Peaks of the Balkans - Albania & Montenegro Hiking Tour
A hiking & cultural adventure through Montenegro and Albania including trekking on an international peace trail in the Dinaric Alps.
Come to a Europe that few people know. Montenegro and Albania are wild, mountainous and home to still-untouched forests, rugged rivers and a rich tapestry of culture. The high peaks of the mountains fall to verdant valleys and eventually to the azure waters, steep cliffs and pebbled beaches of the Adriatic coastline. With an intense history of centuries of Ottoman occupation we find a colorful and intriguing mix of European and Eastern cultures and religion.
Our Peaks of the Balkans trekking and cultural adventure takes us to the border triangle area of Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro where a new International Peace Park has been established. Along our way we meet with various local leaders who join us as special guests to enrich our understanding and appreciation for this part of the world. At the heart of this grand adventure is a difficult and extremely rewarding trek in the Dinaric Alps. Luggage is transported by local pack animals during the trek through this area of spectacular mountain scenery that is home to rare flora and fauna. Rugged peaks rise from alpine lakes and lush green meadows, piercing a cobalt sky. The trek is bookmarked on each side by visits to fascinating areas in Montenegro (including a day of lake kayaking) and Albania.
People have lived for centuries in the mountains where we trek, surviving as shepherds and farmers. Famous for their hospitality, and challenged by a changing world, this trip promotes sustainable, nature-based tourism that gives hope and real economic benefit to the local population. During our trek, we spend each night in rustic inns or guest houses that have been established along the route and provide simple accommodations in shared rooms with two to six beds. The local innkeepers provide our meals, prepared from locally-sourced and traditional foods.
The trail and peace park concept was a nominee for the 2013 World Tourism Awards, and with this new project, border-crossing procedures for hikers have been simplified and a mountain security system has been established. Our local guides are trained according to international standards. This is truly a cutting-edge adventure and we invite you to join us to support the people of this magnificent and intriguing corner of the world.
This trip combines perfectly with our Albania Discovery kayaking trip making for a fantastic journey of immersion in the southern Balkans.
Images & Videos
Arrive in Podgorica (formerly Titograd), the capital of Montenegro
We transfer you to a small hotel in nearby Virparzar, in the National Park of Skardarsee. In the early evening we have a brief orientation meeting then head out to enjoy dinner at a traditional local restaurant. Food in Montenegro has been influenced by the historical 400+ years of occupation by the Ottomans and is simple, fresh and healthy.
Kayaking Skadar Lake & Exploring Virparzar
We drive a short distance through stunning landscapes to our launch for a day of kayaking in Skadar Lake, the largest lake of the Balkans. Two thirds of the lake lies within Montenegro and the other third in Albania. Surrounded by mountains comprised of limestone karst, it is a wonderful wildlife refuge for some 260 species of birds including the pygmy cormorant, storks, egrets, the rare Dalmatian pelican and many others. Our paddle is suitable for beginner kayakers as we explore the shore and a few small islands. It makes for a relaxed and beautiful day. We return to Virparzar by early evening with time to stroll around town for those who desire. A local resident artist or member of a local environmental group, joins us for a dinner of fresh lake fish (and other choices) to share stories of life in Montenegro.
Scenic Train Ride (including Mala Rijeka viaduct) & Gora National Park
After breakfast we board the only train system in Montenegro for a spectacular ride on tracks perched high above the Moraca river canyon. Construction for this railroad started in 1901 under the Austrian-Hungary empire and was later expanded during the Yugoslavia years. A highlight of our ride is the Mala Rijeka viaduct which is the highest railraod viaduct in the world! We disembark after a three hour ride and transfer to Biogradska Gora National Park for lunch and a one hour hike through one of the last stands of ancient woodlands in all Europe. After our hike we continue about two hours to the small town of Gusinj, set at the base of the Prokletije (Forbidden) Mountains.
This evening a representative of the National Park, which has been established only for a year, meets with us to tell us about the challenges and hopes for the Park. Dinner and overnight.
Hiking the Dinaric Alps & Village of Thethi
After a hearty breakfast we start a difficult and ultimately rewarding hike on trails that are part of the newly established Peaks of the Balkans trail system. We transfer a short distance from Gusinje and hike through the Ropojana valley, climbing uphill gradually. We pass through a dry lake bed and at the border of Montenegro and Albania our luggage is transferred from one set of horses to another. The gradient increases as we near the summit, passing by the odd bunkers built during the years President Hoxha was in power in Albania. He generally isolated the country from the rest of the world, and built these bunkers all over to defend against any possible invasion.
Our summit at the pass is rewarded with spectacular views of the mountains and into the valley of Theth. A steep descent takes us to the village of Thethi, the most historical alpine village in Albania. It has traditional stone houses covered with wood tiles built on natural balconies. Dinner and overnight in Thethi in a simple guesthouse with shared bedrooms. Our hosts tell us about their family's history in the valley and how the new Peaks of the Balkans Trail is having a positive impact on the valley's inhabitants.
Elevation: Min: 2399' / 726 meters, Max: 5692' / 1,751 meters
Accumulative height uphill: 2600' (850 meters); downhill: 3935'/ 1,260 meters
Time: 8 hours.
Exploring the Thethi Valley
So remote that the Ottomans left it alone, the people in the valley are predominantly Catholic. In 1908 the English traveler Edith Durham visited Thethi and wrote in her book High Albania: “Life at Thethi was of absorbing interest... I forgot all about the rest of the world, and... there seemed no reason why I should ever return.“
Little has changed since her time other than the addition of electricity, running water and other comforts. We spend a relaxed day exploring the valley, gazing upon houses of wood and stone and learning about the area's history and legends while on a five mile hike to hidden waterfalls and swimming pools. Others may choose to explore on their own. We return to our lodging in a vehicle to help make this a relaxing day.
Elevation: Min: 1200' / 726 meters, Max: 2399' / 400 meters
Accumulative height uphill: 200' (65 meters); downhill: 1200'/ 280 meters
Time: 4 hours.
Hiking to Valbona
After breakfast we start another serious and rewarding hiking day, leaving our accommodations and heading towards Valbona. There will be horses and mules to carry our baggage. The morning hike is a continuous ascent through an ancient beech forest, shaded and lovely. Up, up we go until we reach the pass with views down to Valbone, our next destination. The descent is on a rocky path of switchbacks down the mountain. At the end of our hike, we drive about an hour to the small town of Bajram Curri where we find accommodation in a hotel.
Elevation: Min: 2395'/ 745 meters, Max: 5994' / 1,840 meters
Cumulative height uphill: 3659 feet/1,125 meters, downhill: 2495'/ 768 meters
Time: 7 hours
Explore Lake Drin, Shkodra & Kruje
We rise early (4.30 am), have breakfast, and transfer 30 minutes to Lake Drin for a relaxing two-hour boat ride through a beautifully scenic gorge. We then transfer two hours to the second biggest city of Albania, Shkodra where we visit the mountaintop castle of Rozafa followed by lunch. We continue by vehicle to the mountainside town of Kruje, the center of Albanian resistance to the Ottoman invasion of the 15th century. This resistence was led by Gjergj Kastrioti, known as Skanderberg, who remains a national hero. Within the castle walls is a bazaar where you may enjoy some shopping, as well as a most excellent historical museum and an ethnographic museum. We stay in a local hotel with expansive views.
A member of the staff of the local history museum meets with us before dinner to help us better understand the complex, colorful history of Albania.
Depart from Tirane or Continue on Kayaking
Note: The hiking on days four and six is strenuous and previous conditioning is necessary. While the elevation is not particularly high, the amount of elevation gain and loss is significant. The descents are hard on knees and joints and walking poles are a must. Much of the trail is loose limestone that gets slippery when wet. If you have any questions about your suitability for this trip, please call our office. For groups this itinerary may be modified with easier hikes which also changes the order of places visited.
Note: This trip combines perfectly with our Albania Discovery kayaking trip making for a fantastic journey of immersion in the southern Balkans.
Dates & Rates
Prices above reflect the lowest tiered price.
4-7 guests = $3390
8-12 guests = $2890
Tiered Pricing Explained
Our trips are budgeted for full or near full sign-ups which enables us to offer trips at the lowest possible price. Because of numerousfixed costs, it is more expensive to operate a trip for a small group. Therefore, on some of our trips, in order to avoid having to cancel a trip, we have a “tier-pricing” system to avoid canceling a trip with a low number of sign ups. We have found that most people also prefer this alternative to having a trip cancelled. Thus, you will note on our trip prices there may be different price for 6-8 people versus 9-10, versus 11-12, etc...
We may initially invoice you at the higher tier price, and refund the difference depending on the final group size. Trip costs quoted are based on foreign exchange rates current at the time of this printing. We reserve the right to raise the trip fee if there are exceptional cost increases beyond our control.
Includes: Accommodations as noted. All meals as indicated. Professional, local guides including a Montenegrin lead guide from day 1 until day 7 and an additional Albanian guide from the border on. All transfers and transportation as indicated.
Does not Include: Airfare; personal expenses such as alcohol, laundry, etc.; gratuities for guides.
FAQ & More
A: Several airlines offer daily flights to Podgorica, Montenegro from Paris, Frankfurt and other European cities. The same is true for your departure flight from Tirana. If you prefer, transportation can be arranged at the end of the tour to continue on to Greece, or to Dubrovnik, Croatia, or back to Podgorica.
A: We’ve chosen our departure dates to avoid the heat of July and August. Generally days will be in the 70-80 degree Fahrenheit range, with little to no rain. Nights cool to the 50-60 degrees, with cooler nights when we are in the mountains.
A: A full packing list will be provided. Walking poles are highly recommended for the hiking portion of the trip.
A: The trekking portion of the trip is challenging and previous conditioning is necessary.While horses do carry the bulk of your gear, you will need to carry a small day pack with water, food, rain gear and a cool weather layer, your camera, etc. While the distances are not huge, the elevation gain and loss on two of the days (as outlined in the itinerary) are substantial. Please call our office if you have any questions.
A: We do not arrange international air travel but we do have a great air travel specialist we refer you to if you’d like.
A: Absolutely! We know the area well, so if you’d like to spend more time you might consider our Albania tour. Or we can help you arrange your way to Greece, or north to Croatia. We’re happy to discuss any ideas you have.
A: There are a lot of arrangements to be made for a custom trip like this adventure and so it is helpful with our planning if you book three to eight months in advance. However, if you can’t plan that far ahead, then it’s usually not a problem to book up to about a month or two in advance. If you find yourself looking for last-minute space just call us and check!