Ferry Los Cristianos, Tenerife to Santa Cruz de La Palma

Volcan de Tuberiente at Los Cristianos

Volcan de Tuberiente at Los Cristianos

Ferries are the most important communication links between the Canary Islands and although there are direct flights from the UK to the airport of Santa Cruz de La Palma they are all (to the best of my knowledge) for those on package holidays and not suitable for the independent traveller. There are inter-island flights but they are expensive if you are not a Canary resident – who get subsidised travel. Here is some practical information for those wishing to travel from Los Cristianos in the south of Tenerife and Santa Cruz on the island of La Palma. Tenerife Sur is the busiest airport in The Canaries and as both Ryanair and Easyjet fly there opportunities exist for cheap flights.

To get from the airport to the centre of Los Cristianos you don’t need to get a taxi as there are two buses that serve the route. The 111 and 343 both stop at the airport. The cost one way is €3.10 and takes about 20 minutes. It’s about a 10 minutes walk from the bus station in the centre of Los Cristianos to the port.

Two companies offer an option on this route. Naviera Armas run the slower boat whilst the Fred Olsen Express run the jet propelled fast ferry. This used to have a reputation as a whale killer – the lack of a propeller mean they have a low sonar signature. The normal boats that cover this route are the Volcán de Teide (Armas) and the Benchijigua Express (Olsen) and have a passenger capacity of 1,500 and 1,291 and top speeds of 26 and 38 knots respectively. With such foot passenger capacity you would have to be extremely unlucky to not get the boat on the day you might wish to travel.

However, although turning up and getting on board might not be a problem it’s well worth while booking in advance (both have that facility on their web sites) as the prices are cheaper if you book some days before departure. In the low season you can expect to pay up to €35 for Armas and €43 for Olsen. In both directions the two lines call in to San Sebastian de La Gomera. The scheduled time for the ‘slow’ boat 3 hours 45 minutes and the fast one is 2 hours 50 minutes. When I took the slow boat from Los Cristianos in January 2014 it left 15 minutes late and somehow lost another 30 minutes in what seemed, at least to me, favourable sea conditions.

The difference of an hour shouldn’t make much difference unless you might be catching a flight from either of the Tenerife airports. What might well be worth considering, though, is any desire you might have to spend time out of the interior of the boats. The Volcán de Teide has bar facilities, which are open in the summer, on the top deck which is a great place to soak up a bit more of the Canary sun and take a look at La Gomera as you pass along its eastern side.

The only place you can stand outside on the Olsen boat is at the stern as the speed of the boat will have you swimming the rest of the journey if you get caught in the wind. When I first went on the Olsen boat some 12 years ago another down side was the noise but these vessels and becoming more powerful and quieter all the time. Maybe not good news for whales but perhaps for the passengers.

As for facilities on board they’re much of a muchness. The normal bars, cafés, restaurants (not on the Olsen) and shops as well as some sort of place for young children to play. But if the weather is good it makes sense to just watch the world go by, soaking up the sun with a cold drink in hand.

As for departure times the Volcán de Teide leaves Los Cristianos at 18.30 Monday- Friday and 12.00 on Sunday. There’s no sailing on Saturdays. From Santa Cruz de La Palma it’s a crack of dawn touch as it leaves at 04.00 Tuesday-Saturday and 16.00 on Sunday. There’s no sailings on Mondays. As far as I can tell this is the timetable throughout the year.

The Benchijigua Express leaves Los Cristianos at 19.00 Monday-Friday and 11.30 on Sundays. There’s no departure on Saturdays. From Santa Cruz de La Palma it leaves at 05.30 Tuesday-Saturday and 15.00 on Sunday. There’s no option on Mondays.

These times mean that much of the journey will be in darkness for much of the year, only around June and July will there be a chance to get a good view of both La Gomera and La Palma as you sail past. That’s unfortunate as both these islands are impressive if you travel or walk their hills so seeing them from the sea is a bit of treat.

Komani Lake – The most impressive ferry trip in Europe?

Ferry arriving at Koman Dam

Ferry arriving at Koman Dam

I’ve done the Amazon, the Yukon and the Zambesi but you have to go a long way to beat the beauty and splendour of the Lake Komani ferry journey from the hydro-electric dam at Koman to the port of Fierza, on the way to the town of Bajram Curri – and it lasts for less than three hours.

The easiest way to make this trip is to start from Skhodër (practical details are below). You have to get up early but it’s not as bad as starting from Tirana. If you stay in the centre of Skhodër you needn’t worry about oversleeping as the call to prayer at 05.20 from the Al-Zamil Central Mosque is loud enough to wake the dead – although I’ve never seen that many people in the streets when I’ve eventually emerged.

The first part of the journey is to the town of Van i Dejës and once you leave there you are immediately in the countryside offering a taste of what’s to come. The valley here is much wider than on the lake itself but this journey provides an introduction to the vegetation and the aspect of the mountains as you steadily climb up to about 400m at the Koman dam. After going through a long tunnel you arrive at a small and simple landing stage.

The lake was formed when the hydro-electric power station at Koman, on the Drini River, was completed in 1986 and a regular ferry service was a cheaper and more environmental form of transport instituted as soon as the project was completed.

You’re not about to embark on one of the expensive luxury river cruises that are becoming more of an industry in many parts of the world. Here you share the space with the people making their way from their homes to the rest of Albania, taking their goats to slaughter, machines to be repaired, or replenishing their stocks of Coca Cola. The boat, which once plied its trade along the rivers of Italy, has seen better days but manages to provide the people who live along the length of the lake with a daily service towards the Albanian towns of Skhodër or Tirana in the west and south, or the town of Bajram Curri (for links to Kosova) in the north.

Passengers on the Lake Komani Ferry

Passengers on the Lake Komani Ferry

For a time there were no other ferries running than the second hand Italian foor passenger ferry but the increase in tourism and probably a desire of car drivers not to have to get to the other parts of Albania without having to go into Kosovo has meant that, at least in the high season, there are two car ferry options.

As should be no surprise the locals just take the beauty of the surroundings for granted. After all they can just look out of the windows of their homes to appreciate the magnificence of the mountains, some of which soar to a height of 1700m. But this is a relatively narrow man-made lake and the route of the original river can still be seen as the boat twists and turns, heading for seeming impenetrable rock faces as it makes its slow and unhurried progress, just chugging along from one makeshift landing stage to another.

Skhoder to Bajram Curri via the Lake Komani Ferry

Skhoder to Bajram Curri via the Lake Komani Ferry

I’ve made this journey three times now but always in the autumn, fortunately when it has been clear and sunny but when it has been bitterly cold in the shade. With a wind that cuts through you like a knife you have to use the vessel as a wind break if you intend to be outside for long. In these conditions the couple of glasses of home-made raki in the café at the dam become a wise investment – the body is numbed before the cold can get to you. In such circumstances the intrepid traveller will have the outside to themselves, apart from those times when the smokers find they can’t hold out any longer.

The boat is dwarfed by the sheer walls that close in on many stretches of the trip but when the waters open out you have the opportunity to see the high peaks of one of the many mountain ranges which constitute Albania. The vegetation is starting to prepare for the cold of winter when you go through in November but as different plants close down for the summer they do so at various times and you witness the transformation through the colour spectrum from almost red, to amber and brown. I’ll have to try to make this journey in the spring when the land is awakening and preparing for the long, hot summer.

The walls of the cliff faces are also an education in the evolution of the very mountains, showing the different layers of sediment set down millions of years ago and then twisted and bent so that they are almost going back on themselves.

Hills alongside Lake Komani

Hills alongside Lake Komani

At times there’s enough flat ground close to the lake and you’ll pass a small, seemingly isolated farmhouse, with outbuildings. However, as in all such places in the world, hidden from view is a whole network of paths and mule tracks that allow communication between the mountain community. The ferry is merely the more obvious and public link between these communities. Many other, sometimes quite large settlement can be seen much higher up the side of the hills, making for a particularly difficult trek back home from the lake, hence the use of mules.

Farmstead beside Lake Komani

Farmstead beside Lake Komani

When the boat approaches the shore often it’s not until you hit the land that you’re aware a path is there at all, but when people leave the ferry it’s not long before it’s impossible to spot them as they make their way to their homes.

As with all these forms of transport you’ll often encounter the unexpected. On one trip a rowing boat rushed across the lake to where the ferry had pulled in. I thought to drop off a passenger but the next thing I knew the small, metal boat was being towed behind us, making for interesting maneuverings at future stops. How the small boat wasn’t hit and tipped over was beyond me.

Bird life is sparse in the autumn, many migrating further south for the warmth, but the country is home to many species and as there’s not that much traffic on the lake (only one return journey a day with a boat of any size) you are almost on top of the wildlife before they know you are there.

All along the route, even in the most remote parts of the journey, you’ll notice the power lines straddling the lake as they provide power to the isolated villages and settlements along its length. The people were not ignored when the project was planned in the late 70s, as is the case in so many parts of the world where major construction projects change forever their lives but they don’t get any benefit themselves.

By the time the boat reaches the end of the journey at Fierza there’s not normally that many people left on the boat, after all you’ve just travelled on the local (floating) bus.

Practicalities

Furgons (normally two) leave Skhodër every morning between 06.00 and 06.30 from the bottom end of Bulevardi Skëndërbeu, on the right hand side as you leave the town centre, just before Rruga Antikomunist Hungarez (that leads to the railway station) and before the road narrows. If you stay in one of the hotels (DON’T take the advice of the friendly yet strangely dangerous woman in the Tourist Information Office who gives the impression she knows everything but always gets a vital piece of information wrong.) The journey takes a little under 2 hours and costs 400 leke. It might stop for a short while in Van i Dejës but always aims to get to Koman in time for the ferry.

On arriving at the ferry terminal, right beside the dam, there’s a café for tea and raki.

Just wait for the ferry. It normally arrives just before 09.00 but everyone else there is in the same boat, or will be eventually, so there’s no need to panic. There’s only one boat a day, each way. Some guide books will tell about car ferries. There are two of them and you will see them when you arrive at Fierza but they don’t run any more.

The cost of the journey from Koman to Fierza, one way, is 500 leke and this will be collected en route.

The journey takes just under 3 hours.

On arrival at Fierza get off the boat on the left hand side bank. Here there will be some sort of transport to take you the short journey to Bajram Curri. DON’T hang around or dilly dally or you’ll find yourself stranded, at least for a while. The furgon/taxi to Bajram Curri takes about 15-20 minutes and costs 200 leke.

One place to stay in Bajram Curri is the Emar Hotel. This is the other side of the football pitch and children’s playground that’s to the left of the roundabout which doubles as the town’s bus station.

If you want to take the ferry from Bajram Curri to Koman you need to catch a furgon that leaves the roundabout at the top end of town (beside the looted museum and the large statue of Barjam Curri himself) at 05.30 in order to be at Fierza for 06.00.

If you want to return to Tirana from Bajram Curri by road there are furgons that leave from that roundabout during the morning each day, going via Kosova.

The ferry from Corfu to Saranda – what you need to know

Hydrofoil Kristi docked at Saranda

Hydrofoil Kristi docked at Saranda

One of the best ways into Albania is via the ferry from Corfu to Saranda in southern Albania. What follows is the practical information of what you need to know to make that process easy and – hopefully – trouble free.

I’ve been to Albania three times now, so far, and each time via Corfu. The first time I arrived late at night and was expecting to leave on the ferry the next morning. That was thwarted due to an annual safety check on the hydrofoil (so I was told though I heard a different story in Saranda) which meant there was no departure for three days. The second time everything went as it should and the journey was made much easier due to my previous experience. What surprised me the most was there was no way I could find detailed information about the logistics of getting across a relatively narrow stretch of water. This posting is an attempt to give an as up to date and accurate step by step approach to getting from one country to another as is possible.

Where you buy your tickets depends upon the time of year. During the high season, when there is more than one sailing a day, there is a kiosk just inside the main New Port entrance, to the left backing on to the main road. However, outside of the months of June to September tickets are only sold in the company’s office.

This is the head office of Ionian Cruises. That’s a grand title but it’s based in small shop facing the Domestic Terminal building, which also houses the biggest café in the area (as well as a left luggage office) on the road that runs parallel to the sea. There is a small sign indicating that they sell tickets to Albania (in English).

All the details I’ve been able to collect are as follows:

Ionian Cruises – Petrakis Lines, 4, Ethnikis Antistaseos, 49100 Corfu, Hellas,

Tel. : +0030 26610 38690, 31649, 25155

Fax : +0030 26610 38787, 26555

The office is open from 08.00. and the people who work in there speak English, which makes life easier for some of us non-Greek speakers.

You need your passport and you MUST buy a ticket before going to the boat. As of February 2017 the adult cost is  €19 each way. The cost increases to €23.80 from mid-June to mid-September. Children go for half price. Departure Times (all year) are at 09.00, but with 2 or 3 extra sailings from the middle of June to the middle of September. The latest sailing from Corfu is 18.30. Apart from possible disruption due to the weather or mechanical issues the ferry should run every day of the year.

The hydrofoil leaves from the top end of the new port. This means that after buying your ticket in the office you have to get to the main entrance to the Port of Corfu which is about 400m along the road, heading out of Corfu town. Once through the main gates turn left and head to the New Passenger Terminal, the sandy coloured building about a 100m away. Here you will get your passport and ticket checked. There is also a small Duty Free shop but few other facilities.

Duration of journey: 30 minutes.

Once on board leave your bag at your seat (or at the luggage store by the entrance) and go right to the back of the boat and get a sensation of speed without being blinded by the spray that obscures any sightseeing from the cabin. The boats are Kristi and Santa III, Komet class hydrofoils, not that young any more but still up to the task in hand.

Remember to put your watches/time pieces forward one hour when landing on Albanian soil (you effectively arrive before you have left!).

There are no visa requirements for citizens of the European Union, citizens of other countries should check first. Passport formalities are remarkably innocuous on entering (or leaving) Albania. The passport will be scanned and recorded on the immigration service computer. You normally get a stamp in your passport if arriving or leaving by boat but this is not always the case at land borders. The lack of a stamp took me by surprise the first time I entered by land, from Greece, but later learnt that this is common and you shouldn’t be concerned if there is no entry stamp.

Once you leave passport/customs control you might well be approached by Tomi. He’s an English-speaking Albanian who runs a basic hostel less than 100m from the port entrance. If you are new to the country, want to meet other foreign visitors to pick their brains about what/when/where the hostel is a good place for all of this. Tomi also is a mine of information and if he doesn’t know the answers will almost certainly know someone who does. If you miss him you can call his mobile, +355694345426.

Another good place to check out is the Dolphin Hostel, located at 168, Rruga Lefter Talo. This is just above the street Rruga Flamurit, which is effectively Saranda’s interurban bus station.

The ticket office to get tickets to Corfu is in the building on the main road, directly above the dock. The name over the office is Finikas Lines. Sailings from Saranda vary depending upon time of year. There’s always at least one a day but there are extra sailings in the peak season. Check the link above for exact sailing details.

Recommendations

So now you’ve arrived in Albania (hopefully without too many problems) what do you do? If the beach is your thing then I don’t have a lot to say. Enjoy it but when you get bored with the sun I suggest you consider some – or all! – of the following attractions. Click on the image to be taken to the post.

Five Heroes of Vig - Skhoder

Five Heroes of Vig – Skhoder

 

Butrint

Butrint – a Greek and Roman story in Southern Albania

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Albanian Town Planning - drastic measures taken

Albanian Town Planning – drastic measures taken

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother Albania Expelling The Priest and The Monarchy

Mother Albania Expelling The Priest and The Monarch

No, Vladimir Ilyich and Uncle Joe, you shall not go to the ball

No, Vladimir Ilyich and Uncle Joe, you shall not go to the ball

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Martyrs' Cemetery - Tirana

National Martyrs’ Cemetery – Tirana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting Enver Hoxha' Grave in Tirana

Visiting Enver Hoxha’ Grave in Tirana

 

 

Anti-Communist paintings in the Franciscan church in Skhoder

Anti-Communist paintings in the Franciscan church in Skhoder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Komani Lake - The most impressive ferry trip in Europe?

Komani Lake – The most impressive ferry trip in Europe?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

'The Albanians' Mosaic on the National Historical Museum, Tirana

‘The Albanians’ Mosaic on the National Historical Museum, Tirana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dordolec, the 'evil eye' and superstition in Albania

The dordolec, the ‘evil eye’ and superstition in Albania

Saranda War Memorial, Albania

Saranda War Memorial, Albania

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resurrection of Christ Greek Orthodox Cathedral - Tirana

Resurrection of Christ Greek Orthodox Cathedral – Tirana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Tirana

Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Tirana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Impressions of Saranda, Southern Albania

Impressions of Saranda, Southern Albania

 

'King' Zog's remains return to Tirana

‘King’ Zog’s remains return to Tirana

 

 

 

 

 

 

German Fascist Memorial in Tirana, Albania

German Fascist Memorial in Tirana, Albania

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reasons to be suspicious – Albanian-British Relationships in the 1940s

Reasons to be suspicious – Albanian-British Relationships in the 1940s

The English Cemetery in Tirana Park

The English Cemetery in Tirana Park

 

Rinas – Nënë (Mother) Tereza – Tirana International Airport

A hundred years of Albanian Independence?

Panagia Monastery Church – Mother of Christ – Dhermi, Albania

Walking from Valbona to Thethi in north-eastern Albania

Skënderbeu Chardonnay – more like a sherry than a wine

The first 4 Albanian wines – but not planned to be the last

Syri i Kalter, the Blue Eye, not winking so much at the moment

Five Fallen Stars Rise Again – Dema Monument

Korça dark beer – a welcome respite from bland lager