We arrived in Saranda Albania after a short journey from Meteora in Greece. The journey consisted of two bus trips and a taxi.
The first bus brought us from Kalambaka (Meteora) to Ionnina (2 hour journey and cost €27.20 for the two of us).
From Ionnina we then got a second bus that took us across the border and into Kakabia (Albania border town). This journey was about 3 hours and cost €13.60 for both of us.
Once we were over the border, the only way we could get to Saranda on the west coast was a taxi which ended up costing us €30 for the 1 hour mountain journey. Ouch!
Yes, we were ripped off with that price but there were no other options for us as there were only mafia taxi guys swarming around like vultures.
Saranda is a port city located in the southern part of Albania and is considered to be part of the “Albanian Rivera”.
With a population of about 30,000, it’s not a huge city, but those numbers quadruple during the peak season (May, June, July August) due to the influx of tourists, mainly from Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
Saranda is also a major holiday destination for Albanians as the temperature remains mild with about 300 days of sunshine a year.
Agricultural products from the Valtos valley and mussel farming from a nearby salt lake provide the main basis of the economy in Saranda.
Mark my words though – this area is going to explode with main-stream tourism at some stage in the future.
It’s still relatively untouched compared to other sea-side resorts – but it won’t remain that way forever, that’s for sure.
Cheap! Cheap! Cheap!
Albania is ridiculously cheap – even in the capital Tirana.
130 Lek = €1
We eat in a lovely sea-side restaurant along the main promenade and had bruschetta for starters, a bowl of chicken risotto each and two bottle of water and only paid €9 in total.
We love working and chilling out in cafes, and there’s tons of local cafes here. Lattes were €0.80 in the one we went into.
The quality of the food was unreal and we were astonished by how cheap it was. Coming from Greece – it was a nice surprise as Greece wasn’t cheap for day to day living. (Not in Athens or Meteora anyways)
Top 3 things to do in Saranda Albania
While we only spent 2 days in the city, we felt that it was enough for what we wanted to do/see, given the fact that the we didn’t want to go visit Corfu (Greece), which is only 26km off the coast of Saranda.
1. Rent a car
We rented a ford focus for €30 for 24 hours and drove around the vicinity of the area.
Due to the fact that it wasn’t peak season, there were only private tours on offer to see some sights, so it would have worked out a lot more expensive to do a two person private tour.
The car was the perfect alternative as it gave us the freedom to explore at our own leisure and take our time.
2. Visit Butrint
Butrint is only a short drive away from Saranda and it’s an ancient city from prehistoric times.
The city was abandoned sometime in the late middle ages when swampy marshes started to form on the land.
Now a world UNESCO site, Butrint was one of many locations in Albania that were not allowed to be visited by the general public during the communist spell. Albanians were not allowed to visit the city because the government feared that its citizens would try and escape by swimming to Greece.
We weren’t really too impressed with Butrint if we’re completely honest. I suppose after seeing the Acropolis and temple of Zeus in Athens prior to visiting Butrint – our expectations were somewhat high.
Nevertheless, it’s worth a stop if you hire a car and it takes about 1 hour to walk around the city from start to finish.
3. The Blue Eye
This is a natural, deep spring. The colour of the water is vibrant blue and looks absolutely amazing.
We’ve never seen water so crystal clear before and even the photos don’t do it justice.
The hole is assumed to be about 45 meters deep but when divers went down to explore it, they didn’t reach the bottom, so it’s presumed to be even deeper.
It’s a popular haunt for locals during the hot summer months to jump into and chill out. During the communist days, the area was reserved for communist leaders to visit and like Butrint, it was wasn’t allowed to be visited by Albanians.
Visit Saranda, Albania before it’s too late
What I mean by this is that it won’t stay unspoiled forever. The area really is spectacular and it will definitely be hit by mainstream tourism at some stage – whenever Albania opens up a little bit more.
Albania in general is off the beaten path. Not many tourist are found here (compared to other nearby countries).
It’s amazingly cheap, the people are so friendly and if you’re looking for an authentic backpacking experience in the Balkans, then put Albania on your list asap!
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