How to Get Here
updated: 13 March 2014 This is possibly the single most useful part of this website. It certainly tries to answer the most frequently asked questions. I know everyone always says this, but Please try reading here before emailing me? The “By whatever” at the beginning of each paragraph is a link which will jump you down to more concrete details. Of course, if the answer isn’t here, do feel free to ask email@example.com
By Public Transport ‘The (recent) report of the death of furgons was an exaggeration.’ (Name that paraphrase, and we’ll buy you a beer when you get here! – Besa says no googling!) There’s been a bit of news recently about a government incentive to make sure all public transport is properly licensed and metered (and paying taxes!). There’s even a bizarre twist on this which says that in order to eliminate illegal furgons, people are only allowed to drive one way with passengers (no backsies? thus in one fell stroke doubling the fuel consumption of Albania?!). Anyhow, although it’s kind of hard to tell, many of the minibuses and furgons operating around Tropoja are actually licensed (if not metered or paying taxes?) , and since about 80% of Albanians are still using this to get around, the minibus system should still carry on well through this year! I can’t help wonder if this doesn’t have something to do with “looking busy” for the pending EU Candidate Status decision. And furthermore, since up to now there were rarely ‘formal’ bus stations, and it’s usually easiest if someone from your hotel calls someone’s cousin to arrange you a seat, I can’t imagine that ‘illegal’ furgons will be much more clandestine than what went before!
By Boat The 2 hour trip on Lake Komani was called “One of the Great Boat Trips of the World” by the Bradt Guide, and now everyone repeats it, because it’s super-true! The Lakes of Vau e Dejes, Koman and Fierze were created in the 1970s by a massive hydroelectric project (about which there are many wonderful romantic communism-era Albanian films made). The Drin River was flooded along part of its most mountainous length to create these lakes, meaning that now you float on glassy, bizarrely blue water, twisting and turning through narrow passes, past silent mountain peaks. Sometimes you can see Chamois leaping about the heights. It would not seem out of place to see a Dragon. NB: In winter there are only two options – the daily “Small Boat” or private tours with Mario Molla. In summer Mario and his father also run an alternative daily ferry which leaves Fierze later in the day (so you can use public transport) and makes stops for swimming. Neither takes cars. Motorcycles are okay. Rumor has it that the small boat people are building a small car ferry just for tourists, but there’s no sign of it yet!
By Car Alfred and I drive everywhere, mostly because we like exploring and filling the car with “bargains.” Alfred is worse than my grandmother, who was the all-time world champion coupon-clipper. Anyhow. There is a more-than-ordinarily ‘con’ side to driving yourself around Albania, in that the roads are in an almost constant state of being fixed (at a slightly faster rate than they are also constantly falling apart again) as the EU and USAID (and now the IMF, gawd help us) are pouring money into Albanian infrastructure projects. This means that the shortest way of getting somewhere is almost never a straight (or even straight-ish) line between two points, and roads frequently suddenly stop (or start) being asphalted with no apparent rhyme or reason. Given that the roads tend to be narrow and twisty in the first place, and given that many of your fellow drivers may be 12 years old, 90 years old, or rather more than you’d wish, er, feeling happy, driving in Albania is really more fun for the adventurous-minded. None of which is to say that you can’t. As I began by saying, we do!
On to the details….
Most things in Albania start bloody early and knock off by 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Here are some of the most popular routes (You can see the routes on the road map given under “By Car” below) and their duration & cost from last year:
Tirana <-> Bajram Curri. 1000 lek. 5½ hours. Buses leave Tirana starting from 5h00 and run more-or-less hourly until 14h00. Ask wherever you’re staying to help you reserve a seat and find the bus in the morning. From Bajram Curri I’m not sure when they start, definitely by 8h00, and they leave every hour or two until 14h00. ALL buses pass through Kosovo now, as the roads are so much better. This means you will pass through Gjakova and Prizren (in whichever order according to whichever way you’re going, obviously!) both of which are actually worth getting off the bus to visit, or even spend a night. Just be warned that since any minibus driver from Tirana could theoretically have sold your seat for the whole 1000 lek fee, you may be expected to pay full price for the first leg. After that, they’ll just cram you on (you may end up sitting on a fruit crate) and charge you something fair for the next bit.
Bajram Curri <-> Valbona. 250 lek. 1 hour (depending). Like most buses serving small villages, they go into town in the morning and return in the afternoon. Coming: The bus from Bajram Curri to Valbona leaves at 14h30 every day. See the helpful map (Thanks Gillian!) to the right for where to find the minibus. Helpful Hint: Make sure you tell the driver where you want to go, as in the name of your accommodation (“Alfred” or “Rilindja” if you’re coming to us!). If you just say “Valbona” you could end up anywhere along an 11km stretch of valley. Going: In the morning, the bus starts from the Western end of the valley in Rrogam at 7h00. You can just stand by the road anywhere looking hopeful, and they will pick you up. If you have a lot of bags, wherever you’re staying can call the driver-of-the-day and ask them to swing by and pick you up. NB: If you don’t want to wait around for this, a taxi from B.C. to Valbona is 25€. We can also arrange this for you.
Shkoder -> Koman. 640 lek. 2 hours. Have wherever you’re staying call the night before to reserve you a seat. We use Prek Palit: 355 (0) 68 39 58 101. Leaves Shkoder at 6h30 ‘te Plepa’ – from the Poplar Tree. On arriving at the Koman end, there will always be a minibus waiting for the regularly scheduled ferries. If you’re taking a private boat trip, Mario will arrange it for you, but the most private transport should cost 5€ per person.
Tirana -> Koman. Sadly doesn’t really exist anymore. There just aren’t enough dependable tourists for the boat every day to make it worth anyone’s while. However, if you are using one of Mario Molla’s boat trips, he can usually arrange this for you.
Fierze <-> Bajram Curri. Can’t be more than 200 lek. ½ hour. The boat captain will make sure the minibus drivers know the boat schedule, and they will be waiting
hungrily – I mean happily. Again, if you don’t want to be dealing with public transport, we can arrange for a taxi to meet you. Fierze to Valbona is 35€. The other direction is a bit more free-form. If you ask around where the minibuses leave from you WILL find transport to Fierze. It’s only 20 minutes, so it really shouldn’t cost more than a couple of euros, 5€ absolutely maximum for a taxi.
Valbona -> Shkoder. If you look at the map under “by car” you’ll see that taking a bus from Valbona to Shkoder (or the other way) without using the lake (aka: boat) is a bit crazy. But you can do it. You take the minibus from Bajram Curri for “Tirana,” you can get off the bus in Milot and change for a bus going North to Shkoder. If you leave Valbona on the daily minibus around 7h00 in the morning, you should get to Shkoder by 15h00. It’s actually much faster to walk to Theth. How funny is that?
Prishtina -> Gjakova. Prishtina Aeroport is becoming a popular way of arriving – cheap flights! This from the incredibly helpful people at Buffalo Backpackers Hostel in Prishtina: Our hostel is located about ten minutes by walking from the main bus station in Prishtina. From that station you can catch a bus to Gjakova. They run every 20 minutes from 8am-9pm every day of the week. From Gjakova you can grab a bus to Bajram Curri. There is a bus from Gjakova to Bajram Curri every morning at 8am. There is also an afternoon/evening bus to Bajram Curri, but I do not remember the time it leaves at this moment. I will look it up and let you know soon. I know for sure there are at least two a day. From Prishtina there are also two direct buses a day to Shkodra. NB: I think the afternoon bus is at 15h00.
Basic Transport: The “Small Boat” or Anija (an-EEE-ya)
Also called the “Bus Boat” and actually named “Dragobia.” 700 lek per person. 2 hours. This boat runs all year, weather permitting, as it is the transport for people who live on the lake.
Departs Fierze for Koman at 6h00. Departs Koman for Fierze at 9h00.
This boat is also available for hire for large groups from Fierze in the afternoon, after they’ve finished their daily route. 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.
Daily and Private Tours and Ferry: Mario Molla
Mario is an excellent young man from Koman, is working hard to develop tourism services on the lake. Like any good water rat, he knows that “there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats,” (another beer for that one!) and so he has a bunch of ‘em, and accordingly offers a bunch of different services. In addition, he is also converting his family farm on the banks of the lake to a guesthouse. You should definitely ask him how that’s going. He has excellent English, and answers emails promptly. His number is: 355 (0) 68 52 63 884, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. His daily ferry runs from 1 May until people stop coming. The rest of the services are available year ’round. Do us a favor, and tell him we sent you!
Koman -> Fierza. 5€/700 lek. 2 hours. Departs 9h00. Mario says: I’m planning to include a little breakfast in price like burek and a coffee. Plus if there’s time, he may let you go swimming!
Fierze -> Koman. 10€. 3 hours. Includes swimming and an optional coffee-and-raki-stop at Mario’s house.
Round Tour. 15€ per person. Starting from Koman at 9h00 and arriving in Fierze in 2½ hours, having a break there with lunch in any of restaurants (cost not included) and then leaving usually at 13h30 from Fierze to go to the Shala River(!) have a nice swimming pause there, then on the way back to Koman stop for a coffee with raki (like tradition says for the guests) at my house.
Private Boat Tours: If you want to design your own tour, start budgeting at 30€ per hour. His boats range from 30-40 people capacity, 10 people, 4 people or a motor launch which can take 2 people, super-fast.
Southern Transport: Mario also does transport from Tirana’s Rinas Airport, and the Podgorica Airport. Contact him for prices.
Via Puka. Bajram Curri <-> Tirana. 7 hours. This is now absolutely the silliest way of going, unless you either like crazy roads, or if you want to pass through Puka, where you can stay at the very nice Guesthouse of Perparim Laç. So of course it’s my favorite! It 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. Leave yourself 7 hours. You can probably do it faster, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Avg speed: 30mph The only place to stop mid-way through the twisty bit is in Dardhe, where there is the very nice Hotel Alpin, although I’m feeling a bit conflicted about them (a bit?) now that they’ve got two Brown Bears in a cage. Not nice.
Via Has & Krume. Bajram Curri <-> Tirana without leaving Albania. 8 hours. Unfortunately, winter 2012-13 apparently destroyed the 20 km, un-asphalted section of the Kukes – Krume Road. In April 2013 it took us 3 hours to drive 30 km in a 4WD car! Not long after, a chappie did it on a mountain bike and had to get off the bike and walk. Horrible. Thus I revised the map last year. But I heard they’re working on it so stay tuned. Maybe it will be GREAT soon! The part which IS asphalted is really beautiful and there almost never anyone ON the road, so it’s really fun to drive. Plus you pass through the “Three Fields or kingdoms – Tre Polje” area that gave Tropoja its name. Well, that’s what someone told me. At night, the rabbits leap around like pop corn (er, I mean, like pop-corn popping. Not so hot, I hope – for the rabbits’ sake.) Do see “Beware the Stupid Road Sign” below, as you’ll encounter this too if you’re arriving in Bajram Curri this way.
Via Kosovo. Tirana <-> Bajram Curri through Kosovo. 5½ hours. This is really the most sensible way of going, in the sense that the roads are so much better, so it’s safer and faster. I used to think this made it also boring, but it has recently come to my attention that Prizren and Gjakova are both really beautiful and interesting towns, if you get off the main road and go exploring. In Prizren, Galdrim the owner of Prizren City Hostel is happy to show you around and stuff you full of coffees and beers – for FREE he says (though that doesn’t seem fair, we should give him something, I think)! Anyhow, it’s a beautiful old Ottoman administrative center. Really Gorgeous cobbled roads along the river. Gjakova is a bit more wild-westy, as befits the urban (well, urban-ish – more of a big town, really) economic center for this half of the Malesi (Highlands). But it also has a some of the nicest things in Kosovo, including a really beautifully frescoed Mosque, all based around the “Old Pazar” area which has been completely authentically reconstructed, including now having the main street closed to cars with little benches and what not. It is really, honestly, worth a stroll around. If you go into the Old Hotel, they may even let you ride up and down in their elevator. Well, we always do. I also just noticed that “Gjak-kova” must mean “Buckets of Blood” which is just too wonderfully Piratey, don’t you think?
There’s really only 2 important things to know about this route (that I can think of): 1st is about Car Insurance and 2nd is about one really stupid road sign outside Bajram Curri . . . . read on!
updated 2 Sept 2013 – Car insurance for Kosovo: Thanks to Ralph Seybold, for giving me the absolutely correct information (as of 2/9/13): 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).
Beware the stupid road sign: Just outside of Bajram Curri to the East, you will find this road 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 other Albanian Roads?
And here’s ALL the old stuff from years before . . . . hopefully I’ll tidy it up and put it away but there might be something useful down there!
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.
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
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.
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).
- 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!)