Traveling in Albania

Ksamil

I’ve spoken with people that have voiced an interest in visiting Albania. I really do suggest it. I may complain heavily about this country, but at the right time of the year and for a short spurt, this would be an amazing adventure. Understandably, people are different types of travelers with different budgets and to accommodate this I’m going to give some suggestions and scenarios. Hopefully this can be a useful guide for making any plans for your travels in Albania.

Furgon

 

First thing you must decide is how you wish to travel. If you’re young and spry (or at least you are at heart) then you can travel through public transportation easily. The maze of public transportation becomes more understandable with some assistance. And if you’re really really ambitious, hitch hiking is fairly easy and quite fun sometimes. Never do it alone, especially women. I have had occurrences of inappropriate propositions.

But for public transportation, often other volunteers communicate amongst themselves to verify prices, locations of pickups, methods of getting connections from here to there, even connections to a reliable furgon or bus driver. If you desire, we have a Google document where we share the times of public transportation and pick-up points, this is by far the best compilation of all this information. Linking up with other volunteers can also be done through couchsurfing.org, there are many of us on there and if you hop between the homes we can help you connect with other volunteers that can show you around their sites and be your personal tour guide (Note, obviously not all volunteers want to do this and sometimes I don’t even.)

Sometimes you have to stop for a herd of sheep.

The positives of public transportation are that it’s extremely cheap. A round trip from my site to Tirana is 1300 lek = $13. It’s about 300 km = 185 miles, half the length of the country. So it’s extremely affordable, and also gives you a more authentic sense of Albania.

The negatives are that it’s not always easy, as I said before unless you are in the know it can be difficult. However, that’s only sometimes. Sometimes you can easily get from here to there by playing the “I speak English and please help me get there” and a nice bus driver assistant will sit down you in a chair and let you know when to get off and where to stand to get another form of transportation and talk to the next driver about your need to get wherever you’re headed next. I find this especially true in the summer time.
Also, the road is rough and it is completely common for people to get sick on the bus. I usually try to sit by myself and avoid getting near the person eating something. I get an upset stomach sometimes but have not gotten sick yet, but very often someone will be getting sick on your bus. During certain times of the year there are also obnoxious amounts of people that will be crammed into the bus or furgon, and I mean far more people then there are seat belts (Not that anyone uses seat belts ever, anyway. Albanians seem to feel uneasy if you’re using them.). Generally, obvious tourists are spared the need to stand during the ride or sitting on a plastic stool in the aisle, but it happens.
Tirana

 

There are usually breaks on long trips. We (PCVs) call these pilaf stops, it’s a preordained location where everyone gets off and goes in for a bit to eat, coffee, and/or use the restroom (which are usually squat toilets in the South). Sometimes these are natural water source locations and people will refill bottles. For travelers I would say do so at your own risk of giardia.  The menu is pretty much the same everywhere you go (and this isn’t just pilaf stops, this is almost every mom and pop restaurant in the country); your options will be pilaf, a dish of kos (which is yogurt but often sour), tasqepab (meat in a greasy red colored meat broth), and sometimes salat or other soups.
Taking a combination of publication and private transportation is possible. I’ve known of people willing to pay 100 euro (~ $125) to get themselves halfway across the country with a taxi driver. Renting a car is possible as well, Hertz is available from the airport. But it’s quite expensive, I’ve heard $260 for 3 days from one friend. Possibly getting a car rented in Greece or Macedonia and bringing it here would be cheaper.

Gjirokaster Art Fair

Take note, driving requires keeping a certain attitude as well. The roads are well.. complete shit in certain places, especially in the South (see political disparities between the North and South of Albania supposedly in relation to the current prime minister [What is said in this blog is not an official statement of the US government or US Peace Corps]). Where there is little to no road, people will often make their own way and drive on whatever side is most traverse-able. Prepare yourself for crazily being passed, rough terrain, narrow passing on bridges, minimal to no police control, and any other kind of madness you could fathom. However, construction has been ongoing around the election periods, resulting in some improvements. In my experience, the last remaining awful road is from the main road to Berat.

 

Please don’t run off yet, I know that’s all a bit daunting but it’s negotiable. Albania isn’t a walk in the park. You will be visiting a developing country, it is expected that things aren’t perfect. The reason it is visited is because it is a challenge. You are making the conscious decision to say, hey hardly-known-about-section-of-the-world, I’m gonna come check you out. Mire? (Good- the most used word in Shqip, remember that. Pronounced meer.) I sincerely hope that you will not listen too much to some of these things that are said about Albania online through other travel blogs, in my opinion, these people weren’t keeping this in mind.
Roadside attractions

Ok, second decision is what are you most interested in experiencing. Are you looking for a vacation for the history, beach, culture, hiking and camping? Of course a combination is easy to do, and certain times of the year you should really do one or the other.

If you come in Winter, December-March you will be cold. Central heating systems do not exist and in post -communist all concrete structures, the buildings get cold and stay cold. It is February 18th, the weather is sunny outside but I can see my breath in my bedroom when the heat isn’t on. But, you can experience the culture and even some more hardcore traveling. Skiing opportunities are available in parts of the country for amazingly low prices with everything you need including the skiing outfits. Visiting these rustic villages and spending time around the fire with the grandma’s and their knitting is possible and if desired I can elaborate on this further. My area of the country is the warmest being that I’m on the sea and it’s the most southern location in the country but this year we were actually in a state of emergency in regards to the heavy snow fall that has been hitting all of Europe causing days of blocked roads and power outages.Spring, March-May, is nice, it’s warmer but quite rainy. But getting around and doing more hiking and camping opportunities would be great at this time. It’s not too hot where you feel uncomfortable doing physical exercise. It can be a relaxing more laid back trip. Early summer is what I’m really getting at.

Mid-May to even mid-July is when I really suggest visiting Albania. The weather is beautiful, even at its hottest there are beaches available and they won’t be completely taken over by tourists yet. Public transportation is getting back up to summer frequency; you can sit outside and really enjoy yourself.

Voskopoja

Late summer is still nice but it’s hitting the hottest points. If you travel during this time it’d be great to see the colder areas of the country as they will be more beautiful and more comfortable than in other months. The beaches will be packed, and I mean to the point where one cannot find an open chair on every single beach (happened to me last year). This is because most of the country is on pushim (vacation) in August as school is not in session and people take off work to go to the beach. In can be just downright unbearable to tell you the truth. In late July I was in Tirana and it was so hot it was insufferable to the point of being unable to move about. We just stayed at one air conditioned lokal and waited for night to go on to another location.

Fall is also nice, it’s hot but cooling off. In some parts the leaves will change and it’s quite beautiful. The beaches do go to feral though and by October they are back to their normal state of being too rocky to go out in.

So keeping this all in mind, I’m going to present a few scenarios for consideration. I’m going to take the liberty that everyone wants to come see me of course and Ksamil will be in each of these options. I’m also very bias because I’m located in the South and don’t have as extensive knowledge of the options in the North.
Idea 1- Mad dash- For those that find all of these ideas daunting and want to take a mad dash into the country for a short while to see me and then get out, here’s an idea.
Fly to Athens, Fly or ferry to Corfu, ferry to Sarandë, travel to Ksamil by bus or taxi, Ksamil activities and Butrint, visit Syri i Kaltër (Blue Eye), go over to Gjirokastër by taxi, return to Sarandë ferry to Corfu, fly away
Idea 2- Southern beach tour-
Corfu- Sarandë– Ksamil- Dhërmi- Vlorë /DurrësTirana
Idea 3- All inclusive South tour
Tirana- Dhermi- Sarandë – Ksamil- Gjirokaster- Permët/Leskovik/Ersekë Korça/Voskopoja/PogradecElbasan/Librazhd– Tirana
Idea 4- All inclusive Albania tour
Tirana- Dhërmi- Sarandë– Ksamil- Gjirokastër- Permët/Leskovik/ -Korça/Voskopoja- Elbasan/Librazhd/ Pogradec – Tirana- ShkodërTheth National ParkBajram CurriKosovoSo this is a lot of information already, I can layout suggested the itineraries for each of these options but will wait to hear from people about their specific interest. I have a lot of time on my hands, it’s really no problem. 🙂

Some things to pack for traveling:
– Hand sanitizer
– Tissues
– iPod
– book/magazine
– good shoes
– a backpack if you’re not renting, rolling bags when using public transportation suck
– light tent if camping
– swimsuit
– Xanex- If you’d rather sleep through the bus rides.

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