Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a Danube Delta Tour from Tulcea Romania. I have to admit that before I spent 24 hours in Tulcea, I had never even heard of Tulcea. And my father’s family is from Romania, so I generally am more familiar with Romanian geography than many Americans.
But it turns out that Tulcea (say it kind of like Tool-cha) is the perfect jumping off point for a beautiful Danube Delta tour. During our 24 hours in Tulcea, we will identify Very Rare Birds, eat some delicious bottom-feeding fish, and drink more schnapps then our livers can handle.
24 Hours: Danube Delta Tour
Where to Stay?
There aren’t a million hotel options in Tulcea, and because Tulcea needs tourism to live, most of the hotels in town are decent. But I recommend the Hotel Select. It’s very centrally located, the rooms are clean and of a good size, it’s affordable, and there’s a satisfying breakfast spread every morning. In a small town like Tulcea that’s a little off the beaten track for most non-Romanian tourists, that’s all you need! It’s a great base for your Danube Delta tour.
Danube Delta Tour
What to Pack
Romania is hot in the summer so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
You’ll also need comfy sandals for all the walking we’re going to do.. I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Finally, if you’re not from Romania, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with American plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hours: Danube Delta Tour
Morning: Danube Delta Tour Cruise
There are a few things to do in Tulcea: a small museum or two, some monuments, a pleasant walk by the river. But the main reason anyone would want to spend 24 hours in Tulcea is to go on a Danube Delta tour. If you’re passionate about bird watching, there are birds here that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. If you’re just passionate about kicking back and day drinking in a slow moving boat, you can absolutely find that here.
You’ll need to pay for a Danube Delta tour to really explore the region. I recommend this company, because their tour included a tour of a small local town and a very tasty local lunch. That’s why I recommend their services. But if you want to use a different company, be my guest. Just don’t try to swim the Danube Delta yourself! Then you’ll probably drown and you’ll never get to see…
approximately top 5: danube delta tour
1) relax on the water
This is sometimes easier said than done. I was traveling with a group tour, and when we woke up that morning, it was raining so hard that the streets of Tulcea were flooded. Apparently this is not uncommon in the region. Light rain won’t prevent the boats from going on, but the tour company needed to wait for the giant sheets of water flinging themselves down from the sky to stop before they could take us out on the water. I was fine because I bought a head-to-toe poncho for less than five dollars. (Romanian ponchos are apparently really cheap.)
But once the rain stopped, we could enjoy the peaceful sights of the abundant flora of the Danube Delta. There are over 1000 plant species in this area. Tragically, I am not a botanist, so I can’t tell you much more about the plants in my photos except that they are a lot of reeds and lily pads. I can tell you that there was a British Royal Marine in my boat who kept blasting Taylor Swift music during the cruise. I knew he was trouble when he walked in.
One pleasant surprise on board the boat is that our driver kept offering us elderflower schnapps. This drink had a mild taste, which meant it was easy for our group to sample several shots during the 3 and a half hour tour.
Of course, all this schnapps-ing meant that some of us had to stop and use the facilities…but there aren’t any! Your only choice is for the driver to pull over on the closest Swamp Island and let you do your business behind some reeds. It sounds horrifying, but I have to say that it was a lot cleaner than many a public toilet I have used. The only problem was that my cell phone fell out of my pocket in the swamp, so the whole group had to wait for me while I hunted it down. I felt humiliated, but I decided to shake it off.
The moral of this story is: if you’re going to use a Swamp Toilet, leave the cell phone at home.
The Danube Delta’s greatest glory is its birds, and indeed they are majestic. Some of the birds you can expect to see are the Heron, Egret, Ibis, and Pelican. I know that some readers out there would be able to identify each and every bird, but again I am not one of them. The only thing my group could tell was whether a bird was a Pelican or Not a Pelican. So that’s what we would shout out every time you see a bird. It’s easy. The birds in the photo above are Not a Pelican…
And all of these birds are Pelican! It was pretty spectacular to see so many pelicans in one spot, and I have never even been bird watching before. But eventually the schnapps started to interfere with our Pelican/Not a Pelican skills.
Now it’s your turn! Pelican or Not a Pelican?
Finally we reached our destination, where we were presented with a traditional lunch. It was served with homemade Romanian wine, which you definitely need to try if you get the chance. Our first course was a local fish soup served with a thick, white garlic paste. All of the fish used in the meal was catfish and carp fresh caught from the area. Some people don’t like the taste of catfish, but I promise it’s the best when it’s so recently dead.
The main course was fried fish with mamaliga, that famous Romanian cornmeal porridge. I appreciate that they gave us a healthy option and an unhealthy option for eating our fish. Very considerate of them.
5) walk in mila 23
As gorgeous as the Danube Delta is, we wouldn’t want to spend our entire Danube Delta Tour in a boat. It’s not good for the legs! That’s why it was pleasant to go on a stroll through the small Danube Delta village, Mila 23. Are there 22 other Milas out there somewhere? Or is Mila 23 some sort of government experiment and there were 22 other failed Milas along the Danube Delta before the Romanians finally succeeded? No one would answer this very serious question.
Even though Mila 23 is small and mysterious, it’s quite interesting. I was surprised to see a Russian-looking Orthodox Church in Romania, but apparently most of the population of this town is ethnic Russians who settled in Romania. (They are known as Lipovans.)
Mila 23 is also known for being home to some of Romania’s best canoer. (Spell Check says that’s not a word, but then what do you call someone who canoes? Be logical, Spell Check!) The most famous is Ivan Patzaichin, which you can tell right away is a Russian name, not a Romanian one. But nobody cares because when you win four Olympic gold medals, every country wants to claim you as their very own canoeist.
Patzaichin is so beloved in Romania that he was voted on the list of 100 Greatest Romanians back in 2006. It’s a good list, but I’m disappointed that Adrien Zmed from Grease 2 isn’t on it.
24 Hours: Danube Delta Tour
Afternoon: Danube Delta Museum
Once you get back on dry land, you’re probably going to want to get indoors. This is doubly true if the infamous Tulcea Rains have begun again. So let’s continue our 24 hours in Tulcea with the Danube Delta Museum. Its official name is the Danube Delta Eco-Tourism Museum Center, but no one has the time for all that. It would be easier to just learn Romanian. I recommend this museum because it’s really a museum and an aquarium all rolled into one. So you can see the local fish much closer than you could on your river cruise.
I wish I could share with you all the information I learned on the museum’s multiple floors. But instead you’ll have to be satisfied with…
three fun facts: danube delta
1) can’t you tell me something about the birds????!!!!???
Wow! I didn’t know you were so passionate about birds, Internet Stranger! I learn something new about you every day. One of the birds you can find in the museum is a Mute Swan. We definitely didn’t see any of these on the river cruise because everyone in our boat would have been able to identify a swan, even the Taylor Swift Marine, I don’t care how much schnapps we had tasted.
Extra fun fact! I found this article in the New York Times about tourism in the Danube Delta back in the 1970s and those lucky ducklings did see a mute swan. That article was written so long, Romania was spelled Rumania.
One more fun fact! These are Pelicans. I have to admit I’m curious how they got so many stuffed animals in the museum. I hope they didn’t go out and hunt the birds and then stuff them. That would be a questionable practice for an Eco-Museum.
2) how do people live in the danube delta?
Glad you asked! As you can probably guess, they need fish to live. Of course they eat the fish, but they also sell the fish and related fish products. (Also how did they get those people in the museum? I certainly hope the Danube Delta Museum isn’t going out there and killing and stuffing defenseless fishermen to put in their museum. That’s a good way to get an angry hook-handed man to chase you until you confess.)
One of the most valuable fish in the Danube Delta is the mighty sturgeon. It’s very profitable because of its delicious caviar. (When they say “black gold” in Eastern Europe, they’re talking caviar, not oil.) Unfortunately the sturgeon has been overfished because of its value. So I urge you to not go sturgeon fishing when you are in the Danube Delta.
Go for this beauty instead!
3) are all the fish in the aquarium local?
Not at all! My favorite fish were these perfectly round Chinese goldfish. Look at how cute and puffy they are! I really wanted to take one home, but then I remembered how much I used to cry as a kid when I’d win a goldfish at a fair and it would die after two weeks. So I don’t think my heart could take having such a cute pet goldfish.
PS. What’s uglier than a catfish? A dead white catfish. Pleasant nightmares!
24 Hours: Danube Delta Tour
Evening: Dinner at Ivan Pescar
Obviously we have not had enough fish on our Danube Delta Tour. That’s why we need to have dinner at Ivan Pescar, which basically means Ivan Fish. You can chomp down on the local seafood while enjoying the views of the Saint George branch of the Danube Delta.
We want to be eco-friendly, so we’ll not be having any of that sturgeon black gold. Instead, let’s enjoy an appetizer of the more sustainable pike roe. It tasted a lot like that Greek spread taramasalata: salty and rich.
24 hour treat: black sea snails
I loved my main course, Black Sea snails with garlic and olive oil on pastas. Ordinarily you’d serve the snails in their shell with garlic and olive oil. But what goes better with pasta than garlic and olive oil? So I say it makes perfect sense to put all those delicious things together. These particular sea snails are actually from Asia originally and they’re a bit invasive in the Black Sea. So you’re actually doing the region a favor by eating them!
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours: Danube Delta Tour
What would you do on a Danube Delta Tour? How much schnapps would it take for you to brave the Swamp Toilet? Pelican or not a Pelican? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours on a Danube Delta tour. If you want to add 24 hours in Sinaia, try this itinerary. If you prefer 24 hours in Brasov, I’ve got you covered here. If you’d like 24 hours in Bucharest, try this itinerary.