Matka Canyon, Macedonia
Day 22: Jess is a Wanderer left the city and headed for one of Macedonia's 'top nature' spots - Matka Canyon.
Matka Canyon is located just 45 mins away from Skopje's city centre. It can be accessed using bus '60' from the main bus station. A one-way journey costs 75 Lev but the driver sells returns automatically, costing just over £2 per person. You even get a 'collectible' plastic transport card for your souvenir collection.
Matka village is at the end of the line and the driver will yell so when all the locals exit the bus and the blank-faced tourists sit waiting to go on to the next stop.
It's approximately a 4km walk from the 'end of the line' to the entrance to the canyon. The walk is interesting... an unpaved road lined with construction workers (at the time of our visit) and no real footpath to walk on. Cars navigate the roadworks and you navigate the cars navigating the roadworks!
Eventually, you arrive at the exhibition centre and begin the 'hike' through the canyon. There's a rather fancy hotel at the beginning of the trail serving some rather fancy food. There are also kayaks for hire and boat rides available. These cost €2-4 and can involve a trip into a cave.
We felt a little disappointed at this stage. Perhaps we've been spoilt in other places because there was litter and graffiti everywhere! All of the other 'natural' places we've been have been well-cared for and looked after by the tourism (or appropriate) authority. Nonetheless, the canyon was fantastic to see, the water being so clear and the rock formations pretty impressive. It turns out that it's not actually a natural lake and is created because of the hydro-electric dam which operates on the river.
After we had walked past the hotel, we had an option to turn right and tackle a mountain-esque hike. We opted for this because the 'tourist trail' was literally a walk in the woods - and we hoped there would be less rubbish along the 'wild path'. Sadly, it turns out that there was no path and it was just a big dumping ground! We couldn't even walk on a 'path' because of all the junk in the way. Admitting defeat, we headed back to the tourist trail.
A stray dog attached itself to us and became our guide. We named her 'Charlie' and she must have walked around 3km through the bush with us. She was well-behaved and didn't even go for our cheese sandwiches when we stopped for lunch. We managed to ditch her with some English lads on our way back down the hill.
As we were leaving, it occurred to us that we didn't know what time the buses headed backt to the city centre - and being a 45 minute bus ride, we didn't want to risk walking. A taxi driver stopped and told us it was at 2pm... 25 minutes to cover 4km. Could we do it? We decided it was worth a try.
Around 12 minutes later, another taxi stopped and offered to take us to the bus stop for 100 Lev. Around £1.10. We figured this was fair. Only, when we got to the bus stop where we first left the bus, he kept going... in fact, he actually went faster. Where were we going? The village of Matka became nothing but a spot on the horizon as we were hurtling forward on to... who knows where?! I turned to Wolvo and said, 'Ummm... have we been kidnapped?' She replied, 'Is it kidnap if you voluntarily got into the car?'
Left to ponder this thought, we arrived at a makeshift 'bus station' in the town of Sarah Capaj and he pointed to a number '2' bus that was going to take us back to Skopje. Turns out we weren't kidnapped after all. What a little champ taking us all this way where our bus was much nicer than the one that brought us here.
Getting off the bus back in Skopje, we headed to a supermarket to buy some 'healthy' dinner. We opted for some sort of sausages, salad and chicken. Not sure what was in the sausage but it tasted good! Tomorrow, we leave for Albania.
All in all, do we recommend Matka Canyon? Considering it costs less than £2 for the bus and it's free to get in, I'd say yes, go for it. It will get you out of the city and into nature but if another offer arises to see something else, perhaps do that instead!