By Konstantin Gridnevskiy

Located on the Curonian Spit, Kuršių Nerija National Park is truly a very special place in Lithuania. Packed with tourists in summer and almost abandoned in winter, this narrow strip of sand offers a lot of opportunities to be in the nature, especially if you try to avoid the most touristic spots, such as the villages of Nida or Juodkrante.

Hiking in the Lithuanian Sahara – Parnidis Landscape Reserve

Even though there are just a few officially designated tracks, there are numerous paths along the coast, though the dunes, and in the forest which are great for walking and cycling. But please remember that the excitement of visiting this easily reachable destination comes from the stunning landscape, rather than from bloodcurdling altitudes or encountering dangerous wild animals.

In 2000, the area was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List because of its unique ecosystem of the coastal “moving dunes”.

The impressive landscape is constantly changing as the strong winds move sand in all directions creating new formations. This ever-changing landscape dates back to the XVI century when the process of cutting trees started. When the trees were removed, the bare sand hills became sensitive to the wind (and as we have experienced it can be a very windy place indeed), so, now, some dunes move up to 20 meters each year.

Hiking in the Lithuanian Sahara – Parnidis Landscape Reserve

In general, it is allowed to walk along the existing paths, which is why we could enjoy the freedom of making pictures wherever we saw something interesting. However the human activity on the dunes can be very harmful for the environment. Thus one of the information boards we saw indicated that each person climbing Parnidis dune (which is the highest in the National Park) can cause subsidence of several tons of sand. That is why the dunes become lower every couple of years.

Hiking in the Lithuanian Sahara – Parnidis Landscape Reserve

The south-most part of the National Park is a strictly protected area, which could be either because of its nature or, perhaps, because of the proximity to the border, which divides the Curonian Spit into the Lithuanian and the Russian parts.

It is also worth mentioning that it is also not advisable to walk on the dunes during intensive rain. At some parts, sand layers saturated with the water might collapse under the weight of a man, becoming similar to quicksand.

Even though a lot of the flora is represented by regular grass, most plants are under strict protection in the dune ecosystem as their roots are vital for stabilizing the volatile environment.

Hiking in the Lithuanian Sahara – Parnidis Landscape Reserve

That is why something that in our gardens might look like a nothing-special, common weed is almost a treasure here. Especially as these plants are growing in rather difficult conditions – in summer the sand of the dunes might for a short while become 50°C.

Alongside regular grass, it is possible to find some more interesting herbs, such as Helichrysum Italicum, which is sometimes called the curry plant.

It can be used to speed up the healing of wounds, scratches and any other bruises and the extract from the flowers enhances the secretion of digestive juices.

So discovering it there made us think that maybe we should start collecting the materials and ideas for writing a book called “Herbal Teas for Hikers”.

To do that, of course, we would first need to test all those teas, which is why we might have a position of a guinea pig. Any volunteers?pari

As it was really windy, we were happy that we had our rain sleeves with us, as it made it possible for us to enjoy taking pictures. This rain sleeve was great protection for the camera and the lens against the ever-present sand, which was blown by the wind in all directions. It is fine and even necessary (it comes with the sense of being there) to have it in your shoes, pockets or your backpack. But the camera and the lenses are extremely sensitive.

The warmth of the water in the Baltic Sea is a very subjective matter: if the water is below 16°C, I prefer to enjoy the sea just by looking at it; there were a few daredevils, however, who went for a swim.

A few thousand years old spits may one day disappear, as the land is not very broad and the Baltic Sea is constantly encroaching on it. So perhaps, if you want to enjoy the sea and the sand of the Lithuanian Sahara, you should hurry with your vacation there. For more information about the park, you can check here.

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