You may have heard about The Peaks of the Balkans hike. Circling through three countries in the Balkan region of Eastern Europe; Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo, this popular hike is on the bucket list of many hikers!
What a lot of people don’t know, is that you can easily complete sections of the Peaks of the Balkans trail as day hikes!
Valbone-Theth is one such section, located in the northern part of Albania. Nestled between mountain peaks, turquoise rivers and lush green forest you will find the small villages of Valbone and Theth, separated by one single mountain pass.
Permits for the full Peaks of the Balkans hike aren’t generally available outside of the summer months however, for this section of the hike, no permit is required and it is fully accessible in Spring!
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The hike from Valbone to Theth is one part of the Peaks of the Balkans trek that circles through 3 different countries in Eastern Europe.
You don’t need to take a guide to do this hike however if you are inexperienced, or travelling outside of peak summer season when you may encounter snow, it’s strongly recommended.
To get to the beginning of the hike, you can either go directly from Tiriana or stop by the town of Shkoder for a few days first if you have the time (I highly recommend this!).
Either way, you will need to book a transfer to Komani Lake, where you will take a ferry across to Valbone. The hike over the pass from Valbone to Theth takes 1 day, and then you will need to organise a second transfer to get back to civilisation.
|🎒 Self-Guided Hike:||Transfer to Komani Lake Ferry||⏱️ How Long:||3 days (from Shkoder), 1 day of hiking|
|🥾 Easiest Direction:||Valbone to Theth||⛰️ Best Guided Tour:||3 day tour|
1. How to Get to the hike
Getting to the trailhead of this hike is half the adventure. Of course, you can take a private transfer or find a minibus to take you all the way to the town of Valbone, but that’s not the most exciting way!
Make sure not to miss the ferry ride up Lake Komani, 2 hours of towering cliffs and lush green forest as you float down the bright turquoise water.
I’m going to take you through the journey step by step, but firstly, get yourself to Albania! I like to use Kiwi to find cheap flights. When you arrive in Albania you will fly into the capital, Tirana. You can take a transfer from here directly to the lake if you choose but I strongly recommend visiting Shkoder on the way!
Below you will find all the steps you will need to take to complete the hike, but if you want someone else to deal with the logistics for you, I highly recommend booking a self-guided hike. It will be practically the same as what I did myself, however, all of the transfers and accommodation booking will be done for you. I would 100% have chosen this option if it was available when I did the hike!
Where to Stay in Tirana
This beautiful 5-star hotel will make you feel like royalty whilst staying in its regal bright rooms and enjoying the incredible onsite amenities.
Another beautiful hotel where you can fully relax before your hike. Hotel Villa Fernando is beautifully decorated and features an onsite restaurant that serves both traditional Albanian and Italian cuisine.
A bright and colourful hotel that goes above and beyond a budget hotel. With private bathrooms, a common area and an onsite bar, you’ll have everything you need within walking distance of this great hotel.
This fun bohemian hostel has a great location and an even better atmosphere. With two great courtyards to relax in, you may even forget you’re in the centre of a city.
1.1 Travel to Shkoder
After you have arrived in Albania, take a bus to the Northern Town of Shkoder for around €5.
Whilst you’re here, spend a couple of days staying at The Wanderers Hostel (€8/night), soak up the atmosphere of both this vibrant town and the even more spirited hostel whilst organising your hike.
The staff at The Wanderers Hostel are incredibly informative and will answer all your questions and help you book everything from the comfort of their amazing outdoor living room and bar!
A great thing about organising your hike through your hostel is that there are groups leaving every day. Get to know your fellow adventurous before you even set off!
But if you prefer to stay in a hotel, check out my guide for where to stay in Shkoder below for some other great recommendations!
Whilst in Shkoder, make sure not to miss out on the view from the old castle ruins, plus, a cycle down to Lake Skadar!
Get ready for your hike
But once you’ve seen the sights, it’s time to get ready for your trek! Prepare a small overnight bag for your nights in the mountains, and remember you have to carry it on your hike.
Leave any unnecessary items/bags at your hotel or hostel here in Shkoder to collect upon your return. The Wanderers Hostel will even put your valuables in their safe while you’re away!
Buy snacks or hiking gear you would like to take on the trek and make sure to withdraw enough cash to cover the next few days.
TOP TOP: Don’t leave this to the last minute (like me)! ATMs in Shkoder do not like to give you large amounts of money. I had to try every card I owned, at every ATM in the town, and eventually, with multiple transactions (and incredibly high ATM fees), I managed to withdraw the cash I needed.
A lot of the ATMs in Shkoder are visa-only, and even more of them seem to constantly run out of money.
When I first arrived in Shkoder I withdrew a little from OTP Bank without fees, but when I returned it was out of money. I eventually managed to withdraw enough from the Raiffeisen bank here, but there were transaction fees and a limit, meaning I had to make multiple withdrawals.
Remember to take out at least 10,000 Lek (€100) to ensure you have enough to cover all your expenses in the mountains, as there are no ATMs or EFTPOS out there. Add an extra 6,000 (€60) if you plan on taking a guide.
Best Hotels in Shkoder
This is a 4-star gem! Enjoy city views from well-appointed rooms, dine at the on-site restaurant and bar, and stay active in the fitness centre. Or simply relax in the comfy beds and get ready for an adventure.
I love this one! With a bar, restaurant, room service, babysitting and gardens onsite, you almost won’t have to leave the hotel. But of course, I highly recommend you do it because it has a great location
A great choice if you are looking for a comfortable and clean stay on a budget with space to organise your things in preparation for your hike or simply need a great place to recover afterwards.
This is the beautiful hostel where I stayed and organised my trip through. Relaxing in the shaded gardens and outside kitchen each night with the whole crew was the perfect way to relax after exploring all day.
1.2 Transfer from Shkoder to Lake Koman
Book a transfer to the Koman Ferry from Shkoder. Ask at your hotel, they will be able to organise it for you or send you to someone who does.
The great thing about Albania is that they haven’t caught on to the trend of charging tourists crazy prices! You can pay for your transfer and ferry ticket in Shkoder for a worry-free, door-to-door trip organised for you.
Shopping around is not really necessary here as all the companies generally charge the same amount. It should cost around 2,200 Lek / €17.50
These will generally leave very early in the morning to ensure you don’t miss it!
1.3 Take the Lake Koman Ferry to Fierze
Although the day I took this trip, it was pouring with rain and claps of thunder rang through the sky as we boarded a metal ferry surrounded by lightning strikes. The lake itself was AMAZING!
As we progressed up what looked like a canyon, the storm began to slow and we were able to admire the mountain cliffs and turquoise-blue water between downpours.
Despite the fact that you are travelling up a lake, its narrow shape makes it feel like more of a river. The lake is just 400m while it stretches for 34km!
As you twist and turn your way through giant gorges, the excitement only continues to build as you head towards the next part of your adventure! The trip takes around 2 hours to reach the other side.
1.4 Arrive in Valbone
When you arrive in Valbone, if you have booked with The Wanderers Hostel, the lovely Arben will be waiting at the dock to collect you. And if you are organising your trip yourself beforehand, I cannot recommend this guest house enough!
Arben and his wife have turned their beautiful home into a guest house to welcome us, travellers. Nestled between a beautiful blue river and backed into the giant mountains, Guesthouse Arben Selimaj is the perfect location to get reacquainted with nature before you start your hike.
Arben’s wife is THE most amazing cook and will do her best to cater to any dietary requirements whilst putting on a feast for the guests every night and every morning! These people are some of the kindest people in Valbone, you will come as a guest but leave as a friend
Staying at Guesthouse Arben Selimaj cost 2,500 Lek / €20 per night with dinner, breakfast and a packed lunch included! You can contact them on 068 36 81 803.
I highly recommend you pre-book your guesthouse, especially if you are travelling during the summer as there are limited beds in the village of Valbone. But if you prefer to take your chances, simply talk to any of the hosts waiting for the ferry’s arrival to see who has space for you.
Guesthouses in Valbone
If you’re looking for a modern hotel in the mountains this is your best choice. While it’s not quite 5 stars, it’s bright, clean and has an a-la-cart breakfast plus all the other facilities you would expect from a hotel.
Another great choice is this beautiful big wooden guesthouse. With a huge garden and bar onsite, you can relax before your trip in total comfort and style while enjoying the surrounding mountains from your balcony.
This lovely Guesthouse is where I stayed and experienced the incredibly warm hospitality of the owners as I mentioned above. With amazing food no matter your dietary restrictions and knowledgeable hosts, you can’t go wrong staying here!
A great place to meet other travellers if you. are looking to team up for the hike. This is one of the cheapest places to stay in Valbone with clean shared dorms and a great buffet breakfast to fuel you for the day.
2. The Valbone-Theth Hike
When I arrived in Valbone it was the 20th of April, so very much still springtime, with a lot of snow left in the mountains. Back in Shkoder, I was told that the hike was not possible without a guide at this time but of course, I went ahead with the hope to find out for myself if that was true.
Arriving at the guest house, the weather didn’t look promising. Pouring with rain and low clouds was the forecast for the week. At this point, I was on quite a tight time schedule as I had another whole country to cover before catching a flight to Western Europe.
Luckily, I met a couple of girls from England who were also on a time limit and wanted to do the hike the following day, rain hail or shine, and preferably, without a guide. My kinda girls!
Arben and his wife were quite concerned about our plans to team up and tackle the pass unassisted. They mentioned that no one had hiked without a guide yet that season as it was still too early, however, they were still extremely helpful when they realised our determination.
Arben talked us through the whole route, including the slightly dangerous traverse in deep snow, followed by the threat of falling debris from loose rocks above. Arben’s wife even made us promise to call from a tea house located on the other side of the pass to let them know we were safe.
The next morning in drizzling rain and fog, we set off. After walking through town to the end of the road, we eventually found ourselves at the trailhead. Next to a sign that marked the hike as “closed”. Onwards and upwards we continued… and I mean up!
At a steady incline, the path climbed its way through a forest. After an hour or so, we found a campsite with fresh water and a toilet! (Another option if you don’t want to stay in Guest Houses). Continuing on and up, eventually, we popped out above the trees and found ourselves in a snow-covered bowl, heading towards what looked like vertical mountain faces.
At this point, the trail was quite hard to decipher. Everywhere looked like a dead end and the cliffs in front seemed impossible. After a quick study of maps.me, we blindly continued on towards the mountains.
Finding a bald, steep, snow-covered slope ahead, we began to slowly zigzag our way up, relying solely on our careful footing to prevent us from sliding all the way back down.
Eventually, we were at the base of the cliff, the trail turned sharply to the left and we could see the dangerous traverse cut into the deep snow. Not knowing what lay beneath our feet, we passed this section quickly and found relief in the sight of some big boulders further on.
This was the first point where we were truly able to appreciate the mountain views down the valley. The clouds on the horizon lifted, just slightly at that point, so we could appreciate the rewards of our own efforts.
Carrying on, the path revealed itself from beneath the snow as a clear rocky trail. Another quick jaunt as we passed below the loose rock face, followed by a short (but near vertical) push to the summit.
We were quite saddened to see that the clouds had resumed their looming position at this point and there was no chance for us to see the view from on top. After having made the decision to head straight down the other side, we were quite surprised to find a grey, windy void greeting us as we crossed the threshold.
Up until this point there had been a little rain and some cloud cover but nothing compared to what we discovered on the other side. Heading in practically blind and grasping the rocks for stability in gale-force winds, we began our descent.
Luckily, there was barely any snow on the Theth side because of its orientation and it wasn’t long before we were back in the forest, sheltered by trees.
After a pleasant saunter through these woods, we arrived at a clearing, with the cutest Tea House you have ever seen!
As we approached the open-walled shelter and took our seats in front of the fireplace to admire the incredible view, the owner approached us to ask if we were “the girls from Valbone”… Arben had called ahead and asked the tea man to look out for us!!
After warming up, relaxing with a cup of tea in hand and gazing upon the mountains which were now visible again, we continued on our way down to Theth.
The whole hike only took us around 7 hours although we were rushing through many parts of it. I believe most people take around 8-9 hours to complete the Valbone – Theth hike.
In Theth we stayed at Guesthouse Pashko for 2,500 Lek / €20 including dinner and breakfast.
There are quite a few shorter hikes to waterfalls and viewpoints around Theth so if you have the time, it is worth spending a few days in this gorgeous town to explore further.
3. Getting back to Shkoder from Theth
Once in Theth, ask your guest house to organise a transfer back to Shkoder. I was told they generally leave twice a day at 9 am and 1 pm.
I was hoping to catch an afternoon shuttle as soon as arriving in Theth, thus skipping a night of accommodation, however, when I arrived, I was unable to find anywhere obvious to ask to organise one. Once I had checked into a guest house, I was told they only leave in the morning during Spring.
If you’re hoping to leave Theth directly after the hike, make sure you take enough cash to be able to pay for a night here, just in case you get stuck!
After exploring the area surrounding Theth for an afternoon, I arranged my “transfer” for the following morning. The morning came and eventually, after breakfast, the guest house owner informed me that my lift was there.
I said goodbye to my new hiking friends, and climbed into the minibus as directed. As we set off in the suped-up vehicle with no other passengers, I sat there thinking the ride would a surprisingly comfortable…
After a short drive through the village, I was brought to an intersection at the turn-off to the exit road. There, I was told to swap cars and that the ancient Mitsubishi Pajero, idling close by, would be taking me to Shkoder.
I climbed in to discover that my journey was going to be shared with 4 local Albanians, confined within a small 4-wheel drive, plus, it seemed that the internal structure of my seat had collapsed a long time prior.
Although they explain this transfer as a shuttle, it is really a locally arranged Uber service! Ride-sharing with locals is the only way to get to or from Theth as the roads are so steep, it’s impossible for any other vehicle to traverse these roads. (In winter, they are completely cut off by snow).
We set off for our return to Shkoder.
You may be thinking at this point that the adventure is over. Wrong again. This crazy mountain road winds its way up and up and up the valley, providing amazing views of the surrounding peaks as you climb another mountain pass back to civilisation.
After a lot of bumping around, a quick photo stop on top and a slightly awkward language barrier, we were over the high point and started down the other side.
The rest of the journey takes you through the Albanian countryside and some interesting towns before you will be dropped off at the location of your choice in Shkoder.
The drive can take anywhere from 2-5 hours depending on many factors. Pay your driver directly, the ride should cost you around 1,400 Lek / €11.
Where to Stay in Theth
Who knew you could find such luxury in the middle of the Albanian mountains? This amazing hotel even has a spa with an indoor pool, sauna and hot tubs!
A great choice if you are looking for the luxuries of a good hotel combines with the local hospitality of a guest house. Theres even an outdoor kitchen with. traditional oven!
This was my guesthouse for a night before returning to Shkoda. Although I didn’t get to spend a lot of time there the garden was huge and the perfect place to relax after your hike!
I actually remember hiking past this guest house and thinking it looks super nice, the outdoor space is huge and there’s even a children’s playground. That’s not even mentioning it’s one of the cheapest options in Theth!
4. Things to know about the Valbona – Theth hike
Alright, now that you have an idea about the hike itself, it’s time to gather some more technical knowledge about the trip.
Below I have outlined some helpful things to know about the trip, but if you have any other questions about hiking from Valbone to Theth, leave them in the comments below and I will answer you!
4. 1 Difficulty of the hike from Valbone to Theth
Although the hike is strenuous and quite long, I wouldn’t say it is particularly difficult. Anyone with moderate fitness should be able to complete this hike with a little determination in the summer.
There are plenty of rest spots along the way even with refreshment stands in the summer months!
If you are looking at completing this hike in Spring or Autumn when there is snow and more varied conditions, this, of course, adds a level of difficulty. If you don’t have experience in snow hiking or route finding, take a guide for your own safety.
4.2 Cost of the trip from Shkoder and back
Of course, it can cost more or less depending on how you book your accommodation and transfer, but here is a breakdown of how much everything cost for me.
- Shkoder-Valbone (including ferry): 2,200 Lek / €17.50
- Accommodation (x2 nights): 2,500 Lek / €20 per night
- Theth-Shkoder 4×4 ride: 1,400 Lek / €11
- Guide (if used): 6,000 Lek / €50
Round trip from Shkoder – Valbone (via Lake Koman) – Theth – Shkoder, 2 nights accommodation & food = 8,600 Lek / €68.50
4.3 Which Direction Should You Hike: Theth-Valbone or Valbone-Theth?
One of the most commonly asked questions is which direction to complete the hike. Theth-Valbone, or Valbone-Theth?
Although you can easily complete the hike in either direction, I would highly recommend the Valbone-Theth direction as described above.
If you are hiking in Spring or there has been a late winter, it will be much safer to complete it in this direction as you will be heading uphill on the Valbone side where the slopes may still be blanketed in snow.
Once you cross the pass onto the more southern, Theth side, there is likely to be very little to no snow remaining on the descent.
Hiking in this direction also means you can assess the situation as you go and turn around if needed. It would be much worse if you were to head up the clear side from Theth, only to discover at the peak that the Valbone side was not passable.
4.5 Theth – Valbone in May. Can you hike the Peaks of the Balkans in Spring?
As you are generally not able to receive a permit for the full Peaks of the Balkans hike in Spring, many people come to the common misconception that you can’t hike here at all in May. But….
IT IS POSSIBLE TO HIKE THETH – VALBONE IN MAY!
Of course, you must be aware that it will still be spring conditions. As the mountains are high in this part of the Balkans, there will still be a lot of snow and the trail will most likely be covered.
Depending on the current conditions, as well as your own experience, confidence and quality of gear you may still be able to complete the hike unguided such as I did. Always check recent trail conditions with your guest house host before setting off as they will know all the up-to-date information on conditions and can advise you further.
If you lack confidence or experience in alpine snow travel, simply take a guide! You can still complete the hike in May!
Most owners of Guest houses in both Theth and Valbone offer guiding services for around €50 (6,000 Lek) per day. Ask your host, guiding can generally be arranged the day before, and the price can be split by however many people are in your group. So ask around at your accommodation, if you’re there in snowy conditions, I’m sure many people would be willing to share a guide, especially at such affordable prices!
If you do choose to head to these magical mountains in snowy conditions, make sure you start from Valbone as mentioned earlier, as this is going to be a much safer direction of travel. Also, be sure to be prepared with layered clothing and all the right equipment.
5. Best Tours for Valbone to Theth Hike
So far this has been a detailed post about how to organise the Valbone to Theth hike yourself, but if you are the type of traveller who likes to have everything organised before you leave home, or simply want someone else to do all the organisation for you, here’s all the best tours you can book for the Valbone – Theth hike!
- Self-Guided Tour: Hiking of Komani Lake, Valbona Valley & Theth in 3 Days – Perfect if you want to do the hike alone, but don’t want to have to organise all the different transport and accommodation details yourself.
- Tour of Valbona and Theth in 3 Days from Tirana – A great group tour that will take you on the same route as I described above but with fellow hikers and a knowledgeable guide accompanying you the whole way! If you prefer to book on GetYourGuide, here is a similar tour for you.
- Tour of the Accursed Mountains: Koman Lake, Valbona & Theth – For anyone who wants a little more time in the mountains, this 4-day trip is a great choice. Not only will you and your group experience the Theth – Valbone hike, but you will have additional time to explore both national parks including additional hikes and attractions. You can also book this on GetYourGuide.
- Peaks of the Balkans tour: Koman Lake, Valbona & Theth in five days – A 5-day tour that gives you even more time to explore this beautiful mountain range while enjoying local food and culture in the guesthouses.
- 2-Day Private Tour of Theth and Shkoder – This tour doesn’t actually complete the full hike from Valbone to Theth but rather takes you on a private trip to Theth where you will hike in its surroundings with a guide, visit waterfalls and explore the town of Shkoder. Here is another similar tour if you prefer to book through Viator.
- 2-Day Guided Tour of Theth National Park – As above, this tour takes you as a group to Theth where you will stay and explore the region on foot. This is a good choice if you don’t have time for the whole 3 days but still want to experience these mountains.
- Self-Guided Tour: Hiking of Komani Lake, Valbona Valley & Theth in 3 Days – This is the same option as above which leaves from either Tirana or Shkoder. Someone else will organise all the different transport and accommodation details for your trip, but you still get to hike it independently!
- Hiking tour of Komani Lake & Valbona Valley in three days – Join a group tour departing from Shkoder for a fully guided experience of the Valbone – Theth hike. The route and transport is the same as explained above but you will meet some new people and have a local expert join you!
- 4-Day Valbona and Theth Hiking Trip – I would have loved to spend another day in the mountains exploring all that it has to offer. If that sounds appealing to you, book a 4-day tour for some added fun.
- Hiking tour of Koman Lake, Valbona Valley and Theth in six days – Explore everything there is to see here in one guided tour! With additional nights in local villages, on this 6-day trip, you will really discover all the hidden gems of these two parks.
- Tour of Komani Lake & Valbona Valley in 2 days – This tour doesn’t take you across the pass to Theth but rather helps you to explore the Valbone side of the mountains. Spending a night in a guesthouse with your accompanying guide, you will see waterfalls, hike to hidden lakes and enjoy local food.
- 2-Day Trip to Theth with Accommodation – As with above, this 2-day tour explores just the Theth side of the mountain range, allowing you to enjoy the beauty of the region on smaller hikes whilst relaxing in the valley with good food and views.
Full Peaks of the Balkans Tours
- Peaks of the Balkans – This flexible private tour lets you decide the route, duration and more together so you can develop a customised trip to suit your ability and time.
- Intensive Peaks of the Balkans Trail in 7 days – Complete the whole trip around the Balkan Alps with a local guide, accommodation, food and transport all included.
Day Trip Tours
If you don’t have time for multiday trips but still want to experience the region, join one of thses day trips to various locations around the national parks.
- Thethi 1 Day Jeep Tours
- Day tour of Theth from Tirana
- Full Day tour of Theth & Blue Eye from Tirana or Shkoder
- Day Trip to Bogë and Theth National Park from Shkoder
Frequently Asked Questions about Hiking Theth to Valbone, Albania
How do you get to Valbone?
From either Tirana or Shkoder, you need to take a transfer to Komani Lake which you will cross on the ferry. On the other side, you will be picked up by the host of your guest house in Valbone.
How long does the Valbone – Theth hike take?
Most people take 3 days to complete the circuit starting from either Tirana or Shkoder, however the hike itself from Valbone – Theth only takes around 7 – 9 hours.
When is the Valbone – Theth hike open?
Theth is completely cut off in the winter due to snow, so the hike only opens when the road becomes clear in late spring. This usually happens from May onwards.
What is the elevation and distance of the Valbone – Theth hike?
The hike from Valbone to Theth is around 16 km (10 miles) with a maximum elevation of 1,800m (5,900 ft).
And there you have it! I hope you found this guide for hiking from Valbone to Theth in Albania super useful and that it answered any questions you may have.
If I missed something or you simply want to share your own experience, let me know in the comments. I would love to share my knowledge even further by answering you.
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Agoda - Best for booking hotels in Asia. Has options worldwide however in Asia it seems to have the most options of all the booking sites.
Hostelworld - Perfect for backpackers, Hostelworld is my go-to to find dorm rooms and cheap, social accommodation options.
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