Kosovo is most known for the war in the 1990s and its disputed country status. What gets lost behind the politics is that Kosovo has some amazing nature. Combine this with the local hospitality and open laws for wild camping, and you’ve got one of the best places to enjoy untouched wilderness.
What Is Rugova Gorge?
Located at the most western part of Kosovo, Rugova is a 25km long valley and gorge made by the Lumbardhi river.
The road through Rugova starts at Peja (Peć in Serbian) and goes up to the village Kućište. Along the way, there are waterfalls, granite cliffs up 600+ meters high, and plenty of scenic views. The road ends near the border of Montenegro. You’ll either have to hike out or drive out the same way you came.
Get off the main road and you will find plenty of hiking trails. The area is a paradise for climbers. You’ll just need to bring your own gear or organize a climb with a guide.
Things to Do in Rugova
- Zip lining on the 650 meter long zip line
- Eating insanely good local food
- Village tourism
- Visiting caves and waterfalls
Wildlife in Rugova
The flora of Rugova is divided into four zones: Oak, beech, coniferous, and alpine. I spent my trips surrounded by black spruce. In August, there are tons of wild strawberries and blueberries to be found.
Near the restaurants and on the popular trails, you probably won’t see much wildlife other than a few squirrels, lizards, or salamanders. However, the mountains around Rugova are rich with wildlife.
Go deeper into the woods and you’ll find:
- Wild boars
You’ll need to practice animal safety while in Rugova. Always hang a bear bag (even if you aren’t deep enough into the wilderness to meet a bear, still hang a bear bag against other critters).
Snakes are also abundant in the rocky areas of Rugova. I personally saw two snakes swimming in Leqinat Lake. Neither was a horned viper or adder – the two venomous snakes found in the Balkans, so I wasn’t too worried. Still, make sure you know what to do if you get bit by a snake before visiting Rugova.
Dangers in Rugova
As with any canyon, you need to be careful of landslides while in Rugova. Don’t do anything stupid like set up camp underneath a cliff where a falling rock could crush you!
I personally haven’t been in Rugova in winter, but can imagine how difficult it gets. A lot of the businesses in the gorge close simply because they are inaccessible. Avalanches can occur and ice makes the roads slippery.
Road Conditions of Rugova
Considering that Kosovo is not a very developed country, the road conditions of Rugova Gorge are actually quite good. The main road is asphalted and even secondary roads are in decent condition.
Bear in mind that the road up Rugova is very narrow. There are plenty of hairpin turns and you might find fallen boulders in the road. It’s risky enough to be listed on Dangerous Roads. Just drive slow – even if the locals around you aren’t.
How to Get to Rugova
Rugova is 93km from Pristina. Its best accessed through the city of Peja though (Pec in Serbian). While the city Peja itself isn’t too impressive, it is a nice place to spend a few lazy days before heading into the mountains.
Bus Routes to Peja:
- Pristina-Peja: Leave several times per day
- Belgrade-Peja: There is a bus that leaves from Belgrade. This is the one I took. However, at the station in Peja, they said that there wasn’t a bus to Belgrade. I went home via Rozaje, Montenegro instead.
- Rozaje/Kolasin-Peja: You can take a bus to/from Montenegro. There are great mountains for camping there too. Or, you can catch the train in Kolasin to Belgrade.
Minibus to Rugova:
There is a minibus that goes into Rugova twice daily. When I was there, the bus left for Rugova at 7am and 3pm to the village Boge (return bus trip 90 minutes later). Schedules change though. Check with Peja Tourism for the latest bus schedule!
Know that the minibus doesn’t go from the main bus station. Rather you must wait for the minibus in front of a bakery located across from the main bus station on the corner.
Other Transportation Options
- Rent a Car: If budget isn’t an issue, I’d recommend doing this so you can really explore some of the hidden places and get to more trails.
- Hitchhiking: The second time I went to Rugova, I skipped the 7am bus and just hitchhiked up the gorge. Both times we hitched down. There aren’t too many cars passing by, but it didn’t take long to get a ride.
Trail Map of Rugova Gorge
The contour map of Rugova Gorge is well-made and accurate. However, there were some missing trails from the map. Maybe the locals want to keep those ones secret 😉 A few camping spots are marked on the map. Popular hiking trails are in red.
Camping in Rugova
On the Rugova map, there are a few official camping spots marked. I have only been to the camping spot at Leqinat Lake, so I can’t vouch for the other spots.
You can certainly ask to camp in front of any of the restaurants or cabins in Rugova too. Kosovars are known for their hospitality and will likely let you stay for free (maybe even use their bathrooms too!).
DO NOT CAMP IN THE GORGE!
While there are a few flat spots along the river, camping there would be very DANGEROUS. At any moment, a rock could fall down the cliff and kill you. Don’t do it!
If you are very adventurous, you can use the contour lines to scout out flat spots on the map and camp there. Otherwise, it is fairly difficult to find a flat and safe spot to camp within a gorge. You’ve got to go up towards the peaks.
This is my favorite place for camping in the Balkans. It is located above the village Kuqishtë. You drive about 8km up the secondary road to the parking spot near the restaurants. From there, you have a 2.5km hike to the lake.
The hike up isn’t very long, but it is STEEP (made worse when you are carrying 18kg of gear for you and your kid). The view of the lake as you go over the final include makes the grueling hike worth it.
My daughter was able to handle the hike at age 4 though, so I’m guessing you can too. 😉
The lake itself is deep enough for swimming. Just be warned that there are leaches in the water. So long as you swim fast, the leaches don’t have time to latch onto you.
There are also lots of salamanders in the lake. Isabel could spend all day catching them.
There are plenty of people coming through for day hikes, so you will have company during the day. However, not too many people camp there. You’ll likely be by yourself, especially on weekdays.
You’ll need a good water filter for camping at Lake Leqinat though. The nearest water source is at the base of the trail 2.5km away – and remember it is steep. Since the water is full of algae, it will clog your filter very fast. I brought my Sawyer Mini the first time I went to Leqinat. For the next trip, I took my Sawyer Squeeze because it has a faster flow rate.
Getting to Leqinat Lake:
Get out of the bus at Kuqishtë. From there, you will have to walk 8km or hitchhike a ride up the secondary road. We hitchhiked. Or just drive up there. You can also organize tour guides to take you to the lake. One traveler I talked to paid 20euros just for a ride up.
The start of the trail is behind the restaurant Te Liqeni, which rents out cabins. Fill up your water bottles before leaving! You’ll need at least 1 liter of water per person for the hike up.
The trail is only about 2.5km to the summit. However, it is steep and very rocky. Wear good boots and grab yourself a walking stick along the way.
Once you reach the lake, the best camping spots are towards the left (east). Follow the trail around the lake until it branches into two. Take the small trail going upwards.
Surprisingly, the Peja tourism bureau has a great trail map of Rugova. There are plenty of short hikes that you can take.
For hardcore trekkers, you can hike a 192km loop known as the Peaks of the Balkans. The trail takes you through Albania and Montenegro. You get a special pass for crossing the border via the mountains.
Know Before You Go
- Toilets: There aren’t any outhouses on the trails. You’ll need to practice leave no trace and dig a cat hole.
- Water: There are several water springs. However, they can dry out in summer. Best to have a water filter so you can drink water from streams on the go.
- Trash: Unfortunately, Kosovars don’t have a culture of respecting nature. A lot of day hikers leave their trash around. It’s not as bad as some places in Kosovo, but still fairly depressing. Go further onto the harder trails to avoid trash.
- Wild Camping: If there are any laws about wild camping in Kosovo, no one is heeding them. You can camp anywhere you want (always check with owners before camping on private property though). The locals might be confused as to why you want to camp though and invite you inside to stay. 🙂
- Getting Scammed: Kosovars are serious about hospitality and people will kindly help you with whatever you need. But, since they often don’t have receipts and price lists like in Western countries, expect taxi drivers and hotel owners to charge you more as a foreigner. Now is the time to practice your haggling!
Where to Stay in Peja
My bus from Belgrade arrived at 5am. There was no way I was going on a hike with 18kg of gear that early! So, we camped at a ranch located a few kilometers outside of the city center.
Shtepia Alpine Ranch is located above the big Peja city park. It has an amazing view of the city, and the food is delicious. It’s actually (according to the owner) the only restaurant in the area with an organic certification. All the dairy comes from the owner’s goats.
You can also go horseback riding at the ranch. As of 2016, there’s also an “Adventure Park” with an obstacle course, giant swing, and zip lining.
The owner of the place is an amazing guy. He speaks Albanian, Serbian, and English. For 5 euros per person/per night, you can put up your tent in the yard. There are clean bathrooms, Wifi, water spigots outdoors, and electrical plugs you can use.
The only downside of camping at the ranch is that the horses will wake you up early in the morning when they come to get water.
Shtepia Ranch Prices (as of 2017):
- Camping in the yard: 5 euros per person
- Horseback riding: 20 euros
- Obstacle Course: I think it was 5e for kids and 10 or 15e for adults
- Taxi to/from Peja: 4-5 euros
- Meals: 4-10 euros for a full meal
You can also stay in a hostel or hotel in Peja. But the ranch really is a much better place for relaxing and eating amazing food.
Have you been to Rugova? Share your tips with us in the comments!
Image credit: https://sq.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skeda:Rugova_Canyon.jpg