I recently got the chance to visit the Cave of Pellumbas, also known as the Black Cave. Located just 27 kilometres southeast of Tirana, Albania, it makes a perfect day trip. I’ve been lucky enough to go spelunking in some incredible caves, but there was a combination of things about this one that I’m still wrapping my head around.
For a long time, folk wisdom about the cave was that it was endless. In reality, though, from front to back, it measures 360 metres long, 10 to 15 metres in width and 15 to 45 metres in height. I had read a little about the cave before I visited, but the numbers don’t prepare you for the enormity of it once you’re inside. Voices echo like bat sonar off the cavernous walls.
Considered one of Albania’s many great archaeological treasures, the cave has received a good deal of research attention from the Tirana Archaeological Institute, as well as scientists from Italian universities. They have unearthed the remains of an ancient species of cave bears (Ursus spelaeus) that date back to 10,000 to 400,000 BC. They have also found traces of human activity from the Middle Paleolithic period, which spanned from 300,000 to 30,000 years ago. Evidence from the entrance of the cave suggests that these early humans were utilising the flint-sharpening and fire technology that developed at the time.
The geological history of the place is also hard to fathom. I saw giant stalactites and stalagmites, but my little human brain couldn’t quite absorb how long it actually took for them to form. The average growth rate of a stalactite is 0.13 mm per year. The formations in this cave are several metres in length and even width. I tried to imagine the time involved, but then I stopped and just admired their phantasmagorical beauty.
How Much Work Has Been Invested in It
As we approached the well-marked trailhead leading to the cave, we were greeted by Behar Duqi, the local village guide and guardian of the cave. He collects the small entrance fee of 100 lek (about US$1) and offers to accompany visitors on the hike from the village to the cave. As we approached the cave, it was evident that forces were at work. Bilingual signs mark the way and warn against littering, guardrails line steep edges, steps ease along the steeper inclines and benches punctuate the trail at the finest viewpoints. The trail is impressively tourism-ready.
Who was behind this massive effort? With funding from the Dutch Embassy in Albania, the Outdoor Albania Association does ongoing work to make the cave accessible to tourists and to protect the area from degradation. The association, through its projects in Pellumbas, Vuno and other sites, has been clearing the path toward a more sustainable tourism future in Albania. This means tourism that places an emphasis on the natural and cultural assets of Albania, preserving these endowments over time rather than threatening them.
How Unnoticed It Has Gone
It is a wonder how an excursion this good is still so far off the radar. None of the many independent travellers I met in Albania had even heard of it. While Outdoor Albania offers a guided day tour, it has received little attention. The In Your Pocket guidebook does mention it, but Lonely Planet does not. Behar Duqi says that the cave received only about 100-200 visitors during the entire summer high season of 2010. Both foreigners and Albanians are missing out! Where is everyone?
The cave’s web presence is also weak. Several of the top search results were actually posts written by my friend Lieke Van Leeuwen, although by modifying my search to include the character ‘ë’ for the correct local spelling – Pëllumbas – a few more informative pages came up. Outdoor Albania Association also maintains a bilingual website about the caves and Pellumbas appears in an index site of caves.
Description is insufficient here. The path looks out toward a stunning panorama. It must be seen to be believed.