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A guide to hiking the Theth to Valbona hike

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

Of all the things to do in Albania, hiking the well known trail from Theth to Valbona, in the Accursed Mountains, was one of my favourite! The route takes you through two national parks and over a mountain pass - and the scenery and the remoteness of the hike makes it an unforgettable experience and one not to be missed if you are travelling to Albania. It requires some planning ahead, including making sure you have an extra 2 or 3 days in your itinerary to make time for this hike. If you're still in the planning stages and considering whether it's worth spending those extra days, read on and allow me to convince you! It is truly one of the best things to do in Albania.

View of the mountains surrounding Valbona Pass in Valbona National Park, Albania
Views from Valbona Pass

About the hike

You'll be starting the hike in Theth - a village situated in Theth National Park - and hiking around 17km through the Albanian Alps, over Valbona Pass and into the village of Valbone. Valbona Pass stands at a height of 1,795 metres above sea level. The hike requires staying overnight in Valbone (unless you fancy walking all the way back to Theth) and then getting a ferry back the next day - hence why this is a 2-3 day trip. The hike itself takes between 7-10 hours and requires a moderate level of fitness to be comfortable with some steep inclines. What makes the hike so unique is that you are hiking from one national park to the other; the only way to get between the two national parks is on foot, as there is no road going between them. I've included a map below to explain the journey, as it's easier to grasp when you can visualise it. Step 3 is the actual hiking part - the rest is the transport!

Map of the steps needed to do for the Theth to Valbona hike
This map explains all the elements of the 2-3 day trip, starting in Shkoder

We did this hike as part of a week's holiday exploring Albania. After flying into Tirana and spending a day there, we drove north to Shkoder to stay overnight before starting the Theth to Valbona hike the next day. For an Albania itinerary, check out my blog post of the best things to do in Albania.


A blue van driving along a winding road on the way to Theth in Albania
Winding roads to Theth

Choosing where to start - Theth or Valbona?

Most of the information we found online was from people starting the hike in Valbona and ending in Theth, and most of the people we met were starting in Valbona (on our bus, there were only two other people starting in Theth). This could be because we went in June when it was still a bit quieter - but in our experience, most people were starting in Valbona. We chose to start in Theth though, as this made the most sense with our itinerary and our other timings. A lot of people will start in Valbona - as there is about an hour of walking through a riverbed and this can be quite hot in the middle of the day, so if you start in Valbona and do that first bit in the morning, it won't be as hot. Additionally, some people cheat and get a taxi past this point. For me though, starting in Theth and descending into Valbona valley with views of the surrounding mountains and valley below, was magnificent (if you're coming from Valbona though, the last section towards Theth is through forest so you won't have those same views of the mountains around you).


Note: As we hiked Theth to Valbona, the information below pertains to this journey! If you're starting in Valbona, essentially you just need to do everything in reverse. I've included information where possible of variants for starting in Valbona instead.


When to do this hike

This hike is predominantly a summer hike, as in the winter, the mountain pass will be snow and ice-covered, making the hike inaccessible. The trail can sometimes be closed up until May, if the weather is particularly bad that year. We went in June 2023, when it was still relatively quiet and the tourists hadn't quite arrived yet. So do bear in mind that if you go in the height of summer, you'll see more crowds and hotter temperatures 😎 The best time to do this hike is usually in June, or September-October.


Photographer peeping out from behind a rock in Valbona National Park
Spot the photographer

Hike duration (2 or 3 days)

The hike itself only takes one day - but because of its remoteness, there is a bit of planning and pre-booking involved. The hike is a thru-hike, so you'll be starting the hike in one place, camping or staying in a guesthouse/B&B overnight, and then either hiking back the next day or catching a ferry and bus back (details on all of this below). When researching the trail, all the information was from people who had done this hike as a 3 day trip minimum. Due to our short-ish itinerary, we needed to fit this hike into only 2 days but couldn't find any blogs by anyone who had done it. Through a bit of research and Google Maps, I worked out that although less relaxing, doing the hike in 2 days is definitely possible; we managed it and I'm here to assure you it can be done! Having said all that, if you do have an extra day, I recommend doing this hike over 3 days as it will mean you have a day before the hike to explore Theth properly, including the Blue Eye of Theth. But if you only have 2 days, don't let that stop you! It is well worth it.


And now for the logistics. Sit tight and read on! It seems complicated at first but really it's quite simple and just involves pre-booking your bus and ferry tickets, as well as B&B or guesthouse accommodation. First things first, in order to start the hike, you'll need to get yourself to Theth. To get to Theth, most people will first spend a night in Shkoder, a lovely city in the north of Albania, and the closest city to Theth. From here you can get your transport to Theth the next day.

A single-track road on the way to Theth, with mountains in the background on a sunny day
On the road to Theth

Getting from Shkoder to Theth

  • If you have a car, you can drive from Shkoder to Theth yourself. The drive takes about 2 hours, and the road was paved properly in 2021 which means it is in good condition if you want to drive yourself. It does have sharp twists and turns, so take care.

  • You can organise a taxi to take you all the way to Theth.

  • You can get a minibus from Shkoder to Theth - which is what we did, as we weren't sure where we could leave our car in Theth overnight. We left our suitcases and car at the hotel in Shkoder and took the minibus to Theth. You can organise this with your hotel in Shkoder when you arrive - but if you want to be assured of a seat on the minibus, I'd recommend either contacting your hotel in advance, or just booking the minibus when you book your ferry ticket - which is what we did (details on this below). We took a taxi to the minibus stop (which is outside Rozafa Hotel) and had to be there at 7.00am! They do offer a pickup as well, which needs to be booked in advance. There was a lot of hanging around and we didn't leave for at least 45 minutes - so expect that you might be delayed but you should definitely get there on time!


Getting back from Valbone to Shkoder after the hike

  • If you aren't driving yourself, the easiest way to arrange all of the transport is by booking everything (including ferry and minibuses) with your ferry booking at this link.

  • Start by selecting the Fierze-Koman ferry option, and then clicking "Add Service Pickup". You'll need to select these three transport options (to get you to Theth, then to get you from Valbone to the ferry port, and finally from the ferry on the other side back to Shkoder): Shkoder-Theth, Valbone-Fierze, and Koman-Shkoder. Make sure to select all the right dates depending on how long you choose to stay in Theth and Valbone!

  • In your booking, you'll also need to add a note of where you're staying in Valbone to arrange pickup by minibus to take you to the 1:00pm Komani Lake ferry (actual pickup starts about 10.30am). You'll also need to select the option Koman - Shkoder to get the minibus after the ferry back to Shkoder.

  • The ferry only runs once a day on each side (9:00am from Koman to Fierze, and 1:00pm from Fierze to Koman).


*If you plan on starting your hike in Valbona, you'll want to take a minibus from Shkoder to Koman (about 1.5 hour journey). Then board the 9:00am ferry from Koman to Fierze. And then in Fierze, you'll get another minibus to Valbone, where you'll stay the night - and then hike to Theth the next day. After you've hiked, you can stay in Theth overnight and then get a minibus to Shkoder or Tirana the next day. This all sounds very complicated but it can be booked quite easily through Komani Lake Ferry website. When booking your ferry ticket, select "Add service pickup" and this will allow you to select the option/s for any minibus journeys you'll need.


What to pack/wear:

  • All your usual summer hiking gear - backpack/daypack, hiking boots/shoes, hiking socks, breathable base layer/hiking t-shirt, fleece/warm layer, waterproof jacket if the weather isn't looking good, lightweight hiking shorts/trousers, sunhat/cap, sunglasses, at least two litres of water and plenty of food!

  • Pyjamas.

  • Toiletries.

  • Clothes for the next day.

  • Flip-flops or slides - this was the best thing I packed! Good for getting around your accommodation that night, and you don't want to be putting your hiking boots back on the next day 😅

  • We took all our food with us for the two days. There are a few cafes along the hike (but you should still take food for the hike as who knows when you might want a snack) and your guesthouse or B&B will probably serve food.

  • Bear in mind that the nights can be really chilly in the mountain valley (even in summer). Having an extra jumper to sleep in came in handy.


Cute cabins in the mountain valley in the village of Valbone in Albania
The picture perfect Villas Jezerca in Valbone

Where to stay in Velbone

Many people will recommend you to stay near to the end of the hike in Valbone, to avoid walking any extra steps after your long hike! The place we stayed in added another 30 minutes to our walk but honestly, it was worth it for our views!

We stayed in Villas Jezerca - the cutest cabins nestled in the mountain valley. Our room was lovely, with a modern en suite bathroom. And waking up the next morning and opening the door surrounded by mountains is a feeling I will never forget. If you do stay here, they only take cash payments - so make sure you have enough cash on you, as although we booked online in advance, we weren't able to pay online. I believe a lot of the places in Theth and Valbone are cash only (either Euro or LEK), so make sure you have enough cash on you to pay for your accommodation and any food or meals.


Signpost showing the trail from Theth to Valbone

Starting the hike

The starting point of the trail is clearly marked - and if in doubt, ask the minibus driver or anyone nearby!


We started our hike as early as possible that morning when the minibus dropped us off in Theth (at 10am), in an attempt to avoid the heat - but the temperatures were already high. There is a section at the beginning of the hike that goes through forest, so you will have shade at some points.


There are red and white trail markers along the way, about every 50 metres or so. But we didn't find these to be very consistent at the beginning of the hike, so do keep an eye on where you're going. We think we veered off the trail at one point but we ended up miraculously back on the trail further along - still not quite sure where we went wrong! The route isn't on Google Maps, so you won't be able to navigate that way - but you can access a map on Maps.me.


You'll start the hike and walk over a small bridge crossing a stream, and you'll see a signpost showing you three different hiking trails you can begin at Theth. After walking for a few minutes, you'll reach a fork in the trail - a wide track in the middle and a much narrower track going off to the right. Take the narrow track on the right (you'll see a rock painted with red and white stripes). You should reach the first cafe soon and follow the signpost, beginning the first real uphills of the hike. This part takes you on some steep inclines through the trees, which although intense, will be a welcome bit of shade in the height of summer! After the forest part, there's a beautiful meadow section, where you'll have grass underfoot and enormous mountains ahead of you! This was one of my favourite parts of the hike and it's honestly amazing how diverse this trail is!

After the meadow you'll enter a woodland part, where the trail will be clearly marked showing you the way. This is quite a pleasant part of the trail and not as steep as the previous woodland. You'll see a cafe soon and this would be a good place to stop for lunch, as you'll probably reach this point around midday. They had an ice bucket filled with soft drink cans, which was a welcome touch! There's also a toilet at this cafe.

After your pitstop, there's about 45 minutes of walking until you ascend towards Valbona Pass; the views become gradually more spectacular, as you leave the trees below you. The ascent is prettyyy steep and sudden, and we had to stop to catch our breath about halfway up this rocky part of the trail. It's also quite narrow so we took care to navigate the smaller pathway as we climbed up, conscious of other hikers coming back down. And before you know it you'll be at Valbona Pass - a big expanse with majestic views of the mountains around you and the valleys below. It is an amazing sight to behold; there is a stillness in the air and it's as if nothing is moving around you. You'll probably want to spend a while just taking it all in 😇 You'll see a section not part of the trail that goes a bit higher and you can climb up for even more views (but it's a bit of a dodgy climb). Otherwise the rest of the pass has plenty of spots to look out from; just take care as a lot of them have big drops below.

View of the valley below from Valbona Pass in Albania

Some people might choose to turn around and head back to Theth once they've seen the views at Valbona Pass. However, if you have plans to stay overnight in Valbone village, head down from the pass and follow the signpost towards Valbona. The rest of the route back is a gradual downhill (with some steep descents at points), and after less than an hour of walking, you should reach a third cafe. Past this cafe, it is mostly flat and you'll start to see signs of civilisation! There's a long walk across a dried up riverbed, which will probably be quite hot at that time of day; this part is a little bit monotonous but with mountains all around you, what more could you want! Before you know it you'll be walking along the main treelined road in Valbone, towards your accommodation - an epic hike, complete!

As mentioned earlier you might want to choose accommodation close to the end of the hike, as you could end up walking another 40 minutes to your hotel! I highly recommend Villas Jezerca (if you don't mind adding another 30 minutes of walking to your day); it was in the most serene setting and the staff were really lovely. As we walked through Valbone, we noticed a few large hotels being built, so I reckon by summer 2024 there will be a lot more options of where to stay.


Getting back to Shkoder

All the details for how to get back to Shkoder, including booking the minibuses and ferry, are mentioned above. The minibus picked us up outside our hotel the next morning (at 10.30am), and we headed to the ferry port at Fierze to take the 1.00pm Komani Lake ferry. It was blisteringly hot that day and you'll probably arrive with about an hour to spare before the ferry turns up. It's a good idea to take cover in the small cafe there, and maybe stock up on some water, as you won't be able to buy any on the ferry.

Reflections on Lake Komani in Albania on a sunny day
The mirror-like Komani Lake 😍

The ferry across Komani Lake takes 2.5 hours and the views are spectacular! You can read more about it in my post on the best things to do in Albania where I've written about it in more detail. It's a lovely way to sit down and relax, watching the views around you, as your legs recover from the hike the day before. When you get to Koman, your minibus will drive you 1.5 hours back to Shkoder, where you'll be dropped back at Rozafa Hotel... where it all began! We then got a taxi to our hotel, picked up our suitcases and our car and continued our Albania road trip - next stop, Berat!


What a hike, what an adventure! I hope this inspires you to include the hike from Theth to Valbona in your trip to Albania, as it is truly a journey worth taking.


Happy travels!

Shani x


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