As I sat on the edge of the boat sinking in my surroundings, the time stood still. Everywhere around me was water, but there was the forest too. In the distance I could see a pelican slowly gliding over the water in a hunt for a prey. Life seemed slow and relaxed on Danube Delta – my first wetland experience.
Back in my school days, I remember how our Geography teacher explained the life of a river to us. “At the beginning of its life, a river is like a young child and has a lot of energy. It moves at a very fast pace and erodes the rocks as it goes down the mountains. At the end of its life, the pace becomes very relaxed right before it meets the ocean. That’s when a river creates deltas”.
Yes, that’s what is so special about visiting deltas – the calm pace of the water. It somehow sets in a relaxed atmosphere all around. You will feel it in the people you meet, the animals that you see, the sounds that you will hear and you will also eventually feel it in your own mind.
Anyway, now that I have given you a glimpse of a typical river Delta, let’s talk about Danube River and the place where it forms a delta.
Introducing Danube River Delta + Danube River Facts
If you’ve ever traveled to Europe, most likely you have heard of the Danube River. After all, it flows through more countries than ANY OTHER RIVER in the world.
Danube River originates in Germany’s Black Forest and ends in the Black Sea. Apart from Germany, it passes through Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine.
As it ends in the Black Sea, Danube River forms the second largest delta in Europe. Most of the Danube Delta lies in Romania and some in Ukraine too. Interestingly, this delta area is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Where is the Danube Delta & How to Reach
If you see the map of Romania, the absolute east part is where the Danube River forms its delta. To be more specific, it is in the Tulcea county of Romania. 1/3rd part of Tulcea is the Danube Delta Area.
Many people opt for Danube River Cruise to visit the Delta area, but I’d recommend something else. If you want to explore the Danube delta area properly, you should know that a cruise ship won’t head to the narrow canals, which are the prettiest parts.
To see the best of Danube Delta area, you should stay here for a few days and for that you have to reach Tulcea city. It is easy to reach Tulca by road from Bucharest – it is just 174 KMs away. Buses from Bucharest to Tulcea leave from Augustina Bus Terminal.
Tulcea city is just the starting point and from there you can take a ferry to go deeper in the Delta area. The only way inside is by boat.
The easiest thing to do would be to ask your hotel to arrange for a boat to pick you up. Most of the high-end places offer this service anyways.
Danube Delta Map + Where to go
If you look at a map of Danube Delta area, it looks a little complicated. You can broadly divide the regions based on the starting point and the three distributaries or channels as mentioned below. Here’s the Danube on Map towards the end of her life when it makes a delta in Romania and Ukraine.
As mentioned earlier, Tulcea is an ideal starting point for exploring the Danube Delta area. From here, three important channels start and lead on to further destinations. All the things that you can do in the Danube Delta area can further be divided between three geographical areas below. These are actually three channels.
Siluna arm is the first place that we visited in the Danube Delta area and stayed here overnight. It is the shortest channel out of three and that’s why is the main route of transportation. We stayed at Hotel Sunrise in Sulina.
Sfântu Gheorghe channel was the most beautiful part of Danube Delta for me and is the far south end of the Delta. There is a village here by this name too. We stayed in a beautiful waterfront resort called Green Village in Sfântu Gheorghe. I’d recommend you stay in one of the waterfront hotels on Sfantu Gheorghe because there’s so much to do here.
We didn’t stay in Chilia channel overnight but visited it from Sulina. There is a forest here called Letea Reserve. Interestingly, this channel is one of the newer ones and there was a port here earlier, which is now under the water.
Things to do in Danube Delta
Slow Boat Ride through the Delta Channels
No matter how many times in your life you’re been on a boat, cruising on the Danube river’s delta on a slow boat will be a rewarding experience. Let the stillness of the water massage your mind into feeling relaxed. After all, this is the most special aspect of visiting a river delta.
Try to get on a smaller non-motorized boat so that you can move around silently and sink in the natural beauty. These smaller boats won’t take more than 4 people, which is a good thing. This way, you will spend less time talking to multiple people on the boat and more time experiencing the surroundings. Even the Lonely Planet guide recommends getting on to the smaller boats instead of the bigger ones to enjoy the delta.
Bird watching and see Danube Delta birds
A slow boat ride can be easily be combined with bird watching. If you’re interested to know more, you should ask your hotel to arrange a bird watching specialist. I’m not good with bird names but I do remember that we saw pelicans, herons, terns, egrets, swans and marsh harrier.
Pelicans were massive and you will easily spot them even without a guide. We also saw the Great White Pelicans and Dalmatian pelicans – which are very rare and you will need an expert to show you which ones are those!
Unlike most of the bird watching trips, you don’t necessarily need to wake up at 4 or 5 am in the morning when you’re here. You can go in the early evening too.
Letea Forest Reserve – the famous Danube Delta Horses
Letea Reserve is in the middle of Sulina and Chilia channels and it was once completely underwater. There was a gulf at the same place where now the Letea forest stands. Yep, it is so because the Delta is in a continuous transformation.
Letea Reserve is the only place in Europe and one of the very few places on earth where there are wild horses. The forest area has jackals too.
Another very interesting thing about Letea Reserve is that hallucinogenic berries grow here! The locals mentioned that these berries are called Afedra Distatia. I can’t find the name of these berries in English though.
There are a few very little sand dunes in this reserve, where you can still see broken seashells because once it was a seabed. Because of the shells, the tree roots in this reserve go horizontal. 300 – 400 years back, this was a part of the Ottoman Empire.
160 years back, there was also a lighthouse in the middle of the Black Sea here. Right now it stands in a museum in Sulina town.
Sfântu Gheorghe Island Exploration
It is also called Saint George and is the oldest inhabited area in the Danube Delta region. After spending most of your time near water, walking around in this adorable fishing village will give you a change of scenery.
As you walk from the main port on Sfantu Gheorghe, you will notice a few old school communist buildings. There is a beautiful church in Sfantu Gheorghe where the insides are covered with colorful frescos.
For me, the best part of walking around this village was getting to see some lovely small houses on both sides of the street. All of these houses had gardens with lovely trees or plants.
Saint George Beach
While I was in Romania, I visited some very popular Black Sea beaches in Constanta, however the beach in Saint George holds a special place in my heart. This is because this beach was massive and very empty when we visited it. It reminded me of Goa’s beaches before they went mainstream.
You can reach Saint George beach from Sfantu Gheorghe village very easily. It is a 30-minute walk or 7-minute drive. If you do decide to walk, please note that many areas of this road were completely under water so walking may not be the easiest option.
There are no beach bars or shops on this beach, so carry your own water and essentials.
Danube Delta Resorts
Green Village Resort, Sfântu Gheorghe
One of the easiest ways of organizing a trip to the Danube Delta area is by booking a few days in a resort. For that purpose, I found Green Village Resort in Sfantu Gheorghe perfect. They organized boat transfers, slow boat rides, bird watching trips and much more.
The resort area itself is beautiful and very spread out with multiple ponds, bridges, play area for kids, swimming pool and also early morning Yoga. I’m not much into eating meat and I didn’t exactly have the best experience with food in Romania – however, I LOVED the food in Green Village. I normally recommend self–planned and organized trip but the Danube Delta is remote and you will be much happier if you book an all–inclusive deal with a resort like this one.
I also enjoyed an amazing massage with a view in Green Village Resort. It wasn’t exactly expensive as per European standards.
Another good thing about the Green Village Resort is the location. We were close to the Black Sea beach and also the village. Click here to read the reviews of Green Village resort on TripAdvisor and Book here (find deals).
Hotel Sunrise, Delta Dunarii, Crișan
If you’re thinking of breaking up your journey like we did, you’ll probably want to spend a night closer to Tulcea before going deeper in the Delta. We were in Hotel Sunrise Delta, which is on Sulina channel. Staying in this place makes a lot of sense for those who don’t have time to go deeper in the Delta.
The room here was lovely and so was the area around. They also organized a very good slow boat ride on traditional boats for free. There is a wooden sitting area along the road on the water, where you can enjoy a spectacular sunset.
Best time to visit the Danube Delta
The local guide mentioned that the months of spring is the best time to visit the Danube Delta area. Springtime is when nature comes back to life after sleeping for months during winter. Danube Delta is a destination for nature exploration so visiting it in spring makes total sense.
I visited towards the end of spring, which was the month of May. It was warm but not unbearably so except the midday village exploration.
Quick Tips before you visit the Danube Delta
You need permits
In order to enter the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve, you need a permit. In most of the cases, your hotel will get that for you. You can also get this permit yourself from the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve Administration office. It costs 5 Lei a day or 15 Lei a week. Additionally, you also need a special permit for your boat.
Where there’s water, there will be insects and mosquitos for sure. Mosquitos can cause many diseases to I’d recommend you to carry a herbal insect repellant. Normally Citronella oil or Coconut oil should be enough.
Carry cotton clothes that aren’t very tight because the Delta area is humid.
You MAY See a Snake or Two – but don’t be afraid
Snakes are beautiful when they’re far away and the ones in Danube Delta area are mostly harmless. I saw a very little one on a narrow muddy path and a few bigger ones in the water. Remember – you’re in a forest area and seeing snakes is normal. In most cases, you may not even notice them.
If you’re really scared of them then stamp your feet harder when you’re walking so that they feel the vibrations and stay away. Oh and make sure you keep your windows and door shut.
I did all of my boat transfers on my Hotel boats – Green Village and Sunshine Resort. However, in case you’re planning on taking the public ferries, you will find the boat schedule on this website.
Have you ever visited a river delta before? We’d love to know where. Let us know in the comments.
Disclosure: I was invited to Romania on a sponsored trip by Experience Romania team but all silliness and thoughts expressed in this article are totally our own.
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