A network of navigable canals has earned Vylkovo the nickname 'the Venice of Ukraine'. Frankly, the comparison is preposterous. This sleepy fishing village feels light years removed from Venice – or any other form of civilisation. And while the canals – along which many villagers live – are interesting, you won't spend much time on them unless you take a special tour. But Vylkovo does have one thing going for it that Venice lacks: the heavenly Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve.
The lion's share of the marshy, bird-laden Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve, Europe's largest wetland, lies in Romania. Few tourists enter from the Ukrainian side, but those who do are rewarded with extremely affordable half- to full-day boat tours through the delta's unique waterways. You can visit the Danube's terminus (dubbed the '0km mark') or take a bird-watching tour. Guides can drop you off on small islands populated by thousands of terns and their just-hatched chicks. On other islands flocks of cormorants and white pelicans roost (the reserve is home to 70% of the world's white pelicans).
In the centre of Vylkovo you'll find the Biosphere Reserve office, with an on-site museum and informational videos (in German and Russian). The staff speak some English and can set you up with a local tour operator to take you into the reserve by boat.
Vylkovo's canals, built by the town's original Lipovan settlers, are the other main attraction. The villagers who live along the canals still use traditional, narrow fishing boats known as chaika (seagull) to fish and get around. Locals say there are 3000 such boats in Vylkovo, compared with only 600 cars. While touring the canals, drop by a local's house and purchase a bottle of the local wine, known as novak.
Booking tours in advance is a good idea, particularly on weekends. There are two local tour operators, but only Pelikan Tour has a proven record of catering to foreign tourists. Half-day tours cost 150uah to 200uah per person depending on the number of people in the boat. English-speaking guides cost around 100uah per hour (much more per hour for a professional ornithologist who speaks English). A half day should be enough time to visit both the reserve and the canals. A one-hour canal tour costs about 65uah.
Odesa travel agencies offer Vylkovo as a day trip, but they can charge anything up to 1200uah for transport, a boat trip and lunch. Joining a group can bring the cost down to around 300uah, but it is far more rewarding to spend a night in Vylkovo and use the extra time to absorb some local flavour. In Odesa, we recommend Salix travel agency. In Vylkovo, you'll find people touting tours by the bus and river stations.