Bears and bear watching is a unique wildlife experience that Romania has to offer. The Carpathian Mountains are home to 60% of Europe’s brown bear population, estimated at around 4,500-5,000 bears. This makes Transylvania a great choice for nature enthusiasts and wildlife photographers.

Bears in Transylvania

The Carpathian Mountains, spanning central Romania, used to be an ideal home for bears. However, increasing human encroachment has led to more frequent bear sightings in urban areas. Bears often venture into cities in search of food, attracted by garbage and other food sources. This has generated media attention and raised concerns about human-bear interactions. Despite this, bears still thrive in the wild, and there are several ways to watch and learn about them.

The Best Time for Bear Watching

The prime time for bears and bear watching in Romania is from late spring to early autumn, specifically between April and September. During this period, bears are most active and visible, especially at dawn and dusk when they search for food. Early spring is also good for observing bears as they emerge from hibernation, hungry and eager to explore their surroundings.

Bear Sanctuary Zarnesti

Where and how to observe bears?

Below is a list of places where bears can be observed in their natural habitat. This is not a typical zoo experience where bears are kept in enclosures or forced to perform for human entertainment. By visiting bear observatories and sanctuaries, you contribute to the maintenance of these sites, ensuring the bears have safety and food.

We also offer visits to these site as part of our guided tours of Transylvania or hiking tour of Romania.

Bear watching with a Forest Ranger

The best and riskiest way to see bears in their natural habitat is with an experienced forest ranger. They offer safety advice and know the right off-the-beaten-track places. However, chances of encountering bears are still low, and such trips can be expensive.

Bear Observatory near Brasov

This observatory was built for the bears’ sake, not tourism. Food is brought to the bears every afternoon, and they have become accustomed to this routine. This was necessary as food in the forest became scarce, causing bears to venture into Brasov, posing a threat to both people and bears.

Bear Observatory in Baile Tusnad and Saint Ana Lake

Built by photographer Bence Mate, these observatories are suitable for both tourists and photographers. They offer heating, electricity, and toilets, and can accommodate up to 45 people. They are also well-located for visits to Saint Ana Lake and Tinovului Mohos.

Liberty Bear Sanctuary Zarnesti

Established in memory of Maya, a bear that died in captivity, the sanctuary is now home to 100 rescued brown bears. Renowned as one of the most ethical sanctuaries globally, it spans 69 hectares of coniferous forests near Brasov. Visitors can adopt a bear and companies can donate larger amounts.

Bear Observatory in Gheorgheni

Located 17 km from Gheorgheni, this observatory offers transportation to the site and has a platform for viewing from above. Besides bears, visitors can observe wild boars and foxes. Children must be over 4 years old. This is a good stop if you are visiting the Red Lake and Bicaz Gorge.

What to Expect on a Bear Watching Tour

Bear watching tours in Romania are typically guided by experienced local rangers. Tours usually start with a hike through the forest to a designated observation hide, strategically located near feeding areas. While waiting in the hide, visitors can also observe other wildlife such as deer, wild boar, and various bird species. Patience is key, as bear sightings, while probable, are not guaranteed.

Zarnesti - Libearty Bear Sanctuary

Safety and Ethical Considerations

Safety is paramount when observing wild bears. Follow your tour operator’s guidance and never attempt to approach or feed the bears. Respect the bears’ natural behavior and habitat to ensure their safety and the sustainability of bear watching activities. Choose a responsible tour operator who prioritizes animal welfare and follows ethical guidelines to minimize impact on the bears and their environment. This experience may not be suitable for small children, as patience and silence are important. Check with each observatory for age requirements.

Encountering Bears While Hiking

Hiking in Romania is generally safe, but encountering a bear is possible. Bears typically avoid marked tourist paths. Always stay on marked paths and take away all food scraps. Do not hike alone. Make noise, talk, clap, and carry whistles. Loud noises will usually make bears run away. If you encounter a bear, do not make sudden movements or look it in the eyes. Slowly walk back and seek safety.

Bears in Winter

While bears used to hibernate during winter, this is no longer always the case. They are less active but still present. Caution is advised when hiking in winter.

Winter in Romania - Brown bears

Caution while encountering bears and bear watching

Bears can also be seen while driving on Romania’s mountains Roads. Transfagarasan and Transalpina are the two famous ones that come to mind. There have been news reports about bears or other animals crossing the road. If this happens during your trip do not attempt to get out of the car for selfies with the bear. This is very dangerous for both you and the bear. In case of an attack, authorities may take action to ensure public safety, which can be harmful to the bear. It is therefore important to keep on driving, not feeding the bear and if necessary call 112.

Hunting in Romania

Bear hunting is a controversial topic. Used as a population control measure, it has faced criticism for ethical reasons and potential negative effects on bear populations. The practice is seen by many as inhumane and counterproductive to conservation efforts, highlighting the need for sustainable wildlife management.

Conclusion

Bear watching in Romania offers a unique opportunity to observe European brown bears in their natural habitat. With its diverse wildlife and scenic landscapes, Romania provides a memorable experience for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts. Whether you choose a guided tour, visit an observatory, or explore the Liberty Bear Sanctuary, bear watching in Romania is an adventure that combines education with the beauty of the Carpathian Mountains.

For more information about wildlife in Romania you can read our other article Wildlife in Romania: 4 experiences that your inner adventurer will love.