One of Eastern Europe's most isolated countries, Albania has finally raised its formal ban on American tourists, and tour operators are responding by organizing travel there. For decades, about the only Americans who were allowed into Albania were those who had relatives there.
While the U.S. State Department does not prohibit U.S. citizens from traveling to Albania, the State Department advises travelers to exercise caution, since there are not yet diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Visas are getting easier to obtain. The Albanian government now views tourism as a source of much-needed hard currency. So Americans, even those without Albanian relatives, often can get visas if they are persistent.
While I traveled as a journalist and created my own tour with the help of Albanian government officials, based on Alitalia flights, several tourist agencies are booking group tours to Albania. Albania is not among the countries to which U.S. travel agents are prohibited from selling tours.
Package tours: Exotik Tours in Canada (1117 St. Catherine St. West, Suite 806, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3B 1H9, phone 514-284-3324) offers 12-day trips to Albania, with an option for an extra week in Yugoslavia. The 12-day package includes stops in Albania's capital city of Tirana, plus eight other cities including Gjirocastra, Korce and Saranda on the Albanian Riviera. The price is about $1,735 and includes round-trip air fare from Toronto or Montreal, hotels and meals. The agency will process your visa application, but all papers must be filed one month prior to travel. The longer trip to Yugoslavia costs about $2,080. The last trip to Albania this year leaves in November.
A Boston company, Kutrubes Travel Agency (328 Tremont St., Boston, Mass. 02116, 617-426-5688), arranges six-day bus tours of Albania that depart from Athens, Greece. The trip includes stops in Saranda, Tirana and Korce and costs about $280, which includes bus fare, lodging, meals and visa paperwork. Air fare to Greece, of course, is not included.
A British travel agency, Regent Holidays (13 Small St., Bristol, BS1 1DE England, 011-44-27-221-1711) also runs a variety of tours to Albania. The final one this year leaves in early October. A five-day tour, departing from London, costs about $705 and includes air fare from London, plus hotels and meals in Albania. This tour stops overnight only in Tirana, but provides day-trips out of the city.
A more elaborate 13-day tour, with nine days in Albania and four in Budapest, Hungary, is also available for about $1,350. It includes air fare from London, hotels and meals. In Albania, this tour stops in four cities. The travel agency plans to resume its Albanian tours next Easter.
Americans with relatives in Albania can also apply for individual tourist visas and should write to the Albanian Embassy, Via Asmara 9, Rome, Italy.