We had already hiked to Matka Canyon from the top of Mount Vodno, but made a return trip to check out Vrelo, which is Macedonia’s most famous cave. Although its depths are yet to be fully explored, Vrelo is presumed by many to be the deepest underwater cave in the world.
In 2010, an international team led by Italian diver Luigi Casati attempted to find the bottom of Vrelo. Before having to turn around, Casati had reached 212 meters in depth and the bottom was still nowhere in sight. It hasn’t been verified, but experts estimate that Vrelo extends for at least 330 meters under the surface, which would be the world record. Some have placed their estimates of Vrelo’s depth at over 500 meters.
Adventurous, life-endangering diving expeditions are fine for some people, but we were content to stay above the surface. After taking bus #60 from Skopje to Matka, we walked along the Treska River until reaching the restaurant-hotel Dom Matka. Here, it was easy to organize a trip to Vrelo. The boat ride was slow and leisurely, and the water ever clearer as we motored farther upstream. Within the quiet canyon flanked by unscalable cliffs and dense forest, we felt a world away from the hustle and bustle of Skopje.
The above-ground section of Vrelo comprises just a fraction of its total size, but it’s still impressive. After anchoring the boat, our guide led us up a short path, and then down into the main chamber, which was illuminated by lamps. There’s an enormous stalagmite in the center of the room, known as the “Pine Cone,” and strange formations along the walls. There are also a lot of bats.
Vrelo Cave means different things to different people. For expert divers, it represents a challenge which has so far proven insurmountable. But for us regular folks, it’s simply an easy and rewarding excursion from Skopje.