- 1 Visas
- 2 Advantages of hitchhiking in Macedonia
- 3 Disadvantages of hitchhiking in Macedonia
- 4 Food & Drink
- 5 Accommodation
- 6 Weather
- 7 Transport & Hitch-hiking
- 8 Macedonia naming dispute
- 9 Language
- 10 Money
- 11 Health & Safety
- 12 Ethnic groups
- 13 Types of roads
- 14 Road map of Macedonia
- 15 Absolutely essential hitch-hikers phrasebook
- 16 Border Crossings
- 17 7 Macedonia Top Destinations
- 18 Our Experience
The mountainous Macedonia is one of the few countries in Europe that can still claim to be undiscovered by mass tourism and a country still trying to find its place in the modern world. The main draw is the stunning lakeside town of Ohrid, with its friendly atmosphere and beautiful location (and a place very close to our hearts). Skopje, the capital, is a fast-developing melting pot where East literally sits facing West across the Stone Bridge. Add three gorgeous national parks, with the Mavrovo National Park particularly celebrated for its stunning alpine views and a host of remote locations with hidden away Orthodox monasteries and churches, many of which date back over a thousand years, and you are left with one of Europe’s most enticing destination.
Mostly stress free, especially if you’re from Europe
One big advantage of backpacking and hitchhiking in Macedonia is that the visa situation is easy for many. Check out the information below (or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Macedonia) to see if you are one of the lucky ones..
ⓐ No visa – 90 days
EU citizens and citizens of the following countries do not requite a visa to enter for up to 90 days:
Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Barbados, Belarus3, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, Georgia3, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Liechtenstein, Macau, Malaysia2, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro1, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Russia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Seychelles, Serbia, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey1, Ukraine, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City
1 – For citizens of Montenegro and Turkey the maximum permitted stay is 60 days. 2 – For citizens of Malaysia the maximum permitted stay is 30 days. 3 – For nationals of Belarus and Georgia holding normal passports travelling as a tourist either individually with "vouchers" or in a travel group organised by travel agencies.
ⓑ Visa free but only for business
Citizens of the following 4 do not require a visa if their passports are endorsed “business”:
Belarus, China, Georgia, Mongolia
ⓒ Need approval from Ministry of Internal Affairs
In addition to a visa, the following nationals also need approval from the Macedonian Ministry of Internal Affairs:
Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Bangladesh, Burundi, Cameroon, China, Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Honduras, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Moldova, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Yemen
Advantages of hitchhiking in Macedonia
On the whole, the Macedonia hitchhiking experience is a positive one. Waiting times are short and the people are friendly and normally more than willing to help. It is most definitely possible to cover the whole country by thumb with little to no problems. Many people travelling to Macedonia will find it a cheap travel destination, with prices slightly lower than the other Balkan states, and considerably lower than in western Europe.
A simple visa process, or the lack of it for many countries, also takes away a lot of the potential travel stress. Furthermore, Macedonia is a beautiful country, blessed with great diversity, from its epic lakes to its soaring mountains which is great for those who love to explore the great outdoors. All of this, without the floods of tourists you find in most places as stunning as this!
Disadvantages of hitchhiking in Macedonia
Those spending a lot of time in the country will notice pretty quickly that the road network is quite basic, with many lesser roads in an awful state. Rubbing salt in the wound is the fact that motorway tolls are plentiful, and relatively expensive, so if your paying be sure to have lots of change.
Hotels are exorbitantly expensive, especially for foreigners and in towns with little tourism infrastructure, so unless you want to pay through the teeth, invest in a tent.
The no alcohol buying after 9 p.m (7 p.m. in winter) rule is an annoyance and forces the budget-conscious traveller into a bar to spend extra cash.
Additionally, the very pushy and handsy Roma children can be intimidating especially for those travelling alone.
And finally, knowledge of English is still quite limited, so if don’t have any Slavic languages under your belt, then a phrasebook is essential.
Food & Drink
What cuisine to expect
For those familiar with standard Balkan cuisine, Macedonia should pose few surprises with its culinary options. Expect lots of grilled meat (skara; especially widely available in the whole region – ćevapčići) and salads (esp. shopska salata) comprising of cucumber, tomatoes, white cheese and peppers common in both starters and mains. With meats, beef, chicken and mutton are extremely common and pork less so (due to its increased price and the large Muslim population) and be sure to try the national dish Tavče-gravče which is prepared in a clay dish with fresh beans and can be found in almost all restaurants in Macedonia. Foreign influences also play their part and the Ottoman influence can be spotted in the deserts and the ubiquitous meze (a variety of cold & creamy vegetable spreads) whilst the growth of Italian food can be seen by the increase in pizzerias in the big cities.
When & where to eat and the lost art of breakfast
The cheapest restaurant in Macedonia is a skara (grill) and the first port of call for the hungry budget traveller. Restaurants catering to tourists (esp. in Skopje & Ohrid) are invariable more expensive and best avoided. For those used to a western style breakfast, prepared to be disappointed, as the locals normally survive on a cup of coffee and bread with jam, but this is changing slowly and in the larger cities more options are becoming available. It is still advisable however, to try to find accommodation that offers breakfast as outside the cities it can be difficult to find. Macedonians typically take their main meal during the day but again this traditional way of doing things is under threat.
What to drink and make sure to buy early
It is very important to note that it is forbidden to buy alcohol from shops & supermarkets after 7p.m. in the winter and 9 p.m. in the summer. This rule is enforced by supermarkets but there is usually a shopkeeper willing to bend the rules as long as you don’t flaunt it to all and sundry. Although, all being said, it is wise to stock up early if you are planning to drink on the streets at night.
As for what to try, Macedonia is the Balkan’s largest producer of wine and the common red ‘T’ga za Jug‘ is both economical and extremely popular with the locals. Rakija, an extremely strong grape brandy, is the hard stuff of choice and the drinkable if not spectacular Skopsko beer dominates the lager market.
Hotels – expensive and double the price for foreigners
Rather annoyingly the state-run pre 1990’s communist style hotels that can be a cheap sleep in other parts of former Yugoslavia, are not a budget friendly option in Macedonia. The buildings tend to be poorly maintained with extremely basic facilities and most frustratingly of all, foreigners are normally charged much more than native Macedonians. Also, the heating is normally turned off between April and October and they can get very chilly. In short, stay away!
Why not stay in a monastery?
Monasteries in Macedonia offer accommodation at excellent prices (sometimes half that of a hotel) and the chance to stay in some unique surroundings. Booking is potentially tricky however, as very few of the inhabitants speak English and native Macedonians tend to book up all the spaces early. If you speak no Macedonian (or have no friend to help you) go there early as the staff may leave early after the pre-bookers have arrived. Additionally, once you have arrived you need to collect a registration card from the inn staff and register yourself at the local police station as, unlike in a hotel, it will not be done for you.
Private Accommodation, Hostels & Camping
In the main tourist destinations it is advisable for the budget traveller to find private accommodation. This can normally be achieved by either walking around the bus or train station or heading for the main square with rucksacks in tow and somebody will approach you offering a bed or apartment. Normal rules apply – be sure to see the room first, and pay no more than 10 – 15 € (at very most). Hostels are also an option, mostly in Ohrid and Skopje, and usually include breakfast at comparable prices to private accommodation. Camp sites can also be found but they tend to be difficult to access without private transport and the quality is very mixed. Wild camping, while technical illegal, is also an option and many locals still do it, just be sure to find somewhere out of the way and remember to clean up after yourself.
Expect variation to the east and up high
On the whole Macedonia experiences a mild continental climate characterised by relatively cold & humid winters (-3 – 3°C) and warm & dry summers with temperatures effected by elevation (i.e. the higher you are the colder it is) (av. 20–25 °C). In the places of highest elevation, mainly in the west and south, a mountainous climate exists so expect long & snowy winters with short & cold summers. On the eastern borders long & dry summers and mild & rainy winters are the norm, with very little to differentiate spring & autumn.
Transport & Hitch-hiking
Travelling long distances
As always, we here at HitchHikersHandbook.com would recommend the easiest and most interesting way to get around – hitch-hiking, but if you need a break from this intensive form of travel then what are your options in Macedonia? Well, the bus network is relatively well-developed and the most common form of domestic & international transport but be warned that most do not have heating and have been known to break down. Additionally, few have on-board toilets so make sure to go before you leave. The train network in Macedonia is limited, with Skopje to Kičevo through the north-west and to Bitola in the south the main routes. Note – there is no train connection to Ohrid. Train information can be found here (n.b. in Macedonian).
Avoid getting ripped off by taxis
Taxis is general are much cheaper than in western Europe with most charging a flat rate of 30 / 50 MKD with 30 MKD added for every kilometre you travel. Within a city, paying over 100 MKD can be considered excessive so make sure (as much as possible) of the price before you start your journey. The exception to these rules are Ohrid where during peak season taxi drivers will attempt to charge up to three times as much and will definitely not go below 100 MKD regardless of the journey length, and journey to and from Skopje airport. To avoid paying exorbitant rates book with an established taxi firm in advance or haggle until you think you have reached a fair price. Never get in a taxi that you are not comfortable with as there are always other drivers who may give you a more reasonable price.
Macedonia naming dispute
Macedonia, the Republic of Macedonia or FYROM
The name Macedonia is a controversial thing. Greece believes that the name Macedonia, and all the cultural heritage attached to it, is Greek and they oppose the use of the ‘Republic of Macedonia’ without a geographical qualifier (i.e. Northern Macedonia). Furthermore, they accuse Macedonia of appropriating the symbols and figures that are historical part of Greek culture (e.g. Alexander the Great). The term FYROM (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) is used by international organisations, supposedly until a more permanent solution is found, but is rejected by Macedonians themselves as insulting. With no compromise in sight, the naming dispute will seemingly run and run.
What to speak and bring a phrasebook
Macedonian is the official language of Macedonia and is spoken by almost everyone in the country. 25% of the people speak Albanian as their first language and are concentrated in the north-west (the areas bordering Albania) and the capital Skopje. While some young people in the urban centres speak some English, many do not, so a phrasebook is highly recommended if you are planning on exploring the country fully. Speakers of Bulgarian, Serbo-Croatian and Slovene will have few problems as the languages are almost mutually intelligible and Russian and German is useful especially when dealing with the older generation.
One of Europe’s cheapest travel destinations
Macedonian denar (MKD) are divided into denominations of 10, 50, 100, 500, 1000 and 5000 for notes and 1, 2, 5 for coins. The cost of travelling in Macedonia is very cheap when compared to western Europe, slightly less than the other former states of Yugoslavia and comparable with its eastern neighbour Bulgaria.
Current exchange rates
Health & Safety
To drink or not to drink and other safety concerns
The debate about whether to drink the tap water in Macedonia rages on and contradictory advice is plentiful. In truth, drinking the water is not going to kill you but may take a little time to become accustomed to. As for other safety concerns, generally speaking Macedonia is a safe county in which to travel baring the odd pickpockets, especially in touristy and crowded areas. One annoyance however, is the persistence of young beggars, particularly along the riverside in Skopje, who can be intimating. Simply duck into a restaurant or shop if you are unable to shake them off.
The ethnic problems and how to avoid offending people
The ethnic problems bubbling under the surface in Macedonia become evident the more time you spend in the country. Relations between the Macedonian majority and Albanian minority are fraught and as a foreigner it is almost always best to avoid giving an opinion as you will be sure to offend somebody. At all costs avoid talking about the 2001 civil war with the NLA. Other touchy topics include Macedonian-Greek and Macedonian-Bulgaria relations as some locals hold strong views about their neighbour states that are not always very diplomatic. As a general rule, ask questions but offer no statements.
Types of roads
There are around 14,000km of roads in Macedonia, of which 9,573km are paved. The motorway system is limited to around 200km spread across 4 motorways which mostly revolve around the central-northern capital of Skopje and cut north-south through the country. Regional roads are generally in poor condition and progress can be slow going. There are 3 road classifications in all, but there is some overlay between the European E-road network and the National highway system.
① European International Roads (E roads) are multi-lane carriageways and make up the best looked after and quickest roads in Macedonia. The most important E-road runs from Kosovo in the north all the way through to Greece in the south but additional roads run west of Skopje to Gostivar and from the west to Ohrid in the south-west. Most E-roads are tolled and the speed limit is 120km/h (74mp/h). Hitch-hiking on them is a grey area but you will generally have no problems.
② Motorways (M or A roads, автопат) are multi-lane or single carriageways and overlap with the E-road system but with a few extra roads here and there. Many of them are toll roads and the speed limit is 120km/h (74mp/h) or 100km/h (62 mp/h) depending on the road. Hitch-hiking on them is a grey area but you will generally have no problems.
③ Regional roads (Pегионалниот пат, P-roads) form the rest of the road network in Macedonia. Traffic varies, as does quality, but sometimes they are the only option if you are looking to head towards the rural areas. Speed limits vary between 50-80km/h (30-50mp/h) and hitch-hiking on them is legal.
50 km/h (30 mp/h) within inhabited places
80 km/h (50 mp/h) outside inhabited places
100 km/h (62 mp/h) on expressways
120 km/h (74 mp/h) on motorways
Road map of Macedonia
Absolutely essential hitch-hikers phrasebook– Hello – Здраво! (ZDRAH-voh)
– Thank you – Благодарам. (blah-GOH-dah-rahm)
– Yes – Да.(dah)
– No – Не. (neh)
– Please – Ве молам! (veh MOH-lahm)
– Excuse me. (getting attention) – Извинете (eez-VEE-neh-teh)
– How are you? – Како сте?(KAH-koh steh?)
– Well, thanks. – Многу добро,благодарам! (MNOH-goo DOH-broh blah-GOH-dah-rahm)
– Goodbye – Довидување! (doh-vee-DOO-vah-nyeh)
– Hitch-hiking – автостоп – (ov-toh-STOP)
– I don’t have money. – Јас немам пари – (Jas ne-MAM PAR-i)
– We don’t have money. – ние Немаме пари – (Nie ne-MA-me PAR-i)
– Money – пари. (PA-ri)
– I’m going to … – Јас oдам да (Jas odam do…..)
– We are going to … – ние oдиме да (Nie odime do….)
– Where are you going? – Каде одиш? (KA-de OD-ish?)
– Can I go with you? – можам да дојдам со тебе? – (Dali moze jas da dojdam so vas?)
– Can we go with you? – може да одиме со вас – (Dali moze nie da dojdeme so vas?)
– I am … – Јас … (yahs … )
– My name is … – Јас се викам … (yahs seh VEE-kahm …)
– I am from … – Јас сум од … (yahs sum od …)
– What is your name? – Како се викате? (KAH-koh seh VEE-kah-teh?)
– Pleased to meet you. – Мило ми е што ве запознав. (MEE-loh mee eh shtoh veh zah-POHZ-nahv)
– I don’t understand. – Jac не paзбирам. (yahs neh RAZH-bee-rahm)
– now – Сега (sega)
– today – Денес (denes)
– yesterday – Вчера (vchera)
– tomorrow – Утре (utre)
– friend – пријател (pre-YA-tiel)
Very useful when they ask you where you’re staying. The concept of Couchsurfing is often too difficult to explain, so just say you’re staying with a friend. You can also use this word to express the relationship between you and your fellow travellers.
– Can you stop? – Дали мозе да застанете ве молам? – (Dali moze da zastanete ve molam?)
– I want to get out. – Јас сакам да излезам – (Jas sakam da izlezam)
– Turn left – Сврти лево (svrti levo)
– Turn right – Сврти десно (svrti desno)
– Straight ahead – Оди право (odi pravo)
– here – Тука (tuka)
– Do you have …? – имате (EE-ma-tsye)
– Bus station – автобуска станица (avtobuska stanica)
You should know this word and listen out for it to avoid situations when your driver, in their best intentions, takes you off the road and drives you to a station.
– Train station – железничка станица (zheleznichka stanica)
– Help! – Пoмoш! (POH-mosh!)
– Look out! – Пази! (Pazi!)
– street – улица (OO-lee-tsah)
– road – пат (paht)
Macedonia neighbours 5 different countries: Kosovo & Serbia (to the north), Bulgaria (east), Greece (south) and Albania (west).
Macedonia – Kosovo
There are two border crossings between Macedonia & Kosovo
- The most important border crossing is located 20 minutes north of the capital Skopje at Blace (Macedonia) – Elez Han (Kosovo). It joins the capitals of both states, is found on the A4 / M2 highway and is a painless and problem free crossing.
Macedonia – Serbia
There are two border crossings between Macedonia & Serbia
- The main border crossing is positioned at Tabanovtse (Macedonia) – Preševo (Serbia) on the A1 highway and connects Kumanovo (Macedonia) with the main north-south Serbian highway that continues through all the major cities including the capital Belgrade. It is a problem free crossing from our experience.
Macedonia – Bulgaria
There are three border crossings between Macedonia & Bulgaria
- The principal border crossing is the most northern and can be found on the European highway E871 at Kriva Palanka (Macedonia) – Gyueshevo (Bulgaria). It connects the capital Skopje with its Bulgaria counterpart Sofia and is the main route for most long distance traffic.
Macedonia – Greece
There are three border crossings between Macedonia & Greece
- The main crossing is situated at Gevgelija (Macedonia) – Evzoni (Greece), along the E75 European route. It connects the major Greek city of Thessaloniki with Macedonia’s main north-south motorway that runs all the way to the capital Skopje, and is by far the biggest crossing for those looking to hitchhike.
- The other crossings can be found at Medzhitlija (Macedonia) – Niki (Greece) which connects the important cities of Bitola (Macedonia) and Florina (Greece); and at Star Dojran (Macedonia) – Doirani (Greece) which is located a little east of the main crossing, more information can be found here.
Macedonia – Albania
There are four border crossings between Albania & Macedonia
- The two most important border crossings are located on the north and south side of Lake Ohrid. The northern Ќafasan (Macedonia) – Qafë Thanë (Albania) crossing is located on the A2 / SH3 highway and was quick and problem free when we passed through it.
- The southern Sveti Naum (Macedonia) – Tushemisht (Albania) crossing is located to the south-west of Galichica National Park and is normally crossed on foot, so if you are travelling by bus you will need to wait for another bus the other side
7 Macedonia Top Destinations
① Ohrid and Lake Ohrid – 3 days
Charming Ohrid is the undoubted attraction of Macedonia and it isn’t hard to see why. In the ‘Balkan Jerusalem’, where once 365 churches stood, the best remaining examples of its stunning religious heritage are the St.Sophia church and St.Bogorodica Perivlepta. Its old quarter has retained its magic and the medieval castle overlooking the scene sits perfectly with the picture book feel of the town. Outside Ohrid, along the banks of one of Europe’s deepest and oldest lakes, are some wonderful secluded beaches and the nearby mountainous and floral Galičica National Park is a wonderful place to go hiking or skiing. Ohrid has been a UNESCO World Hertiage Site since 1980 and is one of only 28 sites on the list that are both Cultural and Natural sites. All in all, a must see.
② Skopje – 2 days
The capital and largest city in Macedonia, Skopje is a surprisingly entertaining and diverse city, given its size, and despite the opinion-splitting monumental building spree currently being undertaken, it is still a city packed with places of cultural interest. The 15th century Stone Bridge, which connects the traditional Muslim and Christian districts is testament to the city’s history as a cultural crossroads with Macedonia Square with its absurdly towering Alexander the Great statue and the Čaršija (old Turkish bazaar) being great areas to stroll around. Other attractions include the Sveti Spas Church, with its ornate hand-carved icons and paintings, and the Tvrdina Kale Fortress sitting imperiously on the hill. For a day trip, take a ride the stunning Matka Lake & Canyon with its medieval monasteries.
③ Mavrovo National Park – 2 days
Composed of over 700 km2 of pine forest, waterfalls, gorges and rocky hills, the Mavrovo National Park is the largest in Macedonia and is also home to the country’s highest peak Mt Korab (2764 m). Besides wonderful hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter there is also the Sv. Jovan Bigorski Monastery, which is located in Rostuse, with its beautiful frescos and icons to be enjoyed. Other popular attractions are Mavrovo Lake with its crystal clear waters and the half-submerged church located in its watery grave. Also, in the summertime a traditional matrimonial event takes place in Galičnik where a few lucky couples get married and everyone celebrates.
④ Bitola – 1 day
Macedonia’s second city is arguable its most ‘European’ in atmosphere and is certainly its most elegant with Ottoman architecture befitting its days as an important Turkish diplomatic centre. Highlights include the Old Bazaar, which although smaller than the one in Skopje, is certainly more beautiful; Deboj Amam, the 17th century Turkish baths and the Ajdar Kadi Mosque. The former consulate buildings represent some of the finest architecture in the city and be sure to take a walk down Shirok Sokak Street and enjoy the romantic neoclassical façades as well as the Catholic Cathedral and military academy where Ataturk once studied. Two km south of the city you can visit the famous ruins of an ancient Greek city Heraclea Lyncestis, founded by Philip II in 4th century BC.
⑤ Pelister National Park – 2 days
Macedonia’s oldest national park sits in the Baba Mountain massif and is a great place to get away from the urban stresses of travelling. There are eight peaks over 2000m, with Mt Pelister (2601m) standing tallest amongst them, and two glacial lakes, the so-called Pelisterski Oči (Pelister’s eyes) to be explored, as well as various hikes. Further treats include a landscape filled with exquisite flora and fauna and diverse woodland wildlife including boars, deer, wolves and bears.
⑥ Kruševo – 1 day
Hilltop Krusevo is Macedonia’s highest settlement (1300m) and as well as being a charming place to visit, it is also curious in a number of ways. Founded by Vlach and Mijak tribesmen fleeing a particularly oppressive Ottoman governor, the town is remarkable for its traditional blue tinted houses celebrated for their symmetrical style. It is also an important cultural site for Macedonians as the Ilinden Uprising, the biggest, but ultimately unsuccessful rebellion against Turkish rule, started in the town. Today, the town is also the focal-point of National Day, which is celebrated on 2nd August.
⑦ And what would you recommend?
What should be our number 7 in your opinion? We are very curious to hear where you’ve been and what you liked, so please share your knowledge and experience in the comments!
We will add the best recommendations to our map!
Macedonia Top Destinations Map
We hitch-hiked in Macedonia as part of our ‘The Balkan Peninsula by Thumb 2013‘ trip and covered 289km by thumb. It was our second visit to the country and the place where we originally met all those years ago. On our return to the country we also got engaged. In Macedonia we managed to hitch-hike our way from the Albanian border to the capital Skopje relatively quickly with short waiting times. We then hitch-hiked onto to Kosovo before returning through Macedonia on our way to Serbia. Accommodation was trickier, as finding couchsurfing hosts was next to impossible without pre-planning so we stayed in a hostel in Ohrid and with an old friend in Skopje.