11 Things to be aware of when backpacking and hitchhiking in Albania
1) Visa friendly
Travelling to Albania couldn’t be easier if you are from one of the countries that doesn’t need a visa to enter the country. Check out the information below to see if you are one of the lucky ones…
ⓐ No visa – 90 days
EU citizens1 and citizens of the following countries do not requite a visa to enter for up to 90 days:
Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda23, Argentina, Armenia2, Australia1, Azerbaijan2, Bahamas23, Barbados23, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei23. Canada1, Chile, Costa Rica2 3, El Salvador23, Guatemala2 3, Holy See, Honduras23, Hong Kong2, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan2, Kosovo1, Macau23, Macedonia1, Malaysia, Mauritius23, Mexico23, Moldova23, Monaco, Montenegro1, New Zealand1, Nicaragua23, Panama23, Paraguay23, Saint Kitts and Nevis23, San Marino1, Serbia2, Seychelles23, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey2, Ukraine2, United States1, Uruguay2 3, Venezuela2 3
1 - may enter using the ID card. 2 - citizens of these countries staying for more than 90 days within the period of six months, need to obtain visa type D. 3 - states, whose citizens enter without visas due to their visa liberalization with the Schengen area.
ⓑ Visa but only for the summer I’m afraid – 90 days
Citizens of the following 6 countries may enter Albania without a visa during the period 25 May – 25 September:
Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates
ⓒ All other countries
If you country isn’t one of those listed above, then you need to apply for a visa at an Albanian embassy. Check out this useful page with listings for where you need to apply and the Albanian government page for the application form and more information.
Food & Drink
2) What’s on offer?
Eating out options in Albania are influenced heavily by the surrounding regions so expect the Balkan staple grilled lamb or mutton, the Ottoman influenced qoftë (grilled lamb rissoles) and qebab (kebab) and the ubiquitous Italian fare (pizzas, pasta …), which is much loved in Albania. There are, however, some unique Albanian dishes to try for those with an interest in the tastes of the local culture and the ingredients tend to be locally produced and seasonal especially by the coast where you can get fresh and tasty seafood for affordable prices.
3) Short on cash?
When hunger strikes and you are trying to eke the last little bit out of your penny, the budget Albanian snack options include the greasy Balkan burek (pastry filled with cheese, meat or spinach) and the Greek cholesterol busting sufllaqë (kebab meat and chips rolled in flat-bread). Also keep an eye out for the pastiçeri (pastry shops) where you can pick a wide variety of dough-based goods for cheap prices.
4) And to drink … ?
When it comes to drinks, coffee is the master of all it purveys in Albania. Locals drink it at all times of day and it is traditionally served in the Turkish style (thick with sediment at the bottom) although in recent times espressos are becoming more popular.
Despite being a Muslim country Albanians tend to have a lassez-faire attitude to drinking, with the local strong stuff of choice being raki (usually unflavoured, and distilled from grapes: thanks Anubis14) which is commonly consumed with food.
5) Where to sleep?
Sleeping options in Albania’s larger cities, range from top-end hotels (50-130 €) slightly less expensive hotels (30-50 €) to more budget friendly hostel (9€-15 €) and private accommodation options. However, be aware that in Tirana during the summer, the cheaper options tend to become overbooked very quickly. Outside the more tourist orientated cities, your best bets are private home stays or wild camping, which is extremely common among backpackers as there are no mines and the locals don’t seem to mind much.
6) Perfect climate by the sea, wet up in the hills
The weather in Albania is greatly dependant on the region you are in, due to the effects of its long coastline and highland hinterlands, and is subjected to a variety of weather patterns during the winter and summer seasons. Broadly speaking, however, the closer you are to the coastlines, you can expect a Mediterranean climate with dry summers and temperatures around 30oC–40oC and mild, wet winters 10oC–15oC. The inland region’s weather is greatly effected by elevation, with greater daily variety than the coastal areas. Temperatures are significantly lower, especially at night, and rainfall is much higher throughout the year.
7) Albanian everywhere, Italian very useful, English amongst the young
The national language of Albanian can be divided into two mutually intelligible dialects: Tosk, spoken in the south, and Gheg, spoken in the north. It is spoken by the overwhelming majority of the nation and is also the official language of Kosovo and a minority language in Macedonia and Greece.
Many Albanians are conversant in a second language with the most common being Italian, so it is a good idea to learn some phrases in Italian before you set off, although in the south of the country Greek is widespread. The use of English is growing, especially amongst the young, but is only really common in Tirana and the other tourist cities.
8) The extra zero explained
Whilst travelling in Albania you may notice that some of the prices are written in unbelievably large numbers. Don’t panic, it is not a scam, it is just that some older Albanians still naturally use the old currency, so, for instance if somebody quotes you a price of 8000 lek, the real cost is 800 lek. Many shop-keeps will instantly correct themselves when seeing your stunned expression but nonetheless it is better to confirm the price to avoid confusion.
9) Changing money
In most towns, it is possible to change money at a currency market which is usually located outside the main post office or state bank. It is not illegal, and you save yourself the 1% bank commission, but do be sure to double check the money like you would at any place. Also, be aware that is extremely difficult to change your leks outside the country, so exchange them or spend them before you leave.
Current exchange rates
10) Don’t drink the tap water!
Jokingly referred to, by some, as ‘Hoxha’s revenge’, the tap water in Albania is not good to drink, despite what some locals may tell you. Also avoid going for a swim in the water at Durrës as there have been some reports of nasty skin infections as a result. The general rule must be, don’t fall ill in Albania as the underfunded healthcare system is pretty poor.
11) Slow going whatever way you choose to go
The roads in Albania are not great to say the least and traffic is a serious problem in Tirana. There are no international rail connections, and the national connections are limited to an infrequent service between Tirana and Shkodra, Fier, Ballsh, Vlorë and Librazhd and a slightly more frequent Tirana-Durres link. The timetable for all trains in Albania can be found here.
Buses and furgons (mini-vans) run on an ad hoc basis and finding a) where they go from and b) what time they leave can be a frustrating business. Tirana has no proper bus station which helps add to the chaos and in southern Albania buses are frequently suspended during the winter months or when there aren’t enough people to make it profitable for the driver. Nevertheless, an extremely sketchy outline of Albanian bus timetable listing can be found here but note, it is often subject to change and overall its probably better to hitchhike.
Written by: Jon