TABLE OF CONTENTS
When we decided to go to the Balkans the reason for that decision was the desire to explore one of Euopres poorest but also most beautiful countries: Albania. Despite the fact that we were going to drive through Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia we focused our planning mainly on Albania and a little bit on Croatia. As it turned out we did not stick to our plan at all and just went with the flow. Driving here, exploring there – the Balkan peninsula immediately blew our minds and had/has so much to offer, that all you need is time – not a guide. If you don’t feel comfortable leaving without a guide nonetheless we can recommend these ones (German only this time, sorry):
- Reise Know-How Albanien: Reiseführer für individuelles Entdecken (2nd edition / 21 July 2014 / ISBN-10: 3831724423 / 22,50€)
- Albanien: ausgewählte Strecken und Abstecher für Abenteurer (PDF) – (02/2015 / ISBN-13: 978-3000430855 / 11,00€)
Especially the 2nd one served well as a roadbook for some nice offroad tracks. But again: Albania is a developing country and huge parts of the road network are shocking conditions for normal cars, but perfect for offroaders. You will not have to search gravel roads and muddy tracks: they will find you soon enough!
In terms of maps we tried something new: maps.me for OSM and MotionX GPS for Satellite images and tracking which worked really well. That being said, don’t expect too much as many roads are still missing on the OSM and road conditions are constantly changing. The Albanians are working hard on paving roads throughout the country, so what was a tiny gravel road in 2015 might be a motorway in 2016… still, there are many thousands of kilometres left to enjoy a bumpy ride, it’s just a nightmare for cartographers.
Just a few tips for your journey:
– mobile broadband service: since most of the Balkans don’t have widespread landline telephone-networks, you have fairly good 3G signal pretty much everywhere. Additionally you will find free and open WiFi hotspots in every larger village/city. Be aware though, that Albania is not part of the EU-phone-plans many providers offer. Therefore incoming and outgoing phonecalls are quite expensive, except near the Greek border, where you’ll be able to sign in the Greek (European!) network.
– money: you can not count on paying with your credit cards in the Balkans, so make sure you have enough cash with you at all times. You’ll find ATMs only in the larger cities where you can withdraw cash. Due to low prices you won’t need loads of cash – in 3 weeks we needed about 50 EUR per person (not including fuel – which can be paid by credit card)
– green insurance card: you got to have your green insurance card, otherwise you will find it hard to cross the border. We had to show it every single time we were checked at ANY border!
– customs & goods: make sure you don’t have more alcohol and other goods on board than is allowed to import/export. We once had to clear out our whole car in order to prove that we had nothing to declare. It is not a rare sight that custom officers inspect cars thoroughly(including European tourists) for illegally imported/exported goods. Don’t take the risk!
– people: Albania ist a Muslim country and therefore quite different to what we know from christian Europe. Expect to see (seemingly idle) men standing in groups next to or on the road at all times. Most people will be very curious when Western tourists drive/walk by. That being said: we did not experience one bad thing in three weeks. We have always been welcomed and invited to coffee, tea and food by all sorts of people. Expect extreme hospitality without any expectations for anything in return. If you want to give something in return anyway avoid money and instead give alcohol, chocolate or pens – their joy will be endless!
– fuel prices: When it comes to fuel prices Albania is quite expensive. When we were there, prices were similar to German prices. It is a lot cheeper to get fuel in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. If you are close to Macedonia make sure to fuel up there: the price for diesel was significantly cheeper than anywhere else in Europe!
– heavy rain fall: we had to learn the hard way that heavy rain fall combined with clay and sandy roads can make driving a very tough challenge. Make sure to check the weather forecast and avoid one way roads that you will have to come back on if they look like they might turn into a nightmare once rained upon for several hours. We got stuck several times and both cars had to be pulled out by a tractor once because there was no chance of getting out of the super-sticky mud that had not been on the road the day before!