Last Updated: 8/28/23 | August 28th, 2023
Mention Albania to most of my fellow American citizens and you’ll evoke images of a post-Communist country out of some James Bond movie, where the mafia runs everything and people live in ugly concrete housing blocks and ride mules around archaic villages.
I mean, most Americans probably last heard about Albania in the 1990s. It’s not a big country constantly in the news.
But those images could not be further from the truth.
Sure, Albania is still developing in many ways. It’s only been thirty years since communism and the country still bears its scars, especially as there was never any sort of truth and reconciliation commission and many former Communist leaders are still in government. In a nation where neighbors turned in neighbors, there are still a lot of trust issues that need to be worked out.
What’s more, government corruption is rife, the environment is not prioritized, and many of the younger generation have left for better economic opportunities around Europe, leading to a massive brain drain. In short, there’s still some work to be done.
But on the flip side, the youth that remain are demanding more rights and freedoms, the capital Tirana boasts a growing coworking scene, there’s tons of new development happening, every restaurant has Wi-Fi, and tourism is growing by leaps and bounds.
Going in, I had kind of high expectations for my visit. I’d heard so many wonderful things about Albania. It was “off the beaten path” and a chance to “discover” (at least for myself) a new place. When I first went, it was going to be my first new country in over two years!
And what I discovered was that Albania is even better than people say. It is, in fact, being undersold.
Tirana had a real cool and hip vibe, and my face was glued to the window of every bus ride as I stared at the country’s stunning landscape, with majestic mountains, gorgeous canyons, cascading waterfalls, and tranquil lakes. It’s a hiker’s paradise too, with lots of trails scattered throughout its mountains.
The country is also full of ancient ruins and castles perched high on hills, with a fraction of the crowds neighboring countries have. For example, I absolutely loved Gjirokaster, a UNESCO site in the center of the country, where you’ll find a medieval town with cobblestone streets, historic mansions, and a fort overlooking the city. The overgrown and derelict ruins of Butrint were also fabulous — you get to really feel like you’re an intrepid explorer as you roam around them.
Throw in the beautiful Komani Lake with its deep blue water and rising peaks, Osumi Canyon with its towering canyon walls and rapids, and historic Berat with its scenic fort, hikes, and buildings, and it was nonstop oohs and aahs. Oh, and how can one forget the ancient city of Butrint, with its overgrown ruins that make you feel like you’re Lara Croft or Indiana Jones?
Moreover, the locals are uber friendly. Sure, “the locals are so great” is a travel writing cliché, but here, they really go above and beyond! They’re generally happy to see visitors to their country, of which they are proud and which they love to share. They will start a conversation, help you get where you need to go, give you a thousand tips, and teach you basic Albanian. They exude a great warmth.
There’s a strong culture of honoring guests in Albania — and foreigners are considered guests and are taken care of accordingly. Everyday crime is virtually nonexistent. Sure, the mafia is still a thing (and, oddly, so are family blood feuds), but as a tourist, you’re unlikely to have to deal with either. I never once felt unsafe. You aren’t going to get robbed if you go out at night here.
In fact, Albania is a nighttime country: everyone is out and about late so there are eyes and ears everywhere, which means crime is less likely to occur.
And the cherry on top? It’s very inexpensive. You can easily get by on 40-50 EUR ($45-55 USD) a day. Even less if you stay in dorms and are a frugal backpacker.
All in all, it’s the recipe for a perfect destination. I can’t say enough wonderful things about the country. I ended up extending my visit since I enjoyed it so much.
So, I highly encourage you to visit as soon as you can because the writing is on the wall and it’s about to become the next Croatia.
But more about that in my next article.
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