Albania was full of surprises. Maybe it’s because I went into the country completely blind without knowing a single thing about it. So yeah, to be fair, everything was kind of a surprise. But like, Albania had Alps?!? It wasn’t until I had already spent a few days in Albania that I even found out that Albania had mountains, let alone an entire region known as the Albanian Alps. After spending over a month island hopping in Greece, I only had eyes for those mountains. Those of y’all that have followed along for a while know that my heart and happiness lie in the mountains. I hightailed my way away from the coast. Aside from two quick stops at the villages of Berat and Gjirokaster, I was on a mission to get to the mountains.
And damn, they did not disappoint. My biggest regret was not giving myself sufficient time to explore Albania. The three days that I spent in the Albanian Alps were far too short. The stunning Valbone to Theth hike only left me wanting more, but I have no doubt that I’ll be back in this region someday. For now, here’s the low down on Albania’s best hike, the beautiful journey from Valbona to Theth.
Hiking from Valbone to Theth – Which Route to Take?
I hiked from Valbone (or Valbona) to Theth. I’d recommend doing it this way because this is the one that I can give you the details for, and the route that can be organized entirely by The Wanderer’s Hostel in Shkoder. Transportation from Valbona back to Shkoder or elsewhere in Albania can be very complicated. From Theth, you can easily catch a bus back to Shkoder. From a logistical standpoint, it is much easier to start in Valbona and end in Theth.
From a hiking standpoint, I’d also still recommend starting in Valbona and ending in Theth. Source? Trust me.
How To Get To Valbona from Shkoder/Tirana
Shkoder is the gateway to the Albanian Alps, so I recommend starting your journey from there. It’s a great city to chill out both pre and post-hike. Like I mentioned earlier, the hostel I stayed at also organized pretty much everything for me. From Shokder, you’ll need to take a bus to Lake Komani, then take the ferry, and then get transportation to Valbona. It cost 16 euros for all of that. That is an incredible price for the long, but beautiful journey.
You won’t save much money for the extra effort it takes to try and organize everything on your own. Trust me, I’m as stubborn as it gets for doing everything on my own to save a little money.
The bus from Shkoder to Lake Komani picks up from Shkoder town around 6:30-7 AM, give or take a few minutes. From there, it’s a few hours to get to where you’ll take the ferry. The ferry takes about three hours but it is one of the most stunning boat rides you’ll ever go on. The views here are absolutely gorgeous. They were reminiscent of my fjord tour in Norway. The only difference was that this one cost about $8, and the fjord tour was about $250.
The final step is the transportation to Valbone. You’ll get off the ferry at Fierze. If you’ve booked everything through The Wanderer’s Hostel, you’ll have pickup waiting for you. Seriously, it’s so much easier. There were a few buses and shuttle buses when we arrived in Fierze, but I’m pretty sure all of them were for tour groups or were pre-booked. I’m not sure what your odds are of finding cheap public transportation to Valbone. Even then, I don’t know if it’s worth the extra hassle considering this leg of the trip is only 700 lek, or about $7 for a nearly hour-long journey.
When we got off the ferry, we just told them we were with the hostel and they had a ride sorted for us. They dropped us off right at our guesthouse in Valbone, which was an absolute dreamy cabin surrounded by the mountains.
Where To Stay in Valbone and Theth
Guesthouses and cabins are the main places to stay in the Albanian Alps. There are some hotels, but for the most part, you’ll be staying with local families at their houses that they’ve converted into guesthouses for travelers. I found it so much better than just staying at a hotel or hostel. You’re staying with families who have lived in the area their entire lives. They’ll cook meals for you and know all the best things to do in the area. If you need anything, they’ll have a solution. These are the two places I stayed at in Valbone and Theth.
Arben Selimaj – Valbonë
This was the place booked for us by Wanderer’s Hostel, so I actually had no idea what it was going to be like before we arrived. But wow, was it way better than I imagined. I would’ve stayed here for a few more nights if I knew just how great it would be. It was right along a river, although it was a tad too cold to swim in. The views here were nothing short of breathtaking. There were plenty of hiking trails that you could connect to straight from the guesthouse. Although it was about a 10-15 minute walk from the center of Valbone village, it was absolutely worth it for the location. The guesthouse fed us three meals a day, so we never really had to go into town except for beer.
They had Wi-Fi, although I never connected to it so I don’t actually know if it was good or not. The showers were hot, the beds were cozy, and for 25 euros a night, it cannot be beat. The owners were some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. They helped sort everything else out for us. They arranged a 6:30 AM taxi pickup to take us to the trailhead of the Valbone to Theth hike. They also booked our place for us in Theth, and called the owner so he would meet us at the end of the hike and take us directly to our cabin.
Pjete Cuni Guesthouse Zariklis – Theth
Again, I had no idea what this was going to be like before we arrived. And again, it was absolutely amazing. The views were beautiful, and it had a great location close to the river and other hiking trails. Meals were also included and the price was 25 euros per night. The Wi-Fi here worked great. The beds were comfy and they had hot showers, and best of all, a puppy! Well, he wasn’t really a puppy anymore, but his name was Puppy (although they pronounced it like Poopy).
There isn’t much of a town to Theth. Everything you’ll need can be provided by the guesthouses. This place even had beer unlike the last place. There’s a market and a restaurant about 10 minutes away in the direction of the end of the trail. Besides that, Theth is all nature. Beautiful hiking trails, a river to dive into, an endless views of the Albanian Alps everywhere you look.
Valbona to Theth: The Hike Itself!!!
Okay, let’s get down, let’s get down to business.
Depending on where you start and where you end, the hike can range anywhere from around 12-20 kilometers. If you start from Valbone town and hike all the way to Theth town, it’ll be about 17 kilometers. Valbone is very spread out, so where you’re staying and where you start can add a few kilometers to the journey.
Oh, and before you go, make sure to have good travel insurance handy whenever you’re out adventuring. I use SafetyWing to keep me covered throughout my travels.
The Way Up
We started our hike just before 7 AM which we felt was perfect. We had a few hours before it got too hot, and by the time the sun started beating down us, we were in the shady downhill stretch of the hike. The trail starts pretty flat for the first half hour or so. You’ll be walking along rocky terrain but the trail is well worn and clearly marked. Eventually, the incline begins. The inclines are never too tricky or too steep. Just take your time and you’ll be okay.
About halfway to the Valbona Pass, you’ll run into a little cafe where you can buy drinks and refill your water bottles. You can even buy beer here, but being ~ the partying traveler ~ that I am, I brought my own beer up the mountain. Did I regret it? I will abstain from an answer, but let’s just say a warm beer at the mountain pass brought me very little satisfaction.
After you pass the cafe, the difficulty starts to pick up. You’ll be a lot more exposed to the elements, so if you’re hiking during midday, the heat can become brutal. I definitely recommend starting as. early as you can because of this. If it’s windy, it also makes things a lot trickier. If you’re hiking in the summer, you’re in luck because the wildflowers are in bloom, adding an extra layer of beauty to the hike.
The Mountain Pass
When you’re close to the Valbona Pass, you might run into some snow along the way. We heard from a few hikers who did it a few weeks prior that it was quite dangerous. It’s a steep drop off, and hard, icy snow is never all that trustworthy to walk on. Thankfully, it didn’t pose any problem for us.
There are a few trails that branch off from the mountain pass. If you want to climb a little higher, feel free to do this. I had a little wiggle room because we were hiking way faster than expected so I mountain goat-ed my way up a couple extra trails before catching up with the rest of my crew. The views here are absolutely epic. It’s a stunning panorama where you get vistas of the entire Valbona Valley and Theth Valley. Bucket list stuff. Add it to yours.
The Way Down
I honestly often go slower on downhills than I do uphills, and this was no different. Immediately after the pass, you’ll find yourself going downhill steeply on some pretty unstable rocks. It eases up pretty quickly, though. The path turns into dirt, and is flat for long stretches. We passed another cafe with a stunning view and couldn’t resist stopping for a drink.
Well rested and reinvigorated afterwards, I ran down the mountain. Only to realize about 10 minutes later that my backpack had ripped open and I was missing my camera, AirPods, clothes, and other things. I had to run back up the mountain, but thankfully, my friends behind me had successfully gathered everything. Since my backpack had split open, I could no longer frolic down the mountain like I wanted, but the views made it worth going slow. This part can feel like it drags on, especially towards the end when the trail gets super rocky and steep.
Almost at the finish line, though! Push through for the final few kilometers and you’ll be rewarded with the wonderful views from the village of Theth.
What To Bring on the Hike
The hike itself isn’t too challenging. It’s usually the weather and conditions that can make things really difficult. The heat up here can be brutal, especially as the day wears on and you start to feel the fatigue. Make sure to bring plenty of water. I brought less than two liters, but I knew that you could fill up on water about 1/4 of the way through the hike and 3/4 of the way through.
Sunscreen is also essential. I’ve only been sunburnt once in my life, but I never want to feel that pain ever again. Make sure to bring enough sunscreen to keep you protected, as well as a hat for extra shade.
Good Walking/Hiking shoes
The downhill part after reaching the Valbone Pass is really the only place I struggled with the terrain. You can do the hike in sneakers, but it is a lot more difficult than having boots with good traction. There are some tricky downhill parts to the hike where the trail is super rocky and unstable.
Walking Poles (optional, but great for the rocky way down)
Again, these are great for going downhill. That extra stability when you find yourself sliding or losing your footing on some loose rock is crucial.
And of course, a backpack that won’t rip open.
This speaks for itself. Don’t buy questionable name-brand goods from South American markets.
Getting Back to Shkoder After the Hike
Once you’ve wrapped up your time in Theth, you can catch a bus back to Shkoder. It costs 10 euros, or about 1200 lek for the three hour journey. Your guesthouse in Theth can easily arrange this for you. There isn’t like a bus station or anything. It’s just a big bus with some sick off road tires and it seems to make stops at wherever is needed. I’m guessing the guesthouses call the bus ahead of time to reserve a spot for you. I was told the last bus leaves at around 1:30 – 2:00 in the afternoon. If you don’t feel like spending the night in Theth, it’s possible for you to finish up early and then head straight back to Shkoder. But trust me, you’ll want to stay in Theth for at least one night. This place is beautiful. The entire area is otherworldly, and this amazing adventure belongs at the top of your Albania bucket list.
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