; they charge a large fee for call-outs.
If you’re not a hiker, there are plenty of shorter routes to leave the heel unblistered. Ask for maps or recommendations at any of the tourist offices.
Štrbské pleso–Popradské pleso A scenic stroll between two lakes that takes less than two hours. On the way you’ll pass the Symbolic Cemetery, a memorial garden to those who died in the Tatras.
Biela voda–Chata pri Zelenom please Takes a little under 3 hours, and it ends on a high, with beautiful mountain panoramas around the chalet.
Kriváň peak When you’ve got your mountain legs, hike up this high, hook-nosed peak (2495m – a hike for summer only), beloved of Slovak Romantic poets. It’s one of the highest mountains in the Tatras and the walk takes a full day. You can start from Štrbské pleso and follow the red trail towards Podbanské. Peruse our safety tips before starting out.