Kayaking Albania's Ionian Sea
Sea Kayak Adventures’ Albania Discovery trip is a creative mix of walks, paddles, and explorations. Along our way, we meet various local leaders who join us as special guests to enrich our understanding and appreciation for this part of the world. The rich history of Albania has left the country scattered with ancient Greek and Roman sites, Byzantine churches, Ottoman-era towns, mosques, and bridges. The landscapes are spectacular as well, with a coastline of picture-perfect sandy coves, wild lagoons and marshes, brooding mountains, and dazzling alpine peaks.
Albania is a small, mountainous country stretched along the Mediterranean coast between Montenegro and Greece. For decades, Albania was Europe’s most isolated and repressive totalitarian state. Now, Albania is rapidly becoming one of Europe’s most welcoming new destinations. With stunning landscapes, historical towns, world-class excavations, and friendly locals, Albania has plenty to discover.
Between 1944 and 1985, Albania was ruled by Communist leader Enver Hoxha, who kept the country squarely independent of influence from others. Shortly after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Albania began to open up to the rest of the world. Tourism however, has barely taken hold, making this a pioneering trip into a corner of Europe few know.
After decades of neglect, the towns and cities of Albania are slowly being rejuvenated with renovated monuments, new and privately-owned hotels, restaurants, bars, and cafes. The food is predominately Mediterranean, consisting of simple dishes bursting with fresh ingredients, delicious seafood, fresh bread, and wonderful salads.
Perhaps the most delightful aspect of travel in Albania is the contact with the locals. There are still few Western tourists and most Albanians are delighted to see foreign visitors and eager to strike up conversation--usually followed by offers of coffee or a glass of raki, the local liquor.
Dates for this tour are immediately following our Peaks of the Balkans hiking trip, making it easy to combine the two. The combination makes for a rich immersion into both Montenegro and Albania.
ROW Sea Kayak Adventures History in Albania
In 1974, ROW SKA owner Peter Grubb spent the summer living with a French family and during their summer holiday, visited mountainous Montenegro, then part of Yugoslavia. As they drove through the mountains Peter remembered gazing out to Albania, at the time strictly off limits to any foreign visitors. Some 14 years later, in 1988, ROW offered its first trip to Yugoslavia – a yachting trip along the Dalmatian Coast – that we still offer to this day, in Croatia. Albania was still closed to tourism, but when the Berlin wall fell in 1989 all that changed. Tourism started, but then internal events and the war in Kosovo brought it to a halt. Just recently Albania has become open and inviting. Peter was eager to visit and in the fall of 2012 spent over a week exploring the country, chalking up hundreds of miles and finding the best it has to offer.
Peter spent more than a week exploring Albania in the fall of 2012, covering hundreds of miles and vetting the best the country has to offer. We are partnering with local guides and are delighted to be bringing this new adventure to you.
We are proud that this tour has a significant and beneficial economic impact with the local communities and businesses we visit. We stay in local hotels, eat in local restaurants, hire local guides and buy all our trip provisions and food locally.
This trip includes interaction with local people on many levels, including special guests who join us to discuss regional and local issues. This provides an excellent opportunity for you to interact with locals, providing a strong cultural element to the trip.
People in Albania are eager to welcome travelers and we have no doubt you will be return with rich connections to this fascinating country.
Three days of kayaking on the Ionian Sea; Visits to the classical site of Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; Easy to intermediate hiking through stunningly beautiful countryside; Full immersion in the local culture and customs.
Images & Videos
Arrive at the Mother Teresa airport in Tirana, capital of Albania. A short transfer takes us high in the mountains north of Tirana, to the city of Kruja. This city was the center of Albanian resistence to the Ottomans in the 15th century. Along with historical significance, Kruja is a site to see, set on top of a rocky outcrop with a wall of mountains forming a spectacular backdrop. After settling in to our hotel with sweeping views of the valley below, we have a brief orientation meeting, then head out to enjoy dinner at a traditional local restaurant. Albania is a culinary delight with fresh, locally grown foods influenced both by their long relationship with Italy and 500+ years of occupation by the Ottomans. Specialties of Kruja include locally grown fresh salads and vegetables along with Tave Dheu, an oven-baked clay dish casserole made with cheese, meat and spices. We enjoy a welcome dinner and orientation together. Overnight.
Note: We recommend that you arrive a day early unless you are already in Europe to allow for the possibility of cancelled or delayed flights, etc.
History Museum, Ethnographic Museum
After breakfast, a walk amongst the historic fortress leads us to two museums. The first is the History Museum, housed in a building designed by the daughter of Enver, the communist leader for most of the 20th century. The museum sets the stage perfectly for our adventure ahead, providing perspective and understanding of the complex history of Albania. At the Ethnographic Museum, located in a traditional Ottoman house, we learn about life in Kruja one hundred years ago. The museum curator joins us for lunch to tell us more about Albanian history.
From Kruja, we drive southwest to the coast. The drive climbs a dramatic pass, and we stop for a hike to get a first look at our kayaking waters. Dropping down to the Ionian coast, we arrive at our simple seaside accommodation set beneath the towering Lightning Mountains.
Kayak beneath the Lightning Mountains
We enjoy a traditional breakfast before heading to the sea for a kayaking orientation and the beginning of our paddling journey. Our paddle is suitable for beginnier kayakers, although more advanced kayakers will enjoy it as well. Beneath the dramatic Lightning Mountains, we paddle along a cliff-lined shore, exploring quaint, tucked-away coves as we go. The deep azul waters of the Ionian Sea are warm and comfortable. We stop for lunch and a swim, then make our way back along the coast to enjoy a relaxed evening at our inn. Paddling distance roughly 10-12 miles.
This morning, we pack our things and head south, paddling along cliffs, caves, beaches and forested mountains. We stop for lunch on an secluded beach for a picnic in the shade of olive trees and a refreshing swim. By mid-afternoon, we reach the seaside resort of Himara and enjoy the comfort of the town's finest hotel set right on the sea's edge. Paddling distance roughly 10 miles.
Soak in the beauty of the sea and sun as we glide through the sparkling waters of the coastline. There’s plenty of time to swim, soak in the sun's rays and peer into the depths of the clear Ionian. We paddle through the bay of Palermo, passing the front of the Ali Pasha Fortress, and get to see a communist-era, once-secret submarine tunnel! Our paddle ends at a quaint guest house where we enjoy lunch with an Albanian family.
After lunch, we take a scenic drive to the seaside town of Saranda, where we check into tonight’s accommodations, relax, then head out to dinner in the Lekuresi Castle panoramic restaurant. Food along the coast is usually “catch of the day” seafood dishes including the especially tasteful grilled sea bream and sea bass, as well as shrimp, squid, and octopus plates. Side dishes include homemade hot and crisp potato chips, potato salad with choped garden parsley and lemon, as well as the ever present “village salad” (similar to a Greek salad of tomato, cucumber, feta, etc.). There are good vegetarian options as well. The sunset over this lovely corner of the Mediterranean, with the island of Corfu on the horizon, is magnificent. Paddling distance approximately 12 miles.
Today we begin with a visit to Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This Greco-Roman ruin has one of the most tranquil and picturesque settings of any ancient site. Situated on the Straits of Corfu, a port from Hellenistic to Ottoman times, Butrint is surrounded by a lovely lagoon. According to Virgil, a notable Roman writer, the ancient city's founder was the seer Helenus, a son of the king Priam of Troy, who had married Andromache and moved west after the fall of Troy. Each stone in the city has a story to tell, as Butrint is one of the most memorable archaeological sites in the Mediterranean region. After a couple hours of exploring and learning from our local guide, we enjoy a lunch featuring local seafood delights including, in season, mussels from the lagoon of Butrint.
We then drive inland to visit the Blue Eye, a deep water spring that is set amid a forest of walnut, pine, hazelnut and fir trees. This natural wonder it was supposedly closed to everyone except the Communist Party elite for many years. From here, we continue over a winding mountain pass road, through a pastoral valley to the historic town of Gjirokaster. Designated a “Museum City” by Albania and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005, Gjirokaster is a charming town. The town is topped by a castle founded in the 13th Century, and is also the birthplace of Enver Hoxha. With a local guide, we explore the streets and history of this captivating town. We check into our hotel, then head for dinner at an outdoor terrace with views over the valley. The local dessert, called Hoshaf, is prepared with a layer of fig jam accompanied by walnuts and covered by a light mousse of rice flour and dried plum.
We depart from our hotel and drive across the Vjosa valley, through the narrow gorge of Suha, to the Zagoria Valley where our seven-mile (11km) hike begins. This hike ascends to Dhembeli Pass (1500 meters/ 4500 feet), and we’re accompanied by stunning pastoral and alpine views along the way. From the summit, we descend to visit the fresco-filled Leusa Church of the 17th century. We end in the riverside town of Permet. (Anyone who would rather not hike can ride in our van to this evening's accommodations in the riverside town of Permeti.) Schedule permitting, the Mayor of Permeti could join us for dinner to enlighten us on Albanian politics and social issues. Dinner features a traditional Albanian barbecue with lamb, veal, and pork served with garden vegetables, salads and local cheese.
Osumi River Canyon
Four-wheel drive vehicles take us through the remote Skrapar region this morning, featuring beautiful and remote landscape known as the “Raki Lands.” The region is named after the strongest liquor in Albania, raki. After two hours, we reach the Osumi River canyon – one of the most stunning natural monuments of the country. On our June trip, we enjoy a half-day rafting trip. In September, we hike along the river's edge.
We stop for lunch at a family-run, traditional restaurant in a beautiful location. We then continue to Berati, one of the oldest and most attractive cities in Albania. Designated the “Museum City” in 1976, the town was spared from communist urban planning. Ancient mosques and churches make for plenty to see, including the Church of St. Mary with a beautiful icon collection by the 16th Century master Onufri. Tonight's accommodation is in a restored Ottoman home.
Dinner includes dishes of stuffed vegetables, oven baked meats and 'fergese', another clay pot casserole prepared with cottage cheese, peppers and garlic. Throughout the trip, we taste different olives and cheese of the various regions.
Depart Berati in time to reach any flights scheduled from the Tirana Airport or continue your travels!
Dates & Rates
4-6 Guests: $3,695 USD per person
7-12 Guests: $3,195 USD per person
Single Supplement: If you are a solo traveler and wish to have your own accommodations throughtout the tour (or if we are unable to pair you up with another solo traveler), an additional single supplement of $500 USD is required.
Custom departures available. The above departures are already set, however depending on group size and availability of guides and accommodations, we may be able to offer a custom departure.
TIERED PRICING EXPLAINED: Our trips are budgeted for full or near full sign-ups which enables us to offer trips at the lowest possible price. Because of numerous fixed costs, it is more expensive to operate a trip for a small group. Therefore, on some of our trips, in order to avoid having to cancel a trip, we have a “tier-pricing” system to avoid canceling a trip with a low number of sign ups. We have found that most people also prefer this alternative to having a trip cancelled. Thus, you will note on our trip prices there may be different price for 6-8 people versus 19-12, etc.
ALL PRICES IN US DOLLARS. We will do our best to adhere to the itineraries and trip descriptions listed on our website. However, tour itineraries or sub contractors (such as taxi, cruise boats or hotels) may change slightly due to reasons beyond our control including but not limited to Acts of God, wind, waves, inclement weather or other. We always welcome you to call us to clarify any item - often this is the best way to fully clarify expectations - call us collect or on our toll-free number. You will be sent pre-trip email with latest details within a month of your tour - it is your responsibility to check in with us prior to your trip to see if you have all the information you need. We will always do our best to provide you with the best possible tour and to fully meet your expectations to the best of our ability.
FAQ & More
Several airlines offer daily flights to Tirana, the capital city, from Paris, Vienna, Frankfurt and other European cities. It's also possible to take a ferry from Bari, Italy to Durres, Albania before of after your trip. You might prefer to fly to a neighboring country and travel by hired car. If you prefer, transportation can be arranged at the end of the tour to continue on to Greece, or to Dubrovnik, Croatia.
All transport upon arrival until departure from Albania; all meals and accommodations as noted; expert leadership throughout; all entrance fees; all kayaking gear. Not included: Airfare; personal expenses such as alcohol, laundry, etc.; gratuities for guides.
We’ve chosen our departure dates to avoid the heat of July and August. Generally days will be warm, in the 75-85 degree Fahrenheit range, with little to no rain. Nights cool to the 50-60 degrees, with cooler nights when we are in the mountains.
A full packing list will be provided. All kayaking gear is provided.
The kayaking portion of the trip is appropriate for first-time kayakers, however we do recommend that you have previous paddling experience and conditioning prior to the trip. We won't be carrying any gear in the kayaks, so they will be light. The other parts of the trip include easy walks over uneven surfaces. Please call our office if you have any questions.
We do not arrange international air travel but we do have a great air travel specialist we refer you to if you’d like.
Absolutely! We know the area well, so if you’d like to spend more time you might consider our Peaks of the Balkans hiking adventure that combines Montenegro and a corner of Albania not included in this trip. Or we can help you arrange your way to Greece, or north to Croatia. We’re happy to discuss any ideas you have.
There are a lot of arrangements to be made for a custom trip like this adventure and so it is helpful with our planning if you book three to eight months in advance. However, if you can’t plan that far ahead, then it’s usually not a problem to book up to about a month or two in advance. If you find yourself looking for last-minute space just call us and check!
The first kayaking and cultural tour ever offered to Albania it is a well-orchestrated and creative itinerary that takes you to hidden corners of the region. Led by expert bilingual local guides the trip is limited to just 12 guests ensuring that you will get close attention and care from the guides. All airport transfers are included in the tour and ROW Sea Kayak Adventures focuses on accommodating you in locally-owned inns and small hotels giving you a chance to really explore the culture of Albania while helping to provide for the local economy. ROW Sea Kayak Adventures follows strong Responsible Travel Actions.
Please see our full Terms & Conditions HERE.