Macedonia is a small country for travelling, you can go pretty much everywhere in three hours. The territory is mountainous which makes trips a bit harder in some place and the transport routes are sometimes not in good conditions. So let’s see the positive and negative points for each means of transport comparing trains, bus, hitchhiking and taxis.
When I first came here in Macedonia people told me to be careful about trains in the Balkans because of the old locomotives and the railway status. So I was a bit worried before trying this but it was cheaper than bus and the timing was perfect for me so I jumped inside, praying not to have any inconvenient during the travel. The trains are old and a bit dirty but really comfortable. They are moving slowly, stopping in every little station but they are going through beautiful landscape which you can contemplate from the windows. It took me more time to reach my destination than with bus but all in all, if you are not in a hurry, I would recommend it. Just take care it can be sometimes really crowded, even if you bought a ticket it doesn’t mean that you have a sitting place, and those old trains can have more troubles than usual.
Bus is for me the safest and easiest way to travel in Macedonia. There is departure regularly to pretty much every city of Macedonia and you’ll reach your goal relatively fast with more or less 15 minutes than what was planned. It’s cheap and the roads are mostly in good state especially if you are going from Skopje with the two highways. The comfort inside depend a lot of the company so choose carefully because you can have no space for your legs, or spend 3 hours in a sauna/fridge (depending of the season). The bus network is well-developed in Macedonia and it’s a good thing because it’s maybe the best way to travel in the country when you don’t have car. Just don’t forget to bring your VOICES magazine to read inside because the travel can be a bit boring if you are not sleepy.
Hitchhiking is not really well-known in Macedonia and basically I never saw any Macedonian people trying this but it’s obviously the cheapest way to move from one place to another. Indeed, you just have to wait on the right place, hold a sign with your destination and hope for someone to stop. About comfort or time spent it’s hard to calculate because it’s all depends of how lucky you are and who will stop to take you. So don’t plan an exact time to get to your destination, sometimes you’ll wait 2 hours in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes you’ll find someone in 5 minutes who goes in the exact place you wanted to go. But at least, you’ll every time meet some other people, discuss with them, and have a good time travelling. Highly recommended if you have time and you like the contact with other people. But keep in mind that it’s not famous in Macedonia and sometimes people will expect something back from you, so be clear from the beginning with the driver.
Taxis are widespread in all the cities and you can’t miss them, drivers will come to you even if you don’t need it. Although it’s good to move around the city, when you get inside for more than 15 minutes it starts to be really expensive. So, moving from one city to another can cost a lot comparing to the bus but you’ll go to the exact place you wanted in less time than any other means of transport. Essential if you live somewhere not connected by buses or trains. If you are taking one to travel ask the price first for long distances and try to fill all the seats with other people to share the travel cost.
So even if you don’t have car, there is a lot of way to travel through Macedonia and to visit all the beautiful places this country can offer. Depending of your needs and wishes you have different options, so you don’t have any excuse anymore not to travel !
Text by Quentin Mauboussin