The Danube Delta (Delta Dunarii) is an incredible world where water, fish and birds live and you just visit. Quietly.
While it remains a relatively small tourism center (by western Europe standards), the area is developing rapidly in breathless anticipation of the tourism that EU membership is expected to attract.
Pretty much every hotel, tourism agency, restaurant and guy with a row boat offers tour packages. There’s also some aspiring hustlers roaming the docks in Tulcea telling lies about canceled ferries and accommodations “like Auschwitz” in the villages. Ignore these guys. They’re just trying to sell over-priced day trips.
Three and four star boat hotels (‘boatels’) trundle through the major arteries, allowing for low impact, even plush Delta tours – though this industry was suffering a lull during my last pass, keep an eye out for new tour companies.
Organized tours are worthwhile, but hitching a ride with fishermen or hiring a small boat to explore the minor waterways, floating arms-length from the exotic wildlife is indisputably one of the area’s greatest pleasures.
Though locals scoff and dismiss the idea of Delta permits (10 lei or 2.50 euros), there are occasional checks and you will be fined 100 lei (23.50 euros) if you don’t have one. If on a group excursion of any kind, these are automatically handled by the operator. If you hire a local fisherman, ask to see his valid permit. If you go boating or foraging independently or simply just visit a village, legally you must have one. AJVPS (Tel: +40 (0) 240 511 404 or +40 (0) 240 515 411; Str Isaccei 10; Hours: 7am-8pm Mon-Fri, 7am-1pm Sat), in Tulcea, issues permits. You need separate permits to fish or hunt.
Europe’s second largest delta, this is where the mighty Danube River empties into the Black Sea, just south of the Ukrainian border, after passing through 10 countries and absorbing countless lesser waterways. The Danube Delta splits into three channels – the Chilia, Sulina and Sfantu Gheorghe arms – creating 4,187-sq km of wetland (3446 sq km of which are in Romania) lorded over by 300 species of birds and 150 species of fish. Reed marshes cover 1,563 sq km, constituting one of the largest expanses of reed beds in the world. Almost thirty different types of ecosystems have been counted.
The river discharges an average of 6300 cubic metres of water per second, creating a constantly evolving landscape considered to be Europe’s youngest and least stable land, evidenced by the Sfantu Gheorghe lighthouse; built by the sea in 1865, it now stands 3km from open water.
The Danube Delta is protected under the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve Authority (DDBR), set up in response to the ecological disaster that befell it (A.K.A. Ceausescu) when dough-head tried to transform it into an agricultural region. There are 18 protected areas – 506 sq km (8.7% of the total area) including a 500-year-old forest and Europe’s largest pelican colony. The delta is included in Unesco’s World Heritage list.
Despite the riot of nature, the delta is far from being a treat of purity. Indeed, the Danube is seriously polluted water and although locals may use it to make tea and soup, you cannot drink it unless it’s been thoroughly boiled! That said, sampling some Danubian cuisine (properly prepared) is part of the experience of visiting the area. Fresh fish served in restaurants is generally fine to eat, but people have reported ‘upset stomachs’ after eating fish in private homes that had not been cooked enough. Be wary of home cooked meals, but be polite.