Sometimes we keep chasing after places that everyone recommends or that have awesome marketing and are often shown in media but in the same time we overlook beautiful places that are so close, at our fingertips – no need to fly across the whole world to see the beauty and the wildness of nature. We are lucky, because in Europe, almost literally a stone throw away, we have such a place. The Danube Delta in Romania.
Admit it, who never heard of it and who only heard some stories about it… well, this place usually is not very high on traveler’s “must see lists”. I think that we’d make quite a large group of the “uknowing”. We, because until I visited Romania two months ago after a long break (the Danube Delta for the first time), I never even dreamt that our continent might have such a natural wonder.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to take you to the place, which is my biggest travelling discovery of this summer and which knocked me down with its beauty.
The youngest land in Europe
The Danube River flows into the Black Sea and the three main arms of its delta: Kilia, Sulina and Saint George (Sfântul Gheorghe) divide the Romanian territory from Ukraine. Most of the delta is on the Romanian side, amounting to 3.5 of 5 thousands square kilometers.
The Danube Delta is the “newest” part of Europe. Its surface grows by 40 meters a year because of 67 million tons of river silt, which keeps flowing back. It’s the second biggest delta in Europe, the biggest one is the delta of the Volga River.
This area is very diverse environmentally – from swamps and reed stands to marshy areas. In the Danube Delta there are also islets with primeval forests and subtropical flora. For instance, there are 1000 year old oaks, reaching even 30 meters of height, twined with lianas.
It’s hard to believe that such land is at our very fingertips.
But the most characteristic thing – and most interesting to visit by boat – is a network of channels and mini islands that rise between them. Here the influence of mankind is minimal, what gives this area its unique character. Entering this complicated system of water routes gives you the feeling of complete separation from the world and experiencing a completely virginal nature. It is a place, where the nature still has the final say and human is merely a guest.
Paradise for animal lovers
For me, the Danube Delta is worth visiting not only because of the landscapes, rich green and simply crystal clear water. Most of all, it’s a chance to get to know the second largest ecosystem in the world, right after the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos Islands. Thanks to its diversity of flora and fauna, the Danube Delta has been placed on the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve list.
The area is populated by 300 species of birds, not only from Europe, but also from Asia, Africa and the Arctic. When you navigate your boat in the channels at dawn, you are surrounded by hundreds of pelicans, herons, cormorants and swans. The sight is remarkable. These birds are quite skittish, so if you want to observe them, you have to admire in full silence and totally still. All of this only strengthens the impression that you are merely a guest in their world and you just don’t want to spoil anything. Just to anticipate your doubts – seeing these birds is not a matter of luck, like it usually is when it comes to wild nature. The delta is their home and it is literally swarming with hundreds of thousands of birds. There are so many birds there that the trees at the shore are simply weighted down with their numbers and from afar it looks a little like a Christmas tree, covered with glass balls :) So, don’t worry, you can’t miss that view!
Human as a part of the nature, nature as a part of the human
The Danube Delta is one of the least populated areas in Europe. It is still considered a “wild” place, because only 15 thousand inhabitants live there in about 25 villages and two cities: Tulcea and Sulina.
Most of the denizens find sustenance in fishing, agriculture and breeding but recently it has been changing in favor of the developing tourism.
The time passes here a lot slower, the rhythm is dictated by the seasons of the year, by everyday duties, bound to the life that is conformed to the nature.
It is definitely the added value of this place. People are smiling, they are nice and helpful. They willingly share their stories, their customs and culture.
Grazing is also done in a special way (so-called free roaming). The animals are simply set loose, they find their food on their own and come back to the shelter only for the winter.
But probably the most interesting species are the wild horses of Danube Delta that inhabit the areas of Latea, Sulina and Chilia. They’ve been living there for hundreds of years but their numbers increased after year 1990, when the state agricultural farms were closed and the horses were set free. Seeing herds of them grazing at the shore is such a beautiful experience and something absolutely rare in modern Europe. These horses live here next to the humans but they are not anybody’s possession.
What to do in Danube Delta and how to make the most of your stay?
The best excursion base in the Delta is Tulcea. This city was founded 2600 years ago by the Greeks, who came from Miletus. Under the Roman reign the city was called Aegyssus, which is mentioned also in Ovid’s works.
The following years brought more and more rulers and affected the amazing ethnic diversity of the region. For almost 400 years the region was under the reign of the Ottoman Empire.
The city itself shows, how the history shaped it culturally. You can visit the Aziza mosque, built in 1863, a Greek Orthodox Church (Str. Gheorghe Doja) or St. Nicholas Cathedral (Str. Progresului).
Another interesting place is the Museum of Folk Art and Ethnography, where you can admire the traditional fishing gear and garments of the region. The other place is the Museum of Natural History, which is also a museum of nature of the Danube Delta National Park. I definitely recommend you to visit it before you go to the delta, because it is a real mine of knowledge and gives you a good basis for further learning and exploration of this place.
The Delta itself is toured only by boats, which you can hire directly in the harbor or earlier, as a part of a pre-purchased tour. It’s really a fantastic way, because you can reach very distant and wild corners of nature but also creates a possibility to go ashore, walk around or rest at one of the beaches.
What shall I remember before I go to the Danube Delta?
The Danube Delta is an unspoiled place and you should remember about few things to fully enjoy the visit.
- First of all, you should have mosquito repellents. There are no mosquitos in the delta itself but before you reach it, you would probably be going through meanderings and stop by shores, where you are guaranteed to be attacked by these insects.
- You should remember that the only way to visit this place is by boat. These are motorboats and they might be quite fast but there are also many turns on the way, so if you have a tendency to get seasick, you should remember to bring some medicine.
- Visiting every corner of the Delta takes at least few hours but reaching the Delta takes another 2-3 hours on the river. The boats have no place to stop, because the shores have no infrastructure and it is really difficult to disembark. There are no toilets on the boats too, so you should remember about that before you drink another coffee or if you want to travel with children.
- The water in the Danube River, however clear as a crystal, is not drinkable.
- You should definitely equip yourself with appropriate clothes – definitely the best choice is something that prevents the mosquitos from biting you and, of course, a rainproof jacket.
- It’s worth to have field-glasses and those who love to take pictures should also take long-focus lens. Birds are very difficult to photograph and you won’t get close to them… but they are worth the try!
- The local cuisine is famous of its fish. A huge lot of fish. So you should expect fish for starters, then a fish soup, fish main dish and maybe even a fishy dessert! :) If you can’t or won’t eat fish – take something to eat with you.
If you love nature, its beauty and wildness, you should not even hesitate to visit the Danube Delta. It’s still not a very touristic place, so it’s not swarming with hordes of tourists and nothing is trampled – a real rarity. And most of all it’s really close, so for us – I am writing it as a Pole – it’s not such a big effort to get there. The infrastructure is developed enough to let you nose through the area in comfort but with a rare feeling that you are totally alone in there.
*Photo credits: Me and Explore Dobregea #exploredobrogea / Dragos Asaftei