Matka Canyon is a wide canyon with an incredible view, located just 50 km from the Macedonian capital, Skopje. It is one of the most fascinating places in Macedonia due to its calm waters and lush scenery. If you happen to be in Skopje, it would be a perfect route for a day trip. Although many travelers do not know about the canyon, it is one of the favorite getaways for Skopje residents.
Probably the most surprising thing about Matka is Vrelo Cave, which may be the deepest underwater cave in Europe. There are many exciting activities to do in Matka Canyon. In the Matka Canyon guide, I wrote down my experiences and tips for how to get there, what to do, where to eat, where to stay and much more.
Arriving at Matka Canyon by public bus from Skopje, you find yourself near the medieval Sveti Bogorodica or the Monastery of the Blessed Virgin Mary. You can reach the canyon by walking a few minutes to the south. While you’re there, enjoy some of the peace and quiet of the 14th-century monastery before making your way through the crowded canyon.
Matka has a walking route with some paths where you can both walk and see medieval churches. You can also visit the canyon by boat or canoe.
If you are going to the Matka Canyon by car, there is a place where you can park your car, although there is not a large and regular car park. If you’re not coming for the weekend, you can even find a parking space right at the entrance of the canyon. Do not leave anything of value in the vehicle due to possible theft. Do not worry, even if the first impression makes you wonder where I came from.
The views you will see in the canyon will wipe away all your possible bad feelings. After a ten-minute walk to the south, you reach the Matka Dam, which was built in 1935. Just beyond is the artificial but beautiful Lake Matka. The first thing you will see will be the Treska River flowing just a few meters from the lake.
If you want to take a canoe trip in Matka Canyon, you can rent a canoe from the visitor center. You can wander around on your own or even try going to the Vrelo Cave. If you have a lot of time and energy, it can be perfect for enjoying the emerald green lake.
Canoes are rented for 150 MKD for 30 minutes and 300 MKD for 1 hour. The prices for canoes you can ride in pairs are 250 MKD for 30 minutes and 500 MKD for one hour. Take a waterproof bag with you in which you can put your belongings.
Matka Canyon boat tours depart from the visitor center near the dam. 30-minute boat tours are 200 MKD per person. After visiting the Matka trails, you can return and take a boat tour. Make sure you have enough cash with you. Payment using credit card is not accepted.
In the spring and summer, many locals swim in the lake and jump into the water from the surrounding cliffs. There are cliffs of varying heights, but be careful if you’re brave enough to jump in. If you plan to swim, bring a swimsuit, towel, flip flops and don’t forget your sunscreen. The sun is scorching in the summer.
Vrelo Cave is one of the deepest caves in Europe, located in the Matka Canyon. From the boat pier, you can take a boat tour to Vrelo Cave. An hour boat ride to the cave, the most popular attraction in Matka Canyon, costs MKD 400 per person. The price is higher as it takes more time to reach the cave.
Vrelo is actually just one of 10 caves in the canyon, the only one open to the public. Several attempts have been made to measure the depth of the cave. However, until now, divers have been able to go to a depth of 240 meters. The teams could not move forward due to the piles of rocks blocking the road.
As such, Vrelo is one of the deepest underwater caves in the world. But since the cave has not been fully explored, no one knows how deep Vrelo is.
Matka Canyon is home to several medieval monasteries and numerous caves. The Matka Canyon region served as a shelter for Christians fleeing the Ottomans for many years. After the Ottomans proved tolerant towards Christianity, faithful Christians became a retreat center for contemplation.
In addition to a few tourist-oriented restaurants, you’ll pass another church before entering Matka Canyon. The name of the church is St. Andrea. Located in the heart of the canyon, St. Andrea Monastery , built in 1388. The monastery is the oldest in the Matka Canyon and one of the oldest in Macedonia.
As soon as I poked my head inside the monastery, an inside man immediately shouted, ‘Ticket!’ yell. The way of addressing was a little disturbing. But if you really want to see the 14th century church and its preserved frescoes, the fee is 100 MKD.
Just after the monastery, you’ll find the starting point of all roads to some of Matka’s incredible medieval monasteries. The path leading to the Monastery of St. Nicholas starts right across . It’s a steep, rocky climb but at least well shaded. When you walk up the path and proceed, you will soon reach the monastery.
The route on the left, where the main road divides into two, leads to several walking routes where you can see a few more monasteries. The most important place to see on the route is St. Nikola monastery and the village of Shishevo, named after the saint of the same name. On the opposite side of the canyon is the 15th century monastery of Sveti Spas (Holy Salvation).
If you plan to go for a walk, bring comfortable and non-slip shoes. I was told that most of the trekking routes get slippery in the fall and winter. Especially if you are trekking, there are not many places to buy food and drink in the canyon.
At the entrance of the canyon, there are small shops selling snacks and drinks, souvenir shops, that’s all. So if you’re planning on hanging out out of the ordinary, make sure you have food and enough water and drink for the whole day.
Although the exact date of construction of the monastery is unknown, it was first mentioned in the 17th century. Unfortunately the church was locked during my visit. But from the outside, it looks very similar to other churches I’ve seen in Macedonia.
You’d better spare half a day to Matka. There is so much to see and do. If at the end of your trip you are probably very tired and very hungry, you can grab a bite to eat at the restaurant near the visitor centre. Of course, keep in mind that this place is always more expensive than other places.
If you’re looking for a more authentic and affordable option, find Manastirska Pestera, or what the locals call Mechkina Dupka (bear hole), near the entrance to the canyon. The name of the restaurant means Monastery Cave. The restaurant is already carved into a cave and its interior resembles a cave. The food is good, the drinks are cheap and the view is nice.
You will probably come back to Matka Canyon from Skopje, but know that you can also stay in Matka if you wish. Right next to the visitor center is a four-star hotel, whose rooms cost between 39 and 59 euros per night. You can also find some homestays in the Dolna Matka area next to the canyon.
I did not stay, but if you wish, you can alternatively stay at Matka Mountaineering Center, which offers 40 bunk-bed accommodation divided into five rooms. Close to the visitor center, the Matka Mountaineering Center offers far fewer amenities than a hotel, but is much cheaper.
The way back to Skopje from Matka Canyon is the same. But keep in mind that if it’s a weekend or a busy day, there will be too many parked cars on the road and the bus won’t be able to pick you up from where it first left you. You may need to walk for 20-30 minutes to get to the next bus stop.