The Tatra Mountains are a real gem for nature lovers, and many of us see them as a peaceful oasis that offers a perfect escape. But, have you ever thought about the fact that there’s a state border dividing these mountains into two parts – Polish and Slovak – each with its own set of rules? If you want to find out which side suits you best, Poland or Slovakia, keep reading. We’ll go through the pros and cons of both sides of the Tatra Mountains to help you decide.
Polish Tatras or Slovak Tatras – Which Side to Choose?
I think it’s important to consider the size and trail length when choosing between the Polish and Slovak Tatras. Slovakia definitely takes the lead in this category, as over 77% of the Tatra Mountains are located on their side. Being there, you need to know that you’ll have a total of 651 km of trails to explore, while the Polish side offers 275 km.
Accessibility of Peaks – Polish Tatras Take the Lead
I believe the Polish Tatras have an advantage in this category for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s easier for us, Poles, to access this side of the Tatra Mountains due to excellent infrastructure and public transport serving all the major valleys. The highest peak on the Polish side is accessible by trail all year round, whereas in Slovakia, you’ll need to pay for a guide to reach the top of their tallest mountains. Additionally, the other peaks on the Slovak side are only accesible during the short summer season.
You may also read this article: Exploring the Tatra Mountains’ Highest Peaks in Poland and Slovakia
↳ Before you head to Tatra Park, I highly recommend reading my complete guide to Tatra Mountains. I showcase the most scenic places you won't want to miss. Make sure to check it out, so you don't overlook anything interesting: Tatra Mountains – An Insider’s Guide to All Attractions and Info
Comparing Prices – Poland Wins This Round
Aside from the fact that you need to pay for admission to the park in Poland while it’s free in Slovakia, everything else leans in favor of Poland. Accommodation prices in Slovak hostels can sometimes be twice as high as in Poland. And after adopting the Euro, the Slovaks lost their edge on things like the cost of an evening beer at a hostel.
Trail Traffic – Slovakia Takes the Prize
If you’re looking for peace and quiet on the trails, Slovakia is the clear winner. While the Polish side can be crowded, the Slovak side offers tranquility and solitude, with fewer people on the trails. So, if you need a break from the hustle and bustle, Slovakia is the way to go.
Non-Mountain Attractions – A Tie Between Both Sides
I think it’s worth mentioning that both sides of the Tatra Mountains offer plenty of activities for tourists during their downtime. You’ll find thermal baths, restaurants, and other atractions on both the Polish and Slovak sides.
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Tatra National Park in Slovakia
Just like in Poland, the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia are a protected area where human intervention is legally limited. Slovakia’s counterpart to the Polish Tatra National Park is TANAP (Tatra National Park in Slovakia). Established in 1949, TANAP is the oldest national park in Slovakia. Its headquarters are located in Tatranská Lomnica, where the park’s administrative authority and the offices of the State Forests TANAP operate. There are also subordinate administrative units in Liptovsky Mikulas. In 1992, both TANAP and the Polish Tatra National Park were recognized by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve, highlighting their unique and valuable ecosystems.
Navigating the Slovak Tatras
When visiting the Slovak Tatras, it’s crucial to follow the regulations set by the national park to protect the environment and ensure your safety. Tourist movement in the Slovak Tatras is limited to marked trails and public roads. If you want to venture off-trail, it’s only possible with the help of a qualified mountain guide who has an official permit.
You’ll also need to report your outing to HS TANAP (the equivalent of TOPR in Poland), providing information about the summit climbed, the number of people in your group, and the name of your guide. Keep in mind that all peaks above 2500 meters require a mountain guide’s asistance.
Trail Closures in the Slovak Tatras – Important Dates
If you’re planning a trip to the Slovak Tatras, be aware that trails are closed from November 1 to June 15. Venturing onto the peaks during this period can be very dangerous. Skiing is permitted only on designated routes, slopes, and marked hiking trails during their open season, with priority given to pedestrians. The only peak legally accessible in winter in the High Tatras is Skrajne Solisko. Additionally, several valleys, including Jaworowa and Biała Woda, are closed to the public.
Mountain Rescue in Slovakia vs Poland
Remember, mountain rescue operations in Slovakia come with a cost. It is paid, which is opposite to the rescue services in Poland, which are free of charge. We’re not talking about a few hundred, but potentially several thousand euros for a helicopter. If you don’t have insurance and need a helicopter rescue, you could be facing significant debt. Even a simple ankle sprain could result in a hefty bill. So, when heading to the Slovak mountains, it’s essential to have insurance coverage.
If you frequently visit mountains abroad, it might be worth considering year-round insurance, like PZU Bezpieczny Powrót or joining the Alpenverein. If you don’t need such extensive coverage, you can opt for short-term insurance from other companies, which only costs a few zlotys per day. In Slovakia, mountain rescue operations are carried out by Horská záchranná služba. Before setting off on your adventure, make sure to save their emergency number, 18 300, in your phone.
Exploring the Slovak Tatras with Your Dog
Unlike the Polish Tatras, you can bring your dog along with you in the Slovak Tatras. Just make sure to have them on a leash and wearing a muzzle. I wouldn’t recommend taking your dog on the more challenging trails in the Slovak High Tatras, as it might be too difficult for them. However, your furry friend should be more than happy to accompany you on the easier trails in the Slovak Western Tatras or while approaching mountain shelters.
Are the Trails in Slovakia Not As Crowded as in Poland?
Trails in the Slovak Tatras are less crowded than in Poland. Of course, there are places where there are quite a lot of mountaineers. However, taking into account all the Tatra trails in Slovakia, there are definitely fewer tourists than on the Polish side.