Most Albanians travel around their country in buses or furgons, which are nine- to 12-seater vans. Buses to Tirana depart from towns all around Albania at the crack of dawn. Pay the conductor on board; the fares are low (eg Tirana–Durrës is 100 lekë). Tickets are rarely issued.
Both buses and furgons are privately owned and don’t follow a timetable – they leave when they’ve got enough passengers to make it worth their while. The furgon and bus drivers seem to take it in turns to strike, each looking for some concession from the government to restrict the activities of the other. At the time of writing it was the bus drivers’ turn, some of whom were on hunger strike. Clearly neither group make much money from the meagre fares charged.
The furgon system can seem daunting at first, but it actually works really well. There are always more furgons running in the mornings and the last departure is usually in plenty of time to enable the driver (they’re always men) to reach his destination before nightfall.
Albania has only recently acquired an official road traffic code and most motorists have only learned to drive in the last 10 years. During the communist era car ownership required a permit from the government, which in 45 years issued only two to nonparty members. As a result, the government found it unnecessary to invest in new roads. Nowadays the road infrastructure is improving but it’s still more akin to India than Europe. There are decent roads from the Macedonian border to Tirana and Durrës, and north from these cities to Shkodra, but the main roads leading south are still being expanded. The coastal road from Vlora to Saranda is particularly treacherous. Highway signage is bad and there are a lot of road works going on to accommodate the explosive growth in vehicle numbers. In short, it’s a really, really hard place to drive, and local driving habits are best described as free-spirited. Off the main routes a 4WD is a necessity. Driving at night is particularly hazardous and driving on mountain ‘roads’ in winter is an extreme sport. There is no national automobile association in Albania as yet.
Car hire is fairly new to Albania, but given the driving conditions we wouldn’t recommend it unless you have a lot of experience of similar conditions.
Before 1948 Albania had no passenger railways, but the communists built up a limited north–south rail network. Today, however, nobody who can afford other types of transport takes the train, even though fares are seriously cheap. The reason will be obvious once you board: the decrepit carriages typically have broken windows, no toilets and are agonisingly slow. That said, they are something of an adventure and some of the routes are quite scenic.
For timetable and fare information, refer to the official website of Hekurudha e Shqipërise (Hsh; Albanian Railways) at www.hsh.com.al.
Although many Albanians cycle short distances, cycling through the country is not recommended, especially if you are not familiar with the abysmal driving on Albanian roads. Furthermore, many roads are not paved and there are no cycling paths anywhere in the country.