Before Macedonia gained its independence in 1991 as one of the successor states of Yugoslavia, it was a very popular destination among tourists. Now Macedonia is being rediscovered by tourists, especially in Ohrid and around Lake Ohrid. Rightly so! I’ll tell you why.
Macedonia is a beautiful (underestimated) country. The country is bordered by Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Kosovo and Serbia. Macedonia has no coastline, but it does have more than 50 lakes. The largest lakes are Lake Ohrid, Lake Prespa and Lake Doiran, all of which are located to the south.
In the summer of 2015 I visited Ohrid (pronunciation: og-riet). Lake Ohrid is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the oldest and deepest lakes in Europe. It is also located for a 1/3 part in Albania and is located between the mountains Petrino and Galicica.
Galicica separates Lake Prespa and Lake Ohrid. The water is beautifully blue and contains fish that are not found anywhere else in the world, such as the Ohrid trout. That is why you often see this fish on the menus in restaurants.
Top 5 sights around Lake Ohrid
1. Sveti Naum
Sveti Naum is a monastery located on the south-east side of the lake. From Ohrid you can reach the monastery in 2 hours by boat. You can buy the return boat tickets on the boats themselves. You can also reach the monastery by taxi, but I think this is a lot more expensive (and a less nice trip). The monastery is small, but very beautiful. Beautiful frescoes can be admired here. Many peacocks roam around the monastery. Almost directly next to the monastery is a hotel / restaurant where you can enjoy a delicious lunch. Most people visit the restaurant down by the water, so it is very busy there.
Be sure to take a rowboat ride on the natural springs! This is really beautiful. The water is so incredibly clear (and ice cold!) and you can see the water bubbling up from the underground springs. You can swim in the lake near the beach. There are all small shops at the beach where you can stack up on some souvenirs.
2. Sveti John Kaneo
Sveti John Kaneo is arguably the most photographed monastery in Ohrid thanks to its beautiful location on a cliff by the lake. I recommend you to definitely watch the sunset from this point. When you are done with this, visit one of the restaurants on the water. Here you can eat dirt cheap and delicious.
3. Mavrovo National Park
Mavrovo is the largest national park in Macedonia. Thanks to the height differences, the park has a great diversity of flora and fauna. Read more about Mavrovo national park and why this national park is definitely worth a visit!
4. Pelican Island
Pelican island is located in the middle of Lake Prespa. As the name says, a lot of pelicans live here. Many cormorants can also be found here. It is also known as the island of snakes, turtles and birds. This island is located at the three-country point with Albania and Greece. You will be brought to this island with a small boat. During the boat trip, the pelicans and cormorants fly by and sometimes quite close to the boat.
Our guide (a kind of Tarzan) searches for the turtles and snakes on the island. Many harmless water snakes live here, but also a few dangerous species. There are many caves on the island where the snakes and bats hide. Many researchers come to the island to investigate the animals and the history of this island.
Many trees on the island are completely white with bird droppings and it can get quite smelly!
5. Cave Peshna
Cave Peshna, also called the “Lord of the rings cave” is a cave near Ohrid. The cave’s opening is perhaps the largest in the entire Balkans. You can visit the cave with your own rental car or with a tour. I visited cave Peshna with a tour.
Macedonia was a great success for us and we will definitely return to this special country.
UPDATE: I have now visited Ohrid again. Curious about my experience and what has changed? Read more about it here: What has changed in Ohrid in 2 years.
Tourism around Lake Ohrid
Macedonia is not nearly as touristy compared to other countries. In many places in Ohrid we did not hear English but (probably) Macedonian and Albanian. Not everyone in the city therefore speaks good English. Still you get a long way with simple English and a lot of gestures.
In the center of Ohrid it is very quiet in the afternoon and in the evening the city seems to really come to life. The temperature is a lot lower in the evening and is therefore more pleasant.
Weather in Ohrid
The weather in Ohrid can be quite variable. We have had rain and thunder a few times, but this was over within an hour. It then cools slightly, but not much. The average temperature in the summer remains around 25 degrees, ideal for us Dutch from our cold little country. : P
Our apartment had the option to rent bicycles for € 1.50 per day. Ideal, because our hotel was a 20-minute walk from the center. Quite a lot every day. With our squeaky but working bicycles we ended up cycling the entire boulevard and we found beautiful snorkeling spots. It is best to snorkel in places where there is little sand on the bottom, such as along the boulevard where there are many stones. Water shoes are nice to take with you. Small stairs or ladders make it easy to get in and out of the water.
Prices and currency
The currency in Macedonia is the Denar. The price level in Macedonia is considerably lower than in the Netherlands. For example, we often only paid € 20 for dinner in a restaurant for two (2 starters, 2 main courses, 2 desserts and 4 drinks). You also pay a maximum of € 1 for ice cream. You can safely call Macedonia a budget-friendly destination.
The Macedonian cuisine
Macedonian cuisine is very diverse and has influences from, Greece, Turkey and Hungary. Pindzur and Ajvar is typically Macedonian and we have eaten it a lot of times. They’re a type of sauce made from bell pepper, eggplant, garlic, tomatoes and spices. As a starter you can often order this with other spreads and bread. Sometimes you also get a piece of (Macedonian) cheese.
Main courses often consist of meat and fish, but some restaurants also have vegetarian dishes. You can find the Macedonian burger on many menus. This hamburger is filled with pieces of cheese and does not sit on a sandwich, but is served with salad and / or boiled vegetables and potatoes. Our favorite dessert was a pancake filled with banana, whipped cream, chocolate and crumbled biscuits. Yum! They also often serve baklava.