A wise Albanian from Kosovo once told me that if heaven on earth exists, then it’s found on Karaburun…
Holding the esteemed title of ‘the largest peninsula in Albania’, Karaburun puts the baby Cape of Rodon to shame with its nearly 16-kilometer stretch of rugged, untamed beauty. With a permanent population of zero and the fact that it’s really only accessible by hiking or by boat, you can start to imagine how a heaven can thrive and what makes this place so special in comparison to the other busier bays and beaches along the coast of Albania.
Though it was on my Balkan wish list for quite a while, it took me about ten trips to Albania before I finally made it, mostly because I wasn’t quite sure how to make it. All good things come to those who wait, so I finally found myself headed out to this paradisiacal piece of land. I was accompanied by some Karaburun-Sazan National Park authorities and a jovial gentleman in a sailor hat going by the name ‘Kapiten Baçi’, from Qendër Peshkimi in Orikum.
Not quite sure how much I could trust a man who rocks a kitsch sailor hat and slacks while selling fish, I could definitely trust a man who offers me rakija for breakfast and it’s from that moment I knew Kapiten Baçi and I were going to be good friends. After some tasty llokuma (Albanian doughnuts) and just enough distilled liquid fruit to keep our engines running, we all boarded the rangers’ dinghy and motored off yonder to survey the Karaburun situation.
Located at the top of southern Albania in the district of Vlorë and where the Adriatic Sea meets the Ionian Sea, Karaburun is surrounded by the Karaburun-Sazan National Marine Park, which is the only national marine park in the country. While the peninsula itself is a managed nature reserve, all eyes are on the preservation of the incredible marine flora and fauna, giant caves, and meadows of seagrass that can be found unda da sea.
It’s a diver’s dream as far as spots go in Albania to get your PADI on with its rich biodiversity plus a few sunken ship options; for the non-diver, simply an amazing place to explore by boat or chill in a (mostly) undeveloped beach setting. Aside from the peninsula, you can also head out to Sazan, Albania’s largest island and an old Cold War submarine base, which was only opened to the public in 2015. During the summer small ferry boats are coming from Radhimë, Orikum, and I think Vlorë to drop people at some of the beaches on the east side of the peninsula, but if you can track down a private boat rental or a legend like Kapiten Baçi (068 40 33369/ 069 61 48 691) to take you around, I think you will have a much better experience.
Sadly we were short on time and it was early October so I didn’t get to see or swim Karaburun like I had imagined I would, but maybe it was for the better. We pretty much had the entire eastern side to ourselves (minus one illegal octopod hunter we encountered and reprimanded) including Haxhi Ali’s cave which just may be the jewel in Karaburun’s crown found close to the westernmost point of the peninsula.
Believe me when I say the photos don’t due the magic of this place nor its colors justice and its history as a pirate hideout makes it all the more mystical. Unsure how crowded it gets during the busy months, but a new experience on my wish list is an off-season private party in there with 6-8 of my closest friends. And, of course, Kapiten Baçi.
Another interesting place for a potential party we stopped on our way back towards Orikum was an old Communist bunker built into the side of a cliff near Shën Jan. Due to its geographical position and geological goodies (marble quarries have existed here since antiquity), Karaburun has always been a place where interesting people have passed through with ancient inscriptions in the cliffs to prove it – like Mark Anthony… the Roman one… allegedly.
A bit further down we made a final stop off at Shën Vasil which is where a majority of the tourists get dropped off by boat for the day and one of the only spots you can find a beach hut serving refreshments in the summer months. Thankfully Kapiten Baçi had an in and we were greeted by the proprietors who happened to still be hanging around with some fresh cheese and wine glasses for the rest of our rakia. Classy.
Karaburun is absolutely one of the most peaceful parts of Albania I think you can find and indeed some kind of heaven on earth. We barely scratched the surface in terms of seeing all that Karaburun has to offer – some of the best beaches in Albania are found on the western, Ionian side including Dafina Bay and Grama Bay – but everything in time. And for sure everything with the right cast of characters.
Originally published on Balkanvibe