Sarandë, is a small town situated on a beautiful horseshoe bay between the mountains and the Ionian Sea. Located opposite the Greek island of Corfu, Saranda is characterized by a Mediterranean climate and warm sea waters and typically has over 300 sunny days a year. Due to its location and warm weather Saranda is one of the most attractive tourist towns on the Albanian Riviera and an ideal starting point for entering Albania from the south.
The owner of SR Backpackers, Tomi, is a local guy and one of the friendliest and most helpful hostel owners you will find anywhere in the world. It is not uncommon to meet Tomi as you exit the customs and immigration booth at the port as Tomi will sometimes come down to meet his guests if he knows what time they are arriving from Corfu. The common space of this very small hostel is covered in messages from past guests to Tomi and forms a shrine towards the super helpful owner. Tomi doesnt rest on his laurels though and you will always be able to rely on him for advice about the rest of your travels in the region.
A similar style to SR Backpackers, set in a modern apartment building with a very friendly and helpful host named Annette. Another excellent choice for your first or last hostel in Albania.
Sights and Highlights
The Blue Eye
Hands down one of the most beautiful places you will ever see. Syri i kaltër in Albanian, the Blue Eye is a karst spring and the discharge point for a very large underground river system. The discharge rate is around 20,000 l/s and is so high that it is impossible for divers to explore the cave because the flow rate pushing back is so high. The colour of the water is mesmerising and extremely refreshing, swimming here is a must, but don’t plan to be in the water for long, it is icy cold. Jumping from the little platform above the hole is recommended because when you enter from the edge, your body has enough time to realise how cold the water actually is. Don’t miss this in Sarandë.
Entry to the Blue Eye is free, however it is not uncommon for locals to attempt to charge admission by setting up inside an access gate that blocks road traffic from entering. It is up to you whether you pay them the small fee they ask for or politely decline and continue on the road towards the Blue Eye.
Another highlight of Albania are the ruins of the ancient Greek and later Roman city, Buthrotum. Different to many other ancient ruins throughout Europe in that the city is still largely covered in vegetation with 85% of the city un-excavated. This really makes you feel like an explorer as you move through ruins and let your mind wander as to what lies beneath. The fact that it is un-excavated means there is plenty of cover from trees over head as you move about, something that can make exploring heavily excavated archeological sites difficult on hot days elsewhere. The bus from Sarandë passes through the coastal town of Ksamili. Stop in Ksamili for lunch and a swim in the lovely beaches here and make it a day trip.
There are a plethora of cheap food options in Sarandë that your hostel owner can direct you towards. For around 1 euro you can purchase souvlaki/gyros/kebab from many places around town. Being a coastal town there a lot of good fresh seafood options in Sarandë.
Most of the nightlife is concentrated along the beachfront with many beach bars and clubs appearing along the horseshoe shaped shoreline. Grab a few other people from the hostel and organise an impromptu bar crawl along this coastal road for a great night out.
Sarandë itself is best navigated on foot. There are buses that can be used to get out to Butrint and Ksamili as well as another bus that connects out towards the Blue Eye. Both sites are popular, talking to your hostel owner to find the departure point of the appropriate bus.
Getting In and Out
Sarandë is connected by ferry to the Greek Island of Corfu to the south and this is the easiest way to enter Greece. Spend a few days on lovely Corfu before catching another ferry to Igoumenitsa on the Greek mainland. If you are heading north you have a choice to make between heading inland to Gjirokaster and then along to Berat or along the coast to Dhermi and Drymades Beach. Like elsewhere in Albania, the departure point for buses and furgons is fluid so speak to the hostel for directions to the correct location.