Bran Castle and Sighisoara may get the bulk of attention from visitors to Romania, but there is one gem that is a must-see on any trip to the country. The delta of the Danube River is found mostly in Romania (with a small portion in Ukraine) and offers a completely different experience from anywhere else in the whole of Europe. In planning a trip, at least three days should be allotted for the Danube Delta, but spending a week or more truly discovering the region is an even better decision for travelers that have time to spare.
About the Danube Delta
Starting in the Black Forest of Germany and ending at the Black Sea, the Danube River covers nearly 3,000 kilometers before reaching the spectacular delta. For much of the journey, the Danube is simply a big river, but the delta offers something completely different. Branches and tributaries connect the various towns and villages that make up the delta and the abundance of food and natural ecosystems has led to a wild proliferation of plants and animals, including an estimated 300 species of birds. In total, the region of the Danube Delta measures around 5,700 square kilometers, making it the most sparsely human populated area in all of Europe.
Although there are several small villages to be found and explored in the Delta, most visitors will choose to make their home base in one of two locations – either Sulina or Sfantu Gheorghe. The latter is a much better choice due to the fact that it is more centrally located and transportation options between different parts of the delta are more common. Day trips to Sfantu Gheorghe can be easily made and there is a regular schedule for boat shuttles between the two towns.
When to Go
Many visitors to the Danube Delta choose summer as the time for their vacation. With pleasant beaches and sunny weather, this would seem like an easy decision, but there is a specific reason why those in the know usually plan their trips for the spring or fall. That reason is mosquitoes.
During the summer months, the mosquitoes can be an invasive problem and repellent should be worn at all times. For that reason (and to beat the expensive prices of the high season), spring is the best time to come to the Danube Delta for sightseeing reasons. Those planning on spending lots of time fishing in the delta may wish to wait until fall when bigger catches are more plentiful.
How to Get There
Finding a way from Bucharest or another major city to the delta is part of any Danube adventure. The truth is that every method of coming to the delta will require a stop in the city of Tulcea, also known as the gateway to the delta. At this point, most road transportation stops and the last leg of the trip will be made by boat. The quickest option is a catamaran service that will cost 50 lei (~10 Euros) and will take about an hour and a half. Travelers looking for a more relaxed journey can take the cheaper, standard boat, but should know that the duration can last up to four hours on busy days. The schedule does change often, but a basic timetable can be found here.
Places to Stay
As the Danube Delta is slowly becoming a popular destination for both Romanian and international guests, the range of accommodation options is growing. There are hotels to meet most budgets, ranging from the affordable Delta Miraj Pension to the upscale Pension Perla. Most smaller destinations like Crisan have also seen resorts opened in the past years.
However, the majority of rooms to let are not in hotels, but rather in private homes. Taking this option will both net a substantial price reduction and deliver a more authentic experience of the delta region. After disembarking from the boat, there will be several people present on the landing to offer and negotiate room prices in private homes. Most will offer to show the room and amenities first, which is highly recommended.
What to See
A book could be written about what to see at the Danube Delta as there are seemingly an infinite number of sights. The cities of Sulina and Sfantu Gheorghe both offer museums, beaches, and other attractions, but the true beauty of the region is found in the wild landscape of the delta. In both towns, a visitor can join an organized day-long cruise through the backwaters and tributaries. These cruises will often incorporate a safari-like trip to the Letea Forest to see wild horses and include meals along the way, all for one reasonable price. For a more personalized tour, a negotiated price can be made with the fisherman whose boats are moored on the banks of the river.
The Danube Delta Cuisine
As could be expected, the local cuisine of the Delta Danube revolves around fish and comes in all forms. Nearly every restaurant will have a sour fish soup (ciorba de peste) as well as main fish entrees like carp, catfish, and perch (crap, somn, and biban, respectively). In addition, fried and grilled fish options can found on the streets as well as at the beach. Sulina is also home to a unique pastry, merdenele de dovleac, a melt-in-your-mouth treat of cooked pumpkin in flaky pastry. Restaurants will also have classic Romanian dishes as well as the ubiquitous pizza choices.
The Danube Delta may have gotten more notice in recent years, but it still remains the hidden treasure of Romania. A trip to the region is still affordable, has plenty of interesting sights, and the only thing missing is you.