Lonely Planet Writer

Albania's secret military base on Sazan Island opens to visitors for the first time

A fortified island with a vast network of bunkers and tunnels built to withstand nuclear attacks is to be officially opened to tourists for the first time this year. Sazan Island, a famously mysterious island, lies a few miles off the coast of Albania in the Adriatic Sea.

Former military base on Albania's Sazan Island. Image by GENT SHKULLAKU/AFP/Getty Images)
Abandoned buildings on Sazan Island. Image by GENT SHKULLAKU/AFP/Getty Images)

It officially remains a military base, was once home to more than 3000 troops, and has been long off-limits to both visitors and locals.With Albania in the midst of something of a tourist boom, with an increase of 15% in visitors last year, the time was ripe to open the new attraction.

A mailbox in front of an abandoned building on the island of Sazan
A mailbox in front of an abandoned building on the island of Sazan, some 140 km south-west of Albania’s capital Tirana. Image by GENT SHKULLAKU/AFP/Getty Images

Eva Kushova from the Department of Tourism told Lonely Planet: “The island will be open from May until October 2017.” She said the agreement for its official opening was only signed early this month and the finer details of how it will work were still being teased out. “It has been a repeated request from tour operators to open the island,” she said, “so we expect a large number of visitors. Last year, the number of foreign visitors in Albania was 4.7 million, or 14.6% higher than 2015.”

The island is only about two square miles but despite its diminutive size, it more than makes up for it in wildlife diversity.It has a slightly different climate to the rest of Albania and because of that, has an array of plant life not found in the rest of the country.

Sazan has particularly rich lizard life, with fifteen difference species of reptile … thirteen of which are very rare.
The nearest port is Vlorë, Albania’s third-largest city while visitors to the heel of Italy might even be able to spot it from the Salento coast on a fine day.