To many Europeans, Albania is the poor, corrupt, crime-ridden, armpit of the Balkans. I’m sure some people, like Donald Trump—if he could locate it on a map—might even label Albania as a land of rapists! But what I recently witnessed while driving along the southern coast was breath-taking, beautiful views, pristine beaches, and kind locals. Albanians were nice-- very nice. And I'm even torn about revealing some of these true gems, fearful that the best beach towns will soon become overdeveloped and crowded.
After a treacherous drive through interior Albania, I returned home and talked with a few curious people about my trip. I noticed that potential visitors want a thumbs up or thumbs down, but it's not so simple.
Here's the seemingly basic question: Is Albania a place I would universally recommend?
For travelers, YES.
For tourists, NO.
The typical “tourist” wants to see world-famous monuments, unique architecture, or well-restored archeological sites. The tourist wants to be safely shuttled from one pretty place to another, always ready for canned photo opportunities, a polished centro historico, English menus, and a souvenir zone. So, I’m assuming, the endless unfinished/abandoned buildings, the roadside eyesores, the lack of infrastructure, disorganization, ubiquitous road hazards, and lack of Western hotel chains makes Albania a less desirable place for the average tourist.
On the other hand, Albania is great for travelers. “Travelers” tend to be interested in the reality and culture of a place, so potholes and shantytowns to not make them cringe. They are willing to hike an extra mile and explore on their own in order to discover a relatively unknown Roman ruin or an un-crowded, picturesque beach. Travelers also tend to be open to new experiences that might include waiting at a kebab stand to meet the old man owner of an unmarked B&B who speaks absolutely no English but is renting clean rooms for 25 euros, 10 meters away from the beach! Travelers will follow this old man down a dirt road while almost being hit by speeding cars and stared at by locals as if they are alien beings.
So, you decide.
If you are a traveler, here are some great reasons to go to the Albanian Riviera:
Ksamil: Small beach town in the far south (close to Corfu, Greece). Interesting, multi-layered archeological site, Butrint, is 10 kilometers away.
Sarande: Big beach town just north of Ksamil. Good for bigger hotels, ATM’s, nightlife, and cement slab “beach” bars.
Himare: One of the most obvious, expansive beach towns on the drive north of Sarande. There are numerous undeveloped, turquoise sea coves in the nearby area.
Dhermi: A cool beach town. Wind down the road and enjoy the long, pebbly beach and the view of the mountains.
Note: There were absolutely no signs of crime, corruption, or raping while traveling in Albania.
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