Hiking in Kosovo – remote, sublime, demanding, off the beaten path. That’s what comes to my mind when I recall the days I spent hiking in the Kosovo Prokletije National Park, also known as the Accursed Mountains. Hiking around Peja, hitchkiking through the breathtaking Rugova Canyon, and trekking to the Leqinat Lake (Liqeni i Kuqishtës) were the highlights of my stay in Kosovo. Mind you, Prokletije is not everyone, though.
What and where is Prokletije (Accursed Mountains) and the Rugova Canyon in Kosovo?
Prokletije National Park, in English known more as the Accursed Mountains, is a mountain rage belonging to the Dinaric Alps, with the highest peak being Maja Jezercë at 2,694 m in Albania, and Gjeravica at 2,656 m in Kosovo. The area of the Accursed Mountains covers northern Albania, eastern Montenegro and western Kosovo.
Peaks of the Balkans transboarder hiking trail – hiking in Kosovo
Prokletije Mountains are where most of the Peaks of the Balkans trail is located. It’s a transboarder trekking covering approximately 192 km through Montenegro, Albania, and Kosovo most remote, beautiful, wild mountains. You can either do parts of it, like I did (read more here about the official beginning of the trail), or do it all at once. Peja is a good starting point and it starts in the Rugova Mountains about what you can read below. If you want to hike the complete Peaks of the Balkans, you need to obtain certain permissions, though. It’ best to hike with a local guide for several reasons. The most important one is that you will be hiking shepherds’ trails and only locals know them well enough to avoid any danger. What is more, if something happens, remember that in Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro, there are no official mountain rescue services. The trails I did were well marked, but only because they were relatively popular (meaning that you still meet hardly any people on the trail, but the trail is actually visible).
The meaning of Prokletije (the Accursed Mountains)
I was curious why mountains would have such a dangerous name like Prokletije and its English equivalent – The Accursed Mountains. The name of this mountain range is said to come from its sublime, awe-inspiring, gloomy looks. Fallen tree skeletons, heavy fogs, howling winds, grey, almost silver rocks giving the impression of lunar landscape more than anything, that’s why Prokletije means accursed mountains. Depending on the day, you can either feel like you’re trekking through a dead people’s land (like I did), or admire rich greenery and scenic views. In either case, these mountains are absolutely sublime and I still haven’t found any other place which would both challenge me so much and give me such a strong feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.
Hiking in Rugova Canyon in Peja (Peć), Kosovo – one of the Europe’s longest and deepest canyons
You can either hike or drive through the Rugova Canyon. You can also book a via ferrata tour, which I would like to try out myself one day. If you want to find yourself in an extremely tranquil, beautiful and not crowded place, Rugova Canyon is the right choice. It’s a canyon covering the distance from Peja (Peć) to Kuqishte in Kosovo, that is around 25 kilometres. There’s an asphalt road exactly in the middle of the canyon and from the windows of your car or a bus (well, buses are not too frequent there I must admit), you can admire sharp rocks, some of them accustomed for via ferratas, and listen to the thundering sounds of the Bistrica river. Rugova Canyon is 1000 meters deep. Looks impressive, doesn’t it?
OK, having given you some background on what Prokletije actually is, let me tell you what exactly I did there. The days I spent there were special for two reasons: I reunited with a long unseen friend, Gocha, (this will be included in a different post from Peja); and I did what I love the most in travelling: shattered my comfort zones and grew stronger while on a lone hike from Kuqishte to Leqinat Lake.
What to see in Peja? Patriarchate of Peć – UNESCO-listed monastery
Hiking in Kosovo was my main priority there, but I also wanted to see some sights. That is why I decided to visit the Patriarchate of Peć before hiking in the Rugova Mountains. Although according to the rules, you need to sign up a day before you visit the monastery, a nice policeman guarding this site lets me in. I am the only visitor to this quiet place surrounded by mountains. Only nuns live there and I can’t even imagine what their lives look like. I could try to live in such a peaceful place for a week or two, but I know I wouldn’t manage any longer for sure.
Hitchhiking in Kosovo? Only with a policeman!
I walk around the monastery premises for some time before heading back to the police station. The policeman asks me what my plans are and I say I want to hitch-hike to Kuqishte and hike in the mountains. Guess what happens next. The policeman leaves his small station, stands by the road right next to me and …. fetches me a car! He stops a 4×4 one with two people inside and asks them to drop me off where Kuqishte is located. Both the driver and the passenger agree. I am so curious if they would have taken me if it hadn’t been for the policeman? :D
Strawberries and hitchhiking in Kosovo
The drive is not that long; it’s only 25 kilometres on a curvy, meandering road buried deep in the canyon. The driver is around 40 years old and he’s accompanied by a much younger guy, I would say around 18 years old. They seem to be father and son but I can’t tell for sure. Minutes after I get into the car, the younger one offers me strawberries and the conversation begins. They ask the typical questions, where I come from, what I am doing in Kosovo, if I like it. It’s so astonishing that nearly each person I meet in Kosovo speaks English good enough to have a nice conversation without the use of sign language. It really makes travelling solo much more comfortable and enjoyable.
Hiking in Rugova Mountains, Kosovo
I thank the driver and his companion in Albanian and leave the car where the village starts. If you ever happen to be in this place, pay attention to the bridge. If you go left, you’ll walk to Kuqishte. If you go right, you’ll reach Boge, another nice place for hiking.
What I see after leaving the car is so much not what I expected. I thought the village will have some people inside, but it looks absolutely and completely abandoned. I see some buildings on the hills, but they look closed. There is literally not a single person outside. No car traffic. It’s just me and Prokletije. It’s so silent, the only sound I hear are my own footsteps.
Hiking to the Leqinat Lake in Kosovo – the easy part
My plan is to reach a restaurant Te Liqeni and think if I want to go deeper in the mountains or not, since the weather is a bit tricky. Thick clouds hang pretty low over the horizon and obscure the view of the surrounding mountains. Do I really want to walk into this fog and let it swallow me? I try not to get to obsessed with this whole hiking in Kosovo thing, but I also know I will do it no matter what. It’s the challenge I came for, I can’t just let it go because of the weather.
The hike to the restaurant is relatively pleasant and not that demanding. I’m walking on asphalt, the road is taking turns every few dozen meters, each turn looks exactly the same as the previous one and after a while, I have an impression I am walking circles. Only the fact that the road is getting steeper and steeper reminds me that I am moving forward. Although it’s nothing difficult, my breath gets shorter and I feel like I’m doing cardio on the gym. After a good 30 minute hike, and I walk pretty fast, I finally see some buildings in the distance. To my expectations, they also look pretty abandoned. I will be surprised if the restaurant I am heading to is actually open. It’s rather cold and I am dreaming of a hot cup of tea.
Te Liqeni in Kuqishte, Kosovo – restaurant with the nicest waiter
The area around the restaurant doesn’t look too inviting but I decide to try my luck. To my utter surprise, the doors open and I enter a warm, dimly-light, spacious room. The fireplace is on, it’s pleasantly warm inside. I order one cup of tea and sit down. After a few minutes, another waiter joins me. He speaks perfect English and we start a chat. He’s a young student from Peja and he has the warmest smile I’ve ever seen. Not often do I meet people who make such a good impression on me. He seems to be a very mature man despite young age. Helpful and kind-hearted, these are the words that instantly enter my head when I think of him. Although he has to spend whole days up on this mountain, far from his friends, disconnected, I see no regrets in him.
After I get warmer with the hot tea, I leave for the trail once again. The trek is not supposed to be long. I have approximately 1.5 km to do, but I know it’s a steep one. I’m glad I don’t know what the trail looks like and what atmosphere there is today, otherwise I would have chickened out, I think.
Hiking to the Leqinat Lake in Kosovo – the difficult part
As soon as I leave the restaurant, two small dogs approach me. I love dogs so I instantly squat to pat them. One is a bit shy and runs away, the other one is crazy about patting and falls on his back and exposes the white, fluffy belly. This dog will later help me combat my fears, but I don’t know that yet.
I walk uphill through unfinished buildings. These will be hotels in a few years, now it’s just piles of rocks and wood. When the trail to Liqeni Lake officially begins, I see it won’t be an easy stroll. The path is really steep and the fact that it’s all wet, doesn’t help.
The surroundings are really beautiful: rich greenery, forests, meadows. I walk uphill and enjoy feeling fit. Thank god I was visiting the gym so frequently in the past weeks. Otherwise, I am sure I would get tired much sooner.
Hiking in Prokletije Mountains – it’s getting challenging
After some time of easy hike, the cosy part of the trail ends. The path takes a somewhat steep turn near a white, big rock and an amazing view emerges in front of me. High, inaccessible domineering, silver white rocks bathed in thick fog appear in my sight. I look around and see fallen tree skeletons, parts of forests burnt down, big stones lying here and there. I hear a gust of wind rushing into me and this is the moment I feel this hike will be a challenge. Not so much a physical one, but a mental one. This place looks like a dead people’s place. I am literally all alone here, my phone has no connection, thank god my GPS works. Now I really know why Prokletije means Accursed Mountains. Hiking in Kosovo starts to be a real challenge now.
It’s not a long hike so despite feeling eerie, I decide to do what I had planned. The more I walk, the steeper the path gets. I start panting and even though it’s really cold, I take my coat off. Then a howling blast of wind hits me. It’s not so much the power of the wind that scares the shit out of me, but its sound.
Howling winds and my solitude – crushing my comfort zones while hiking in Kosovo
It’s howling. It’s howling like in the worst nightmare ever. The higher I hike, the more exposed I am. I finally reach something I could call a plain, if it wasn’t all in huge rocks. Behind me, there’s a steep rocky path I walked on. To my right, there’s a high, grey summit covered in thick fog. To my left, the forest, from which the howling wind comes. In front of me, there’s the image that makes it difficult to enjoy the walk. Hiking in Kosovo is challenging my limits now, but I am not that type of person who lets go.
In a distance, there’s a darkish rock covered in fog. It’s summit is still under snow. My trail meanders through a series of big, white stones scattered between fallen tree skeletons before it turns right into the forest. A quick look at my GPS. Only 500 meters to the lake. Will I ever come to terms with myself if I let it go now? In the end, it’s mostly my imagination that is playing tricks on me.
Hiking in Prokletije like hiking through the dead people’s land
Strangely, the natural things that surround me seem to be more scary then they really are because I am stressed out. My mind is coming up with the worst scenarios ever. None of which is probable. I am not thinking of falling down and breaking my leg. I am thinking of ghosts, witches, devils, and what not. Too many books read when I was a kid, apparently. As much as I feel scared, I decide to carry on and walk. What helps me a lot, is sticking to reason. Each time a stupid thought comes to my mind I ask myself, can this danger be real? If the answer is “no”, I make another step.
I walk on a steep, muddy path and really have to watch my step not to fall down. It’s been raining and everything is wet. I finally leave the mud behind me and enter a meadow which must be breathtakingly beautiful when it’s not covered in fog.
Leqinat Lake – hiking on the border between Kosovo and Montenegro
And there’s the Leqinat Lake. It’s beautiful even when it’s covered in such a thick fog. There’s a trail around the lake and leading to another one. I would love to do it, but my mind is literally wrenched. I’m so tired of this stress, I even don’t feel happy about facing my fears and leaving my comfort zone. I haven’t told you yet. I have exposure fear and this trail is quite exposed at moments. As much as I like solo travel, it doesn’t necessarily apply to walking alone through mountains which look so gloomy. I decide to go back. Next time, when the weather will be nicer, I will reach the other lake, but today is not the right day. I’ve accomplished what I wanted already.
On my way back, I feel relieved that I’ve seen the lake and am going back now, until a moment where a lot of rocks and fallen tree skeletons are scatted everywhere. I stopped being focused for a while and, to my surprise, I see I am OFF my trail. Where a path was supposed to lead me, there’s just a gasping hole and more rocks.
Dog the rescuer – my only friend while hiking in Kosovo
This is when “my dog” appears. It’s small and the whole area makes no impression on him. I say hello to the dog with a huge relief in my voice and pat it on the head. The dog enjoys moments of playing with me and then goes back. It actually shows me the way back from where I am to the right path. I would probably have found it anyway, but thanks to my new friend, I feel less lonely.
Hiking fast – lets quickly finish that challenge
I don’t even realise how fast I walk. When I finally reach the restaurant to get one more tea as I feel pretty cold, the waiter is astonished to see me back. Have you hiked to the lake, he asks and I confirm. Apparently, people normally take twice as much time to hike there and back. Was it the feat that made me walk so fast or am I just super fit? :D
When I get my tea, the waiter disappears for a moment and comes back smiling ear to ear. I can drive with a local back to the bridge. I’m more than fine to do that. We say goodbye and I get into a large van.
Is hitchhiking in Kosovo easy?
Oh YES. Hitchhiking in Kosovo could be easier, especially if you are a solo female traveller. I am not convincing you should do that as well, but I did and it was really nice. At the bridge, I thank my driver in Albanian and leave the car. There is literally no traffic, so I just walk. If there is no car passing by, I have another 25 kilometres to do. Luckily, after some 15 minutes of walking, a car appears. I wave and it stops. There is an elderly marriage inside. They are Albanian, I judge by the sight of the woman who has her hair covered. The man speaks some English and is happy to hear I am from Poland. He used to be in Poland too, not in Kraków, like everyone, but in.. Szczecin! The world is so small, I think.
We chat a bit and as we are driving through the amazing Rugova Canyon, I see the clouds are dispelling and the sun starts shining at full strength. As we are passing the monastery and the police station, I wave to the policeman. He is smiling widely. I did it. ;-) I did what I wanted, I did it faster than I assumed.
Lesson from hiking in Kosovo?
It’s yet another time when I remind myself of something really important, something I tend to forget about in moments of doubt. I only must make a decision and the rest will follow. Seriously, it’s the first step that is important, the decision. Once you put fear aside and focus on your goal, you will make it against all odds. It’s just seconds to pull the guts together and just do it.
I wanted to challenge myself and was able to easily hitch-hike there and back. I met kind people on my way who made me feel very welcome, although they had no interest and win in that. The tea in the restaurant up – I wasn’t even allowed to pay for it. And it wasn’t the only time in Kosovo that I had something “on the house”.
When I arrived in Peja, I started feeling really good. It finally dawned on me that I shattered some of my fears and my comfort zone grew somewhat bigger. That’s what I came for to Kosovo and that’s what I got. It literally couldn’t get any better.
After solitude appetite for socialising comes – hello Pristina!
After dinner in the company of Kamila, I went back to my hostel and packed my stuff. Around 6 pm I had my bus to Pristina. Days of socialising and partying were soon to begin and I was looking forward!
Pin this post!