Located in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, Cyprus is a country island considered equally part of the Middle East and Europe. The country retains both a European and Oriental character due to its geographical position and the different nations that occupied this land.
Following the Independence from the British Crown, Cyprus went through a time of major internal conflicts. This resulted in the 1974 division of the island between the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot populations.
Although not recognized by UN, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus controls the northern part of the island. The southern part of the country remains under the Republic of Cyprus‘ control. This is the officially recognized sovereign over the entire island, with the exception of the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, which remain under British control. The two de facto countries are separated by a UN buffer zone, which covers almost 4% of island’s area.
For the travel enthusiasts visiting this country represents the chance of experiencing two different cultures on a single journey. They both have their particularities and it will worth visiting both areas.
Arriving and Getting Around in Cyprus
In most cases, you will arrive on the island through one of the two airports in the south: Paphos and Larnaca, or Ercan International Airport, in the north. From there you can either rent a car or plan your trip using the bus system.
For more information about the bus routes in the South, you can check this link.
In my case, since I like to explore as many places as possible, I decided to rent a car.
Renting a Car
You should consider a few things when renting a car here.
First of all, as in the case of Malta, during their relatively short administration of the island, the Brits have implemented the left-hand traffic system. This makes Cyprus one of the four countries in Europe that still use the LHT system, along with the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Malta.
Therefore, if you’re coming from a country where cars run on the right side of the road, you may find traffic here a bit challenging. Also, the roads can get a bit narrow sometimes, especially if you’re going to Troodos Mountains or Nicosia.
Another thing which I found to be quite difficult is to find a car rental company that will allow you to pass the border between these countries.
Most companies from the South don’t allow travel to Northern Cyprus since the insurance will not cover you there. From what I’ve read, it’s even more difficult to find a rental in the North that allows you to go in the Cypriot Greek’s controlled area.
If you do find a company that allows travel in the North, then you need to buy a special insurance from the Turkish police at the border. However, this is a limited coverage insurance that will not protect you against all scenarios.
Crossing the Border
You have a few crossing points that you can use when crossing the border between the two countries. However, some of them allow only pedestrian or diplomatic vehicles passage. The most popular are Agios Dometios / Kermia / Metehan, the major road and pedestrian crossing in Nicosia, and Strovilia or Akyar, located near Famagusta.
You can find more information about border crossings here.
Navigating using GPS software might not be as straightforward as it is in other places.
The Google Maps App tends to be quite misleading sometimes. In general, Google’s budget allocation for updating the islands’ maps seems to be limited. You get this feeling, especially in the North. Here the general impression is that their resource allocation is almost none.
Also, if you’re traveling by car, it’s important to know the border crossings that allow car passage. The GPS navigation may send you to a pedestrian-only border crossing or take you on a longer route to avoid the UK controlled area.
Exploring the Greek Side
It’s difficult to say when it’s the best time to visit Cyprus. Depending on the part of the island you’re visiting, you may hear that you should’ve come in September to see the turtles, in June or July for the crazy parties or in August when the almonds are ready for harvest. Overall, almost every time is a good time to be here.
We’ve started the journey in Larnaca at the end of April. I was traveling as part of a group of nine, which was a bit larger than my regular travel party. This resulted in a more entertaining trip and extended drinking sessions every night, but it also reduced the usual velocity, leaving more places to visit for the next trip to this island.
Larnaca is one of the most popular beach destinations in Cyprus and the third largest city. It’s a bit more tranquil than Ayia Napa and probably will be preferred by those who seek a more relaxing vacation. We only stayed for one night here, in offseason, so the place wasn’t too animated.
Beside the beach area with the palm-tree seafront, you can also visit the Church of Saint Lazarus, the Hala Sultan Tekke, the Kamares Aqueduct and its medieval fort. Hala Sultan Tekke complex is located on the shores of the Larnaca Salt Lake, and it’s a good place to sit and watch the flamingos.
Limassol is the second largest city, after Nicosia, and the largest port in Cyprus. We haven’t got too much time to explore the city on this trip, but there are a few interesting places in the Limassol district that should definitely be explored.
Right on the road between Larnaca and Limassol, not far from Governor’s Beach, you can see a beautiful white rock coastline. Stretching on approximately 8 km, these rocks have been eroded by the sea to form an interesting complex of cliffs and caves. I highly recommend this place to everybody who has a car.
Also, not far from the Limassol Port area, I had some of the best seafood so far. The place is called Oasis and is right on the north-eastern corner of the Akrotiri Sovereign Base Area, so technically in the UK. If you happen to visit this place, don’t rob yourself the chance to try the mussels in tomato sauce, the best mussels I had so far.
For those who have more time, it will probably worth exploring the ruins of Ancient Kourion and the Turtle beach, located in the south of the Akrotiri area.
Unfortunately, due to the limited time available, we had to exclude the Paphos district from our trip. Besides the Paphos city, this district is famous for the Paphos Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site for its outstanding ancient remains, and Rotsa tou kalamara, also known as Aphrodite’s Rock, considered to be Aphrodite‘s mythical birthplace.
Troodos is the largest mountain range in Cyprus. Here you can discover another side of this island with Byzantine monasteries and churches on the mountain peaks, with interesting waterfalls like Caledonia Falls or Millomeris Waterfalls, and villages hanging over the hills.
We went on a hike and explored the Millomeris Waterfalls area. It took us more time than we expected so we had to leave Caledonia Falls for the next trip.
After visiting the Millomeris Waterfalls, we spent the night in the Lemithou village, not far from Mount Olympus, the highest point in Cyprus. We really enjoyed our stay at Themis House. Our host, Florin, a Romanian who moved here around 8 years ago, was great and really entertaining.
Ayia Napa is the most popular beach and nightlife destination on the island. Some of the best beaches, like Nissi Beach or Konnos Beach, are located here or nearby. Also, if you’re interested in seeing some wonderful landscapes explore the Cape Greco Peninsula, the Blue Lagoon and the Stone Arch, located pretty close to Ayia Napa.
Like I said, Ayia Napa is the center of the nightlife on this island. Here you can find a lot of restaurants, bars, clubs and even an amusement park. Many of these places have live music and there are plenty karaoke bars. Also, since a major part of the tourists is coming from Russia and the UK you’ll see a lot of English pubs or Russian style bars and clubs, where almost everybody looks like a bodyguard.
If you love food, this is a great place to try some of Cyprus’ best dishes, like Meze, Kleftiko or Tavas. One of the best restaurants we’ve experienced during this trip was Taverna Napa, which served an amazing Cypriot traditional food.
Nicosia is the capital of this country and the largest city. In fact, there are two Nicosia: a Greek side and a Turkish counterpart. During the 1974 conflict, the city was split into two halves. Each half acts as the facto capital for each country.
The South Nicosia also called Lefkosia, has direct bus line connections to all the South major cities. So it’s a good place to explore the other attractions if you don’t rent a car.
The Venetian walls, which encircle the old city, is one of the most popular tourist attractions. The Famagusta Gate is one of the best-preserved parts and is decorated with numerous coats of arms.
Ledra Street is the most animated part of the old town and has lots of cafés, restaurants, and shops, leading up to the Ledra Street border post to North Nicosia, which is open for pedestrian crossing.
Visiting the Turkish Side
North Nicosia, also called Lefkoşa, is the capital and the largest city of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Lefkoşa has a slightly different personality than its Greek counterpart. You can see the oriental and Islamic influences everywhere. The food is similar to the Turkish cuisine, so if you fancy for a kebab this is a good place to have one.
Another aspect that you’ll notice is that the streets are dirtier than in the South. You’ll see a lot of waste on the streets almost everywhere in the North. It seems that a good way to identify the cleaning level of the restaurant’s kitchen is to check first the bathroom. If the bathroom is clean, then most likely, they’re using the same standard for cooking.
The traffic here can be a bit annoying. The streets are pretty narrow and it’s very likely that at some point you’ll get stuck in traffic.
However, the Northern part has its own charm and specific attractions and you shouldn’t miss the opportunity for exploring this area.
The Selimiye Mosque is one of the most important landmarks in North Nicosia. It was initially built as the Church of Agia Sofia, but it was transformed into a mosque when the Ottomans took control of the island, in the 16th century. Büyük Han is another popular attraction. This caravanserai was constructed in 1572 and it was used as accommodation and storage place for merchants as they passed through town. Now it has been restored and you can find here many shops, cafés, and local artisan ateliers.
Kyrenia, also called Girne, is described as the touristic capital of Northern Cyprus. The ancient Kyrenia Castle is probably the most important tourist attraction and my favorite place in the North. It’s a large fortification with a dungeon accessible by a stone bridge and surrounded by restaurants and cafés. If there wouldn’t be so many garbages disposed of in the water nearby, this restaurant area would be probably the best on the entire island.
Another interesting landmark, in the Kyrenia district, is the Saint Hilarion Castle, which lies on the Kyrenia mountain range. Unfortunately, the castle was closed when we arrived, but the view from the top of the mountain is impressive.
Famagusta (also known as Gazimağusa) was the island’s most important port city in the medieval period. One of the remarkable landmarks is the Venetian Walls, constructed by the Venetians in the early 16th century.
Another important attraction is the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, originally known as the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas, the largest medieval building in Famagusta. You will find here plenty of shops and restaurants. The best baklava I’ve had so far was here, not far from the Mustafa Pasha Mosque.
Cyprus is an amazing destination with great landscapes, nice beaches, and good food.
It’s one of those places that have a bit of everything. It’s an island where you can have the privilege of meeting two cultures and experience them in a single trip.
Almost every time is a good time to visit it and is a place that you’ll want to revisit.