Let’s Go Exploring! Zakopane: Are We In Poland or the Canadian Rockies?

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FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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What can walk 10kms, use their own hiking poles, without whining, bitching or complaining?

Little Polish kids.

That’s right. Specifically, tiny Polish kids as young as 6-years-old, happily trotting alongside us. My feet were starting to blister, I was sweating, and it seemed like I’d been walking forever, but I didn’t see a single kid complain. Most kids I know would’ve been screaming bloody murder by now.

Turns out the Poles hike so often with their kids, the kids even have their own hiking poles. I had no idea that in Zakopane Poland, hiking is basically a national sport.

We had heard about Morskie Oko lake from the information booth at the centre of the alpine village, but we had no idea that when we got there, feet blistered after walking 10 kilometers, that it would be this breath-taking.

In fact, if I weren’t for the perogies on our plates with a hearty side of bigos (stewed sauerkraut and sausage) we ate at lunch, I would’ve been convinced we were in Banff, Canada.

Morskie Oko, in polish, means “Eye of the Sea” and if you feast your eyes on this picture, you’ll see why. The largest and 4-th deepest lake in the Tetra mountains, it a well-known national treasure.

Morskie Oko was so beautiful I wanted to explore every single inch, to the point where I completely wore out the soles of my running shoes and got callouses after hiking all the way around the lake, and then walking the long 10km back. I would say, other than the Swiss Alps, this was probably my favourite mountain hiking experience thus far.

And just like the Swiss Alps, hiking to get to the mountains was every bit as breath-taking as the mountain itself:

Small lake we passed by on our way to the big lake

 

Andrzej Harassek [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 
Once again, just like in Krakow and Warsaw, the food in Zakopane surprised us with how flavourful it was, despite the lacklustre presentation.

We feasted on delicious Oscypek with jam (smoked sheep’s milk):

Tasty Golonka with mustard

And breaded fish with potatoes and sauerkraut:

After a long day of hiking, every single thing we put in our mouths made us feel like we were being treated to grandma’s home cooking.

I also forced myself to go to a local Polish place instead of the touristy ones with the English signs. I had no idea what the menu said, and probably sounded like I was spewing gibberish when announcing my order but the nice Polish lady at the window smiled and pushed through my rambling and figure out what I wanted.

Turns out, my willingness to look stupid completely paid off, as this local place ended up being one of our favourite restaurants and we ate lunch there pretty much every day. And unsurprisingly it was always packed to the brim with locals. After all, how could you possibly go wrong with a soup, main, and drink for just 10 Zloty (or 2.3 USD for a set meal, say what?)! The portion was big enough that we shared a main between the two of us and one appetizer.

The one downside of Zakopane was that credit cards weren’t widely accepted like they were in Warsaw and Krakow, but with these kinds of prices, our money barely left our wallets at all:

Polish menu from our favourite local restaurant. Hooray for Google translate!

When we first set out on our trip around the world, we started out in the UK, thinking that we’d stick to English-speaking places only so we wouldn’t run into embarrassing language barriers, but it turns out that fear was completely unfounded. You can easily use a combination of creative hand gestures, Google Translate, and poor pronunciation to get your point across wherever you go.

English was more prevalent in Warsaw and Krakow, but even in Zakopane, with a few restaurants that didn’t speak English, we still managed to get by with hand gestures and google translate. Which just goes to show, our fear of stepping outside our language comfort zone was completely unfounded.

Another thing, other than delicious hearty food, that was great to come home to after a long hike was Aquapark, the spa/waterpark near the center of town:

photo source: http://www.aquapark.zakopane.pl/pl/

Not only did it have large outdoor thermal pool with the backdrop of the mountains in perfect view, it also came with sauna, water slides, and multiple indoor pools and hot tubs. The cost for this luxurious experience was a ridiculously low 20 Zylotos for 1.5 hours ( we ended up going from 8-9:30pm to take advantage of the end of day deal). That’s only $7 Canadian dollars or $5 USD dollars each. And it wasn’t even that crowded! I have no idea how a gem like that ended up being so sparse in population but we took full advantage and went there after long hikes to soak our tired muscles.

photo source: http://termalni.pl/basenytermalne/aqua-park-zakopane/

With a combination of big city life, culture, history, beautiful nature, hot tubs, I couldn’t help but fall head over heels for this country. And every time we pulled out our wallet, we couldn’t believe how little spent, despite enjoying a world-class experience. High quality, low cost. It was the perfect combination to satisfy even the most discerning Optimizer.

Here’s how much we spent in Zakopane:

Category Cost in USD/couple Cost in CAD/couple Notes
Accommodations: $30 USD/night $39.50 CAD/night We stayed in a Airbnb that felt like a ski lodge. Wood panelling everywhere, small rooms, a shared kitchen with other Airbnb guests. Compared to the accommodations we had in Krakow and Warsaw, this place needed some work. Even though the price is dirt cheap, I would probably upgrade and spend more for a nicer place next time. Luckily, there are lots of options for $50CAD or less per night.
Food: $18 USD/day $24 CAD/day ($16/day for eating out, $8/day for groceries) Even for a more touristy place like Zakopane, the food was once again, very cheap. We snacked on a lot of gelato, beef fat fries, smoked cheese, perogies, stewed pork and it didn't do much to our budget at all. I especially love how Polish food has so much flavour and makes you think of comfort food. Mmmmmm. Yum.
Transportation: $5 USD/day $7 CAD/day I strategically picked the Airbnb to be walkable to everywhere so transportation ended up costing us next to nothing. Even getting to Zakopane from Krakow was a cheap $13 CAD or $10 USD for the both of us and the remaining costs was just taking the bus to Morskie Oko which was only 10 Zloties (or $3 CAD/2.33 USD) per person each way.
Entertainment: $7 USD/day $9 CAD/day Zakopane is all about nature and hiking, so the tiny bit of money we spent on entertainment was getting into the park (only 5 Zloties/$1.70CAD/$1.30USD) per person per day and the entry to Aquapark spa. You could probably spend more going on touristy attractions, but the hikes were breath-taking enough for us.
Total: $60 USD/couple/day $80 CAD/couple/night Once again, we found food prices and accommodations comparable to Malaysia. We started to realized what a hidden gem Poland really was at the point and realizing you could really get the high quality of life for a fraction of the cost back in Canada. We even felt like we were in Banff!



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18 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! Zakopane: Are We In Poland or the Canadian Rockies?”

  1. What can I say? My home country is a gem 🙂 glad you enjoyed your time there, and Poles LOVE when non-speakers try and speak our language. It is impressive and shows you are trying.

    1. Not so much “trying” as “failing miserably” but I’m glad the locals aren’t freaked by me inadvertently butchering your language 😛

  2. Ok… You guys have got to stop posting this kind of stuff… Do you realize how long my travel wish list is getting?!? I only have one life to live, after all…

    Actually, I showed this to my kids and my middle child, who wants to go to Paris for her one-on-one trip with my wife for her 12th birthday, said, “Maybe I can change it to Poland instead. That looks amazing! So cheap!”. See, I’m teaching my kids to recognize value when they see it.

    Glad to see that you guys are having a great time! I’m actually working on a couple of blog posts this week that I should publish fairly soon. Keep going out there and inspiring the rest of us.

    The children were nestled all snug in their beds
    While visions of Poland danced in their heads

    1. “The children were nestled all snug in their beds
      While visions of Poland danced in their heads.”

      Ha ha. Can I clone your kids and make them my kids?

      Looking forward to reading your posts!

  3. Looks fantastic! Though I wouldn’t say it comes close to the Canadian Rockies, but I might be slightly biased….

  4. Surprisingly affordable, and I know exactly what you mean… it does look kind of like Banff.

    I really love these “let’s go exploring” posts FIRECracker. It always makes me want to go explore more!

  5. I really enjoy “Lets go exploring” posts. Especially the pictures and the cost breakdown. The places for my bucket list keeps growing. Thanks for the info.

  6. Polish food is totally comfort food. I hope you tried a packi (sugar coated, fried donuts with yummy filling)! You’d need to wear out another pair of shoes (oh my gosh, did you really wear out your shoes?!) to work them off, but they are so worth it!

    1. No, I haven’t tried it yet! But I’ll be on the look for one.

      And yes, I did actually wear out my shoes (to be fair, they were already a bit worn out) but it was SO worth it.

  7. Dude. If you are hearing kids complain you’re on the easy trail with the spawn of those who bought the all-inclusive vacation. We did the Celestine Lake hike in Jasper last year and were only 2kms in when we were eclipsed by a family of five doing the first 13? Km leg of a 5-day backcountry hiking trip. Kids ranged from about age 5-9 and all three had their own packs. They were excited about the view and smiling about the adventure. It was impressive. I think complaining kids in those circumstances says more about the parents everyday opinions about exercise and the ordinary challenges of life than about the specific hike. :P.

    Also I had no idea Poland had mountains like Canada =O

    1. Wow, you have badass kids 😀 Please share some parenting tips.

      My knowledge of Poland was “Communism + perogies” so I had to do a double-take when we got to the Tetra mountains. Thought we’d accidentally got into a transporter and got beamed home!

  8. Also mountainous / pacific Canada is quite affordable if you do hostels and get your food from the grocery store. I’m always amazed at the scope of beauty in our huge diversity of landscapes.

  9. I just wanted to drop in and say I LOVE YOUR WORDS.

    “What can walk 10 kms, use their own hiking poles, without whining, bitching or complaining? Little Polish kids. That’s right. Specifically, tiny Polish kids as young as 6-years-old, happily trotting alongside us. My feet were starting to blister, I was sweating, and it seemed like I’d been walking forever, but I didn’t see a single kid complain. ”

    “Hiking poles. Whining. Bitching. Little Polish. Blister.”

    Your words are wonderful and make me want to do a deep dive getting lost and dancing to them. They touch my soul. I feel your words. They are incredibly beautiful when joined together. Your word choices are absolutely, consistently tremendous. Way to write.

  10. Hi FC,

    How was the hike? Do you need to use the walking stick to ease the hike over the possibly rocky terrain in Poland?

    Ben

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