What do I need to know before going to Albania?
I received so many questions from travellers, that I decided to write a blogpost about what you need to know before going to Albania.
1. Corona Virus entry requirements, travel restrictions & Covid testing in Albania
After last year, the most frequent asked questions I get about travelling in Albania are:
- What are the entry requirements for Albania?
- Are there any travel restrictions for travellers from … to Albania?
- Do I need a PCR test to enter Albania?
- Where can a take a COVID test in Albania?
So, to answer all of your Corona Virus and COVID testing questions, I have created a blogpost.
In the blogpost, you will find an overview of the entry requirements and travel restrictions in place in Albania. Moreover, I have an up-to-date list of the PCR locations and a list of the other COVID tests available in Albania.
I won’t go into detail in this blogpost, because as you know the regulations change very frequently. So you can find the lastest COVID information in this blogpost, which I update every week: https://www.albaniatourguide.com/albania-covid-travel-restrictions-pcr-testing-and-coronavirus/
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2. Driving in Albania as a foreigner is daunting
Driving in Albania as a foreigner can be daunting. Because the Albanian drivers don’t exactly follow the rules.
Basically, the Albanian people have a very chaotic driving style. To give you an example, on a roundabout, you can see Albanian people getting on the roundabout from all directions.
You might struggle if you are used to driving in USA or in Europe, because there are rules as to when and how you are allowed to get on the roundabout. But in Albania, if you let other people go first, according to the rules, you will never get to your destination.
Unfortunately, some Albanian drivers really do not follow the rules. So drivers may takeover on all sides.
Since I live in Albania and I know the driving style here, I would not recommend driving in Albania as a foreigner. If you do, at the very least you would need to be an experienced driver, confident and alert. But you may still find that Albanian drivers drive in unexpected ways.
Although, the Albanian authorities and the police have been strict with people who break the rules in the recent years. It remains difficult to change the Albanian driving culture.
So think twice if you plan on renting a car for your holiday in Albania.
3. Think about your transportation before travelling to Albania
As a foreign traveller in Albania, your main challenge will be “how do I get from one place to another in Albania?”.
For the Albanian people, the preferred way to travel is the Furgon, which is Albanian for a mini-bus.
The Albanian bussystem is quite different from other countries. Because the minibusses are privately owned. Which means that the busdriver owns the bus and the profit of the day ends up in his pocket.
In another European country, the bus driver will wear a uniform and follow the brand-standards. But in Albania, the bus driver does whatever works for him.
If you would like to travel to another city in Albania, you must go to the intercity bus station. In the capital city Tirana, the busses depart from the Regional Bus Terminal – North and South (in Albanian: Terminali i Autobusave të Veriut dhe Jugut). You can see the location on Google Maps here: https://goo.gl/maps/HCKaoxYdYDEaxPQE8
So for instance, if you would like to travel from Tirana to Berat, you must take a taxi for 20 minutes from the city center of Tirana to the Regional Bus Terminal.
When you arrive at the Regional Bus Terminal, the bus drivers will immediately approach you shouting their destination loudly. Obviously, every bus driver wants a full bus, because more travellers means more money for him.
I sometimes get questions like “Do I reserve a bus ticket online” or “Can I pay my bus ticket by credit card in Albania?”. And the answer to that is: “NO”. You simply show up at the bus station and pay the driver in cash (Albanian Leke).
If you decide to travel by bus, I recommend you use the website of Gjirafa Autobus. Gjirafa Autobus is a website, where you can find all the Albanian bus timetables. This is the link of the website: https://gjirafa.com/Autobus
Bear in mind, that travelling in Albania by bus will be timeconsuming for you. Because as a foreigner, finding the bus terminal will take you more time than the locals, who know their way around. And Google Maps is not as accurate in Albania, as it is in other countries.
4. I don’t recommend train travel in Albania
First of all, it is not possible to travel from another country to Albania by train. Because Albania does not have international rail connections.
The reason why Albania does not have international rail connections. Is because the rail network in Albania was constructed during the communist regime.
During the communist regime (which ended in 1992), Albania was ruled by a dictator, called Enver Hoxha. And essentially, the dictator isolated Albania from the rest of the world. Similar to North Korea today.
During the communism, it was not possible for Albanians to leave Albania and travel abroad. As a result, there was simply no need for an international rail connection.
Since the fall of the communism, there has not been any investment in the rail network.
As a result of the lack of investment, the trains became slower and slower. And fewer and fewer people travelled by train. And as a result of that, trains depart very infrequent.
Now that you have read this, you do understand why the Albanian people do not travel by train. Albanian people prefer to travel by car or with a Furgon minibus. Because minibusses are faster than trains in Albania and a lot more frequent.
I do not recommend you travel by train in Albania as a foreigner. The only reason to travel by train would be because you want to go on an adventure and travel with the old train as an experience.
Ask any Albanian person when you are here on holiday and they will tell you the same.
5. Compare the price of your taxi with the price of a tour
If you decide you don’t want to rent a car or travel by bus, your may choose to take several taxis in Albania.
Attention! Make sure you compare the price of a taxi journey with the price of a private tour. Because very often a tour is less expensive!
Let’s say, you want to go on a day trip from Tirana to Shkoder. The official Tirana Airport taxi website states that a one-way trip from Tirana to Shkoder costs between 55 – 62 euros ( https://tiataxi.al/travel/ ). Whereas you could book a private tour from Tirana to Shkoder for 70 euros.
This private tour would include two-way transportation, private tour guide, entrance tickets and pick-up/drop-off at your hotel. So why not book the private tour?
To give you another example, if you want to go on a day trip from Tirana to Berat. Merr Taxi will charge you 68 euros for a one-way trip ( https://merrtaxi.com/tirana-taxi-fare-calculator )
Whereas, you can buy a private tour to Berat for 65 euros. And the private tour includes two-way transportation, private tour guide, entrance tickets and pick-up/drop-off at your hotel. So basically, the private tour is half the price!
Another question, I get a lot is: Is there UBER in Albania? And the answer is NO, UBER does not exist in Albania.
As an alternative, there are some taxi apps that you can download. The three main taxi apps in Albania are:
UPs Taxi – Click here for Play Store Download:
Click here for Apple Store Download:
Speed Taxi – Click here for Play Store Download:
Click here for Apple Store Download:
Taxi.al – Click here for Play Store Download:
Click here for Apple Store Download:
Obviously, travelling by taxi is super convenient as a foreigner. But always make sure you compare the price of your taxi with a private tour! If you don’t want to be guided, simply ask for some free time upon arrival and get your entrance tickets free as a part of your tour!
6. Some areas in Albania are very remote
Many foreigners travelling to Albania do not realize how remote some places in Albania are.
In the North of Albania, you have the Albanian Alps. This is a beautiful national park with mountains. This area is a popular destination for hikers and active travellers in the summer months.
However, the Albanian Alps are still incredibly remote! Throughout the winter and spring, the Albanian Alps are literally snowed in. The mountain roads are completely covered in thick snow.
Which means no human or car can make it to the area. The people living in the Albanian Alps are literally closed off from the rest of the world, until the snow melts.
The most popular destinations in the Albanian Alps are the Theth village, the Valbone village, the Lake Koman ferry and the Valbone Pass.
So if you plan on travelling to the Albanian Alps, Theth, Valbone or Lake Koman, here are some good questions to ask before you travel:
Questions 1: Is the road to Theth or Valbone free of snow in the period I am travelling?
This year, the road to Theth opened only on the 28th of May. And the date that the road re-opens varies every year, because it depends on the amount of snow that falls in the winter months. This is good to consider especially if you are travelling in the beginning of the season.
Question 2: Is the Valbone Pass free of snow in the period I am travelling?
The Valbone Pass is 1800 meters high and one of the most popular hiking routes in the Albanian Alps. This year the Valbone Pass opened on the 18th of June. Some experienced snow hikers managed to get accross the pass earlier than June, but you do need a special skillset to hike through the snow.
Question 3: Am I fit enough to undertake this journey, bearing in mind that the nearest hospital is hours away?
I am sure everyone can enjoy the beauty of the Albanian Alps, but it is worth asking yourself if you are fit enough to travel to a remote region. Theth for instance is 3 hours by car from Shkoder city, where you will find the nearest hospital. And if you are hiking somewhere in the mountains, it will take you even longer to get to a hospital.
7. Book a 4-Wheel drive to travel to the Albanian Alps
I always recommend booking a local driver with a four wheel drive, if you are travelling to the Albanian Alps, including Theth, Valbone or Lake Koman.
A question I get asked a lot is: “How are the roads in Albania?”. The reason I get this question, is because there are some forums on Tripadvisor about this topic. As you can imagine, the opinions about the roads in Albania vary strongly. Which can be very confusing for a foreign traveller.
To give you one answer: The roads in the Albanian Alps are often stony dirt tracks that lead through the mountains. Whereas the roads in the South of Albania, to Durres, Berat, Gjirokaster and the Albanian Riviera are of a good quality.
Which means that you can drive in the South of Albania with a regular car. But if you travel to the Albanian Alps, I recommend hiring a local driver with a four wheel drive.
Theth, for instance, is a 3 hour drive from Shkoder city. But the last hour of the journey is on a stoney dirt track. Trust me, when you drive on a stony dirt track on the top of cliff and you meet a car from the other direction, you will be very happy you hired a local driver in a four wheel drive, who knows how to manouvre in the Albanian Alps.
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8. It takes time to travel to the Albanian Alps
I recently spoke to a traveller, who had limited time, but really wanted to visit the best of the Albanian Alps. Which is completely understandable, however, it does take time to travel to the Albanian Alps.
Actually, if you want to travel to the Albanian Alps, you need at least 3 or 4 days.
Day 1: Lake Koman ferry to Valbone (full day)
Day 2: Hike across the Valbone Pass from Valbone to Theth (full day)
Day 3: Hike to the Blue Eye of Theth and the Grunas Waterfall. You can skip this day, if you only have 3 days, but these are beautiful highlights!
Day 4: Drive back from Theth to Shkoder, if you hire private transportation you can be back around noon. If you depend on shared transportation, you need to wait until noon before the shared transport departs.
Basically, it is impossible to “safe time” or “travel faster” to the Albanian Alps. Let me explain in a bit more detail.
If you want to travel with the Lake Koman ferry, it will always take you a full day. The Lake Koman ferry only departs once a day at 9AM in the morning. So you must depart from Tirana at 5AM or from Shkoder at 7AM to catch the ferry in Koman. The ferry travels from Koman to Fierze in 3 hours.
Then from Fierze, you have two options:
Option 1: Travel onwards from Fierze to Valbone and stay at least 1 night in Valbone.
Option 2: Travel back with the Lake Koman ferry from Fierze to Koman. So another 3 hours with the boat, which means you will be back in Shkoder around 5PM or Tirana around 7PM.
The only way you can travel to Valbone is by the Lake Koman Ferry. There is no road to Valbone that does not require you to take the Lake Koman Ferry, unless you will travel through Kosovo. And either way, it will take you a full day of travelling, so you will need to stay in Valbone for 1 night at least.
Then from Valbone, you can hike across the Valbone Pass, which will take you 6-8 hours. After the hiking trip, you must stay overnight in the Theth village at least 1 night, because it will be too dark to travel back to Shkoder.
The Theth village has beautiful natural sights, like the Blue Eye of Theth and the Grunas Waterfall. But it takes time to reach these natural sights. If you hike from the Theth village to the Blue Eye of Theth, it will take you 4 hours for the one way trip.
You can save time by booking a taxi, but it still requires to you to hike 1 hour to the Blue Eye of Theth and 1 hour back.
The Grunas Waterfall is around 50 minutes by foot from the Theth village for a one way trip. So it requires 2.5 hours in total, because you need some time to see the Waterfall and relax.
9. Always drink bottled water in Albania
In most places in Albania, the tap water is not drinking water. So it is better to always buy bottled water in Albania.
The locals in Albania always buy bottled mineral water. They use the tap water for washing the dishes or brushing their teeth, but when they drink a glass of water they choose mineral water.
Albania does have a lot of mountains and fresh water springs with mineral water. So in some areas in Albania, the locals do drink the mountain water and fill their bottles at a fresh water spring. Because the local people know that the mountain water tastes great and it is very clean. So if you want to drink water from a spring, check with the locals first.
Lonely Planet: “Drinking water is generally safe, and is delicious in the mountains, but check with locals first. Many locals in bigger cities prefer to drink bottled water.”
Moreover, if you look at the travel advice from the UK government and the Swiss government, they advise drinking bottled water in Albania. The UK government goes as far as saying that the tap water may cause illness. And the Swiss government states that the water supply system in Albania is old and incomplete.
UK Government: “The tap water in Albania may cause illness – you should drink only bottled water.”
Swiss Government: “The water supply system in Albania is old and incomplete. That’s why caution is needed with consuming tap water.”
The World Bank also points out that the drinking water and sewerage infrastructure is aged, damaged and inefficient. And they point out that there is a health risk for the population due to the drinking water system.
World Bank: “The drinking water and sewerage infrastructure in Albania is considerably aged, damaged, and inefficient. Leakage in supply systems and sewers is substantial and health risk for the population is significant.”
10. Always carry some cash money in Albania
Albania is a cash country. Simply said, the Albanian people ALWAYS prefer to pay in cash. You very rarely see an Albanian person pay with a credit card or a debit card.
Therefore, I do advice all foreign travellers in Albania to carry some cash money.
Here are some examples of things you can only pay in cash in Albania:
- Bottled water at a street stand
- Bus tickets
- Fresh fruit at the market
- Souvenirs or handicraft items at the market
- Entrance tickets for castles and museums (very often only cash)
- Taxi rides (very often cash only or preferred)
You will probably be able to pay your hotel in Albania by credit card or debit card.
It is also a good idea to bring some foreign currency with you to Albania. Currencies like Euro, US Dollars or Pounds can be exchanged everywhere.
The Albanian people very often have foreign currency on them and a foreign currency account at the bank. So, you will see currency exchange offices in almost every highstreet in the city centers.
Be careful with using your debit card or credit card for every little restaurant or cafe. Because paying by card in Albania can be expensive for you as a foreigner.
Especially, because Albania is not a part of the European Union, so the Albanian cash machines and POS systems do not have to follow the European Union’s rules about transparancy. So I always recommend withdrawing cash from a cash machine and checking your internet banking afterwards to check for any “hidden fees”.
You won’t break the bank by withdrawing cash in Albania, but nobody likes to find extra charges or hidden fees on their bank account after their holiday.
The main point is, you always need to have some cash on you in Albania. The locals will appreciate it and you will save yourself some money by carrying cash.
Also install a currency conversion app on your phone, so that you can convert the Albanian Leke to your currency and understand what you are actually spending.
11. Sometimes Albanian people add an extra zero to the price of a product, but no cheating intended
If you have a note of 100 Albanian Leke, sometimes the Albanian people will call that 100 Albanian Leke and sometimes Albanian people will call that 1000 Albanian Leke.
There is no bad intentions at all and no cheating intended.
Basically, during the communism, the dictator told the Albanian people to add an extra 0 to every currency. So 100 Albanian Leke was called 1000 Albanian Leke. Eventhough, 100 Albanian Leke only has the value of 100 Albanian Leke. The dictator thought that it would make people feel more rich, eventhough they were poor.
So adding an extra 0 to the end of the currency is called the “old Leke”. And if you simply call 100 Albanian Leke for what it is, this is called the “new Leke”.
Actually, it is very confusing when you go shopping. Because you never know if the cashier is telling you the price with or without an extra zero.
I think that as a foreigner, this “old Leke” and “new Leke” is something to be aware off. Because you may think the cashier is cheathing you and has a bad intention. Where they may simply be older people, and therefore, used to adding an extra 0 as they did during the communism.
12. Albania is a safe country
I often do Skype calls with people who want to travel to Albania. And the number one question I get asked is: “Is Albania a safe country?”
UK Government Travel Advice for Albania: “Public security is generally good, particularly in Tirana, and Albanians are very hospitable to visitors. Crime and violence does occur in some areas, but reports of crime specifically targeting foreigners are rare.”
UK Government Travel Advice for Albania: “Tension between religious groups and expression of extremist views is very rare, and attitudes to western countries are overwhelmingly positive.”
I think that the reason why people ask about safety in Albania, is because it is “unknown” as a travel destination. Albania is not as established as other European countries as a tourist spot, and therefore, people don’t know what to expect and fear the unknown.
But as you read in the UK Government travel advice, Albania has good public security. And I have personally never experienced any pickpocketing or crime with any of my foreigner clients.
Yes, Albanian people do often approach foreigners. But that is more out of curiosity and interest, not with bad intentions. You will soon find out that the Albanian people are generous, hospitable and eager to learn about everything foreign.
Where can I buy a local sim card in Albania? You can buy a local sim card at the Tirana International Airport upon arrival. In the arrivals hall, there is a Vodafone shop and an ALBtelecom shop. If you are not at the airport, you can find your nearest Vodafone shop here: https://www.vodafone.al/store-locator/ or your nearest ALBtelecom shop here: https://www.albtelecom.al/al/individuale/sherbimi-i-klientit-1/pikat-e-shitjes/
How to get from Tirana International airport to Tirana’s city center? You can take the airport shuttle bus, a taxi or a rental car from Tirana International airport to Tirana’s city center. The shuttle bus costs 300 Leke (3 euros) and departs hourly between 8AM – 24PM. A taxi costs between 20-25 euros depending on your exact destination. And car rental is available starting from 20 euros a day. Click here to read my blogpost about this topic: https://www.albaniatourguide.com/how-to-get-from-tirana-airport-to-city-centre/
I am an Albania Tour Guide, who organizes 1-day, 2-day or multiple day private tours in Albania. I arrange your transportation and I am your English speaking guide. So that, you get to experience the most beautiful places in Albania!
Kind regards, Manon
Welcome to Albania!
I am a Tour Guide in Albania
I am an Albania Tour Guide, who organizes 1-day, 2-day or multiple day private tours in Albania.
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