Beautiful Saranda, Albania – a travel guide

I’ve been to wonderful Albania on vacation twice. My first Albania experience was in 2015. My boyfriend had been there once before and wanted me to fall in love with the country, just as he did after his first visit. I actually loved it so much that we went back this summer. We spent two lovely weeks in Saranda, the coastal city not far from Corfu.

Introduction to Albania

Albania was led by the dictator Enver Hoxha until 1985. He made it illegal for everyone to leave the country. He actually isolated himself and his fellow residents from the outside world. What really shows his fear for his neighbours is the number of bunkers that were built. Over 750000 concrete bunkers were built, many of them well hidden in the scenery. When we enjoyed a sightseeing trip to Hoxhas birth city Gjirokaster, we were asked to count the number of bunkers that we saw in the hillside. We couldn’t see more than a few.

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How many bunkers do you see? 

Even though he had strict rules for the country he led, he also did a lot of good things. Due to the high illiteracy rates when he took the power, he made it compulsory for everyone between 12 and 40 to go to school. And the illiteracy rates decreased from  80–85 % to 30 % in 1950 and down to the same level as the rest of the West in 1985.

Albania is gaining in popularity, and tourism is growing each year. The beautiful coastal city Saranda, in the southern part of Albania, has become a tourist destination, end even Albanians choose Saranda for their holiday.

What can you expect when you travel to Saranda? You’ll find a long public beach, that reaches from one end of the city center to the other. A promenade with restaurants and souvenir shops along the beach is the meeting place for both locals and tourists. Especially in the evenings. The Albanian kitchen has influences from both the Italian and Greek cuisine. And do remember to try the seafood. Fresh fish every day is a luxury, and it’s so tasty!

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If you enjoy culture in addition to sun and relaxation, visit Butrint, which is on the UNESCO world heritage list. There’s so much to see and do, and you won’t be bored. I promise!

An airport will be built in Saranda, hopefully within the next few years. Until that, you’ll need to fly to Corfu and jump on a hydrofoil boat from Corfu Port to Saranda. It only takes about 40 minutes, but the seasonal flights often arrive in the middle of the night, which means that there will be some waiting. Of course, it’s totally worth it when you finally arrive in beautiful Saranda. You can also fly to Greece (Parga is only a couple of hours drive from Saranda)

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The beautiful view from the port in Saranda. This photo is taken this year, but I still remember my first time looking at this view two years ago. 

Travel tip 1: 

Kerkyra Airport in Corfu has now opened a cafe directly above the check-in area. It’s a great waiting spot before your taxi ride down to the Port.

Travel tip 2: 

If your boat ticket isn’t booked in advance, ask the taxi driver to drive to the ticket office. It’s located a mile or so from the Port. 

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You’ll see the ticket office to the right on this photo (behind the white car)

Travel tip 3: 

You don’t need to start stressing by carrying your luggage into the boat yourself. The employees do that for you. They also carry them out from the boat when you arrive. Just walk outside and enjoy the sun while you’re waiting for your luggage. 

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Just arrived in Saranda – everyone is waiting for their luggage. 

Travel tip 4: 

A good idea can be to buy a couple of bottles of water in Corfu before you board the boat (there’s a cafe across the road from the ticket office). Also, have your sunglasses and sunscreen nearby. You’ll need to go through passport control and customs when you enter Albania. The line can be a bit long and can stretch outside the building. 

Travel tip 5: 

If you find a taxi driver that you’re pleased with, ask for his card. The hotel and also restaurants can call the driver for you. Very convenient when you’re struggling with explaining where you are. 

 

The city public beach area has been upgraded a bit since we were there two years ago. You’ll find several beach clubs as well, some of them connected to different hotels. The city beach is popular, and you need yo pay a small amount for the sun beds and umbrellas.

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Travel tip 6: 

Bring your own or buy bathing shoes. The city beach is a pebble beach, which means that it can be a bit painful to walk on if you’re not used to it. I myself is more relaxed when I wear bathing shoes. You will find sea urchins a few places as well, so be careful. 

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In the evenings you’ll find both locals and tourists relaxing in the lovely summer temperature along the beach promenade. Several stalls that sell almost everything appear everywhere, and everyone is looking for a spot on the ledge along the promenade to sit and look at the city life. Remember to buy an ice cream. There are loads of interesting flavours. One is called “Facebook” and has a sweet, almost tutti frutti flavour to it. Saranda has over 300 sun days a year, which makes it tempting to travel there, especially when you’re from the west coast of Norway as I am (it has rained almost every day since June.. )

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Travel tip 7:

Contact Artin Rrapai at Scandinavian Tourist Center. He can fix almost everything. From interesting sightseeing trips to apartment rentals and car rentals. 

 

So, what can you do in the Saranda area? 

Gjirokaster

The city is on the UNESCO world heritage list. Enver Hoxha was born here, and you can pay a small entrance fee to access his home and see how he lived. You can also walk up the steep road to Gjirokaster Fortress , where you’ll have a nice view over the city. You can also pay an entrance fee to access a military museum.

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Travel tip 8:

Bring a hat and sun screen and drink loads of water. The temperature is often about 40 degrees Celcius. 

And this can happen if you try to film in this heat (my poor camera overheated..):

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Syri i Kalter/Blue Eye

Blue Eye, or Syri i Kalter as it’s called in Albanian, is a natural water source where the water is approximately 10 degrees Celsius all year around. The water is totally clear, and you’ll see that the colors change in perfect harmony with the sun. What’s given it its name is where the water bubbles a bit and creates a dark, blue color. The contrast makes it look like an eye. It might be tempting to jump in to cool down, but it can be a cold experience. We tried to dip our toes in the water, but quickly regretted it. The area around is also lovely. You can sit down to enjoy a cooling drink while you look at the beautiful surroundings of the Blue Eye.

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Does it look tempting to jump in? 

Butrint

Butrint is on the UNESCO world heritage site, and is really worth a visit. The ruins are a part of a large national park. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves, instead of writing too much. But here’s an article from Lonely Planet for those of you that are interested in more information.

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Travel tip 9:

Visit Butrint either in the morning or in the afternoon, both because it’s really hot during the day, and because it can be really busy during high season. 

 

Ksamil

Ksamil is a small village, about 15km from Saranda. This is a lovely area with beautiful sand beaches, blue sea and loads of great restaurants. There are several areas to choose from, which is great, because it can be really crowded here. It’s a popular area for both the locals and the tourists, especially for those with children.

Travel tip 10:

Ask the taxi driver to drive you to the Abiori Restaurant to get to this beautiful place (and if available, try to get a spot on the deck. Amazing view, more wind, and less crowded):

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Travel tip 11:

Try the local bus to Ksamil and Butrint. This is a cheap way to travel, but the bus is used by both locals and tourists  – expect a packed bus. There aren’t a lot of bus stops. That means that you can stand almost everywhere along the route, and the bus will stop. If you want to make sure that you get your own seat, jump onto the bus from the start of the route (The Nene Theresa Square). This page has more information about the bus.

Travel tip 12:

Check with the hotel if they accept credit card payment. If not, ask if they prefer Euros or Lek. If they prefer Euro: withdraw cash from an ATM in Corfu before arrival in Saranda. Only Raffeisen Bank had Euros in their ATM when we were there, but it was empty the next time we tried. If they prefer Lek: remember that staying in a hotel for 7 days at 70EUR will be approximately 65000 Lek – a lot of bills to carry around. It’s therefore best to pay by credit card or Euros. 

 

Food

The albanian kitchen is inspired from the Italian and Greek kitchen. If you love pizza or pasta, there are loads of restaurants for you. Fish and seafood are also found everywhere. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from along the beach promenade. But you might have to try and fail a couple of times before you find your favorites. “Fast food” restaurants can be found everywhere along the promenade. They serve gyros in pita, kebabs and barbecue food. The price is good and it tastes great, especially at lunch or when you don’t need a full dinner.

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Our favorite restaurant, Demi, has the best view over Saranda. They serve everything from meats to fish and pasta. And they have an excellent brownie dessert (which sometimes looks more than a chocolate fondant than a brownie). A few photos from Demi below:

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Price levels:

A good two course dinner at Demi with water and local beer for drinks is approximately 4500LEK for 2 persons (1EUR is approximately 135LEK and 5EUR is approximately 670LEK)

A soda is about 150LEK, local beer about 200LEK, water about 100LEK and a taxi ride to Ksamil about 1500LEK.

A standard lunch can be everything from 1000LEK for 2 persons to 2000LEK, depending on what you’re ordering. And a standard dinner for 2 persons between 2000LEK and 4000LEK.

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Saranda has become on of our favourite holiday destinations, and we’ll definitely be back.

Websites: 

Tourist information: http://www.sarandaweb.com/

Info about the boat from Corfu: https://ionianseaways.com/

 

Have you been to Albania before? Did you enjoy it as much as we did? Please leave a comment.

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