When I planned my trip to Albania, I went back and forth on whether to stay in Saranda, the large beach city in Southern Albania, or Ksamil, a small town just south of Saranda with “the most beautiful beaches.” I elected for the latter based on the promise of the most beautiful beaches. After staying there, I am not confident that it indeed has the most beautiful beaches, but it was a relaxing stay for a few days with a gorgeous coastline. This article provides valuable information for those planning a trip to Ksamil. Side note – this information is from the July; Ksamil is different off season.
Ksamil (silent “K”) is a tiny beach town 12 kilometers south of Saranda, Albania. Located between the turquoise waters of the Ionian Sea and the mussel filled waters of Butrint Lagoon, with three idyllic islands within swimming distance of Ksamil, Ksamil is extremely popular with Albanian and foreign beachgoers in the summer. The fact that its directly across from Corfu, Greece and accessible by a 30 minute ferry adds to its charm.
Ksamil has two main areas in my opinion, the low lying beach areas that are almost completely full of beach clubs, where beachgoers rent breach chairs and umbrellas for the day, and beach front restaurants and bars, almost all of which turn into bumping night clubs in the evening.
Off the beach and up a slight hill, Ksamil is still very touristy, but a bit less crazy. At the “top” of town are still lots of hotels, sit down restaurants, many of the seafood variety, bars, grocery stores, and other shops that one would need in day to day life. I didn’t find much to “see” except the beaches in Ksamil, but the top of town is definitely worth a walk and a meal if you have time. Better prices can be found at the top of town too.
We spent a few days in Ksamil in July 2022 staying right on Poda Beach, the heart and center of Ksamil. And yes, Ksamil and Poda Beach were gorgeous. However, Ksamil is JAM PACKED in the Summer with tourists and everything tourist related, which took away from the natural beauty of the area. I’m talking street vendors on every road selling trinkets, amusement park style rides, every water sport imaginable in the water, including multiple inflatable obstacle courses in the water, and even a picturesque “swing” in the water (see above photo). I didn’t like this aspect of Ksamil.
What I did like, however, were the cheap cheap prices, good food, nice people, and excellent weather. I would definitely return if in the area already or on an extended Europe trip; I don’t think I would fly from the USA against just for Albania, but never say never!
HOW TO GET TO KSAMIL
Tourists have two options to get to Ksamil. The first is to take a motor vehicle from elsewhere in Albania. We drove from Berat (err, someone drove us). The drive took about 5.5 hours, despite Google maps giving us a trusty 3:45 estimate… The drive was full of hairpin turns, and it was not inexpensive. I recommended renting a car rather than hiring a driver if you can manage the turns. A bus is another option. There are currently no trains.
The second option, which is how we got out, is to take a water ferry to Corfu, Greece. Ferries depart from Saranda frequently at a cost of 25 euro per person. We booked the day before travel. The closets international airport is also in Corfu. You need a passport to travel between Albania and Corfu, Greece via ferry.
WHERE TO STAY IN KSAMIL
Ksamil has a variety of accommodations, from upscale hotels to very modest hotels to rooms for hire. In fact, we say many people holding up rental signs at the top of town. No matter where one stays, there are definitely umbrellas and chairs for rent somewhere on the water. In choosing a room, I would particularly look for air conditioning and confirm what, if anything, is included with the room. If you are not looking for a rental of unknown quality, I recommend booking in advance, which is what we did.
We stayed at the grand Poda Boutique Hotel in the center of Ksamil. The Poda Boutique Hotel was certainly much pricer than other accommodations, but it was very nice and included half board (breakfast and dinner). I will post a separate review of the Poda Boutique Hotel, so stay tuned for that! But, in the mean time, if you are looking for luxury in Ksamil, Poda is a good choice. The location was 100%, the rooms were really great, and the AC worked very well. The staff at Poda was also on hand to cater to whatever we needed and English was fluently spoken. My one complaint is that Poda, as well as many businesses in the area, did not accept credit card. We had to pay for our entire stay in cash…
WHAT WE DID IN KSAMIL
As you will see if you keep reading, there is not that much to do in Ksamil besides beach activities and partying at night. In any case, here is a recap of our stay, as well as a few things that we skipped.
Honestly, most of our time was spent relaxing in and around Poda Beach, using our hotel’s pool and the Poda Beach House (i.e. beach club). We preferred the pool to the beach, as the beach was so crowded. If you want to use the beach, regardless of where you stay, I recommend the early morning or late evening. Aside from Poda, numerous beaches can be found in and around Ksamil. Find one and rent a lounger! And yes, renting a lounger is pretty standard. There is not much space to simply lay out a towel. That being said, loungers and umbrellas seemed reasonable for the day.
A trip to Ksamil’s islands.
Three small islands are within swimming distance of Ksamil’s beach. Taking a boat out to the islands for the day is a popular activity (only two can be visited by tourists). Tourists and simply catch a boat heading out or go on a proper day tour via a tour agency. There is a tour booking agency just down the street from Poda Boutique Hotel.
Ksamil’s waters are FILLED with water activities and toys – jet skis for rent, paddle boats, blow up obstacle courses in the water – the options seemed endless. To participate in one of these activities, just walk up to the seller and ask how much. Bring cash. We did not participate in any of these activities, but they were very popular, going from early morning until early evening.
Butrint Archeological Site.
Butrint is an ancient Greek and later later Roman city and bishopric in Epirus, perhaps even inhabited since prehistoric times. Designated a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site and located only 3 kilometers from Ksamil, Butrint is a good way to culture-up a beach vacation. Butrint cost around $10 USD to enter (credit card accepted) and in my opinion, was worth it. Butrint has several well preserved sites, including a theatre and gorgeous Roman walls. A decent pamphlet is handed out to all guests, which contains decent information in English. Pro tips: wear sporty clothes and shoes, bring some cash, go early to avoid the heat and tour buses, and arrange transportation back to Ksamil before being dropped off.
Mussels, like the seafood in black shells, are harvested in Ksamil’s lagoon. During summer, tours harvesting and later eating mussels is a popular half-day tour. We skipped this, as Dan is super allergic.
While Ksamil is crazy during the day, it may be even crazier at night, especially on the weekend. Once the sunsets, amusement park rides, which we thought were just trash, open up at night and all the tourists come out to have fun. Even later, many of the bars along the water host DJs for guests to party into the night. We caught a bit of DJ Sirius’ performance at the Poda Beach Bar, and heard other DJs almost every night. I would note that our hotel was pretty sound proof and it never kept us up. Most venues charged a cover fee for the DJ. I cannot attest to the cost because we were already in the bar when DJ Sirius began performing.
WHERE WE ATE & DRANK IN KSAMIL
Being a tourist destination, Ksamil is packed with restaurants and bars geared to tourists. You can find everything from Albanian to Italian to Greek, many with an emphasis on seafood. We ate many meals at our hotel, as half board was included, but we did get out daily for lunch and drinks. I’ve listed places to which we would return. Many restaurants and bars have great views if that’s what you are after.
Poda Boutique Hotel & its beach bar.
While we ate our breakfasts and dinners at the Poda Boutique Hotel, we also had some meals at the Poda Beach Club Bar. Owned by the Poda Boutique Hotel, the beach bar operates separately and no food here is included in the hotel rate. We enjoyed the Poda Beach Bar for its solid food, including the amazing Caesar salad, coffee beverages, shisha, and cocktails! Pro tip – sit on the top floor for amazing sunset views and a cool vibe. I have posted a selection of some things that we ordered, all of which were good.
Poda Beach Grill (I’m not sure if this is the proper name?).
While I call this place the Poda Beach Grill, I’m not sure if that is the proper name. This restaurant is an open air grill serving “fast food” just above Poda Beach and next to the Poda Boutique Hotel (unrelated to the hotel and beach club). Poda Grill serves all sorts of gyro type dishes at extremely reasonable prices. Dan and I ate here twice and both ordered the pork souvlaki (pictured) for $2.50 USD. Amazing deal! The kitchen is open air and stuff moves pretty quickly. Our food came out in 5 minutes. We paired our gyros with a carafe of local wine for a very reasonable lunch. Exact change is appreciated.
Outdoor beer bar with grill near Casa Mexicana.
Another place we stopped that I do not recall the name of (sorry!), was the below pictured grill at the top of town on the main through fare, not too far from Casa Mexicana but on the opposite side of the street. We came here for drinks one evening and the staff prepared this complimentary Aperitivo for us. It was delicious! I would have definitely come back for a meal had this not been our last day.
Kona Bar (inside the Greg Restaurant?)
Kona Bar (also referred to as the Greg Restaurant?) is a bar right on the water in Ksamil serving pizza, other casual dinners, shisha, and cocktails. We had drinks here one evening and it was much less expensive than the Poda Beach club. Recommended for multiple drinks and pizza (which looked good!).
The Mussel House
While we did not eat here due to Dan’s mussel allergy, The Mussel House is also an establishment in Ksamil, apparently serving fresh mussels caught daily. If you eat mussels, don’t miss a meal here, or so I’m told!
TIPS AND TRICKS FOR VISITING KSAMIL
We really loved our time in Ksamil, but there were a few tidbits that I picked up. Take note of this list if you are visiting.
- Cash, particularly the Albania LEK, is king in Ksamil. Most businesses in Ksamil will expect payment in cash. I don’t think we used our credit card once. Exact change is also expected.
- ATMs are easy to find and take foreign cards. Be sure to advise your bank that you will be in Albania.
- Rent a car. Taxis are surprisingly expensive (€20 one way to Saranda), so if you don’t want to be stuck in Ksamil, you’ll want a car or pay a lot in taxi fare.
- Driving in and to Saranda can take much longer than listed on Google maps; we kept getting stuck behind large buses that seemed to stop everywhere.
- Seafood, rather than more traditional inland Albania food, is popular in Ksamil.
- Many people spoke English in Ksamil, many, many more than in Berat.
- One cannot realistically walk from Ksamil to Butrint’s ruins. It’s too far.
- While more expensive than elsewhere in Albania, Ksamil is inexpensive as a tourist destination.
- Most bars on the beach serves shisha (flavored, legal tobacco).
- Electricity/outlets is the same as in Europe
- For tourists not loving the packed crowds, May and September are supposed to be lovely months to visit with many fewer tourists.
- Consider pairing a visit to Ksamil with one to Corfu, Greece. That’s the closets international airport and its easier to reach than central and northern Albania.
STEAL OUR TRIP
I could only link a few things. I found not much information online, and many places we visited seemed to go by a variety of names. I’m sure I could make a better list if I spoke Albanian!
Poda Boutique Hotel: Separate review coming soon!
Poda Beach House: Open all day and late.
Butrint National Park: I’ve linked the Wikipedia page. Credit card accepted for entrance fee. Recommend organizing transportation before leaving.
The Mussel House: Ruga Sarande-Butrint, km.10, Qafa e Hartes Ksamil.
ON A BUDGET
On a budget? Honestly, Albania as a whole is a fantastic budget destination. Sharing the same water as Corfu, Greece and the same coastline as Croatia and Montenegro, its gorgeous! Book your trip now.