Macedonia

Visiting Matka Canyon by public bus

Visiting Matka Canyon by public bus

Matka Canyon is located about 15 kilometers from Skopje, and its vicinity to the capital coupled with all of its other features makes it a very popular destination for locals and tourists alike. It is also the location for the annual wildwater kayak slalom championship, and you can see the course at the entrance to the canyon. Would probably be awesome to watch that!

Two days in Skopje, the city of so many statues

Getting to Matka Canyon from Skopje

The special Matka Canyon bus is number 60, and goes from the bus station in Skopje all the way to the parking area at Matka Canyon, where it turns around. Its location at the bus station can be a little bit tricky to find, but it’s in the section for local services behind the gas station. Look for the sign with the number 60 on it.

You need a card to travel by bus, which can be bought in special kiosks. If you board the bus at the bus station it’s also possible to buy a card from the driver. The card costs 150 MKD and that includes the return trip to Matka. Don’t forget to validate the card at the machine on board the bus!

The Matka Canyon bus does not go often, only once every two hours or so, so my best advice would be to ask at your accommodation if they can look it up for you. We took the bus that left at 10.30 in the morning, giving us plenty of time to have a long breakfast at the hotel and stroll down to the station. The trip took about an hour, which was a bit more than I expected seeing as it’s not far at all on the map. It was unbelievably crowded, some people at the end of the line didn’t even get on it. We were lucky enough to get seats as we boarded at the station.

Be prepared to walk or take a taxi back

The return journey didn’t work out very well at all. We didn’t know the times, so we asked some people waiting for the bus and they said they’d been waiting for an hour already. We went to get some food but no bus showed up, so we walked a couple of kilometers up to the road to the first village where bus 12 passes. Turns out the afternoon bus never came. But there are plenty of taxis down there, and plenty more people who need a ride, so if you’re not on a very tight budget, that’s also an option worth considering. We were quoted 3 euros per person, which is probably negotiable. If we were to return, we would definitely go for the taxi.

The hiking trail along Matka Canyon outside Skopje, Macedonia

What to do at Matka Canyon

All that being said about the journey, what about the canyon? Well, it’s lovely. It’s hard to imagine that you’re so close to the city, because it’s very calm and wild out there. Aside from the few restaurants by the water, what you can do is essentially to go along the canyon. Either on food by the side of it, or on the water in a shared boat or a kayak. The latter cost a few hundred denars per person.

We chose to hike, because we were anxious to move about after the long bus ride. It’s possible to walk along the lake for about 10 kilometers and end up by a cave. We thought that was a bit much, so we turned around after 5 and walked back. The views from the walk are mostly awesome, but in part the trail goes into the forest and you can’t see a thing. It was a little bit crowded in the beginning, but the farther along the trail you go, the less people you will see, as everyone will have to turn back at some point.

Tunnel on the hiking trail in Matka Canyon, Skopje, Macedonia

We wore light hiking shoes but regular city clothes, which seemed like a good choice. The hike is not strenuous at all, but the ground is uneven. We met a girl wearing heels and a long white dress, and while she was indeed moving forward, it surely wasn’t pleasant. You will also need to bring all the water and snacks that you think you’ll want. There are some restaurants, and we had an excellent lunch of cheese burek at one of them, but don’t depend on them for water.

A cheese burek we had at the restaurant at Matka Canyon, Skopje, Macedonia

Next time, we’ll kayak down the canyon

So the thing is, we’re walkers. When given the option, we’ll always walk. But this day was very hot, and we kept looking down at the people kayaking and that looked so awesome. It’s probably a lot cooler down there by the water. At first it seemed scary as there are also bigger boats coming, but it didn’t look like the waves got very high. No one seemed to struggle, anyhow. We also sort of wanted to take the boat trip, because then you can go and visit the caves. They are on the other side of the water from the hiking trail, so it’s not possible to reach them on foot. We were very happy with the hike, but guys, the kayaking looked NICE.

I’ve already mentioned the burek and the walk and the bus we ended up taking back, so I won’t repeat myself. We were happy with the outing, it was almost a full day trip but it was so nice to get out of the city and still not have to travel very far for this spectacular nature. Plus we hardly spent any money doing it!

Hiking, boating and kayaking in Matka Canyon Skopje MacedoniaBudget outdoor adventures in Matka Canyon Skopje Macedonia
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Two days in Skopje, the city of so many statues

Two days in Skopje, the city of so many statues

We visited Skopje for two days on a combo trip with Pristina, Kosovo. My first impression of the city, coming in by bus through the outskirts, was that it looked rougher than Pristina. We walked to the center from the bus station, and all of a sudden we were in the middle of some over the top polished tourist destination. I found it really hard to grasp what Skopje was really like.

It didn’t help that we were staying at one of the kitschy fake ships located in the river Vardar, smack bang in the center of town. I must admit that it was fun though.

Pirate ship Hotel Senigallia in Skopje Macedonia

We had accidentally booked one of the two suites at Hotel Senigallia, which still only cost us 90 euros a night, and it came with bathrobes and all that. I’m pretty sure that on another trip, I would’ve been the one sitting at the restaurant next door looking at the douchebag tourists going into the ship, but at the same price as most other options and an unbeatable location, I felt like it was worth it. Also, when did you ever stay at a fake pirate ship?

The suite at the ship hotel Senigallia in Skopje Macedonia

While the suite wasn’t super luxurious (they even charged for the water in the minibar) , the included breakfast was awesome. You can sit outside on the roof, and there’s a buffet with all kinds of Balkan and Western specialties. There was also a menu to order from, which we did, and got eggs on boat shaped plates. Nice touch.

Do the free walking tour that covers it all

The center of Skopje is not big, but there is still a lot to see. A good start is a free walking tour that starts at 10 every morning from the Alexander the Great statue on the main square. Look for the guy with the blue umbrella! He’s Zoran, a registered tour guide, who will take you around the center and tell you stories about everything you see for about three hours before you tip him and say goodbye. There is also a competing walking tour, meeting somewhere else at the same time, which is also supposed to be good.

Clock still showing the time of the earthquake in Skopje, Macedonia, in 1963

One thing we learned was that most of the city was ruined in an earthquake in 1963, which is why all of the buildings in the center look so new. It happened at 5.17 in the morning, and the clock on the old train station, which was destroyed in parts, stopped at that time and was kept as a memory. Pretty neat.

We also got some history on the current conflict with Greece, although not such an unbiased version, so you’ll still have to think for yourself.

See the location where Mother Teresa was born

Mother Teresa, mostly famous as resident of Calcutta, was born in Skopje and lived there until she was 18, when she left for Ireland and later India. The house where her family lived was destroyed in the earthquake, but the location where it one stood has been marked on the ground, along with a plaque telling her story. There is also a memorial house to Mother Teresa not far from her birthplace, with a small museum.

Location of the house where Mother Teresa was born in Skopje, Macedonia

Trying the local food and beer

As vegetarians, it’s not always easy to sample the local cuisine when traveling. Before going to Skopje, we did read about some traditional dishes that were completely vegetarian, but struggled to actually find them on the menus of the very touristic restaurants we ended up going to. Or, to be honest, we did see that one salad with all the cheese, but there has to be a limit to how much cheese you can put on top of a salad and still call it a salad, am I right?

Local beers from the Old Town Brewery in Skopje, Macedonia

On the last day, while waiting for the bus to take us to the airport, we decided to go to the brewery bar that we’d walked past many times already and sample some craft beers. And while ordering beer, we also spotted a traditional  sampler plate on the menu! So we finally did get a taste of Macedonian food at the very end of the trip. Nothing wrong with all the excellent pastas, risottos and Turkisk pizzas we had along the way though.

Sampling traditional Macedonian food at the Old Town Brewery in Skopje

The brewery is called Old Town Brewery, and they’re the first craft brewery in Macedonia. They have two locations that we saw in town, one in (guess where) the upper section of the old town near the fort, and one on the main square. The one in the old town looked a lot cozier, while the other one seemed more geared toward hipsters.

Daytrip out to Matka Canyon

We went to Matka Canyon by public bus and it cost us almost nothing. The canyon and its artificial lake are located about 15 kilometers outside of Skopje, making it an ideal destination for a break from the city life, should you need that. The nature out there is gorgeous, and you can choose between hiking, kayaking, boattripping or just drinking beers at the lakeside restaurants, pick your poison.

Boat on the river in Matka Canyon, Skopje, Macedonia

We chose to hike, and covered about 10 kilometers with many photo stops. If you don’t want to rely on the public buses to get out there, which you probably shouldn’t, we heard taxis are pretty cheap.

Visiting Matka Canyon by public bus

Stroll around the old part of town

A welcome contrast to the fake old of the new center is the real old of the old town. Just across the bridge from the main square is the start of the old bazaar, where you can walk around and get lost in the narrow alleys. Although many stores are now souvenir and handicraft shops, some are still keeping their old business. There are many jewelers, most of them in the same street like back in the days. Our guide told us that according to tradition, when a new baby is born, you’re supposed to bring something golden as a gift.

The old town in Skopje, on a day when shops were closed

There’s a fort that you can go inside without paying an entrance fee, but there’s nothing much to see except for the view over the town. Apparently it’s being restored, so maybe in the future it will be more interesting. There’s also a big mosque near the fort, as this is a more Muslim part of town. We walked past it just as it was time for the call to prayer, which is always really cool.

The old town also has a lot of restaurants. Many of them are Turkish and quite cheap, so it’s a nice place to hang out on the outdoor terraces at night. Most of them don’t serve alcohol, with exception for the Rakia Bar Kaldrma, serving all kinds of the local spirit rakia and snacks.

The old bazaar in Skopje, Macedonia, at night

Staying at a pirate ship hotel in Skopje MacedoniaTwo days in Skopje Macedonia
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