Syri I Kalter, also known as the Blue Eye, is one of the most beautiful sights in Southern Albania and an easy day trip from Saranda – and it’s conveniently right on the way to the UNESCO World Heritage sight of Gjirokastra (also written Gjirokastër), Berat’s twin city. It’s quite easy to do the two together in a day trip or separately if you have more time and want to take a more leisurely pace. Don’t fall for the guided tours telling you it’s too difficult to do it on your own. With a bit of pluck and planning, you definitely can!
If you’ve done any research into transportation in Albania, you’ve probably bit your nails, questioned your plans to go, and got yourself super deep down a Google rabbit hole. Relax. Traveling in Albania is not nearly as hard as everyone makes it out to be. For one, Albanian people are, quite possibly, the friendliest people I’ve ever met. I’ve lost count of the Albanians who have helped me with directions, bought me coffee, offered me snacks and cakes, given me rides… all without expecting anything but a thank you in return (which, by the way, is pronounced fah-la-min-DAIR-it in Albanian, and you’ll delight everyone if you memorize it and use it prolifically!).
That being said, it helps to have an idea of what to expect before you get there, to relieve planning anxiety and make realistic plans, so I’ve gone ahead and laid it all out for you!
Syri I Kalter (The Blue Eye)
This is one of the most iconic images from southern Albania, and with good reason. It’s one of those rare places that looks just as beautiful in pictures as it does in real life, because the colors are just that vivid. It’s as if real life had the saturation turned up to 100… but it’s just, you know, real life.
No one really knows how deep this fresh water spring goes down, because no one’s been able to dive to the bottom. It’s at least 50 meters deep, and probably way more. It constantly gushes out freezing cold water, and the bravest amongst us (read: not me) flout the no swimming and no diving signs and take the plunge. You can see the force of the current, as it sends jumpers quickly downstream. It’s really quite impressive (and, let me reiterate, absolutely freezing).
How to get to the Blue Eye (Syri I Kalter):
First, find the bus to Gjirokastra, which usually does hourly departures every hour on the hour from the “bus station” outside the ruins within Saranda’s city limits, which is around the intersection of Rruga Flamurit and Rruga Skenderbeu. It should cost you 300 lek, a little over $2. Tell the bus driver you want to get off at Syri I Kalter or the Blue Eye – they’ll know what you’re talking about; this is a very common stop. It takes about 30 minutes to get here. You’ll have to walk about 2 kilometers to the actual Blue Eye from where they drop you off. Don’t worry, the signs are well marked, and there is virtually no way you can get lost.
To get back, just wait outside the entrance on the opposite side of the street where you were dropped off (the side that would be headed back towards Saranda) and wait to flag down a bus with a sign in the window headed for Saranda/Sarandë. Although, most likely, when the bus sees you on the side of the road by the Blue Eye sign, it will stop for you regardless of whether or not you are paying attention. Buses typically come once per hour, so if you’re lucky, you won’t wait long; if you just missed one, you may have to wait up to an hour.
Another option is to hitch a ride back. I know that sounds inadvisable, but I assure you, hitchhiking in Albania is commonplace, easy, and incredibly safe. I hitchhiked several times in Albania and never had any problems and never had to wait more than 15 minutes to get a ride (and that was a ride across international borders!) You could also combine this with the next stop, Gjirokastra, in which case you’d wait where they dropped you off and flag the next bus. Be prepared to wait… this is Albania, man.
Gjirokastër (alternately written Gjirokastra, because, Albania) is another UNESCO World Heritage gem, thanks to its gorgeous Ottoman-era stone architecture. In fact, this city is nicknamed “the city of stones” due to its unique building style. Lots of the houses are composed entirely of stones, right down the roofs, which are made of carefully composed layers of flat stone tiles. It’s really beautiful to walk around the city, and you can go inside a few of the old houses, which have been preserved perfectly and turned into museums. Check out Zekate House for a firsthand look into the past. Make sure you check out the old fortress at the top of the hill as well – it’s absolutely worth the 200 lek entrance fee!
How to get to Gjirokastra:
Even if you’re not planning on going to the Blue Eye first, follow the same directions as above to find the bus, but tell them you want to get off in the Old Town of Gjirokastra. Make sure you specify Old Town or it will take you further away to the New Town. It takes a little over an hour to get there, and it should cost about 300 lek as well. They will drop you off by a gas station at the bottom of a huge hill, which, yes, you will have to climb (or wait for a mercurial blue public bus, which never seemed to show on my ascent, but was everywhere as I walked down). If you’re lazy or impatient, there are taxis available or you could hitch a ride up to the top – Albanians are super friendly and often willing to give you a ride, usually in a kickass Mercedes.
If you are coming from the Blue Eye, then just follow the directions above and wait exactly where the bus dropped you off. You shouldn’t have to wait more than an hour for the next bus to arrive.
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