Albania :: Frequently Asked Questions
Some general questions about the Balkans are answered in the Overview section.
Is it safe?
Albania suffers even more than most Balkan countries from a perception that it is unsafe for travellers. Mention that you are planning a visit and you are likely to warned against all kinds of dangers - usually by people who have never been there. Based on my own experience there, reports from others who have travelled there recently, and advice in guidebooks, I don't believe that tourists in Albania are generally at any more risk than in other European countries. I didn't feel unsafe or uncomfortable at any point during my travels there. The main risks are more likely to relate to poor road safety than to the crime and violence that tend to preoccupy potential visitors.
There may be an additional risk in travelling to parts the northeast region near the Kosovo border. I didn't visit this region so I can't comment from personal experience. The Bradt Guide says that the security situation has greatly improved in recent years, but as of December 2009 the UK Foreign Office still advised against travel to the area around Kukes and Tropoje, citing a number of dangers including mines near the border. It appears that traveller simply passing through on the way to Kosovo shouldn't have problems.
How do I get from Albania to Montenegro?
Montenegro is the only one of Albania's neighbours that doesn't have direct bus services from Tirana. The first step is to get to Shkodra, the city nearest to the border. This is easily done from Tirana, with frequent buses and minibuses taking 2-2.5 hours. There are also a couple of trains daily, but these are much slower. In the opposite direction, buses to Tirana leave from a fairly central location in Shkodra, but minibuses leave from the main road near Rozafa castle - the best bet may be to get in a taxi and say "furgon - Tirana".
From Shkodra the only scheduled public transport is to Ulcinj (Ulqini in Albanian), on the Montenegrin coast. When I visited in September 2006 there were four minibuses daily on this route, with a fare of 5 euro; at other times of year they may be less frequent. They leave from outside the Hotel Rozafa, an easily spotted concrete block in the centre of the city. Journey time is supposed to be about 1.5 hours, but it took well over 2 hours when I did it, due to heavy traffic at the Muriqan/Sukobin border crossing. The minibuses go to the centre of Ulcinj, which is handy if you want to stay there - it is quite an appealing seaside town. If you want to continue along the coast you should ask to be let out at the bus station on the outskirts. There are a few direct buses along the coast to Kotor and Budva; if you don't find one leaving soon, get yourself to Bar, which has much more frequent services.
If a few people are travelling together, or if the minibus departure times don't suit, it may be worth doing this leg by taxi. The price may vary according to your bargaining skills, but one traveller in 2009 paid 30 euro from Bar to the border post (it would have been less from Ulcinj), walked across the border, and paid 10 euro for another taxi from the border to Shkodra.
Another way to reach Tirana from the coast of Montenegro is to join one of the organised excursions advertised in Budva (and probably other resorts). These tours run daily during the summer season (roughly May to September). Although aimed mainly at daytrippers, I am told that it is possible to arrange one-way transport to Tirana for 30 euro.
If you want to go to Podgorica or northern Montenegro, the route via Ulcinj involves a large diversion - the direct route via the Hani i Hotit border crossing will save you a lot of time. I have seen widely varying reports of how much a taxi on this route costs. See the Shkodra section of the In Your Pocket website for further details of transport in this area.
There is a train line between Shkodra and Podgorica, but it is only used for freight. There are rumours that a passenger service may begin operating "soon", but don't hold your breath.
Will I be able to get money from an ATM?
Until quite recently Albanian had no ATMs linked to international systems, so you may come across advice to carry all your money in cash. However the situation has changed in the last couple of years, and the number of ATMs seems comparable to the rest of Europe. In August 2006 I found plenty of ATMs in Tirana, quite a few in medium-sized towns such as Berat and Gjirokastra, and even one in the small resort of Himara. Naturally you should carry cash if you are heading to very rural areas.
Is there a bus from Korça to Gjirokastra/Saranda?
This is a frequent question from travellers hoping to cut across the southeast of Albania (typically after entering Albania from Ohrid via Pogradec - there is frequent transport from Pogradec to Korça). Recent (spring 2008) posts to travel forums indicate that there is a daily bus from Korça at 06:00, taking perhaps 7-8 hours to reach Gjirokastra and continuing to Saranda. In the opposite direction the bus leaves Saranda at 05:00 or a little later, and Gjirokastra at 07:00. These times should be treated with great caution - in the recent past the bus has run less frequently than daily. By all accounts it is a very scenic journey through the mountains.