In the Danube Delta Nature Reserve, on a relative small surface there is a big diversity of landscapes: channels, brooks, sweet water lakes.
You can find here swamps, beaches, sandbars, subtropical forests as well as sand dunes that remind you of a desert.
Part of the World Heritage of UNESCO from 1990, the Danube Delta Nature Reserve is the best preserved delta in Europe.
Over 50% of the bird species in Europe are to be found in the largest humid area in Europe. The symbolic bird of the Danube Delta is the pelican – the most wide-spread and the Dalmatian pelican – much scarcer. The Dalmatian pelican is the biggest bird in Europe. It measures 180 cm and its wingspan is of 320 cm.
The most common birds here are ducks, geese, cormorants, herons, egrets, swans, kingfishers etc. There are also not so common ones such as the red-breasted goose (50% of the world population), the pigmy cormorant (60% of the world population), the glossy ibis. In addition there is the common spoonbill, the pied avocet, the black-winged stilt and other rare birds of prey.
For instance, you can find here the smallest bird in Romania, the wren that has only 10 cm and weights 10 grams.
The surface of the Danube Delta gets bigger and bigger every year with approximately 40 cm a year. This is due to the 67 million tons of alluvium that the river brings. Therefore, Chilia Veche, the naval harbor in the Middle Ages is nowadays 40 km from the seashore.
The Danube delta is the newest territory in Europe.
From the total surface of the Danube Delta Nature Reserve that is 5.800 km2, 3.510 km2 represent the Delta itselt.
The rest is made of:
- the Lacustrine Centre Razim – Sinoie – 1.145 km2
- marine waters up to 20 m – 1.030 km2
- easily flooded water meadow between Isaccea şi Tulcea – 102 km2
- the Danube bed between Cotul Pisicii and Isaccea – 13 km2.
The Delta surface is between the Chilia Arm and the Sfântu Gheorghe Arm.
Chilia Arm goes up to the Musura Channel, downstream Periprava. It has a length of 104 km2 and represents the frontier with Ukraine along 86 km. It carries 60% of the Danube water volume, being the biggest arm of the Delta.
In the middle of the Delta there is the Sulina Arm, with its 71 km, that carries 18% of the Danube water volume. This arm is permanently drained and kept for the ship navigation.
The Sfântu Gheorghe Arm is 112 km long and carries 22% of the Danube waters.
In the Danube Delta there are 20 strictly protected areas representing approximately 9% of the total areal of the nature reserve. In some of those areas the access is strictly forbidden in order not to disturb the birds that nestle.
These areas are:
Sacalin – Zătoane (21 410 ha) – the biggest colony of Sandwich terns. You can visit this nature reserve by boat but getting to the shore is forbidden.
Roșca – Buhaiova (9 625 ha) – consists of many ponds and lakes sheltering the biggest colony of pelicans in Europe. The entrance here is forbidden.
Periteașca – Leahova (4 125 ha) is a place for rest and lunch for red-breasted goose, pelicans, ducks and shelducks. There is no access allowed in this area.
The Letea Forest (2 825 ha) is the most Nordic subtropical forest in Europe. Here you can see also many rare species of orchids and many birds that prefer the earthly areas and the salt marches.
Lake Răducu (2 500 ha) – no entrance allowed here.
Caraorman Forest (2250 ha) has along the subtropical forest the most representative sand dunes in the delta. There are also some monumental oaks (with a girth of 4.20 – 4.70 m) in the south part of the forest.
The Sandbar Chituc (2 300 ha) has a series of small lakes, important for the birds, especially during winter.
The Lupilor Sandbar (2 075 ha) – important for the natural reproduction of fish species (breams, carps, pike perches)
Vătafu – Lunguleţu (1 625 ha) is an important place for nestling for the little bittern and the pigmy cormorant.
Lake Potcoava (625 ha) – forbidden access.
Istria -Sinoie (400 ha). It has an archaeological value as well as a large variety of bird species.
Lake Rotundu (228 ha) is a typical lake from the easily flooded meadow of the Danube. The island Prundu cu Păsări (187 ha) has no access because it is home to a mixed colony of birds.
Capul Doloşman (125 ha) – an important archaeological area.
The Island Ceaplace (117 ha) shelters colonies of Dalmatian pelicans, thus there is no access.
Lake Nebunu (115 ha) – a home for nestling for many species therefore the access is strictly forbidden.
Lake Belciug (110 ha) – no access as it is home for nestling for the crane, an endangered species.
Sărături Murighiol (87 ha) shelters colonies of stilts, red-crested pochards, pied avocets, black terns and Kentish plovers. Strictly forbidden access.
Popina Island (98 ha) is situated on Lake Razelm. Shelters species of migratory birds (the shelduck) as well as the Mediterranean banded centipede and the only venomous spider in Romania – the black widow. Access forbidden on the island.
Arinişul Erenciuc (50 ha). Near Lake Erenciuc there is an area where the black alder is growing alone in the Danube Delta and where also the white-tailed eagle is nestling. Landing here is strictly forbidden.
In the Danube Delta we find the largest compact area of reed in Europe. Has a total surface of 1.750 km² of which approximately 10% represents areas of floating vegetation – the Phragmites australis.
Of all the surface of the Danube Delta only 13% is land.
It is formed of river sandbars that go along the Danube Arms and sea sandbars, with a north-south orientation. The most known are Letea (the biggest altitude for the Delta- 13m) and Caraorman. Chilia and Stipoc continental sandbars represent remains of the pre-delta land.
It is supposed that the sand dunes of Caraorman and Letea belong to the sand barrier that separates the Tulcea Bay (which is on the present surface of the Delta) from the Black Sea.
This sand north-south orientated barrier, made the Tulcea Bay to transform firstly into a lagoon. Then, by gradual siltation of the lagoon the Delta appeared.
On the sandbars of Letea and Caraorman there are forests with luxuriant vegetation that give the impression of a jungle.
On the sandy soil various trees grow: pedunculate oaks, poplars, Pallis’ ashes (quite rare), elms, tile trees, hawthorns, privets, spindles, cornels. Some of the oaks reaches up to 25 m and some of them are 300-600 years old. These trees are encircled by creepers: silk vines (up to 25 meters), ivies, five-leaved ivies, Clematis Vitalba, hops.
The landscape is formed of a succession of forest strips with a length of 10 to 250 meters and of strips of grass vegetation or dunes that is quite impressive. There are also some rare species of orchids and other plants such as the Convolvulus persicus, the Merendera sobolifera and the Ephedra dystachia.
The Sandbar Letea is the largest sandbar in the Danube Delta. Most importantly here is the oldest nature reserve in Romania – the Letea Forest. Since 1938 a surface of 2.825 ha has entered the category of strictly protected areas.
Letea is the most Nordic subtropical forest in Europe, but in the same time it is a desert amidst waters.
Letea is a wild area where also many animals live: jackals, racoon dogs, deer, wild boars and approximately 2000 horses abandoned by the locals. During summer the horses are hard to be seen during daytime due to the heat. The white-tailed eagle is the biggest bird you can see here-with a wingspan of 2.5 meters.
Here you can also find the highest dunes in the delta, up to 13 m. The access to the dunes is only permitted on foot.
As human habitation, there are also 5 villages with little population: C.A. Rosetti, Letea, Sfiștofca, Cardon and Periprava. The easiest way to reach the Letea Forest is from the village Letea.
Letea village is perhaps the most traditional-looking village in the delta. It is found at 23 km north-west from Sulina and at 15 km away from Periprava (the roads are paved or sandy).
Access to Letea:
- by boat from Crisan, on the Channel Magiaru (15 km).
- by kayak through the sandy banks of the Channel Sidor (between Letea and Lake Merhei).
You can see in the village of Letea traditional houses of clay, wood and reed, painted and decorated in the Lipovan style.
On the Sandbar Letea you can see a lake formed just some decades ago, due to a flood that washed a bank of the channel.
A good water to drink in the Letea Forest can be found in the Omer’s Fountain.
Another forest that resembles the Letea Forest can be found on the Sandbar Caraorman. The name comes from Turkish and means the Black Forest. The rich vegetation is so dense that there are many dark areas, hence the name.
The Caraorman Forest has been declared a monument of nature in 1940.
Not to be missed is the place called the “Hunters’ Fountain”. Here you can see a 400 years old oak with a girth of over 4m, named “the Kneeled Oak”.
Access: From the village of Caraorman, you can arrive on foot, crossing the village and then entering the forest. The sand dunes – a great attraction here- are west of the village.
Where the Danube Delta meets the Black Sea, south of Sulina, there is a strip of wild beach with around 100m length.
Between Sulina and Sfântul Gheorghe there are 30 km of sand beach that not many know about.
Past Sfântul Gheorghe, along around 20 km the newest Romanian land is to be found – the Sacalin Peninsula.
It appeared a half century ago, being considered a start of a secondary delta, as the peninsula Sacalin will slowly close the lagoon Sacalin. There are three mini-arms that reach the lagoon with brackish and very low waters. These low waters were the reason of one shipwreck in the seventies. Tuzla, a tug boat is now a nestle for many rare bird species, especially Dalmatian pelicans and Sandwich terns. This strip that separates the delta from the sea gives you the feeling that you are at the end of the world.
North of Sulina, in the Musura Bay a new strip of land appeared in the beginning of the 2000. The people in Sulina named it the Island K but the Administration of the Delta Danube Biosphere Reservation named it the Island Musura.
It was formed due to the alluvial deposits transported by the Chilia Arm. The 7km island is 40% in Romania and 60% in Ukraine. At its end, another shipwreck “Turgut S” enhances the mystery of this island that is no larger than 100 m. The Georgian ship landed here during a storm in 2009.
The island is also home for various colonies of birds, pelicans or common terns, black cormorants, egrets and grey herons. It has not yet been declared a protected area. In the future, this island will completely isolate the Musura Bay from the Black Sea, creating a lake similarly like it happened with Lake Razelm.
Recommendation for the visiting periods:
- late spring, end of May or beginning of June. During this period, the water lilies are in bloom, the birds are back from their migration, the temperature is nice and there are not so many mosquitoes. Also, the prohibition on fishing is on, so there will be less people on the channels.