How to Get Here
Spring 2013: Important Changes and Updates!
Lake Komani Ferry:
13 August 2013: Okay, could this be the last time I write this?! There is NO car ferry anymore. Hasn’t been for two years! None. Zip. Nada. Do not listen to anyone who tells you there is! Rumor has it that the “Small Boat” fellow is building a little car ferry, for maybe a couple of cars, but it’s not running now, since it doesn’t in fact yet exist. Okay? No cars. Whew!
ON the other hand, there is now an afternoon boat from Fierze, thanks to Mario Molla. Therefore you can leave Valbona on the daily minibus (7h15), catch a minibus in Bajram Curri for Fierze (departing every hour, according to Mario, and costs 200 lek per person – whereas a taxi is about 500 lek), and then take Mario’s boat at 13h00. This afternoon boat costs 10euros, and is more of a tour, including swimming stops. Mario arranges transport on the other end (Koman) to Shkoder for about 5 euros per person, and you should arrive in Shkoder around 20h00.
Otherwise, the following remains true this summer:
As of 1 May, the “small boat” Anija IS running daily. Departs from Koman at 9h00. Departs from Fierze at 6h00. 700 Lek / person. If the water level in the lake goes down (which it eventually will) this boat may not not be able to make it through, so you should definitely call the night before. 355 (0) 68 52 70 934. Please note that the small boat docks in Fierze at the new “Breglumit” Ferry landing, which is about a 10 minute drive away from Fierze proper.
Minibuses are running daily from Shkoder. Call Prek Palit the night before to reserve a seat: 355 (0) 68 39 58 101. 640 Lek / person
Minibuses from Tirana are more of a challenge. Right now only Lulash Bush Gjoka is making the trip. We did have a complaint about him last year, so he wouldn’t be our first choice if he wasn’t the only driver doing it. If you’re up for the experience, his number is: 355 (0) 68 25 12 467. 1000 Lek / person
Private Boat &/or Tours Option: We have been speaking a lot to Mario Molla, an excellent young man from Koman, who is working hard to develop tourism services on the lake. In addition to running daily from Koman to Fierze (departing 8h30) and from Fierze back again (13h00 – see above), he also has converted his family farm on the banks of the lake to a guesthouse, and he will do whole day trips for 100-125 euros. This is great, if you’d like to visit the medieval ruins on Shurdhah Island. He has excellent English, and answers emails promptly. His number is: 355 (0) 68 52 63 884, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Do us a favor, and tell him we sent you!
Unfortunately, last winter apparently destroyed the 28 km, un-asphalted section of the Kukes – Krume Road. In April it took us 8 hours to drive 30 km in a 4WD car! A recent chappie did it on a mountain bike and had to get off the bike and walk. Horrible. Thus I’ve revised the map, again! . . . .
NB: 2 Sept 2013 – Car insurance for Kosovo: Thanks to Ralph Seybold, for giving me the absolutely correct information (as of today): It’s 30 euros for 15 days of insurance, for anyone except: 1) people with Albanian plates (in which case it’s free) or 2) Serbian or Montenegrin Plates (in which case it’s half price). This was for quite big car camper. Bear in mind that they once tried to charge us 70 or 120 euros or something like that, on the grounds that our Pickup Truck was a “commercial vehicle” (as they say in NYC). However, Ralph’s camper was about 3 times the size of the truck, so I think you can count on 30 euros).
By Way of an Introduction:
Gratuitous Information about Driving to Bajram Curri (& Valbona)
If you are approaching Bajram Curri (the gateway to Valbona) from Kosovo or on the road that goes from Kukës through Krumë, you will eventually get to this sign. You might imagine that the correct thing to do to get to Bajram Curri (and from there to Valbona) would be to turn right, but here you would be sadly mistaken. The correct answer, boys and girls, is to turn LEFT. The sign predates the roadworks that have made the left hand road a beautiful (and smooth) approach to Bajram Curri, and which allows you to enjoy a beautiful stretch lined by Poplar trees that makes me happy every time I drive along it, just because it is so beautiful! Still, if you do (or did!) turn right, you will end up in Bajram Curri as well – only it’s a bumpy crazy road that will almost shake you to bits. Then again, I suppose it’s good practice for the road to Valbona.
First Order of Business (in answer to the Most Asked Question): The Latest we’ve Heard about the Lake Komani – Fierze Ferry Situation
(Sorry you have to read this backwards for the whole story)(scroll past this for more general information about possible routes)
(Surely not the last . . . ) NEWS FLASH! 10 July 2012. KOMAN FERRIES. Just called AGAIN and the lovely man who owns the Traget, who I think recognizes my voice now, told me sadly that there is “No water in the lake.” (Actually he said ‘in the river’ but I think it amounts to the same thing?) It IS awfully hot here. Nonetheless, the Passenger ferry continues to run. Some arrivals today did say that no one in Tirana seemed to know how to get to it though, so DO TAKE the numbers listed below (well, down there somewhere).
Not-so-much of a NEWS FLASH, More of an AFTERTHOUGHT. “Traget” means ferry in Shqip (Albanian), but it means ONLY a car ferry. So if you say to an Albanian “Is the ferry running?” they will probably say “No!” because “Ferry” will mean “Car-Ferry” to them. The passenger ferry is not called Traget in Albanian. You have to say “Small Boat.” Get it? This has been causing some confusion.
(Yet Another!) NEWS FLASH! 18 June 2012. KOMAN FERRIES. Still no car ferry. Sigh. Here’s a list of all the useful numbers and information I know for the “Small Boat” Passenger Ferry. Take these numbers with you and give them to your Hotel Host if you ask for help catching the ferry:
“Small Boat” Number: 355 (0) 68 52 70 934. Lv Fierze: 6h00. Lv Koman: 8h30 (ISH!). 500 Lek
Furgon from Tirana to Koman: Gjon Geci: 068 28 06 544. 700 lek.
Furgon from Shkodra to Koman: Prek Palit: 355 (0) 68 39 58 101. 640 Lek
In fact, it’s a much more “picturesque” trip, and definitely more environmentally sensitive, so if you can let go of your cars, it’s probably better! If you ask nicely, they’ll even let you drive the bus (you’ll see what I mean!).
NEWS FLASH! 10 June 2012. CAR FERRY. Called again. He said “We were supposed to start on the first …. [thoughtful pause] …. But we didn’t.” When we pointed out that someone arrived here yesterday having taken the car ferry round-trip just for kicks, he said “Oh. Maybe the road works in Fierze had us pick up cement for them.” Make of all of this what you will.
NEWS FLASH! 1 June 2012. CAR FERRY. Called the car ferry owner again. He said “No, maybe in 10 days.” The delay factor is at least decreasing!
Please note the “Small Boat” (Passenger Ferry – ‘converted bus’) Schedule:
6:00 am – Leaves Fierze for Koman
8:30 am – Leaves Koman for Fierze
NEWS FLASH! 4 May 2012. CAR FERRY. There is still absolutely NO reliable news about the Car Ferry. We were told (by the owners) that it would start running in mid-April. Then, in mid-April, absolutely definitely 1 May. On May 2nd, yes, it’s definitely running, but on May 3rd, travelers arriving in Koman were told not only was it not running, it would never run again. Then it pulled up at the dock. In other words, it’s so unreliable at the moment, that although it may be running on a given day, it may not be running if you try to come back (with your car). The SMALL BOAT (passenger ferry) is running everyday. It leaves Fierze around 6:15 am (heading south), and Koman at 8:30 am (heading north). If you’re coming up from the south, you can take a minibus to Koman, and there should be a connecting minibus to Bajram Curri on the other end. Or we can arrange transport for you (35 euro from Fierze to Valbona). For now, though, I wouldn’t plan on driving the whole way.
And in Answer to the Second Most Asked Question: Here are details on How to Get Here (Where they contradict the “News Flashes” above, ignore ‘em):
The Grand Summary of Your Possible Routes (Map updated August 2012, Notes April 2011):
- Via Lake Komani and the Ferry Most Beautiful and Adventurous:
on the Car Ferry via Minibus - After much searching, we found the names and numbers of two minibus drivers who were going daily on the ferry last year, WHEN it was running, from Tirana to Bajram Curri. If the ferry ever starts running again, they should be the first people to try to call to arrange the trip. The fare was 1000 lek per person. For groups of more than 5 people, they will bring you all the way to Rilindja for an extra 400 lek per person. Smaller groups can probably cram onto the normal daily bus to Valbona for 200 lek per person (but it tends to get full and can’t always take everyone extra!). However! IF you call Ali Doçi be aware that he only goes on the ferry every other week. Whoever you call – MAKE SURE YOU TELL THEM YOU WANT TO TAKE THE FERRY.
The names and telephone numbers of these drivers are:
Ali Doçi : 068 40 23 400 and Avni Rexha: 068 25 75 640. Bring these with you and have someone call the night before to reserve a seat for you and arrange where to meet the bus!
on the Car Ferry with a Car - IF the ferry is running, you can take your car, IF it isn’t already full of minibuses and other cars (now that this is no longer the favored route, this is less of a risk than before). Cost for you and your car: around 2000 lek for the car and driver, plus 400 lek for each other person. Leaves Koman around 10 am, though you should plan on getting there 2 hours ahead of time, to make sure you get on (but we can’t stress this enough — minibuses get on first, and if there are too many, there may not be room for your car – especially if you are travelling in a large convoy. Your Best Bet: Take a minibus from Tirana, all the way through. You get off the bus on the ferry and wander around, so you’re not missing anything. Cost for the minibus: 1000 lek. Time: About 7 hours. Minibuses leave Tirana around 5 am(ish) and get you to Bajram Curri around noon. If your Albanian is up to it, you can try calling (or have someone do it for you!): There are two ferries, which take turns operating on alternate weeks. You can probably reserve a spot for your car by calling in advance: 067 23 48 611 OR 068 52 80 252.
Small Boat – This is an old blue bus with an iron hull welded onto it. It serves as the local service for people living on the lake. You can’t take a car on it (it’s “small”!). Minibuses will take you to it from Tirana, and will be waiting in Fierzë to take you to Bajram Curri. Cost: The ferry is 500 lek per person (2000 lek for motorcycles – which I had reason to enquire about). Ferries on either end should probably add up to about 1000 lek, but I’ll check on this. Time: About 7 hours Leaves Fierze at 6:00 am and Koman around 9:00 (which gets you to Bajram Curri around noon).
- Via Puka (car) Most Scenic without going on the Ferry
This was the old overland minibus route, but now that the highway to Kukes is open, probably absolutely no one will be going this way. Which means you’ll have the whole crazy road to yourself! On the downside, it also means that no one will be maintaining it, so be very cautious about driving on it in bad weather (this includes rain, as parts of the mountains may fall on the road). This may be the longest, twistiest, most hair-pinny and death-defying road in Albania. Cost: Nothing! Time: Leave yourself 7 hours. You can probably do it faster, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Avg speed: 30mph
- Via Kosovo (minibus or car) Boring!
This is now the fastest route, but if you’ve grown up with highways it’s also the least interesting route, and the part that goes through Kosovo is pretty in places, but depressing for all the dreadfully ugly buildings that have been thrown up (both senses) along the road. Also be aware: IF you are driving, Kosovo will require you to purchase Car Insurance, which can be anywhere from 40 to 70 Euro for two weeks, depending on the size of your car. Most minibuses go this way now. Women under the age of 18 travelling without their parents may need a letter from their parents, permitting them to travel. Cost: minibus – 1000 lek. Car – 40-70 euro. Time: around 4 hours to Bajram Curri. Minibuses leave Tirana around 9 am.
- Bajram Curri to Valbona:
For the routes which leave you in Bajram Curri, there is a daily minibus (ONE!) from Bajram Curri to Valbona. Cost: 250 lek per person. Time: It leaves at 2:30 in the afternoon, takes about 45 minutes to an hour.
Minibus Practicalities from Tirana: Most minibuses going north leave Tirana around 5 am. Given the speediness, the minibuses that go through Kosovo tend to leave around 9 am. There are some normal departure points, but they’re not labelled or really identifiable (there’s no station), and even if you find one, you can’t really just show up at 5 am and expect to get a seat (although we’ve never known there not to be one, even if it means people sitting on an apple crate crammed into the passageway for 7 hours) — most Albanians will scout around the evening before, or take recourse to their two or three cell phones to call a known driver’s number, and reserve a seat. Sounds stressful, exhausting and inefficient, right? NO! Don’t worry. There is only one trick, and this is essential. Make sure someone calls and gets you a seat. I know I’m repeating myself, but it really is crucial. Assuming you’re going to spend the night in Tirana, the staff wherever you’re staying should help you. The chances are they have a cousin who drives a minibus, or an old school friend, or their sister has . . . . oh never mind. You get the point. DON’T worry. Remember: Albanians are all delighted you’ve come to visit, and even if you only talk to them for 5 seconds, they will go out of their way to help you. Minibuses regularly make a quick round of Tirana before heading north, picking up people who can’t be bothered to walk to the bus, have too much to carry . . . you can easily be one of these, if someone makes arrangements for you, so don’t even worry about it!
Note Bene: As soon as we find the phone numbers of any minibus drivers who speak foreign languages, we’ll post ‘em here! Let us know if you know any!
It’s useful to understand at the outset that this is how most Albanians get around, and the system hasn’t evolved (let’s be frank) to babysit tourists. Nonetheless, we think you’ll enjoy it. Tourists, especially those travelling north, are still rare enough that you will be a precious and delightful, fascinating surprise to your fellow travelers. Expect to be engaged in conversation (whether or not you speak Albanian) and showered with gifts of shared fruit to nibble along the way (and this from people whose monthly income is probably $25).
And if the friendliness of it all gets overwhelming, you can always pretend to be asleep, or stare out the window at the amazing views — this is respected, as people are delighted to see you loving their country! (They will say something like: “Eshte i bukur, jo?” — “It’s beautiful, no?” To which you can respond “Shume i bukur!” — “Very beautiful!” They’ll be thrilled! And give you even more fruit!)