Some basic information for these ones who do not know it yet:
Albania is a country located in Southeastern Europe and more precisely in the Balkans, between Montenegro, Kosovo (Serbia), Greece and Adriatic.
Official language: Albanian.
Area: 28,748 km2 (for comparison – the area of Poland: 322 575 km²).
Population: 3,2 mln.
Flag: red flag with a silhouetted black double-headed eagle in the center.
For many years Albania was isolated from the rest of the word. This is why many people associate Albania with some wild country where the tourists simply must be in danger. The truth is, and I also truly believe it, that Albania is a safer country than Poland. Indeed, when you are walking ‘on the other side of the tracks’ crossing some suspicious districts at night you might be, in fact, running some risk but the same could be actually said about Poland or any other country. I was travelling with my wife and two children (including one two-years old boy) and we didn’t have any unpleasant adventures, on the contrary – on every step we met with a cordial reception. I also heard opinions that there was a mafia ruling in Albania. This mafia shall be interested in making the tourists feel safe and be, furthermore, able to ensure safety. There might be something about it; there is, namely, no doubt that a mafia as a private organization would be able to ensure safety more efficiently than any police could, not to mention the Polish one.
Yes, I do know people who traveled through Albania by hitch-hiking and are still alive. This is not more dangerous than travelling by hitch-hiking in Poland. The drivers are even more willing to stop than in Poland. The other thing is, however, that they almost always want to be symbolically paid for the lift offered and one has to take it into account. Every country has its own customs.
The Albania railway system is poorly developed. Still, it is possible to reach some major cities by train. The unquestionable disadvantage of this way of travelling is the travel comfort itself that might, in fact, leave some deal to be desired. (the rolling stock is in a poor condition). Besides, if you are in a hurry I must warn you that Albanian trains do not develop a speed exceeding 50 kilometers per hour. Everyone who does not expect comfort or speed might treat a train ride in Albania in a way I did – as a unique tourist attraction.
There are people who want to travel thorough Albania by car or motorcycle and ask themselves the burdensome question: ‘What are the roads like?’. The answer is: the roads are different. The main routes are in a good condition and often have a new, smooth asphalt pavement. A risky thing is, however, to cross local roads marked with yellow colour (unless we have an off-road car).
To give an example: the road leading from the Macedonia border to Peshkopi has an asphalt pavement and driving on it is neither difficult nor risky. Further, in direction Kukes, there is, however, only a stony road and each next part of it is becoming even worse. The road is getting narrower and narrower reaching finally only two meters in width; it goes along very steep uphill runs and steep descents downwards with numerous turns. Besides, the road is made by pretty large stones, so if we travel by a motorcycle, the tires continuously get stuck (2011)1. The consequence of such a ride might be tipping over the motorcycle which makes, in consequence, the vehicle difficult to be elevated since the legs of the driver also get stuck between the stones. Anyway, as it is the case with many roads in Albania, also this road has been under construction, so it is quite possible that it will soon turn into a beautiful scenic route being worthy of recommendation.
Roads have been constructed in Albania not longer than for a few years. During the reign of Enver Hoxha it was forbidden to have a private car; consequently there was no need for development of road networks. Albanian citizens had no driver’s license since having it was simply pointless. As a result, reckless driving is typical of Albanian drivers; so in the first few days we really had to be strongly focused behind the wheels. The main roads marked with the letters – SH are in the majority made of asphalt; however many routes have been repaired and the condition of the pavement depends on the renovation phase. The fact is that many roads have been constructed and the work has been performing efficiently. Anyway, since the number of roads is limited, there are no detours. We had definitely the worst driving comfort on such roads where the repair had still not been started. There were terrible holes in what was a remainder of a road. It was a little better on such roads where the asphalt pavement had been torn out or on gravel roads since the pavement was smooth and the driving comfort was quite good even though there always hazes of dust (2011).
The Albanian drivers are afraid of the traffic police and highway patrols because the police often stop cars for speeding and they give the drivers a ticket. The police patrol is actually to be seen in every shadowed place along a road, and you can be sure to see them under each viaduct or footbridge. We were doing our best to drive according to regulations but that didn’t protect us from being stopped and controlled for a few times. After all, due to communication problems (they speak only Albanian language) the interventions always had a happy ending; we went our own way in a friendly atmosphere.
Certainly there are ATM’s in Albania; some Polish banks offer commission-free ATM abroad banking for clients with the ROR account. In such a situation it is a better option to take advantage of the local ATM-s instead of exchanging the currency – the Euro and selling it for the Albanian lek. For this reason I used to take cash only just in case and only a sum being indispensible to get by for a couple of days. This is a proven and practical method. I made use of the Visa-card and had no problems with it. However, not all the ATM’s accept the Maestro-card (2012)1.
Undoubtedly it is a good thing to know the language of a country we want to visit; a very good idea is to learn just a few basic phrases and expressions. Sometimes it is enough to say just one word, for instance faleminderit (thank you) to make oneself liked by a person met. This does not mean that knowing Albanian is a necessity. I learned some ‘emergency phrases’, but I usually helped myself in different situations using my English. Young people learn this language ‘in mass’. Every time I needed to get some information I asked about it people in the street and always at least one for three persons was able to help me. There are a lot of Italian people resting at the seaside, so you can easily communicate also in this language. It often happened that a person not knowing English asked me if I spoke German. Apparently this language is also popular in Albania. Speaking one of the mentioned languages we shouldn’t have any difficulties in communicating in everyday situations.
According to official statistics Muslims constitute 65% of the Albanian population, Catholics – 10%, 20% are the remaining Christians. In some regions of Albania the Muslims dominate, in other ones, for instance in these ones situated close to the border with Greece – the Christians. In general, in no place we visited did I have the impression that the Muslims constituted the majority… To be honest, sometimes they were actually hardly to be seen. In 1967 Enver Hoxha decided to close almost all temples and intensified by this measure the religious persecution which was another step taken in order to create the first Communist society in the world. This might be the reason why there are more Muslims 'on paper' than in reality.
Another thing is that Muslims are absolutely not as bad as they are presented in media. They are ordinary, very friendly people. Nothing bad has ever happened to me because of them. Besides, according to the Quran it is prohibited to drink any kind of alcohol, so you won’t see any tipsy, sometimes aggressive and sometimes waddling people in the streets which regrettably cannot be said about Poland. We often tend to look down on other nations without being able to see our imperfections. Resuming, we shouldn’t be more afraid of the Muslims than of the Christians or more afraid of the Albanian people than of the Poles.
The Albanian people are really very open-minded and upfront and like entering into a conversation. Their willingness to help you and their hospitality made a huge impression on me. People regularly visiting Albania often complain that this national character feature has been slowly disappearing. I am not able to make any reference to the previous years, and so I am also not able to make any prognosis. Still, I must strongly emphasize that in none country did I feel as welcomed as in Albania Anno Domini 2009. I shall hope that nothing is going to change in this respect.
Certainly yes. There are shops, shopping centers and pharmacies also in Albania. Sometimes you can see other brands in shops as compared to Poland but in general all kinds of goods are available. Still, it is advisable to previously supply oneself with some things – just in case. See the passage below.
It is always recommended to take the basic medicines (pain killers, antypyretics, medicines in case of poisoning etc.). You can buy all this in local pharmacies but some medicines might differ from these ones being available in Poland; this might be medications that we don’t know; so why run the risk of misunderstandings? Also, we can have difficulties in communicating in a pharmacy since there is a difference between knowing a language at basic level and knowing special medical terms. And finally the last thing- we will probably pay more money for a medicine in Albania than in Poland; most of them are namely imported. It is a good idea to ask your pediatrician for a prescription for an antibiotic before you go to Albania. It might be useful.
If there is some ‘space’ left in our luggage, we can take a supply of diapers because they are also more expensive than in Poland. We had a sufficient number of diapers for the better part of our travel. But after we had run short out of this supply, we didn’t have to worry since we could buy diapers without any difficulties in supermarkets – exactly the same as in Poland.
If you travel with a small, for instance with a two-year old child, it is always a good idea to take some supply of powdered milk for the entire stay. This helps us give the child its evening meal always and regardless of circumstances.
And finally one more thing you should always take with you: sweats and other ‘small surprises’. While travelling we sometimes meet interesting and friendly local people. These friendly people sometimes have also friendly kids and in such situations one really feels like making them smile. So, it would be good to have just a lolly; it does not really cost a lot and a smile will undoubtedly appear on the child’s face!
Yes and no. Imported goods (mainly from Greece and Italy) are expensive (more expensive than in Poland). On the other hand, services are definitely cheaper. I don’t know the prices during high season (July – August). In September 2009, to give an example, a quite comfortable room for four-person family in a hotel located about 5 minutes walking distance from the beach cost only 20 Euro. The prices in particular hotels including pictures you will find in the articles concerning concrete places.
The summer in Albania is hot (it is almost Greece), so in my humble opinion this is not a time and not a place good enough to walk in the mountains. In July and August only these ones should go to Albania who want to spend their entire holiday on the beach and do not care about very high temperatures. For the other ones I recommend June, September and beginning of October. In these months, this is, in low season it is cheaper, it is easier to find accommodation and the temperatures are suitable for both: sightseeing as well as sunbathing. I visited Albania at the turn of September and October and the temperatures varied between 25-35 degrees. Within three weeks of my stay there was only one day where it was slightly raining.
This depends on your travel philosophy. I never make any reservations because I don’t know where to and when I will finally go. I start from the premise that there will always be a possibility of accommodation. What is more, it is often a pretty good opportunity to meet interesting people. If we don’t make any reservations, we are also not limited in our decisions of where and when to go. Certainly, one has to take into account that a lot of hotels will be chock-full during high season. (July-August). So, these ones choosing one particular place for their holiday and being afraid of being left without the roof should make a reservation (for instance via Internet). For these ones who don’t feel like buying a pig in a poke, but are still hesitating with their decision I have the information that at the turn of September and November I didn’t have to worry about finding an accommodation in a hotel; on the contrary: there were hotels which were completely empty.
Polish citizens can enter Albania without a visa. The maximal length of stay on visa is 30 days, but it can be extended to 90 days in a police station. At border checkpoints the Polish citizens do not have to pay any fees but at the airport a one-time fee of 10 Euro is charged though.
As far as interesting places are concerned, this travel guide certainly does not go into the subject thoroughly. For this reason I would like to encourage everyone who has visited Albania to exchange their experiences. More detailed information about places worth seeing you will find in the particular articles about concrete places (for the list of all related articles – see below). Here you can get information it in a nutshell.
Undoubtedly, all the places inscribed in the UNESCO Word Heritage Site are worth seeing. In Albania these sites are: Berat, Gjirokastёr and Butrint. As far as Tirana is concerned, opinions are divided. Some people say it is finally the capital, so one could visit it, the other ones think it is a waste of time. Among the other places the picturesquely located Krujë should particularly be distinguished.
And what about resting on the beach and sunbathing? I have travelled along the entire coast and Ksamil – a little town situated in the northern part of Albania, close to the border with Greece is the unquestionable number one for me. Ksamil might be associated with charming (and in low season empty) beaches, beautiful weather, delicious and cheap food. I also had a nice time in Himarë, so if Ksamil should be out of your way, you can choose to rest the mentioned Himare or some small towns or villages situated in the neighborhood.
And last, but not the least: one should bear in mind that 75% of the Albanian area is covered by mountains! To all lovers of mountain hiking trips we recommend the practically wild Accursed Mountains.
Some people say that some years ago it used to be the case. This might have caused some Albanian citizens to solve the problem on their own; for this reason there are so many solar batteries and generators in various places. No matter how the problem has been solved, the fact remains that we didn’t experience a situation in 2009 in which current supply or water supply would have been lacking. In one hotel some breakers regularly tripped but the only thing we needed to do about it was to leave our room and to turn on the circuit breakers again. And finally one more information regarding the current: the AC power plugs and sockets are the same as in Poland, the voltage of 220V. Before leaving the country you don’t have to supply yourself in any ‘emergency’ gadgets; everything will work.
Let’s be honest. Albania is not for everyone in the same way Spain, Egypt or Italy does not have to appeal to everyone. Albania is not a modern European health resort, it has little to do with the German Ordnung; there are no hotels with a swimming pool like these ones in Tunisia and no discotheques filled by tourists to capacity. Albania often means dirt, dust, poverty, mess, unfinished construction sites and rubbish on the beach. Albania means unmarked touristic routes in the mountains, sometimes roads full of holes, illegal garbage dumps and unprotected cliffs. My intention is certainly not to discourage anyone. I personally had a very nice time in Albania. There were beautiful mountains, the sea was warm; there were wonderful beaches and interesting monuments. All this still does not mean that there are no terribly looking beaches with rubbish left by tourists and it also does not exclude the fact that some idiot ordered to erect Barbarian, panel buildings being a remainder of the Communist era in the direct neighbourhood of beautiful Ottoman period town houses. It does not mean that near an ideally smooth asphalt pavement there will be also no such one which can only be crossed by an off-road car. The number of foreign tourists is small; I could count Polish visitors on the fingers of my one hand during my three-week stay in Albania! For me it was a positive thing since Albania has still not been visited by a touristic ‘populace’ which can regrettably be observed in mass in Greece or Tunisia. Resuming: if you like discotheques in the hotel swimming pool, if you need the company of other tourists and expect someone offering you a water aerobics in the swimming pool and if you have reverse movements while seeing rubbish and starving dogs you might be deeply disappointed by your stay in Albania.
Indeed, the tourists will see different types of mascots hanging in a lot of unfinished construction sites. Some of them look pretty bizarre; they are nothing more than ordinary mascots but make a terrible impression as if they have been taken from a horror. The wild appearance of some of them can probably be justified by their function. Their role is to scare away dead hands, spells and hexes and other kinds of misfortune which could be caused, for instance, by the envy of the neighbour.
In 1967, on the initiative of Enver Hoxha and the Central Committee of the Labour Party of Albania it was decided to erect 750 thousand (sic!) bunkers in order to protect the Albanian citizens from a possible Imperialist aggression. Not only the Western aggression for which our entire Eastern block was preparing itself at that time was meant, but also an aggression on the part of the USSR, a state which in opinion of Enver Hoxha had begun to deviate from the ideals of Communism. In 1961 Hoxha expelled the Soviet soldiers from the country and in 1968 he leveled fierce criticism against the invasion of the Warsaw Pact troops into the Czechoslovakia. In the eyes of the dictators the imperialists were present in both: in the West and in the East and so it was necessary to take preventive measures against them.
The construction of the bunkers cost 3 milliard dollars! Today they are one of the symbols of Albania since they can be seen almost everywhere. Many Albanian people would probably like to get rid of them but apparently it was easier to erect the bunkers than now to demolish them. No wonder; they were meant to be resistant to any damage! Maybe it is better so – the bunkers do not exactly look beautiful but they are, in some sense, a tourist attraction and a monument of the Socialist – paranoid stupidity.
For the moment our travel guide is up-to-date since the most data come from 2009 and the last updatings from 2012. Besides, in the case of information that could become updated we tried to insert dates so that the reader could know from which year a particular description comes. As you can see, everyone can take advantage of this travel guide completely free but it also means that we have no financial funds for its updating. Whether the guide remains up-to-date or not depends now on you. We do not ask you to transfer any money or to send any sms’s. We just want you to write us an email with your observations after your return from Albania; an email about what has changed in this country, what should be updated or corrected. You could send us some pictures; you can also describe some place that you have visited. If you have more time you can more actively involve yourself in the work on the travel guide. As mentioned, all depends on you. In the holiday time we received a lot of emails with questions; our readers wrote us that the information from this travel guide had helped them make preparations for leaving the country and travelling through Albania. We hope that you will not hesitate to contact us after your return from Albania and that new information sent by you will be useful for these ones who will go to Albania, too.
This travel guide was created since I couldn’t find answers for many questions before my travel to Albania. What I did find was, on the other hand, the result of many hours spent at my computer desk and of gathering diverse information pieces taken from different Internet forums. From the very beginning the only purpose of the guide was to present experiences gathered during the travel through Albania and to deliver them next ‘on a plate’ in a systematic way and in one place in the network. It cost me a lot of work and I hope that the intended goal has been achieved at least to some degree also thanks to an active support of some people. The result of this collaboration is a travel guide richly illustrated with pictures, including a great deal of useful practical information but also making the history and the customs of the described country a little bit more comprehensible to the reader. I would like to stress that the guide is completely free (for private use only!). Yes, you do not have to pay for it, to send any voluntary sms’s or to transfer money on any bank account. You can also print the guide legally and completely free and use it during your travel. If you want to thank us, just join us and add something from you.
Attention! The fact that you can take advantage of this travel guide without having to pay for it does not mean that you are also allowed to copy its content for other purposes! The travel guide is copyrighted! All the texts and pictures are the property of the authors and may not be used in paper or electronic publications without our written permission.
I would like to express my gratitude to all these who have made their contribution to creation and existing of this travel guide, to those ones who didn’t forget us after their return from Albania and sent us pictures, information and updatings. Thanks to their support the travel guide is still up-to-date and is, as I hope, useful to other wanderers while planning a travel to Albania.
My special thanks go to: Kuba Urbanek, Robert Durski, Wioletta Nowak, Dariusz Maryan, Ula Zgóralska i Edyta Woźniak. We hope that this list will be extended each (next) year by new names and the travel guide will be enriched by new information.
In the bracket quoted the year of information’s origination.
Na tematy związane z artykułem można porozmawiać na forum w wątku Albania.