Peaks of the Balkans Trek: Day by Day


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The Accursed Mountains, sworn virgins, blood feuds and 15th century codes of honor called kanun. It sounds like an experiential blend to inform the writing of a Game of Thrones season. Instead, it’s the cultural and historical backdrop of a 200-kilometer trekking experience we recently took through the hills of Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo called Peaks of the Balkans.

The reasons to take such a long walk through once forbidden and foreboding areas are many. The views, varied and seemingly endless, are remarkable. Northern Albanian Malësi (highland) culture where you encounter shepherds of differing stripes — some lifelong, others seasonal; some longing for the return of days past, others indifferent to changing political systems — lives on, scattered across green valleys and chiseled peaks.

Moments of humbling granite uplift, a lingering innocence and a fiercely independent yet hospitable culture not only coexist, but seem to belong together in some inseparable way.

Trekking in Albania, Karanfil Mountains
Struggling to take it all in, Peaks of the Balkans.

The Peaks of the Balkans experience offers current context, too: a sense of the evolving politics of the region, out from under the shadows of the Cold War — a unique totalitarianism in the case of Albania, and Tito’s socialism elsewhere — and the Balkan conflicts of 1990s and early 2000s. Each day and human interaction fills in the lines of a puzzling region, shedding just enough light and understanding for you to withstand the possibility that the pages of history might turn and reset the region once again.

At this point you might be thinking: “OK, the trek and cultural context sound intriguing, but what will I experience along the way? What do these countries and this trekking route actually look and feel like?”

Kosovo Trekking, Mount Gjeravica
Mountains layers from the shrouded peak of Mt. Gjeravica, Kosovo.

To answer those questions we will take you through our Peaks of the Balkans trek, day by day. The goal: give you a sense of the diverse landscapes and experiences. Even if you don't have a full two weeks to explore like we did, there are ways to shorten it — to slice off visual and experiential segments that will leave you invigorated, but perhaps not as breathless, as an almost two-week journey might.

Note: To answer all your questions regarding logistics and how to organize your own Peaks of the Balkans trek, we have published the Peaks of the Balkans Beginner's Guide that includes detailed trail options, accommodation, costs, and more.

Buy the guide
Peaks of the Balkans, Guide and Map
Reviewing our Peaks of the Balkans route with our trekking guide.

Peaks of the Balkans (Modified), Our Route: 12 Days on Trail, 14 Days Total

We blocked out 14 days total for our trek, including 12 days on the trail, a one day transfer at the beginning and a day of rest — a “cultural” day visiting monasteries and mosques in Kosovo — in-between. The route we took also included a couple of jeep transfers to avoid long walks on asphalt roads and to better use our time. We started and finished our loop in Shkodër (Shkodra), Albania. The stunning views on the Lake Koman Ferry offer reason enough to begin this way.

We assembled this itinerary with the help and guidance of Endrit Shima and Ricardo Fahrig of Zbulo! Discover Albania. They are avid trekkers themselves and have not only guided on the Peaks of the Balkans trail and nearby routes outlined here, but have also been heavily involved in rural and sustainable tourism development projects that underlie the Peaks of the Balkans experience. In other words, they know this region and these peaks.

Peaks of the Balkans Trek: Our Route
View and interact with the actual Google Map with our route here.
Note: When we cross a border, the country being entered appears in ALL CAPS. Additionally, the trekking times below are “Dan and Audrey trekking times,” not official ones. This means when the weather was nice we moved more slowly to enjoy our surroundings and take a lot of photos. When the weather wasn’t so great and visibility was poor, we moved more quickly. The transport and transfer costs are what we paid based on the arrangements made by the trekking agency and our guide.

Day 1: Shkodër (ALBANIA) – Lake Koman Ferry – Fierzë – Bajram Curri – Dragobi – Valbona

Lake Koman Ferry, Albania
What better way to enjoy a ferry ride than by sitting on top?

Hiking Distance / Hours: 4 km / 2.5 miles | 2-3 hours from Dragobi to Valbona

The highlight of this day is the Lake Koman Ferry (Fierzë-Koman-Fierzë Line Ferry), during which you’ll find yourself overwhelmed, wondering “why hadn’t I heard of this amazing ferry ride before?” One of the most beautiful boat rides you will take in your life. After a transfer to Bajram Curri from the ferry arrival dock, you can transfer further to Dragobi and finish your day with an easy three hour forest walk to the valley of Valbona.

Peaks of the Balkans, Lake Koman
Views from the ferry across Lake Koman, an epic three-hour travel show of your own.

Notes and Alternatives: The minibus (furgon) will pick you up at your hotel in Shkodër at 6:30AM (500 lek/ $4 per person) to take you the ferry departure port on Lake Koman. If you are not part of a tour or with a guide, ask your hotel in Shkodër to call the driver to secure your seat.

There are multiple ferry options, but we recommend the Berisha small car ferry at 9:00 (500 lek / $4 per person) that takes three hours. There’s a one-hour ferry that departs at 11:00, but I cannot think of a reason why you’d want to rush this journey. Once off the ferry, private transport from Fierzë to Bajram Curri (where you can eat lunch) and to the trailhead at Dragobi costs 3,000 lek ($24) and includes waiting time. Alternatively, you can take a shared taxi from Fierzë to Bajram Curri (200 lek / $1.60 per person) and then the bus from Bajram Curri to Valbona at 2:30PM (250 lek / $2). You can find more information on transport to Valbona here.

Day 2: Valbona – Qafa Perslopit – MONTENEGRO – Stanet e Derzhanes (ALBANIA) – Shpati I Mijushes (Çerem)

Peaks of the Balkans Trek, Valbona
Mountains views as we climb up 1,200 meters from Valbona.
Peaks of the Balkans, Valbona to Cerem
Beauty and severity. Remnants of shepherds' huts en route to the village of Çerem.

Hiking Distance / Hours: 16 km / 10 miles | 8-10 hours

This segment was one of our favorites, though it begins with a long, strenuous 1200m (nearly 4000 ft.) climb from Valbona Valley, through forest, rocky terrain and even a snow field or two before arriving at the first border crossing at Preslopi. After another long forest walk, you’ll descend into a gorgeous valley populated by shepherd families living in the shadow of a stunning Yosemite-like wall of granite uplift. We unexpectedly spent time with a local family after they invited us into their shepherd home for coffee — at the rather innocent urging of their teenage son. Both the landscape and gesture were enough to bring us to tears.

Peaks of the Balkans, Cerem
Northern Albanian tableau. The descent into a valley of shepherds near Çerem.

Notes and Alternatives: There are actually two routes from Valbona to Çerem. The one we took is the more challenging — and purportedly more beautiful — of the two.

Day 3: Shpati I Mijushes (Çerem) – Dobërdol (Albania)

Peaks of the Balkans, Albania
Farmhouse under granite peaks in Çerem.
Peaks of the Balkans, Cerem to Doberdol
Early morning on the trail from Çerem to Dobërdol.

Hiking Distance / Hours: 14 km / 9 miles | 7-8 hours

Vast, deep looks back at the granite uplift and layers of mountain passes frame the walk until you reach a makeshift cafe set up by a man from the town of Bajram Curri. Take a break and refuel with a coffee and rakija (fruit brandy), the local cafe tradition. Continue until you reach Dobërdol, a valley where a handful of shepherd families live. Until recently there were no roads leading to this area. Even today, the shepherds walk two to three days with their animals from their farms just outside of Bajram Curri. After several months of allowing their animals to graze in the high pastures, the shepherds take their animals back down to their more permanent homes for the winter months.

Day 4: Dobërdol – KOSOVO – Mt. Gjeravica – Gropa Erenikut

Kosovo Trekking, Mt. Gjeravica Climb
Audrey takes a break to enjoy the view on our way to Mt. Gjeravica.
Kosovo Trekking, Alpine Lake Picnic
Lunch break at a heart-shaped alpine lake just below Mt. Gjeravica.

Hiking Distance / Hours: 18 km / 11 miles | 8 hours

From the shepherd valley of Dobërdol, you climb up to the border with Kosovo and realize that less than 25 years ago, these border areas were dangerous, heavily guarded no-go zones. Nowadays, you can effortlessly cross the invisible border, have lunch at a heart-shaped turquoise lake and continue to the top of Mt. Gjeravica (2,656m/8,713 feet), technically the highest mountain in Kosovo and Montenegro.

Climbing Mt. Gjeravica, Kosovo
Getting close to the top of Mt. Gjeravica.

Notes and Alternatives: Private transport from Gropa Erenikut to Prizren (2-3 hours, €100). We stayed at Hotel Prizreni right next to the main mosque. If you are traveling on a budget, there is also a hostel in town that costs €10-15 per person.

Day 5: Cultural Day: Prizren – Velika Hoxha – Rahovec – Gjakova – Dranoc – Decani Monastery – Pejë / Patriarkana e Pejes – Reka e Allages

Prizren Views, Kosovo
Sunset approaches in the town of Prizren, Kosovo.

We opted to incorporate a detour rest day into our itinerary. It allowed us to experience some of Western Kosovo outside the mountains, including a stop at a Serbian family-run winery (Kosovar wine, who knew?!) and several historical and religious sites. We learned a fair bit about Kosovo's distant and recent history, and witnessed evidence of the destruction wrought by the war with Serbia in 1998-1999.

Patriarchate of Peć, Kosovo
Frescoes inside the 13th century Patriarchate of Peć near Peja, Kosovo.

However, we felt that the expense of private transport and a guide was quite high for one day, particularly for just the two of us (100€ driver and car, 70€ guide for the day, plus accommodation, food, and entrance fees). The itinerary was a bit rushed, we missed one site altogether and arrived too late at one of the other monasteries. If we had to do this all over again, we would instead visit Kosovo after our trek, rent a car on our own and drive around (very easy and very safe) for a day or two with flexibility and adequate time to see the different sites listed above, as well as a few others, at a more relaxed pace.

Day 6: Reka e Allages – Mt. Hajla – Drelaj

Balkans Trekking, Mt. Halja in Kosovo
Mt. Hajla ridge: Montenegro on the left, Kosovo on the right.

Hiking Distance / Hours: 16 km / 10 miles | 8-9 hours

On our approach to Mount Hajla, we encounter three wolves scouting their next meal in an unattended herd of cows. Fortunately for the cows, our movements distract the wolves. Like a scene from grand cinema, the lead wolf stands atop a rock outcrop for two seconds and looks over at us in one of those “only to be appreciated, yet not to be captured on camera” moments. The wolf and his two companions then shoot up the mountain, making five minutes work out of what will take us 90 minutes or more.

Standing in the valley at the base of Mount Hajla, it’s difficult to imagine how stunning the views will be from above. At the top, the ridge-line views of Kosovo and into Montenegro make for an unbelievable walk and feature a high “wow” factor.

Top of Mt. Hajla, Kosovo
Dan at the top of Mt. Hajla.

We walk straight back down the mountain through a series of valleys and meadows to the village of Drelaj, where we will eat beautifully and spend the night. Some of the best food along our trek was served at Shqiponja guesthouse, the home of Ilir Shala and his family.

Day 7: Drelaj – transfer to Liqenat – MONTENEGRO – Babino Polje

Balkan Trekking, Wildflowers
Wildflowers were in season as mountain spring yields to summer.

Hiking Distance / Hours: 16km / 10 miles | 7 hours

Weather begins to really catch up with us, underscoring that Mother Nature is in control of these parts. Unfortunately, fog obscures the views from both the Jelenka and Ravno Brdo overlooks. On the approach to the village of Babino Polje, the overcast day highlights the depth of color in a fantasy-like pitched field of wildflowers.

Take all the wildflowers we’d seen in our entire lives to that point and it would not have come close to the reach and depth of those growing on the hillside approach to Babino Polje. Within minutes of our arrival at our guest house there (Triangle Wood House, run by Armend Aliaj, the Kosovar musician known as Indigoman, and his wife), a downpour turns to sleet and light snow. If there is any place along the trek to wait out a storm, it is this one. The fireplace and living room envelop you in quintessential cozy.

Peaks of the Balkans Trek, Food at Homestay
Albanian alpine cuisine: a classic table in Kosovo.

Notes and Alternatives: We took private transport from Drelaj to Liqenat (€15) to avoid what we are told is a boring and primarily asphalt segment of the official Peaks of the Balkans circuit.

Day 8: Babino Polje – Lake Hrid (Hridsko Jezero) – Treskavica – Skic – Plav – Lake Plav (Plavsko Jezero)

Peaks of the Balkans Trek, Montenegro
Mystery in the fog of Hridsko, Jezero (Lake Hrid), Montenegro.

Hiking Distance / Hours: 25 km / 15.5 miles | 8 hours

Another foggy rainy day obscures views of Lake Hrid and almost tricks us into thinking a tiny pond just before it is the big lake we see on our map. Despite this, or perhaps in light of it, the atmosphere at the lake is mysterious and serene, hinting at how peaceful and removed this area likely feels after most have departed in late summer and early fall.

Sacirov Vrh and Veliki Hrid views are also fogged in, but clouds begin to lift atop the hill at Treskavica (Treskavički Katun). We field plenty of offers of coffee from local Montenegrins at their summer houses and enjoy the banter in the villages leading up to the police/border guard station at the edge of Plav (where you need to check in with your cross-border permit). This is not a particularly challenging trekking day, but the long asphalt stretch at the end proves a little monotonous.

Peaks of the Balkans Trek, Montenegro Trails
Treskavica, en route to Plav, Montenegro.

Notes and Alternatives: If we had to do this again, we would stay in nearby Vermosh at a family-run guesthouse just over the border in Albania rather than in Plav at Hotel Kula Demjanova (€27.50 per person including breakfast — watch your bill as they attempting to charge us for more people). To accomplish this you need to arrange transport (in advance) for a pickup to take you to Vermosh, from either the beginning of the asphalt road between Treskavica and Skič (outside of Plav) or from the police station (cost: approximately €30).

Day 9: Plav (Lake Plav) – ALBANIA – Vermosh – Mt. Grebenit – Qafe Perdolec – Lëpushë

Albanian Trekking, Mt. Grebenit
Old shepherd fields, en route from Vermosh to Mt. Grebenit, Albania.

Hiking Distance / Hours: 16km / 10 miles | 8 hours

We arrange for a transfer over the border back into Albania and spend some time walking the town of Vermosh, whose fields are dotted with farmhouses in various stages of operation, repair and disrepair. Inexplicably, there's a special feel in Vermosh. Among the towns we visit, it becomes one of our favorites.

After finding the trailhead (with the assistance of our iPhone, the PocketEarth app and a friendly Albanian man who gives us a ride on his way to church, we make our way up to the shepherd meadows just below the peak of Mt. Grebenit. Although we fumbled around in our approach, we recommend approaching Mt. Grebenit from the western ridge. The views, particularly when the weather is clear, are excellent; they foreshadow some of the dramatic landscape you’ll see from Mt. Taljanka (Mt. Talijanka) the next day.

Albanian Trekking, Karanfil Mountains
The views to the Karanfil Mountains, south of Mt. Grebenit summit.

There appear to be at least two options to descend from the Mt. Grebenit ridge, including to the southeast, following the path down into Qafe Perdolec, where if the weather is nice, it makes for a fabulous coffee, rakija or beer stop. Our online maps indicated a beer garden (the existence of which all members of our party, the author excepted, doubted). In fact, there were at least three or four in the village. Qafe Perdolec is also a transport hub for Albanian and other travelers taking the bus to and from Shkodër.

In the nearby town of Lëpushë, we stay at the house of the burmesh, or “sworn virgin”, a title that dates back to the Middle Ages when local women would take on the role, responsibility and fighting duties of a son if the family happened to be without one. Today, however, the tradition seems to allow an acceptable and graceful way for a woman to avoid the traditional path to marriage.

Albanian Trekking, Homestay Family in Lepushe
A traditional barn — Lëpushë, Albania.

Notes and Alternatives: Transport from Plav to the Albanian border costs approximately 10€.

Day 10: Lëpushë – Mt. Taljanka (Mt. Talijanka) – MONTENEGRO – Grbaja Valley (Grebajska) – Gusinje

Albanian Trekking, Mt. Taljanka
A view atop Mt. Taljanka, looking to the Karanfil Mountains.

Hiking Distance / Hours: 12km / 7.5 miles | 8 hours
Mt. Taljanka summit and the descent from it down the Taljanka ridge towards the Grbaja Valley arguably offers the best views of our entire trip. What’s ironic is that Taljanka itself is not part of the official Peaks of the Balkans trail. Because weather is changeable, especially as you ascend — and the views atop Mt. Taljanka are so spectacular — it’s imperative that you allow yourself enough time to spend on the peak and wait out any fog. We did and were duly rewarded for our patience.

Albania Trekking, Dramatic Karanfil Mountains
Karanfil Mountains, after the fog lifts on the descent to Grbaja Valley.

Notes and Alternatives: Our itinerary included an overnight stay in Vusanje, but the family there decided to disappear without honoring our reservation. So we coordinated an alternative plan over coffee and rakija at Eko Katun Grebaje, and stayed overnight in Gusinje instead (€10 taxi). We stayed at the very clean and friendly Hotel Kula Gusinje (10€ per person including a very basic breakfast). Run by a helpful and pleasant Montenegrin guy who calls himself Eddie, the hotel also features a restaurant that offers tasty bean soup and stuffed peppers. The next morning we took transport to Vusanje (10€) to continue our trek.

Another possible overnight option includes staying at Eko Katun Grebaje, then transferring through Gusinje to Vusanje (20€) the next morning.

Day 11: Gusinje – Vusanje – Grbaja Valley – Maja e Harapit (Mt. Arapit) – Theth

Peaks of the Balkans Trek, Montenegro to Albania
En route back to the Montenegro / Albania border from Vusanje.

Hiking Distance / Hours: 19 km / 9 hours
The walk from Vusanje is popular and approachable, as we stop to talk with other travelers walking from the opposite direction (only the second group we'd seen in 10 days). The river and the dirt trail carve their way into hills, then through a forest that leads to a meadow lake (dry at the time of our walk). After you cross the border from Montenegro back into Albania, the ascent into the hills becomes rugged again. Shepherds squatting in old military barracks, their scattered herds of sheep, and a couple of vocal, angry guard dogs all serve to capture the essence of this remote area.

You will pass the impressive Mt. Arapit and then begin the descent on rocky trail into the valley and village of Theth.

Peaks of the Balkans Trek, Theth
Just above Theth, Albania, signs of Albania's primarily Christian region.
Notes and Alternatives: Although this day took us through some beautiful scenery, it was a rather disappointing one for us as we had hoped to climb Mt. Arapit. There was no reason to miss the climb, outside of our guide mismanaging time and our day. Word to the wise: you must repeatedly check in with your guide to ensure that you accomplish everything you've agreed upon. Always ask questions, multiple times a day. Although many guides have your complete best interest in mind, others may be tempted to shorten the day, cut out an added walk or two, or make haste in ending your day.

Day 12: Theth – Kulla Tower – Grunas Waterfall – Nderlysa

Peaks of the Balkans Trek, Theth Church
The Church of Theth against a dramatic mountain backdrop.

Hiking Distance / Hours: 10km / 6 miles | 5 hours
This is a very easy day. From whichever guest house you happen to be staying, make your way to the center of Theth, poke around the village and spend a bit of time with the family at the Kulla Tower. Listen to the story of the valley and its fabulous, fantastic history, including the paradoxical views of hospitality, revenge killing and cross-family bonding built into the penal code, the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini. From there, make your way to Grunas Waterfall, have lunch and slowly meander your way down to Nderlysa.

Peaks of the Balkans Trek, Homestay in Albania
Traditional Albanian home — Nderlysa, Albania.

The highlight of this day for us was Nderlysa, including the farm where we stayed and the family that ran it. Watch out for the daughters — they play a mean game of soccer/football and are very sweet.

Peaks of the Balkans Trek, Homestay Family
Out of breath (me), after the big football match.

Day 13: Nderlysa – Blue Eye (Syri i Kalter) – Shkodër

Peaks of the Balkans Trek, Blue Eye in Albania
Waterfall at the Blue Eye, Peaks of the Balkans.

Hiking Distance / Hours: 5 km / 3 miles | 2 hours

Wake up and make your way to the Blue Eye, a small lake or watering hole depending on your perspective. Although the Blue Eye is often described as “must-see”, it’s difficult to hold it up to all the other truly astonishing visual and atmospheric experiences along the Peaks of the Balkans route. This is to say, if you sew the Blue Eye into your itinerary, enjoy it, but you should not feel compelled to include it should your itinerary be bursting at the seams already.

Peaks of the Balkans Trek, Cafe Near Blue Eye in Albania
Great little spot to enjoy a coffee en route to the Blue Eye.

Notes and Alternatives: Minibus from Nderlysa to Shkodër costs 1000 lek ($8) and takes about four hours.

What if I don’t have two weeks to trek? Can I hike or trek a shorter route?

Yes, of course. You can always piece together segments of the trek as many of the sites and views we mention can be reached by a variety of walking trails and transport methods. Instead of beginning and ending in the same location (e.g., Shkodër in our case) you can get off the trail to arrange transport or take a public minibus to whichever town or trailhead you’d like to approach next.


Overwhelmed? Don't be. Feel free to ask questions in the comments below. You can also buy and download our Peaks of the Balkans Beginner's Guide that will fill in some of the logistical and practical information gaps.

The Peaks of the Balkans region features a rich history and is currently in the process of figuring out ways to share that history with others. Armed with the right information, you can have a transformative experience and take in some of the most surprising experiential landscape that the Balkans — and Europe — have to offer.

Peaks of the Balkans Guide

Update: You can now buy the Peaks of the Balkans: A Beginner's Guide with all the information from this site plus lots of extra details and other goodies in an easy ebook that you can download and take with you.

About Daniel Noll
Travel and life evangelist. Writer, speaker, storyteller and consultant. Connecting people to experiences that will change their lives. Originally from the U.S. Daniel has lived abroad since 2001 and most recently has been on the road since 2006. When he's not writing for the blog you can keep up with his adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about him on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

51 thoughts on “Peaks of the Balkans Trek: Day by Day”

  1. I grew up in Croatia, but never visited Kosovo, Montenegro, or Albania. Even less, I never got to see any photos, or articles, of the area, until now. There are many reasons why that part of the world was kept in as thick of a fog as the one you guys ran into at the lake Hrid. It’s only in the recent years that it began to open up to tourists and hikers, like yourself. I was impressed with the beauty of the nature, as well as with the trek you took. Thanks for sharing them with the rest of the world! Very brave and rewarding journey, indeed.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Natasha, for a very thoughtful comment and personal and historical perspective. Our hope with this piece is to provoke thought about a region previously held in a historical fog, as you indicate. We look forward to that fog being lifted and more travelers considering travel to the region and to the Peaks of the Balkans — for their own joy and to the benefit of the people living and working in the region. Thanks again.

      Reply
  2. So neat! We’ve been to Albania and the blue-eye (agree on the not-must see, but nice sentiment), but haven’t trekked the mountains — would absolutely love to come back and do that. Quick question — during your trek did you encounter many guard dogs? We did a bit of trekking in Georgia in Svaneti and in Tushetia and there were quite a few, although almost never on their own but with a shepherd. Not to say that this would deter me, but would be nice to know. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hi Jania, we encountered a few guard dogs along the Peaks of the Balkans trail, but not that many so as to make it a significant consideration. The one area where I remember the dogs in particular was Day 11, around Mt. Arapit. There was a shepherd there who looked to have taken over an old military base or bunker. He tended sheep and had a couple of unfriendly guard gods minding his flock. Also, on day one coming down into Cerem, the shepherds there have dogs, but they are much less intimidating. If you walk with confidence, be ready to use your walking stick, and maybe pick up a stone or two just for good measure, they should not be a problem. Also, you or your guide might also want to let the shepherd know that you will be passing and ask them if they would call their dogs off or otherwise help you pass safely.

      I hope that helps allay any fears or concerns.

      Reply
  3. Love following your treks on here. The information you guys include is always excellent and very useful for planning these trips. The only real trekking I’ve done in Eastern-Europe is Moldoveanu Peak in Romania (which I throughly recommend if you haven’t already).

    Keep it up guys and thanks again.

    Peter

    Reply
    • Am glad to hear that our trekking information is useful, Peter. Stay tuned, as we will publish another Peaks of the Balkans guide with even more information. It’s important, particularly as the information available is somewhat limited.

      Thanks for the suggestion and taking the time to comment.

      Reply
  4. Awesome. It’s one of the most rewarding feelings, ever, when we make it to the top of an epic mountain. Soooo fulfilling. Love the photos!

    Reply
  5. Very nice trip, specially your loop valbona-kolata-cerem I did know when I was there last june. Which month were you hiking in Albania? Do you have the GPS track of your trail. I am writing also a report of my PoB trail, but your picts are a lot more amazing ?
    Thanks for this sharing

    Reply
    • Thank you, Mayake! We hiked the Peaks of the Balkans in late June/early July.

      You should be able to get the GPS tracks and coordinates via the Google Map above (and its KML).

      Reply
  6. Great stuff Daniel, wonderful pictures and helpful info.
    We are planning to do 6-7 days of the trek, so we will have about 1/2 of the days to do the full hike.
    1. If starting from Theth, would you go to Mongenegro side or Kosovo side ? which one is easier to do ?
    2. I can see from the pictures that the sky were cloudy. Did you experience rain every day ? You traveled during end of June/Start of July, we though to do it even a bit earlier.
    3. I speak a bit Albanian, would it be helpful also in Kosovo and Montenegro ?
    4. I read your comment about doing it alone or with a guide. We will be 4/5 of us, usually we trek without a guide (We will have maps). Any major issues about that ?

    Thanks in advance,

    O.

    Reply
    • 1. Theth is beautiful and one of the starting points for PoB. One idea is to take the ferry across Lake Koman and begin your trek in Valbona. Then you can either go towards Theth (a path that we’ve heard is more beautiful and easier than in the other direction of Theth to Valbona) or take the route that we did to Cerem.

      If you are certain that you want to start in Theth, then I think it’s easier to go in the direction of Montenegro by going first to Vusanje. From there you can continue with the standard PoB route or you can take a detour and go into the Karanfil mountains (beautiful, some of the most stunning landscapes of our trek) to Lepushe and then continue over Mt. Grebenit to Vermosh (Albania). From there it’s probably easiest to take a taxi or bus to Plav and then you can continue with the rest of the PoB trek from there.

      2. For us, there was a day or two in between where we were totally fogged in, peaks went in and out of the clouds.  Outside of that, we were pretty happy with the weather, all things considered.  I don’t believe it’s possible to time your trek to ensure perfect weather. Our guide showed us photos from a trek the previous August where the weather was perfect (though very hot) every day. However, there are other final days of August when it has rained.  You are more likely to have better weather in August, but it will likely be hotter and the trails busier.

      So if you get perfect weather, it won’t be because of the time of year you chose, but simply because you’re lucky. One thing to consider if you plan to trek in early June is to check whether the shepherds and families will have already moved into the hills by that time. When we began on trek on June 20, some families had just arrived.

      3. Albanian will be helpful in Kosovo, not Montenegro. There, they speak Montenegrin (what some might call Serbian or Serbo-Croatian) which is slavic and nothing at all like Albanian.

      4. Be aware that trails can be very poorly marked.  A group of 4-5 experienced hikers we met repeatedly got lost.  It’s best to carry maps, also GPS waypoints and an app like PocketEarth with all the trails downloaded.

      Reply
      • Cheers Daniel,
        Thanks a lot for your help.
        I think we will go from Albania to Montenegro side as you suggested. It will also be good because we would like to end in Plav and take few days on the beach in Montenegro. The diversion to karanfil mountains sounds good.
        I have been in Koman ferry ride twice – it’s beautiful, so we will do that as well.
        We are using Wikiloc for maps, just need to make sure this trek is there.

        It will be great to match the beautiful photos you have here with the real stuff 🙂

        Thanx again for your help,

        Ofir

        Reply
        • Ofir, sounds like a great plan! We also spent some time on the Montenegrin and Albanian beaches after our trek and it was a nice balance to the mountains.

          I just wanted to let you know that we just published a Peaks of the Balkans Beginner’s Guide that has even more information about the trek, logistics, practical details, route suggestions, maps and more. It’s an ebook so you can download and take it with you: https://gum.co/fOiM

          Enjoy your trek and hope the weather is good!

          Reply
          • Thanx Audrey,
            Good to know. There is one smart phone geek with us so I’ll let him to do the job 🙂

            Ofir

    • Hey Daniel/Audrey,

      Our trip is coming soon (Finally ! :-),
      and I have another question –
      We would like to walk from Vusanje (Albania) to Plav (Montenegro) in one day.
      In your description, you broke it into 2 days, via Lepushe.
      Do you know if it’s possible to do it in 1 day ?
      If not, there is a place to stay overnight ?

      Thanks,

      Ofir

      Reply
      • Hi Ofir,
        I think it might be a bit much to try and walk from Vusanje to Plav in one day as there are some steep inclines along those stretches. However, you could wake up really early and see how you do. It’s possible to stay in Vermosh (Albania, just near Montenegrin border) as there are quite a few places there to stay. Then, you could take a taxi to Plav the next day and start walking (e.g., towards Babino Polje). Otherwise, the walk between Vermosh and Plav is 24km, which would be a full day’s walk.

        Good luck and enjoy your trip!
        Audrey

        Reply
  7. hy, may I leave some other comments, which are my own subjective ones ? For me starting from Podgorica, then Plav is better than landing in Albania, much shorter and in UE. Kelmend (montenegrin and albanian dinaric alps) is better than Kosov0. People too are more friendly (albanian are catholic in this area as Kosovars are muslim and a little agressive).
    As I already commented Daniel’s report and picts are awesome, but if you want to read and have more document you can go to my blog (in French, sorry, and the end of my trip there is still under writing…), you’ll find all the maps and books available about this part of south balkans.
    https://mayake.wordpress.com/tag/albania/

    Hoping it will help

    Reply
  8. P.S.
    GPS is compulsory, trails in Albania are well marked, a little in Kosovo, a nightmare in Montenegro. Tracks from Endrits or mines or from anybody else (in wikiloc) are helpful and good.

    Reply
  9. Dear Daniel,

    thanks for providing all this useful information.

    Do you know how to get from Tirana Airport to Theth? We will land at 1pm and it would be awesome to make it to Theth the same day in order not to loose a whole day!

    keep up the good work and all the best

    Hazim

    Reply
    • Hazim,
      The fastest way to get from Tirana airport to Theth is to arrange for private transport. It will likely take around 4-5 hours. However, I’m not sure how expensive that would be. Otherwise, you can take a minibus from Tirana to Skodra (1.5 hours) and then a bus to Theth (3-4 hours). Given that you are arriving at 1PM, I would suggest going first to Skodra for the night and then to Theth the next day to start the trek.

      Good luck!

      Reply
  10. hi daniel and audrey,

    just left a message on your facebook site. wasn’t sure what was the best way to contact you.

    your post has been so helpful to my planning. i’m a former park ranger and will be heading to the area the week of july 12th to trek with my son and daughter. i was wondering if the route of dragobi, cerem, vusanje, valbone, theth would work. is that possible in 5-6 days? would you recommend it or is another option better. we are trying to get off the beaten path as much as possible. really excited about exploring this area of the world. thanks so much for your expertise. sandy

    Reply
    • Hi Sandy,
      I responded to your message on Facebook, but thought to add the information here in case it’s useful for others. Good luck with your upcoming trek!

      The route you propose would be possible in 5-6 days of trekking. We haven’t walked some of these routes, so we can’t comment on how the trails are marked between Dragobi and Cerem or Cerem and Vusanje. It probably makes more sense to go Dragobi to Cerem to Vusanje to Theth to Valbone. I do want to note that Valbone and Theth are the most developed areas of the route (although the whole area is pretty remote, so this is relative), so if you are really wanting to get off the beaten path you may want to stay in neighboring villages (e.g., Nderlysa outside of Theth). I have heard that it’s a more beautiful walk to go Theth to Valbone than the other way around.

      We really liked the Karanfil Mountains not too far from Vusanje (en route to Lepushe towards Plav), but that might take you out of your way. You can see that on day 9 above in this post.

      Reply
  11. We are two brothers planning to travel to Albania/Kosovo soon, arrving in Tirana on 14/7 and leaving from Pristina on 24/7. Our general trip plan is to spend 2-3 days around Tirana, and then head north to trek the accursed mountains for 6-7 days generally heading east, crossing the border to Kosovo at some point, and descend from Peja to Pristina. Overall, we prefer to travel independently and remain flexible, We will be happy to get some advice and highly appreciate your response.

    1. The idea to take the Koman Lake ferry sounds attractive, however this seems to practically mean that we will miss the Theth area if we directly head east. Is there a way for a 2-3 days round trip that will go through the Valbona pass one way and some other route on the way back (or the opposite)? If not, any other way of experiencing both the Theth area and the Lake Koman boat ride within our schedule?

    2. If we travel on our own, will a cell-phone (Andriod, iOS) navigation be sufficient, or shall we get an independent GPS? Are there particular stretches where a local guide is recommended (for our experience rather than for orientation).

    3. In your experience, is it necessary to book accommodation and transfers in advance? We contacted Zbulo but they are too busy at this time of the year to assist independent travelers. In particular, Cerem and Doberdol seem to be challenging when it comes to on-line information and pre-booking. Is it possible for a party of two to just arrive and find a place to put your head? We are open to some degree of risk here.

    Thanks a lot in advance, your guide (which we downloaded) does a great job in filling in important information and helpful tips.

    Shachar

    Reply
    • Hi Shachar,
      Glad that the PoB guide has been helpful for your planning and trip! As for your questions, I’ll answer the best I can:

      1) I think you’ll need to make a decision between Theth and taking the Koman Lake Ferry as I don’t know of a route that would allow you to do both without going way out of your way. Probably the easiest thing is to take a bus from Shkodra (just a few hours from Tirana) to Theth and then trek from there to Valbona and continue going east. Probably 1-2 days is all you need in Tirana, so you could add that extra time to the trek.

      2) We were thankful to have both a cell-phone (we had iPhones) navigation (using Pocket Earth or a similar app) and an independent GPS device (our guide had this). The GPS device seemed to have more elevation and other details. But, if you are confident in your smartphone’s navigation apps and have the proper waypoints downloaded in advance, then you’ll likely be OK. Also, I’d recommend getting an Albanian SIM card so that you have a local number – this will make it easier to make accommodation and transport arrangements.

      I’m not sure of your nationalities and languages you speak, but we found having a guide was also great for the homestays as he could translate for us, provide cultural and historical context to the area, and we could have more interaction with the families. Theth and Valbona are most developed, so you’ll likely find people who speak English (or other foreign languages) there. But, once you get further into the mountains there’s less of that. So, it’s up to you. As mentioned, we felt more comfortable with a guide as the trails aren’t well marked in areas. The son at the homestay in Doberdol can work as a guide, I believe. This might be a good option if you decide to go up Mt. Gjeravica (not on the traditional PoB trek, but recommended).

      3) You’ll be trekking a bit later than we did, so there may be a more trekkers on the trail than during our trip. We’ve been told that if a standard accommodation place is full then other families may take you in. Or, at least, a full homestay place might be able to help you get to the next village where there is a homestay. I remember there was a 2nd homestay that had opened up near Cerem (but there was no cell signal there), but Doberdol is a bit tricky as it’s so remote (and also no cell signal).

      Some homestays can help with transfers on the spot (i.e., the family has a car available), while with others you probably should ask someone to help you arrange a transfer in advance. The latter is important if you need a transfer at the end of the day.

      Hope this helps!

      Reply
  12. Hi Daniel,

    May I know which guide you employed? I am thinking of doing this trip alone but I am not sure how many days. I have 14 days in total and just happen to saw your website when researching!

    Please advise.

    Thank you!

    Michelle

    Reply
    • Hi Michelle,
      We organized our guide – Kushtrim Muriqi – through Zbulo! Discover Albania in Tirana. You may also be interested in the Peaks of the Balkans Beginner’s Guide for planning your trip as it highlights some of the alternative routes that we took during our journey that we would recommend (as well as lots of practical details and packing lists).

      Good luck with the planning and hope the trek goes well!
      Audrey

      Reply
  13. Wow, you guys just inspired me to go back to the Balkans. The photos are amazing! Sounds like an epic adventure!

    Reply
  14. Daniel and Audrey, first off, an enormous thanks for creating this resource. Invaluable. I’ll be downloading the e-book as I get closer to my my travels. For now, two questions, if you wouldn’t mind: Two friends and I are planning to do a modified version in the first half of September, i.e. in two months. You comment above on the weather in the summer months, but (understanding that it’s unpredictable at all times) do you get the sense the (relative) warmth lingers into September? (That’s my distant notion of the weather in that part of the world. September is warmer than June in many of the areas I’ve wandered through.) And the shepherds don’t go back down that early in the fall yet, right?

    The second question refers to the “modified” part above. We have even fewer days than most people on here: 3-4, as w have other travel in the broader region (Bosnia, mainly). I’ve been scouring your notes to get a sense what super-greatest hits you’d recommend out of your already great ones (we like all the same things you do, from the long hikes to the climbs with views to the guesthouse experience). Correct me if I’m wrong, but apart from the Lake Koman Ferry, it seemed to become super-special from Valbone to Cerem to Doberdol (plus Gjeravica), then not again till Drelaj/Mt. Hajla, and then again not so much in Montenegro until the final days of your journey (Vermosh, Grebenit, Taljanka, Arapit, Lepushe). These, of course, are in three different corners of the region, so we’d have to pick one. And it sounds like, on density of action alone, it should be Valbone to Gjeravica or a replication of your final days. It did sound from your notes like the former option (Valbone to Gjeravica) would include more homestays, whereas it seemed to be hotels, mostly, in the latter. Am I right to think the former was also a little less trafficked? Perhaps that decides it for Valbone to Gjeravica for an optimal combination of solitude, hiking, climbing, and homestays in our mercilessly short time frame. (And we would arrange for a guide via Zbulo!) Any thoughts you have on this mishmash would be greatly appreciated!

    Reply
    • Hi Boris,
      Early September should be fine for most of the mountain areas. I believe that shepherds and families will usually start moving back down to the villages and towns mid to end of September. But, it’s worth it to check with Zbulo or a trekking agency on when the homestays will be closing up for the season. You can always put on more layers for the cold, but not having a place to sleep because the family has left already wouldn’t be good.

      As for where to concentrate your time for 3-4 days, that’s a difficult one. The views and trail from Valbona to Cerem to Doberdol were pretty great, and we really did enjoy the Lake Koman Ferry ride. Another variation for our latter days would be to take the bus from Skoder to Lëpushë and then go from there to Mt. Taljanka (Mt. Talijanka) to Gusinje/Vusanje to Theth to Valbona, and then take the Koman Ferry back towards Skoder. If I had to choose one over the other I’d probably this one as the views around Mt. Taljanka are really special. We’ve also heard that the Theth to Valbona walk is stunning, but you’ll likely encounter more trekkers on that route.

      No matter which route you choose, you can’t go wrong!

      Reply
  15. Dear Audrey and Dan,

    Thank you very much for the amazing work you have done with covering the trek and the its best parts.
    We have read your guide as well as the Q&A above, and are now planning traveling in the PoB during end September to beginning of October for 7-8 days.
    We would prefer to travel independently and to choose our route accordingly. (while taking into consideration all your tips). Therefore, we thought about a possible route which we would appreciate your input on, considering the weather at that period of time, and the fact that we will be traveling without a guide…
    Day 1: Beginning in Valbona (ofcourse after the ferry tour, as you reccomended), traveling to Cerem
    Day 2: Cerem to Doberdol,
    Day 3: We understand that there is an option a bit after Doberdol to turn left to PL04 and arrive at Babino Polje
    Day 4: Babino Polje to Trskavica, transfer to Varmose
    Day 5: Varmose to Lepush
    Day 6: Lepush to Vusanje
    Day 7: Vusanje to Theth

    In addition, do you know if there an option to travel from Theth directly to Podgorica?

    Thanks in advance,
    Roni

    Reply
    • Hi Roni,
      The route that you’ve suggested sounds great, but if you are not camping with your own gear and are looking to stay with local families then you should check to see whether there will be any accommodation available in Cerem or Dobordol at that time of year. I believe that many of the shepherds and farmers in that area go down to the villages/towns mid-September.

      If you are planning to go independently and without a guide, please be sure to have GPS tracks and either apps or a device. We met a group of experienced trekkers who got very lost in the Cerem to Doberdol segment going on their own. They had camping equipment with them, so they were able to camp out in an abandoned shepherd’s hut. But, they lost a day in the process.

      I don’t believe there is the option to travel directly from Theth to Podgorica unless you rent a car and driver. Most people take transport to Shkodra and then get a bus/shared taxi from there to Podgorica.

      Good luck with your planning and trek!
      Audrey

      Reply
      • Hi Audrey, I fear that there are options to hike from Teth to Podgorica. I walked from teth to vermosh and then rikavack lake etc. A several days trip but gorgeous. Or directly thru Delaj crossing the new paved road. I can give the track for those who want it seriously. Cheers

        Reply
  16. Hi Audrey and Daniel,
    We’re wanting to do the Via Dinarica’s White trail, which also goes into the areas you have been. Would you PDF guidebook to Peaks of the Balkans be helpful for us for the Albania/Montenegro/Kosovo sections? Would love to buy it and support you guys if so. Thanks so much.

    Reply
    • Harriet, though quite extensive, our guide only covers the entire Peaks of the Balkans trails. It does not include Dinarica.

      Reply
    • Hi Jorik,
      I just checked the records and you should have received the Peaks of the Balkans PDF directly from Gumroad to your hotmail account. Perhaps check your email and spam folders again? If you still have problems, let me know.
      Thanks,
      Audrey

      Reply
  17. Hello Audrey,
    First of all, thanks for the amazing job you’ve done and for putting the Balkans on the map! I’m from Prishtina and am absolutely in love with Theth having done the hike from Valbona to Theth twice already. This summer I’m thinking of doing the hike from Vusanje to Theth. I just wanted to ask about your recommendations for this route and whether the views rival those you can see in the hike from Valbona to Theth?

    Thanks again and keep up the good work!
    Rron

    Reply
    • Thanks for your kind words! It’s hard for us to compare as we’ve never done the trek between Valbona and Theth.

      With the Vusanje to Theth route we’d try to get a super early start so that you can climb Mt. Arapit as well. I imagine that some of the views and landscapes will be similar to Valbona to Theth, but perhaps a bit more green (at least closer to Vusanje) and possibly not quite as dramatic in terms of the granite peaks.

      One trek to consider is Lëpushë to Vusanje to Theth (Day 10 & 11 above). We thought that the views from Mt. Taljanka were incredible – the most dramatic of our entire trek. It’s relatively easy to get to Lëpushë from Skodra by bus. And, if you didn’t want to continue to Theth you could take a bus back from Gusinje or Vusanje after crossing Mt. Taljanka.

      Reply
  18. Hi !! Looks so nice the trail! The thing is that i will be in albania this summer but i´m quite scared because i´m going to do it alone. How much does it cost the guide? My budget is a bit shorter which is another problem. Anyway, do you think that only with the mobile phone, your guide and wikiloc route is enough?

    What about wild animals?

    Thanks a lot1 Aw the best!

    Reply
    • Hi Rafa,
      You’d have to contact Zbulo! to find out if the cost of a guide has increased, but when we did the trek a few years ago the guide’s daily fee was €70-€75/day (his room and meals were free). If you are worried about going on your own perhaps ask at Zbulo! if they have a group trip going during the summer that you can join – that will decrease the costs as the guide fees are spread amongst more people.

      It is possible to go on your own with a smartphone and GPX files/Wikiloc Route, but I’d be sure that you have some experience or practice following trails like this so that you are comfortable doing the trek independently. Otherwise, it may not be an enjoyable experience if you fear getting lost all the time.

      Reply
  19. Hey!
    Thanks so much for al the awesome info! We are planning for a three or four day hike in the end of august. As we won’t be using a guide I have been trying to find a route that is doable without one. Based on your info here I am now pretty sure of the itinerary. Starting with the ferry, then hike from Valbona to Teth (day 1), from Teth to Vusanje (day2), and finally from Vusanje to Lepushe (day3). It sounds as if the first two hiking days are pretty well marked, and combined with wikiloc shouldn’t give many troubles. Do you know how well marked the Vusanje to Lepushe trail is? Would we solely have to depend on the wikiloc I found or will there also be enough markers?

    Thanks!
    Lisa

    Reply
    • Hi Lisa,
      Agree that the first two days of hiking that you have planned (Valbona to Theth, Theth to Vusanje) are pretty well marked. We did the next segment the opposite way, from Lepushe to Vusanje. There were some markers along the way painted on rocks, but I don’t remember it being particularly well-marked. If you have good wikiloc tracks (check out this account: https://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/user.do?id=273885) then you should be OK. It’s a beautiful walk.

      Reply
  20. Dear Daniel and Audry,

    We are a couple, and we though about hiking for about 6 days, in mid-Septemember, from Albania to Montenegro (sleeping in huts / homestays), (a non-guided tour),

    We are a bit confused, and thought about the following itinerary:
    :
    Day 1:. From Shkoder – taking the ferry tour on Komani lake (maybe both directions in one day) and the next morning taking transfere towards theth.,
    Day 2: theth to Nderlysa (maybe one way by transport), the Blue Eye and sleeping in theth.

    then the following hike:
    Day 3: Theth to Valvona
    Day 4: Valbona to Cerem
    Day 5: Cerem to Doberdol,
    Day 6: Doberdol to Babino Polje (thogh we are a bit concered, we did not find much information about it except wikiloc),
    Day 7: Babino Polje to Plav (and from Plav a bus to Podgorica)

    What do you think?
    A. It sound like we are doing a small zigzag (returning with the ferry sounds a bit like a waste of time, but we heard that Teth-Valbona is nice.
    Another alternative is taking the western part (clockwise – start with the ferry to valbone and start the hike there), though we heard that doing the hike clockwise is less recomanded.
    B. We are also not sure about our dat 6 (Doberdol to Plav),
    C. In mid-September – can we relay on housing along the way? do you think that we should reserve places? is sleeping bag required?

    We would really appriciate your opinion.

    Thanks!
    Natan and Einat

    Reply
    • Hi Natan and Einat,
      The ferry is quite nice and we recommend it, but it seems like you might be backtracking a lot with it so I’d probably skip it. If you’re OK going without the ferry I’d suggest transferring from Shkoder to Theth by bus/shared taxi on Day 1 and then starting your route from there. We have not done the Theth to Valbona route, but we have heard that it’s beautiful. And, we’ve heard that talking that direction is better than Valbona to Theth.

      As for Day 6, Doberdol to Babino Polje we didn’t take that route as we took a detour to climb Mt. Gjeravica instead. I do remember our guide telling another group of independent trekkers that it’s a long day. They ended up hiring a local guide from the shepherd’s hut in Doberdol to guide them as they had gotten lost the days before and wanted a bit of security. But, I’m sure the wikiloc trails are accurate and if you are comfortable navigating in the mountains you should be fine.

      I believe that some of the guest houses and shepherd huts close down at the beginning of September (when school starts) so it might be useful to get in touch with them in advance, especially Doberdol, to be sure that they are still open at that time. Although you probably don’t need reservations per se as this will be low season it still might be worth letting them know in advance so they can be prepared with dinner and food and such. You can contact Zbulo! in Tirana to help you with accommodation bookings or try contacting some of the places yourself. Here’s the list of places where we stayed: https://uncorneredmarket.com/peaks-of-balkans-trek-itinerary-accommodation-transport/

      We did not carry sleeping bags as each place had blankets and was warm enough. We did carry a silk sleep sack/sleeping bag liner though.

      Have a great trip!

      Reply

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