The country of Macedonia – the Republic of Macedonia or the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as not to be confused with the region in Greece – is a beautiful place, but you really would not get that from its capital city. The capital, Skopje, is in a constant state of construction, and is full of faux-baroque buildings. This is a costly project and one that, as I learned, many Macedonians do not like. As one taxi driver put it to me, Skopje is like a fake Disneyland, and locals feel the government is wasting their money on a silly endeavor to make the new capital look like an old European one.
However, a mere thirty-minute bus ride away – on a local bus that has wifi, might I add – you will find Matka Canyon, one of the country’s most popular destinations for experiencing the outdoors. On my second day in Skopje I decided to make the trek, literally and figuratively, and hike in the surrounding area. The title of “most popular destination” is debatable though as I did not encounter a single soul except for cows during my hike. This was during a beautiful day in mid to late May.
The only place where there were other tourists was by the lake, Matka Lake, and even then, there were not many. The lake is an artificial one, and from there you can access a cave and a few medieval churches and monasteries. Since I hiked on both sides of the lake, I had to take the boat across.
The first part of the hike was up a moderately steep mountain side to a point with sweeping views of the canyon, the dam, and the surrounding area. The hike itself is not difficult and the views are rewarding.
From the view point I hiked back down to the starting point and headed to the lakeside St. Andrews Monastery, where I took the boat across to continue my hike.
Unlike the first portion of the hike, the second portion was a beast. The hike is almost vertical, over rocky, unstable terrain. It is a short but arduous climb that, in hindsight, I do not recommend even to my worst enemy. But alas, I made it to the top, then I worried about how I was going to go down such a steep trail.
The worst part though was that when I arrived at the monastery that marks the end of the trail, St. Nicholas Monastery, the church was closed. There is a great view of the canyon from up there but if I had known the church was going to be closed, I would have perhaps not tortured myself such with the hike to the top of the cliff. Or maybe I would have, who knows.
Once I was back down where the boat had dropped me off, I hoped that there were still boats around to take me back to the other side of the lake. There was one, and after waving my arms frantically for a few minutes, the boat driver spotted me among the trees and came for me.
I made it to Skopje in time for a late dinner. Despite the grueling second part of the hike, I had a great time and I highly recommend that, if you are in Skopje, you make this day hike for yourself and make friends with the local cows! In the meantime, you can experience the hike through my Makta Hike vlog!