Part of the challenge of travelling to less common places is that there are usually limited ways of doing things. After Bulgaria my plan was to head to the Republic of Macedonia next and there were definitely some challenges ahead. Before heading to Melnik, my last stop in Bulgaria, I had wrongly assumed that crossing the border with public transport would be somewhat straightforward. Not so much.
Between Bulgaria and Macedonia there are three border crossings. The main tourist route between the two countries is the northern border crossing that joins the two country’s capitals, Sofia and Skopje. The town of Melnik however, is tucked away in the country’s deep south-west, right by the country’s southern borders with Greece and Macedonia. I had hoped to take the southern border crossing not far from Melnik but had no idea how difficult it would turn out to be.
After I had done some snooping around on the internet for information and schedules, I thought I had come up with a tenuous plan. It appeared that I could reach the small city of Strumica in Macedonia from Melnik but I didn’t have much confidence in the information I had found. The unappealing alternative was to head all the way back to Sofia and then across to Skopje but that meant a lot of backtracking. So I decided to take a risk and head for Strumica.
Melnik is not very accessible by public transport with just a few daily buses to the slightly larger town of Sandanski. From Sandanski, there were buses to some border towns but nothing across to Macedonia. I could have maybe taken a taxi into Macedonia from the border towns but felt it was too risky. Instead, I could get from Sandanski to Blagoevgrad which had a large regional bus station and a daily bus at 16.30 that went to Strumica. Theoretically.
On the day, I decided to leave Melnik as early as possible to allow time for unforeseen problems. I made my way down to the bus stop a little after 8am to catch the last morning bus to Sandanski. Mere moments after arriving at the bus stop a friendly local asked if I wanted a ride. Ride sharing is quite common in the Balkans so I took him up on it. The drive with the man and his son got me to Sandanski bus station with plenty of time for the 9.40 bus to Blagoevgrad. Soon I was on the bus and by 11am I was in Blagoevgrad.
At Blagoevgrad, I looked at the boards and slowly decrypted the cyrillic letters to figure out the times. While the board said that the bus was 17.45, I asked the lady at the counter and she scribbled down 16.30 so I went with that. Interestingly, I did notice bus times to the town of Delchevo in Macedonia which sits on the other side of the middle border crossing. So I guess that is another alternative as well.
After spending hours in Blagoevgrad getting coffee and food, and doing not much else, I returned to the bus station. The minibus departed a bit late full of local Macedonians, myself and one other tourist. In the end, it took me across the southern border to Strumica a little later than planned, but I got there. To read about Strumica, keep an eye out for the upcoming post.
So this is how you can take the southern border crossing from Bulgaria to Macedonia. Not the most convenient route to take by public transport and just as long as going via Sofia to Skopje. But if you want to try something different and start a visit to Macedonia in the south, it’s the way to go.
Bus Times as of July 2016 – via Balkan Viator
Melnik – Sandanski: 9:00, 13:10, 17:20
Sandanski – Blagoevgrad: 9:40, 13:00, 13:30, 15:00, 15:30, 16:30, 18:00
Blagoevgrad – Strumica (MK): 16:30
Blagoevgrad – Delchevo (MK): 7:00, 17:00
Have you travelled from Bulgaria to Macedonia? If you do and use this as a guide, let me know if you find it useful. Please share in the comments below.
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