Zakopane, 11th July 2018.
Today I have done a day trip to Morskie Oko, the largest and most famous lake in the Tatra Mountains. When I started working at Good Bye Lenin Hostel I was told that this was one of the main reasons why people come to Zakopane. I had already browsed photos and information before going so I knew in advance that it would be a beautiful place. However, after having done the trip I must say that words are short. It is a place where you have to go to in person to really appreciate its beauty.
The route to Morskie Oko is very easy but we had the bad luck that it rained all day long (and quite a lot). Although it’s not as visible as on a sunny day, seeing the lake with the clouds at water level and with the drops falling has been somewhat special and, above all, quite atmospheric! I made this trip with three guests from the hostel: Helena, from the UK; Roisin, from Scotland; and Lily, from Australia.
Here I will explain to you how we organized the day trip to Morskie Oko, how the route to the lake is, and my general opinion about it.
About Morskie Oko Lake
As I have already mentioned, Morskie Oko is the largest lake in the Tatra Mountains on both the Polish and Slovak sides. It is 1393 metres above sea level and its name means “the eye of the sea” in Polish. Some believe that it is so called because the lake looks like a sea surrounded by mountains. However, the term comes from a legend that says that Morskie Oko was connected to the Baltic Sea by an underground tunnel. Obviously this is not true, as there is a distance of almost 700 kilometers.
The lake has a beautiful turquoise blue color, and the water is super clear, so you can see the little fish swimming. In fact, Morskie Oko used to be called “Rybie Jezioro“, which means “the Lake of the Fish”, because it was one of the few in the Tatras where you could find any. Next to the lake there is a mountain hut where you can eat and spend the night. There is also an outdoor picnic area and an ATM, in case you need to withdraw money.
From Morskie Oko there are other hiking routes that you can do. For example, there is a path that leads to another lake called Czarny Staw and connects with the climb to Rysy, the highest peak in Poland.
From Zakopane to Morskie Oko
We took it very slowly to depart from the hostel. We had breakfast, got ready, packed our bags, took some plastic raincoats (it was clear that the rain would welcome us at some point) and, at about 11 o’clock, we headed to the bus stop.
Buses to Morskie Oko leave from Zakopane city centre, but they also stop in Jaszczurówka, which is 5 minutes from our hostel. They run quite often from 8:00 AM to about 9:00 PM so we decided to take the first one that passed by. The bus came right away and, to our surprise, it was not a regular line, but a minibus with a sign outside that said “Morskie Oko”. Luckily, we waved the driver to stop because otherwise he would have continued without us.
A rather curious thing that seems to be common in Zakopane happened to us here. When we got on the bus and went to pay, the driver told us to go straight through. The bus was full and we thought that perhaps the man wanted to save himself the trouble and so he let us in “for free”.
We were confused but happy to have saved ourselves some złotys. However, when we arrived at Morskie Oko and were about to leave the bus, the driver told us that we had to pay 10 PLN. Apparently, in this kind of buses you pay at the end of the journey and not at the beginning. We didn’t save the money but at least we learned something new.
The ride from Jaszczurówka to Palenica Bialczanska (the entrance where the route to Morskie Oko begins) took 20 minutes. There, we bought the tickets to enter the National Park for the price of 5 PLN (or 2,50 PLN if you have a student card).
The hike from the entrance to the lake
There are 8 km from the entrance to the lake but the route is very easy. It basically consists of a paved road that goes up progressively until it reaches Morskie Oko. It literally has no more. Vehicles can’t access this road, so there’s no danger at all. There are some parts where you can continue on the road or take a small trail through the nature. Everything else is on paved ground. The route takes more than 2 hours walking (one way).
We walked all the way to the lake, and it’s true that eventually it becomes a bit disappointing. Personally I was expecting a proper hike in the nature but I guess they have adapted the route to make it accessible and easy for everyone.
On the other hand, it didn’t stop raining and I don’t know if my raincoat did me a favor or if it made things worse. Since it was made of plastic, I ended up soaked in sweat inside. Plus, it was a bit broken and did not protect at all. Luckily I was wearing waterproof shoes and outdoor pants.
Along the way, we saw couples and families (some with baby carriages). In spite of the rain, there were a lot of people going up. At some points along the route, every half hour or so, there were also cabin toilets free of use. They were a bit dirty but decent enough to save the situation.
An alternative to the trekking
If you don’t feel like walking and want to avoid the way up, you can hire the service of a horse-drawn cart and reach the lake in 45 minutes. However, I don’t recommend this for several reasons. First, because you can see that they exploit the horses until they can’t take it anymore, just for tourism. Second, because it is very expensive: each trip costs about 40 PLN (10€).
The first lake: Morskie Oko
When we arrived at Morskie Oko, we realized several things. The first is that although the journey is a bit boring it is worth it because the lake is a real nature wonder. As I said before, the water was super-crystalline and had turquoise and green tones that I had never seen before. Besides, among the low clouds and the fact that the lake is surrounded by mountains, the atmosphere was quite unique. Although it is already summer, there was still snow on some of the peaks.
On the other hand, we confirmed the theory that Morskie Oko is VERY touristy. Both the indoor restaurant and the picnic area were full of people, as was the lakeside. We joined the crowd and went to the bar to order something to eat. Specifically, zapiekanka, a typical Polish appetizer that is like a half baguette with mushrooms, ham, cheese and vegetables.
Afterwards, we decided to go around the lake to see it from other perspectives. Luckily, this trail was much less crowded and we could walk around more quietly. The path around the lake is not a road but an easy and well maintained hiking path of rocks and soil.
The second lake: Czarny Staw
Halfway down the road there was a sign indicating the path to Czarny Staw (30 minutes) and Rysy (4 hours). Although this time we didn’t get to climb Czarny Staw (which, by the way, means “black pond” in Polish), it seems to be quite nice, and even less touristy. It’s at 1583 meters, just below Rysy, the highest peak in Poland.
Unlike Morskie Oko, this lake is smaller and has no fish. From the Morskie Oko turnoff it takes half an hour to reach Czarny Staw, and the way is up a steep path by a small stream that flows from the same lake. The difficulty is not at all the same as to go to Morskie Oko.
We didn’t get to go because we didn’t realize this lake existed… until we got to the hostel. I think that we missed the sign because we were talking too much all the way. Besides, it was raining anyway and it was getting late and we had to take the bus back to Zakopane.
Back to the hostel
To get back to the bus, we took the same paved road. This time we got seats in the bus and the payment process was the same: 10 PLN when we got off. The only problem is that the driver did not know we were getting off in Jaszczurówka. As there was no button to request the stop, he continued in the direction of Zakopane center. Luckily we reacted in time and were able to get off at the next stop.
To sum up, if I had to give my opinion on Morskie Oko I would say that, although it is undeniably beautiful, I think there are other lakes in the Tatras that are less touristy but just as spectacular. But I guess this is something I will have to discover as I go on other routes across the mountains. I’ll tell you about it in later posts!
PD: In this link from Wikiloc I have uploaded the complete route, in case you want to take a look.