Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Albania Retrospective - Part 1 of 2

If you’re like me, everything you know about Albania you learned from Cheers – which is probably a sad commentary on the quality of my education but we’ll leave that for another day.  It turns out that Albania is a country that has lots to recommend it and is perfect for any intrepid traveller willing to take a chance and make some effort.

An Overview

Albania is located on Greece’s norther border and is spread north along the coastline of the Adriatic.  The south of the country is mountainous and dry.  The landscape is reminiscent of the Southern Okanagan in summer.  As you move north along the coast the land turns from rugged mountains to river deltas and low coastal wetlands – right around Vlore which is about mid-way along the coast.

During World War II Albania was occupied by Axis powers who were violently opposed by communist partisans and others.  Following the war, the Communist Party formed an independent government and as a member of the Warsaw Pact countries supported communist groups in neighbouring countries on its borders.  The Communists in Albania held power for nearly 50 years and were extremely paranoid to the point that they cut themselves off from nearly all foreign interactions and militarized much of their coastline, fearing invasion by NATO forces from the seas.

See the Pillbox - one of 700,000

In the early 90’s Albania held its first democratic elections, and struggled to establish a representative democracy.  Governments have come and gone, through successive scandals including a pyramid scheme that collapsed in the late 90’s costing many thousands of Albanians their life’s savings.  Since the mid 2000’s Albania has begun to re-establish industry and increase tourism with neighbours such as Greece and Italy which can be reached easily by daily ferries from Durres, Vlore and Sarande.  However, many of the remnants of their isolationist past remain and can be seen in the formalities for visiting by yacht and the rough edges of daily life.


Yachts are welcome in Albania and can check in at one of four ports, in the North is Shengjin followed as you head south by Durres, Vlore and Sarande.  Courtesy flags can usually be found in Greece if heading north, or may be purchased locally once you arrive. 

Unfortunately, sailing vessels are treated as any large ship and are required to use an agent to handle formalities on arrival.  The Adriatic Pilot 6th Edition and the 777 Harbours and Anchorages guide have recommended agents for each port.  In addition, vessels are required to check in with the authorities at each port visited even once immigration and customs formalities are accomplished.  This may mean you employ 4 different agents to complete paperwork for you at a cost that is not insignificant.  We visited Sarande (where we checked into the country), and Durres.  Agency fees were 70 Euros in Sarande and 50 Euros in Durres. 

While not a low budget item, the use of agents had the benefit of making the clearing in process simple.  We provided the yacht registration and our passports in Sarande and had our entry stamps and approval to visit within ½ hour of arriving.  Clearing out in Durres was equally simple we let our agent know we were leaving and he provided us with our exit papers and handled all of the immigration formalities.  It was surprisingly painless given that we were cruising at the time with a yacht that was not registered in our name.


Our agents were exceedingly helpful in both Sarande and Durres, offering assistance with directions to key shops and sights in both locations. Their services went beyond that of checking into the country and they were excellent ambassadors for visiting cruisers.

Moored at a questionable pier - Palermos Bay, Albania

There are a few anchorages that can be visited between the port cities, though the Albanian coast is generally not well sheltered from the prevailing summer winds.  When visiting these anchorages it is not necessary to check in, though if the port police happen to be present they may ask for your details to create a record of your visit.

If you wish to stop in at anchorages along the coast the 777 guide is a must have though hard to find in North America.  Get it before you get to Albania as we did not see it for sale locally.

In Part II of this retrospective, I'll provide some details on the costs of our stay in Albania, agents we used, and the places we visited and impressions we formed.

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