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This adventure combines the must-sees of the Balkan region and the lesser-known glories of North Macedonia and Albania to create the perfect balance between old and new. Hang out in Dubrovnik's Old Town, cruise around Lake Ohrid and explore boutiques in Tirana. Check out regional hot spots and experience a hefty dollop of cultural hospitality on this immersive 12-day journey.
Day 1: Skopje
Welcome to Skopje. If you arrive early in North Macedonia's capital city perhaps venture out and discover the myriads of statues and grand monuments for which this city has become famous for (aimed to bolster national pride), first and foremost the massive statue of Alexander the Great on horseback right in the centre of Macedonia Square. Walk past Byzantine domes, Turkish baths, and also newly built neo-classical buildings, sampling gozleme and tasty baklava along the way. The 30 mosques, innumerable caravanserais and hamams that fill its winding streets are a testament to Skopje’s Ottoman past. Take a step back to those times with a visit to the Daut Pasha Hamam, or journey through the humbling Holocaust Museum to learn how Macedonia suffered during this tragic chapter of history.
Day 2: Matka Canyon / Skopje
Venture out to Matka Canyon, a deep ravine cut into the Suva mountains by the Treska River, 15 kilometres southwest of the city. This area is home to several medieval monasteries, caves, and over 70 species of endemic butterflies. There is the option to explore the canyon's sights by boat. One of the monasteries worth exploring is St Andrew's Monastery, which contains many superb frescoes of great artistic importance. There is also Vrelo cavern, a water-filled cave with incredible stalagmites and unchartered depths – it's speculated to be the deepest underwater cave in the world. Alternatively, you can take one of the many nature walks in the canyon, or up to tracks that hug the ridge high above the valley. Upon arrival back into Skopje this afternoon, there is time to get lost in the narrow lanes of Caršija, Skopje's most atmospheric neighbourhood, or take in the stone bridge over the river Vardar – an iconic sight that acts as a handy connection between Macedonia Square and the Old Bazaar. Perhaps visit the Museum of the City of Skopje, housed in the old Railway Station, which is itself a unique piece of history. Its unusual, part-ruined exterior is a result of the 1963 earthquake. The large clock on the outside of the building is frozen at 5:17, the moment the earthquake shook the city.
Day 3: Prizren / Skopje
Enjoy a day trip to historic Prizren, Kosovo’s second biggest, and arguably most beautiful city (approx. 2.5 hours). Here you’ll find traditional handicraft shops and Ottoman charm. Located at the foot of the Sar Mountains, this city was first inhabited by the Romans in the second century AD, while the Ottomans and the Byzantines also left their mark in the architecture of the cityscape. Luckily, it was spared destruction during the 1999 conflict. On arrival, head out an orientation walk of Prizren, walking alongside the Bistrica river, taking in the cobbled Shadervan square and the Old Stone Bridge, all of which will help you get your bearings of the city. Explore the city’s famous mosques and contrast it with abandoned Serbian Orthodox churches that stand as sombre reminders of the ethnic divisions that still simmer just under the surface. Wander the bazaar or admire some of the traditional jewellery in the many filigree shops before returning to Skopje (approx. 2.5 hours).
Day 4: Lake Ohrid
In the morning board our private transport to Lake Ohrid (approx. 3.5 hours). Europe’s oldest lake, and one of the oldest human settlements in the world, Ohrid has a wealth of historic sites and religious monuments to discover. Ohrid is an eternal town, a magical hill whose primordial pulsation links ancient and modern times forever. The town is said to have once been home to 365 churches, one for each day of the year, earning it the nickname “the Macedonian Jerusalem”, while historical excavations date back to Neolithic times. Despite being a World Heritage site for over 30 years, the town remains under the radar of visitors. Get your bearings on an orientation walk around Ohrid'd old bazaar area (old town).
Day 5: Lake Ohrid
Embark on a scenic cruise on the turquoise waters of Lake Ohrid, ringed by mountains, attractive villages and beaches, and take in the views of the town and the surrounding scenery while afloat. At 34 kilometres long, 14 kilometres wide, and over 300 meters deep, all shared between Albania and North Macedonia, there’s plenty of vast Lake Ohrid to explore. The afternoon is free for you to discover the area. There are many churches and monasteries to visit, but one of the most popular is the Macedonian Orthodox Church of Sveti Jovana Kaneo, situated on a rocky outcrop above the town, overlooking the lake. Past the church you can wander around to the back of town, exploring the old walls and fortress, and admiring the views of the lake. The Sveti Naum Monastery is also a great option, lying on the shores of the lake south of town, with well-kept grounds that are home to peacocks. The ancient Tast Samoil’s Fortress stands on the top of Ohrid Hill and looks across the town, while a 2,000-year-old Roman theatre was uncovered near the Upper Gate – in summer it’s again being used for concerts and performances.
Day 6: Berat
Take it slow as we cross the border into Albania and continue to the remote and rarely visited town of Berat (approx. 4 hours), a gem of a town that was lucky to escape destruction during communist times. Learn about the city on an guided walking tour before climbing up to the still inhabited fortress for fantastic views over town. In the afternoon there is plenty of time to mingle with locals in the park or at the many cafes. The real surprise of Albania is the people. Their warmth to strangers is infectious and you’re bound to find yourself swapping stories over a glass of raki or three. In the evening enjoy a traditional Balkan dinner with your group.
Day 7: Tirana
After breakfast, transfer to Tirana (approx. 3-4 hours, depending on road conditions and traffic into Tirana). If you think you know Albania, think again. This addictive country has myriad faces. In the rugged north the Alps are so fierce they're deemed 'accursed', while the south enjoys one of Europe’s least known and most beautiful coastlines. A unique mixture of cultures and customs, Tirana is filled with craziness, from its traffic to its nightlife, but on its doorstep are mosques, citadels, Ottoman architecture, and a stunning dose of the medieval Balkans. On arrival, embark on a guided tour to get your bearings. Tirana is the capital of Albania and its biggest city, but it's still small and compact, with architectural influences from Italy and Turkey. Recently many buildings have been painted to alleviate the Soviet block feeling that pervaded. Many upgrades have been made all over town, such as new parks and wide pavements, a process that's still on-going. Perhaps take a cable car ride up Dajti Mountain for breath-taking views of the city below.
Day 8: Kruja / Tirana
Today, take a half-day trip to the mountain village and former Albanian capital of Kruja (approx. 1.5 hours). Kruja was the last stronghold of Skanderbeg's (the national hero of Albania) army until the Ottomans took over the entire country. Pay a visit to the excellent ethnographical museum housed inside the fortress. There is plenty of time to explore the citadel and the famous bazaar area. Return to Tirana in the early afternoon. Tirana is dotted with many museums. You can't miss the National History Museum – just look for the gargantuan mosaic on the facade that represents the development of Albania's history. The main sight in Tirana is the 1821 Et'hem Bey Mosque, right on the city's main square. Closed under communist rule, the mosque resumed as a place of worship in 1991. 10,000 people attended the reopening and the event was considered a milestone in the rebirth of religious freedom in Albania. Take a look at the frescoes outside and in the portico that depict trees, waterfalls and bridges – motifs rarely seen in Islamic art. Remember to take your shoes off before entering the inner room.
Day 9: Shkoder / Kotor
Drop in on ancient Shkoder (approx. 2.5 hours) en route to Kotor. Shkoder is one of the oldest cities in Europe and now the main commercial centre and largest town of northern Albania. Upon arrival head out on a short orientation walk along the Pjaca, which is the main pedestrianized street, lined with 19th-century architecture and dominated by Ebu Beker Mosque. Then head north of the city to visit the Venetian era Rozafa Castle, set high on a mountain with panoramic views of Shkoder, Lake Skadar and the Albanian countryside, before continuing to Kotor on the Montenegrin coast, our next overnight stop (approx. 3-4 hours, depending on the border crossing into Montenegro). Enjoy the rest of the evening in this splendid medieval town picturesquely located on the fjord of the same name.
Day 10: Kotor
Enjoy a free day to take in Kotor, Montenegro’s fortified town wedged between soaring mountains and sparkling Adriatic waters. This 5th-century World Heritage-listed city is set on a secluded bay, with towering peaks surrounding a rocky coastline dotted with pretty waterside towns. In its crooked alleyways, get lost and mingle with the locals. Check out the 12th-century Cathedral, the South Gates, and the Armoury Square. Later, perhaps take a cruise on the Kotor Fjord – the longest fjord south of Scandinavia – and visit an island with a church that's almost as big as the island itself! In the evening the city walls are prettily lit up to provide a unique night-time perspective.
Day 11: Dubrovnik
Today you will be transferred to picture-perfect Dubrovnik (approx. 2-3 hours, depending on the border crossing into Croatia). There are many monuments to explore in the city, including the 15th century Rector's Palace, monasteries with cloistered gardens, and fine baroque churches with copper domes. The main pedestrian promenade, once a shallow sea channel, is now paved with glistening white limestone, in stark contrast to the warm red terracotta roofs. It is hard to imagine a more beautiful city. A walk along the city walls of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame is not to be missed. Why not head out to one of the Elafiti Islands. There's Lopud, a quiet island with lovely hikes, clean beaches and a ruined castle. Kolocep is a sleepy enclave that boasts walks for every fitness level, while Sipan is the most populated of the isles and reputedly has the most hospitable inhabitants.
Day 12: Dubrovnik
Your Western Balkans trip comes to an end this morning. There are no activities planned for today and you're free to depart the accommodation at any time. As there is so much to see in Dubrovnik we recommend you to stay a little longer. We are happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). Please speak to your agent at the time of booking.
- Matka Canyon - Day Trip
- Prizren - Kalaja Fortress Visit
- Prizren - Day Trip to Kosovo
- Ohrid - Lake Ohrid Boat Cruise
- Berat - Castle Visit
- Berat - Walking Tour with Local Guide
- Berat - Traditional Balkan Dinner
- Tirana - Walking Tour with Local Guide
- Kruja - Fortress Visit
- Kruja - Ethnographic Museum
- Kruja - Day Trip to Kruja
- Shkoder - Rozafa Castle
- Dubrovnik - Dubrovnik Card (1 day local transport and entry to sites)
- Dubrovnik - City Walls Walk
11 Breakfast(s) Included
1 Dinner(s) Included
Health and Safety Protocols for Intrepid Tours
Protection against COVID-19 as well as other transmissible diseases requires enhanced protocols in hygiene and sanitation. We will put in place additional measures, in line with government health advice and with global health authorities (including the WHO and CDC) to ensure that we maintain the highest standards of cleanliness and hygiene.
Handwashing is one of the most important safety measures to prevent the spread of disease. Intrepid will actively reinforce its importance by:
- Implementing a handwashing policy that dictates when, how often and for how long all staff, leaders and crew must wash their hands on-trip.
- Promote the importance of hand hygiene to customers through signage and online customer material.
- Contract suppliers that have hand hygiene protocols in place
- Contract suppliers that provide hand sanitizer in public places (where applicable)
- Educate staff, leaders, crew and suppliers on the importance of hand hygiene via training.
Practicing good respiratory hygiene prevents the spread of disease by reducing the number of droplets in the air when you sneeze or cough. Intrepid will:
- Actively reinforce its importance to customers through signage and online customer material.
- Educate staff, leaders, crew and suppliers on the importance of respiratory hygiene via training.
- Contract suppliers who have respiratory hygiene protocols in place.
In addition, in areas with high community transmission and/or places that are difficult to maintain physical distancing, we recommend the the following at-risk people also wear them. Intrepid follows the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO) that masks should only be used as part of a comprehensive prevention strategy and that the use of a mask alone is not sufficient to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Physical distancing, hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene must also form part of the strategy.
On our trips, regardless of destination, the following people must wear medical/surgical masks:
- Anyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19 regardless of whether or not they have been tested yet.
- People caring for people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases (outside of hospitals/clinics).
In addition, in areas with high community transmission and/or places that are difficult to maintain physical distancing, we recommend the the following at-risk people also wear them.
- People over 60
- People with underlying health conditions
- Provide medical/surgical masks as part of the First Aid Kits carried by leaders.
- Educate leaders, crew, staff and customers on the correct method to wear, handle and dispose of a mask.
- Require all customers, leaders and staff to comply with any local regulations or requirements that require the use of a mask in public or in certain places
Intrepid follows the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO) that it is not necessary for the public to wear fabric masks generally.
However in certain circumstances, in places where community transmission of COVID-19 is high and/or physical distancing is not possible (e.g. on public transport, in shops or in other confined environments) then a fabric mask can be a useful barrier to prevent the spread of virus.
Fabric masks be purchased commercially or handmade, and are generally not standardised like medical masks. Fabric masks should:
- Cover the nose, mouth, and chin
- Be secured with elastic loops or ties
- Include multiple layers
- Be washable and reusable.
Protection against COVID-19 as well as other transmissible diseases requires enhanced sanitation processes. Intrepid will take the following measures:
- Require all suppliers to detail their cleaning and sanitation protocols
- Audit/monitor all suppliers on their cleanliness and sanitation.
- All cleaning and disinfecting products must be approved by health authorities (e.g. WHO).
- All rooms must be thoroughly cleaned between guests with all high touch surfaces in shared areas regularly cleaned and disinfected.
- Hand sanitizer should be available in public areas.
- There must be a process in place for customers to escalate any concerns regarding hygiene or sanitation.
- Staff must be trained and able to answer questions regarding safety protocols in place.
- All tents must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between use.
- If staying at a campground, ensure all bathrooms are well stocked with hand soap and paper towels. If the area is remote, with limited facilities and/or minimal staffing, then customers should be informed to bring their own hygiene equipment.
- All mini buses, transfers, charters, overland trucks must be thoroughly cleaned between guests with all high touch surfaces in shared areas regularly cleaned and disinfected.
- Hand sanitizer should be made available
- Close top bins with bin liners should be available on board and disposed of at every stop
- Must be thoroughly cleaned at the end of each day
- Tables and chairs must be disinfected after each guest use
- Avoid buffets where possible. If buffets are used, prevent customers from handling food and operating machines (e.g. self-serve coffee stations)
- Either disinfect shared use objects (e.g. table salt) between guest use. Where possible, Intrepid will try to source safe alternatives to single serve packaging.
- Staff must be trained and able to answer questions regarding safety protocols in place.
- Preferred: Provide hand sanitizer to guests at the door before entry
- All equipment must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between guest us
- Staff must be trained and able to answer questions regarding safety protocols in place.
Limiting the number of surfaces touched by large numbers of people helps prevent the spread of disease. Therefore, it is important to proactively move towards contactless or low touch solutions for travel. Intrepid will:
- Prioritise contactless/low touch as a key feature when sourcing new tech or solutions.
- Remove any paperwork required on the ground (e.g. signing forms, feedback cards)
- If details must be entered using a shared device (e.g. insurance details), then it must be disinfected between each customer. Preference is to move entirely to digital solutions.
- Accommodation should provide online check in (no paperwork)
- Contactless keys (e.g. QR codes)
- Contactless tech (e.g. lights)
- Online ticketing for attractions and transport
- Online payment
Physical distancing is important in the preventing the spread of COVID-19 as it can be transmitted via droplets sprayed when coughing, sneezing, singing, yelling etc…
Intrepid will take the following measures:
- Require all suppliers to detail their physical distancing protocols
- Follow local regulation and advice on the need for physical distancing.
We will continue to offer this as an option. Single supplements are available for single travellers who do not wish to share a room. We will work closely with accommodation suppliers to ensure increased availability of single rooms.
- Consider whether it is appropriate to offer single tents for solo travellers as customers will be much closer together then in a traditional room.
- Consider whether staggering meal times may reduce the number of people sharing a dining tent.
Intrepid will consider the following factors when designing or amending transport options on trips.
- Local laws or requirements regarding physical distancing on transport
- Hygiene protocols of the transport provider
- Level of active community transmission in the destination
- Using designated seating on transport. Customers have assigned seats throughout the trip.
- If trip is longer than 15 minutes and air conditioning is available, it must be set to external airflow rather than to recirculation or windows should be opened for the duration of the trip.
- Designing or amending itineraries to reduce the duration of travel.
- Increasing the size of the vehicle, using multiple vehicles.
- Educate all leaders, crew, staff and customers to maintain a 1.5m distance wherever practical in public (e.g. queueing at a museum).
- Proactively design product to avoid crowds by visiting attractions at off-peak times.
- Proactively design product to avoid crowds on public transport or at airports where practical.
- Follow local regulations on table spacing and guest seating in restaurants. Wherever possible, try to ensure groups are sitting at their own table without strangers in restaurants.
- Proactively design product that focuses on experiences that assist with physical distancing (e.g. picnics over crowded marketplaces) if relevant for that destination.
Screening for COVID-19 helps isolate anyone with COVID-19 symptoms and stops the spread of disease. It is likely to become more common for future travellers.
Pre-Departure (Brand Material)
Customers should be informed as part of ‘Essential Trip Information (ETIs) or other similar trip notes if their trip is likely to include any of the following:
- Testing for COVID-19 before being able to pass through immigration and/or board planes.
- Negative test results to be uploaded for visa purposes.
- Thermal temperature checks in airports, train or bus stations, major hotels or attractions.
Pre-departure, all customers are required to fill out an online questionnaire (“self- declaration/assessment” form) to identify any high-risk customers before travel.
Extra qualifiers will be included to address customers with symptoms that can be contributed to pre-existing conditions (e.g. breathlessness to asthma).
Customers answering YES to any question should be removed from the departure and appropriate arrangements made.
Intrepid will not require a negative COVID-19 test as proof of health from customers or leaders at this stage unless it is required by local law or regulations.
This is partially due to the lack of availability of testing for people with no symptoms in many parts of the world and may change in due course.
- Ask customers, leaders, crew and staff to monitor their own health
- Display appropriate signage on COVID-19 symptoms
- Educate leaders, crew and staff on how to identify COVID-19 symptoms
- Describe COVID-19 symptoms in group meetings
If customers, leaders or crew show symptoms of COVID-19 and are either unable to or unwilling to be tested, Intrepid reserves the right to remove them from our trips to prevent any risk to others.
Flexible Booking Conditions
Customers will be supported by flexible booking conditions to stay home if unwell or displaying symptoms
Flexible Work Conditions
Intrepid will support leaders and crew to stay home rather than lead a trip if they are unwell or displaying symptoms. Schedules will need to be created with back up availability of leaders/crew.
Data Collection & Health Tracking
Intrepid will assist government health departments in tracking and tracing any customers, staff, leaders, crew or suppliers at risk of contracting COVID-19 via exposure to a known case and/or outbreak by providing relevant details in line with privacy laws and regulations.
COVID Tracking apps
Intrepid strongly recommends that customers and staff download COVID tracking apps (e.g. COVIDSafe in Australia, StayHomeSafe in Hong Kong) to assist in reducing the spread of disease within their communities.
Question: How many suitcases can I take with me on my trip?
Question: Is Airfare Included in the Price?
Our Intrepid tour was great. The tour guide, Bashkim, was terrific - knowledgeable, friendly, helpful, and ready to answer all of our questions. He was one of the best guides we've ever had. The tour itself was excellent in terms of the small group size, the ease of transportation in smaller buses, and the destinations. We experienced and learned a lot about places we were very unfamiliar with in the Balkans.
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