With Dr Felicity Nicholson
Albania is no more dangerous from a health point of view than any other country in southeastern Europe. It is a good idea in general to keep up to date with vaccinations against tetanus, polio and diphtheria. In the UK these are normally given together and should be boosted every ten years. Other vaccinations that are worth considering are those against hepatitis A, hepatitis B and rabies.
Albanian tap water is treated and is fine for brushing teeth, but the pipes are old and most urban Albanians prefer mineral water. In the mountains, everybody drinks spring water, often piped from their own spring.
You should try to avoid drinking unpasteurised milk while you are in Albania; there is TB and brucellosis in the Albanian dairy herd. Dairy products in supermarkets and restaurants are commercially produced and properly pasteurised. Safe UHT milk is always available, even in small shops which stock homemade butter and cheese.
Travel clinics and health information
A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on this website ISTM. For other journey preparation information, consult the website Travel Health Pro (UK) or this website CDC (US). Information about various medications may be found on this website Net Doctor. All advice found online should be used in conjunction with expert advice received prior to or during travel.
Albania is a safe country for visitors. Its traditions of hospitality mean foreigners are treated with great respect; almost all Albanians will go out of their way to help you if you are lost or in trouble. In general, violent crime in Albania happens either within the underworld of organised crime or in the context of a blood feud.
A foreign visitor is highly unlikely to come into contact with either of these categories. Nevertheless, there are poor and desperate people in Albania, as there are in any other country, and thefts and muggings do occur. It is foolish to flash expensive watches or cameras around, especially in the peripheral areas of towns where the poorest people tend to live. Many travellers carry a dummy wallet with a small amount of cash in it, so that in the event of a mugging they can hand this over instead of their ‘real’ wallet full of dollars or euros.
The greatest risk most people in Albania face is on the roads, where traffic accidents are very frequent and the fatality rate is one of the highest in Europe. Until a few years ago, Albanian roads were so bad that it was difficult to drive fast enough to kill anyone. Now, though, cars zip along newly upgraded highways which are also used by villagers and their livestock. There is no stigma attached to drink-driving and practically no attempt is made to check it.
Foreign women are treated with respect in Albania, although the same respect is not always shown to Albanian women. Domestic violence, in particular, is very prevalent and almost always unreported. Outside the home, however, women are at less risk of sexual assault or rape than in any northern European country.
Of course these crimes are not completely unknown, but they are rare enough to make headline news when they happen.
Black and minority ethnic travellers
Black and minority ethnic (BAME) visitors to Albania sometimes find themselves on the receiving end of treatment that, although not racist in its intent, can make the visitor feel uncomfortable – for example, children or even adults stroking or pinching your skin out of curiosity.
Occasionally, however, BAME visitors have been verbally and even physically abused by groups of racists. There have also been sporadic reports of racist treatment by some hotel owners. Saranda seems to be especially problematic.
Homosexuality is legal in Albania. A law passed in 2010 specifically protects its citizens against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, while a 2013 amendment to the criminal code added sexual orientation and gender identity to the grounds for charges of hate crimes.
However, it is still rather taboo and the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community generally keeps a low profile. Almost no public figures are openly gay. A contestant on Albania’s version of Big Brother came out in 2010, after the anti-discrimination law had been passed, but this led to his parents being driven out of their home town.
That said, however, LGBTI travellers are unlikely to encounter hostility or discrimination in Albania, assuming they behave with reasonable discretion (as they probably would in an unfamiliar town in their own country). A couple of bars in Tirana advertise ‘gay-friendly’ evenings.
Travellers with a disability
In 2010, Albania signed the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The next step in the journey towards achieving a society based on equality for all will be the ratification of this Convention, which will set targets for improving legislation, access and employment for people with disabilities.
While this is all positive, Albania remains a deeply problematic destination for people with physical disabilities, particularly users of wheelchairs. Most pavements in Albania are not accessible, which makes independent movement nearly impossible, and most communist-era public and cultural buildings are entirely inaccessible, often with steep stairs.
Outside central Tirana, traffic lights do not have acoustic signals; public transport is completely inaccessible for wheelchair users; and the use of Braille is pretty much non-existent. All that said, however, people with reduced mobility will find Albanians eager (possibly overeager) to assist when necessary.