|Balkans Loop: Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia|
Last month, June 2019, we (family of 4) headed to Europe, explored around part of the Balkan Peninsula, mostly ex-Yugoslavia, along with visiting Istanbul and Doha on the way:
June 8-12 Doha
June 12-17 Istanbul
June 17-20 Serbia
June 20-22 Macedonia
June 22-26 Albania
June 26-29 Montenegro
June 29-2 Bosnia
Some Balkan Countries - 5 to be precise: Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, and Bosnia - offer visa free access to those who have valid US visa. We visited the US in 2015 so our 5 Year Multiple Visa was still valid, giving us the opportunity to explore these beautiful places. Interestingly, Turkey also provides the facility of eVisa for US visa holders which we happily availed. And since we took Qatar Airways so it was most appropriate to avail the Visa on Arrival facility which Qatar has only recently started for Pakistani citizens.
Balkan Countries are well connected with each other by road. The best way to explore all these countries is to hire a car and drive, but since I am not enthusiastic about driving so we took buses from one country to the other, which was pretty doable, if not too comfortable.
So for us, it was a combination of flights, buses, and taxis for inter-country traveling:
Karachi - Doha - Istanbul: Qatar Airways
Istanbul - Belgrade: Pegasus Airlines
Belgrade - Skopje - Sarande - Podgorica - Sarajevo: Buses/Taxis
Sarajevo - Doha - Karachi: Qatar Airways
Balkan Part 1: Serbia-Macedonia-Albania
We flew into Belgrade from Istanbul, explored around the capital for a day, and then left for the town of Cuprija, where a kind Serbian local Gordana showed around the stunning Serbian countryside including 80 Million Years Old Ice Age Cave Complex which is called Resava.
From Cuprija, we continued Southwards and took bus to the Macdenonian Capital Skopje where we stayed for two nights and explored Matkay Canyon for kayaking, first-time for us. Before the water sports, the same morning, we took cable car ride to the top of the hill within Skopje to have a bird eye-view of the city.
From Skopje, we wanted to make it to South Albania, to the coastal town of Sarande, located right in front of the Greek Island of Corfu on the Mediterranean. Since direct bus between Skopje-Sarande had to start from July only, in the high season, so we first took the early morning Skopje-Tirana bus. Tirana is the capital of Albania and a regional transportation hub. Rather than going all the way to Tirana we got off the bus after crossing Macedonia-Albania border at a road junction near the town of Rrogozhinë. From there, we tried stopping Sarande bound mini-buses. In the meantime, we saw a minibus going to Vlore, a town on the same coast, hoping that we will find something from there for Sarande. When we reached Vlore, around 2pm, it appeared that there was no more public transport to Sarande for the day, and either we had to wait for the next morning or get a taxi.
We chose the second option, after some tough bargaining, which proved to be a great decision. 125km Vlore-Sarande road runs through the lush green hills with stunning coastal views throughout the journey. In Sarande, we took a break for 4 nights and chilled around the pristine beaches including a day trip to the divine Ksamil beach.
Balkan Part 2: Albania-Montenegro-Bosnia
Sarande, Albania was our farthest destination and the most Southwards. From there, we once again headed to the North, on a different route though to complete the loop.
From Sarande, we took early morning bus to Tirana first. From Tirana we expected to take another bus either to Albania-Montenegro border, or to all the way to Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro. Failing to find an immediate connection, we boarded on the ready minibus to Shkoder, the border town, where we took the taxi to cross the border and to reach Podgorica.
In Podgorcia, we stayed for 3 nights. Explored the coastal town of Kotor and Budva as one day trip, and then on the other day took the mountain train to the town of Bijelo Polje, again as a day trip.
From Montenegro we continued further North through Podgorica-Sarajevo bus, which was pretty straight forward. We reached Sarajevo, dumped our luggage, and took another bus the same evening to the Bosnian countryside to the town of Konjic, a hill station one hour drive from Sarajevo, for white water rafting. We came back to Sarajevo the next day, stayed there for two nights, explored around the rebuilt city, before catching the return flight on 2nd July.
In the coming days, I would like to share details and photos of this interesting journey - schedule permitting. So stay tuned!
Here I would like to thank all the locals and friends we stayed with and those who helped us with precious information about exploring around an uncharted territory for a typical Pakistani traveler.