I recently spent two weeks exploring Albania as part of a larger trip through the Balkans. In this post I’m sharing some aspects of my trip and whether I’d recommend it as a travel destination- especially for solo female travelers.
Albania was the main reason I chose to come to the Balkans, as I’d heard from a friend that it was like Croatia twenty years ago- a hidden gem with a beautiful coastline, great hikes and incredibly hospitable people. So I had high expectations.
Below is an overview of my thoughts about the country, specifically touching on safety, transport, cost of living and what I liked and didn’t about the scenery. In subsequent posts I’ll share more detailed information about costs, including exactly how much I spent over two weeks, as well as and my favorite five places in the country- and how to get to them.
Mountains, Trekking and Inland Areas
By far my favourite aspect of Albania was the mountains and the hiking. Not really knowing what to expect, I was blown away by Theth Valley in the north east of Albania. I did a six hour hike from Valbona to the small town of Theth, with stunning scenery every step of the way. Once I got to Theth, the crystal clear turquoise water of the Blue Eye was another unexpected highlight. I also loved the ancient stone city of Gjirokaster, the riverside town of Shkodër and the cafe filled capital Tirana.
While I would still consider the coast beautiful and the water an amazing blue colour, overall I found Albania’s coastline fell short of my expectations. Sadly there was a lot of rubbish all along the coast and there was hardly a spot without a tonne of people, beach umbrellas and deck chairs. Even in mid September, which is shoulder season. I found the most beautiful places were quite isolated and best reached by boat, as opposed to long bus rides followed by sweaty hour long treks. On the plus, boat trips are quite cheap- around 20€ for half a day.
I’d heard that getting around the country was challenging and very time consuming- that there was no bus schedules and that you simply had to hail a minibus anywhere on the road to get a ride. Most of the time this was far from the truth. There are timetables and the buses are often very regular and reliable.
You can book online, however I never did, instead I got my ticket directly on the bus. The hostels I stayed at were a wealth of information about when and where the buses were going from (often a small bus stations) and this is a great reason to stay with the I Travel Balkans hostel group. Each hostel helped with my onward bus, booked my next nights accommodation and filled me in on all the great things to see in the area.
Travel times mentioned in guides like the lonely planet (especially through the center of Albania) are outdated and slower than reality. For example, a ride from Gjirokastër to Tirana is quoted at around 8 hours when it took only 3. In recent years there have been many highway upgrades and travel has vastly improved.
The coastal roads are still very windy and slow, with the longest trip I took being the bus ride from Tirana to Himare at 5.5 hours.
The roads in the north to and from Theth and Valbona are also incredibly bumpy and windy, from Theth to Shkodër it was a 3 hour, very bumpy ride.
Albania is cheap. Especially compared to neighboring Montenegro and Croatia. One of my favorite hostels (The Wanderers in Shkodër) was 7.5€ a night including a huge breakfast. Transport was between 2-10€ for bus rides between cities and sightseeing was normally 2€. Beers were less than 2€, cocktails around 5€ and coffee around 1.5€. In most places you could eat a decent dinner for 5-10€.
When I mentioned to friends that I’d be traveling through Albania, many told me it was an unsafe place to visit and that I needed to be very careful. I took this with a grain of salt- I’ve traveled to many places throughout the world that are considered risky- especially for female solo travelers. It’s an unfortunate reality of being female that you are treated differently to men when traveling. Over the years I’ve accepted this and come to terms with the fact that I need to be more careful than male travelers.
For me, this includes respecting local customs, being aware of potential dangerous areas, being aware of my surroundings and belongings, knowing where I can find help and what the emergency numbers are, following my gut feeling, not being afraid/embarrassed to ask for help and avoiding unnecessary risks- like drinking too much or walking in dimly lit/quiet areas at night.
Having said all this, I don’t let fear stop me from experiencing the world and exploring. And I rarely feel unsafe when traveling.
During my visit to Albania I met so many like-minded travelers at the hostels I stayed at that I ended up mainly exploring the sites and catching local transport with these people, so I actually wasn’t traveling by myself very often.
The vast majority of the time I felt completely safe and comfortable. Even more so than I do at home in Australia or Finland- because the locals were so friendly and willing to help if I needed directions or anything. During my trek through the mountains I stayed with two lovely local families- they were both so welcoming and kind. There wasn’t a pushy culture of trying to sell souvenirs or day trips- just a genuine desire to be hospitable and helpful.
However, there was one exception to this feeling- during my last days in the capital Tirana. While I was in a popular, busy cafe area in broad daylight, a man followed me on his motorbike, leering, staring and generally making me feel extremely uncomfortable. He wasn’t subtle about it at all, driving quite close to me and at one stage when I turned around and walked back in the opposite direction he still followed me.
This kept up for about 20 minutes and I debated asking him what he thought he was doing or even yelling at him to leave me alone but worried this would anger him and make things worse. So instead, when he rode ahead at one point, I ducked into a leafy cafe where I couldn’t be seen from the road, grabbed a coffee and decided to wait until he left before emerging. I started to feel better when I saw a security guard across the road outside some official looking building. I felt that I could go up to him if the man hadn’t left while I was in the cafe.
Luckily the man had gone when I emerged and I didn’t see him again. However, it was still a very unnerving experience and something that made me incredibly angry– how could someone feel that they could act like that towards another person? What was he expecting me to do? What would have happened if I hadn’t lost him in the cafe?
A very similar thing has happened to me in three other countries I’ve visited in the past- unfortunately this is not an isolated incident and it’s one of my least favourite things about travel. However this is the first time in nearly 8 years that I have had this experience, it is definitely rare for me to feel unsafe when I travel.
I am also adamant that experiences like this will not stop me from traveling and will not make me afraid of traveling solo.
So The Verdict?
Yes! I definitely recommend traveling to Albania and traveling there solo as a female. I felt safe, comfortable, happy and excited to be there 99% of the time. It was an amazing experience of stunning mountain scenery, ancient towns, good food, hospitable locals and all at a bargain price.
There are so many unique and beautiful places to visit, however, if you are looking for unspoilt sand beaches or private rocky coves, it might be a better choice to head to nearby Greece or Croatia.
I’m already looking forward to returning Albania- I ‘d love to visit the south-western region that boarders Macedonia, especially Lake Ohrid and the town of Korçë.
Have you been to Albania? What did you think of the country?