Spot bison in Poland's old-growth forests
Krakow and Warsaw are among Poland's top destinations - Old World towns that offer a low-key Polish charm and an incisive view into the nation's tumultuous history over the past century. Outside of the cities, however, the nation offers surprising charms and surreal experiences. Journey to the border of Poland and Belarus and travelers will discover the last deciduous and mixed primeval forest of the European lowlands, as well as hundreds of European bison - the largest surviving herd of its kind.
A rich landscape
The Bialowieza Forest pulls in life from across the reaches of Europe. Situated on the watershed of the Baltic and Black seas, the forest offers a rich display of flora and fauna found in both Eastern and Western parts of the continent, according to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. As for animals, it is a natural crossroads for rare and interesting species. Among the woods, travelers can find boar, lynx, martens, ermines, elk, stags, wild forest horses and, most distinctly, the European bison.
The bison have become a symbol of the park, having been reintroduced in 1929 and expanding to become the largest free-living population, according to the park's official website. While it has been nearly a hundred years since their reinstatement - as well as the area's establishment as a national park - their time in their new home has been relatively short, considering the age of the forest. According to UNESCO, the forest is the only remaining case example of Europe's original forests, dating back to 8,000 B.C. Almost 90 percent of the park is covered with old growth of broadleaved and conifer woods.
There are now approximately 500 bison in Bialowieza, according to the park, and trying to spot them has become a hallmark of a visit. Frommer's even listed bison-watching as one of its favorite experiences in Poland. While travelers are safe to travel through the park, the sight of a bison can as intimidating as it is enchanting. Adult bulls can weigh anywhere from 1,000 pounds to more than 2,000 pounds, and they can also tower over humans at a height above 6 feet.
They resemble other bulls from around the world with characteristically rounded horns, thick necks and muscular front haunches. However, they have also adapted to their climate with thick dark brown hair that helps camouflage them as well as keep them warm. Come winter, travelers may be privy to a snow-dusted bison roaming silently through the pristine forest.