Cyprus is a gorgeous island with great history and a divided character. I went with a friend several years ago and we spent most of our time in the Greek portion of the island, although we did spent an afternoon in the Turkish side at Nicosia. While Cyprus is home to the UN’s oldest active peacekeeping mission, most visitors aren’t impacted by the frozen conflict, and the island rightfully enjoys its status as a major tourist attraction.
We took Gulf Air into Larnaca and rented a car, which I recommend as the easiest way to get around and explore the island. Having had no sleep on the overnight flight, we slammed several espressos and went for a walk / jog on the city’s scenic waterfront to catch our second wind. Larnaca is a beautiful coastal city with several old Roman ruins tucked in alongside modern buildings, such as the Kition. Also — don’t miss the 9th century Byzantine Church of St. Lazarus.
Pro Tip: if you use a GPS from a car-rental company, make sure the maps are up to date. We were following our GPS on an ever-narrowing road, which turned into dirt, gravel, and rock. We turned around as it eventually would’ve had us fording a river! It’s probably best to just use Waze or Google Maps if you have phone data.
After getting energized in Larnaca, we headed west towards Limassol. We stopped at the Limassol Castle and the nearby Kolossi Castle, a 15th century fortress that offered great views of the rolling hills from the rooftop. Not having our fill of Roman ruins, we then went and climbed around on the well-preserved Kourion ampitheater, which overlooks the ocean and has additional adjacent ruins. Apparently some portions of the island around this are belong to the UK, but I couldn’t really tell the difference.
With our dose of ancient history satiated for the day and jet-lag setting in, we went and relaxed at a trendy cafe looking over the water in downtown Limassol. There are plenty of great cafes in the city, as well as beaches on the coast.
Departing the beaches of Limassol, we headed to Mount Olympus at approximately 9,500 feet above sea level. It’s about as tall as the Mount Olympus on mainland Greece — and a significant rise from being at sea level an hour earlier! The ascent through the rolling hills was pleasant, as the landscape started to take on an alpine character, with the Cyprus trees transitioning to large pine trees. As we reached the top of the mountain, we were greeted by some pretty deep snow! There were a few restaurants and cafes at the top, along with areas to view the vistas below. After a quick snowball fight, we drove to Nicosia, where we had dinner with a mutual friend. There are plenty of tavernas downtown with excellent seafood and other Greek fare– so you really can’t go wrong!
Nicosia is a truly fascinating city with plenty of attractions for visitors. Our friend took us on a walking tour starting at the Archbishop’s Palace, and along the old city walls, by the Venetian Famagusta Gate, and to a reception at a small art gallery tucked down a side street. Cyprus has a vibrant art scene, and other galleries have since opened downtown. I didn’t get the chance to go into the Byzantine Museum, but it’s on my list for next time!
We then walked through the buffer zone at the Green Line (which divides the country) and entered the Turkish side. It was during the time of the “Occupy Wall Street” protests, which apparently had caught on around the world, as some people were “occupying the buffer zone” we passed through the checkpoint.
Even though I knew what to expect crossing into the Turkish side, the transition was fast. Suddenly, everything was in Turkish, from the the products in the stores to the Efes beer at the cafes! We saw the Selimiye Camii mosque, built on a 13th century Catholic cathedral, as well as some of the houses in the historic neighborhood. A bit further west is the Venedik Sutunu, a Venetian column that sits at the center of a plaza. We wandered around a bit more, soaking up the atmosphere, having a donor kebab and Efes, before heading back across the buffer zone.
With heaps of history and Roman ruins behind us, we set out for the beaches at the sunny beach town of Ayia Napa! We stayed at the Napa Plaza Hotel, which was centrally-located and very comfortable. The pool looked amazing but it wasn’t yet open (we went in March). There are plenty of beaches nearby and we settled on the beautiful blue Nissi Beach. The water was still cold this time of year, but we ventured in anyways and swam for a bit. We were accompanied by a few brave Russian tourists, who didn’t seem to mind the cold water.
With the sun out, it was warm enough to lay on the beach for a while and enjoy the atmosphere, but we eventually ventured down the coastline, exploring its rugged cliffs and sea caves. We eventually came to Cape Greco National Forest Park, which has a famous stone arch, along with several cliff-side beaches. After several false starts at cliff-diving, we finally made the plunge!
Downtown Ayia Napa has a beach party town vibe. Apart from the central Monastery, most of the town is filled with restaurants, bars, clubs, shops and cafes. As we were there at the beginning of the season, it wasn’t too crowded, but still had a fun, easygoing atmosphere. We ate at several fish tavernas around town during our stay (they were all good), and for a taste of nightlife, we went to Senior Frogs, which hosted a season-opening party.
Something for Next Time: When I get back to Cyprus, I’d really like to visit more of the northern part of the island. I’d also like to go hiking in the Paphos Forest, which looks amazing! I don’t think I’ll be getting to the abandoned Varosha Resort anytime soon though.