It was a suggestion of the car rental company employee, and I ended up following that tip on the very last day of my rental. After sleeping in Kumanovo, I make an early start, drive past Skopje and the Matka dam to where the road stops in Matka canyon, and start hiking. There are many options for Matka canyon: you can kayak, take a boat tour, visit the monasteries, hike, climb the steep rocks, swim in Matka lake or the rapids above the dam in Treska river. I am so early that everything is closed, so I do what is easiest: hike towards the end of the canyon. The sun is still hidden behind the mountains on the east side, making it quite dark in the canyon. The trail is at times cut out in the rock face, often with a railing to prevent falling into the water below.Several parts are hacked out in a half-tunnel. In fact, the rocks run from high above straight into the depths of the lake on my left hand side.
The canyon widens, allowing the sun to shine on the water. The views only get better here, and after the trail takes an inland turn, I reach the end of the trail. Right across is the entrance of Vrelo cave, but unfortunately, there is no bridge, and the cave is closed anyway. The only way to get there is by boat tour. I hike the same path back to Andrew's monastery, appalled by the trash strewn around the path (couldn't they have done a major clean-up during Covid-19 times?). I still see no activity here, so I stick to hiking. I am curious about the monasteries, and take a small trail to the left, the west side of Matka canyon. It turns out to be a very steep climb, barely visible at times, so this is serious hard work. I quickly climb into the sunlight, and after a while I feel like I am evaporating.
The steep incline means it does not take long before I have good views of Matka canyon, which now appears deep down. I keep on drinking on my way up, and after having covered several hundred metres altitude gain, I reach the ruins of Saint Nicholas church. Only some of the walls are still standing, but I do find remains of frescoes. It soon turns out that the hardest part is behind me: the trail meanders through the forest, mostly in the shade, until I reach Sveti Spa monastery. It is deserted, I manage to open the gate to the church is closed, but at least I find running water, so I drink until I am full, and refill all my bottles on this warm day. I take a trail down, with views from the Golden Cross into the north entrance of Matka canyon, and when I am back down, cross the bridge, and hike up the path to Saint Nicholas monastery. On the way through the forest, I find an Aesculapian snake lying on the trail, one of the largest snakes of Europe. At that moment, I don't know that it is harmless, and just when I consider going around it through the vegetation (risking meeting another snake hidden in the undergrowth), it moves away itself. There are some nice views of the monastery, but when I finally arrive, I find that the church is closed as well. With some rock climbing, you can reach a viewpoint above the spectacularly located Saint Nicholas church, but I simply do not have the time for that, as I need to return my car. I enjoy the views, hike down, and when I am back at the floor of the canyon, make it to the river to at least have a refreshing splash of Matka water on my face, before I head back to Skopje.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Matka canyon (North Macedonia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Matka canyon. Read more about this site.