Exploring caves is a huge part of nature tourism, nowadays called ‘ecotourism’, a new model of tourism with the potential of attracting more and more tourists from all over the world. Caves are crucial to the industry of tourism, due to its growing popularity in developing countries, where hundreds of caves are visited each year. It is safe to say that caves have now become a complex natural resource in the tourism market of many countries.
There are currently over 5000 explorable caves by tourists around the world. This form of tourism attracts around 250 million tourists each year, with expenditures reaching 2 billion dollars, employing around 200 thousand people and generating a total income of 100 million dollars per year. As natural resources, caves could have great potential to develop tourism and consequently stimulate economic growth, living standards of residents in the areas where the caves are located as well as help the government increase environmental awareness and educate its people on the protection of environment.
Transforming caves into resources of nature tourism transcends common economic boundaries. Based on contemporary advancements, many countries see this as a way to not only improve the standard of life but to also develop urban and rural areas in particular. Promoting the tourism of caves in Albania could strengthen the economic well-being of the hosting community as well as create additional instruments for the protection of the environment.
There is an abundance of fascinating caves with great potential to enhance tourism activity in Albania, yet they remain dormant, untouched and unexploited. While they are found all over the country’s territory, most of them have not been used in function of nature tourism. However, considering caves as possible tourist attractions could alleviate poverty in local communities. Based on this, many countries such as Brazil, Russia, Indonesia and Australia have undertaken initiatives to develop tourism in caves and put them in the spotlight of attractions.
Caves of Tropojë
Tropoja is located in the northeastern part of Albania, as part of the Kukës District. Its is bordered by the Municipality of Has in the southeast, by the municipality of Shkodër in the west, by the Municipality of Vau i Dejës in the southwest and that of Fushë-Arrës in the south. In the north it is bordered by the Republic of Montenegro (31 km) and in the east it is bordered by the Republic of Kosovo (81 km). At 1057 km2 , Tropoja has the second biggest surface in the country. It has a population of 20.517 people based on the 2011 census, while according to the Civil Registration system, that population reaches 28.216 people. It is comprised of eight local administrative units: Bajram Curri, Fierza, Bujani, Lekbibaj, Llugaj, Bytyçi, Margegaj and Tropoja. The center of the Municipality is the new city of Bajram Curri, with 7500 residents and a surface of 162 hectares. Bajram Curri is found 260 kilometres from Tirana, the capital city of Albania and 120 kilometres from Prishtina, the capital city of Kosovo.
The territory of the Tropoja Municipality lies in the Eastern Albanian Alps and the area of Malësia e Gjakovës. Its geological composition consists of limestones, in which the process of karst is quite developed; being magnetic and terrigenous (clays, sand, conglomerates, sandstones, etc.) in the northeastern part. The terrain is mainly mountainous, extending from 170 meters up to 2582 metres above the sea level, while the average height above terrain reaches 1105 metres.
Due to the large dispersion of limestone rocks, their tectonic cleavage and optimal climate and topographic conditions, the process of karst is very developed in the territory of Tropojë municipality, making it widely known for its karst caves.
Some of the caves in Tropojë are ranked as the biggest in Albania and the Balkans. They are found in the National Park of Valbonë and the Natural Municipal Park of Nikaj-Mërtur. So far, the karst caves below have been discovered in the territory of Tropojë Municipality.
The National Park of Valbona
- The Cave of Haxhi – Found in the ‘Dry Point’ (Maja e Thatë) near the village of Valbonë, via the Bajram Curri- Valbonë- pedestrian road.
- The Cave of Ice – Located near the village of Valbonë and can be visited by following the Bajram Curri- Valbonë- pedestrian road.
- The Cave of Dragobia – Found near the village of Dragobia via the Bajram Curri – Dragobi – Valbonë – pedestrian path
The Natural Municipal Park of Nikaj – Mërtur
- The Black Cave – Otherwise known as: The Cave of Qereç, The Blowing Cave. The cave is located near the Village of Qereç Mulaj, Upper Curraj and can be found by following the Bajram Curri – Lekëbibaj – Upper Curraj – pedestrian road.
- The Cave of Perr Boshi – Found in the mountain of Bosh, within walking distance of 6-7 hours from the Upper Curraj village. It can be visited by following the Bajram Curri – Lekbibaj – Upper Curraj – pedestrian road.
- The Cave of Shtar – Located 3.25 kilometres from the Village of Big Vrana, in the mount of Shtreza, 1427 metres above the sea level. This cave can be found by following the Bajram Curri – Lekbibaj – Big Vrana – pedestrian path.
- The Cave of Barn Swallows – The name stems from the barn swallow nests around its walls. The cave can be found via the Bajram Curri – Lekbibaj – Big Vrana – pedestrian path leading to the mountain of Kakia.
- The Lonely Cave – The cave happens to be between the Cave of Shtar and that of the Barn Swallows. To get to the cave, the way is through the Bajram Curri – Lekbibaj – Big Vrana – pedestrian path.
- The Kakveri Cave – Located near the village of Upper Curraj, in the eastern foot of the Kakia mountain slope and can be visited by following the road of Lekbibaj – Big Vrana (the motorway) – Ndërmajës Groove (3-4 hours walking distance) or by following the pedestrian road from the Upper Curraj Village (5-6 hours walking distance)
- The Cave of Mark Shytani – The cave is named after the shepherd who discovered it. It is found near the Upper Curraj, at the foot of Bosh mountain top. It can be explored by following the way of Bajram Curri – Lekbibaj – Curraj i Epërm – pedestrian path on the way to the Bosh mountain.
- The Cave of the River – The cave was discovered and explored in 2009 by the Italian speleologist group, Faentino. However, as of today it still hasn’t been fully explored. The road to the cave is through Bajram Curri – Lekbibaj – Upper Curraj – pedestrian path, taking almost two hours.
- The Cave of Muladea – Found at the foot of the Mountain of Iron close to the village of Qereç Mulaj. The cave can be reached by following the Bajram Curri – Lekbibaj – Qereç Mulaj – pedestrian path on the way to the foot of the Mountain of Iron.
- The Cave of Kolë Gega – Found near the Lake of Koman, by the southern slope of the Suka of Maz mountain, 510 metres above the sea level. It is reachable through the Bajram Curri – Lekbibaj – Palçë – pedestrian path.