The Most Affordable, Yet Underrated Country in Europe
- by Ariahna Sotiriades
If I told you that you could swim in this pristine water for only $10/day would you believe me? Well it's true!! Based just north of Greece is a small country called Albania. There are so many reasons of why you should consider visiting Albania, especially if you are traveling on a budget. This country has a lot to offer for an extremely small price tag which makes Albania the perfect destination for travelers on a budget. You can easily get from place to place for less than $3 USD and meals in Albania can cost as little as $4 for a very large, filling plate of food. Albania has a rich culture with beautiful untouched beaches, landmarks and old towns and villages. The southern area of Albania (aka the Albania Riviera) has claimed its name for a reason and you may be shocked that this country has some of most pristine beaches in all of Europe. For additional information and tips traveling to Albania, especially help with transportation within the country itself, you can always contact me.
Mirror Beach in Kasamil, Albania
Things to know about Albania
Albania’s main form of payment is cash and cash only. No place in Albania will take a credit card! Make sure you are aware of this before departing to Albania. The Charles Schwab Debit Card is the best card to have to withdraw cash from ATMs because this debit card is completely free and will reimburse all your ATM fees at the end of the month.
The water is generally safe in Albania to drink from the tap. Bring a water bottle to save money on purchasing plastic ones, plus you help the environment.
Be aware that the public buses/shuttles are not always reliable or on time, so be patient. Sometimes they even arrive early as well. Be prepared for anything!
Make sure your phone is unlocked before departing to Albania. I would highly suggest getting the Airalo App and downloading an eSim Card. Airalo is an app that allows you to have affordable cell data plans all over the world without needing a physical Sim Card which is what makes using your phone without wifi extremely convenient. Use my code ARIAHN516 for $ off! You will want to have a cell phone plan to use Google Maps around the country.
The locals here are some of the friendliest I have met. They will help you if you need anything at all.
Make sure you have the proper travel adaptor for electronic use. You cannot use plugs in Albania without it.
How to Get to Albania
Although Albania has so much to offer, as a beach lover I chose to station myself in the town of Saranda and be right on the water by all the beautiful beaches.
The easiest way to get here is to fly into the Island of Corfu Greece. From the airport there is a public bus service that takes you right to the ferry port. Book a ferry and you’ll arrive in Saranda within about an hour. Make sure to book the ferry in advance if you need to get there at a specific time.
Where to Stay in Albania
I recommend staying in Saranda. It's a great costal surf town located in the south and you can easily take shuttles to other places and do day trips. Because Albania is such an affordable country, you can find places during peak season (summer months) for as little as $10/night for a shared dorm room or $15-$20 for a private room or apartment/hotel.
Hostels in Saranda (Click for More)
I stayed at SR Backpackers hostel and my stay here couldn’t have been any more perfect. It only costs $10/night for a dorm bed. The owner Tomy and his nephew Rudy run the hostel. They have weekly grill-outs and will help you plan any excursion you would like to do while staying on a budget. They can hook you up with motorbike rentals and anything you need, they will be there for you. The hostel has a community feel and the beds are the comfiest hostel beds I have ever slept in! What I loved about this hostel was also the welcoming spirits of other travelers. Everyone hung out together, ate dinner together and went on excursions together. People were immediately welcoming upon my arrival and I found myself making friends within 5 minutes of arrival.
Hotels in Saranda (Click for More)
As mentioned earlier- because Albania is so affordable, you will have no problem spending less than $20/night on a private accommodation. Below are three wonderful private options for accommodation.
Apartments Rai: $18/night
Hotel Erioni: $26/night
Hotel Mano: $33/night
How to Spend 4 Days in the Albania Riviera: Itinerary
Day 1: The Blue Eye
Located only 30 minutes away from the town of Saranda is Albanian’s famous blue eye. The blue eye is an underground fed spring that mixed with certain elements causes it to be a deep blue and turquoise color. Grab your speaker, snacks and drinks and head out with your friends to the blue eye in the morning. You can get here by taking the local bus.This makes for a fun day trip. There is hiking all around the blue eye. You can swim here, but the water is very cold. Although, It’s refreshing on a hot summer day. Entry into the blue eye will cost 50 LEK or $.50 cents. If you're feeling balsy, jump off the bridge! ITS FUN!
Day 2: Ksamil Beaches
Although Ksamil is pretty touristy, it's still worth a visit. Make sure to catch the first direct bus at 8:30 am from Saranda. You will pay about 300 LEK or $2.50 USD one way. It will take about a half hour to get here. Either on your way to Ksamil or on your way back, make sure to stop at Mirror Beach as this beach is arguably the best beach in Ksamil. The bus stop for mirror beach is slightly before the coast of Ksamil. After exiting the bus stop you will walk up a path and then back down to get to the beach.
When you get to Ksamil, you’ll want to check out these beaches below. All the beaches are located on the coastline and are a short walk from the bus stop.
- Bora Bora Beach
- Kep Merli
- Main Beach
Tip: If you plan on going with a larger group, some beaches may ask you to purchase a sun bed. They are very affordable so splitting with a group shouldn’t be a problem. I went here with one other friend and we did not have an issue with any of the workers telling us we had to get a bed.
Day 3: Village of Gjirokastër
About an hour away lies the village of Gjirokastër. This little town is surrounded by the Albanian mountainside. It’s known for its charming architecture, rich history and great local foods. You can get here by taking a direct shared shuttle bus from the main station. Once you arrive, you will have to walk about 30 minutes to the old town (you arrive in new town). The walk is a steep hike so bring water!
Make sure you spend about 3 hours here. Because the shared shuttles are not on a specific time table, I suggest you plan your departure in advance. Get the 10 am bus there, and start walking back to the new town around 4:00 pm. There will be workers around, so you can ask them when the next shuttle is and if there is room to hop on. They will take it from there. You will be dropped off and picked up in the same location. I have linked the GPS coordinates so you can easily find it with no problem.
Make sure to visit the castle and explore around the village. Their gelato is great too, so don’t forget to treat yourself to some yummy desert.
Note about the shuttles: It's sort of like organized chaos. The shuttles are basically old conversion vans. You will wait in line for one and its first come first serve. Sometimes they will also make you get off and transfer. Just tell the workers where you want to go and they will tell you which bus to get on.
Day 4: Island Boat Tour
Some of the best beaches in the Albanian Riviera are only accessible by boat. You can book a tour directly though your accommodation as there is no option to pre-book online.
Day 5: Butrint National Park
Enjoy the ancient ruins of Butrint national park. This park is full of great hiking trails, lakes, views and more beauty across Albania. You can get here by taking the same bus from the town of Saranda going towards Ksamil. It will be the last stop on the bus. Just tell the conductor and he will let you know when to get off.
Day 6: Trip to Himarë
The beaches of Himarë are located north of Saranda. They have some of the most secluded beaches. If you have time, I highly recommend stopping here during your southern Albania trip. You can take a shared shuttle or taxi to these untouched beaches.
I hope this guide to traveling southern Albania was helpful! Please feel free to comment or ask me any questions regarding your upcoming trip. For more information about traveling to Albania, you can book a consultation call with me or request a custom itinerary by heading to this page. Happy traveling!