VISIT THE NORTH OF ALBANIA
Northern Albania consists of the towns of Shkodra, Diber, Puka, Kukesi, Mati, Peshkopi, Tropoja, Theth, Valbona, Lezha, Mirdita and the wonderful Lura lakes. The term "Northern Albania" usually denotes to the northern half of the country inhabited by the Ghegs, who predominantly live in the mountainous north of the Shkumbin river. This ethnographic territory is sometimes referred to as Gegëria. We have collected alot of information about Northern Albania and also about the mountains of Albania, the rivers of Albania and the lakes of Albania in order to help this beautiful undeveloped country promote its beauties and to expand its tourism. We have explored Albania ourselves and have collected a team of guides and knowledgeable people who can assist you during your trip to Albania and especially Northern Albania.
USEFUL INFORMATION WHILE HIKING IN NORTHERN ALBANIA
The mountains of Albania are not only beautiful and majestic – they are often also dangerous and abandoned. Every tourist has to be prepared accordingly. Wild animals and dangerous roads should be considered. We’ve gathered a few recommendations and some advice that you should follow every time you visit Albania.
Don't overestimate yourself: Plan your trip so that you always travel during daytime. For example – the journey from Curraj i Poshtëm to Curraj i Epërm takes about 4 hours for local people, although for most of us, it took 6 hours or more. If you are not in an extremely good physical state and trained for mountainous terrain, you always have to calculate a time reserve in a similar ratio.
Always carry enough food and water: While it might be true that the chance to stumble upon a stream or other source of water is quite high in this environment, it might happen (especially during summer!) that the water source will be dry. If you are not 100 % sure that there is a water source on your route, always carry enough with you, the same applies for basic food.
Get a map and a GPS unit: To bring your own tourist map is definitely an advantage. Print our map with tourist trails for free. The only map being sold while being at least semi-useable at the same time is “Wanderkarte Thethi und Kelmend”, made by Huber Verlag – it is quite likely though that you will not be able to find it for sale anywhere. A GPS unit provides you the luxury of knowing where you actually are.
Carry a fully charged mobile phone and a contact to reach emergency service: Eventually, also a number to contact our helpdesk – it only works during our stay in Albania during summer. You can find the contacts here. At some places, there is no signal available.
Do not leave the official trails: Mountainous environment can sometimes be confusing and harsh. Try to stick to our trails, NEVER LEAVE THESE WITHOUT GPS AND A SUFFICIENT AMOUNT OF SUPPLIES!
Learn a few words in Albanian: Local people are usually very open towards tourists and their hospitality is incredible, it is however fitting to mention that most of them don’t speak any foreign language. It might come handy to know (or at least carry on a piece of paper) at least a few basic words and phrases in Albanian.
Deal with the locals and the mountains with respect: When you meet someone, greet them! Albanian hospitality is unbelievable and they will gladly invite you to their home. Accept the invitation, but please, do not abuse it! The income of local people is usually much lower than the income of most people, who come from other european countries. If you feel that you’ve already accepted too much without contributing, it is suitable to pay a sum accordingly – even if the locals insist that they cannot accept the money (as they usually do). Show your respect and you will be respected. Carry your garbage away out of the mountains with you or burn it, if possible. If you visit a cave, don’t damage the stalagmites and stalactites!
Let someone know about your intentions: It is crucial that you leave some information about your plans in every destination on the way (where you are headed, how long do you plan to stay, how many of you are there, your phone number). In case you make an error or something unpredictable happens, it is important that somebody else knows about your trip. Even if you go just for a short walk, make an entry in the nearest evidence book, or let know one of the locals – be it an owner of a guesthouse, or a man who invited you to taste some raki and cheese.
Bears and other animals: Yes, there are bears, wolves, wild pigs and vipers in these mountains. Although none of us has ever met a bear or any other of these animals yet here, it is always good to modify your behavior accordingly.
Choose adequate equipment
Never forget to choose your shoes and clothes accordingly to the time of year and terrain. It rains here during summer too. Always carry a sleeping bag, a tent or other equipment that can be made into a shelter. Albanians are used to local conditions and their style of clothing reflects it, therefore, we advise you never to get inspired by them in this matter.
Don't swim naked: The crystal clear waters of local mountain rivers might tempt you to swim without any appropriate clothes on – it is however considered extremely rude by most of the local people and as such, it is absolutely not advised.
The Albanian Alps
The mountain ranch which forms the border between Albania and Montenegro is widely known as the the Albanian Alps, the dynaric alps, the accursed mountains or, more often, in every day Albanian parlance, just the "highlands" (Malesia). The Eastern part of the highlands is covered in . The western part, Malesia, Madhe or the big highlands is usually assessed from Kopliku, a small town 17 kilometers north of Skhodra. Mini buses to Kopliku leave from Rus Maxhar, on the northern outskirts of Shkodra. From Kopliku, mini buses run to all of the main village in Malesia, e Madhe and to Thethi; sometimes they can also be picked up at Rus Maxhar, but this is a less reliable option. The usual schedule for these mini buses is that the driver leaves his home village in the early morning and brings the mini bus back from Kopliku (or Shkodra) in the early afternoon, after its passengers has transacted whatever business they have traveled to town for. The shop keepers around the street in Kopliku where the mini buses wait are very helpful and will try to find out for you what time the bus of your choice is likely to depart.
Kopliku has the last ATMs that you will see before your return from the highlands. It is essential to carry sufficient cash for your trip; credit cards cannot be used anywhere in the Albanian Alps. Nor are there any landline telephones beyond Kopliku.
Bird species in the wetlands
PHALACROCORAX CARBO The Great cormorant is a black long bodied, long necked water bird. It swims and dives for fish, and may perch on rocks and in dead trees. It characteristically stands with its wings outstretched to dry them. In Spring it has white feathers on its head and neck, and bold white patches on its flanks.
PHALACROCORAX PYGMEUS - The near threatened pygmy cormorant is about half the size of the Phalacrocorax carbo, but otherwise looks similar. it nests in trees, preferably in willow trees and feeds in reed beds and it the transition zones between reed beds and open waters. Pygmy cormorants occasionally forage together in flocks. It is said that they may drive shoals of fish towards the edge of reed beds, in order to catch them more easily.
ARDEOLA RALLOIDES - The squacco herrin is a beautiful small herron and, like the other herrons described here, most winter in Africa. The breeding plumage is mainly golden, with long brown streaked nape plumes and a greenish blue bill, but in flight, it is surprisingly white. It is rather shy and often solitary, feeding either by "standing and waiting" or walking slowly along.
EGRETTA GARZETTA - Little egrets are white, medium sized herrons with black legs and bright yellow feet, and in the breeding season have long white nape plumes. They are sociable, often boisterous, birds and nest with other herrons in trees. They feed mostly on fish and shore dwelling animals.
NYCTICORAX NYCTICORAX - The black crowned night herron is the size of the little egret, but stockier. Adults are a soft grey color, with a black back and crown, and white head plumes in Spring. Young birds are brown buff and spotted. The legs are raspberry pink at the start of the breeding period and yellowish, the rest of the year. It rests by day in clumps of trees or bushes and is easiest to see at dusk, when it flies around and feeds.
PLATALEA LEUCORODIA - Spoon bills are white, but much larger than little egrets. They have long, broad, spatulate bills, which make them unmistakable. They feed with a graceful side to side sweeping action, catching small aquatic animals. In the breeding season, adults have a yellow patch around their necks and a bushy crest at the back of the neck.
PLEGADIS FALCINELLUS - The glossy ibis is the size of a little egret but very dark, and with a long down curved bill. The rich chestnut plumage has beautiful green and purple highlights. It is quite common in southeastern Europe, although its numbers are declining. Glossy ibis eat small water dwelling animals and the spoonbills, they fly with their necks stretched out, often in single file.
AQUILA CLANGA - The spotted eagle is a medium sized eagle (wings spam :1,53 - 1,77 meters) with dark brown plumage and slightly paler flight feathers. Juveniles have rows of white spots along the upper wing. It occurs in lowland forests near wetlands, where it nests in tall trees, and feed on small mammals, water bird, frogs and snakes. Its global population is decreasing as a result of extensive habitat loss and persistent persecution, and it is classified as a vulnerable. Bird life international estimates that there are no more than 900 pairs remaining in Europe, with only small numbers wintering in Southern Europe.
HALIAEETUS ALBICILLA - White tailed eagle, also known as sea eagles are huge birds, (wing span 1.90 - 2.40 meters) classified as "near threatened". The adults are easily identified from their white tails and large yellow bills. However, it takes about 5 years for adult plumage to be acquired and immature birds can be confused with other eagles.