In this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know when hiking Valbona to Theth in Albania, from whether you need a guide to booking your accommodation.
Hiking Valbona to Theth was the highlight of an amazing two weeks road tripping around Albania. We’d come from sweltering ancient cities, travelled along the sparkling azure coastline and yet, despite so many wonderful pit-stops, our final (and thankfully, coolest) destination managed to end our trip on a high.
If you’re a seasoned hiker looking for more information or a first-timer trying to decide if the three day trip deserves a place on your itinerary (the answer is absolutely yes!), this post will give you all the information you’ll need.
1. Which direction should I hike in?
Your first decision is choosing whether to start your hike in Valbona or Theth. There are advantages to each direction which I’ll run through now.
If you start the hike in Theth, you’ll have an easier uphill climb as it’s less steep and shaded in trees until you get close to the summit. You’ll also finish on a high, as the views across the Valbona pass are absolutely unbelievable! However, the descent will be harder on your knees this way and you’ll be completely exposed to the hot summer sun at the end of your hike along the bottom of the valley.
Depending on where your guesthouse is along the road in Valbona, you may also have an extra hour of walking to do from the trailhead to reach it so be careful where you choose to stay!
However, we chose to start the hike in Valbona and were really happy with our decision. While our guesthouse was pretty far from the trailhead, they arranged a group transfer to the start – saving us close to an hour of walking along the road before we even began. It did mean we started with a steep uphill (made much easier by the incredible scenery) and later in the day, we could relax and enjoy the easy downhill under the trees, away from the afternoon sun.
In my opinion, the main advantage of hiking from Valbona to Theth is that there’s more going on in Theth! There’s a pub located right at the end of the trail so you’ll be able to stop for a few celebratory beers, plus you can do the famous Blue Eye hike the next day if your legs aren’t too sore.
For most people, it’s a three day round-trip – two days travelling and one to complete the hike – but if you’re super outdoorsy, extend your trip and do it both ways!
2. How do I get to the Albanian Alps?
While you can access the Albanian Alps from the country’s capital Tirana, most get there from Shkoder, Albania’s most northern city – often referred to as the gateway to the Albanian Alps.
We chose Shkoder as a base for the hike as many people do, but it’s well worth a visit in its own right – it’s located right on a beautiful lake and has a stunning castle to explore. It’s even cheaper than many other Southern cities in Albania too which is a bonus as it’s already one of Europe’s more affordable destinations.
If you’re heading straight to Theth, it’s pretty straightforward to get there by car or van transfer. Valbona is a little more difficult as you’ll need to catch a ferry (sandwiched between a drive on either side) but let me just say one thing.
This is the most beautiful ferry ride I’ve ever been on.
Whether you book a shared transfer or manage to book a car space to drive onto the ferry, taking this extra step to get to Valbona is far from a chore. Personally, I’d recommend a shared transfer and leaving your hire car in Shkoder (we ended our road trip there to make the logistics work!) as the ferries are small and you’d definitely need to book a spot way ahead of time in high season.
You can get to other gorgeous spots from this ferry terminal as well as Valbona, such as Lumi i Shales.
3. What time of year can I hike from Valbona to Theth?
Summer season is by far the best for hiking in Albania.
The Komani ferry that’ll take you either to or from Valbona runs between April and September, but I’d recommend waiting until June at least for most of the snow and ice to melt unless you’re kitted out with proper winter hiking gear.
We hiked Valbona to Theth in July and while the rest of the country was sweltering, it was a gorgeous 18 degrees in the Albanian Alps – perfect hiking weather.
4. Do I need to book accommodation in advance?
It’s absolutely possible to book your accommodation in advance: there are plenty of guesthouses in both Valbona and Theth on Booking.com, which I used to book all my stays on this Albania trip.
We stayed at Guesthouse Bec Villi in Theth which boasts great meals in a stunning location and the hosts were amazingly helpful with arranging us a transfer back to Shkoder after our Blue Eye hike the following day. Just bear in mind that it’s a little far from the main town centre.
Your other option is to book through your accommodation in Shkoder, Albania’s most northern city which is often referred to as the gateway to the Albanian Alps. We stayed at The Wanderer’s Hostel in Shkoder which comes highly recommended for good reason!
Despite travelling in Albania during July’s peak season, the hostel assured us they’d take care of arranging our trip when we arrived and true to their word, we had absolutely no problems at all. We’d booked our stay in Theth in advance, but they arranged our transfers and accommodation at Guesthouse Arben Selimaj in Valbona – the bonus being, we travelled with a bunch of other backpackers this way too.
5. How long does the Valbona to Theth hike take?
Estimates massively vary but if you’re prepared to hike for at 6 – 8 hours, you’ll be in good shape for this route. We set off from the start of the trailhead in Valbona at 07.45 and were saying Gëzuar! (cheers in Albanian) with our beers at 14:15, including a couple of short-ish stops for drinks and lunch. You could take way more time if you go at a leisurely pace so set off early to make the most of your day!
6. Do I need a guide for hiking the Valbona to Theth route?
You absolutely don’t need a guide to hike from Valbona to Theth, or in reverse. The trail is clearly marked with red and white symbols plus, as one of Albania’s most popular hikes, you’ll spot other people really regularly along the route – particularly as you get towards the end.
If you’re hiking when there is snow and ice on the trail, a guide may be recommended but even so, you shouldn’t come across any issues with the route.
7. What shoes do I need to wear?
On our visit in July, we were lucky enough to have really dry, sunny weather so hiked in trainers with no problems. Make sure they’re a sturdy pair with good grip rather than the likes of Converse, as the gravel parts of the trail on the Theth side can be quite slippy – I went flying towards the end! – or of course, hiking boots are fine too.
If you’re visiting when there is still snow and ice on the path, make sure you’re kitted out in proper boots with crampons if needed.
8. Are there drinks stops along the way?
This is one of the main questions I had before hiking from Valbona to Theth and the good news is yes, there are two cafe stops on the route. The first is about 90 minutes from the start of the trail, named Simoni Cafe, with cool soft drinks, teas and coffees available and you can refill your water for free too. The second is on the Theth side, around one hour from the end, which sells drinks and some food too with toilets for use. We stopped at both!
Don’t forget that there are no ATMs in Valbona or Theth, so you’ll need to bring cash with you to cover anything you may need while you’re there.
9. What do I do with my luggage?
As a weakling, I never hike with a heavy backpack if I can help it! Most people doing the day hike will leave their luggage at their accommodation – either in Theth or Valbona if you’re planning to hike both ways, or back in Shkoder. It’s really common for people to leave their main luggage in Shkoder and just take a day pack filled with essentials for the three day round trip – The Wanderer’s Hostel had a secure baggage room especially for that purpose!
Obviously I’d always recommend keeping your wits about you and keeping any valuables on you at all times.
10. How difficult is the hike?
Most people rank the Valbona to Theth hike as a medium difficulty – there are some steep parts both going up and coming down which can be tough on the legs – my knees were in bits going downhill! If you’ve got a decent level of physical fitness, the hike is easily achievable in one day and you shouldn’t have any issues. It’s all a fairly straightforward walk, without any parts where you really need to scramble.
If you aren’t an expert hiker, don’t let it put you off! Just take your time on the tougher bits and enjoy the views – they’ll get you through!
11. Is it worth it?
I’m sure you’ve been able to tell from the rest of this post (and photos of the incredible scenery) but it’s absolutely worth hiking Valbona to Theth in the Albanian Alps!
I absolutely loved our two week road trip around Albania and this was the best experience of our trip. Before you go, it can sound like a lot of hassle to arrange transport each way, leave your luggage but honestly, it’s far easier than you expect to arrange seamlessly and the views you’ll see throughout your time in the Albanian Alps make it well worth the visit.
Is there anything I haven’t answered? Drop your questions in the comments!