The Albanian identity, as one native told us, lies on three columns: their liberator Skënderbej, their unique language – and Rakija.
Albania, or better Shqiperia, is a small country with a big and influencing history. Their national hero Skënderbej dates back to 1444, when he united the country. This had been split and mainly invaded by the Ottomans. But it should last until 1912, when Albania declared their independence. A few years of monarchy were followed by the first Albanian Republic. In 1939, the fascist regime in Italy invaded the country. Later during World War II, Germany occupied Albania.
In 1941, some Communist groups formed the Albanian Communist Party with their leader Enver Hoxha. Four years later, the country became a Communist state after the liberation from Nazi occupation. Years of increasing isolation due to disputes with former partner countries led to decreased development. In 1989, protest began and finally, the Communist People’s Republic was dissolved in 1991–92. The Republic of Albania was founded.
The country still has to account for its past, but in the streets of Tirana, you almost can feel the gasp of relief after years of isolation.
Even though the tourist industry is still in its infancy, it is quite easy to travel in Albania. The most helpful part for any problem, that could come along, are the great Albanian people. They try to help in any way, and in our experience, it works in almost every case. The unspoiled character has its own charm and a really low price level makes it interesting to travel, as well. You will enter a country full of diversity with a nice coastline and great mountain areas. For off-road driving, you will find many interesting unpaved roads.
People and Language
The people in Albania are one of the most helpful and welcoming people, we have met so far. This relativizes the lack of English language skills. But using gestures, you will be able to find your way. In the capital, most waiters and other staff speak English.
Read more about our experience in our post about the Albanian people.
The currency in Albania is called Lek, short ALL. There are ATMs available in the whole country. In June 2016, 100 Lek were 0,73 Euro. So you can imagine, as mentioned above, the price level in Albania is pretty low for Western Europeans.
Campgrounds are widely available at the coast. In early season, we payed 10 or 11 € per night for one vehicle and two persons. The two campgrounds, we stayed on, were clean and comfortable. Tirana, the capital, offers many hotels and hostels at all price ranges. You will find the best for you, for sure. Also, at the more touristic coastline, there are hotels and apartments, open in the high season.
Most times, we camped somewhere outside the villages on quiet meadows. Nobody seemed to bother, quite the contrary. We were always welcomed by farmers and shepherds, who came by.
Groceries and Food
The easiest way to get fresh, delightful and inexpensive fruits and vegetables is buying them on the street. You will find stands in every village. There are small supermarkets in the towns, as well. There you can buy almost everything, but expect to pay more for imported stuff. If you manage to find a produce market, go there and be impressed by all the great fruits, vegetables, olives etc.
The dishes in restaurants are pretty inexpensive, even in bigger towns. You will find main dishes from 3 €, soft drinks and beer is less than 1 €. They offer meat, especially goat, and of course, pepper, cucumber, white cheese and olives.
It is not unusual to get invited for a coffee by people you meet on the street. Although the conversation can be hard, try their (Turkish style) coffee and enjoy the talks with hands and feet.
For 4×4 vehicles, the roads in Albania are perfect. Also the main roads can be pretty rough from time to time. And of course, you will find many challenging unpaved roads. In the mountains, you can see many crosses along the road. Cars and furgeons (minibuses) do go off the cliff from time to time. The Albanians still stick to the risky way of driving anyway. Maybe they want to feel the freedom, as they are allowed to drive only since end of Communist times. So drive carefully and try to avoid driving by night. If you stick to the highways, you will be fine with a normal car, as well. They are building more and more highways, so expect to get into a traffic jam due to road works from time to time.
The fuel prices are pretty high because of the Albanian tax system. That causes more or less empty roads.
One interesting thing, everyone notices by entering Albania, are all the old Mercedes limousines driving around. Since the 90s, Mercedes is THE car to have. You see them in every age and every imaginable condition.
It is required that you keep your headlight on, even during daytime.
Continue reading our Albania travel guide!