Following the defeat of the Axis powers at the end of World War II, a totalitarian Communist government was established, presided over by resistance leader Enver Hoxha. Albania became infamous for its isolation, not just from the market-run democracies of Western Europe, but from the Soviet Union, China, and even neighboring Yugoslavia. Even as the Iron Curtain came down and Communists lost power throughout Eastern Europe, Albania seemed intent on staying the course, alone.
But in 1992, several years after the death of Hoxha, the Communist party finally relinquished power and Albania established a multi-party democracy with a coalition government. The transition has proven difficult, as corrupt governments have tried to deal with high unemployment, a dilapidated infrastructure, widespread gangsterism, and disruptive political opponents. Today Albania is making progress, with EU integration as its goal; Albania signed the SAA on June 2006, thus completing the first major step towards joining. In 2008 Albania received an invitation to join NATO.
There is no longer a visa charge for any foreigners entering Albania.
U.S., Canadian, Australian and New Zealand nationals can enter Albania without obtaining a visa but you'll have to pay an entry fee of €1 (if you visit Albania on a daytrip it can be free, for short stays it can be €1). Be sure to receive a receipt and keep it with you, as guards may request it upon exiting the country as proof of payment. The Albania guards are very nice and do their best to help out and will, on occasion, allow fees to be paid in dollars or will forget to charge you. It's worth making sure you've got the Euros on you as the customs officers at Mother Teresa airport don't give change.
As well as paying to get in, you need to pay €1 to leave the country; although, on occasion, tourists are allowed to leave via the Macedonian border without paying. When crossing the border with Macedonia on foot, the guards only accept €1 and €2 coins, you cannot pay with two €0.50 coins.
Nationals of the European Union don't have to pay the fee since early 2009.
Tirana's "Mother Teresa" International Airport is located just 15 minutes away from the city. It is served by numerous European flag carriers such as British Airways, Alitalia, Lufthansa, Austrian, and the low cost carrier Germanwings. A new, larger terminal opened in 2007.
At the airport exit, there are numerous taxis 24/7 that can take you to the city. The taxi fee to the city center is €25. Taxi fees to other locations are posted on a placard just outside the exit doors.
There is a bus that runs once an hour between the airport and Skanderberg Square in the centre of Tirana. It costs 200 lek each way, leaves on the hour from the airport and at 25 past the hour from Skanderberg Square. It runs from about 8AM to 7PM.
It is not possible to enter or leave Albania via train. There are, however, trains that operate within the country.
You can reach Tirana by coach from
Tetovo, Republic of Macedonia (7 hr,€ 15)
Prishtina, Kosovo (6 hr, €20)
There is now a daily bus link between Ulcinj in Montenegro and Skhoder. But there are no scheduled buses from any other point in Montenegro into Albania.
Ferries to Durrës arrive from Bari (9h, €50) and Ancona (19h, €70). A high-speed service operates from Bari (3h, €60).
Ferries from Corfu to Saranda every day.
You can reach Albania by car from:
Ohrid , Macedonia
Ioannina, Greece where pass the National Roads.
There is a 10-euro/person tax, which must be paid upon entering Albania. After payment of the tax to the police, the customs officer will issue a "road tax certificate", which you must keep until you leave the country. When you exit the country, you'll pay €2/day and return the certificate.
To enter the country, ensure that your International Motor Insurance Card is valid for Albania (AL) along with the Vehicle Registration and a Power of Attorney from the owner if the car is not yours. The border guards are very strict about allowing cars through without these documents.
The road between Struga, Macedonia and Tirana (E852/SH3) is not to the levels of quality found in other parts of Europe but it is sufficient. There are a lot of slow moving vehicles along the curvy mountainous route so extra caution must be exercised especially around corners or during over-taking.
The road between Prizren(Kosova) and Tirana (Albania) is not to the levels of quality found in other parts of Europe but it is sufficient especially Albanian part. Extra caution because in some parts near the Kosova border the work on the road is still going on. There are a lot of slow moving vehicles along the curvy mountainous route so extra caution must be exercised especially around corners or during over-taking.
The road between Shkoder (border of Montenegro) and Tirana (E762/SH1) is of sufficient quality for driving but there are a lot of slow moving vehicles and un-controlled access points so extra caution must be exercised especially during over-taking.
There are two border control points in the north of Albania with Montenegro. The narrow road from Shkoder to Ulcinj, Montenegro via Muriqan, is used mainly by locals and is worth a try to avoid heavier traffic on the main road (E762/SH1) to Hani i Hoti. Ask any police officer to point you in the right direction from Shkoder. They are helpful, courteous and friendly.
Albania is geographically a small country and as such it is possible to leave by taxi. Note, however, that the roads are not of western standard and can take several times longer than expected to traverse.
Your hotel will be able to arrange a taxi to the border, where you should be able to change to a taxi at the other side. For example, a taxi from Tirana to the Macedonian border, a distance of 70 miles, will take three hours and cost about €100. A Macedonian taxi from the border onwards to Struga would cost €20 and take 20 mins, while a taxi on to Skopje would take 3 hours on much better roads and would cost about €120 (Prices January 2008). Passport control will take about 30 mins.
There are many things to do in Albania. Because of its size, traveling around it is not difficult, allowing tourists to see many beautiful parts of the country.
The coastline is always a place to go, with its clear turquoise seas, and its many islands cast upon it, like in Saranda, a southern city in Albania.
Dajti mountain, a popular sight in Tirana allows you to get a whole green view of the capital.
A walk around southern cities like Butrint, a UNESCO world heritage site, is always ideal and memorable. Butrint is home to many ancient ruins.
Castles are in many cities in Albania. Their beauty reminds anyone of the ancient times of Albania, and the world. There is Petrela Castle near Tirana, Rozafa castle in Shkodra, the inhabited castle of Berat, and Skanderbeg Castle in Kruje, (named after the national hero and now a popular museum holding his belongings).
Restaurants are very easy to find. Albania, like the Balkans in general, has a primarily Turkish influence in its cuisine. This influence stems from over 400 years of Ottoman rule in the region. Recent influences after the fall of communism in the early 1990's have been from Italy and Western Europe in general. Most of what is available in neighboring countries such as Greece and Italy will be available in Albania, particularly in the larger cities.
Albania's food is very tasty and satisfying. Many people grow fruits and vegetables around their houses, most popularly all kinds of grapes, (red, black, green), that are used to make raki.
Albania is a very mountainous country, and these mountains have scattered little beautiful olive trees that influence Albanian cuisine. Salads are usually made with fresh tomato and onion. Most Albanian people make their own bread, and going out for meals is not common. Since all fruits and vegetables are grown naturally, everything you buy and pick is sweeter and pesticide-free.
Some sort of hearty stew is commonly included in Albanian dinners. These stews are easy to make, and flexible with ingredients. They include potatoes, onion, rice, etc.
Byrek - a type of savory pie is also common, and is made in different ways. One way is with spinach and feta cheese. Another is with ground meat and onion. Baklava is a popular desert and is always made as a desert during New Year's Eve. If going to Albania, expect lamb to be the main meat in many places. Lamb there is naturally fed, and does not have any odor like it does in North America. Two byreks and an ayran is a very common breakfast, so try it to understand why.
Cheese - lots of different types but mostly feta cheese. In village shops be prepared that you'll get the cheese in less hygienic way then in supermarkets but it's worth to try as it's usually delicious and in very good price (try those higher priced first).
Albanians are very hospitable. Even more so than the rest of the Balkans, elder males expect to be shown due respect on account of their age. Men of the family have to be respected in particular. Shake hands with them and do not argue about topics such as religion and politics. Certain topics are strictly taboo, although they may be fine in the United States or other countries. Homosexuality is one good example. Just remember that the situation changes a lot according to the location (village or city) and the people with whom you speak as well. Of course, in the hidden north, avoid topics that go beyond local understanding, but be sure that in Tirana you will find very cosmopolitan people that are as open to new ideas as citizens in the rest of Western Europe. There is nothing particular to worry about; all you need to remember is to respect local people as much as you do back home.
It's best to drink bottled water, but potted water is usually drinkable too. The food in Albania is mostly healthy anywhere you go in the country. You can walk around to stay fit, as many people do in the capital. Be careful at the beaches because shards of glass and sea urchins are common on the sea floor. Also, pharmacies and other stores are closed from about 12PM-4PM; so, bring all necessary medicine with you. Also, many Albanians smoke cigarettes. It is a normal thing and expect it everywhere. The government has banned smoking in restaurants, however.
Take the usual precautions. Foreigners are not targeted by the local crime scene and since the opening of the border, no major incidents toward tourists have been reported.
Officially 220V 50Hz. Outlets are the European standard CEE-7/7 or the compatible, but non-grounded, CEE-7/16 "Europlug" types. Generally speaking, U.S. and Canadian travellers should pack an adapter for these outlets if they plan to use North American electrical equipment in Albania.
Be prepared for rolling blackouts in and around Tirana during the winter months, usually starting in September, and going through March and April. All the power in the area comes from hydroelectric plants, and the high use of heaters in the wintertime places a greater stress on the water supply for the power plant. The blackouts usually last three hours, and will either be in the morning, around 9AM, or in the afternoon around 3PM. There is no warning of the blackout, so be careful not to get stuck in an elevator.
You can buy a local sim card for 600 Lek (Vodafone). You need to provide ID (passport) and give an address in Albania.
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|Area||28,748 sq km|
|Electricity||230V/50Hz (European plug)|
|Population||3,600,523 (July 2007 est.)|
|Religion||Albanians are mostly atheist or do not follow any religion. All mosques and churches were closed in 1967 and religious observances were prohibited; in 1990, Albania began allowing private religious practices again. According to an official US Government : "No data are available on active participation in formal religious services, but estimates indicate that "only 30 to 40 percent of the population practices a religion."|