Albania

Albania, on Southeastern Europe’s Balkan Peninsula, is a small country with coastlines on the Adriatic and Ionian seas and an interior crossed by the Albanian Alps. Along its southern coast, the Albanian Riviera is known for its traditional Mediterranean villages, beach resorts and vibrant nightlife. With history stretching back to antiquity, Albania is also rich in castles and archaeological sites.

Capital: Tirana
Population: 3.6 million
Total Area: 28,748 square kilometers
Official Language: Albanian (official – derived from Tosk dialect), Greek, Vlach, Romani, Macedonian.
Religions: Muslim 70%, Albanian Orthodox 20%, Roman Catholic 10% (estimates)
Border with: Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro

Brief history
The country known to us as the Republic of Albania is known locally as Shqipëria. The heritage of Albanians can be traced back to prehistoric times, when the area was ruled by Illyrian tribes. The country was later taken over by Greeks, followed by Romans who occupied the land from 168 BC and incorporated it into the Roman Empire. Albania became part of the Byzantine Empire when the Roman Empire divided into east and west in 395 AD. During the 14th century AD the territory was turned over to the Ottoman Turks, who ruled throughout the medieval era into the Middle Ages subduing all resistance in the Balkan region, including the small strip of Albanian coastline which was famously crushed after staging a fierce but futile battle against the occupiers in the 15th century. Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912 after five hundred years of domination, but fell to Italian rule under Mussolini in 1939. Communist partisans later liberated Albania from Italian control and in 1941 Enver Hoxha became leader of the ruling Albanian Communist Party, a position he held until his death in 1985. Albania was free of German control in 1944 and then allied itself with the USSR until 1960, followed by China until 1978. In the early 1990s, Albania ended 46 years of Communist rule and established a multiparty democracy. Albania is a member of the United Nations, NATO, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, World Trade Organisation, and is a potential candidate for EU accession and formally applied for membership in 2009.

Geography and weather
Albania is bordered by Montenegro to the north, Kosovo to the northeast, Macedonia to the east and Greece to the southeast. It also has a coast on the Adriatic Sea and Ionian Sea. About 70% of the country is mountainous and over a third of the territory is forested. The climate is generally pleasant and mild, with cool, cloudy, wet winters and hot, dry, clear summers. It’s generally drier towards the coastal lowlands where there’s a more Mediterranean climate, whereas the interior is much hotter in summer and wetter as altitude increases.

Visas
Visas are not required if you are a citizen of an EU country or Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Switzerland or the USA. South Africans can apply for a visa from the Albanian consulate in London. You can check your visa requirements at www.mfa.gov.al.

Local currency
The monetary unit in Albania is the lekë (ALL). For up to date exchange rates with your own currency visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com.

Changing money, credit cards & ATMs
All major currencies can be exchanged at banks and bureaux de change. Currency markets operate on the street in front of the main post office or bank in most towns, a perfectly legal way to exchange your money and avoid bank commission. You will not be able to exchange lekë outside of Albania so make sure you exchange before you leave.
While most rural towns still deal exclusively in cash, supermarkets in cities, the better bookstores and the better boutique stores will generally accept credit or debit cards. The most widely accepted credit cards are VISA, Mastercard, and Diner’s Club. Most banks will give cash advances on credit cards with a passport. There are ATMs in most towns which you can use to withdraw cash from most international Visa and Mastercard credit or debit cards. Traveller’s cheques can be changed in banks in most larger towns.

Security
Generally people find Eastern Europe to be safe and feel confident wandering alone during the day. However if you are unfamiliar with an area it is recommended that you exercise more caution at night and taxi taxis rather than walk, especially if you are a lone female traveler. In some cities bag snatching can occur so always keep a firm hand/eye on your personal items.