Matka Canyon is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Macedonia. This wonderful gem of nature is located only a short ride away from the capital and you can easily go there as a day trip from Skopje.
I’ve been twice to Matka Canyon, in March and May, and both times it enchanted me, even if the place looked completely different. But no matter what time of the year, high mountains rolling steeply to the deep gorge filled with green water look simply stunning.
When planning a trip to Skopje be sure to save some time for visiting Matka Canyon – you won’t regret it!
Table of contents
Where is Matka Canyon
Matka Canyon is located in Northern Macedonia, only 17 km away from central Skopje, in the south-west direction.
A few facts about Matka Canyon
This spectacular place was actually not made by nature. In 1938 the dam was built on river Treska, creating the artificial lake surrounded by high mountains, the oldest lake of that kind in Macedonia.
The Matka Canyon covers the area of around 5,000 hectares. 20% of the plant species you can see here are endemic, meaning they can’t be found anywhere else. You can also see 77 kinds of butterflies in the area!
There are also ten caves at Matka Canyon, the most popular one being Vrelo Cave. It was even included on the list of top 77 natural sites of the world in the New 7 Wonders of the World project.
Why visit Matka Canyon
If the exceptional beauty of Matka Canyon is not enough for you there are a few more reasons to visit the place.
This is one of the most popular recreational areas near Skopje, attracting both locals and visitors all year long. You can do here numerous activities, like hiking, fishing or kayaking. You can also find some old monasteries in the area.
But the main reason to visit Matka Canyon is to see how big wonder of nature it is.
How to get to Matka Canyon from Skopje
Even if Matka Canyon is so close to Skopje, getting there isn’t always easy, especially if you rely on public transport.
The best option is, of course, by car. The ride is short, although the closer you get to the canyon, the more narrow and windy the road gets. But it’s not super difficult really.
To get to Matka Canyon from Skopje you need to drive towards Tetovo and eventually turn left, following signs to the canyon. The parking is free but it might be packed, you can also park the car along the way, many cars do it.
If you want to use public transport it is doable, however a bit challenging. I did it twice and although everything went fine there was a bit of uncertainty.
To get from Skopje to Matka Canyon you need to take the bus no 60. It departs from the central bus station, the one under the railway bridge. The city buses depart a bit further across the street from the long-distance ones, you will recognize the place with many red double-decker buses parked there. Each platform is market with the sing telling which numbers depart from there, bus no 60 is more or less in the middle.
Besides the central bus station, it also stops near the National Bank, on the opposite side of the street from the main post office, near central Macedonia Square, and on the stops along Boulevard Partizanski Odredi.
On the way back the bus should depart from where it dropped you off, however “should” is the keyword here. If there are too many cars the bus might turn around earlier, even in the village a few hundred meters before the final stop. That happened to me once, fortunately the bus was close enough for me to run to it and catch it at the very last moment.
The bus journey from the center to Matka Canyon takes around 40-60 minutes, depending on the traffic.
To take the bus you need to have a special Skopska card. You can buy it at the central bus station, the kiosk is on the other side of the station than the entrance. If you can’t find it ask around and people will point you in the right direction.
The card costs 150 MKD but it comes with three bus trips included, later you can tap the card with whichever amount you wish (one trip is 35 MKD).
When entering the bus through the front door you have to put the card on the validator next to the driver. I don’t recommend riding without a valid ticket as the controls happen.
You can’t buy the ticket from the driver.
Here is the schedule of the buses:
- Skopje to Matka Canyon weekdays: 5:50 / 7:45 / 9:40 / 11:20 / 13:05 / 14:55 / 16:25 / 17:45 / 19:20 / 21:00
- Skopje to Matka Canyon weekends: 7:00 / 8:45 / 10:30 / 12:10 / 13:50 / 15:30 / 17:10 / 18:45 / 20:15 / 22:30
- Matka Canyon to Skopje weekdays: 5:50 / 7:45 / 9:40 / 11:20 / 13:05 / 14:55 / 16:25 / 17:45 / 19:20 / 21:00
- Matka Canyon to Skopje weekends: 7:45 / 9:40 / 11:20 / 13:00 / 14:40 / 16:20 / 18:00 / 19:30 / 21:00
The buses back from Matka Canyon might be a bit delayed already at the first stop if the traffic on the way from Skopje disrupts the schedule.
Another way to get from Skopje to Matka Canyon and back is by taxi. The minimum you should expect to pay is 500 MKD but of course you will be asked more and the final price depends on your bargain skills.
If you arrive at the canyon by public transport you might be forced to use the taxi on the way back if the bus doesn’t arrive (I heard a few such stories). There are plenty of cars waiting at the parking lot, ready to take you back to the capital.
You can also go for a tour from Skopje to Matka Canyon. I would actually recommend it as prices are very affordable, you would avoid all the stress and hassle and you can combine visiting the canyon with another spectacular place near Skopje that can be a bit challenging to get to – Mount Vodno. Click here for the details on Skopje to Matka Canyon tour.
No matter which option you choose, from the parking lot to the canyon itself you still need to walk some 10 minutes. Part of the walk is uphill but it’s rather easy.
Fans of hiking can also reach Matka Canyon on foot. The trail starts at Mount Vodno and it’s not too difficult. It’s around 13 km and at the end you will have to go steeply downhill. Once you reach the Matka Lake you will need to take the boat to the other side – boats are available for 30 MKD.
Things to do in Matka Canyon
There are plenty of things to do in Matka Canyon that can keep you busy for a few hours.
You can go for a hike along the lake – there is a beautiful trail that takes around 1 hour one-way.
Unfortunately, at the end of the trail you just reach a gate and need to turn back and return on the same way. But the views along the way are just stunning. You don’t need to go all 3 kilometers to see the lake from different perspectives, no matter how long hike you choose, you will be satisfied for sure.
The trail isn’t difficult but there are some parts when solid shoes are definitely helpful. The hike can also get extra challenging after rain or in colder months.
Another way to see the beauty of Matka Canyon is from the water. You can go for a boat ride that will take you all the way to Vrelo cave or you can rent the kayak and paddle around yourself.
You will find the boat station just before the hotel, near the St. Andrew monastery.
During my last visit, in March 2020, the prices were as follow:
- 400 MKD for a return boat ride to Vrelo Cave
- 150 MKD for a single kayak (30 minutes)
- 300 MKD for a single kayak (60 minutes)
- 250 MKD for a double kayak (30 minutes)
- 500 MKD for a double kayak (60 minutes)
Vrelo Cave is located at the end of the Matka Canyon, more or less on the opposite side of the gate at the end of the trail (unfortunately you can’t take the boat from there to the cave). While it is not confirmed, many say that Vrelo Cave might be the deepest underwater cave in the world.
Inside you can see numerous stalagmites and stalactites, including so-called “Pine Cone” (the large stalactite in the middle of the cave). There are also two lakes.
Another thing to do in Matka Canyon is visiting old monasteries as there are a few of them in the area.
You can take the boat to the opposite side of the lake to hike up to St. Nikola Šiševski monastery. The way is a bit steep but it’s worth the effort.
You can also go up on the side of the hotel and there you will find ruins of St Nedela, St Troica and St. Michael Churches. Near the parking, there is Monastery of St Bogorodica and in the canyon itself, you will find Monastery St Andrea.
And once you are done with all the activities you can just sit down in the restaurant, drink a coffee or have a meal and enjoy the beautiful view around you. This is actually my favorite thing to do in Matka Canyon.
Tips for visiting Matka Canyon
The entrance to Matka Canyon is free of charge.
There is a hotel if you wish to stay overnight at Matka Canyon – click here for more details.
You can also find the restaurant and the cafe at Matka Canyon. Prices are higher than in Skopje but the view from the table is pretty incredible and it’s worth stopping here even for a quick coffee.
The walking path from the parking to the restaurant is suitable for strollers or wheelchairs.
You can enter the canyon with the pets.
If you plan to do some hiking around, or even just go for a walk along the lake beyond the restaurant I recommend wearing comfortable and not slippery shoes. You will need them.
Both of my visits in Matka Canyon were rather short, only 2-3 hours as I had to go back to the capital (I always find some cool things to do in Skopje) but you can easily spend the whole day there, going to upper parts of the mountains, hiking around and enjoying the views.
I visited Matka Canyon twice, in March and in May. It looked different both times of the year but each time it enchanted me and took my breath away with its beauty. I can only assume it is equally beautiful in autumn and wintertime and I hope I will have a chance to visit Matka Canyon then as well.
The place is such a perfect nature getaway from the overwhelming Skopje (that I still adore, but it can be a lot to deal with) and I recommend everyone visiting the capital of Macedonia going to Matka Canyon as well. It is such a lovely place to see!
Balkans are one of my favorite regions that I visited so many times I can’t count really. If you are planning a trip to Macedonia and the Balkans you might find these articles interesting and useful:
- What to do in Skopje, the kitschy yet cool capital of Macedonia
- Alternative Skopje
- Day trip from Skopje to Pristina, Kosovo
- Beautiful Ohrid, Macedonia off season
- Veles, North Macedonia – an underrated city in the Balkans
- Your ultimate Balkan travel guide
- and many more!
For my Polish readers – I recommend reading my friend Paweł’s article “Kanion Matka – cud przyrody w Macedonii.” He also took a few pictures I used in this article.
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