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If you’re considering hiking in Albania from Theth to Valbona, this post is for you. I’m an amateur hiker who decided that I’d do my first proper full-day hike while in Albania. Admittedly, the hike didn’t go as smoothly as I wanted as I ended up carrying my large backpacking…
Still, I’m so glad that I decided to hike in Albania. The views were beautiful. This post contains tips for hiking from Theth To Valbona, what to bring with you for Theth to Valbona, and what to expect from Albania’s most famous hiking trail.
Notes on Theth to Valbona
It is not possible to hike Theth to Valbona year-round as the mountain-pass becomes too icy during winter–and even the 4x4s will not drive the treacherous road out to Theth in winter. If you want to hike from Theth to Valbona, you’ll need to go in the summer months.
We went in September, which felt like summer. We didn’t require a guide as the trail was easy to follow and any decent hiker can take lead. If you’re traveling solo, you should be able to find fellow backpackers interested in the trek at your hostel prior to going to Theth or in Theth.
It’s best to check the weather carefully as this hike would be very dangerous in a thunderstorm as you’re hiking of the highest peaks in Albania. It’s good to give yourself an extra day in case of poor weather.
You do not want to hike both ways, so it’s best to plan your journey by starting in Theth and hiking to Valbona prior to continuing onwards. The most popular route is to take a car to Fierza to catch the boat along Lake Komani prior to taking another ride back to Shkodra although some buses run to/from Valbona in summer. It maybe possible to catch a bus to Gjakova in Kosovo. You can easily organize your journey from Valbona by discussing your plans with local accommodation owners.
My biggest mistakes that I made while hiking the Theth to Valbona trail that I urge you not to repeat: Carrying my 50L bag with me
Although this may not be an issue for someone who is a more experienced hiker, it’s unnecessary to carry your full backpack from Theth to Valbona unless you’re not returning back to Shkoder after you’re done with the hike.
I’d recommend carrying a daypack with a change of clothing to last you a couple days–and using that for the trek. I was lucky to have kind friends who helped me with the bag, but hiking with all your gear isn’t easy if you haven’t done it before.
What to bring for your Theth to Valbona trip
- Your camera
- A good pair of hiking sneakers
- Sunscreen as you’ll be in direct sun for quite a bit of the journey!
- Hiking attire and change of clothing.
- A water bottle
- Enough lek for four days to cover your accommodation, food, and transport (130 euros is a safe bet for two people).
- A daypack
Getting to Theth
Getting to Theth involved taking a shared car with four other travelers. We ended up paying about forty euros total to go from Shkodra to Theth. You can organize this ride one way to give yourself a bit more flexibility in order to hike more in Thethi, one of the hidden gems of Albania. I’d recommend giving yourself an extra day to enjoy the Blue Eye of Thethi as well as rest if you’re not used to two day hikes.
We stayed at Bujtina Berishta Theth, a newly rebuilt traditional guesthouse with friendly staff who spoke some English. The dinner was incredibly generously apportioned and we ended up feasting on a delicious meal. If you’re on a budget, I recommend giving yourself more time in Theth, where you’ll find more affordable accommodation compared to Valbona. The starting point was directly behind our accommodation with following the sign to Valbona.
An overview of the Theth to Valbona trail
It took us about 8 hours with a fair number of stops. We heard of people finishing the route in 3-4 hours, however you need to be a fast and confident hiker. Six hours would be realistic with fewer stops, however it was more relaxing this way. The trail is clearly marked and in summer, you can often follow the people coming down to indicate the right direction.
The Theth to Valbona trail is an old mule’s trail that traversed this mountainous section of Albania (and the surrounding area) prior to roads. There’s still no road between the two cities, so if you’re not sure about carrying your stuff, you can hire someone to bring their mule with. You’ll need to organize this before you go although you might see some people with mules near the end of the trek.
We were told that the water in the region is safe and comes from mountain springs, so it’s safe to drink from springs that you encounter while hiking. (Be sure to check with the locals in case something changes!) I filled up my water before we went, however we had fresh water springs for most of the hike up as well as the bottom of the hike. It made it easy to stay hydrated without carrying a lot of water.
The starting bit was a rolling hill that cut through a forest. We ended up coming upon a spring at the first cafe about halfway up the hill, perfect for a cold drink. After reaching the top of the forest, we ended up walking through a beautiful high alpine valley with panoramic views of the valley prior to coming to a staffed cafe with byrek and coffee (in case you forget breakfast like I did). The cafe had stunning views of the nearby mountains.
From this point, it’s a more standard trek uphill with more direct sunlight exposure until you reach the peak. The path towards the top of Valbona peak gets a bit narrow although it’s doable with 2 people walking directly behind each other. It is certainly challenging at this point as the trail gets quite steep.
Once you reach Valbona peak, it’s possible to head to the optional viewpoint at the top with leaving your bags below on some stable rock. We ended up having lunch of some cheese that I brought from the Netherlands near the peak. (If you bring lek, you can stop at most of the cafes for byrek.)
From Valbona Peak, it’s a winding path down with a lot of scree and no elevated sides. I personally really struggle with hiking downhill on scree as a less experienced hiker, however this part of the trek would be considerably faster with hiking poles (for those of you who are less confident hikers).
My husband had no problem with this section and practically ran down the mountain, however the views prior to the descent were stunning. In retrospect, I’m glad that we didn’t hike Valbona to Theth as we would have needed to go uphill on the scree the other way and it’s easier to go downhill on scree.
Once you’re down the steepest part, you’ll find another cafe with cold drinks after walking for a bit through a forested area. Once you continue, you’ll walk through a village prior to walking along a flat valley with stunning views of Valbona surrounding you. The hotels are further along this path.
End of the Hike
Upon arriving, we stayed at Hotel Margjeka in Valbona. This hotel, run by a kind German woman, had fantastic food and incredibly friendly staff. There wasn’t a lot of options in Valbona, so if you’re going in summer, I recommend booking early and/or bringing your own tent to save money. (Prices for hotels in Valbona are the highest that I saw while in Albania.)