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After Dracula’s Castle, bears were one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to visit Romania. Even though I do find them kind of terrifying, I also find them extraordinarily cute – so I was pretty keen to see them in person. Luckily I was able to during a day trip to the LiBEARty Bear Sanctuary in Zărnești, Romania.
As with any animal attraction, my first question is always: is it ethical? I know from experience that many places that self-label themselves as ‘sanctuaries’ or ‘ethical travel’ are actually some of the worst offenders. After a lot of research though, I felt comfortable visiting the Libearty Bear Sanctuary. In fact, National Geographic recently listed Libearty Bear Sanctuary as one of the four most ethical animal attractions in the world.
So, I was super excited to visit some bears and find out whether I was in the “bears are cute” or “bears are terrifying” category. Here’s some more information about my trip to the Libearty Bear Sanctuary from Brasov.
Is the Libearty Bear Sanctuary an Ethical Place to Visit?
I’ve already mentioned that one of my main concerns about visiting Zărnești was whether the Libearty Bear Sanctuary was actually an ethical attraction to visit.
I know there are some people who think that you should never visit any animal attraction, period. While I can understand this view to a point, I do think that the most realistic approach is to wholeheartedly support ethical attractions and boycott the bad ones. I think this is a more realistic approach than calling for a total boycott, as I don’t believe many organisations would be able to do their great work without donations – and a large percentage of those donations do come from tourists who visit.
Therefore, when it is possible for tourist visits to be consistent with the well-being of the animals, I think that’s okay. I say “where consistent with the well-being” for a reason – in the case that these two aren’t able to co-exist, then I agree that tourism just shouldn’t happen.
What makes the Libearty Bear Sanctuary an ethical attraction?
In the case of the Libearty Bear Sanctuary, there are several factors which I think show that tourist visits are not harmful. This includes:
- Visitors attend at pre-defined times, so there is not a constant stream of people making their way through the bears’ surroundings.
- Visitors are accompanied at all times, to make sure they don’t feed or bother the bears.
- Visitors stick to a pre-defined path, which is quite far from the fenced area where the bears are. The bears have plenty of room and do not need to come within view of the tourists if they don’t want to.
- The sanctuary is huge – over 75 hectares, and mirrors the bears natural habitat. There are some smaller areas for vulnerable (e.g. sick, or hyper aggressive) bears, but on the whole, they have plenty of room to roam.
- Visitors are given a very educational experience, which they hopefully then take on and avoid visiting non-ethical attractions in the future.
Therefore, I felt comfortable attending and promoting the LiBEARty Sanctuary. That said, if you are someone who prefers not to visit animal attractions, or finds hearing sad stories about animals particularly distressing, you may prefer not to visit.
Getting to the Libearty Bear Sanctuary from Brasov
Zărnești is located about 35 kilometres away from Brasov, so visiting the bear sanctuary from Brasov is one of the most popular day trips in the area.
Can you get to the Libearty Bear Sanctuary from Brasov by public transport?
It is not possible to get to the gate of the bear sanctuary in Zărnești from Brasov. However, you can get to the town of Zărnești from Brasov. From there, you should be able to get a taxi or Uber to take you to the bear sanctuary – especially in high season when it’s a pretty well-trodden path. This can be a good option if you are trying to save on costs, especially if there is a group of you.
There is a minibus that runs between Brasov and Zărnești about every hour at least (more in the early mornings and late afternoons). You can check the timetable for the Brasov to Zărnești minibus online, and buy your tickets from the driver. The journey takes about an hour and costs only the equivalent of a few euro.
The minibus also stops in Rasnov, so you can easily combine a trip with a visit to the Rasnov Fortress, or even go on to Bran Castle.
Once you arrive in Zărnești, you’ll need to call a taxi company or use a rideshare app (like Uber) to get to the bear sanctuary. As mentioned elsewhere in this guide, make sure you arrive in time for one of the scheduled tours! Although I found Romanian public transport to be efficient and mostly on time, I’d still be sure to leave extra time in case there is a delay.
Visiting Libearty Bear Sanctuary on a Tour from Brasov
A very popular tour combines a visit to Bran Castle and Rasnov Fortress with a visit to the Libearty Bear Sanctuary – in fact, that’s what I did! I organised a tour through Kismet Dao Hostel, which cost 120 lei (about 25 euro).
Aside from finding a tour through your hostel or accommodation, there are also plenty of great options on websites such as Viator and GetYourGuide. There are also some Romanian companies, such as Romanian Friend, that also offer tours.
Taking a Taxi/Uber to the Libearty Bear Sanctuary from Brasov
Another easy way to get from Brasov to the Libearty Bear Sanctuary is to take a taxi. Taxis are pretty cheap in Romania, especially if you split them with a few people.
You can expect it to cost about 100 lei by Uber or a taxi to get to the Bear Sanctuary from Brasov. However, you can check with your accommodation for the most up to date prices. As always in Romania, make sure that if you take a taxi, you settle on the price beforehand.
You may want to ask the taxi driver to wait for you, as there may be a bit of a wait to get a taxi or Uber back after your tour concludes.
What to Expect at the
Libearty Bear Sanctuary
There’s a few things you should know about visiting the Libearty Bear Sanctuary in Romania.
Entry fee for the Libearty Bear Sanctuary
The entry fee for entry and a tour of the bear sanctuary varies depending on the season and which tour. To get the most up to date prices, you should have a look on the sanctuary’s website.
At its most expensive, a tour of the sanctuary is 65 lei per person.
However, when I went during the winter, it is 50 lei during the week (Tuesday to Friday) and 55 lei on the weekends. Students and children pay 30/35 lei respectively – although the student price is only available to students under 25 (hey, some of us take our sweet time
Extra photography costs
If I have one gripe about the Libearty Bear Sanctuary, it’s the vaguely extortionate price to use a “proper” camera (50 lei, so the cost of entry again, basically). This includes an SLR or a point and shoot.
Taking photos with your phone is free, however. This is what I opted to do, but be careful if you go in winter. The cold really does a number on your phone battery (seriously) and I found my phone went totally flat about
I personally think that is a bit steep, and that the fee should only be for commercial use. However, at least the money goes to the bears!
Personally I would not recommend paying the photography fee unless you have a really good reason. The bears are behind fences, and it’s pretty difficult to get good shots anyway. Personally I felt 50 lei was too much to get one or two slightly-better-than-an-iphone shots, but you do you!
Tour times at the Libearty Bear Sanctuary
This is very important! For the welfare of the animals, tours are at set times only. If you just arrive at the sanctuary expecting to be allowed in, then you will be turned away and miss out on meeting some pretty awesome bears. So make sure you check the website and arrive on time.
The last tour is at 11am in winter and 12.15pm in summer, so you’ll need to go in the morning. This is also when the bears are eating, so you can expect to see them nibbling away.
Age limit at the Libearty Bear Sanctuary
When I was reading the Tripadvisor reviews for the Libearty Bear Sanctuary, I noticed that the main gripe people have is children under 5 years old cannot visit the Sanctuary, for their own safety.
Honestly, I don’t know that much about kids, but I would have hoped between a child and their parent we could keep them from running into a bear cage. But, then again, Youtube has taught us that some parents are pretty daft. So maybe this is a good thing.
Whatever you think, just be aware of it.
Funnily enough, dogs, however, are allowed although I’m not sure I’d encourage you to bring them. I’m not sure how my dog would react to visiting a bear sanctuary (she’d probably be scared out of her wits), but it definitely wouldn’t be good.
Hoo boy, that was a lot of information to get through before we get to the best part – the bears!
I have to say, the tour of Libearty Bear Sanctuary was absolutely fantastic, largely thanks to the brilliant staff. It is so clear how much everyone at the Sanctuary truly cares about the bears. The tour began with a story about the first bear in the Sanctuary, who sadly could not be saved. The true emotion in our tour guide’s voice as she described this was very moving.
In fact, all of the tour was a very moving experience. It’s not just a wander around looking at cute bears, you hear about the story of all of them that you see.
Frankly, if you have any doubts about how all around shithouse people can be, a visit to the Libearty Bear Sanctuary will convince you. It is so maddening to hear about the horrible conditions that many bears are kept in to this day, in Romania and around the world. One story of a bear cub who was deliberately blinded by his evil owner was particularly horrific.
That said, you do always have the good news story which was that these beautiful bears have been rescued. Now, they have the chance to live out their lives in a pretty awesome place, far from the cold and grim cages.
What really gets me is how anyone could actually enjoy looking at a sad and miserable bear stuck in a cage or riding a bike in a circus. Surely watching a happy bear in a tree, or munching away at some berries, is a million times better? I don’t know, it just seems to me that there are no downsides to seeing a happy bear in a sanctuary or in the wild.
Overall, I’d certainly recommend a visit to the Libearty Bear Sanctuary from Brasov. It’s a wonderful place that provides a very happy and safe environment for bears, and the staff’s enthusiasm is catching.
And finally, I am definitely on “team cute” after this visit. I mean, I’d still definitely rather never come face to face with a bear in an unexpected place, but from afar, man they are cute!