There’s nothing better than escaping the chaos of city life.
If you find yourself in Skopje, and need a break from the urban sprawl, then head on down to Matka Canyon, Macedonia’s scenic river gorge.
The Matka Canyon is a mere 20 kilometres from the city of Skopje. Its long winding gorge and pleasant river setting are a world away from Macedonia’s capital however, and a trip here is a trip to one of the finest outdoor experiences the country has to offer.
The bus made its way through the suburbs of Skopje, before the road abruptly ended. The bus turned around, threw out a few hikers and tourists, and sped off back to the city. I walked off the tarmac, and towards the cliffs and was met by the beautiful, turquoise haze of the river.
The Matka Canyon cuts through the mountains outside of Skopje, and along the river’s banks are medieval monasteries and castles, some built into the canyon itself.
I jumped into a boat making trips along the gorge. We went down river, heading past the high canyon walls and finally stopping at the entrance to a cave complex.
This was the Vrelo Cave. Inside the dark, cavernous space in the canyon walls were two lakes, and numerous stalactites and stalagmites filing the interior. And the ubiquitous bat droppings too of course. The acoustics are so good inside that the Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra frequently use the cave for performances.
Rumour has it as well that one of the lakes, The Russian Lake, received its name from the fact that the Russian ambassador to Macedonian, whilst on a visit to the Matka Canyon, took all his clothes off and dived right into the lake. Perhaps to prove he was as macho as Putin.
The cave is also thought to be the largest underwater cave in the world, although divers have yet to actually reach the bottom. The underwater caverns are a labyrinth, stretching far and deep, and scientists can currently only speculate the actual depth of the cave system beneath the lakes. The Macedonian boat driver was fairly certain that it would be proved to be the deepest. He seemed to know. And we were in Macedonia, so I obliged and allowed him the fact of course.
The boat headed back to the start of the gorge after I’d explored the cave, and before long I was back on a bus, heading to the urban confines of Skopje to continue my journey through the Balkans later that day.
How Do I Get To The Matka Canyon?
It’s an easy drive from Skopje if you have your own transport, or there is a fairly regular bus service from the central bus station in the city, every hour or so. Take No. 60, this stops at various points along the way as well if you don’t want to walk all the way to the station. You pay the driver a few Denar, and just be sure to double check the return times locally.
Richard, did you ever find a site which showed you the route of 60? I’m trying to figure out if I can get it from Macedonia Square
Hey I think Google Maps had the route! Pretty sure it went from Macedonia Square.
Thanks Richard. I think you may be right as something else I read seemed to suggest that. I also read something else which says you can get bus No 2 (which you can although you have to be careful not to get on it heading in the wrong direction which we did lol) which drops in Saragi. From there it is either a few miles walk up the hill or 150 – 200 for a taxi (although there is no taxi rank and our taxi was really just an opportunist with a banger). Anyway the moral of this story is that we eventually made it there and it was a total washout with torrential rain ha ha. That said we loved the little hotel and restaurant and I still hiked part of the trail which was beautiful even in the mist and rain. Thanks for your blog post because let me tell you there isn’t much information to help travellers wanting to take public transport in Macedonia. All part of the adventure though!
No problem Anne, yes it’s all part of the adventure in the Balkans! Public transport is notoriously difficult to figure out! I’m gglad you made it, even if it was raining, it’s a beautiful place.
Sometimes I think it can add drama to a place. It wouldn’t do for it to be sunny all the time would it? It simply creates a false illusion that life is always perfect for travel bloggers and let’s face it things go wrong, the weather plays up and sometimes we hate places just as much as the next person. Public transportation is definitely a challenge but fun. I did find it bizarre however that the numbers of stops in the bus station don’t even go in order. Is that some kind of krypton factor challenge?