Let me guess… land of Dracula! That’s why this article will surprise you. You’ll discover how the Carpathian Mountains have created many natural wonders in Romania and the best places to go to see them.
Oh, and there’s also the Danube Delta, the best preserved in Europe and truly a special place for wildlife enthusiasts. So, ready to go on an adventure?
The Wild Fagaras Mountains
Bordering the southern side of the Transylvanian region in Romania, the Fagaras Mountains stand as the highest and most massive mountains, with Omu Peak being the highest at 2,544m. Widely recognized as a place with outstanding incredible scenery, there are eight peaks over 2500m altitude, making them the premier destination for hikers in Romania.
Most trails start from Balea Lake at the top of Transfagarasan Highway, one of Romania’s famous tourist attractions, and go deep into the mountains. You will explore glacial lakes, impressive waterfalls and hike on exposed trails on the crests. This is not a tourist area so don’t expect to find a lot of cabins, shops or info points. Fagaras Mts are the most challenging and difficult in Romania, suitable only for well-prepared and experienced hikers.
Besides hikers, these mountains also attract lovers of animal life and wilderness. There’s an abundance of species finding home in the rich forests of Fagaras Mountains ranging from brown bears to wolves, lynx, bisons and boars.
Boasting numerous virgin forests within its 48-kilometer-long area, there’s a favorable climate here for various animal species. Bison, for instance, had been extinct for the past two centuries but conservation initiatives have successfully reintroduced more than 50 bison in the region.
On specialist wildlife tours, lucky tourists may see boars, brown bears, wolves and lynx which are rare sights. But even ‘average’ tourists can stumble upon foxes, stags, wild cats, rabbits, chamois, red and roe deer. The area is also a rich habitat for various raptors, including red-footed falcons, golden eagles, falcons, and sparrowhawks.
Plan your trip to the Fagaras Mountains only during July – September, as they’re pretty inaccessible the rest of the year. This is also the best time to visit Romania so you’ll have many choices for things to do in the country.
The Mysterious Sphinx in Bucegi Mountains
Resting on the Bucegi Mountains plateau, the Sphinx is a strangely shaped massive rock formation dubbed one of Romania’s seven natural wonders. It is often linked with the famous landmark, the Egyptian Sphinx of Giza.
The biggest difference between these two landmarks hinges on their formation processes. Human hands crafted Giza, whereas the Sphinx’s distinctive shape results from natural phenomena like wind meticulously sculpting its intricate contours.
The rock formation resembles a well-detailed human face so well that many theories and myths surround it. From mystical ideas to unsupported historical claims and all the way up to alien involvement. That’s why the Romanian Sphinx is so popular and visited by tourists all year round.
It’s also easily accessible on a cable car ride from Busteni resort at the base of the mountains, which is only 1.5 hours away from the capital, Bucharest.
Get Lost in the Caves of Apuseni Mountains
There are over 8360 caves, grottos and jams in Romania, of which approximately 1,500 can be found in Apuseni Natural Park in Western Romania. Some of them have broken into the national and even international rankings for their variety of sights and karstic rocks like gypsum, marble, or limestone.
One of the largest Romanian caves you can visit in this region is Meziad cave, which is around 6 kilometers long. On the other hand, one of the largest European glaciers holding a volume of 80,000 cubic meters and dating back to 4,000 B.C., can be found in Scarisoara Cave in Garda de Sus. This place is the perfect starting point if you’re a newbie to cave exploration, boasting a 60-meter entrance opening.
If you’re fond of the curiosities linked with the Neanderthal Age, the Vartop Glacier Cave is a fascinating sign for historians, protecting three footprints supposedly existing from that period.
And if the thought of envisioning bear skeletons dating back over 17,000 years sends shivers down your spine, you’ll want to visit Bears’ Cave. Despite its suggestive name, this natural wonder also captivates visitors with the multitude of stalactites and stalagmites within its three intricately formed galleries.
The Danube Delta: A Miracle Garden
The largest and untouched natural wetland in Europe, the Romanian Danube Delta has been constantly growing and spreading since 4,000 BCE. A sand barrier blocked the Danube River’s flow into the Black Sea and thus the delta was created.
It encompasses 12 different habitat types, such as lagoons, marshes, lakes, unaltered rivers, sandbanks, and climax forests. It stands out as the largest European river delta after the Volga delta and the best preserved one on the continent, sheltering no less than 25 types of ecosystems.
Spread between Sf Gheorghe in the South, Sulina in the Middle, and Chilia in the North, the area encompasses more than 2,000 square miles, with half of its biosphere being virgin and untouched by the human hand.
The delta was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, and many of the sports and activities that would typically draw enthusiasts to the area are significantly controlled, such as fishing and hunting, mainly due to the risk of extinction of some species like pelicans, pygmy cormorants, and red-breasted geese.
That’s why one of the best things to do in the Danube Delta is to go on a boat ride to explore its canals and visit fisherman villages. You’ll find over 340 species of birds, over 50 species of small mammals and over 4,000 types of plants and flora. This is a paradise not only for wildlife enthusiasts and photographers but also for people who’ve never been in a delta until now.
You can take several routes to visit unique spots in the Danube Delta, such as entering from Tulcea with a ferry or speed boat to Sulina. With a private tour or guide, you can visit the Letea Forest, the oldest natural reserve in the country and the largest European nature reserve, home to more than 3,000 animal species and 500 plant species.
Three hours away from Bucharest, you can find one of the most impressive landmarks in Romania, the muddy volcanoes. The muddy volcanoes of Berca have welcomed millions of curious travelers ever since they were proclaimed a natural monument around 99 years ago.
If walking on the moon is something you dream about, though impossible to achieve, the ground and scenery in this unique place will come pretty close to that. There are only five destinations in Europe where you can experience the fascinating phenomenon of mud volcanoes.
How are muddy volcanoes formed? About 3000 meters under the Earth’s continental crust, muddy, slippery clay is released and pushed by the gas pools under the layers, spreading over the whole volcano area.
To see this phenomenon in action, there are four sites to visit: Paclelele Mici, Mari, and Beciu. The best period to explore the muddy volcanoes in Berca extends from spring through fall due to the favorable meteorological conditions.
Guarded by the picturesque Bicaz Gorges and Bicaz Lake, two of Romania’s famous natural sights, the Ceahlau Mountains are the highest massifs in the Eastern Carpathians and one of the most spectacular in Romania.
But unlike Fagaras Mountains, they don’t impress through their altitude or wilderness but through a diverse repertoire of myths and legends. For those who like discovering local culture through folk tales, this is the perfect place to go.
You can see Toaca, Panaghia, Traian’s vulture, Old Lady Dochia, and other local wonders with stories to tell. It’s best to go with a local guide who knows the area or can ask locals about the legends there cause you won’t find ‘tourist info points’ about them!
Close to Brasov, Romania’s most popular tourist city, Ciucas Mountains, is a good starting point for newbie hikers. The unusually looking rock formations and high cliffs reaching altitudes of 1,954 meters are spectacular sights that can be explored on medium-difficulty trails.
Most hiking trails typically start from a prominent signpost called La Rascruce from where you’ll see trails marked with distinctive red crosses. The Devil’s Hand, the Goliat Tower, the Big Man and the Chatty Old Ladies are must-sees in the area.
Romania is an undiscovered tourist destination with lots to offer for nature enthusiasts. Many parts of the country are wild and untouched, which is why the country has been dubbed Europe’s last wilderness reserve. There’s also a documentary Wild Carpathia on this.
So I hope this article gives you a taste of what our country can offer so you can start planning your trip.