Just a few miles away from Skopje, you’ll discover Matka Canyon; a vast natural paradise that covers close to 5,000 hectares of incredible scenery. The canyon is easily one of the most captivating places in Macedonia and a perfect idea for a day trip from Skopje. Many tourists don’t know about the canyon but there’s a good reason why it’s one of the favorite getaways for Skopje locals. There are a lot of exciting things to do in Matka Canyon and this guide will tell you everything you need to know, including how to get there, what to do, where to eat, where to stay, and much more. Because after all, who can give you better tips than a local?
Let’s start from the beginning…
General information about Matka Canyon
Matka Canyon is home to the oldest artificial lake in Macedonia, Lake Matka and the whole canyon is a biological and geological wonderland. The name ‘Matka’ derives from the Macedonian word матка, meaning womb, symbolizing the region’s rich biodiversity.
Here, you can find 77 indigenous species of butterflies, 2 new species of spiders that can’t be found anywhere else, 5 species of pseudo-scorpions, large populations of bats, and more than 1,000 different species of plants. Close to 20% of the species who thrive here are endemic and can’t be found anywhere else on the planet.
In addition to this, the canyon is also home to several medieval monasteries, and numerous caves with the most notable being Vrelo Cave. The cave is yet to be fully explored but so far divers have reached depths of 240 meters, making Vrelo one of the deepest underwater caves in the world. However, as the cave isn’t fully explored, we can’t be 100% sure just how deep this underwater cave is.
And last but not least, the canyon features two vertical pits with a depth of 35 meters (115 feet) that leaves a lot of great photo opportunities.
Sounds interesting? Then you may want to learn how to get to Matka Canyon from Skopje!
How to get to Matka Canyon from Skopje?
The city of Skopje is divided into 10 decentralized communes with the largest one being the commune of Saraj, located at the city outskirts between Skopje and Tetovo. This is also the greenest and least densely populated part of Skopje. Matka Canyon is located in the southern part of Saraj, between the villages of Grchec and Chajlane. This is one of the least frequented parts of the city and, hence, the transportation options are limited.
The most budget-friendly option of getting to the canyon is probably by bus. The only bus that travels to Matka is the number 60. Here’s the daily schedule
Skopje Center- Matka
7:00 / 7:45 / 8:45 / 9:40 / 10:30 / 11:20 / 12:10 / 13:00 / 13:50 / 14:40 / 15:30 / 16:20 / 17:10 / 18:00 / 18:45 / 20:15 / 22:30
Matka- Skopje Center
5:50 / 7:45 / 8:45 / 9:40 / 10:30 / 11:20 / 12:10 / 13:00 / 13:50 / 14:40 / 15:30 / 16:20 / 17:10 / 18:00 / 18:45 / 19:30 / 21:00 / 23:20
As you can see, buses that go to Matka are quite rare and in addition to this, there’s a 15-20 minute walk before you get to the canyon from the last bus stop. If this isn’t convenient, you can always book a cab (the price one-way will be around 500-600 MKD from the city center) or even rent a car.
If you like trekking, you can get to the canyon by following the relatively straightforward trail that starts at the Millennium Cross of Mount Vodno (we’re talking about the trail that starts on the opposite side of the mountain). Just keep following the red and white marks on large trees and rocks to make sure you’re on the right route. Keep in mind that this option would take around 5-6 hours of walking (on average).
Finally, if none of these options are convenient, you can always take a guided tour.
Entering the canyon
There isn’t a large organized parking facility at the canyon but there are a lot of places where you can park your car. Unless you’re visiting for the weekend, you can probably even find a parking spot right next to the canyon.
This might make the place seem like a disappointment before entering the canyon, don’t worry; it’s not. The natural wonders you’ll see in the canyon will wash all the bad vibes away. The first thing you’ll see is the Treska River only meters away from the lake. This is also the starting point of all trails who lead to some of Matka’s incredible medieval monasteries. But more about this bellow…
Attractions & things to do in Matka Canyon
There are a lot of exciting things to do in Matka Canyon and it’s no surprise that it’s one of the top destinations for adventurist travelers near Skopje. Here are some of our best suggestions.
Picnic by Treska River
The bank of the Treska River at the beginning of the canyon is one of the locals’ favorite picnic spots. If you’re looking for a secluded place, cross the blue bridge (to your left) before entering the canyon, get down from the stairs on your right, keep walking, and you’ll find one of the most picturesque spots for a picnic.
Visiting medieval monasteries
The canyon isn’t just a biological wonderland; there are also a lot of beautiful Medieval monasteries you can visit. The first one that you’ll notice is the monastery of Presveta Bogorodica (Mother Marry), also known as Matka Monastery (dating back to 1497) that sits atop a cliff overlooking the whole canyon. It’s located before the entrance of the canyon where the main road splits into two. The route on the left leads to several hiking routes where you can find a couple of more monasteries, most notably, the monastery of St. Nikola that overlooks Matka Lake and the village of Shishevo named after the eponymous saint.
On the opposite side of the canyon, you’ll also find the monastery of Sveti Spas (Holy Salvation) that also dates back to the 15th century.
Finally, we have the monastery of St. Andrea (dedicated to the brother of Prince Marko), located in the heart of the canyon. Built in 1388 it’s the oldest monastery in Matka Canyon and one of the oldest ones in Macedonia.
There are several hiking routes in the canyon. The first one you’ll encounter is the route to St. Nikola Shishevski. On the other side of the Treska River, you’ll find two more trekking routes that cut through the gorge and lead to the other two monasteries. If you’re looking for something less strenuous, just walk to St. Andrea; the walk takes around 15 minutes from the beginning of the canyon and around 30 minutes from the bus station.
Alternatively, if you like to test your stamina, you can trek to Mount Vodno. Just keep in mind that the trail starts/ends at the other side of the information center and you’d have to cross the lake via boat. This leads us to the next exciting activity in Matka Canyon…
Take a boat trip
No trip to Matka Canyon is complete without taking a boat trip. As much as we love trekking, because of the lake, you can’t fully experience the canyon without a boat tour. Near the dam, you’ll find the visitor’s center from where you can hop on a boat. Most boat riders offer 30-minute tours and the price is 200 MKD per person. The tour includes a local guide who’s happy to answer all of your questions.
If there’s one thing that beats these boat tours, that’s…
A tour to Cave Vrelo
Cave Vrelo is arguably the most spectacular sight around. The cave is yet to be fully explored but it’s already on UNESCO’s tentative list and was recently listed as one of the top 77 natural sites in the world by the New 7 Wonders of Nature. The cave is filled with beautiful stalagmite known as “Pine Cone” because of its specific shapes.
Vrelo is actually only one of 10 caves in the area but the only one that’s open to the public. In near proximity, you can also find Krshtalna Cave known for its protected bat population but this cave is yet to be open for visitors.
If you want to get to the cave, you’d have to go for a slightly more expensive tour that costs 400 MKD per person. The price is higher because getting to the cave requires more time. Alternatively, if it’s not your first time visiting, you can consider…
Going for a kayak adventure
As an alternative to a boat tour, you can also rent a kayak at the visitor’s center. You can float around on your own or even try to get to Vrelo Cave. All kayaks come with a life vest and it’s perfect for visitors who just want to soak in the atmosphere and take their time enjoying the beautiful emerald-green lake.
The price of renting a kayak for 30 minutes is 150 MKD and 300 MKD for 1 hour. They also have double kayaks, perfect for couples. The prices for this type of kayaks is 250 MKD for 30 minutes and 500 MKD for one hour.
Swimming and cliff diving
To state the obvious, wherever you can rent a kayak or a boat, it’s safe to assume that you can swim there. During spring and summer, you’ll see a lot of locals swimming in the lake and jumping from the surrounding cliffs. The water is deep and calm and there are various degrees of height but please be careful and don’t underestimate the heights when jumping. However, if you want to dip your feet in the water, note that the canyon gets pretty crowded around noon, especially during the warmer months.
Are you planning a trip to Skopje anytime soon? You may also want to check out our guide to Skopje Old Bazaar.
Let’s not forget that Matka is a canyon. And just like any other canyon, you can find a lot of towering rocks that can give you some of the most breath-taking views of the canyon. However, keep in mind that the cliffs are steep and very tall and this can be a dangerous endeavor, so only try this if you know what you’re doing. If you need some help, you can ask for information, help, and/or equipment at the Matka Mountaineering Center, located next to the St. Andrea Monastery. If you’re lucky, maybe you can meet some mountaineers that happen to go rock climbing and actually know what they’re doing.
And speaking of adrenaline activities you can do in the Matka Canyon, another interesting alternative is mountain biking. The route that leads to the St. Nikola monastery splits into several other routes that lead to the top of Mount Vodno. You can bike up and down the hill but again, be very careful with this. These routes are relatively unfrequented and there might not be a lot of people but the routes are very narrow and steep.
Eat inside a cave
With so many things to see and do, at the end of the day, you’ll probably be very tired and very hungry. You can always have an overpriced meal at the restaurant near the visitor’s center. It might seem affordable to you but by local standards, the restaurant is ridiculously overpriced. If you’re looking for a more authentic and affordable option, at the entrance of the canyon, near the entrance of the canyon, you’ll find Manastirska Pestera or how the locals call it Mechkina Dupka (the bear’s hole).
The name of the restaurant translates to Monastery Cave because the restaurant is engraved inside a cave and its interior resembles a cave. The food is great, the drinks are cheap, and while you dine, you can enjoy a beautiful view of the Treska River.
Where to stay near Matka?
There are plenty of hotels where you can stay in Skopje but if you want to, you can stay at the canyon too. There’s a four-star hotel right next to the visitor’s center with rooms ranging between 39 and 59 euros per night but you can also find some homestays in Dolna Matka (the area next to the canyon). Alternatively, you can also stay at the mountaineering center that offers hostel-type accommodation with a capacity of 40 bunk beds divided into five rooms. Obviously, this alternative provides far fewer amenities than the hotel but is a lot cheaper.
Going back to Skopje from Matka Canyon
For going back to Skopje from the canyon, the alternatives are the same. If you’re coming by bus, keep in mind that if it’s a weekend or a busy day, the bus may not be able to pick you up where it left you if there are too many cars parked on the road, so you may need to walk for 20-30 minutes to get to the next bus stop.
Things to bring on a day trip to the canyon
- There aren’t many places where you can buy food and drinks in the canyon, especially if you’re trekking. You can find some small shops that sell snacks and drinks at the entrance of the canyon, and some near the souvenir shops but that’s pretty much it. So, if you’re planning to get off the beaten track, make sure you have some food for a picnic and enough water and drinks for the whole day.
- If you’re planning to rent a boat or kayak, make sure you bring enough cash. At the moment, you can’t pay for this by using a credit card.
- Obviously, if you’re planning to go for a swim, bring a swimsuit, towel, flip-flops, and don’t forget your sunscreen. In the summer months, the sun is scorching hot.
- If you’re visiting with a pet, don’t worry; the canyon and all of its area is 100% pet-friendly.
- If you plan to go hiking, bring some comfortable and non-slippery shoes. In the autumn and winter, most of the trekking routes get slippery.
- You should take a dry bag if you go kayaking because there aren’t any places where you can keep your belongings when renting a kayak.
- The canyon is a family-friendly destination. The walking path from the parking at the entrance to the restaurant is suitable for strollers or even wheelchairs.
The best time to visit
Matka Canyon is popular throughout the year but the best time to visit is probably during spring and autumn. In spring, the weather is very pleasant and the canyon is covered in vibrant green colors while autumns bring beautiful, vigorous yellow colors all over the place. Summers are too hot and the canyon gets quite crowded while the winters offer beautiful landscapes but the cold weather and slippery trekking routes are not ideal.
But whenever you decide to visit, do spend the whole day here. I’ve met a lot of travelers who spent only a few hours in the canyon. Most of them regret not leaving more time for Matka in their itinerary…
Did you ever visit the canyon? What are your impressions of it? If not, would you like to visit? Let us know in the comments!
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