Lunching with Drug Lords in Lazarat

On the tip of my toes, wavering on the rim of the toilet seat I struggled to find my balance. One slip and I’d have a disaster on my hands, in more ways than one. I reached as high as I could and quickly snapped a few photos with my phone. With the Albanian mafia watching my every move I was too nervous to take my camera into the toilets with me, especially after being given strict orders, “no photos in Lazarat”.

Marijuana Fields in Lazarat Albania

All heads turned as we entered the restaurant. “Are they the police?”, one local questioned with suspicion. We chose a table by the window and did our best not to stare at the incredible sight below.

Our plan was to enter Lazarat and nonchalantly act like simple tourists who had no idea what goes on in the village. We were playing the dumb tourist card. It wasn’t working.

All eyes were on us. I felt uneasy and unwelcome. We were about to have a leisurely lunch in the lawless state of Lazarat, the drug capital of Europe and home to Albania’s drug lords. Lazarat; a place few tourists dare venture. But as I turned to admire the view I couldn’t help but laugh at our position overlooking the expanse of green fields below. Fields of marijuana as far as the eye could see.

Lazarat: The Drug Capital of Europe

The village houses were practically consumed by the tall budding plants ripe for harvesting. The streets were blocked with mafia cars; late model Mercedes with solid black window tinting and an absence of license plates. A constant supply of water trucks were making deliveries from the nearby springs. Peasant workers were tending to their valuable crops. Lazarat is bustling in September.

The steel faced restaurant owner reluctantly took our order, no doubt wary of foreigners in a place they don’t belong. It was clear he didn’t want us sticking around. I suspect we were the first Australians to ever set foot in there and we’ll possibly be the last. It was only later when we thanked him for his delicious home made yoghurt that a smile came to his face and his demeanour softened.

Over raki we found the moment to ask the pertinent question. We wanted to take photos of the cannabis plantations. He slowly nodded. I smiled briefly until I remembered nodding is the Albanian gesture for no. Taking photos would cause problems, big problems with the local mafia, some of whom were sitting in earshot.

That was my cue to head to the toilets, the only place I could covertly take photos. On my return I could see that suspicion was growing, our presence was drawing too much attention. It was time to make a hasty exit and return to the calm city streets of nearby Gjirokastra.

Gjirokastra near Lazarat Albania

The question bears asking, ‘why visit Lazarat?’ I don’t have a good answer except to say I was curious and my travel companions were curious. We had all seen videos of Lazarat on Youtube and could hardly believe a village dedicated entirely to growing marijuana exists in Albania or anywhere in Europe for that matter. The government is aware of what’s going on and the police have tried entering the village but the mafia has a stronghold on the town. Police interference has been met with violent resistance. No one is prepared to give up this multi-billion dollar business which provides weed for all of Europe.

Road to Lazarat in Southern Albania

Even though the police turn a blind eye to the activities in Lazarat, I don’t recommend buying a ‘souvenir’ as you’re likely to get stopped at one of the police checkpoints just outside of the village. Then you might find yourself having to pay a bribe to get out of mafia controlled Lazarat and back to the real world.

For more ‘regular’ things to do in Albania, which are not quite so off the beaten path, check our my travel guide to Albania.

About Andrea

Andrea Anastasakis is the founder and author of road trip blog Rear View Mirror. She is currently driving her Fiat 500 around Europe. Follow her travel adventures on Instagram.


Comments

  1. Love the red accents at the front door and the photos previous to that… can you say, LUSH!?! 😀

  2. Whoa! Gutsy of you to even take pics. Well worth it though. Brava!

    • I did take a couple of photos from the car but I was nervous with so many mafia cars around and all the locals were staring at us. All things considered it was a very normal looking village. Kids were walking to school, old ladies shopping in the market. It’s just like any other Albanian village except the crops are a little ‘special’.

  3. What fun to have seen the village and very smart of you to think of taking photos from the bathroom! There’s always a way around ‘NO’!

  4. Great write-up, and an awesome bit of stealth photography there! This places looks absolutely insane… needless to say, it has made my list!

  5. WONDERFUL! I was JUST about to ask if you grabbed a souvenir. Lucky, as that could have made the fiat ride a little crazy.

  6. What’s funny is they’d probably get a kick out of your visit and buy you a beer and you could hang out in their mansion for a while. The world is a weird place…

    • That’s what I thought. Would have loved to have gotten a photo with a mafia guy in amongst the weed! But it was hard to find the right person to talk to. Later we went to Tirana and met a guy who knows a guy so we might be able to sort something out for next year. 😉

  7. Am glad u made that trip, next time if u wanna come back let me know i will love to arrange that, but this time bathroom with no windows for u 😛 and dont worry ppl, the ppl from lazarat are great they dont harm anyone 🙂 peace on u

    • I’m sure the people in Lazarat are friendly, just like anywhere in Albania and the restaurant owner was very nice to us in the end. Hopefully we’ll be back to have another look. 🙂

  8. Great post. I never knew somewhere like that existed in Europe. I thought it was the confines of South America. Well done on getting the photos and having the ‘balls’ to go there in the first place!

    • I was surprised when I first heard about it too. I’m not sure about the rest of Europe but there are a couple of other drug villages in Albania although not on the same scale as Lazarat. It’s something I’ll never forget!