The area covers parts of Shkodër and Tropoja districts in Northern Albania. The mountains themselves extend into neighboring Kosovo and Montenegro.
Towns and villages
The main city of the area is Bajram Curri. Shkoder is located in the coastal plain just west of the region.
The villages of Thethi and Valbonë are the main tourist destinations.
The areas around Thethi and Valbona constitute two seperate Albanian National Parks, the Thethi National Park and Valbona Valley National Park respectively.
The greater region along the border of Albania / Montenegro / Kosovo is where the Balkan Peace Park may one day exist.
The Albanian Alps are where the highest mountain fully in Albania is located.
The area has been extensively visited by Edith Durham who wrote an entire book about the region and its customs.
To access the mountains, you can enter from the north - west from Shkoder through the village of Bogë (where public transportation stops, the asphalted road also stops) which continues to Thethi. In the summer there are various vehicles continuing to Theth and it's possible to hitch a ride. Walking is not recommended; it is 25 km to Thethi, with little water, and on a narrow road with hairpin curves that sees a fair amount of traffic.
It is easier (although also quite long) to head up the beautiful Valbonë valley from Bajram Curri. There are minibuses from Bajram Curri to Valbonë, and almost to the last village in the valley, Rrogami. The minibuses stop at the end of the road, about 4km from Rrogami. The road is only paved a short way out of Bajram Curri, however, this road is currently being improved (2010).
Getting around is best with your own vehicle, or if you have more time, your own bicycle, or on foot. There is little public transportation, and on many routes this means just one minibus early in the morning.
The mountain pass which separates Thethi from Rrogami is only passable on foot. It is a challenging hike over a poorly marked trail. Parts of the trail are a bit sparse, and the only publicly available map is a Soviet map from the 1950s, scaled 1:50,000. This map series is no longer available from the University of California - Berkley, however, it is available through the Bunker Trails project. The hike is spectacular, one of the best in the world.
The best way to find your way over that pass (Qafe e Valbonës) is with a local guide. The trail begins at the very end of the village of Rrogam. The trail is rather light, and seems to disappear at some points. If you are on a tight schedule, a guide is recommended. There are some English and Italian speaking residents in this area, but it is really best to speak Albanian. If walking on foot does not sound appealing, a horse or donkey can likely be arranged with one of the villagers for an appropriate fee (5,000 ALL). If you have time to spare, the trail can be found through a bit of detective work (following donkey dung, etc) and with enough time, you too can practice the art of trailblazing.
A good itinerary would include the Fierzë-Komani ferry on lake Komani. You could get from Shkoder to Bajram Curri by way of this ferry, then visit the Valbonë valley, and either (for experienced and well-equipped hikers) get over the mountain pass to Thethi (asphalted road starts from Boge downwards to Koplik as of 2010), and go back to Shkoder from there (this loop would probably take an absolute minimum of 4 days, and a more likely duration of 6 or 7 days), or from the Valbonë Valley get back to Bajram Curri and continue east towards Tropoja or Kosovo.
An emerging destination is Razëm village. Follow the Shkodër-Koplik road, turn to the right on Rr. e Komisariatit and then turn left for Razëm at Dedaj. The road is in good condition (2011). The first of the only two alpine resorts in the Albanian Alps in Albania is located here, equipped from saunas and indoor swimming pools to ski courses!
Stunning scenery and grand vistas, a unique and difficult way of life, and traditional Albanian houses and villagers.
Hike those amazing mountains!!! The very little traffic in those remote areas makes it nice to hike even on the roads. Go fishing in the Valbonë river. The rapids near Dragobia seem to be a popular place. If you can, talk to people. In the summer, visit one of the hundreds of caves of Razem vilage. If you you prefer guided tours [] for exploring the region, there are several options of organized trips such as: 5 days village house treck in the Albanian Alps 8 days tour of hiking in the Northern Albania 3 days tour Koman and rural Valbona by ferry
Try buying local foods from people in villages (this may be tricky without speaking Albanian!). You might get locally made cheese, delicious home-baked bread, pickles, and various fruit and vegetables.
Try Mazë, a dish made from butter, corn flour and sheep cheese. Taste roasted ram known as Fërlik, wild bird based dishes, and freshly baked trout.
Turkish coffee, home-made raki (plum alcohol), and locally made wine.
Apart from the hotels in nearby cities like Bajram Curri and Shkoder, there are a number of traditional village guesthouses that are becoming increasingly popular with international tourists. It is easy to find people willing to accommodate you or let you camp in their garden. Among those who speak English or Italian and are accustomed to foreign tourists, a price of around 20 euros is common, and includes breakfast and dinner. Sometimes locals don't mention paying until you are leaving in the morning, which is not the best moment to bargain the price. So be sure you make everything clear when you arrive.
In addition to homestays, there are also a number of hostels/guesthouses in the villages of Albanian Alps.
There is cellular phone coverage in the Thethi area but not in Valbone. In the latter mobile devices must be hanged onto a tree to receive signal! (2011)
Don't get lost in the mountains. This is a sparsely-inhabited area and the trails are not marked and signage is sparse. A GPS is highly recommended, and a simple basemap is available through the Bunker Trails project. In the winter months, the area is completely blocked off from the high snow. It is only in the spring, that roads start to be cleared by local crews.
Supposedly, there are bear and wolves in the area, so rough camping is not recommended for the timid. If you do decide to camp, be sure to employ proper bear bag techniques or bears might follow the scent of that dry sausage hidden under your pillow.
This area has witnessed disturbing violent conflict in recent years due to extreme poverty and isolation. While Albania as a whole was virtually sealed until 1991, this area was isolated to an even greater extend because of the condition of access roads.
Following the chaos of 1997, it took the Albanian police many years to regain control of the entire country, and it is known to be one of the strongholds of resistance to law and order.
The main tourist attractions are safe to visit, but ask locals which areas to avoid.