The Peaks of the Balkans takes hikers through the spectacular Accursed Mountains and crosses through Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro. Along the way hikers are treated to stunning views, friendly locals, and hospitable guesthouses.
Many hikers opt to use a guide to navigate the sometimes tricky logistics of planning a Peaks of the Balkans hike, but we’re here to tell you it is possible (and even fun!) to plan your own self-guided trip. We hiked the trail on our own, camping each night, and navigating without a guide – and it was a truly amazing experience!
We’ve compiled everything you need to know to plan your own self-guided Peaks of the Balkans trip in this guide in the hopes it will inspire you to plan your own trek through this amazing corner of the world!
In this Guide
- Self Guided Peaks of the Balkans Planning
- Peaks of the Balkans: Guided vs. Self Guided
Self-Guided Peaks of the Balkans Planning
The Peaks of the Balkans can be an intimidating trek to plan on your own. The trail and infrastructure isn’t as well developed as some of the more popular treks in Europe, which will make some aspects of the planning more difficult.
This includes the fact that English isn’t as widely spoken as other regions, special border crossing permits are required, and the trail isn’t always clearly marked. However, all of these challenges are easily solved with a bit of research, some advance preparation, and the right resources at your disposal.
Before starting, we recommend familiarizing yourself with the trail by reading our Complete Guide to the Peaks of the Balkans. From there, you’ll have a good sense of what to expect, and some of the basics of preparing for a self-guided hike.
Next, you’ll jump into creating an itinerary, arranging transit to/from the hike, and booking your accommodation. Finally, you’ll want to be prepared to navigate on the trail, which can be notoriously difficult to do!
We’ll go through each of these steps and more to help you plan your perfect self-guided Peaks of the Balkans adventure in the following sections.
Step One: Pick Your Dates
The first step may seem obvious, but you’ll need to decide your general dates for hiking the trail. If you have some flexibility that can be extremely valuable as it gives you more options should guesthouses be full. The Peaks of the Balkans is a summer trail, and we’ve provided some general information on the different months to hike the trail below:
- May: Detours required to avoid snow and some guesthouses not yet open. Mild temperatures, but typically quite rainy. Only recommended if you can’t do June.
- June: This is when we hiked the trail and generally recommend June to most hikers. While there can still be plenty of snow remaining, especially in the first half of the month, the weather is generally pleasant. Most guesthouses will be open and more hikers are out on the trail. Incredible wildflowers in bloom.
- July & August: Expect mostly snow-free trails and hot temps. These are the driest months, although unsettled weather is always a possibility in the mountains. This is the busiest time on the trails, so it’s a good idea to book your accommodation in advance. Wild blueberries are at their peak during these months.
- September: This is a lovely month to hike, with cooler temperatures and minimal snow on the trail. Expect more moisture than in the summer months.
Step Two: Create Your Self-Guided Peaks of the Balkans Itinerary
Ok, so clearly this is a big step.
Setting your itinerary is often the most intimidating part of planning a self-guided trek. To start, we recommend familiarizing yourself with the various stages on the trail – read about what each day entails, how long it is, and what your options for accommodation at the end of the day are. Check out our suggested itinerary for more details.
Our stage-by-stage itinerary is a good place to start and we also recommend picking up the Cicerone Peaks of the Balkans Guidebook. It’s a bit out of date at this point, but still has invaluable information on the trail.
Here is the standard self-guided Peaks of the Balkans itinerary that most hikers will utilize:
- Stage 1: Theth to Valbona
- Stage 2: Valbona to Çeremi
- Stage 3: Çeremi to Dobërdol
- Stage 4: Dobërdol to Milishevc
- Stage 5: Milishevc to Rekë e Allagës
- Stage 6: Rekë e Allagës to Drelaj
- Stage 7: Drelaj/Restaurant Te Liqeni to Babino Polje
- Stage 8: Babino Polje to Plav
- Stage 9: Plav to Vusanje
- Stage 10: Vusanje to Theth
The most common alternative to this is to begin your hike in Plav rather than Theth. Transportation can be a bit easier to Plav, so many hikers opt to begin there. Don’t worry, we’ll cover getting to/from the trail for the self-guided hiker in more detail below.
Step Three: Book Your Accommodation
Once you’ve got your itinerary set you’re going to want to book your accommodation. Yes, that will likely lock you in to an itinerary and limit some flexibility, but many of the guesthouses on the route do get fully booked up by those pesky hikers on a guided trek.
The best way to book your lodging is to use our comprehensive Peaks of the Balkans Accommodation Guide, which details the options available at each stop along the route.
Nearly all of the accommodation along the Peaks of the Balkans trail is provided at family-run guesthouses, which are an undeniable highlight of the trek. These vary quite a bit from place to place, from private en suite rooms to basic dormitories.
All of the guesthouses provide hot showers, delicious home-cooked meals, and welcoming hospitality. Most offer wifi and electronics charging. Bed linens are typically provided, but it’s a good idea to bring your own towel and a backup sleep sheet.
Staying at guesthouses is one of the best ways to support the local economy, experience the culture, and make the most of your trip.
If you plan to camp on the route (highly recommended!) you can disregard this step as you can simply turn up with your tent at most of the guesthouses along the route.
Want to learn how to create your own route and itinerary?
Our GPS Route Making & Navigation Course will teach you everything you need to know to build your own custom itinerary. We’ll show you how to map your route, create custom GPS files, sync routes to your phone, and even print your own maps. Learn more below:
Ready to take control of your trip planning? We’re here to help you create your own custom itinerary and navigate like a pro!
Learn more about our GPS Route Making & Navigation Course here!
Step Four: Arrange Your Transit To/From the Trail
Once you’ve got your itinerary & accommodation set it’s time to think about how you’ll get to and from the trail.
Access is straightforward to a number of stopping points along the trail, with the easiest and most common starting points being Theth, Albania and Plav, Montenegro.
It’s best to choose the one that gives you the easiest travel to and from the region. As most travelers will be traveling through one of the major cities in the area, we’ve organized the options accordingly.
Tirana, Albania to Theth, Albania
If you’re traveling through Tirana, the best place to start your trek is in Theth. To get there, you’ll need to take a minibus first to Shkodër (2 hours) and then get on another minibus from there to Theth (2.5 hours).
While it is possible to navigate the bus system independently, if you are short on time and don’t speak Albanian we recommend arranging your transportation through a tour company like Choose Balkans or Zbulo. Expect to pay about €60 per person for a return trip.
Podgorica, Montenegro to Plav, Montenegro
Traveling through Podgorica is arguably the easiest way to get to and from the Peaks of the Balkans. There are several daily buses that leave for Plav from the main bus station in Podgorica. The journey takes about 4 hours. It is also possible to arrange a taxi or transfer between the two.
Pristina, Kosovo to Pejë to Rugova Valley
It is a bit less straightforward to get from Pristina to the trail, but still a decent option for those coming from that direction. First, you’ll need to take a bus from the main bus station in Pristina to Pejë (2 hours). Buses run about every 20 minutes and tickets cost ~€5 per person one way. From Pejë, it’s possible to take a bus to the end of the road in the Rugova Valley, where you can walk about 5km to join the trail in Rekë e Allagës.
Step Five: Get Your Border Crossing Permit
Given that the trail crosses the borders of three countries, hikers are required to obtain and carry a border crossing permit for their trek. While there are no official checkpoints, there is a good chance you’ll be stopped by the police and asked for your permit.
This is a step that surely intimidates many would be self-guided Peaks of the Balkans trekkers – but it shouldn’t!
We were stopped by Montenegrin Police just outside of Babino Polje – they wanted to take a look at our passports, but never inquired about the border crossing permit and we were on our merry way in a few minutes. Go figure!
Regardless of that story, it’s important that you obtain your cross border permit well in advance of your hike. At a minimum, you need to apply for your permit at least two weeks prior to beginning your trek.
While you can arrange this on your own, this is a specific instance where we highly recommend working with a local guiding company. You can arrange your permit through the tour company, Zbulo. Complete a quick online form and they’ll email your permit in a few days.
Well worth the price for the convenience!
Step Six: Make a Plan to Navigate on the Trail
This is probably the most difficult aspect of planning a self-guided Peaks of the Balkans trip. The trail can often be difficult to follow, with junctions not clearly marked, and most maps badly out of date for the current route.
There are some specific sections of the trail that are especially tricky to navigate on, which you can read about in our Peaks of the Balkans Maps & Routes post.
The best solution to this issue to to come prepared with your own GPS map for the entire route. We created a custom GPS file for our own Peaks of the Balkans hike, and it saved us from getting lost countless times!
Even when we did venture a bit of course, having the GPS map made it easy to see where we were and where we needed to get to. A true savior many times on the trail!
If you want to learn how to make your own Peaks of the Balkans offline route (or a route for any other hike) check out our GPS Route Making & Navigation Course, which will teach you everything you need to know to build your own custom itinerary. We’ll show you how to map your route, create custom GPS files, sync routes to your phone, and even print your own maps.
If you already have experience working with .gpx files, we recommend mapping out your route in an app such as Gaia GPS in advance, using the ‘Outdoor’ layer to help identify the trail.
Additionally, bringing a physical guidebook like the version from Cicerone mentioned above will be immensely helpful. Although it is getting a bit out of date, it still has good general information on the trail and navigating.
As far as paper maps go, don’t waste your time bothering with those. They are so out of date and inaccurate for the route at this point that they’ll likely do more harm than good.
Finally, if you find yourself really unsure of navigating on the trail, simply try to time your departure with that of a guided group. You can hike in their general vicinity to be sure you make all the right turns – just be sure they are headed to the same destination as your are! Also, you might consider buying the guide a beer to two as a thanks at your next guesthouse 🙂
Step Seven: Pack Your Bags for the Balkans!
Ok, at this point you’ve got your itinerary set, accommodation booked, and a good understanding of the trail. All that’s left is to pack your bags and head to the Balkans!
In terms of what to bring, you’ll want all the essentials for a multi-day hiking trip. Our Peaks of the Balkans Packing List is the perfect resource to consult for every last item.
However, there are a few key items for the self-guided hiker to be sure they pack:
- Bug spray: There is a reason this is first on the list. Bring (or buy) it!
- Camping Gear: Camping is the perfect option for self-guided hikers as you’ll have tons of flexibility and won’t need advance reservations.
- Sleep sheet: If you are staying in guesthouses, a good sleep-sheet is advisable.
- Water filter: Most guesthouses have clean drinking water, but we recommend bringing a small filter regardless.
Peaks of the Balkans: Guided vs. Self-Guided
Ok, by this point you likely have a good idea if a self-guided trip is for you. However, if you’re still not sure, we’ve highlighted some of the key factors to help you decide between a guided or self-guided Peaks of the Balkans trek.
If you don’t mind being more self-sufficient and doing a bit of route-finding in places, you’ll probably enjoy hiking on your own. This allows you more solitude and flexibility throughout your trip. You can still purchase meals and meet other hikers at the guesthouses along the trail. We hiked on our own and we were happy with our decision.
On the other hand, if you don’t want to worry about navigating or other logistics and you enjoy the social aspect of hiking with a group, going with a guide might be a good choice. Additionally, most guided tours provide baggage transfers, a helpful service for many hikers. Check out some pros/cons for each option below:
Peaks of the Balkans Self-Guided
- Increased flexibility
- More rewarding to have completed the trek on your own
- Save money!
- Have your own experience
- Booking accommodation can be more difficult
- Have to navigate the trail on your own
- Many (but not all) guesthouses cater more towards guided trips – be prepared to wait a bit longer for dinner!
- Have to arrange your own transit to/from the trail
Peaks of the Balkans Guided
- Accommodation (and sometimes transit) arranged for you
- Guides can provide great information on the trail and surrounding region
- Support the local economy (you will still do this self-guided!)
- Never worry about getting lost
- Often includes luggage transfer
- More expensive
- Less flexibility
- Potential that you won’t like hiking with your group
Have a great adventure!
We hope this post has given you some additional insights into how to plan a self-guided Peaks of the Balkans trek. We had an amazing time when we hiked the trail on our own, and want to be sure that all hikers feel empowered to plan this trek themselves!
Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about planning your own trip, and be sure to check out the rest of our Peaks of the Balkans resources below: