Before emptying into the Black Sea, The Danube splits into three arms (Chilia, Sulina and Sfantu Gheorghe), between which a wild delta has formed. This is the youngest land in Romania, at no more than 10,000 years old. A paradise for all kinds of plants and creatures, the Danube Delta has been named a world Biosphere Reservation by UNESCO.
In this exotic delta – regarded as one of the largest wetlands (2,861 square kilometres) and the most extensive area of compact reed beds in the world – more than 1,200 species of plants and trees, 300 species of birds, and 100 species of fish have been identified. The Danube Delta may thus be considered a true Noah’s ark. Everything here is bursting with life: the air vibrates to the wing beats of pelicans, swans, egrets, spoonbills, bald coots, and white-tailed eagles; beneath the waters glint the scales of beluga, sturgeon, starlet, perch, pike and carp; among the reeds rustle all kinds of creeping things. The Delta is also a habitat for tortoises, snakes, vipers, musk rat, coypou, foxes, otters, wild boar and raccoon dogs.
Almost 50% of the surface area of the Danube Delta is temporarily below water (especially in spring), 45% is permanently covered in water, and just 5%, the sandbanks, is genuine dry land. A luxuriant, wild, primordial vegetation covers these expanses of water and land. The Delta is, in fact, a labyrinth of channels, swamps, lakes, sandbanks and endless corridors of reeds. You can lose yourself amid groves of willows or mixed forests, made up of black poplars, trembling poplars, oak, ash, elm, and wild apple and pear trees. This is a realm of creeping plants, such as lianas and wild vines, which intertwine everywhere. The immense stretches of reeds, rushes, and bulrushes form an unforgettable sight. As far as the eye can see, the waters are covered in resplendent carpets of white and yellow lilies, broken here and there by floating reed beds.
The area is also littered with the ancient ruins by Greek colonists and Roman-Byzantine settlements: Histria, Arganum, Enisala and Heracleea.
The port of Tulcea, which developed on the site of the ancient Greek colony of Aegyssus, is known as the gateway to the Danube Delta.
The traditional fishing villages of the Danube seem like remnants of an ancestral world. The people of these parts make their living by fishing. The traditional fish dishes of the Delta are simply delicious. If you find yourself in this part of the world, you need to feast on spit roasted fish, fish borscht, garlic pickled fish and fishcakes. You definitely need to try locally grown wine in Niculitel region. They got Aligote, Muscat-Ottonel and Merlot.
The Danube Delta is home to 98% of Europe’s aquatic fauna with 3,400 species. You can see rare mammals such as musk rat, otter and mink, as well as common frogs and rarer tortoises. The site of the great tit building its nest is a veritable show, with the yellow heron being a guest of the Delta from March to October.
On the sandbanks or on the surface of the water swarm snakes and vipers, while bald eagles and Danube hawks survey the landscape.
The Delta is a paradise for birds. Of the 320 identified species, around 200 nest here, the rest being migratory. The most common birds are aquatic, 140 species, including the black-throated diver, with 70 being from outside Europe. If you love bird watching, you can see European, Mediterranean, Siberian (singing swans), Chinese (mute swans) and Mongolian (bald eagle) species of birds, with the swans been declared protected species. The large and small egrets and spoonbills are likewise protected species. Ducks, cormorants and stilt birds are common in the Delta, but just as fascinating as the others. The Rosca – Buhaiova area is home to the greatest number of pelican colonies in Europe. On the two islands on the Lake Sinoe, there are two colonies of crested pelicans with almost 300 birds. The best times for bird-watching is between April and September.
The fishing villages of the Danube Delta have grown up on the sandbanks. The houses are at the water’s edge and there is at least one boat moored to every gate. The best-known fishing villages are Malic, Juriovca, Sfantu Gheorghe, Mahmudia, Mila 23, Crisan and Murighiol. The fishing villages are an extremely picturesque world. Alongside Romanians live Lipovians (Russians) and Hohols (Ukrainians), who fled here in the eighteenth century.
You can spend 3-4 days and access it as part of a cruise, or on day trips and boat excursions from Tulcea which has good hotels, restaurants specializing in fish dishes and the Museum of the Danube Delta.
Sulina, the terminus point for cruise liners sailing across the Delta, is the centre of commercial activity in the Delta and was mentioned for the first time more than 1,000 years ago. This port town once bustled with traders from Europe and the Middle East, adventurers and sea pirates. The town served as headquarters for the European Danube Commission during the 19th century when the Danube was turned into a waterway suitable for commercial shipping. This huge project attracted workers from all over Europe, and the Anglican, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Muslim and Jewish tombstones in Sulina’s cemetery bear witness to this former international community. In the late 1980s, the town underwent rapid expansion with 500 new dwellings being built, a hotel and a shipping centre to handle 3,500 ships annually. A 19th century Greek Church of Saint Nicholas is located on the waterfront. The 18 metres tall lighthouse, located in the middle of town, was built in 1802 and restored in 1870 by the Danube Commission. Enjoy a stroll along the 40 km long fine sand beach.
Crisan is the main stepping-off point between Tulcea and Sulina. A fishermen’s village with a few houses spreading over the right bank and a fishery on the opposite shore, it makes an excellent base for exploring the surrounding lakes and canals. Private guestrooms and B&Bs are available. From here, you can rent a dinghy from the locals, and travel on the Old Danube Canal to Mila 23 or to Caraorman (Black Forest in Turkish) village and Caraorman Forest, a strictly protected reserve with brown oak trees, white and black poplars, white willows and fluffy ash surrounded by sandbanks. Owls, white-tailed eagles, falcons, wildcats, boars and wolves, as well as many rare plants, thrive in the area. Access to Caraorman Forest is permitted only with a guide on the designated route.
Murighiol, a traditional fishing village, is home to the ruined Roman city of Halmyris, one of the most important ancient sites in Romania. The city was continuously inhabited from the 6th century BC to the 7th century AD. Although a basilica and a crypt containing the tomb of Epictet and Astion, the earliest Romanian Christian martyrs, have been discovered here, much of the ruins remain unexcavated. A visit offers the chance to see an ancient city still in the process of being uncovered.
Murighiol is the jump-off point for boats to Uzlina. Located 40 km east of Tulcea, Uzlina is home to the offices of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve and the Jacques Cousteau Foundation. The Cormoran Tourist Complex in Uzlina provides facilities for hiring boats and guides to venture into some of the more interesting parts of the Delta.
First mentioned in 1318, the fishing village of Sfantu Gheorghe is well-known for its traditional cooking, including the famous black caviar of the sturgeon found just in the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. From the 57 m high lighthouse, a 30 minutes walk will take you to one of the longest strips of beach on the Romanian Black Sea coast.
Accommodation options range from hotels to floating hotels, B&Bs and private homes in all villages. Camping sites are available in Crisan, Murighiol, Shores of Lake Rosu (Lacul Rosu).
One of the best gems in Romania, the Danube Delta is one of the best places to go to for nature lovers.