I have to admit something…
I made a few mistakes when I traveled to southern Albanian that I would like to re-do. That is why I have prepared this little Dhermi guide of things I wish the freakin’ internet had told me before I hopped on a plane to Albania.
My original plan with the Albanian riviera was to spend two or three days in Sarandë, and one or two days in Dhërmi. But it ended up being the reverse because I got offered to perform at Havana Beach Bar, Dhërmi’s biggest nightclub. This required me to stay longer because there were a lot of scheduling issues.
In hindsight however, I shouldn’t have stayed that long.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Dhërmi. It is a quiet, beautiful, little town. At some moments, it even felt like a village by the beach. Thus, it is not really designed for tourists relying on public transportation because it is not easy to get to. And because it is so quiet, you’ll want to explore nearby towns, sights and beaches. But they are practically impossible to get to if you haven’t rented a car. Your other transportation options will be busses that never come, hitchhiking, long distance walking, or paying for overpriced tourist trap taxis.
I wish I knew this before going and I want other people going to Dhermi and the Albanian riviera to know what’s up. So allow me to elaborate on the FIVE things you should know before you travel to Dhërmi so that you have a more fulfilling trip than I did.
Your trip will be soooo much better if you rent a car.
Compared to the reliable and frequent transportation systems in Montenegro and Croatia that link their coastal towns through mountainous terrains, Albania is much further behind.
Probably the most disappointing thing about Dhërmi and southern Albania was that I realized how limited I was to explore Dhërmi and nearby towns and beaches because we didn’t rent a car. Albania’s public transportation infrastructure still needs a lot of improvement. Even if we rented a car for one of the three days we were there, our trip would have been so much better.
Foreigners don’t know this because the Albanian riviera is better marketed to Albanians with money, and it is the more affluent Albanians with nice cars that you will see in Dhermi. That is the reason the town is so quiet. The more modest Albanians are all in Sarandë enjoying a better infrastructure for tourists to get by on foot and taxi.
There is not so much to do in Dhërmi. It really gets boring after half a day, which is why, your trip will be so much more fulfilling if you visit the neighboring towns and beaches. Gjipe beach and gorge, only 10 minutes away by car, has the most secluded, stranded by shipwreck look to it… but no bus goes there. Jala beach, with the biggest and best night club Folie Terrace, is only 15 minutes away by car. But no busses go there. Other places that are only 15-45 minutes away by car are Himara (the most populous and “happening” city on this coastal stretch north of Sarandë), Palasë (a quieter beach town), Porto Palermo (an even quieter beach town with an epic secluded fortress), Llogara (a jawdropping mountain pass) and the Ceraunian mountains of course for hiking.
The pebbled Dhermi beach is stunning! But I needed a little more exploration and sightseeing to my trip which was impossible without a car.
In theory, most of those places are no more than 15-30 minutes away by car. But the Albanian riviera is a long stretch of winding roads in the mountains, and so a drive to a nearby beach or town that shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes by car ends up being 30-40 minutes by bus. And that’s if the bus even comes. And guys, the bus won’t come! They are so infrequent in Southern Albania.
You can also take a taxi, but they will try to charge you at least 25-30 euros one way! I was shocked by this because I was with my friend who was Albanian from Kosovo. I thought, surely because he was Albanian, we would get a break. But we didn’t. If I could do Dhërmi all over again, I would have rented a car for at least one day to visit Gjipe around brunch time and then spend the rest of the afternoon and evening in Himarë. Gjipe is in my opinion, one of the best kept secrets from tourists in the entire Balkans. And if I just had a damn car, I could have gone to it because no bus goes there. Even Albanians don’t go there so much.
So if you can rent a car even for a day, DO IT.
Where to rent a car?
I recommend Sixt car rental, as a lot of my expat friends who have traveled extensively through Albania used this service. It has locations in Saranda, Vlora and Tirana, which is great because whether you start your trip from the north or the south of the country, you have prime locations to pick-up and drop-off the car.
Be prepared to be exhausted from walking.
Rruga Perivolo, the road that leads to the beach, will be the cardio you never asked for.
Dhërmi is basically one giant hill with vacation houses, bed and breakfasts, and tiny hotels. It has one main road called Rruga Perivolo, which starts at the top on the main highway, SH8, and goes all the way down to the beach.
If you stay in an Airbnb or use Booking.com where you can find affordable seaside accommodations like I did, you will most likely be closer to the top of the road. And I am warning you now, the beach is about a 20 minute walk.That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you don’t want to spend more than $30 a night. You will read people saying that it is 10 or 15 minute walk, but they are lying. That, or they are paying more money to stay closer to the beach.
But be warned that the Rruga Perivolo road to the beach is STEEP! It will really test your endurance, especially if you have had a few beers or laid out lazily in the sun for hours. It will leave you gasping for air and your thighs will be in pain.
If you check out my video below around the 45 second mark, you will see how out of breath I was!
My friend that came with me was complaining the whole time because he hated walking up the hill. I don’t think it was the end of the world and I welcomed it as a fun challenge, but it was definitely exhausting.
So if you are a premadonna like him, there’s two solutions. One is to rent a car and drive to the beach. The other is to pay a little extra every day to stay at a more expensive location by the beach. This is probably a good time to tell you that I have a $40 off discount code with Airbnb if you want an accommodation closer to the beach.
Dhermi Nightlife is very underwhelming.
Oh Dhermi Albania nightlife. Sigh.
A huge reason I was interested in Dhërmi and its neighboring beaches, such as Jala and Himarë is because I saw a bunch of youtube videos prior to going that showed some really insane beach parties. But while I was in Dhermi for three days, not a single wild beach party took place. Apparently, Dhërmi is more exciting on the weekend, but we were there on a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Dhërmi’s most popular club is called Havana Beach Bar. I thought I would go there and have one of the best nightlife experiences in the Balkans. But I was mistaken because it was quite subdued. I later found out that the club has another location in Palasë, and it is that location that the club owners used to promote the club online with a lot of their youtube videos. And of course, without a car, getting to Palasë at night was impossible.
That was disappointing for me and my friend because we wanted to relax at the beach during the day and then party at night. The image we had of Dhermi nightlife from watching youtube videos did not live up to expectations. Had we known this, we definitely would have spent more time in Sarandë. Sarandë is also much quieter on the weekdays, but it still has a lot more bars and restaurants to check out every night of the week whereas Dhërmi really had only one.
For such a small place, Dhërmi has a colorful population.
My favorite restaurant Harmonia, owned by a sassy Italian lady.
One of the most interesting things of note about Dhërmi is that you will occasionally meet Greek and Italian business owners who set up Airbnbs, restaurants and hotels there. The owner of my Airbnb was from Greece. He and I had a lot of fun debating about the Balkans and the history of some of the countries. Of course, he had a lot to say about Macedonia (if you don’t know, Macedonia and Greece have had a long dispute over the name “Macedonia”).
Also very interesting in Dhërmi is that there is an indigenous population of people who look nothing like Albanians. They are much darker in skin complexion, and from what I understand, they are not Roma people (I honestly can’t find what they are called anywhere on the internet). They work a lot of the menial jobs near the beach, so you will see them a lot. But you will rarely see them anywhere else in Albania throughout your travels in the country.
How close is Dhërmi to Saranda, Vlora, Himara, and more?
I arrived in Dhërmi by bus from Sarandë. This bus takes the SH8 highway route, which goes all the way to the north of Albania. The bus left at 11 a.m. in the morning and arrived in Dhërmi at around 1 p.m (the route from Dhermi to Saranda is about 2-2.5 hours by car, but by bus, the Dhermi to Saranda route will be at least three hours). If you are coming from Saranda, there will be only one or two busses going to Dhërmi, so be sure to catch it on time! Although, I do hope the route between Dhermi to Saranda has improved since my writing of this!
Dhërmi is part of Vlorë county, the county that holds most of the riviera. The Tirana to Dhermi distance is about 4.5 hours, while there is about a three hour Vlore to Dhermi distance. Dhërmi is about 30-45 mins north of Himara (Himarë) by bus. I initially wanted to go from Vlore to Dhermi, but then I decided to stick to the more southern towns. There is a Tirana to Dhermi bus that leaves several times a day from the Tirana bus terminal, although I believe the bus from Dhermi to Tirana that I caught at 8 a.m. in the morning only comes a few more times in the day. So check the times at the bus stop and check with the driver.
I had heard there is an hourly shuttle bus between Dhërmi and Himarë, but I did not use it. Some other nearby beaches and towns are Palasë, Jal (Jala), Vuno, Gjipe, Llagora Pass and Porto Palermo. I would suggest to stay in Dhërmi or Himarë if you do not have a car. If you are staying at Sea Turtle camping, you can actually get off at the Dhërmi stop. From there, walk down Rruga Perivolo and veer right down the path instead of left (which would take you to Dhërmi’s southern and strip).