Located in Northern Albania, the Albanian Alps stretch from Northern Albania to Kosovo and Northeastern Montenegro spanning over 620+ miles with the highest mountain peak (Maja Jezercë) standing tall at 8,800+ feet. This mountain range is a mecca for outdoor explorers, filled with waterfalls, hiking trails, remote villages, and rivers you can swim in. Perhaps one of the best things to do in the Albanian Alps is to make the trek from one village to the next. Particularly, Valbona to Theth.
Valbona, also known as Valbonë, is a small village in Kukës County, part of Valbonë National Park. The small village sits along the Valbona River, in a valley amongst mountain peaks. Theth is a small village in Shkodër County, part of Theth National Park; located in a valley amongst the Shala mountains.
If you’re hiking, Valbona is located 10+ miles (depending on where you start and end the hike) east of Theth. However, if you’re going by car, the drive takes over five hours because you have to drive through the mountains from one village to the next. There is no direct road through the mountains from Valbona to Theth, and this is why hiking Valbona to Theth is so popular (versus driving).
Everything You Need to Know About Hiking from Valbona to Theth
Although hiking in Albania (particularly from village to village) can seem daunting, it’s quite easy! There are so many people who are willing to help you out along the way and even plan your trip for you that it’s silly not to partake in this incredible experience. Below you’ll find how to start the hike, ending the hike, and the logistics of trekking Albania.
Where to Start?
Because it’s a bit of a nightmare to begin the hike from Valbona to Theth, your best bet is to head north to Shkoder and spend one night before taking off on your adventure. Shkoder is located at the base of the Albanian Alps, near Shkodra Lake. There are buses to Shkoder all day long so it’s easy to access. If you’re coming from Tirana, the bus ride is approximately 2.5 hours and costs 350 Lek. If you’re coming from anywhere else in Albania, chances are you’ll connect in Tirana and switch buses there.
WHERE TO STAY IN SHKODER
To get to Valbona, you’ll have to leave early in the morning (as early as 6 am), so for that reason, it’s necessary to spend the night in Shkoder. I stayed at The Wanderers Hostel which ended up being a good choice for me.
While the rooms were subpar (although there are private rooms available), The Wanderers Hostel can arrange everything (guesthouses, bus rides, ferry rides, etc) for you. Plus they store your bags for free and even help you get a taxi or bus when you return back to Shkoder. While you can definitely go at it alone, or ask a different accommodation to help you set up the logistics of your hike, Wanderers took the stress out of it for me.
THINGS TO DO IN SHKODER
I recommend spending one night in Shkoder, as there isn’t *too* much to see and do, and in fact, I would skip it altogether if it weren’t necessary to get to Valbona from there.
While you’re in Shkoder some popular things to do are to bike to the lake (Shkoder is very flat and therefore very bike-able!), visit the Castle, and visit the Site of Witness and Memory museum. Across the street from the Site of Witness and Memory museum is an authentic (and incredibly cheap) Albanian restaurant, Peja.
Getting from Shkoder to Valbona
Getting from Shkoder to Valbona is no easy feat. To do so you’ll need to take a bus two hours to Lake Koman; take a 2.5-hour ferry across the lake, and then get a ride to your guesthouse in Valbona. Again, The Wanderers Hostel arranged this all for me, but you can arrange it on your own if you want to.
The price of getting from Shkoder to Valbona is approximately 2200 Lek (700 Lek/ticket for each bus and 800 Lek for the ferry). In total, the journey from Shkoder to Valbona takes about five hours.
WHERE TO STAY IN VALBONA
There are tons of guesthouses to choose from in Valbona. I stayed at Guesthouse Arben Selimaj and couldn’t recommend it enough. Guesthouse Arben Selimaj is located right on the river nestled up against the mountains. The homeowners are incredibly kind, helpful, and thoughtful. If you stay here, a one-night stay with lunch, dinner, breakfast, and a packed lunch costs €25. Make sure to have cash on hand!
If you don’t stay at Guesthouse Arben Selimaj, some things to consider include… does your guesthouse serve food? There are no restaurants in Valbona and the market carries the bare minimum. You’ll also want to consider if a driver will be available to greet you when you come from the ferry. And lastly, you’ll want to check if there’s an available ride to the trailhead for you to begin your hike. This is because some guesthouses are located pretty far from the start of the hike. Guesthouse Arben Selimaj is located 2.5-miles from the trailhead and they provide morning transportation for €10 total.
Hiking from Valbona to Theth
The fun begins! The hike from Valbona to Theth is about 10+ miles (depending on where you start and end) and takes on average about seven hours. I got a ride to the trailhead and a ride was waiting for me when I got to Theth to take me to the guesthouse, which means I hiked 8.5 miles in approximately 4.5 hours.
For the first two miles of the hike, you’ll be walking on flat, rocky, land. At mile three your incline greatly increases (expect to gain about 1,000 feet in one mile) and finally smooths out when you get to the peak of the hike.
I highly recommend beginning this hike early in the morning (I started at 6:45 am) to beat the heat. At the beginning/middle of the hike, there is little to no shade.
I encourage you to bring drinks and snacks for the hike, but the good thing is that there are two cafes (one before you summit and one after) where you can get food, drinks, and even use the bathroom.
WHERE TO STAY IN THETH
Please note, it is possible to do this hike and not need to spend the night in Theth. You just need to start early enough that you make it back to get on the last bus of the day back to Shkoder which comes at 2 pm.
If you want to stay in Theth, like Valbona, there are many guesthouses to choose from. I stayed at Pjeter Cuni Guesthouse Zariklis. The location was great and the family was very accomodating by offering us rides and arranging the bus back to Shkoder for us. The only issue I had with this guesthouse was that there was no air conditioning (meaning the rooms got incredibly hot), and the food wasn’t as great as the first guesthouse in Valbona. The cost for a one-night stay with lunch, dinner, and breakfast was 3000 Lek.
THINGS TO DO IN THETH
One of the most popular things to do in Theth is to visit the Blue Eye. If you have the time, it’s a beautiful waterfall and swimming hole, but it takes work to get to. You either have to hike there (six hours roundtrip) or you can pay €50 for a 45-minute ride and then walk 30-minutes to reach the Blue Eye.
Know that the water is INCREDIBLY cold so if you’re coming and expecting to spend the day swimming, be warned that that’s probably not how your day will end up. Instead, I’d ask your guesthouse for directions on how to get to a swimming spot in the river.
A couple of other things to do in Theth include swimming in the Thethit river and seeing the Church of Theth.
Getting from Theth to Shkoder
As mentioned above, if you don’t want to stay in Theth you can get a bus back to Shkoder (the last one leaves at 2 pm) once you finish the hike. If you do stay in Theth your guesthouse can arrange transportation for you back to Shkoder when you’re ready to go. The cost should be around 1200 Lek and will take about three hours.
Logistics of Hiking from Valbona to Theth
What to Pack/Wear
If you’ve come to Albania with more than a backpack (like me), you’ll need to condense all of your things into a bag that you can carry on your hike with you. I recommend a large backpack where you can fit a change of clothes, a swimming suit, toiletries, sunscreen, a reusable water bottle, and snacks. If you have space you might also want to consider bringing a book (for nights in the villages), a camera, and anything else you may want for the couple of days that you’re in the mountains.
Remember, you’ll be carrying this pack with you throughout the hike so make sure to pack as light as possible.
As for what you should wear on the hike, I recommend hiking shoes or comfortable tennis shoes (I wore tennis shoes and did slip often on the rocks), a hat to protect your face from the sun, and a light sweater to wear at the beginning of the hike if you plan to start early in the morning.
SHOP MY FAVORITE HIKING LOOKS!
Hiking Valbona to Theth (and Not Vice Versa)
While it’s entirely possible – and some people do it – I recommend hiking Valbona to Theth versus Theth to Valbona. That’s because I found that there was a little bit more to do in Theth, there was even a restaurant and a market. Versus less to do in Valbona. Once you end your hike you can choose to stay in Theth for as long as you want!
I also recommend Valbona to Theth because it’s much harder to get to Valbona than Theth. Think about if you were to hike Theth and finish in Valbona and then be required to take two buses and a ferry to get back to Shkoder.
Lastly, the last half of the hike (walking into Theth) is much more shaded than if you were to arrive in Valbona. Because you’ll more than likely be ending the hike once the sun is out, you may want that extra shade as you descend.
If you’re up for it, some people do the hike both ways.
How Much Money Should You Bring?
There are no ATMs in Valbona or Theth so you need to bring enough money to be able to cover your guesthouse and anything extra you may want or need. I would budget money for if you plan to get food/drink on the mountain (water is free). Money for the guesthouse. Money if you want to buy alcohol or anything else in the villages. Money if you plan to drive to the Blue Eye in Theth. And money to get back to Shkoder.
I ran out of money and my guesthouse said that if needed the bus driver could take me to an ATM in Shkoder, but it was a pain and much easier just to have the right amount of money on you.
I would recommend taking a minimum of 8000 Lek (assuming your bus and ferry from Shkoder to Valbona is already paid for). Euros are also accepted (I’d bring a minimum of €70).
Food and Water
As mentioned earlier, there are limited resources when it comes to food and drink in the villages. That’s why it’s imperative to find a good guesthouse that will feed you enough food to sustain you throughout the hike. On the mountain, there is one restaurant where you can get food and two cafes where you can get drinks. You can fill your water bottle for free at both places using the natural water from the mountain.
In both villages, there are options to buy snacks and alcohol (Theth has more options than Valbona), but depending on where you’re staying it might be far to walk to the market.
What Time of the Year Should You Do this Hike?
This area of Albania sees all four seasons. I absolutely don’t recommend completing this hike in the winter, as many tourists die each year from the amount of snow in the mountain. Instead, I recommend hitting the trail once most of the snow has cleared up. (I went in July and there was still a bit of snow on the mountain but nothing bad).
The most popular months to do this hike are in July and August and while many people say it isn’t the best time to go (for heat purposes and crowds), I would recommend going in these months. As long as you can get an early start (the sun rises around 5 am in the summer) you should be fine with the heat and you can also beat the crowds.
If you’d rather go in shoulder season then I’d pick June or September, but I’d still be wary of the amount of snow in the mountain at these times.
How Many Days Should You Spend?
The great thing about this hike is that it can really be as short or as long as you want! Minimum, you’ll need to expect to spend one night in the village before beginning the hike. I spent two nights, one in Valbona and one in Theth, and it felt like the perfect amount of time. If you want to do more hiking once you arrive, then you’ll want to stay for longer which you can do in either village before or after the hike.
If you’re on a time crunch, you can catch the bus back to Shkoder after finishing the hike – as long as you’re done by 2 pm when the last bus leaves.
Hiking through the Albanian Alps from Valbona to Theth was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you’re visiting Albania, I highly recommend budgeting a few days to head north and experience the beauty of Albania.
If you do plan to visit Albania, make sure to check out these posts to help you plan your travels: