Belovezhskaya Pushcha / Bialowieza Forest
Belovezhskaya Pushcha / Bialowieza Forest is an ancient woodland straddling the border between Belarus and Poland.
This is the only remaining part of the immense forest which once spread across the European Plain. Pine, beech, oak, alder and spruce are found in the forest.
The forest contains a number of large, ancient pedunculate oaks, some of which are individually named. It is also the habitat of several rare mammals, including the European Bison, wolf, lynx and otter. The European Bison or Wisent was reintroduced here in 1929.
Map of Belovezhskaya Pushcha / Bialowieza Forest
- ●● Natural
Nan Germany 05.05.17
For most Poles I know the bisons of Bialowieza are a symbol of their country. The core zone of the park is a fully protected nature reserve housing the last bisons of Europe as well as other rare animals that roam freely between Poland and Belarus.
Seeing that you will probably not run into a bison on your own, the park also has a small zoo with all the key animals on exhibition. The zoo is embedded in the forest and gives you a rather representative image of the wild life.
Due to a lack of preparation and in my opinion rather poor online resources I wasn’t aware of the access restrictions. While the museum and the bison reserve are part of the core zone, I could not venture into the forest itself as you need a guide and we didn’t have a reservation. This was a bit underwhelming. Indeed, I had a hard time taking a nice picture, never a good sign. At the end, I was left wondering if this wouldn’t be better served as a Unesco biodiversity hotspot. Maybe it's better on the Belarus side, though.
Of late the Polish government is reviewing the protections of the park. They would like to extend logging activities. A minister is on record saying that the site should be converted to a cultural site. I am hard pressed to see the cultural value here apart from the large imprint on Polish cultural identity. If the Poles move ahead with their plans, the Polish side of the park may well be a candidate for a future delisting.
There are regular busses running from Bialystok to Bialowieza. If you have a car I would recommend doing the small detour via Narewka along the park border. Supposedly you can also access the park from the Northern side.
At the park museum you can join guided tours into the protected area. In high season (e.g. long weekends), you will need a reservation. Luckily, the area around the museum is part of the core zone. And the bison reserve is, too. How and where trails run seems a bit hard to discern.
You can visit the Belarus side as pedestrian without visa. You need a passport and health insurance that you can obtain in the town plus a filled out form.
While You Are There
The Russian Tsar had a hunting lodge here that you can visit. He even left his historic train at the train station he had built.
The area along the road from Bialystok is dotted with wooden churches akin to inscribed churches of Poland, but more recent in nature and way more colourful. In a way they reminded me of the Chiloe churches. Bialystok itself is a pleasant stop over. And you will cross plenty of swamps along your way.
John booth New Zealand 17.01.14
I visited the Polish side in autumn when few other visitors were around. Enjoyed long hikes in the forest examining flora and fauna. The varity of fungi that I found on rotting trees was amazing. Wandered off the track at one point and found myself on the Belarus border. Not good as I didn't have a visa.
Saw a range of animals in a reserve, including deer, bison, lynx and wolves.
I travelled by bus to Bialowieza from Vilnius, changing buses in Bialystok.
Szucs Tamas Hungary 25.03.11
Belovezhskaya Pushcha was the greatest disappointment ever as a WH site. We have visited Belorussia as a part of a Baltic trip in August 2007, the first stop was Brest, the ideal jump off point to visit the national park. But the problems begun much earlier. Normally every trip begins with scrutinizing all the possible on-line (and some off-line) resources on the designated topic. Obviously the quality and quantity of resources vary. A WH site in Europe can have an elaborate website with all the necessary information , and there are a lot of reviews on different touristic and scientific sites that help the wishful traveler where to go and what to do. Belovezhskaya Pushcha was a black hole. I have found only two types of materials: detailed botanical essays on the flora (absolutely uninteresting for a group of historians), and enthusiastic reviews (mainly in Russian) on the historical importance of the regions. No practical information at all about the opening hours, the visiting opportunities, the prices, what we can see and how can we get there. So we had to lean on our off-line guidebook – a Lonely Planet Russia and Belarus. Unfortunately I was unsuspecting when I read that the writer put the entire country “off the beaten track”, and 80% of the Belarus chapter is about the capital. About BP there ware cca 50 words, and an allegation (false by the way), that can only be visited with a guided tour from Brest. I called the local tourist agency and reserved a tour for us (heavily overpriced).
After the Sovjet type horror of crossing the border (four hours) we have arrived to our hotel in Brest five o clock in the morning. After napping a short while we met our guide – a nice elderly lady. Considering that Belarus is the last dictatorship of Europe she was surprisingly opened. On the way to the park she entertained us with colorful stories on the survival skills of the Belorussian (what and how to smuggle from Poland), and harshly criticized the government.
After a half an hour we arrived to the entrance of the park. The secret unveiled – the car park was full of local Zhigulis, and families visiting the park (or whatever seemingly without any kind of guidance. The entrance fee was nominal – a cannot recall the exact amount. Anyway we were keen to go ahead. In our minds there was picture evoked by the enthousiastic reviews: the last untamed wilderness of central Europe, were bison bask on the glades among centennial oak trees, and the troat of wild deer mingling with the deep roar of the wild boar.
What we got instead? A dodgy Sovjet era museum, with grey and brown displays of the local flora and fauna, and a gloomy zoo. Behind the bars there were the animal we wished to spot: deer, wild boar, bison. With a heroic effort we pushed our camera in to make some photos, to catch the animal as if it were in its natural habitat. We hoped that the highlight is yet to come - but what came was not the highlight but the climax of the horror.
We were put on a bus and taken to a kitschy wooden hamlet, that was said to be the “hide-out of the Belorussian Santa” (Ded Moroz – Uncle Freeze). Between the food stalls and a children’s playground there was an over-ornamented house and porch stood a tall guy in false beard and folk costume. Had a small talk with the children and distributed some candies before the obligatory photo with Santa. Our guide politely asked whether we wanted a photo, we politely refused it. Then we asked whether we can see any wild animal here? – “Erm erm. Not for the time being. There is a fence, where they are fed in the winter, so they come there regularly, but in the summer they are in the woods. Can we go there? No. Can we see any of the historical points? Oh yes, from the bus back to the entrance. Will we stop there? O course not. Can we go there by car? Not behind the entrance. “
So we turned back to Brest to see the fort.
So, unless you are a real enthusiast, and want to collect a point for the WH site, do not go there. Or try the Polish side of the park, it may be much more rewarding.
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Full name: Belovezhskaya Pushcha / Bialowieza Forest
Unesco ID: 33
- 2014 - Extended reduction of over 5000 hectares on the Belarus side and a vast extension of the Polish section
- 1992 - Inscribed
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