Buses in Albania have historically been a bit of a head-scratcher.
Rich, my partner, visited back in 2015, and when we made our way over to the Balkan country from Bari in Italy, he told me plenty of stories of no transport timetables, random bus stops and times spent standing on the side of the road just hoping a vehicle would appear.
Imagine our joy then, when we travelled from Tirana to Saranda and not only found a functioning bus station but a vehicle that left on time and a journey that took less than anticipated.
Here’s how to get from Tirana to Saranda in 2022.
What modes of transport are there to get from Tirana to Saranda?
There aren’t many; passenger trains don’t exist in Albania, leaving the only real option to be tackling Albania’s roads.
You can either hire a car, take a taxi or take a bus.
Many travellers choose to hire a car, but as we weren’t planning a road trip and just wanted to get to Saranda to spend a week, we ruled out that option.
Taxis were far too expensive; you’re looking at around €180 for the three-and-a-half-hour drive.
So, we opted for the bus. How difficult could it be?
Taking the bus from Tirana to Sarandë
Thanks to Anita Hendrieka’s Albania bus timetable blog, we found the alleged bus times, amidst many warnings that these times could change at a mere moment’s notice.
However, we decided to go off them, as we didn’t have any other leads.
After breakfast at the Padam Hotel in Tirana, we arranged a taxi with reception to the North South Bus Terminal.
This took a bit of a while, as there was traffic and some confusion about meeting points – so do allow plenty of time for this!
However, our driver was lovely and dropped us right by the bus going to Saranda.
North South Bus Terminal
“This was never here before” said Rich, as we drove into the bus terminal. “I just waited at a roundabout and hoped the bus would appear”.
The North South Bus Terminal isn’t much more than a glorified car park. There’s no terminal building, just a collection of coaches, each travelling to different destinations. But it’s at least a hub where you can usually find a vehicle to your destination.
“You need a ticket from the kiosk” the bus driver told us as soon as we set about enquiring. “You can leave bags here”.
It felt very safe, but we’ve both travelled enough to know that you don’t leave luggage unattended anywhere. So Rich stayed with the bags while I strolled over to purchase tickets.
The kiosks to buy tickets sit right at the front of the bus station, and they all have names on the front detailing the destinations that they sell tickets to.
“Saranda?” I asked a man sitting outside the Saranda booth. “No” he said to me, before getting back to his cigarette. In hindsight, I don’t think he actually worked there.
Luckily, another man came over with a passenger, speaking hurriedly in Albanian.
Thanks to Albania borrowing some words from Romance and Slavic languages, I understood enough to know that he was the ticket seller.
Once he had dealt with her and I enquired, he switched to English, reassuring me that we were waiting by the right bus and it would leave at 12:30.
It cost 1,700 LEK per ticket (about $15 USD).
The bus journey
Just as the timetable said, we left very close to 12:30, and began our voyage south.
The road first leads back to Durres, although doesn’t go into the town itself.
As soon as you leave Durres, the mountains begin – Albania is a very mountainous country – and the roads become progressively windier!
The roads quieten down a lot past Durres, and we were mainly driving on very new-looking roads – which meant that the drive time was actually way quicker than anticipated!
What was the bus like?
While the bus was quite speedy, it wasn’t the most comfortable – there was minimal AC and my boyfriend (who is 6″4/ two metres tall) found the seats very cramped.
At 5″2/ 1.59 metres, I didn’t have the same issue!
Still, it was only for a few hours!
The bus stopped for refreshments just over halfway through, at a place called Grill 33.
They served hot dishes and snacks; we just purchased a couple of packets of crackers.
There was free to use toilets and WiFi here.
Arriving into Saranda
The buses make a few stops on the arrival into Saranda but ultimately terminate at the Friendship Park (Google maps location), which is a short walk to the beach and is close to most of Saranda’s attractions.
Where to stay in Saranda
We spent a week at Saranda central apartments and really enjoyed it.
The host who showed us in was lovely, and they left us local honey, baklava and tea.
The beds were comfy, and it was spacious with a sofa and cooking facilities. The WiFi worked well enough for work too!
The Tirana to Saranda bus journey is a relatively hassle-free process, provided you’re happy to be a bit squashed on a bus for a few hours!
Although it’s been my first time in Albania, Rich says that it’s much easier to get around the country than it was seven years ago.