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Tatry Mountains and Zakopane Town 

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The Tatra mountains 
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Morskie Oko lake, the Tatry Mountains' must-see
 Morskie Oko lake is a must-see of the Tatra National Park. 

Tatra Mountains, known as 'Polish Alps', and the town of Zakopane, Poland's ultimate mountain resort. 

Alps-like Tatra Mountains, or the Tatras (Polish Tatry), is the highest range of the Carpathian Mountains and lie along Poland’s border with Slovakia. Two hour’s drive from Krakow one finds stunning views and pristine nature as well as the best skiing in winter and hiking, rock climbing, cave exploration, cycling, paragliding, etc. through the rest of the year. As tourism has been the area’s main business for over a century, visitors are thoroughly catered to. Annually some three million of them turn up in the Polish alps, mostly getting along well with wildlife preservation which is paramount seeing that twin national parks cover the whole of the Tatras both sides of the national border.


The Tatry Mountains' features. 

The Tatra Mountains rise to the greatest elevation in the entire northern half of Europe, with the 2655-meters (8711 ft) Gerlachovsky Stit in Slovakia and the 2499-meters (8198ft) Rysy peak in Poland. The range is 53 km long and takes up 785 sq km, the bulk on the Slovak territory. Three distinct parts make up the Tatra Mountains – the High Tatras, the Western Tatras, and the Bielskie Tatras. The High Tatras, with their dramatic vistas, steep peaks, sharp rocks, deep glens, and crystal lakes are the most attractive. At the same time the Western Tatras’ lower slopes clad in pine forests offer wider horizons, diverse wildlife, and somewhat less demanding tracks.

The town of Zakopane

Visitors to the Tatras largely head for Zakopane, the biggest mountain resort in Europe north of the Alps. The town of 28,000 receives about three million holiday-makers a year. Due to its central location on the verge of both the High Tatras and the Western Tatras, and its accessibility, Zakopane is the best gateway to the whole area. The town also abounds in varied hotels, inns, and boarding-houses, restaurants and cafes, shops and art galleries, sport facilities and nightclubs. Zakopane is a major center of winter sports of all sorts.

The townsfolk take pride in their own brand of the traditional Polish highlander culture – Poland’s highlanders are as emblematic to other Poles as Scotland’s to the British, albeit more colorful by far.

Noteworthy is the region’s old wooden architecture.

The Tatras' musts. 

The Morskie Oko (“Sea Eye”) lake with its more elevated twin, the Czarny Staw lake – for great views, hiking and climbing. The Kasprowy peak (1985 meters above sea level) – for a cable car, great views and skiing. The Koscieliska Valley – for great views, easy hiking and wildlife. Dolina Pieciu Stawow (“Five Tarns Valley” ) – for hiking. Hala Gasienicowa – for hiking. The Rysy peak (2499m or 8198ft) – for the exclusive view on hundred peaks and twelve major lakes after an exciting climbing up the Polish highest mount and the most visited one in the all Tatras. The Orla Perc (“Eagle Ridge”) trail – for the thrills of quite demanding if amateur climbing. The Chocholowska Valley – for easy hiking, cycling, and wildlife. The Regle dales (when you are in Zakopane town) – for relaxed hiking, wildlife, and accessibility. 

Top station of the Kasprowy Wierch cable way

Top station of the cable car near the peak of Kasprowy Wierch mountain (1985 meters above sea level) in the Western Tatras.

Weather in Zakopane and in the Tatry Mountains. 

The Tatras’ mountainous climate is cold due to high altitude, with much precipitation. What might produce superb ski conditions for many months–most of the year, actually, on some elevated slopes–proves unwelcome to non-skiers. Anyway, even in foothill Zakopane allow for a drop in temperature of 2C to 5C vis-a-vis lowlands, and the higher the colder. Fierce rainstorms or snowstorms all of a sudden are common, as gales.

Note: Unlike Poland's part of the range, Slovakia's mountain trails in the Tatras are off limits to tourists from November till May. 

Wildlife in the Tatry Mountains. 

Besides species common also elsewhere in Poland, such as deer, roe, fox and badger, the Tatras boast rare animals–lynx, brown bear, eagle, heath-cock, and alpine chamois and marmot.

Tips for visitors to the Tatry Mountains. 

  • Skiing December through May, and hiking May through September. Many do the latter October to April as well but slippery tracks make it dangerous even for experienced mountaineers with special equipment.

  • Book well in advance if you want to come on Christmas, New Year, Easter, Polish national holidays, during school recesses, or on any weekend December through September. Allow for slow traffic on the afternoon before and on the last one.

  • Those who shun crowded resorts may well give up Zakopane hotel and opt for quieter–and cheaper– lodgings in any of the region’s villages. There are also resorts on the Slovak side.

  • Be extremely careful on mountain tracks, notably in winter.

  • The Tatras’ local snack is oscypek, a piece of smoked sheep cheese.

Czarny Staw lake in the High Tatra mountains
Czarny Staw (Black Pond), the austere sister lake of the nearby gorgeous Morskie Oko.

Town and mountain resort of Zakopane
 In the proximity of Krakow 

Krakow is Poland's tourist mecca, and also a gateway to many other must-see sites in the region.

Polish national parks near Krakow

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