SARANDA OR KSAMIL: WHICH ALBANIAN BEACH TOWN IS BETTER?
On our recent road trip in Albania, one of the decisions we were faced with, was whether to stay in Saranda or Ksamil. in the end, we decided to split our time and stay in both, so we have a pretty good sense of which one is better.
Here’s our guide to help you decide whether you should visit Saranda or Ksamil on your Albania vacation.
Which is better: Saranda or Ksamil
If you decide to travel further South, one of the decisions you will have is whether to base yourself in Saranda or Ksamil.
Do note, you don’t have to travel South to find excellent beaches on the Albanian riviera. You can find out more below on alternatives to visiting Saranda or Ksamil, and in our two week itinerary here.
Ksamil: Our experience
We had read many blogs and seen a lot about Ksamil on social media and it’s fair to say that this was one of the destinations that we were most excited to visit. However, we had quite a mixed impression of Ksamil.
On one hand, Ksamil is very beautiful, especially the water. But, the beaches have been taken over by beach clubs and apart from a few slithers of sand and a few rocks, it is difficult to find any public space on the beach. Instead, you will have to pay for sun loungers and umbrellas, which can cost anything from 10 Euros to 60 Euros!
This isn’t’ usually our travel style, and it felt a little decadent but we have to admit that we did enjoy a day at a beach club. However, there is no getting away from the fact that Ksamil is at maximum capacity in the summer, and it feels that way. Restaurants are bars along the beach tend to be overpriced, 5 Euros is standard for a wine and up to 10 Euros for a cocktail.
Saranda: Our experience
Conversely, we weren’t that excited to visit Saranda. But we had a really great time. It is true that Saranda does not have the prettiest beaches, it is more of a port town. But it does have beaches, they are public and have plenty of space. We loved the restaurant scene in Saranda and the nightlife.
On one day in Saranda we stumbled upon a beach bar hosting a day rave and over the weekend we found ourselves partying on the promenade at a free music festival. We also found that the accommodation was some of the best value during our trip and food and drink was very affordable too.
Where is Saranda? How to get to Saranda?
Saranda is in the very South of Albania directly opposite Corfu. You can find it here on Google Maps.
Saranda is approximately a 4 hour drive, or 260km from Tirana. You can take a bus from Tirana to Saranda, find out more here.
Where is Ksamil? How to get to Ksamil
Ksamil is a short drive from Saranda (less than 30 minutes). You can of course drive there, but if you’re using public transport, then you will need to connect via Saranda.
More information on getting from Saranda to Ksamil by public transport is available here.
Saranda or Ksamil: Which one has better nightlife?
Saranda is much larger than Ksamil, so the choice is broader when it comes to night life. Whilst Saranda is more known for nightlife, Ksamil surprised us as it wasn’t quite the “quiet village” we had expected.
Both towns have beach clubs with big base beats accompanying your day by the sea. In fact, Ksamil is actually pretty pumping when it comes to day time partying.
Here’s a short summary:
- Bigger town, with more variety from dive bars through to high end roof bars
- Beach clubs for day time partying
- Often hosts festivals and DJ events in the summer
- A range of four or five nightclubs and discos
- Mainly pleasant bars by the beach, no “roof bar” vibes
- Beach clubs for day time partying
Definitely Saranda is the place to be for nightlife lovers. It’s a bit of a party centre of Albania.
Saranda or Ksamil: Which one has better restaurants?
Saranda has a ton of good restaurants. Find cute family run tavernas like Taverna Oxhaku , swanky fish restaurants like Nam Fish restaurant, burger joints like the Nomad Burger and upmarket places like Manxurane.
Ksamil, is a little more repetitive. There are a fair few pizza places, plus seafood restaurants on the beach (which have mixed reviews.) Traditional restaurant Beshiku us a popular place and one of the only restaurants in Ksamil which excited us.
Ksamil has some decent places, but we think foodies will tire of it after a few days. Saranda has much more choice. For budget travellers, Saranda offers better value for money too.
Saranda or Ksamil: Which one has better accommodation?
Where to stay in Saranda
Budget: Try Central Boutique Hostel, fora superb hostel. Rates start at around 14 Euros per night.
Mid-Range: Sun n Blue Hotel is right on the sea, with a view of the ocean every time you have breakfast on your balcony.
Luxury: Demi Hotel is a smart, clean and beach front hotel. Perfect for a upmarket choice in Saranda.
Where to stay in Ksamil
Budget: Villa Alfio, where we stayed in Ksamil, is one of the lesat expensive accommodation options in Ksamil. Around 10 minutes from the beach, this property is quiet, spacious and well run.
Mid-Range: Hotel Meta Ksamil, is possibly one of the closest properties to the beach. It is also inexpensive for a four star property.
Luxury: Valmar Hotel is a luxury property modern and well designed, complete with a swimming pool.
There is more choice in Saranda, and prices for accommodation tend to be cheaper. But, you can find a bit more luxury in Ksamil. If you prefer self catered, go for Saranda, otherwise Ksamil is a better choice for hotel accommodation.
Saranda or Ksamil: Which one has better beaches?
If you’re going for a beach break, then this is probably one of the deal breakers.
Saranda is a port town, it is surrounded by water and there are beaches. The main beaches in town are pebble and others are more rock, than beach. Whilst the water is nice, it is not the clearest you’ll find in Albania because there are boats using the water frequently.
You will find beach clubs in Saranda, but a large section of the beach is public. Meaning you do not have to pay to hire sun loungers if you don’t want to.
Ksamil conversely, has been created as a purpose built beach resort. Sand has been imported to create sandy beaches. The water is extremely calm and clear, with wonderful coves. However, there is very little space where you are allowed to use the beach without paying for sun loungers. And, you can expect the beaches to be very crowded in July and August.
Ksamil has a small slice of public beach only, if you don’t want to pay for sun loungers, choose Saranda (or one of the alternatives below.) If you’re happy as a clam when laying out (and forking out) on a sun lounger for a few days, then pick Ksamil.
Saranda or Ksamil: Which one is better value for money?
In our experience, the coastal towns of Saranda and Ksamil are slightly more expensive than other areas of Albania. However, Ksamil definitely attracts a wealthier crowd, keen to spend money on sun loungers and fancy cocktails.
Here is a break down of prices in Saranda and Ksamil:
|Item||Price in Saranda||Price in Ksamil|
|Large Beer||200 to 300 LEK||300 to 500 LEK|
|Glass of wine||200 to 300 LEK||300 to 500 LEK|
|Coffee||100 LEK||150 LEK|
|Bottle of water||100 LEK||100 LEK|
|Meal for two in a restaurant||1500 to 3000 LEK||2000 to 3500 LEK|
|Pastry in a bakery||80 to 100 LEK||150 LEK|
|Pasta in a supermarket||100 LEK||100 LEK|
|Budget accommodation||2500 LEK||3000 LEK|
|Mid-range accommodation||3000-4000 LEK||4500 LEK|
|Luxury accommodation||5000 LEK plus||5000 LEK plus|
Do note, this is based on peak summer season. We have noticed that the price of accommodation and sun loungers in Ksamil drops in September, once the busy August season is over.
For budget travellers, in all honesty we would recommend staying in Saranda and taking a day trip to Ksamil. This way, you could take advantage of the cheaper prices in Saranda and splurge on one day of sun lounger loveliness in Ksamil.
Saranda or Ksamil: Which one is better for families?
Both Saranda and Ksamil have fun water parks for kids. Saranda also has a Ferris wheel and some kids fun parks.
In terms of water safety, the beach in Saranda has a life guard, whereas the beaches in Ksamil do not tend to be guarded (as they are private beaches.) But, the water is calmer in Ksamil.
More self-catered accommodation is available in Saranda, which may suit families better.
Both are suitable for families, Ksamil may marginally clinch it just because the water is so calm and it’s easier to get around the small town with children. But there is more to do for families in Saranda.
Saranda or Ksamil: Which one is better for couples?
We definitely saw many couples in both Saranda and Ksamil. They are both popular resorts for couples. But, they offer very different sorts of holidays.
Saranda has more of a buzz and it’s a lot about the nightlife. Whereas Ksamil is much more about a quiet dinner and a lazy day on the beach. Just don’t get up too late, or you’ll miss the chance to bag a sun bed!
Personally, we preferred Saranda which felt very authentic and just an all round good time. Whereas we found Ksamil a little bit “forced”, almost like some of the bars and restaurants were trying to be too perfect. But, this is personal taste.
This really depends on what you want as a couple – we definitely had more fun in Saranda, but Ksamil does have the “romance” factor.
Saranda or Ksamil: Which is better for solo travellers?
For budget travellers, Saranda has some good hostels, four or five to choose from. Although Ksamil does not have any hostels, it does have a couple of campsites which may be suitable for solo travellers.
Saranda has more bars, and more restaurants, meaning solo diners can feel quite anonymous. Whereas Ksamil has less restaurants and many are filled with couples. Solo travellers may not enjoy the ambience.
For solo travellers, we recommend Saranda. There are hostels there, a range of cheap apartments and more of a “buzz” about the place. You’re more likely to meet people in Saranda too.
Alternatives to Saranda or Ksamil
You can have an enjoyable time on the beaches in Albania without coming as far South as Saranda and Ksamil.
There are a few excellent alternatives to Saranda and Ksamil further North along the coast. Here are three our our faves:
Dhermi is a buzzing Albanian beach town, which would give both Saranda and Ksamil a run for it’s money. Although not as big as Saranda, it has good night life. The beach is not as idyllic as Ksamil, but it certainly is a nice place to swim. Plus, the sandy Gjipe beach is just up the road.
As an alternative to Saranda, Durres is a port town further North and near to Tirana. This is a less popular place for international visitors, instead it is visited more frequently by Albanians. This does mean that the prices are cheaper are you can get better value for money. Find out more about Durres here.
If you are looking for a more relaxing feel, then we would recommend staying in Himare or Jala Beach. Himare is much less developed, it has a really nice laid back feel and is a touch less expensive than the South. Plus, the beaches around Himare are more authentic than those in Ksamil, which are man made with imported sand. Find out more about Himare here.
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