20 Essential Travel Tips for planning the Valbona Theth Hike
Updated on February 24th, 2020
I love hiking. One of the things I was most looking forward to about our European adventure was all the hiking we would be doing during the summer months. Memories of my month of solo travel in Ireland and kept flooding back to when I hiked almost daily. I was hoping to recreate that holiday. Wherever I travel now, I research the best hikes in the area. One that stood out for Albania was the Valbona Theth hike.
Valbona and Theth are two small villages that are located in the northern part of Albania in the Valbona National Park. The closest major city is Shkoder and the hike can be done in either direction from the two villages.
Before you set out on this hike there are a few important things you should know before hiking from Valbona to Theth. These tips will also apply if you plan on hiking in the opposite direction from Theth to Valbona.
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Planning & preparing for the hike
Which direction to hike?
The big question everyone is asking is which direction is best?
We did a lot of research as to whether to hike from Valbona to Theth or Theth to Valbona. The more popular option is starting in Theth, however, we did the reverse and started in Valbona. Which after having hiked it, I believe this to be the best choice. Make sure you read my full recount of hiking Valbona to Theth.
The main reason I believe starting in Valbona is the best option is because of the terrain. I would rather walk up something steep than down it. The trail closest to Valbona is the steepest section and in direct sunlight.
If you start early enough in the day you can get through this without it being too hot. If you hike from Theth you will be hiking along this section during the hottest part of the day.
From Theth the hike ascends more gradually but you will be gaining 1,100m of elevation in 6.5km before the descent begins. This seems like a much harder slog than getting the hard part over and done with.
When is the best time to hike?
Due to the elevation and amount of snowfall in the area, hiking Valbona to Theth can only be done during the summer months and parts of Spring and Autumn. It will depend on the particular year as how much snow fell during the winter as to when the Valbona pass will be open.
A good reference would be to plan between June and November. Although you can check on online travel sites like Tripadvisor forums if anyone has hiked that year or knows when the passes will open.
Albania is a hot country. If you hike in the peak of summer you can expect temperatures to reach 40 degrees. We did the hike in the middle of June and temperatures were already getting hot as early as 10 am.
Catching the Komani Lake ferry to Valbona was one of my highlights and runs between 13th April and 2nd November.
Do you need a guide?
Nope! There is really no need for a guide on this hike. It’s very straightforward and a well-marked trail. The trail is obvious and I believe even for the most directionally-impaired almost impossible to get lost.
If you are a solo traveller and feel more comfortable with others, you are likely to meet other travellers either on the trail or in Shkoder you can pair up with.
How long do you need?
The hike itself can be done in under a day. Due to the remoteness of both Valbona and Theth, you should allocate at least 3 days to get to and from Shkoder.
I would have loved to have spent an additional day exploring more of Theth but didn’t have the time. 4 days would be ideal.
How to get to Valbona or Theth
We arranged our pick up from a travel company across from the hostel we stayed at. We decided to leave booking the return journey and ended up having to hitchhike out of Theth as the 4×4’s were full.
To get to Valbona this is the schedule you will follow:
- Day 1: Depart Shkodër at 6:30 am for a 1.5-hour drive to Koman.
- 2.5 to 3-hour ferry to Fierza
- 1-hour Minibus to Valbona
- Spend the afternoon in Valbona
- Day 2: Hike 17km from Valbona to Theth
- Spend the afternoon in Theth and stay at a guesthouse
- Day 3: The following day take a 3 hour 4×4 back to Shkodër
As you can see getting to Valbona takes a few different means of transport. This journey is really enjoyable and shouldn’t be looked at as a burden of the hike. Because of the multiple transfers, it’s much easier arranging in advance. You may pay slightly more than doing it individually but you also may get a worse deal.
To reach Theth, reverse the above schedule.
Should you book ahead?
I believe it’s a good idea to book transport and accommodation in advance. During the summer this is a popular hike and places will fill up quickly. There are 2 daily ferries from Koman to Fierze and already in June our’s was quite busy. We met travellers with a car who were unable to get a spot when booking 2 weeks ahead.
We left our accommodation to a day or two before and the cheaper options were already sold out. Make sure to book as far ahead as possible to get the best options. There’s nothing worse than finishing your hike and not having anywhere comfortable to stay. Scroll to the end to find my recommendations.
Hiking the trail
Valbona Theth hike difficulty
The hike is 17km and takes you through two valleys and over the Valbona Pass. If you are hiking in the direction of Valbona to Theth, 3.5km of the hike is steep and ascends 620m over this distance. While it is not technically difficult you do need a decent level of fitness. What makes this harder is there is no shade on the ascent.
With Albania’s hot temperatures, make sure you have enough water on you to get through this steep section. I struggled more than I thought I would here. We even met another couple of hikers who were upset that they read it wasn’t difficult – they disagreed.
Make sure you are of moderate fitness or leave more time for additional rest stops.
Do you need to be an experienced hiker?
While this hike requires a decent level of fitness, it is also a great hike if you don’t have a lot of hiking experience. You aren’t required to have any sort of special equipment and can ask your guesthouse to prepare your snacks for the day.
The path is well labelled with trail markers and can easily be followed on map apps.
Distance, time and elevation
The entire distance from Valbona to Theth is 17km with a 983m elevation gain. Most hikers will complete the trek within 6-8 hours.
We took a few rest breaks which included a longer stop at a stall to get a cool drink. Our stop on the peak was not very long as it was crowded and unshaded we opted to continue down until we had our lunch. We ended up reaching Theth well before we thought we would. The entire hike took us 6.5 hours.
How to not get lost
The white/red/white trail markers are spaced at regular intervals and are easy to follow. At the lower elevations, you will even see signs like in the images pointing you in the right direction.
There is only place where you might have trouble following the trail and that is heading through the village of Rragam. There is a sign pointing towards the Valbona waterfall. NO NOT take this route. This will add an additional 60 minutes on to the hike. You will find a few trailside vendors here and they can point you towards Theth if needed.
For peace of mind and safety reasons download a map app that will show you hiking trails. Two of my favourites are Maps.me and mapy.cz, both are great and mapy.cz even shows topography.
Before leaving Shkoder, download the offline versions of the maps. Use these in conjunction with the trail markers along the route.
A lot of the hike is in direct sunlight
As already mentioned be prepared for the heat. Albania is generally a hot country in the summer months, with temperatures often reaching high 30’s. Due to the elevation, temperatures luckily aren’t usually as high in the Valbona National Park although the direct sunlight makes it feel hotter than it is when hiking.
Start the hike as early in the morning as comfortable to avoid hiking during the hottest times of the day. We left shortly after 8 and still felt the heat ascending the pass.
Is there drinking water along the route?
There are a few safe drinking water sources along the hike. Many of the vendors have a continuous water flow where you can fill up your bottles. You are not required to buy anything and the stall owners will be more than happy for you to stop just and fill your water.
You won’t find any water source heading over the pass. So make sure you have enough for the highest part. We didn’t fill up on the Theth side of the pass but heard the cafes on that side have the same access to spring water. I recommend taking at least 1L of water with you.
Tips & common questions
Hiking Valbona to Theth is becoming more popular
During our time in the two small villages, we saw a lot of the buildings were brand new and even more were popping up.
As there is only one path over the mountain, I would urge you to get there sooner than later to beat the tourism boom. Or visit during shoulder season. We hiked at the end of June and passed around 50 hikers heading in the opposite direction.
I just hope that the increasing rate of tourists doesn’t destroy the surrounding areas. As Albania isn’t somewhere that is known to conserve its natural locations I fear they will be too caught up in development and making a quick dollar.
The costs add up for budget travellers
Hiking Valbona to Theth is not the cheapest activity. We blew our average daily spend right out of the water here but it was definitely worth it. This is what we paid:
Transport costs to and from the hike are €26 per person.
Food – will be two dinners, two lunches and snacks. If you eat at your guesthouse lunch costs €8 and dinner €10 per person. We went to restaurants where we could buy something smaller which lessened this expense. You could also pack your own food if you have the room.
Drinks – We treated ourselves to a few beers in both Valbona and Theth which were around €2 each.
Accommodation will be the biggest expense. For two of us, we paid €25 in Valbona and €32 in Theth. This included breakfast and was booked online. We heard you could get better rates if you just showed up. Some people even had their dinner thrown in for the same price. Another way to save on accommodation would be to book further ahead and get the cheaper options.
Tip: Make sure you bring more than enough cash as there are no ATM’s in the villages.
Can you take your own car?
You can. Although you will have to do the hike both directions if you leave it in Valbona or Theth. The German couple we hitchhiked back with had their van in Theth. They were told they wouldn’t be able to get it there on the roads but had no issues.
Will you have access to wifi?
We didn’t have a local sim card in our phones, and due to the remoteness, I wouldn’t bet on having signal along the trail. If having wifi is important to you, I would check ahead when booking guesthouses. Our guesthouse in Valbona didn’t have wifi but our one in Theth did.
Where do you leave your luggage?
If you start and end the hike in Shkoder you can leave your bags in your hotel or guesthouse. Shkoder is the gateway city for this hike and most places will be used to this request and provide the service free of charge.
Make sure you have a luggage lock as people will be entering the luggage rooms on a frequent basis.
Other hikes in Valbona and Theth
Once you arrive in Valbona you will have most of the afternoon free. There’s not a lot of information online about short hikes to do in Valbona but you can use your map app and follow a trail. We choose instead to walk to another guesthouse with a nice view and had a long lunch.
On the other side, Theth is full of hikes that I wish we had time to explore. The Blue Eye in Theth would have been my first preference if we stayed an additional night. Get Your Guide also offers a full-day tour from Theth which includes the Blue Eye and a few other points of interest.
Valbona and Theth are tiny villages
I was surprised the villages were as small as they are. Valbona is very spread out over a 4km stretch of road with guesthouses dotted along it. The town centre is made up of a shop in a little shed, a few guesthouses and campsites. There are also a couple of small restaurants that double as a bar.
I was under the impression after seeing Valbona, that Theth would be bigger. Boy, was I wrong. Theth covers a smaller area and has a lot of new brand new guesthouses. There was one restaurant that had a shop attached.
It’s the hike worth it?
Hiking this trail was definitely one of my highlights from the Balkan region. There are so many unique aspects of this journey from Shkodër that you won’t experience anywhere else. From the ferry trip across the Komani Lake, to witnessing traditional Albanian villages and their friendly locals, to the stunning scenery of the Valbona Valley.
The bumpy trip back from Theth to Valbona and the numerous methods of transport required for the one day hike is an event in itself.
When we were heading back after dinner to our guesthouse in Valbona I could have sworn we were in a fairyland. It was dusk and the stars were just starting to become visible. You could see the silhouettes of the mountains and surrounding us were large groups of fireflies, some had 20 or more.
Where to stay in Shkoder, Valbona & Theth
We stayed in a private room at the Bulldog Hostel & Club in Shkoder. I loved the owner there, he was absolutely lovely and went out of his way to help us. The morning we were leaving early he packed us a breakfast to take on our trip and waited with us for the minibus to arrive. The room was large, had AC and a super comfy bed.
The location was perfect as well. We were able to walk to and from the bus stop and were near the main pedestrian strip.
Check prices on Booking.com
If you would prefer to not stay in a hostel, the Lille France Apartments get a 9.7 on Booking.com. They have their own cooking facilities and are in a central location.
Check prices on Booking.com
Something to be cautious of when booking accommodation in Valbona is where the guesthouse is located. Valbona is spread out along a long stretch of road. The further back you are – the longer your hike the following day. My top picks are as follow:
We stayed at the Lazer Cardaku guest house. The room was comfortable and private with a separate private bathroom. The location was great as we were able to walk to the main strip with other restaurants and a small shop and also be close(ish) to the trailhead. The only downfall would be the lack of wifi.
Check prices on Booking.com.
Hotel Margjeka. This is the closest hotel to the start of the trail which gets consistently outstanding reviews. Make sure you book this one as far ahead as possible as it has a tendency to book out.
Check prices on Booking.com.
We stayed at Logu i Harushave and I would stay here again if given the chance. The building was new and had a lovely wooden cabin feel (even though it was quite large). The beds were really comfortable and they allowed us a late checkout the following day.
What I liked, even more, was the large garden in the front yard. It was the perfect place to chill after the day hiking. We met other hikers here and had a great breakfast the following day.
Check prices on Booking.com.
The Bujtina Prrockaj Theth is the highest rated on Booking.com and also has a large garden to relax in.
Check prices on Booking.com.