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Mavrovo National Park: North Macedonia’s Wild West

village perched in the hills in mavrovo national park

A visit to Mavrovo National Park should be on every travellers list when visiting North Macedonia. Home to endless mountains, dense forests, and wild creatures, the remote region is a hiker’s paradise, offering a wonderful insight into North Macedonia’s wilderness and the rural villages.

Mavrovo is North Macedonia’s largest national park, located just 90 minutes from the capital city, Skopje. Established in 1949, the park preserves the region’s unique nature and ecosystems owing to a protection system dividing it into three zones: strict nature reserves, managed reserves, and a tourist zone.

The diverse ecosystem of the region is really what makes it so special to visit. Ancient forests filled with Macedonian pine provide a home to rare animals such as the European Lynx, otters, bears, wolves, and over 140 bird species.

Three mountain ranges, the Šar, Korab, and Bistra mountains scatter the horizon of Mavrovo’s landscape with traditional mountain villages dotted amongst the surrounding hills. The country’s highest peak, Korab Mountain, sits impressively on the north-western side of the national park, with its sibling mountains equally impressive and present at every turn.

One of the best ways to explore the park is by picking up one of the hiking trails. We did this ourselves by collecting a trail map from the Tourist Information Center. You can also find plenty on Wikilocs – Best Hiking Trails in Mavrovo page.

Spring to autumn is an ideal time to explore the park’s hiking trails and villages, however, the park is also a popular destination in winter, with its ski resort offering 40 km of slopes to enjoy.

Mavrovi Anovi and Mavrovo Lake

St Nikolas church in Mavrovo lake

The first village reached from Skopje is Mavrovi Anovi, which overlooks Mavrovo Lake. Although artificial, the lake is an appealing addition to the landscape with the half-submerged St Nikolas church being its focal point.

When we visited in October, the lake had partially dried up so we missed out on the novelty of seeing a flooded 19th-century monastery. But the bright side was that we could walk out to the ruin to admire its delicate structure and rockpile of crumbling tombs.

Perhaps more geared towards tourists and resort visitors, Mavrovi Anovi is still a pleasant place to stop and spend a few hours. Here, you’ll find the Tourist Information Centre which provides information about the park and hiking maps.

I’d also highly recommend lunch at a locally run cafe, Gostilnica Dva Sokola, which serves delicious homemade food in a relaxed setting with a balcony overlooking the lake.

Janče, Galičnik, and Lazaropole

wild horses roaming Lazaropole village

Deeper into the national park the village of Janče provides a good starting point for the 4-hour return hike to Galičnik. Both Janče and Galičnik are traditional mountain villages, home to the Mijak people, and are some of the oldest villages in North Macedonia. There’s no road between Janče and Galičnik, so the only way to explore both villages is on foot.

The restaurant at Hotel Tutto is worth stopping at while visiting Janče. The restaurant is a member of Slow Food Macedonia which supports small-scale organic farming and food production in Macedonia, and serves fresh and organic local dishes.

Towards the south of the park is Lazaropole. A traditional village noted as being one of the highest villages in North Macedonia which certainly makes it feel one of the most rural.

Wandering through the village, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time and might even feel like the place has been deserted. When we visited we barely saw a soul, apart from a few rifle-laden villagers returning from their afternoon hunt and a group of wild horses fighting for a gulp of water at the village fountain.

Duf Waterfall

woman standing looking up at a waterfall

A 30-minute hike along a well-marked trail from the village of Rostuše will lead you to Duf Waterfall, where the river Duf spills through an elevated gaping hole and plunges into the rock pools below.

It’s a truly lovely spot to relax and cool off from the summer heat. We spent some time here because we had the whole place to ourselves. Take a picnic, explore the rock formations, or simply watch the cascades of water tumble into the shallow pools.

Sveti Jovan Bigorski Monastery

woman standing within the Sveti Jovan Bigorski Monastery

4km north of Rostuše is the Saint Jovan Bigorski Monastery. A working monastery, the site was originally established in the 11th century, however, due to a fire in 2009 the church and surrounding buildings were all recently restored.

The church’s structure comprises stone and wooden beams, which form a fascinating architectural design. The monastery is also renowned for its iconostasis, a wall of wooden panels adorned with religious icons and paintings.

Untouched natural heritage

Although a popular playground for Skopje residents and North Macedonian holiday makers, Mavrovo National Park has retained its rural charm and wild nature, making it a perfect off-the-beaten-track destination to explore.

It’s also a great way to support the region’s local villages and communities and get a taste of local Macedonian life.

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