The best-kept secret of Romania
The Danube Delta is a remote region in Romania where you will meet only a few locals and a handful of foreign tourists. It is, in fact, Romania’s best-kept secret.
The Delta consists of narrow creeks, canals, rivers, lakes, enchanting islands, pearly white sandy beaches and amazing wildlife. On a boat, with a camera at hand, it is easy to imagine that I am the new David Attenborough.
The Danube Delta in Dobrogea
Yes, the Danube Delta in Dobrogea, Romania is one of the last undiscovered wildlife paradises in Europe. In 1990, UNESCO granted the region the predicate biosphere reserve and in 1991 the status of world heritage. The Delta spreads over a whopping 5800 km².
Together with Doñana in the south of Spain, the Gulf of Bothnia in Finland and the Dutch National Park Groote Peel, the Danube Delta is one of the most important breeding grounds for waterbirds in Europe.
UNESCO World Heritage
The Delta is home to about 325 bird species. Cormorants, pelicans, eagles, geese, spoonbills, herons and ibises make their home in this maze of canals, rivers, marshes, islands and lakes. In the forests, wild animals like foxes, wolves, boars, horses, otters and deer roam free. The waters contain 136 species of fish.
Drone footage in this video by Alex Chacon
7 things to do in the Danube Delta
So how do you get the most out of your visit to the Delta?
First, decide when to go.
The best time to spot birds is from early spring to late summer.
Winters can be harsh when temperatures drop below the freezing point. However, you can see around 100 species of birds that are not present in summer, like some species of geese, ducks and the white-tailed eagle. Even better there are no mosquitoes, which can be a nuisance in summer. Just dress the part, i.e. gloves, hats, ski jackets.
Below I have listed some of the best activities to do in the Danube Delta.
1. Visit a haunted lake
Razim lake is a large freshwater lagoon in the Delta. The water is nicknamed the damned lake. During bad weather, it can get quite spooky here. But as long as you stay ashore, it is a good place to spot birds. Especially in November and December, when millions of Coles and red-necked geese migrate from the Arctic to spend the first part of winter in the Delta.
On the shores of the lake, past the old fishing port, you will find a picturesque village, named Sarichioi with wooden houses, dirt roads and golden arched churches.
2. Discover your inner archaeologist
Orgame is a historic city in the Danube Delta, dating back to the sixth century BC. The city was founded by Greek colonists who came from Asia. In the first century AD, the city came under Roman rule and became an important port on the Byzantium-Tyras route. The city became known as Argamon.
In the fifth century AD, the city fell into disrepair through the invasions of the Goths, Huns and Slavs and the simultaneous silting up of the harbour. The inhabitants moved further south, to Histria, Tomis (now Constanta), Callatis and Constantinople.
Argamon is a gigantic archaeological area of more than 100 hectares, of which only two have been dug up, thus an ideal place to discover your inner archaeologist.
During the dig, you have a fantastic view of the water.
3. Enjoy the sound of silence
The incredible beauty of the Delta is best admired from the water. The fastest way is by motorboat from the city of Tulcea, thus you can go quickly deep into the Delta.
But if you really want to get the most out of your visit, hire a kayak. This way you can enjoy the sound of silence only to be interrupted by the chattering of birds.
Make sure to bring enough water, sun protection (headgear, sunscreen) and mosquitoes spray. I recommend you go with a guide given the size of the area.
4. Bring your camera
The Danube Delta is primarily a birdwatcher’s paradise. You will see thousands of pelicans, spoonbills, swans, geese, cormorants and bird species of which I do not know the name.
If you want to take pictures, make sure you have a good lens, of at least 300 mm, preferably more. The best photo opportunities occur at sunrise and just before sunset, during the golden hours. You’ll have to get up a bit earlier, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
5. Go crazy about fish
If there is any place to enjoy fish, it is here in the Danube Delta where fresh and salt water come together. Anglers can indulge themselves here with the catch of catfish, pike and carp.
I am more into gastronomic pleasures. The fish comes in all kinds and sizes on the table, in the soup, from the barbecue, smoked, deep-fried and from the oven.
6. Explore new land
Sacalin Island is a ‘new’ island in the Black Sea, just off the coast of the Romanian Danube Delta, at the exit of Sfântu Gheorghe, a picturesque fishing village, a great starting point to explore the Delta.
Initially, Sacalin consisted of two smaller islands, Sacalinu Mare (Great Sacalin) and Sacalinu Mic (Klein Sacalin). Over time, the two have merged into one land mass. The Romanian government has declared the area an ecological reserve and it is therefore not allowed to build on the island.
You can only get here by boat, on the way you see a wrecked steamship (image below).
7. Relax at the beach
Finally, finish your voyage of discovery on one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe. Between the Black Sea and the Goloviţa Lake in the Danube Delta lies the island of Gura Portitei, with a dazzling white sandy beach and panoramic views.
Occasionally contrasting with the white sand, the island turns red due to algae growth.
The island was originally a fishing village, nowadays it is best known as one of the most remote (and therefore quietest) Romanian beach resorts. It is a good alternative for Vama Veche, which has become increasingly popular and therefore quite busy in recent years.
The only way to travel is by boat from Tulcea or Sfântu Gheorghe.
- It is probably easiest to fly to the capital of Romania, Bucharest and arrange a trip from there.
Find out what a 2-Day Danube Delta Wonders Small Group Tour from Bucharest would cost you.
- Alternatively travel by yourself to Tulcea and join a day trip from there.
- Check here if you need a tourist visa.
- You probably need travel insurance, check here for prices and conditions.