The Shala River (aka Lumi I Shales) is one of the highlight natural attractions of Albania, BUT not that many people know about it! The Shala River is often confused with Komani Lake and although they’re attached, they’re definitely not the same.
I stayed on the Shala River for 2 nights on my way to the Albanian Alps, so I can tell you up front this place is incredible. I won’t give you too many details right away – you’ll have to keep reading for those – but I will preface with this: the Shala River is known as the “Thailand of Albania” and I can totally see why!
Now that I’ve got you all excited about visiting “Thailand,” let’s get into the goods…
- How to get to the Shala River
- 10 reasons you need to visit the Shala River
- Tips for visiting the Shala River
- Where to stay on the Shala River
This post contains affiliate links; see my full disclosure. If you click these links and make a purchase you’re supporting The Holistic Backpacker. Thanks for your support & happy adventuring! – Taylor ♡
Quick Albania Travel Guide:
Currency: Albanian LEK (aka ALL). This is a closed currency so you’ll need to wait until you’re in Albania to exchange $.
Phone: purchase a SIM card from Vodafone in Albania – the plans are cheap and they include lots of data.
Language: Albanian, however you can totally get by with English.
Helpful Info: don’t drink the tap water, bring an international travel adapter, notify your bank before travelling.
How to get to the Shala River
Your Shala River adventures will start in Shkoder – this will be your base city for exploring the river. It’s the only city in Albania that offers a direct bus to the river, unless you pay for an expensive, private tour elsewhere
The Shala River is a side branch of the popular Komani Lake. You can access Shala River only via the Lake Komani ferry port where – you guessed it – you’ll need to catch a boat.
To break it down, the most common reason people go to Komani Lake is for A) sightseeing, and B) as a way to access Valbona Valley National Park. Most people bypass the Shala River because the main ferry doesn’t go there, it only goes from the Komani Lake ferry port to Fierza, and vice versa.
Howeverrrr, if you’re one of the lucky few who are doing proper research on Komani Lake/the Shala River, you’ll discover there are day trips and guesthouses all along this hidden section of the river!
Essentially you have two options for accessing the Shala River:
- Book a tour. If you’re coming from Tirana you can book this tour or if you’re coming from Shkoder you can book this tour.
- What I recommend – stay at one of the guesthouses along the river (I talk about all the guesthouses here).
When you book a tour and/or stay at the guesthouses they’ll arrange transportation to and from the river as well as to and from Shkoder. Essentially, they’ll take care of all the planning for you!
Alternatively, if you’re travelling with your own canoe or kayak, you can access Shala River this way as well. Just know that the distance to Lumi I Shales is far too great to do in a day. If you want to visit the river this way, bring camping gear (wild camping is permitted, but finding a spot will most likely be difficult), and plan for a multi-day excursion.
For reference, the Lumi I Shales location I keep taking about is this place on the river.
10 Reasons You Need to Visit the Shala River
1. The Shala River is the “Thailand of Albania”
I can try to explain Shala River’s scenery using all the pictures and words I want, but nothing will quite capture the wild beauty this place holds.
The water shifts from a deep green colour to light blue. There are absolutely lush, unique mountains lining the entire river that jut straight out of the water. It, honest to God, looks like a scene right out of magical Thailand; hence where it got it’s nickname
Need I go on?
^You can watch a quick recap of my time of the Shala River on my Insta!
2. There’s an Amazing Hiking Trail which Overlooks the River
I did my fair bit of hiking in Albania, but the hike I did on the Shala River… WOW, what an adventure!
The pictures speak for themselves, so I’ll go ahead and explain what the trail is like:
The trail is super technical and borderline treacherous. Let’s put it this way – I left wearing thick layer of sweat, dirt, and blood!
The trail is steep, like STEEP! I was sliding all over the place, holding onto trees as leverage so I didn’t fall down the mountain. This trail is largely scrambling, there’s few cliff traverses, and I had to bum scoot through multiple sections. I never get “wigged out” when I’m hiking, but even I was tweaking in a few of the sections on this hike.
If you’re an adventurous hiker you will absolutely thrive here, however those afraid of heights will definitely struggle.
At the highest point you’ll have a wicked view of the Shala River (on both sides of the mountain), and there’ll be a little tunnel going through the rock to the other side which is super cool.
The trail can be quite difficult to follow on your own, so I’d suggest going with the locals who run the guesthouses – they know best!
3. The VIBES
Okay I have to point out the evening vibes on the Shala River – they’re impeccable!
At night, you’ll find only the people who are staying at the guesthouses on the river. It’s totally quiet and there’s super vibe-y tropical music playing. You can see all the stars in the sky, there are fire pits, hammocks, and cute little riverside bars run by the guesthouses.
This is where I ended up post-hike which was absolutely unreal. I grabbed a beer by the river and got that whole tingly “happy to be alive” feeling.
Then, of course, I was coerced into a raki shot by the locals… If you haven’t tried raki, you must while you’re in Albania. It’s their local liquor and it’s absolutely disgusting… But it’s tradition!
4. Kayaking in the Albanian Alps
If you’re a kayaker, you’ll absolutely love kayaking on the Shala River. This is easily the most beautiful location in all of Albania to go kayaking!
There’s a cave you can explore in the area and you can jump in and go for a swim at any time.
5. You can Drink Fresh Mountain Water
In many of Albania’s cities the tap water is deemed unsafe to drink due to heavy metals and other toxins 🙁
Luckily, the water in the Shala River is perfectly safe and clean to drink! The water comes directly from the National Park of Theth and is free of any manmade materials, chemicals, or additives. Plus it tastes soooo fresh!
6. Enjoy the Outdoors!
Finding quiet nature in Albania can sometimes be challenging, however on the Shala River you’ll be completely immersed in it!
You can spend your days swimming in fresh mountain water, paddling down the Thailand-like river, hiking exciting trails, or relaxing under the stars.
The Shala River boasts some of the most scenic views in all of Albania which makes it a great place to relax and enjoy just being in nature.
7. Try Locally Sourced & Produced Food
I can’t speak for all the guesthouses on the Shala River, however when I stayed at Riverside Komani Lake everything they served was locally sourced and homemade. Like absolutely everything!
The fish came straight from Komani Lake, the honey was sourced from a bee farm down the river, the cheese was made fresh by some of their local friends, the bread and tzatziki was made right there at the guesthouse. The food was freakin’ delicious and plentiful!
8. Take a Boat Ride on the Most Beautiful Lake in Albania
If you’re a view chaser and are looking for the “best of the best” you needn’t travel any further than Komani Lake and the Shala River. These two bodies of water are 100% the most beautiful in all of Albania!
9. Extend Your Time in the Alps!
One of the reasons I wanted to spend time on the Shala River during my Albania travels was so that I could spend more time in the alps, and see more of the alps too!
If you’re venturing over to Valbona Valley National Park, the Shala River is on the way and it makes for the perfect location to break up your travels.
I’d recommend spending 1-2 nights on the Shala River before venturing over to Valbona.
10. It’s Easy to Plan!
Planning adventures in Albania can be ridiculously complicated, sometimes. The public transportation system isn’t great here and there’s extremely limited Albania-based information online.
Visiting the Shala River is easy though! If you book a tour or book a nights stay at one of the guesthouses along the river (I talk about the guesthouse options here) the operator or host will figure out all the nitty-gritty details like ferry times, transportation to/from Fierza or Lake Komani, etc.
This is probably one of the most headache-free trips available in Albania – and one of the most beautiful too!
Tips for Visiting the Shala River
1. My biggest tip for visiting the Shala River is to book a night’s stay. Don’t just breeze in and breeze out in a day because there’s lots to explore! Staying a night allows you to take advantage of the great hiking trail as well as visit and explore Shala River post tourist boom; later in the afternoon/evening.
2. Pack a bathing suit, sturdy sandals or water-shoes (I prefer Crocs), a hat, sunscreen, towel, and clothes according to the temperature.
3. There are lots of food and drink options available on the Shala River – you don’t need to pack anything, however I always recommend bringing water and snacks just in case!
4. You can drink the water straight from the river! Not the green section, but the blue water when you arrive at the final destination – you’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it.
5. Make sure you take a walk up the river. There’ll be less people around and if you’ve never hiked through river crossings this’ll be a super cool experience for you!
6. Please, please, please pack out your trash and leave nature better than you found it! The Shala River and Komani Lake are some of the most beautiful spots in Albania, but unfortunately the water is loaded with trash. This was absolutely heartbreaking to see, so please do your part to keep this area beautiful and trash-free!!!
Where to Stay on the Shala River
There are actually quite a few options for staying along the Shala River and most of them are cute little guesthouses run by locals!
If you want to stay at the furthest point in the river where all the fun riverside bars, fire pits, and beach chairs are located you can check out the Bee Eco Guesthouse or the Blini-Park Guesthouse. Both of these locations are ideal for nighttime hangouts under the stars, although they’re quite crowded during the day when the tour companies arrive.
Check prices for Bee Eco Guesthouse here.
Check prices for Blini-Park Guesthouse here.
When I stayed on the Shala River I was stationed at Riverside Komani Lake, which I can’t rave about enough! They serve delicious, locally sourced, homemade food. They have an amazing (and huge) wood deck overlooking the river. One of the family members running the guesthouse, Mark, took me on an amazing hike and kayaking multiple times. WOW was my experience with them special!
Alternatively, if Riverside Komani Lake is full there’s a guesthouse, Neomalsore Agrotourism, right up the river. I met a German couple who stayed there and they had an absolutely lovely experience.
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About The Author
Hey! I’m Taylor – the voice behind The Holistic Backpacker.
After moving to Banff National Park in 2020 I became an outdoor adventure enthusiast and vowed to never stop exploring.
I’m now focused on travelling the world and seeing everything our beautiful home has to offer.
I created The Holistic Backpacker so I could share my adventures and help connect people like you with the same amazing experiences.
I am also an advocate for the environment and do as much as I can to take care of our planet.
Get to know me and my story more here 🙂
I can’t wait to share my adventures with you!