Sorry for the cliffhanger, guys. Things got a little challenging there for a minute – what with all the freelancing and entertaining guests while traveling. I do neglect the blog when I’m feeling less motivated. I’m sorry for being the worst.
Look, Albania is awesome. My biggest regret (other than not spending more time there) is that I didn’t write this post sooner and it’s now the end of the summer season, and I may have deprived some people of a tiny source of Internet information for their Balkans travel planning… because there’s not a lot out there on Albania.
Because, trust me, this place is exceptional. And it’s still cool in September even when the crowds have died down!
When people ask me where I’ve got to return to, Albania is at the top of my list. Still. One year later and I feel like I haven’t delved beneath the enigmatic exterior that is Albania and it’s wonderfully welcoming yet stoic people.
There are some places that are easy to love. There are some places with simple logistics and a well-worn tourist trail. And there are some places where you have to convince your travel companion that you’ve gotta visit and just figure it out as you go along. Albania is most definitely the latter.
There’s no “Gringo Trail” here like I experienced from Colombia to Peru and there’s definitely no “Banana Pancake Trail” like in Southeast Asia with its hoards of backpackers.
Bus tickets, bus stations, bus schedules… just don’t count on the Internet. Find people to help you out here.
But I think I loved Albania more because I had to work for it. That’s kinda how I am anyway. (Don’t give it away too easily, guys, I won’t appreciate it!)
Saranda, Albania for a Few Days
In September, we got to see Saranda in its fading summer heyday. After Dhermi, this was a big city. But Albania isn’t an outrageous, crazy beach destination like Barcelona or the nearby Greek Islands or the Algarve to begin with. By September it’s nearly died down. Things are closing up. There are not as many tourists around.
I’d personally LOVE to go back when it’s truly party time on the Albanian coast because it does draw a lot of visitors. But still, even as it was getting cooler, it was beautiful – Saranga’s peach and pink 80’s style buildings were awesome. And enough cocktail bars and restaurants were still open to provide us with a good time. And yet, you could kinda tell it was almost time to give the town a rest.
But ahhh, we still drank jugs of wine and had cocktails at sunset…
Because this place was damn lovely.
You’ll hear about Ksamil… and then you’ll Google image search photos of its too-clear-to-believe greenish blue waters. And then you should go. It’s great.
So no, the water wasn’t suuuuper warm, but it was swimmable. And we definitely had our pick of beach chairs. (This is definitely not the case in high season!)
In Ksamil there are actually several beaches to choose from as you wander through town, and (shockingly) almost a year later, I can’t remember which one this is. There was a bar behind us and a restaurant to our right, with plenty of chairs in between and folks out on paddleboats. Our Australian friends came with us, and we had beers on the beach and lunch at a nearby place with the standard pastas, salads, and fried salty cheese (!!!).
The popular public bus between Saranda and Ksamil only costs about 1 euro, but a taxi back when you’re tired and hungry is still only 10 euros (so split between the four of us, it was a “duh” decision). A wander through the town of Ksamil is a great photo opp too, with all the local restaurants, roaming locals, standard beach gear shops, cool vans that are also bars, and Albanian flag souvenirs. Oh, I SO want to go when it’s high season!
Here’s to seeing you in the future, Albania.
Where To Eat and Drink in Saranda: Our Airbnb host provided us with solid spots like Bequa Restaurant beside Parku Miqesia with its cheap Albanain home cooking, Jericho Cocktail Bar for sunset drinks by the “boardwalk,” and the slightly more upscale hotel restaurant on the water, Demi, for a “splurge” on wine, soups, and huge salads. We also picked one of the little family-owned restaurants on Rruga Ismail Tatzati for seafood and wine one night.
Where We Stayed: Slightly uphill off the main drag of the beachy area in this great Airbnb – it was away from the noise and very cheap for a private room with its own bathroom, yet still located downtown. It was fab, the owner was friendly, and I only wish we’d stayed longer. Our host gave great recommendations and even a map of town that he made!