Koman Lake: Taking the ferry through the fjord landscape of Liqeni i Komanit

The trip on the Koman Reservoir lake deserves the title of one of the most beautiful boat or ferry trips. Yet the lake is in the middle of nowhere. It is a well-kept jewel, hidden in the Albanian Alps (Prokletije). The Drin River is dammed here between Koman and Fierze for 34 kilometres. The ferries take a good two and a half hours to travel through the fjord-like landscape. The gorge is barely more than 400 metres wide, at the narrowest points it measures just 50 metres, and the metre-high rock walls come extremely close.

In this article, I have compiled everything you need to know about the ferry trip on the Koman Reservoir. Read here what to expect in northern Albania, what to watch out for and what can spoil the experience.

Taking the ferry across Liqeni i Komanit

Liqeni i Komanit

The government of Enver Hoxha once invested heavily in the expansion of hydroelectric power plants. The Koman reservoir was built in the 1980s as part of a huge energy generation project. It is only one of several reservoirs along the Drin River, whose previously unobstructed river sections were dammed to generate electricity.

Lake Koman stretches between the Fierza and Vau-Deja dams, is 34 kilometres long and 96 metres deep. Nevertheless, with an area of twelve square kilometres and a capacity of 500 million cubic metres of water, it is only the smallest reservoir in the cascade. Besides the Drin, Valbona and Shala feed the reservoir.

Koman, Berge, Peaks of the Balkans Albanien

Insider Tip Albania: Koman Reservoir

Chinese and French technology is used in the dam and power plant. Originally named after Enver Hoxha, the power plant was probably the largest in Albania and the whole of south-eastern Europe when it was completed. Even today, the Koman reservoir produces most of Albania’s electricity. We all know about the advantages and disadvantages of using hydropower. For example, the ecological impacts are also evident along the Drin; the land consumption is enormous. What did the natural river landscape here look like in the past?

In the meantime, the Albanian government has laid the foundation stone for the Skavica Dam, the last of seven dams on the Drin not yet built. The largest reservoir in Europe would then submerge a large part of the historically rich Dibra region with its idyllic and fertile valleys. Let us hope that the Vjosa, Europe’s last unregulated wild river in southern Albania, will not suffer this fate.

How to get to Koman

The approach from Shkodra is quite a challenge. The SH25 is one of the most adventurous roads in Albania. Actually, the road is asphalted. Actually, because in 2022 there is not much left of it. Huge potholes, warps, missing road surface and countless curves make it an adventure. The road has probably not been renovated for decades. The SH25 has been left to decay. It is quite irresponsible to neglect a road that is relevant to tourism to such an extent. Rockfall is not uncommon either.

For the 35 kilometres from Vau-Deja to the ferry terminal at Koman, you should allow an hour or more. This is especially important if you want to catch the ferry at 09:00. There are always fantastic views of the Drin along the way. But because of the bad weather and the poor road conditions, I couldn’t really enjoy them. The last stretch to the landing stage leads through a single-lane tunnel with traffic lights. This ensures that vehicles can leave the arriving ferry unhindered.

If you want to avoid this exhausting journey yourself, you can book day or multi-day tours including travel with Komani Lake Ferry. The transfer from Tirana costs € 50, the trip but Shkoder € 12.

Ferry companies and timetables

Originally, the ferry was used to transport locals and goods for daily use from one side of the lake to the other. The ferry operated long before tourists discovered Koman Reservoir as an attractive destination.

After the ferry service had to be discontinued in the meantime for financial reasons, there are now even three car ferries. Most travellers between Shkoder and Valbona in northern Albania choose this route. Thus, the ferries are well occupied during the summer months. In addition, there are numerous excursion boats.

Koman Fähre Anleger Fierza

Koman Fähre Anleger Fierza

Komani Lake Ferry

The car ferry Berisha operates between April and November. Departure from Koman is at 09:00 and the return trip from Fierza starts at 13:00. It is a small bow-loader ferry. As space on the Berisha is limited, it is essential to book your ticket in advance. Otherwise, the car may not be able to make it.

In addition to the car ferry, Komani Lake Ferry also operates the boat Dragoba, which runs all year round. The small boat leaves Fierza at 06:00 and returns from Koman at 09:00. The price per person is € 10 or AL 1000. Vehicles are charged by the square metre. My compact rental car cost € 55. These prices are very high by Albanian standards. I

Alpin

The large car ferry Alpin and its sister ship Jezerca operate between May and September. It seats 250 people, has 170 seats and can accommodate up to 60 vehicles, depending on the size. Nevertheless, reservations should be made in good time here too. Departure from Koman is also at 09:00. The Alpin takes only two hours to reach Fierze. The return journey starts at 12:00.

In Economy Class the journey costs € 12 (AL 1’200). There are fixed prices for bikes, motorbikes, cars and vans. The Alpin is by far the most modern and comfortable ferry on the Koman Reservoir Albania.

Rozafa

For the sake of completeness, I will also mention the third ferry. The Rozafa is probably the oldest and simplest vehicle. There are some scary stories about the ferry ride. The exact operating times cannot be found on the website at the moment. When it runs, the Rozafa also leaves Koman at 09:00 and reaches Fierze two and a half hours later. Like the Berisha, it returns at 13:00. At € 6, the trip is unbeatably cheap.

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Boat trip from Koman to Fierze

In the second half of April I have no choice, as only the Berisha operates on the lake at this time of year. So I have to get up early to catch the ferry at 09:00. Well shaken by the drive over the adventurous mountain road, the next challenge is waiting at the pier in Koman: the car has to be turned around and driven backwards onto the ferry in a very confined space. I learned last year on the Faroe Islands that loading a ferry always has something to do with playing Tetris. Every centimetre has to be used.

Fortunately, I’m one of the first and the experienced guides actively support me. If you don’t have the confidence to do the manoeuvre yourself, you can certainly just hand them the car keys. On this rainy Thursday morning, there are not ten people on board. Pictures taken during the high season show that the ferry is filled to capacity, including seats on the floor. We set off on time. A short time later, a group of Israeli tourists is standing at the pier, waving and shouting. The group has enjoyed their stay in the small restaurant too much. Now we can finally get going.

The Berisha is a two-storey vehicle. The furnishings are not very comfortable and you can tell that the ship is getting a bit long in the tooth. The toilets are located at the rear of the cargo area. These are surprisingly clean. On the first floor, just behind the bridge, is the passenger lounge. Serviceable probably describes the furnishings best. During the journey, the small kiosk even opens. There you can get coffee, drinks and small snacks. The outdoor seating at the top would be the perfect place to really enjoy the ride on Lake Koman. In today’s cold and wet weather, this is out of the question.

The clouds hang low, it’s raining and strong gusts of wind make it even more uncomfortable. I remember cold summers in Norway and think that not only the passages between the high rock faces and through the narrow gorges remind me of Norwegian fjords! Only at the stern of the ferry do I find a spot that is a little sheltered from the wind. Here, at least temporarily, it is bearable. After all, I want to experience as much as possible of the two-and-a-half-hour journey unfiltered. Despite all the adversity, the beauty of nature and the colours of the water almost take my breath away.

After a little more than an hour, we have just passed Peace Island in the widest part of the lake, and the Berisha docks. In summer, several hostels and guesthouses invite you to spend the night here. There is even a small beach. Today, the few remaining inhabitants of the valley are supplied with the bare necessities. Shortly afterwards, on the port side, I catch a glimpse of the arm of the Shala River. It is very popular for excursions in summer.

Shala Albanien

Shala River Albania

Then comes the most impressive part of the trip. The rock faces get higher and get really close to the boat. Only shortly before Fierze does the landscape flatten out again. I look in vain for a jetty. But the Berisha lands skilfully on a gravel bank on the riverbank. In order to close the gap between the loading ramp and the riverbank, I quickly grab a shovel. At the command of the employees, first the pedestrians and then the cars are allowed to leave the ferry.

From here, I continue via Bajram Curri to Valbona, where I plan to hike and spend two nights.

Shala River Lumi Shales in northern Albania

The Shala River in northern Albania

Conclusion

Like other regions, the Albanian Alps are also affected by climate change. Here it manifests itself in a decrease in precipitation and great drought. At the beginning of April 2022, the Fierza reservoir had its lowest water level in 20 years. Today’s rainy day is just a drop in the ocean.

Due to water shortages, power production at the Koman reservoir has had to be drastically reduced several times in recent years. As I drive along, the water lines on the shore are clearly visible. The current water level is a few metres below that.

Although it is man-made, Lake Koman could be a turquoise paradise and the perfect showcase for Albanian tourism. Unfortunately, as in the rest of Albania, the ubiquitous rubbish problem is evident. At the Koman reservoir, the rubbish washed along mostly collects in the river bends: Canisters, plastic bottles and packaging, yoghurt pots, chip bags, household items, carrier bags and much more. The locals don’t seem to be bothered by the huge carpets of plastic rubbish.

Where all the plastic comes from can only be guessed. The ship passengers certainly contribute a small part. But the rubbish from the surrounding villages is also likely to simply end up in the lake or somewhere in nature. Waste management does not yet exist in these remote regions of Albania. So the river or the lake are bound to take a lot of rubbish from illegal dumps. A problem that is also known from Greek islands like Amorgos or southern Italy. Sustainability seems to be a foreign word.

In the meantime, private cleaning campaigns are initiated again and again, and even a rubbish collection ship sometimes operates on the lake. It is to be hoped that the problem will be mastered and that less waste will end up in the water in the future. Because the environmental problems mentioned above cloud the journey with the Koman ferry to Fierze.