South Albania is slowly (or not so slowly) emerging on the tourist and traveller scene. Found north of Greece and South of Montenegro, this Mediterranean fringed country boasts some of the most incredible beaches and water – and often at a considerably cheaper price than what you find in Greece. If you’re looking at planning your first visit to Sarandë and Ksamil in South Albania, read on to discover the main things you need to know for South Albania and then get excited for your trip with a list of the best places to visit in South Albania.
- How to get to South Albania
- How to get to Ksamil from Sarandë in South Albania
- Where to stay in Ksamil and Sarandë in South Albania
- The best places to see in South Albania
- Visiting the Blue Eye in South Albania
- Things to know about visiting South Albania
How to get to South Albania
There are two main ways to get to South Albania, pending where you are coming from or your preferred mode of transport.
South Albania from Tirana
To get to South Albania from Tirana you can fly to Tirana (suggested read: Tirana Albania Photo Diary) and take a bus or hire a car to get to Sarandë. Note that Tirana and Sarandë are approximately a 4 hours drive away from each other. I haven’t personally done this route so cannot tell you if this is ideal.
South Albania from Corfu
The other way to get to South Albania (and arguably the best way) is to fly to Corfu in Greece and then get the ferry across to Sarandë. This was the way we visited South Albania and it was relatively straight forward. The Corfu Airport is only a 10 minute drive to the Corfu Ferry Port. There are numerous ferries between Corfu and Sarandë every day and the journey across to South Albania can be as little as 30 minutes – you can actually see South Albania from Corfu and vice versa! Please factor in additional time for the ferries though as they are frequently delayed. However, this is the easiest way to visit Sarandë and Ksamil in South Albania. Corfu Airport is also very well connected (including direct flights to Santorini) meaning you can easily incorporate a South Albania holiday with a Greece holiday this way.
How to get to Ksamil from Sarandë in South Albania
Depending on your mode of transport, there are a few ways to get to Ksamil from Sarandë. Ksamil is roughly a 30 minute drive away and you can either drive, get a bus or get a taxi. Due to having luggage and desiring the convenience we took a taxi – this was more expensive than we expected as it cost 3,000LEK one way (our friends managed to get taxis for 2,500 LEK but we couldn’t get that price ourselves) which we agreed on with the driver before getting into the taxi and had to pay in cash. If you want to take a bus, information on the bus between Ksamil and Sarandë can be found here. Whether you choose to drive, taxi or bus, when arriving in Ksamil mid-morning or leaving late afternoon, expect there to be considerable traffic and I’d recommend planning your journey around those times.
Where to stay in Sarandë and Ksamil in South Albania
Should you stay in Sarandë or Ksamil
This depends on what you want to do while in South Albania. Both Sarandë and Ksamil are busy spots with great restaurants, hotels and atmosphere. However, Ksamil has the best beaches (in fact if you Google ‘beaches in Sarandë’ it pretty much shows you the beaches in Ksamil) and therefore you’ll need to make the commute down to Ksamil to enjoy them from Sarandë – as mentioned above this can be a busy road with a lot of traffic in peak times. On the other hand, the main area of Sarandë seems more developed than Ksamil and is closer to the Gjirokastër and the Blue Eye (more on this further down) than Ksamil. It is completely down to your preference and your plans for your South Albania holiday.
The best accommodation, location wise, in Sarandë is found near the ferry port and along the foreshore. This is where the atmosphere, restaurants and bars are and therefore you’re in easy walking distance to the main things to see in Sarandë. We visited for just one night and stayed at a hostel about 15-20 minute walk from the foreshore and would’ve had a better experience if we had stayed closer to town (especially since further out of the main area the streets were a little bit uneasy) like our friends had – if I were to visit again, I’d be sure to book closer to town.
As mentioned above, we were working for most of the time we were in South Albania and couldn’t have been happier with our working/hotel space. We stayed at Vila Emen, which was located on the northern side of Ksamil, about a 10 minute walk from the beach. We booked a studio which came with a large room, kitchen space, a private bathroom, wrap around balcony and very friendly and accommodating hosts. The wi-fi was great, meaning we were able to work with ease (although, we had purchased Albanian sims to hot spot when needed – more on this below). If I were to visit South Albania and Ksamil again and work remotely I would definitely stay here again.
For those looking to be closer to the action and the beaches in Ksamil, I’d recommend heading closer to central Ksamil or further south than where we were as this was closer to the beach clubs, restaurants and general happening in the area. It is louder here but you do get the great atmosphere of this South Albania holiday town.
South Albania Accommodation Pricing
We found visiting South Albania in August that the prices were typically high for Albania – however, they were still much cheaper than the neighbouring Greece and other Western European accommodations. We looked at where we were staying for the following month and the price had dropped dramatically (almost halved from memory) so if you are looking to keep the costs down I’d highly recommend visiting South Albania in the shoulder seasons and not prime time August like we did.
The Best Places to see in South Albania
The beaches in South Albania are all incredible, all boasting white sand and clear blue water. While often very busy (and full of beach chairs), you can find a lot of the gorgeous South Albania beaches by wandering along the front of Ksamil town – as they are all mostly interconnected, separated by different hotels/restaurants who own the beach chairs put out. Read on to find a few of my favourite places to see in South Albania during our time here.
One of the Instagram famous spots in Ksamil and South Albania, Poda Beach is a very popular beach in the centre of town. I visited early morning (about 7am) and had the place to myself; but, the following morning, realised how popular this beach swing set was when I came down at about 730am and there were already people lining up to take photos… The water here was very calm in the morning, making it a wonderful place to have an early morning dip. You can find this spot on Google Maps here.
Marea Club Entrance
A funky entrance to one of the beach clubs and restaurants along the foreshore of Ksamil. You can find this spot on Google Maps here.
Now this isn’t the name of the beach, but it’s one of the best places to access the Ksamil islands just off the coast of Ksamil – if you know how to swim, they’re literally in swimming distance! – so I’m calling it that haha. There is an Instagram famous jetty (almost the profile picture of South Albania) that reaches out from the beach that is great for photos and with the water surrounding the beach being quite calm and sheltered, it’s a great place for a swim as well. This spot is very popular – even in the early morning and you can find it by heading to Tre Ishujt (Google Maps location here).
Ksamil Beach – Plazhi Ksamilit
One of the famous beaches in South Albania, I visited this beach from above (viewing it from the many restaurants and cafes looking out over the coastline). You can find this beach using this Google Maps location point.
There is more to Ksamil than just the beautiful water and beaches (or, as said above, beach chairs – you don’t actually see that much of the beach under the beach chairs to be honest!), the streets of Ksamil are buzzing with restaurants, cafes, hotels, markets and shops. Ksamil is a very touristy area of South Albania and therefore if you want to see the real Albania, you will have to venture further away from Sarandë and Ksamil. However, there is a great holiday atmosphere to this town and it’s worth grabbing a beer (we got these from the supermarket for $1.30AUD each) and having a wander. There are street markets all around, and especially so at night when Ksamil comes more alive, so you can pick up a souvenir for your South Albania holiday while you’re exploring as well!
One of the South Albania beaches that isn’t in walking distance from your hotel in Ksamil. Mirror Beach is a popular spot for many people who are travelling between Sarandë and Ksamil in South Albania. On Google Maps it isn’t called Mirror Beach but bus drivers and locals will know what you are talking about if you ask for directions to get here (This is the rough location of where it is on Google Maps). While personally, I found the beaches in Ksamil nicer than Mirror Beach; there was a nice view point from the top that we asked the driver we have to stop at. The road here is not paved and quite difficult to drive, so I would also only recommend visiting here by your own car if you’re a confident driver in South Albania.
Sarandë, South Albania
The main point of entry into South Albania, Sarandë is a buzzing touristy coastal town. With a developed foreshore, many bars, restaurants and cafes, this is a great place to enjoy the atmosphere and really feel like you’re on holiday.
When we were in Sarandë we went to Restaurant Haxhi where we enjoyed a delicious seafood risotto. This restaurant doesn’t take bookings and is very popular so I’d highly recommend arriving early so you can guarantee your spot.
Escape the beaches and see a little bit of South Albania. Gjirokastër is found an hour drive outside of Sarandë and, while still touristy, is a great place to experience a little bit more of South Albania. You can visit here by car or by day tour, with many companies offering different options (some which include the Blue Eye) to take you here.
Visiting the Blue Eye in South Albania
One of the major sights to tick off in South Albania is the Blue Eye. There is no direct bus that runs to the Blue Eye (however, there are some instructions online about how to get there indirectly by bus) or you can either drive by hired car, hire a private driver or go on a day trip. We had a private driver from Ksamil and it was quite expensive; however, this was a place we wanted to see while in South Albania and we wanted to get there earlier than the tour buses so we were willing to pay. Being closer to Sarandë, it would’ve been cheaper and a bit quicker to access this South Albania attraction from Sarandë than Ksamil; however, we didn’t find it too far away from Ksamil, as you can see below.
Our ‘private driver’ tour included entrance to the Blue Eye; however, you can view the entrance prices for the Blue Eye here (although I would recommend confirming this prior to setting off in case it changes).
Our driver dropped us at the entrance, and then we walked the 1.5km distance or so to the actual Blue Eye. Unlike many other roads in South Albania, the road was paved and well maintained making it an easy enough walk. Although we arrived at about 830am there was already a lot of tourists here (and this was before the tour buses arrived) and when we were leaving we could see the tour buses starting to bring in their droves. Along the path to the main Blue Eye there were spots where you could stop to take photos near the water.
Please note that there is big ‘no swimming’ signs all around the Blue Eye. Instagram shows that there are a fair few people who think they’re above the signs but these signs are there for a reason – the Blue Eye (and other attractions like the Blue Eye) will only stay looking so pristine if we look after them properly – so basically, do the right thing and don’t swim in the water.
We went and saw the beautiful Blue Eye from the lookout and then enjoyed a drink at the nearby cafe. My personal opinion is that the Blue Eye is already in danger of over-tourism and there was sadly rubbish (and even menus from this cafe) already in the pristine water. Hopefully if the popularity continues, they will put number caps in in place.
Including our time walking to the Blue Eye and our drink at the cafe, we spent about 1.5 hours here in total. Although it is very beautiful, it is quite a small area and once you’ve gazed at the beautiful clear blue water and soaked in the surroundings, there isn’t too much else to do. I would still recommend it as a quick stop when exploring South Albania if you have the time and it’s easy for you to get to.
Things to know about visiting South Albania
South Albania is touristy
While some online guides will talk about South Albania as being secluded or a place to escape the tourists, this is not the case. Like almost all European countries, South Albania is heaving with tourists in August – often from the surrounding countries and from Italy. While this is not the place to visit to escape the crowds, a visit to South Albania is still more than worth your time. However, as mentioned above when we visited we were working remotely for most of the time from 8am – 4pm each day which meant we saw the beaches in the early morning and late afternoon so found they were quieter then (most of the photos of the beaches above were taken in the early morning) but it was a lot busier outside of these times.
Cash is king
When we visited, we found that cash was required almost everywhere in South Albania – including hotels and tours. The Albanian currency is the Albanian Lek and there are numerous ATMs across Sarandë and Ksamil – however, they all hold a very hefty ATM fee – about $8AUD per withdrawal. We learnt that if you spy any restaurants with card symbols on their advertising, hold them to it – one place told us they only accepted cash until we realised we were just slightly short – and then without any issue they brought out a card machine… The main grocery stores were also happy to accept cards; however, most shops, taxis, cafes etc. would only accept cash. So prepare to include the ATM withdrawal fee in your budget (and take out as much as possible at once!)
When you arrive in Sarandë, you can head directly to a Vodafone provider in a small shop almost across the road from the Sarandë port (Google Maps directions here). Here you can sign up for a ‘tourist sim’ which provides you with a large amount of data. When we visited it was 2,000LEK for the sim and it came with 35GB of data and lasted 21 days. For more information on the Vodafone Tourist Pack in Albania see the official Vodafone website here. Please note, that this shop is often quite busy when the ferry arrives so expect to wait a while. As above, this shop only accepts cash and, when we asked for one, doesn’t provide a receipt on purchase. If you’re unable to visit this shop, I believe there are a lot of Vodafone providers offering this Tourist Pack in South Albania.
While the hotels and accommodation you will stay in in South Albania are more than up to standard (with both budget and luxury accommodation available in both Sarandë and Ksamil), you’ll find a lot of uncompleted houses around and a fair few unfinished roads. When we visited, almost every third house it seemed wasn’t finished – although often occupied. Just is the norm around here!
The driving can be a little wild
If you have been to Albania before, you’ll know that the driving can be quite different to western countries – and South Albania is no different. One of our drivers did drive us on the wrong side of the road to skip a line of traffic (with incoming traffic facing us – he just made them make room for him!) It was a very insane experience for us but it was clear that the driver (and many other drivers on the road doing the same thing) do this everyday. But it is something to keep in mind if you are hiring a car and plan on driving in South Albania if you haven’t visited before.
And finally, make sure you
Enjoy a seafood pasta at least once while you’re in South Albania! Or twice like we did. I also highly recommend the Ice Rolls in Ksamil. Although I’ve now been told these are all over the place, Ksamil in South Albania was the first time I’d had them and they were delicious.
If you were interested in South Albania Travel Guide: The Best Places to Visit in South Albania you may also be interested in:
- Tirana Albania Photo Diary
- The best spots to view Bran Castle
- How to get to Turda Salt Mine (Salina Turda) from Cluj-Napoca
- How to get to Sarakiniko Beach in Milos
- How to do Europe on a budget: The ultimate tips and tricks
- 12 things to do in Malta | Malta must do’s
- Your Amalfi Coast weekend guide
- How to spend a stopover in Milan
- Instagrammable Istanbul – the most Instagrammable places in Istanbul
- Your 9 Day Jordan Itinerary
- Must do Morocco: 6 places in Morocco you must visit