Want to travel like a local around Albania? Hope on a ‘furgon’ (minibus) and enjoy the trip.
We used these furgons from Tirana to Saranda by way of Vlore to see some of the coast. They are like passenger vans and remind me of colectivos in Mexico and Belize. They are essentially large, shared taxis.
Schedules are next to impossible to find online. Various blogs and TripAdvisor comments say various times on various days. Our Airbnb hosts made some calls, but they also had trouble determining the timetable for buses or minibuses. So we just went to the southern bus station for national travel (more like a bus and car yard) the morning we left Tirana.
I took a picture of the schedule as we pulled out of the station. The furgon was leaving as soon as we arrived so I didn’t have time to dawdle with pictures. Unfortunately a man’s head covers part of the schedule, but you might glean something from it if you click on the picture and zoom in.
Furgons appear to run every hour or two to Vlore (behind the man’s head), where you will transfer if you want the coastal ride we took.
The first furgon ride went from Tirana to Vlore. It cost $5 and it took about three hours. The only stops were to pick people up or drop them off on the side of the road. No bathroom breaks. Tirana suburban sprawl gives way to farms and small towns, with a few small cities along the way like Durres and Fier.
We transferred in Vlore to get the rest of the way to Saranda. That leg cost $9 and it also took maybe 3.5 hours. The route twisted over mountains and eventually hugged the rugged coast. And that’s why we took this route.
It was beautiful. Pictures don’t do it justice because I’m shooting out of a minibus window.
The traditional bus does not go this way. The roads are narrow, switchbacks are sharp, and goats, sheep, and horses sometimes think they rule the road.
The second furgon driver stopped about 45 minutes into the trip to Saranda for lunch in the mountains at a small restaurant. I don’t know if that is always the stop, or just what this driver wanted to do on this particular day.
Once again, there were no bathroom breaks and the only stops were to drop people off and pick them up.
A conductor collects your fare on furgons. No need to buy tickets early. The first young man did not know any English, the second one knew a few words.
Seats are not roomy on these minibuses. Tall people likely will hit their knees on the seat in front of them. Look at how close Tedly’s face is to the chair in front of him.
Our two bags were loaded into the back under the seats. Large baggage won’t be easy to transport on the minibuses. There are overhead compartments, but they’re tiny.
The ride from Tirana to Vlore was mostly locals (a few knew basic English). The ride from Vlore to Saranda was mostly tourists.
That’s really all there is to say about this mini-adventure on this minibus journey in Albania. Just sit back, get as comfortable as you can, and enjoy the ride.