If you are planning to go visiting Valbona or hiking in the Albanian Alps, there is no better way to do it than taking the Koman Lake ferry, that guarantees impressive sceneries on the way. While not a direct ride, since the boat is connecting the two villages of Koman and Fierze, and other transportation options need to be used before and after, it's worth the hassle of changing vehicles many times.
If you are planning to reach Valbona from other places than Shkodër, we suggest you to check also this article written by locals, with other transportation options.
Shkodër to Koman by bus... missed!
The bus from Shkodër to Koman is leaving in the early morning (before 7am) at walking distance from the pedestrian area in the center of the city, to be able to reach Koman before 9 am when the boats are departing.
Make sure to always check locally all prices, schedule, and bus stop location, since they can change quite randomly.
Sleepy and disoriented, we unfortunately got lost in the center of Shkodër and missed the only bus going to Koman harbour: the only solution left was hitchhiking, since a private taxi was out of our budget.
Not thinking too much, knowing that our time was limited, we started to walk out of the city trying to stop cars at the same time, and soon we got a ride to Vau i Dejes in our desperate attempt to reach the ferry in time.
But from this town the road was forking going towards unknown lands: we asked locals how far was Koman harbour, and we were answered it was just a couple of km away. We started to walk on a rather isolated road with no traffic whatsoever until a car stopped some km later: they were going exactely to Koman ferry and took us "Ska lek" (without lek, for free).
Eventually we realized how lucky we were: the boat pier was actually 26km away and not 2 as we were said, and the car that picked us up was the only one that would eventually reach this isolated place! That's why we would seriously advice against hitchhiking this route: unless you really get stuck, your chances of getting to Koman are minimal. So you better take a local bus and make sure to know where is it leaving from.
Our journey on the Koman Lake by Bus Boat
In Koman harbour there were just a couple of bars and a lot of local people waiting for the public ferry to go. Oh yes, and packages: probably more packages than people!
We preferred to take the "Bus Boat" to Fierze rather than the touristic ship "Mario Molla", even if the prices for the 2 hours trip were comparable (about 5€). The Mario Molla boat didn't look any fancier, but as far as we understood it was included a small breakfast, consisting of a packed brioche.
The bus boat was having comfortable seats to sit inside, a basic toilet on the back and some outdoor space all around mostly taken by the luggage of the passengers.
Of course we wanted to stay outside, and eventually we managed to find our spot: we could sit in front of the boat with our legs hanging over the water, enjoying the impressive sceneries passing in front of our eyes, and inspecting local life coming and going.
The boat itself was a container of local life mixed with youngster and old folks carriying livestock, construction materials, beers and any "luxurious" products coming from the city.
It looked like the boat didn't have any fixed stop: wherever there was somebody standing or waving, the boat was stopping.
Koman Lake is nowadays the only transportation route for these remote villages that got completely isolated when the valley was flooded in 1970 to provide power to a massive hydroelectric plant.
While the boat was going, I was wondering how it was supposed to be the landscape before the lake came into existence, if there were any roads connecting to the city, or if the villages where isolated even at that time, and how the life of the villagers changed with the creation of the dam. Probably this isolation that they experience now, promoted the conservation of a more traditional society here. While it's seen everywhere in Albania, we have seen in this area many old women wearing the black mourning clothes: we were told that after a certain age they basically wear black clothes constantly because members of the family dye one after the other.
At the same time while the boat was carrying its human load closer to destination, I was wondering about the beauty of this place and its scenery: I would usually be against such an impacting project, destroying the original environment and ecosystem, but after seeing the result, it was difficult not to enjoy what humans made with the help of Mother Nature.
While I was lost in my thoughts, the boat would suddenly stop again in the middle of nowhere to let one of its passenger reach the several generations of his family waiting in the bank with donkeys ready to carry the heavy load coming from the city.
If I would ever go back there, it would be one of my priority to go down in one of those random stops and explore local life and villages. Quoting a message I read in a discussion in Lonely Planet forum dating 4 years ago: "You can find a coke-free abandoned village by getting off the Lake Koman ferry halfway and hiking for a few hours west towards Thethi - in a hidden valley there's a valley with a village that was deserted some time ago, with houses still intact, cups on the shelves, apparently."
And better than words probably photos can describe the views we were enjoying along our way, with small villages, hidden waterfalls and steep peaks appearing and disappearing while waiting for the next boat.
From Fierze to Bajram Curri
The last stop of the bus boat is the harbour of Fierze, still in the middle of nowhere some km away from civilization, but with a good but empty road beside it.
Once arrived in Fierze there were a couple of jeeps waiting for tour tourists and a minibus. To our disappointment we found out that the driver of the minibus was an employee of the boat that tried to scam us. We refused the overpriced ride and put all of our hopes once again in our thumbs.
We had to walk a few km before one of the very few vehicles stopped, and after changing a couple of rides and passing through villages with pigs roaming free, we were in Bajram Curri. Here we had to stock up with food, since we didn't know what to expect from the culinary offer of Valbona and Thethi. A public furgon to Valbona, leaves daily around 2:30pm, but we decided to still try our luck hitchhiking.
Last ride to Valbona
And good that we did, since very quickly we were taken on a jeep by a man with his daughter. They were speaking some basic English and we understood that they were not going to Valbona, but somewhere on the way. We still accepted the ride and we were treated like guests on an day trip, stopping for photos and enjoying the views.
The road was an off road path at the beginning, but soon it turned into a nice and new asphalted road, that probably by today is reaching all the way down the valley, making much easier the access to Valbona.
The ride lasted longer than we were expecting and eventually we just entered in a highland with an amazing view of the Albanian Alps on the background, that caught us unprepared and left us breathless.
We understood that the man was actually going all the way to Valbona, but possibly at the beginning he said he didn't, because since Valbona Valley is many km long, his own district had probably a more specific name.
After leaving the daughter at home, the nice man drove us a few km further away to the end of the asphalted road where the hiking trail to Thethi is beginning, and where we could start looking for a place to camp and relax, while impressing in our memories the amazing experience we had on the Koman Lake bus boat.