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Sailing Albania Guide: Everything You Need To Know Before You Go

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Looking for information on sailing Albania? We have compiled everything you need to know!

The Adriatic Sea, the northern arm of the Mediterranean, is one of the world’s most popular sailing and cruising destinations. When most people think about sailing in the Adriatic, they generally think about Croatia. The Adriatic Sea, however, includes more than just the archipelago of the Dalmatian Coast.

Italy, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Albania all lay claim to pieces of the Adriatic coastline. Sailors cruising the Adriatic for longer lengths of time, or those transitting, may pass along the coast of Albania.

Although Albania occupies a central 450km stretch of coastline which connects the southern Adriatic to the Ionian sea, many sailors sail through, opting not to stop in Albania, instead sailing past without ever checking into the country.

We decided, however, to check it out. To see what people were skipping and whether there was something there worth exploring. After all, we are veteran travelers, we have visited Albania in the past and enjoyed it immensely, these prissy sailors must not know what they are missing out on right? (Wrong.)

Discover the Truth About Sailing in Albania: 10 Things We Hated About Sailing Albania (And 5 Things We Loved)

While Albania has many things to recommend and is definitely worth stopping by, explorers should be aware that the sailing and tourism industry lags behind its Adriatic neighbors in many ways. Sailing the coastline of Albania can be more challenging and at times downright frustrating as authorities and marine operators seem to go out of their way to make Albania as unfriendly to sailors as possible.

What is Sailing Albania Like

The food is great, it is very cheap. The scenery, especially in the south is very beautiful. Most of the people are very friendly, and it is not at all crowded with sailors as it is in nearby sailing destinations like Greece and Croatia. However, there are a number of challenges that can outweigh these positives.

Entering and exiting Albania, or indeed conducting the most basic transactions like purchasing diesel or LPG, often requires a middleman to carry out the very mundane ordinary procedure usually at exorbitant prices.

This begins the moment you try to step foot in the country. Border control in Montenegro, like many other countries, involves a brief visit to the Harbourmaster and a quick exchange with the border police. Right next door, Albania’s laborious check-in procedure is generally facilitated by an agent.

The agent’s job is ostensibly to navigate the complex procedure of registering your boat and clearing customs and immigration into the country. In reality, our experience checking into the country was conducted in a small run-down bar in the Shengjin port where our agent, who spoke only limited English filled in two forms and walked over to another table in the bar where the border police were sitting. We paid €60 for his services.

The country is not well set up for sailors and is without the infrastructure found in Croatia, Greece, or Montenegro. The only marinas were really just sections of large commercial ports, not fit for berthing sailing yachts. In the north, anchoring is forbidden and aggressive coast guards enforce this policy.

Minefields were at one point established along the coastline. Although they have apparently now been cleared, it is another thing to worry about when you do eventually reach the south of Albania where anchoring is permissible.

We were unable to compel anyone to help us within any sort of useful timeframe. The idea of avash avash, which translates to slowly slowly is touted as a wonderful feature of the Albanian culture. The motto of a relaxed and easy-going population. We found it difficult to get assistance with even the most basic of things like finding a mechanic, diesel, or LPG. We found it incredibly frustrating how people would so quickly and so adamantly promise the world only to completely ignore us.

For us, the issues we came up against, especially sailing in the north of Albania ended up outweighing the positives. Of course, many other people have enjoyed overwhelmingly positive experiences sailing here. Beyond the highlights mentioned above, it also offers one of the last frontiers of sailing in the Adriatic without hordes of other sailors, overdevelopment, or expensive marinas (although this is starting to change).

For those people ready to take on the challenges and earn the rewards of sailing in Albania forwarned is forearmed and going in with a good understanding of what to expect might help you maximize the potential of your Albanian Adventure.

To that end, we have rounded up some of the most important information on sailing Albania.

Entering and Exiting Albania By Boat

large old fishing and transport boats on a sea wall at sunset
Boats that have given up sailing Albania

Arriving in or leaving Albania by boat means you will be required to check in or check out with the border police and the harbour master.

Unlike other countries where it is conventional to take care of this process yourself, in Albania you are generally required to use the services of a yachting agent. You need to make contact with an agent at your port of choice prior to your arrival in Albania and again with a new agent operating in your port of departure before you leave. They will then orchestrate the check-in process which works much like the process elsewhere albeit slower and less formal.

The agent will take care of any required paperwork so that you only need to turn up with your passport and boat documents.

Our check-in process went as follows. After checking out of Montenegro in Bar we sailed to Shëngjin, a port city in the north of Albania. The journey was 25 nautical miles, but without wind, it took us the best part of a day to motor slowly down the coast. We arrived just before 5 pm.

Our agent met us at the dock in the Shëngjin. It is possible to side dock here overnight while conducting the check-in process. There is no marina, nor any services available here. For this reason, many people checking in in the north of Albania sail past Shëngjin to Durrës where there is a makeshift marina within the port.

Leading us to the small rundown bar in the port, we sat down with the agent who spoke limited English. We ordered some cold drinks and set about the process of filling in the paperwork. The agent filled out a number of forms using our documents. And walked them over to another table where the border police were sitting.

After this, another woman took the documents and our passports to make photocopies.

When she returned, we were given our documents back but were told that we would have to return the following day to check our boat in as the harbor master had gone home for the day.

The following day the routine with the harbor master was similar. We sat at the same cafe bar with the agent and harbor master while some forms were completed, and we were sent on our way.

As with most places, original copies of passports, boat registration, skipper and VHF radio licenses, and boat insurance documents should be on hand.

We paid €50 for the agent and a further €10 which we believe was a port fee.

Our experience checking out in Sarandë was very different and a lot more professional. We used Sarandë Summer Tours they helped us organize extra services like laundry, gas, and car rental at a fantastic price. They were communicative and extremely helpful. When it came to checking out they took our documents, completed the required paperwork, and liaised with port authorities so that we never even saw a border agent and when they were finished (about fifteen minutes) we simply took our paperwork and left.

Anchoring in Albania

A coastguard boat with gun patrols the sea
Don’t expect a friendly welcome when sailing in the north of Albania

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about sailing in Albania is that the authorities do not seem to allow anchoring in the northern part of the country until as far down as Vlorë.

While our agent who helped us check in in Shëngjin assured us that we should “feel free” in Albania to stop and anchor anywhere we like, there are many reports of sailors being moved on by heavily armed police and military boats when anchoring in the north.

Our understanding, which comes from researching forums and navigation apps, indicates that sanctioned anchorages really begin south of Vlorë. This leaves almost a 100 nautical mile stretch of coastline where the only place to stop is marinas.

Once you get to Vlorë, there are a lot of nice anchorages, although many of them are exposed to the west.

Some of the best anchorages in Albania can be found near Vlorë, Llogara National Park, Himarë, and Sarandë.

Marinas in Albania

A large cargo ship at the dock
Your neighbor in the Albanian marinas

Unfortunately, there aren’t any dedicated yacht marinas in Albania, although one is currently under construction in Orikum.

Some ports, such as the one in Shëngjin and Vlorë may offer overnight mooring for vessels checking in or out of the country but are without even basic services.

There are however makeshift marinas in several ports along the Albanian coastline.

Cristian Marine Durrës

A section of the Durrës commercial port, which is used for ferries and container ships, has been turned into a marina with mooring lines, toilets, non-potable water, and electricity.

As a consequence of being an industrial port, it is an unpleasant place to stay for any length of time, and it is difficult to exit the port itself to reach the town.

The marina staff, although friendly, were unable to help us organize even the most basic of services (LPG gas, diesel, mechanical assistance) even though many promises were made to do so.

Orikum

Once completed will represent Albania’s first dedicated marina and a big step forward in the yachting industry here. When we traveled through Albania, the marina was still under construction and by many accounts, not a nice place to stay.

Marina Sarandë

The marina in Sarandë is again, just part of a commercial ferry port where yachts can side dock or stern dock with an anchor. It does have electricity and water.

Sea Mines When Sailing Albania

Old sea mines on a sea shore. Mines are one thing people talk about when discussing sailing in Albania
Mines are often mentioned when sailing Albania is discussed

Albania, like much of Europe, was mined during the Second World War. It was also potentially mined again during the Yugoslavian period.

The idea that the coast is mined pervades discussion of sailing Albania today and minefields have been included in many navigational charts.

It is difficult to find conclusive information online about the state of minefields that were identified on old charts. The most modern charts provided by Navionics do not have the minefield marked in 2022.

Most information online indicates that the minefields have indeed been cleared.

Perhaps the strong association between Albania and sea mines comes from the Corfu Strait Incident in which a destroyer was sunk as a result of an Albanian mine. The incident occurred in 1946 but affected British and Albanian diplomacy until 1991.

Nevertheless, the prevalence of this idea gives pause for thought whenever throwing out the anchor in Albania.

The Best Route for Sailing Albania

A loan boat sailing south for Albania
The best route to sail Albania is south to north

We sailed to Albania from Montenegro in the north. We sailed first to the port of Shëngjin, then onto Durres, Vlorë, Himarë, and finally Sarandë, where we checked out.

If I sailed Albania again, I would sail from south to north. The south is more beautiful. It is a better setup for sailors, has better-established check-in procedures, and is more welcoming in general to yachts with more ‘marinas’ and anchorages.

The north of the country has less to see, fewer marinas and sailing services, and it is not possible to anchor. Our experience sailing the north of the country took the wind out of our sails and left us with a negative impression of Albania. However, we managed to turn this around in the south of Albania which we greatly enjoyed.

Sailing Albania Itinerary

Below is an example itinerary with some of the most worthwhile stops along the coast of Albania.

Sarandë

Boats anchored in the bay of Sarandë
The tourist town of Sarandë is popular with sailors

Beginning in the south, the seaside town of Sarandë is probably the best place to begin a sailing adventure in Albania. There are a lot of yachting and travel services and the best shipping agents can be found here.

There is a nice protected anchorage in front of the town of Sarandë and a makeshift marina in front of the port authority.

Sarandë is a popular beach resort town with plenty of restaurants, bars, and beautiful beaches. It is also close to some popular tourist attractions including Syri Kalter, the Blue Eye Geyser, a variety of ruins documenting the area’s millennia of settlement, and the nearby historic Ottoman city of Gjirokaster. It is cheap and highly recommended to rent a car for a day to explore some of the nearby attractions.

Himarë

Himarë is 20 nautical miles north of Sarandë, and there are a number of bays and beaches where it is possible to anchor between the two. Himarë offers a somewhat protected anchorage in front of a pretty, touristic town. Again, you’ll find beautiful beaches and plenty of affordable and delicious restaurants and bars.

Llogara National Park

Wild and rugged, this national park occupies a long peninsula in the county of Vlorë. One of the best ways to experience this coastal national park is by boat. Luckily if you are sailing the coast of Albania, this is unavoidable.

It offers some of the most striking scenery on the Albanian coastline, with soaring peaks of the Ceraunian mountain range, and numerous coves and bays. It is possible to find beautiful secluded anchorages when sailing Llogara.

Vlorë

Castles, monasteries, and mosques can all be found nearby the town of Vlorë in the county of Vlorë which also has some beautiful beaches and anchorages.

Durrës

Durrës is potentially the best place to check out of Albania in the north with the best nautical services, yachting agents (for checking out) as well as a marina with water, electricity, and toilets.

The city of Durrës may not be the most beautiful along the Albanian coastline but it still has its fair share of historical places, museums, and attractions as well as a busy restaurant, bar, and nightlife scene.

The old amphitheater in the middle of the city of Durrës Albania

Durrës is also just 30 kilometers from the Albanian capital of Tirana, which is a popular spot for tourists.

Durrës is 50 nautical miles south of Bar, the first possible port to check into in Montenegro, and 80 nautical miles east of Brindisi, Italy. Durrës is 100 nautical miles south of Dubrovnik, Croatia.

MORE TIPS AND FAQS FOR SAILING Albania

Below are some common questions asked when sailing Albania. If we left anything out, please let us know.

Is Albania Good for Sailing?

Climate, beautiful coastline, interesting history, welcoming culture, and strong tourism industry are all present in Albania. However, sailing tourism is not well supported. Albania is not really recognized for its sailing or cruising like its Mediterranean neighbors.

Albania suffers from a lack of nautical services as such you won’t find any true marinas, only commercial ports where it is possible to moor and perhaps accesses electricity and water.

There are no anchorages in the north (until Vlorë) and many sailors report being moved on by authorities when they have tried to anchor.

Albania is not as well protected as some sailing areas of Croatia, Montenegro, and Greece, and without the aforementioned safe anchorages or marinas, it can be treacherous for sailors.

Because of these reasons, sailing can be more challenging in Albania.

On the other hand, some will see this lack of development in sailing tourism as an opportunity. One of the last frontiers in the Mediterranean is where you can escape the superyachts, charter boats, and party flotillas.

An birdseye view of a quiet anchorage with one boat
One upside of sailing Albania is that you’ll have it mostly to yourself

How Far Is It to Sail from Montenegro to Albania?

From the southernmost checkout point of Bar in Montenegro to the first available port in Albania in Shëngjin, it is 25 nautical miles.

Many people, however, opt to sail past Shëngjin for Durrës, a further 25 nautical miles away, as Durrës has better facilities. Where Shëngjin only has a wharf to side dock while carrying out check-in procedures, Durrës offers a ‘marina’ which is really just a section of the commercial port but at least offers mooring lines, toilets, and wifi.

How Far is it to Sail from Greece to Albania?

Sailing from Greece to Albania is simple.

Starting from the Ionian island of Corfu, check out at the port authority in Corfu town or Gouvia. Afterward, you can sail just 15 nautical miles across the strait of Corfu to Sarandë. Sarandë is the best port in Albania to check into offering a sheltered anchorage and a makeshift marina, albeit without mooring lines.

How Far Is It to Sail from Italy to Albania?

You can check out in Brindisi, Italy, and sail to and check into Durrës 80 nautical miles away.

What’s the Deal with Fuel in Albania?

rusty old fuel pumps
Finding fuel is a well-known challenge of sailing Albania

With the exception of Sarandë in the south, there are no public marine petrol stations in Albania, another consequence of the non-existent yachting industry. Diesel for boats is generally trucked in large quantities and any must be pre-arranged through a fuel company or third party.

Of course, no one is going to bother delivering the individual quantities of fuel required for a tiny sailboat. For that reason, finding fuel for your boat is a well-known challenge in Albania.

You can, by prior arrangement, organize smaller amounts of fuel through marina operators or agents. Alternatively, take jerry cans to land-based petrol stations to refuel.

Can I Rent a Sail Boat in Albania?

Although not as popular as Croatia or Greece, you can charter a boat here

Yes!

While the charter industry is not as established in Albania as in the rest of the Adriatic, it is possible to rent a yacht in Albania.

One company offering yacht rentals is Albania Yacht Charter.

How to Get a Sim Card in Albania?

Vodafone has reliable coverage at a reasonable price and stores are well dispersed in most towns ad certainly in the port towns of Shenjin, Durrës, and Sarandë.

You will need to purchase a sim from a Vodafone store (€20 at time of writing) and they will require a passport to activate the sim.

After activation, you can add data. We purchased an unlimited data plan for €8 for thirty days.

Coverage was reliable along the coast but you can confirm data coverage using the coverage map at Nperf.

Where Can I Buy an Albanian Courtesy Flag?

You are required to fly an Albanian flag when sailing in the waters of Albania, a fact we were reminded of by port police the moment we arrived. Luckily we had prepurchased a flag in Montenegro, however, there are also nautical stores in all the major port towns.

Climate in Albania

The coast of Albania enjoys a typical Mediterranean climate. Wet winters with mild temperatures between 1 and 20 degrees and dry, hot summers when the temperatures generally range between 15 degrees and 35 degrees.

Sailing Winds in Albania

Albania shares the same wind patterns as its Adriatic neighbors to the north and east. Scirocco, Garbi, Punente, Maestro and (in the north of the country) the Bora.

Without the protection of an archipelago, the Albanian coast is exposed to winds blowing from Italy in the west, such as the Garbi, which can be problematic for sailors.

Language(s) of Albania

Albanian is the official language of Albania and is spoken throughout. Many Albanians also speak Italian, German, and/or French. In the south, Greek is often spoken as a second language.

English is widely used in tourist areas however the level of English is often low and can make communication difficult at times.

Helpful Phrases in Albanian

  • Hello: Përshëndetje or Tung!
  • Thanks: Faleminderit
  • I don’t understand: Nuk e kuptoj
  • Do you speak English?: Flet Anglisht?
  • Goodbye: Mirupafshim

Credit Cards and Currency in Albania

A shop with a handwritten sign "€1 = $1"
Generally, you need to pay cash, but the euro and the local Lek currency are widely accepted

Albania is largely a cash economy and credit cards are not widely accepted.

Although the official currency in Albania is the Albanian lek (ALL), the Euro is widely accepted, even in mom-and-pop corner stores. If you do plan to pay in Euro, expect to pay a slight premium and to receive your change in Albanian lek.

There are plenty of ATMs in towns and tourist centers but most ATMs will charge a percentage or a fixed fee to withdraw cash. The fee can be pretty large compared to some of the other countries in the Mediterranian.

At one point, trying to withdraw $5,000 Albanian lek in Shengjin, the bank fee would have been $1,750 lek or just shy of €15.

In our experience, the best bank to withdraw money from was Credins Bank.

Many exchange offices are found throughout Albania, and most offer a fairly decent rate, especially when compared to the bank fees for ATM withdrawals. Check the exchange online and compare it to the exchange rate being offered in the currency office before handing over cash.

If you take out or exchange money, we recommend getting the minimum amount you will need. Albanian lek is a closed currency meaning you cannot exchange money outside of Albania.

Time zone in Albania

Albania is in the Central European time zone (GMT + 1).

On the last Saturday in March, the time zone switches to GMT + 2, until the last Sunday in October.

Drinking-Water in Albania

In Albania most people (when possible) use bottled water for drinking and tap water only for washing and cooking. Here, the issues with tap water stem from over chlorination which can lead to cramps and illness, and a lack of regulation which can mean a contaminated water supply.

It is recommended not to drink tap water in Albania. Large 12L jugs can be purchased for approximately $200 lek or less than €2.

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Hopefully, you have found some helpful information about sailing Albania, but if you have any questions or comments please let us know below!

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