Canyon Matka, Macedonia – what to do and why you must go there

Canyon Matka, Macedonia – what to do and why you must go there

Macedonia is the hidden gem of Europe. The capital Skopje is still really cheap and not well known to tourists.

I’ll write a separate post on this city but this post is all about the beautiful Canyon Matka located a short bus ride from Skopje.

Getting there

I stayed at Shanti Hostel 1, a small social hostel near the main bus station. I met people there who also wanted to go to Canyon Matka. The hostel had a bus timetable with times from the main station. The bus came very irregularly – one every 1 to 2 hours.

We caught the 10:30am bus, No. 60 from Boulevard Kuzman Josifovski Pitu, one stop after the main bus station. The bus was 10 minutes late. There are electronic boards up saying the bus arrival times but I didn’t find these reliable as the No. 60 never appeared on it.

Bus stop on Boulevard Kuzman Josifovski Pitu
Bus stop on Boulevard Kuzman Josifovski Pitu

I recommend getting to Canyon Matka in the morning because the sun disappears early as you’re in a canyon.

The bus cost 150 MKD and took 35 minutes. You can only get Macedonian Denar from inside Macedonia, there are cash points (ATMs) everywhere, including the airport. The cash points really like to give out 1000 MKD notes so put in a number that’s not a factor of 1000 in order to get change for the bus.

You can buy a ticket from the driver. For 150 MKD you get a ticket giving you 2 journeys. You can keep this ticket and top it up at the bus station.

Bus ticket Skopje
Bus ticket

Canyon Matka is the last stop. It’s obvious when you get there.

Arriving at Canyon Matka
Arriving at Canyon Matka

What to do

We walked along the dam and the huge size of Canyon Matka became apparent.

Dam at Canyon Matka
First view of Canyon Matka
Dam at Canyon Matka
Walkway to the Canyon
Dam at Canyon Matka
Dam at Canyon Matka

After a few bends we reached an outside bar and restaurant. The views were stunning.

Canyon Matka boats
Canyon Matka boats
Canyon Matka Skopje Macedonia
Still water
Canyon Matka, walk way
Canyon Matka walkway

From here you can decide if you want to hire a kayak, go on a boat tour to a cave, continue hiking around the canyon, climb up to St Nicholas Monastery or have a cocktail at the bar outside.

Canyon Matka Skopje Macedonia
Canyon Matka (Matka means womb in Macedonian as it’s shaped like one)

As it was the end of March and the off-season, it wasn’t busy. In the summer months it can get extremely busy with tourists.

I recommend going out of season so you can avoid this. We had beautiful weather and the sun was out. Because there wasn’t many people, service was really easy and there wasn’t a wait for drinks or a line for the boats.

Sign outside the bar Canyon Matka
Sign outside the bar

Hiking

We continued to hike round the canyon and take in all the views. There were lots of rocks on the path so I recommend wearing trainers or hiking boots.

Hiking around the canyon Skopje Macedonia
Hiking around the canyon
Kayak in the canyon, Skopje, Macedonia
Kayak in the canyon
Me enjoying the nature at Canyon Matka
Me enjoying nature
Rock formations Canyon Matka Skopje
Rock formations

Drinks

As it approached midday, we decided to sit out and get some sun. We ordered cocktails from the long drinks menu at the bar. They also sold bottled water.

Cocktails at Canyon Matka
Cocktails

Boat trip to Cave Vrelo

We decided to take a boat trip to the cave for 400 MKD (about £6) each. The other option was to hire kayaks. The price list is below.

Boat Trip Prices Skopje Macedonia
Boat Trip Prices

In the summer these little boats are packed with 16 people each. Luckily it wasn’t busy so there were only 8 of us. The views of the canyon from the water were incredible.

View from the boat Canyon Matka
View from the boat
Me on the boat
Me on the boat

The guy running the boats spoke 5 languages and he gave us a tour of Cave Vrelo in good English. Inside the cave there were beautiful formations and lights inside lit up the way.

Entrance to Cave Vrelo Skopje Macedonia
Entrance to Cave Vrelo
Cave Vrelo
Cave Vrelo
Cave Vrelo
Cave Vrelo
Inside Cave Vrelo Macedonia
Inside Cave Vrelo

There were also two lakes inside – a small lake and a much larger lake which is still being explored by divers who haven’t reached the bottom of it yet.

Small lake inside Cave Vrelo
Small lake inside Cave Vrelo

There’s a spring outside the cave where divers enter the large lake, thought to be the largest in Europe.

Entrance to the second undiscovered lake
Entrance to the second undiscovered lake

The boat trip took about 40 minutes and was well worth the money.

Lunch

We returned to the restaurant for lunch. You can’t eat outside but as it was so quiet we go a table inside by the window. I tried Ajvar for a starter. This is a typical Macedonian dish, originally from Serbia, made of red bell peppers and garlic.

Ajvar and wine

Ajvar
Ajvar

While the prices here were fairly high for Macedonia, they would still be considered cheap in Western Europe.

I also sampled more of the Macedonian Tikveš red wine.

Chicken, mozzarella, red wine
Chicken, mozzarella, red wine

After drinking all this wine, we decided to hike to the monastery to get better views of the canyon.

St Nicholas Monastery

In order to get to the monastery you need to get a boat over the lake. The charge for this is 30 MKD (less than 50p) and it’s the same people running the tour boats to the caves that take you.

Short boat transfer

The hike to the monastery is only 20 minutes. However, it’s a really really steep hike. Make sure you have water and the right shoes.

Different hikes we could take

It took me more like 30 minutes as I found it challenging in parts.

Steep hike to the monastery Canyon Matka

Steep hike to the monastery Lake Matka

Steep hike to the monastery Canyon Matka
Steep hike to the monastery

Once we reached the top the views were incredible. There’s a small monastery up there which dates back to 17th century. It’s no longer used.

Monastery Canyon Matka
Monastery
Monastery Canyon Matka
Monastery as the sunset

There was also a water tap.

Much needed water
Much needed water

The steep hike was worth it for the amazing views. It was so beautiful.

Taking photos Canyon Matka
Taking photos
Taking in the view Canyon Matka
Taking in the view
View over the canyon
View over the canyon

The walk down was a lot easier. Once at the bottom we had to wave our hands to get the boat guy’s attention.

We had one more drink of wine before catching the 5:45pm bus back to Skopje. Make sure you know the bus timetable as they aren’t frequent.

Tikveš red wine Macedonia
Tikveš red wine
No. 60 bus back to the city Skopje
No. 60 bus back to the city

It was an incredible day and I recommend Lake Matka and Macedonia to anyone. It’s such a calming place and when I return I will definitely hire a kayak and explore more of the canyon.

Kayaks for next time Canyon Matka
Kayaks for next time

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