Southern Albania is full of semi-secret beaches with crystal-clear water, smooth rocks, and alcove caves. It will absolutely take your breath away – and bear in mind that this is coming from someone who generally despises beaches (I prefer mountains 🙂 ).
The only problem is that Albania is lacking infrastructure and good luck finding many people that speak English. But, for the intrepid traveler, the trip to Albania is very worth it. It is definitely one of my favorite countries to travel in and I’d recommend getting to Albania before everyone figures out its secret and it becomes overrun with tourists.
One of the best places to visit in Southern Albania is Gijipe beach and canyon (pronounced gee-pay). We spent a night camping there and here’s what you need to know to do the same.
Getting to Gjipe Beach
As far as infrastructure goes, Albania is getting better – but the roads are still in bad condition and places and you won’t find tourist information anywhere (heck, I couldn’t even find a place to buy postcards!).
If you are going to Gjipe beach, then Dhermi or Himare are probably your starting points. It is 8km from Dhermi and 16km from Saranda.
And here’s a satellite version of the same map.
Directions for Getting to Gjipe Beach:
- Turn at the sign for Manastiri i Shen Theodhorit: It is really easy to miss the turn, so watch out for this sign! There is a sign for the beach, but you can only see it after you’ve turned.
- Drive 2.5km: This is on an asphalt road. You will come to a parking lot. If you have a jeep, you can drive all the way down to the beach.
- Park: The asphalt road will end at a parking lot. You have to pay to park (I think it was 200 leke). There was a lady there collecting money for parking.
- Walk the last 1.5km: The last part of the journey can only be made by foot or by jeep. The walk was beautiful with lots of bunkers along the way. We got a ride back with a jeep and it was TERRIFYING. One mishap and you plunge off the cliff and into the sea.
Options for Getting to Gjipe
- Your Own Car or Jeep
- Take a Furgon or Bus: Every bus that goes through Dhermi to Saranda will pass Gjipe. Just have the driver let you out at the turn for Gjipe. From the main road, it is a 4km walk to the beach. Someone will probably give you a ride though.
- Hitchhike: Hitchhiking in Albania is ridiculously easy because of how friendly the locals are to tourists. I hitchhiking with my daughter, and that makes it even easier because Albanians love kids so much.
- Befriend Some Locals: This is what Isabel and I did. I told my new friends that I wanted to go camping at Gjipe, and they all decided to join. Since one new friend had a car, we got a ride.
- Boat: We saw one guy leave Gjipe this way. His friend just drove the boat up and picked him up. Nice way to travel!
Hiking the Canyon to Gjipe
Alternatively, you can get to Gjipe beach by hiking there through the canyon. Considering that I have a 6 year old and the weather was potentially stormy, this is NOT something we did.
The “path” through the canyon starts right near the main road. There was a sign on where to go down to the path.
Apparently the hike through Gjipe canyon is about 5km and very tough. You have to climb over lots of rocks along the way. I also read that you need climbing gear for some of the steep parts!
If you want to go into the canyon, it is probably best to first go to the beach, and then hike into the canyon from there.
What to Bring to Gjipe
The trip to Gjipe can be done as a day trip. If you have a tent though, I’d seriously recommend camping there for at least 1 night. The beach and nature are beautiful. Also, all the people we met at the beach were really fun. I guess beautiful off-the-beaten-path places attract more interesting travelers. 🙂
To enjoy the trip to Gjipe, you will need:
- Water: There were 2 cafes at Gjipe and they had water taps. However, this is not potable water. You will either need to buy bottled water from them or bring your own. I use the Sawyer Mini water filter so I could have asked the café people for water and filtered it for drinking.
- Swimming Stuff: Don’t come here without your swimsuit. I guess you could swim naked, but Albania is a bit conservative. 😉
- Money: Just in case you decide to have a raki at one of the wild cafes on the beach!
- Food: Or be prepared to pay for a simple meal in one of the cafes.
- Toilet Paper: Do you need an explanation? 😉
The Cafes at Gjipe
We came to Gjipe in late September, after the season is over. My local Albanian friend was surprised to see that there were still 2 cafes working on the beach.
One café was run by two older ladies. They were really cute and we had coffee at their café. The ladies also had two tents behind the café. One tent they rent out to visitors who decide to stay. Don’t count on the tent being free though. If you want to spend the night, bring your own tent.
Yes, There Are Latrines On the Beach
Thank god that there were two latrines on the beach. Otherwise there would be crap and toilet paper all over the place.
Don’t expect much from the toilets. Bring your own toilet paper or baby wipes.
The Campground At Gjipe Beach
There is a campground at Gjipe. We came after the season had ended, so the campground had already closed. That meant we got to sleep there for free. Hooray for traveling out of season!
The campground was fairly nice, with a decent amount of distance between the pitches. The only main issue is that I didn’t see a water hookup anywhere. So, you’ll need to bring water or buy it.
Even out of season, there were still about 5 other tents at the campground. They were fun. One tent was 3 Kosovo boys who were smoking pot all day (which is what all the other Albanians were doing too). Another tent had a Bulgarian couple who went rock climbing and brought a slackline walking strap with them. We had fun trying it out too.
Where Else to Stay?
If you just want to do Gjipe as a day trip, there are plenty of options. Just look at booking.com and you’ll find tons of guesthouses in the nearby area. Vuno is a good starting point. You can also stay in Dhermi (which are actually on the beach, unlike Vuno) but the trip will be a bit longer.
In general, going to Gjipe is safe… but there are some things you need to be cautious about.
The weather changes quickly on the sea. If heavy rains come, the water will surge down the canyon and come out on the beach. My friends told me about how some guys camping right next to the beach almost got washed away.
DO NOT CAMP RIGHT NEXT TO THE BEACH.
DO NOT GO HIKING IN THE CANYON IF IT IS ABOUT TO RAIN.
DO NOT CAMP WHERE THE CANYON LETS OUT (see picture below)
Gjipe is right next to a canyon, and it is never wise to sleep right under a cliff. A big ol’ rock can come crashing down on you.
I asked the locals about this and they assured me that there was no danger of falling rocks. One crazy local even wanted to sleep inside the canyon. But these are the same Albanians who grow up scaling the pyramid in Tirana as children, so I think they have a different view of what is “safe” and not. 😉
The Balkans have two poisonous snakes, both types of vipers. Generally, you won’t see vipers at this low of an elevation. However, you will probably see other snakes.
In our first 3 minutes of walking into the canyon, we already saw a snake. I love snakes, but I also know what to do if you see a snake and what to do if you get bitten by a snake. So remember to be mindful and don’t do stupid things like picking up rocks.
No Crowds Yet…
Albania is quickly shedding its false reputation as a “dangerous” place to travel and the developing infrastructure is making it more appealing to tourists.
Right now, there still aren’t many crowds at Gjipe or Southern Albania, but this is bound to change soon. So get to Gjipe while it is still off-the-beaten-path.