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Danube Delta

A Guide to Visiting the Danube Delta (Delta Dunării)

The Danube Delta is one of the world’s most extraordinary natural attractions and a captivating
tourist destination for those travelling across Romania. After flowing through multiple countries, the
2,580km Danube River spills dramatically into the Black Sea at a location just south of the Ukrainian
border.
It is here the Danube Delta – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – delights visitors with its sprawling
expanse of reed marshes, floating islets and unique flora and fauna. For nature lovers, there are few
locations to compare with Delta Dunarii as the region houses more than 300 species of bird and over 160
species of fish.

In our guide to the Danube Delta in Romania, we take a look at some of the most popular spots

along this huge river’s 1,788 mile journey to the sea.

Reasons to Visit the Danube Delta

Before it merges with the Black Sea, the Danube River flows through eastern Romania. As it marches on towards the open water, it leaves a variety of astonishing natural landscapes in its wake. The Danube Delta, in Tulcea County, is the second largest and most pristine of Europe’s deltas with 2,200 square miles of lakes, marshes, canals, rivers, islets and wildlife habitats to explore.
Often, intrepid tourists arrive in the area with plans to make the delta just one part of multi-stop tours of Romania and surrounding countries. Most quickly realise the size and scale of its wetlands make it easy to spend three or four days here. Whether you’re an avid bird watcher, a fisherman or wild wolf tracker, there’s something here to enthral the even most well-travelled of visitors.
Animals found in the Danube Delta include wildcats, foxes, wolves, boar, Egyptian white pelicans, ibises and Arctic geese. In total, it is thought 3,450 species of animal (mammals, birds and fish) call the region home. There are more than 1,700 different plant species benefiting from the area’s fluvial sandbanks, steppes, lagoons, dunes, climax forests and saltmarshes.

Getting to the Danube Delta for a Visit.

The best way to experience the Danube Delta is as part of an organised river cruise. Most trips depart from Tulcea, a historical city spread across multiple hills and similar to other ancient European settlements such as Rome.

This characteristic city offers visitors a wide variety of hotels, restaurants and other attractions. It’s a wonderful base for an adventure in the wetlands.

The region’s busiest boat trips run between Tulcea city and Periprava: a village close to Periprava labour camp, a historical site that’s become popular with tourists. Most make multiple stops along the way at sites including Plaur, Pardina, Tatanir, Chilia Veche, Ceatalchioi and more.

Things to see on a Trip to Romania’s Danube Delta

The Danube Delta is made up of a labyrinthine network of estuaries, channels, lakes, waterways and marshes. Tulcea city is the best place to start an exploration of the region because it sits at the tip of the delta’s three largest arms, where the river forks and travels onwards in three different directions. In total, the forests, pastures, sand dunes and reed islands created by this split cover 3,000 square miles of biodiversity.

The Chilia Arm

The youngest branch of the delta stretches for over 70 miles. As it advances, it meanders along the Ukrainian border on its long march to the sea. Though younger than its sister estuaries, it boasts the largest of volume of water accounting for 60% of all the water flow in the region. Boat trips to the area pass by ancient settlements like Patlagean, Ceatalchioi, Pardina, Tatanir and the formerly Greek colony of Chilia Veche.

Chilia Veche was once a busy port town providing access to Europe and Asia via the Black Sea. It’s interesting to note the region here is expanding from a geographical perspective; constant deposits of clay,silt and sand from the rivers flowing into the delta are creating new land and moving the small settlement further inland.However, Chilia Veche is not just fascinating for geographical reasons. In the 13th century,it was the site of an epic battle between Ottaman Sultan Mahomed II and Vlad the Impaler.

Another site of interest to visitors is Lake Rosca, a carefully preserved, biodiverse nature reserve situated between Chilia Veche and Periprava. It’s a truly marvellous destination for bird lovers as the biggest pelican communities in Europe reside here. You’ll also find entrancing egret, stork and geese species living life out on the delta.

Tourist boats make Periprava the last port of call on excursions along Chilia, the Danube Delta’s youngestand most ferocious of estuaries. Often, the final stop for visitors is Letea Reserve just to the south of the former labour camp. Here, you’ll find mysterious groves of ancient trees thought to be over 500 years old.Gnarled elm, ash and poplar trees rise theatrically out of the water and black bellied foxes, wild horses, eagles, boars and tortoises make their homes in the shrubs and dunes.

The Chilia Arm

The Sulina Arm

The Sulina Arm

Sulina is the smallest of three estuaries taking the Danube Delta out to the Black Sea. It stretches for 42 miles, a smaller sister to the 70 mile long Chilia arm. It accounts for approximately 18% of the delta’s water flow. Despite this, it serves as the busiest area for passenger and commercial boats. This is because, in the 19th century, the channel was artificially shortened to provide faster, safer access to inland settlements.

Tourist boats along the Sulina arm tend to make fewer stops, travelling from Tulcea and spending time at Partizani, Maliuc and Crisan. Maliuc is a particular treat for visitors as it is home to Lake Fortuna. This is one of the delta’s biggest natural lakes and it is positively brimming with wildlife. Expect to see swans, moor hens, pelicans and wild ducks in congregating in large numbers here.

For most guided tours, Crisan is the primary attraction. Here, visitors can step right off the water and stay overnight at a delta fishing village. While the settlement is small, there are some modest hotels and guestrooms available. You can hire a traditional boat (known as a lotca) and travel down the Old Danube Canal to a nature reserve called Caraorman Forest. This pristine reserve is a sight to behold with striking black poplar trees, falcons, boars and wolves providing an unforgettably wild experience.

Many visitors stop at Mila 23, so called because the picturesque fishing village is 23 miles inland from the Black Sea’s coast. Like Crisan, the settlement is charmingly antiquated. However, it does offer a limited number of accommodations for tourists. These are mostly guest rooms rented out by locals so staying in Mila 23 quickly becomes an unexpected, authentic and delightful experience.

Sulina is the end point of the trip along this particular arm and the easternmost region of Romania. Most of the larger cruise ships arriving and departing in the country stop here because it’s a busier, more established port town. Though the type of activity has changed –transitioning from trade to tourism – Sulina still provides an important link between Romania and the Middle East.

During the 19th century, Sulina was a dynamic region characterised by the adventures of explorers, pirates and international traders. It served as the control centre for the European Danube Commission of 1948 which eventually transformed large expanses of the Danube River into hyper efficient commercial shipping channels. One consequence of this was an influx of diverse cultures and the arrival of Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Anglicans, Jews and Muslims.

A visit to Sulina’s burial ground reveals a history entwined with and enriched by migrant personalities, customs and cultures. It’s certainly hard to miss the towering Church of St. Nicholas which sits right along Sulina’s waterfront. At sixty feet tall, the 19th century Greek Church was built in 1802 and extensively restored in 1870. If you take a trip to Sulina, don’t forget to enjoy a stroll along the sandy beach while admiring this unique structure.

The Sfantu Gheorghe Arm

The Sfantu Gheorghe arm of the Danube Delta has its own attractions that captivate visitors to Romania. Guided tourist boats travelling in this area normally depart at Tulcea and stop at Sulina with opportunities to experience Dunavatu de Jos, Mahmudia and Murighiol along the way. As with the Sulina arm, there areplenty of characteristic villages and settlements each with its own story to tell.

This particular arm is around 67 miles long, so it’s somewhere in the middle of the three estuaries as far as size goes. It accounts for 23% of the delta’s water flow. The region is a fascinating mixture of Greek, Roman and Byzantine influences which makes it a great destination for anybody interested in European history and culture.

One of the most well-known stories in Romania is the tale of Sultan Mahmud and his determination to woo a local girl. The legend says, Mahmud proposed to the girl only to discover she was already in love with another. Angered, he demanded she weave him an enchanted shirt with the power to protect against fire and water. Feeling hopeless – her paramour would be killed if she failed – the girl sobbed while walking along the riverbank. Suddenly, a magical being emerged from the waters of the Danube and handed her the shirt. She gave it to the Sultan, saving herself and her lover. Ever since, the girl’s village has been called Mahmudia in deference to Sultan Mahmud.

It’s just one example of the rich migrant cultures that have shaped and influenced Sfantu Gheorghe. Another example is the derelict settlement of Halmyris, a once lively Roman city. It stands in ruins close to the fishing village of Murighiol. Despite being mostly ruined, it is considered an important historical site and visited by thousands of tourists every year. Halmyris is famous for being the burial site of RomanChristian martyrs Astion and Epictet. Even more fascinating is the fact archaeological work here is still inits infancy. If you visit Halmyris, you can see key artefacts being discovered.

Murighiol should be your stop if you wish to experience Uzlina: official headquarters for the world famous Jacques Cousteau Foundation and Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve. It’s situated approximately 24 miles east of Tulcea. If stopping off to enjoy Ulzina, it’s possible – with advice from local guides – to hire boats and explore areas of the delta that less adventurous tourists don’t get to see.

One of the last stops, if you’re travelling on a tourist boat, is the fishing village of Sfantu Gheorghe. Foodies are encouraged to make a stop here because the region produces a variety of caviar (icre negre) that is referred to as one of the best in the world. It’s also home to one of the longest beaches on Romania’s Black Sea coast.

Important Things to Know About the Danube Delta

The size of the population currently living on the Danube Delta changes depending on how much area is included in the count. In total, the amount of people residing across the three arms is somewhere between 12,000 and 16,000.

It’s tough to calculate a precise number because the region is so large, the environments so diverse and the delta so transitory.

The majority of these people live close together along the waterways and reliable sources of drinking water. The economy here is primarily based on fishing, cattle rearing, beekeeping and other small scale industries which balance commerce with protection for natural resources.

Sulina is now the most commercial area after economic developments in the eighties saw 500 new structures built in town.

Sulina now offers hotels, restaurants and other amenities to support its identity as a contemporary shipping centre. Every year, it welcomes 3,500 boats from huge commercial vessels to pleasure boats and cruise ships.

In recent years, the rural regions of Sfantu Gheorghe and Chilia Veche have also experiencedfast paced development.

The Danube Delta and all its fascinating cities, towns and villages are surrounded by the wonders of the natural world. This captivating corner of Europe is one of the most biologically important as it nurtures incomparable array of plant, fish, mammals and bird species. Some of these species are endangered and, therefore, only found in Romania’s unspoiled natural landscapes.

When to Plan a Visit to the Danube Delta

As mentioned, most guided tours of the Danube Delta start in Tulcea. The city’s location at the tip of the three estuary arms makes it a perfect base for exploration. Tulcea is approximately two hours from Constanta by car. Step aboard one of the many brightly coloured passenger boats and prepare to enter a different world. Here, you’ll see a vast network of waterways stretching as far as the eye can see.
This is an old fashioned world, but one which bursts with charm, warmth and an obvious devotion to nature. Gaze upon an expanse of floating islands covered in delicately waving reeds and you’ll wonder how such a place can still exist on our thoroughly modern and urbanised planet. It’s easy to find a sense of peace here that’s seldom found elsewhere particularly while listening to calls from the area’s 300 bird species.
If the Danube Delta appeals to you as a travel destination, we encourage you to plan your adventure soon. Already, there are stringent rules in place to safeguard its flora and fauna from the potential consequencesof tourism. The delta is divided into three sections: areas which permit some hunting and fishing, areas which allow for controlled commercial development and areas which cannot be visited by anybody but biologists.

For the moment, visitors are welcome. However, you’ll need to plan your trip carefully and compromise when it comes to things like accommodation. Staying with local families is common here as the number of hotels is small.

The best time to visit is probably in the late spring or early summer when the delta is awash with vibrant wildflowers. This is also when pelicans and other birds congregate in huge numbers creating spectacular natural shows. Some bird populations reach highs of 5,000 when creating nests during the breeding season. Rare birds such as the pygmy cormorant and red breasted goose can be difficult to spot. They represent an exciting challenge for the many birdwatchers who flock to the delta.
Early summer is a great time for the delta’s cuisine. Feast on locally caught herring and sturgeon so fresh it’ll feel like you discovered it yourself. It’s a revelation when gently grilled and served with zander croquettes and a fruity Muscat or Aligote. Fish soup is a popular restaurant dish here that is cooked in huge iron kettles. Saramura, a traditional Romanian recipe, combined grilled fish or meat that is soaked orboiled in a brine sauce. If you’re an adventurous type, a trip to the Danube Delta offers the type of excitement rarely seen in a holiday destination these days.

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