Albania has natural beauty in such abundance that you might wonder why it took 20 years for the country to take off as a tourist destination since the end of a particularly brutal strain of communism in 1991. So backward was Albania when it emerged blinking into the bright light of freedom that it needed two decades just to catch up with the rest of Eastern Europe. Now that it has arguably done so, Albania offers a remarkable array of unique attractions, not least due to this very isolation: ancient mountain codes of behaviour, forgotten archaeological sites and villages where time seems to have stood still are all on the menu. With its stunning mountain scenery, a thriving capital in Tirana and beaches to rival any elsewhere in the Mediterranean, Albania has become the sleeper hit of the Balkans. But hurry here, as word is well and truly out.
With fresh seafood dinners costing around $5 , your wallet will love this Mediterranean destination. With a low cost of living, accommodation at nice hotels is also inexpensive: many hotels charge between $40-$50 a night, with upscale resorts only putting you out $80 or $90. Transportation is also cheap, with local buses costing around a dollar to ride between cities. Albania is a country where you can budget cheaply and still live like royalty.
The Albanian alps, the name of which translates to the “Accursed Mountains” due to their rocky, untamed terrain, offer breathtaking views in one of the most remote areas of Europe. Jagged peaks, snow-capped mountains, and unbelievably crystal clear waters all reward the intrepid traveler who ventures into the north of Albania.
Traveling in Albania, you might get the impression that someone hit the “pause” button on Albanian culture in the 1950’s. Having been closed to the world for so long, the older generations still dress and live as they did 50 years ago. And while the cities have hardly changed in the last few decades, the villages have hardly changed in the last few centuries. It's a fascinating glimpse into a different pace of life that has largely been left behind in the modern world.
Like its famous neighbor Greece to the south, Albania borders the glittering cerulean waters of the Adriatic and Ionian seas. A rich span of coastline known as the Albanian Riveria boasts numerous quiet, undiscovered beaches all along the south of the country. The residents of coastal cities like Vlore, Sarande, and Dhermi easily enjoy some of the most beautiful beaches on the Mediterranean, and they have it all to themselves.
A few months ago, when my car blew a flat tire on the side of the road, a wonderful local man changed it in under ten minutes— and refused to be paid for his labor! Just last weekend I purchased some groceries from a local shop, but quickly realized I didn’t have enough money to pay for them all. Unfazed, the kind shopkeeper insisted that I take home the groceries anyway and bring back the money the next day. I am still blown away by their selfless generosity and willingness to help.
As a female traveler in Albania, I have always felt perfectly safe. Families and solo travelers alike are able to travel freely without being bothered. Albanians pride themselves on their hospitality, so foreigners are welcomed here. While travelers should always remain aware of their surroundings, Albania is definitely one of the safest places I’ve ever traveled in.
Having been occupied since pre-history, Albania has artifacts from thousands of years of some of the world’s greatest empires. Wandering through any town here, you might just stumble across ancient ruins from the Romans, Greeks, Byzantines, Venetians, Illyrians, Ottomans, and more! History buffs will definitely love the rich width and depth of historical sites and cultural influences found in this region of the world.
...including Butrint, an archeological site previously inhabited by the Romans and the Greeks, and Berat and Gjirokastra, two “museum cities” and fabulous examples of Ottoman architecture. Other Albanian sites currently in the UNESCO candidacy stages include the Durres Amphitheater, Lake Ohrid, and Apollonia, all of which are now undergoing repairs, promotions, or renovations.
You will never visit another country like Albania. It is a beautiful contradiction of charm and grit alike, celebrating its very own unique heritage and history. It proudly claims the ancestry of celebrities like pop singer Rita Ora, actors Jim and John Belushi, and Mother Theresa. Albania even has its very own branch on the language tree, completely unrelated to any other language on earth! This is a unique country reserved not just for travelers, but for adventurers.
...and is consistently landing high spots on international travel lists, such as Rough Guide’s “Top 10 Places to Visit in 2016.” Albania has also been dubbed the “best kept secret in the Mediterranean” by the UK’s Telegraph, and the “hidden bargain of the Balkans” by the Daily Mail. With the world gradually taking notice of the treasures Albania has to offer, I highly recommend you travel there before the secret gets out!