The Spectacular New Peaks of the Balkans Trail in Albania and Kosovo
By Ally Mash
The spectacular wild and rugged borderlands of Montenegro, Albania, and Kosovo are traversed on the newly established Peaks of the Balkans Trail, a cross-border long-distance route.
The circuitous route visits out-of-the-way mountain valleys, lakes, and passes, passing through quaint mountain towns that often give off a sense of being in another era. It’s a remote part of Europe that few tourists ever make it to.
Hikers have the option of completing the trail in about 10 days or spreading it out over several weeks, with roughly one-third of the route passing through each country.
Here are some of the choices I would recommend the most based on my own experience.
With any luck, this article will help you figure out which sections of the Peaks of the Balkans Trail are the best, as well as how many days you want to spend exploring the area.
Useful Tips For Hiking The Peaks Of The Balkan Trail
Daypack vs Backpack
Maybe you’re not sure if you’re fit enough to reach the top of the many peaks along the Balkans Trail. In case you’re worried that this might be too much for you, keep reading! There are many different ways to hike that work for hikers with different levels of experience and equipment preferences. When hikers finish this difficult journey, they will each feel a sense of accomplishment that is unique to them.
You should only bring a backpack if you intend to pitch a tent for the night. Since you’ll be passing through a number of smaller towns on your journey, it’s not necessary to bring anything more than a few snacks for lunch, as full meals can be purchased along the way at guest houses at an affordable price.
A daypack is ideal if you plan on staying in guest houses and hotels rather than camping out every night. Daypacks are better than backpacks because they are lighter. This is especially helpful for people who have knee pain when going up or down steep hills. Since you intend to walk for around 200 kilometers, it is preferable that you bring as little as possible with you.
To keep the weight and size of your backpacking gear to a minimum, you should only bring the most important things. Before you leave on your trip, make sure you have everything on your backpacking checklist.
Listed below is the equipment I would bring with me on a return trip to the Peaks of the Balkans Trail:
- Lightweight tent
- Waterproof hiking boots
- Sleeping bag
- Sun hat
- Hiking sticks
- Enough thermal clothing (It gets very cold in the mountains, especially if you sleep in a tent)
Guesthouse VS Wildcamping
Along the Peaks of the Balkans, you can stay in small village guesthouses. Many of them are great, both in terms of the food they serve and the warmth and friendliness of their hosts. Since all of your sleeping necessities (sheets, blankets, and pillows) will be provided, you won’t need to bring a separate sleeping bag.
However, you may want to bring a lightweight silk or cotton sleeping bag for use during the two overnights spent in locations with less luxurious sleeping arrangements, such as Dobërdol. Prices for bed and breakfast stays in guesthouses range from €15 to €20 per person, but it’s well worth it to upgrade to half-board (from €25 to €35 per person) due to the quality of the provided meals.
The ability to wild camp anywhere along the Peaks of the Balkans Trail is a huge plus. However, guest houses also allow you to pitch a tent for around €5 per night. In my experience, this is the best choice because it allows you to take advantage of their restrooms after a day of hiking and sweating in the sun.
Whatever route you take, come prepared with enough money to see you through. You can use your credit card at hotels, restaurants, and shops in larger towns and cities along the Peaks of the Balkans Trail, but you won’t be able to use it to buy food or lodging along the way. ATMs are available in larger towns and cities but not in small mountain villages. You should, therefore, always have a good supply of small bills on hand and spread your cash around in various places.
Where To Start The Peaks Of The Balkans Trail
Since the Peaks of the Balkans Trail is a loop, hikers can begin or end their journey in any of the three countries that make up the Balkan Peninsula; all it takes is a flight to Podgorica, Pristina, or Tirana to connect with local transportation to reach the trailhead. So, you could either fly to Albania and start your trip in Theth or Valbona, fly to Montenegro and start your trip in Plav, or fly to Kosovo and start your trip in Rekë e Allagës.
Be aware, though, that no matter where you begin your hike on the Peaks of the Balkans Trail, you will need a cross-border permit because the trail passes through a particularly delicate border region. In contrast to Albania and Kosovo, where the permit costs nothing, the price of the permit is €11 in Montenegro.
I took a flight from Amsterdam to Podgorica and then took a bus for two hours to get to the trailhead at Plav. The only catch to departing from Plav is that you’ll need to visit a different building than the police station to pick up your cross-border permit.
I chose to start my journey in Plav because it is the largest town on the trail and has a lot of stores and supermarkets where I could buy food. It is also where multiple buses leave each day for Podgorica.
Key Insights & Takeaways
To sum up, the Peaks of the Balkans Trail can be done in its entirety if enough planning and preparation are done ahead of time. To do this, you need to have enough cash on hand, get a cross-border permit, and be ready with the right outdoor gear.
You should also get a map that you can use without an internet connection since there will be parts of the trail where you won’t be able to connect to the internet.
After spending the first day of my hike from Plav to Vusanje getting lost twice, I downloaded the mapy.cz app, which proved to be very useful, particularly in situations where the trails aren’t marked very clearly.
A world traveler and outdoor enthusiast, Ally has spent most of his free time backpacking through South America, Iceland, Vietnam, and Europe. His mission is to get more people in the mindset of protecting our planet by sharing its beauty with fellow adventurers.