Promises made, promises kept. The time had come for TPOL to listen to the voters and move to Albania (see Vote Where TPOL Moves Next! And I’ll Go There). By move, I meant go on vacation. Those words mean the same thing right? After all, I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be. The Albania Riviera is beautiful. It’s like the Amalfi Coast without the tourist traps. The problem is that there is no efficient way to get there.
Option 1: Fly into Tirana, Albania’s Capital, and take the bus.
Option 2: Fly into Corfu, Greece and take the boat.
Obviously, I went with option 3. I spoke to the front desk at the Skopje Marriott. They recommended hiring a private driver. The cost was $500. I vetoed that idea and decided to take my chances with the bus. With no published bus schedule that I could find and no way to book a seat online, what could go wrong? I hopped into a taxi and told him to take me to the bus station. He asked where I was going and I said Saranda, Albania. At the time, I was unaware that my intended destination, Jala, was located much further up the coast. My plan was to figure out how to get to Jala, home to Folie Marine, the top party destination in the Albanian Riviera, once I was in the vicinity.
The taxi driver asked if I was open to hiring a driver instead of taking the bus. I asked him how much and he said around $230. For 7 hours direct versus having to deal with changing busses and taking twice as long, I agreed. Our first stop would be Bitola, Macedonia, where we would have to find another driver who would agree to take me the rest of the way for his cut of the fare.
The drive from Skopje to Bitola was 2.5 hours. When we arrived, I went to find some drinks while my driver went to find another driver.
In no time, he found someone to take me to Saranda via Thessaloniki, Greece. For the next few hours he drove and drove. Meanwhile, I was searching for a hotel near Jala. There weren’t any. I don’t mean that the hotels were sold out. I mean that there weren’t any actual hotels. The lone exception was the Folie Marine & Club which was at capacity. Had it not been, the daily rate is $500.
I settled for a hotel in the in the town of Himare, which I assumed was close enough to Jala by taxi. When we arrived in Saranda, the driver was less than pleased to find out that he still had to go another 32 miles. He charged me another $25 for the inconvenience. That was actually reasonable considering that my taxi back to Saranda the next day cost 500LEK ($45USD).
I learned next to nothing from this experience, except that Albania needs to invest in infrastructure if it wants foreign tourists to come.
For those looking to go to other cities in Albanian Riviera: A stop in dreadful Corfu followed by a ferry ride may be the best option. Flying into Tirana is not convenient, given the lack of direct flights (see Tirana’s WikiAirport Page). Even if you find a flight into Tirana, hiring a car or taking a bus for 170 miles is not much better than the routing I took.
For those looking to go to Folie Marine: Given the clientele at Folie Marine, I assume they don’t care if there are tourists. The nightclub was packed, the tables were booked solid, and the hotel couldn’t offer me a room even at 4AM. Staying in Himare was not a great idea. It cost $20 each way to get to Folie Marine and I was lucky that the taxi that took me there actually came back to pick me up. Otherwise, I would have slept on the beach.
The Albanian Riviera is beautiful, pristine, and remains undiscovered to the outside world. The reason is because it is inconvenient to access. Compared to Corfu which was ruined by tourists, that may be a good thing. But for the stubborn adventurer like myself, it was an unnecessary hassle.