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About Matka Canyon
Visiting Matka Canyon should be on top on any traveler’s bucket list to the Balkans. It is a truly sensational place. Despite mesmerizing nature, this canyon also offers an extensive list of entertaining activities travelers can try for an unforgettable adventure. Nature lovers can climb rocks, rent a kayak or have an exceptional dining experience.
Before moving on what to do in Matka Canyon, let’s first learn more about the place itself. Matka Canyon is in North Macedonia, near the capital Skopje. It covers around 5,000 hectares of land and holds the oldest artificial lake in North Macedonia – Lake Matka. The word “Matka” itself translates into “womb” in Macedonian.
Matka is about 25 kilometers away from Skopje i.e. around 30 minutes by car, making a very popular destination for locals. Matka Canyon is the perfect destination for a day trip from Skopje.
Find out below what you can do and see in Matka Canyon near Skopje.
How to get to Matka Canyon from Skopje?
Most visitors want to know how to get to Matka Canyon from Skopje? There are three options: rental car, bus, or a taxi.
Get to Matka Canyon by car
This is the easiest option. If you have a rental car, getting to Matka from Skopje is only a 30-minute drive. There is no organized parking, so be prepared to park your car along the narrow road to the Matka Dam.
Due to high volume of visitors in the summer, try to avoid visiting Matka on the weekends. As mentioned before, the road leading to Matka canyon is very narrow and often there are multiple traffic jams when buses try to pass oncoming traffic. If you can’t avoid it, then try to go early in the morning.
This is the cheapest option when it comes to visiting Matka Canyon. However, it takes the longest to reach it, since it’s a public bus and it makes multiple stops.
Take bus number 60 “Transporten Center to Matka” to get to Matka. “Matka T” is the final stop nearest to the Matka Canyon. One-way bus ticket is 35 MKD (less than one euro). You can purchase an electronic bus card at any one of the JSP Ticket Offices, including the main bus station.
Warning, in the summer due to a high volume of visitors with cars, the bus sometimes takes longer to reach the last bus stop “Matka T” near canyon Matka, or the bus route might be shortened.
Get to Matka Canyon with taxi
This is the most convenient option to reach Matka, but also the most expensive.
Taxi ride from Skopje to Matka should cost about 650 MKD (around 10 euros). However, this largely depends on the destination where you get into the taxi as well as if there are any traffic jams. During busy hours the price can easily go up a 100 or even 200 MKD. Whatever the case is, make sure for the taxi driver to turn on the taximeter and not just tell you a random price.
Also, if you have internet check the shortest route on Google Maps and tell them to take that particular route. Otherwise, they can take various turns just to build up the price. Not every taxi driver in Skopje is trying to scam tourists, but there are such people too, so you have to be careful.
Here are some taxi companies and their numbers that we personally use:
Plava Laguna – +389 2 15192
Vardar – +389 2 15195
Nashe Taxi – +389 2 15152
Elite Taxi – +389 2 15169
12 Things to do in Matka Canyon
There are many things to do and activities to try in Matka Canyon. Around the canyon, there are hiking trails, centuries old churches and caves for exploration, kayaking, and boat trips around the lake.
1. Matka canyon boat trip
Taking a boat trip on Lake Matka is a fantastic way to explore the canyon. After all, no trip to Matka Canyon is complete without a boat ride on Lake Matka.
Near the Matka dam, which a hydroelectric power plant, there is a visitor’s information area, the Matka restaurant, and a resting spot for visitors. At the information center of Matka, you can find the boating and kayaking rental shops, and a hiking trail map.
The price of a boat ride on Lake Matka is 400 MKD per person. It includes a guided tour to Vrelo Cave with a duration of an hour.
2. Rent a Kayak
The second most popular attraction to visitors at Matka Canyon is kayaking. The kayaking rental prices are 150 MKD for 30 minutes and 300MKD for 60 minutes for single kayaks. For double kayaks the prices are 250 MKD and 500MKD for 30 and 60 minutes, respectively.
Check with the rental companies, since prices can change with each new season.
Competitive kayaking is also very popular around Matka. The kayaking competitions take place on the Treska River due to its fast water currents ans water level. So, if you want a challenge, then look for kayaking competitions on the Treska River.
Travel Tip Bring plenty of water to stay hydrated in the summer due to high temperatures.
3. Cave Exploration
Another top attraction for visitors at Matka Canyon is Cave Vrelo. Vrelo is a deep underwater and above ground cave that has many stalactites, with one specific stalagmite known as the “Pine Cone” due to its shape. Officially there are 10 caves around the canyon, but only Cave Vrelo is open to the public. There are two other caves around the vicinity of Vrelo – one of them is the Krshtalna cave, which a protected bat habitat – but they are still being worked on to get them ready for the public.
The Vrelo cave is only accessible by water via a boat or kayak. As mentioned previously, visitors can rent a kayak for a self-guided tour around the canyon Matka.
Visitors that want a more relaxed trip to Vrelo cave and a guided tour, a boat ride is available for the price of 400 MKD per person. The boat ride is about an hour long (round-trip). The tour guide shows the way to the cave and brief history of the cave, insects, diving explorations, and much more.
4. Luxury Dinning at Matka Restaurant (Lake Matka)
The most common photo of Matka Canyon is the one featuring the luxurious Matka Restaurant. Well, this restaurant is quite pricey and elegant. Therefore, we wouldn’t recommend it to budget travelers.
To be honest, we personally avoid it as well. However, the Matka Restaurant offers an exquisite dining experience with breath-taking scenery and delicious specialties. Therefore, if you can afford it, I believe you won’t regret giving it a chance.
5. Spend the Night at Matka Hotel
Just above the Matka Restaurant you’ll find the Canyon Matka Hotel. This spot offers rustic and well-equipped rooms, so don’t expect the Canyon Matka Hotel to be cheap accommodation. So, once again, this option is recommended to those that can afford to spend the night at an expensive hotel (in comparison to other hotels/hostels in Skopje).
On the plus side, sometimes it is better to sleep at Matka if you want to explore the canyon for more than one day and don’t want to drive back to Skopje.
6. Hiking Around Matka Canyon
When you get near the dam at the Lake Matka, you’ll notice a map with all the hiking trails available around the canyon. There are longer hiking trail options as well as shorter ones for recreational hikes.
Either way, we strongly advise everyone to walk the Matka Canyon trail that starts at the Matka Canyon Restaurant and goes around the Matka gorge. It offers amazing nature, unforgettable scenery and many Instagrammable photo spots. It does get crowded on the weekends, but the beautiful nature is worth it.
For the more experienced hikers, you can try the Skopje – Mount Vodno – Matka Canyon hiking trail. It takes about four hours to reach the canyon, but it’s a lovely hike around North Macedonia’s landscape. The official hiking trail starts at the top of Mount Vodno near the Millennium Cross, and will guide you through the western part of the mountain down to Matka canyon. But, most people do hike from the city to Mount Vodno instead of using a bus to get to the mountain.
Just be aware the Mount Vodno to Matka hiking trail will lead you to the opposite side of information center in the Matka Canyon, where you will need to wait for a boat to come get you to cross over. The boat transfer fee is 30 MKD per person.
The Skopje – Mount Vodno – Matka Canyon Hiking Trail Map
Or you can use the official hiking trail map for Garmin devices:
7. Mountain Biking
As mentioned before, Mount Vodno to Matka Canyon is a very popular hiking destination. It’s also a mountain biking route. Biking down the canyon is a bit dangerous, and you will need to be cautious and determine yourself if you should bike or hike it.
Another biking route is from the municipality of Saraj to Matka Canyon. The route is on the eastern part of the canyon along the Treska river, so you will need to figure out a way to cross over once at Matka if you want to check out the other side of the canyon. Otherwise, you can hike up to St. Nikola and St. Nikola Shishevski for a lunch break.
8. Visit Churches and Monasteries
There are many old churches around Matka Canyon. The first church you will see is St. Andrew which is right next to the Matka Restaurant and information center.
If you decide to do the recreational hiking trail “Severno Sedilo,” you will see St. Nedela (meaning “Sunday”), St. Spas, and St. Trojca/Trinity (meaning “the three”).
If you want to see all the churches in the Matka gorge, then you will need to cross over Lake Matka to get to St. Nikola and St. Nikola Shishevski, which are located on the eastern part of the canyon.
9. Lunch at Mechkina Dupka (The Bear’s Den)
Mechkina Dupka (or in English the “Bear’s Den”) is a popular restaurant placed into what used to be a cave. Inside, the restaurant is really authentic and worth seeing because they preserved the insides of the cave. The food is good, and the prices are reasonable, at least in comparison to the ones at the main Matka Canyon Restaurant.
10. Alpine Climbing
For those that love alpine climbing, Matka is a great climbing destination in North Macedonia. The rock climbing season is best during the months of March through June and from September through November. However, if the weather permits it, people rock climb around Matka even in the winter. It’s best to rock climb early in the day to avoid the hot temperatures in the summer. But be careful, there have been numerous deaths of climbers reported at Matka.
There are multiple rock climbing locations around Matka, which include: Otmar’s Rock, Matka Hut, Centrala, Pier, and Matkino Trlo. Get further details about rock climbing at Matka.
11. Swim in Lake Matka
Caution! Do this at your own risk! I personally have never been swimming in the Lake Matka or nowhere around the Canyon Matka for that matter. However, many locals as well as tourists decide to escape the soaring temperatures by jumping into the Matka Lake. I don’t really know if that’s safe, but since people I know have done it, I guess you’ll be just fine. Beware, though, the water is very cold!
12. Picnic by Treska River
Unsurprisingly, having a picnic by the Treska River is a common activity among both tourists and locals. The nature around the wild and crystal-clear Treska River is amazing, relaxing and pure. Therefore, people often get together on the river banks for a nice lunch before heading to explore the canyon. It goes without saying that you should be a good tourist and take care of the nature by cleaning up after yourself!
The best time to go to Matka Canyon
The best time is in spring and early fall, due to hot temperatures and a high volume of visitors during the summer days. However, if weather permits it, Matka Canyon can still be visited in the winter.
Recommendations for visiting Matka Canyon
For those visiting Skopje or other parts of North Macedonia, I would recommend spending at last half a day, if not the whole day, at Matka Canyon.
The temperatures are high in the summer, so bring plenty of water to stay hydrated. There is only one restaurant by Lake Matka, so make sure to have food if you plan to go hiking.