Matka canyon is one of the main attractions for local and international tourists that visit Skopje, North Macedonia. The Matka lake was created due to a dam built for an electro station, and is considered the oldest artificial lake in the country. Here is a detailed guide to Matka canyon including all activities you can do there.
There are three ways to get to Matka canyon. The easiest one is to rent a car, which is super cheap (around $8-$10 per day) and drive yourself. The drive will take about 20 – 25 minutes from Skopje.
In case you don’t drive, you can take a taxi or hire a driver who will take you there and back. And that is what we did. We paid 20 Euros for a round trip to Matka canyon. So, if there are 3 or 4 of you, this is a comfortable and quite inexpensive way to visit Matka canyon.
The cheapest and least comfortable way to get to Matka canyon is by city bus. Although, you need to know that the bus will stop at Matka town and to get to the canyon you will need to walk up the hill for a while. Plus there is the matter of following the bus schedule and waiting time.
Once you are at the parking spot in front of Matka canyon, you will need to take a narrow road that leads you along the mountains all the way to the dam and Matka lake.
Note: Since the hydro-electric station is a government protected location, tourists are not allowed to take of the facility. However you can take pictures about a minute after when you reach Matka lake. Along the road you will notice the sign with ‘no photos’ graphics. Although, at first I didn’t see the signs and took a few photos at the dam by accident.
One of the reasons people come to Matka canyon is to have a ride on a boat along the lake and enjoy its beauty. At the lake there are a few piers where you can hire a boat. You want to go to the second one, where they have already listed ticket prices (400 denars per person) and you don’t need to negotiate.
The boat usually carries around 6 to 10 people, but in the low season there might be just two or three people at the time. The boat tour takes about an hour, including the visit to the Vrelo cave.
There are around 10 caves along Matka canyon, but just one is open for tourists to explore – Vrelo cave. This is the last point where the boat rides and is its only stop.
The cave entrance is located up the hill. Next to the entrance there is a big generator that needs to be turned on before going down to the cave. The tour guide/boat driver will need a few minutes after which you can enter the cave.
Vrelo cave is around 350 meters long and has two underground lakes with super clear water. The cave is full of stalactites and stalagmites. Every centimeter of the cave looks like it was made by a talented artist. The cave looks like a dragon cave from the movies. Right at the entrance you will see a stalagmite that looks a lot like a dragon egg with different colors of lights that make you think something big and scary is about to come back to its cave. Another interesting act is the cave climate. I visited Matka canyon in the middle of winter and the temperature outside was quite low. However, the temperature inside the cave was very comfortable.
In summer, out of all the things that you can do in Matka canyon, kayaking is second most popular. It is a great location to try it out if you are a beginner or to have a bit of a workout if you are a seasoned kayaker.
In fact, kayaking is such a big deal for Matka Canyon that people decided to place a yellow kayak as a monument (surprise, surprise) on the mountain across the piers. And by people I mean the boat driver and his friend. He even told us that he is planning on putting another two kayaks next to the first one, so maybe by then you will see more than one kayak hanging over Matka Lake.
Along the Matka canyon there are a few monasteries, one of them that is easily accessible, since it is located next to the piers is the monastery of St. Andrew. This monastery looks a lot like the ones you can see all over Ohrid Old Town. St. Andrew’s monastery was founded in 1388 and is very well preserved.
Next to the monastery of St. Andrew there are a few cafes and restaurants with great views that serve traditional food, including the trout they catch in Matka canyon. After a boat ride, especially on a cold day, a hot cup of coffee in a warm restaurant is an amazing ending to your trip.