50% of the Carpathians lie within Romania. Forming a great arc, which largely encloses Brasov – this city nestled in the foothills of the mountains is one of Romania’s largest. Partly due to rules during the communist era only allowing the President and his inner circle from hunting, the bears wolves and Lynx population is far larger than the countries that surround it. About 6000 bears live within Romania (about 40% of the European population), about 3000 wolves (20-25% of Europe’s population) and 1200-1500 Lynx (which account for 12%- 20% depending on estimates).
Apart from these large populations of predators, the Carpathian mountains are also carpeted with 65% or about 2/3 of the remaining virgin forests of Europe. This alone make this area of wilderness well worth visiting. There is something special about visiting ecosystems that have not been severely impacted by humans, we have become incredibly good at restoring ecosystems, however there is still something different about an ecosystem that has never needed this.
This is not to say, that humans have not touched this landscape. Only recently, European bison were reintroduced to Romania. However it is still very much an area of Europe where it feels like you have stepped back in time. Horse drawn carts are common, indeed there are parts of this region where they make up the majority of vehicles. It is quite normal to see people using scythes in the fields, and hay stacks are as they have been for centuries.
Another thing we enjoyed was the regular stork nests built on top of telephone poles throughout the region.
With such a vast area of wilderness within the boundaries of the country, I cannot highlight the whole area, but will attempt to give you an overview of some of the areas.
More than half of the Carpathians lie within Romania. Much damage and cruelty was done by the communist party – whether there were good intentions as it was set up. One of the few positives of the incredible greed and selfishness of these leaders was wildlife hunting. Tovarasui presidente Nicolae Ceausecu the Communist leader of Romania for 24 years, declared that the only people who were allowed to hunt the big 3 (bears wolves and lynx) was himself and close political allies. As you can imagine, when only 30-50 people are allowed to hunt, less hunting goes on. Nowadays approximately 7000 bears roam Romania (out of a continental population of 17,000), 2,500 wolves (out of a continental population of about 12,000) and around 1,500 lynx (out of a European population of 9000-10,000).
Below is a map of the Romanian Carpathians. They are a huge area, so you will have to zoom in on the section of the map that interests you to see the places available to stay.
Below the map I list some of the best areas regularly listed as giving you the highest chance of spotting these charismatic animals.
Wolves are often one of the animals people are most keen on seeing.
To be perfectly honest, the phobia that humans have about wolves make no sense; sure there are many stories with wolves as the baddy, think red ridding hood among many others. It is also true that across areas where wolves still roam, farmers are in a constant battle of wits with them. However, many of these same farmers share their home with a domesticated wolf the dog. Our positive relationship with wolves goes back far further than the negative one, back to our time as a hunter gatherer. Wolves rarely harm humans, and while you should never approach wolves intentionally they are unlikely to show aggression without reason.
In Romania, there are a number of regions where wolf sightings are relatively common.
Piatra Craiului National Park which lies in the center of Romania, close to its second biggest city, Brasov, is known as a wolf hot spot. In particular the area around Zarnesti gorge, which is found within the park. Another hot spot, in a similar area is Ciuma Peak also in central Romania. Having said that, wolves are widespread throughout Romania, and so anywhere you go, sightings are possible at the right time of day – with both patience and luck.
You also stand a chance of hearing the eerie howl of a wolf echo across the landscape, something that still has the power to send a chill up the spine. In actual fact, the wolf howl is not meant to scare but rather as a way for wolves to communicate when the wolf pack has spread out. Whats more, wolves will use howling as a means to space out packs and avoid having to fight.
Bears are also a huge fascination for humans. Around Europe where bears still roam, bear hides are becoming increasingly common. In the past all bear hides would have been used for hunter to wait for their prey to arrive, thankfully while a small number of bears are still hunted (and there have been attempts to be allowed to kill more) bears are increasingly recognized as a species that it is worth preserving as they are worth far more alive for tourism than dead.
Munții Maramureșului Natural Park, as well as Cheile Bicazului – Hășmaș National Park, Cheile Nerei – Beușnița National Park, and Călimani are some of the best places to see this beautiful animal. However with the need of a sizable territory each, and more than 10,000 within Romania’s borders, you can be sure that most suitable territory will be utilized. In the past, they were found in all habitat within Romania, nowadays though they are mostly restricted to the mountains (within Romania a large area)
Far and away they shyest of the 3, these are seen more rarely. Keeping away from human habitation, your best chance of seeing these fascinating cats is early in the morning or late evening deep in the forests. As there are plenty of areas which fit this description, there are many areas to search for Lynx. The population of Lynx in Romania is higher than anywhere else apart from Russia.
Almost lost in all of Europe in the middle of the 20th century, the bison is making a comeback across much of Europe. Reintroduced into Romania (they disappeared around 1790, far later than the UK where they disappeared in the 12th century). The largest wild living herd in Europe lives within the borders of Romania in the Tarcu Mountains, close to the village of Armenis. There have been a series of re-introductions with 40 recent releases joining the rest. They are spread across 5 different reserves. Bison are hugely important in rewilding projects as they are capable of bulldozing areas, and creating open spaces. There are plans for bison reintroduction in the UK which will hopefully occur in the next few years. the Acris reservation hosts around 34 with other villages in the area having similar sized populations.