Welcome to Day #4 of 100 Days of Travel. It’s a new world and a new type of traveling. For the next 100 days I’m exploring Macedonia and Albania as safely as possible.

I’ve returned to Matka Canyon for another hike. Instead of hiking to monasteries hidden in the heights, this time I’ll be heading straight up through the gut of the canyon. Most visitors make this journey by boat, but if you would rather take a meandering stroll through Matka Canyon, this easy hike is well worth the trip.

A Short History

Matka Canyon is one of the most popular outdoor destinations in the country. Amazingly, 20% of the plants in Matka are only found in this canyon, there are 77 indigenous species of butterflies, and (I found out after hiking) the most venomous snake in south Europe, the horned viper, lives here. The Matka Dam, built in 1935, also created the oldest artificial lake in Macedonia. Since 1994, Matka has been been declared a protected area.

Fun Fact: Matka means “womb” in Macedonian and “mother” in Polish.

Quick Info

Difficulty: Easy-medium
Type of Hike: Singletrack dirt/rock trail
Distance: 6 kilometers roundtrip (estimated)
Time: 2.5 hours roundtrip
Starting Point: https://goo.gl/maps/bkbbZLzP5JmHWxi88

Finding the Trailhead

This is an easy one. Follow the trail from the parking lot past the Matka Dam. This hike starts at the restaurant and cafe. Just look for the carabiner monument commemorating a local climbing legend.

Quick Tip: The cafe is an ideal spot to fuel up on coffee before the hike and have a beer after the hike. Prices are affordable and the view from the deck is just perfect.

On the Hike

This is a straightforward hike that’s level nearly the entire way along a mostly single-track trail. There are a few sections where the plants have grown over the railings which isn’t an issue – unless it’s early morning in September and bees are making their final run for the pollen. Be(e) careful going through these buzzing areas of activity.

Lots of the tricky parts have a sturdy rail. Well, a mostly sturdy rail…

Unfortunately, the end of the trail ends at a disappointing fence. And even more unfortunate, you will find yourself on the wrong side of the canyon if you want to see Vrelo Cave, arguably the deepest underwater cave in Europe. I had hoped like my previous adventure there was a secret route across the canyon, but nothing. You’re also too high up to swim over or hail a boat.

Near the start of the hike, there’s some opportunities for swimming and picnicking, which I took advantage of on the way back. The water is ice cold, but incredibly refreshing, especially with views like this one!

Quick Tip: You can catch a boat ride at Matka Lake to the cave for between 200-400 denari ($2-$4 USD). Based on boats passing me on the hike, the entire trip, including time at the caves, looks to be around an hour.

Floral and Fauna

While the trail mostly follows the rocky walls around the canyon, there are a few points when it dips into small sections of forest and it’s here I came across these amazing swathes of Kosanini’s Violet (viola kosanini), a flower that only grows in Matka.

Quick Tip: It’s also one of the best times of the year for foraging. I was able to feast on late-season blackberries, fresh figs, and juicy red apples that were all growing near the bus stop.

Final Notes

Skopje continues to impress with the number of easily accessible outdoor opportunities. Between Matka and Vodno Mountain, you should be able to find plenty of hikes, no matter the length of your trip. Keep scrolling down for more pictures of this beautiful spot.