North Cyprus is a delightful, sun-warmed isle that lends itself to total relaxation. It is also an ancient treasure trove of history and ruins. Beautiful beaches and blue water offer a variety of water sports during the day, and nightlife thrives in the coastal cities after the sun sets. The busiest tourist season in North Cyprus is August through October.
Looking at what the northern part of Cyprus has to offer may help formulate a wonderful kind of holiday that suits your time frame and scale of fun. Some general information will get us started. Lying south of Turkey and west of Lebanon and Syria, Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean. The climate is mild in winter, and summer is hot and dry. Spring and autumn are short seasons. There may be isolated showers in the mountains in the afternoon during the summer.
Nicosia is the capital of North Cyprus. The metropolitan area of northern Nicosia has a population of about 83,000. There is a border crossing, free to everyone, between the northern and southern parts of the country in Nicosia at Ledra Street. This is for pedestrians only. Visitors are free to walk across the border without escort. Going by taxi does entail hiring a travel operator. Rental cars can go through six of eight crossings. Some rental companies in the south will not rent to travellers going to the north. Insurance does not transfer, either, so other insurance needs to be obtained when crossing to the north.
Nicosia Ercan airport is the quickest way to travel to North Cyprus. Paphos and Larnaca airports in south are farther away, but the island is compact. It’s about 90 km from Paphos to Nicosia and about 30 km from Larnaca to Nicosia. Be sure to fuel up the car since they are not rented with full tanks. Car rental is more cheaper in the north, and the cars are reliable. Travellers can rent a car on the internet and have it waiting at the Ledra Palace crossing in Nicosia.
HISTORY OF CYPRUS
The history of the island begins around the 10th millennium BC, so we’ll jump ahead to biblical times when some of the island’s history is actually written in the bible. So many cultures have won and lost control of Cyprus, it would take volumes to explore it. The Assyrians, Egyptians and Persians have fought over Cyprus, and Alexander the Great ruled the country for a time beginning in 333 BC.
About 300 years later, Cleopatra committed suicide and Cyprus eventually fell to the Romans. The book of Acts, in the Christian bible, has many references to Paul’s travels throughout the area. It’s no wonder everyone wanted Cyprus, given the climate and scenic views. Ancient kingdoms wanted it for strategic purposes, but we know they enjoyed the other delights of Cyprus as well.
Flash forward to the 20th century when Cyprus was a British crown colony for about half of the 1900s. In 1960, Cyprus declared independence with the Zurich and London Agreement between Britain, Greece and Turkey. At the time, 77% of the population was Greek, 18% Turks and 4% other cultures. Northern Cyprus was established in the 1970s. There are eight border crossings between the north and south.
NATURE OF NORTH CYPRUS
Valleys lush with anemones is a welcome sight here in spring, and several of them can be seen late February through April. The heat takes over after that, so a rough, hilly terrain with various shades of green is prevalent. Rocky slopes with goat families cannot be disappointing. Hikers in Karpaz may see goats crossing trails as they wander the area. Donkeys roam freely in some areas of Karpaz, too, and there is not much agricultural development to disrupt the progress of local fauna.
A hedgehog with very long ears, possibly brought over from South Africa, lives here, so photos or post cards of this animal are definite musts. Foxes and hares can be seen in early evening when it cools off. Bird watching is quite interesting since 347 species fly in and out of Cyprus at various times. There are 46 native species that include seven found only on this island.
The northern migration of birds occurs March to May, and the southern, August to October, so half the year is a bird parade. In between, the native species may be more easily identified. It’s win-win. The turtle watch tours in Alagadi Beach, a half hour drive from Kyrenia, starts at the “Goat Shed” with information and instructions at sunset. Late June and early July are nesting times, and late August and early September are hatching times.
Scuba diving tours are available in Kyrenia, Famagusta and Karpaz, and divers might see sunken ships. Ruins of ancient civilizations lie beneath the waters in some places, only to be seen by divers. Summer water temperatures average 24C, and the air is hot and dry, so it’s a pleasant experience all around.
It is not often that travelers can see orchids growing wild all over an island, but we can here. Out of 30 species of orchid, 17 are found only on this island. It’s a good reason to visit by itself, and all the other good things are wonderful bonuses.
Cavers can ply their skills in caves found in the southern Kyrenian Mountains. The Incirli cave, in the Famagusta area, may be a good choice, but arrangements must be made with the village muhtar to allow a visit, only on Sundays. Gastro cave and Execution cave are other options.
Hiking, walking, cycling and horse riding tours are also available for eco-travel here. Some tours go to rural villages and offer various cultural experiences. Visitors can learn how to make traditional foods, hand-woven baskets and find out about other local interests.
ATTRACTIONS IN NORTH CYPRUS
The natural world presents many attractions for North Cyprus holidays, including hiking and water sports. Kyrenia, on the northern coastline of the island, is good for many tourist activities, and hiking is a favorite, here. The Besparmak Mountains along the coast are desirable for walking, and Bellapais is a good starting point for marked trails of different distances and difficulty. Spring is a great time to walk before the more intense heat of summer.
The Kyrenia Mountain Trail, of 143 miles, runs from the coast to the interior of the country. The Kantara Castle, from the 10th century, is a notable ruin on the trail. This trail goes along the spine of the mountains with great views, a pine scent and opportunities to see various species of birds.
Many water sports seem to be centered in Kyrenia, and just about any popular ones are available here: jet-skiing, parasailing, water skiing, canoeing, sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling, tubing, wake boarding and knee boarding. Boat tours are also sited in Kyrenia, and banana boats can be arranged on some beaches. Kyrenia and Karpaz have beautiful, clean beaches without high-rise buildings to block the view. Kyrenia beaches are good for swimming and snorkeling. Famagusta beaches are mostly hotel-owned and they offer loungers, shade and beach bars. Malibu Beach in Karpaz has a snack bar and umbrellas, and one area of this beach is a turtle nesting site.
Other attractions for North Cyprus include the old Kyrenia Harbour loaded with life and activity. Cafes, bars, flats and restaurants crowd the harbour line with fresh local food and drink. Some eateries sit right by the water overlooking boats bobbing gently on calm waters. Feel the relaxation.
Another site by the harbour is the Kyrenia Castle with 16th century Venetian walls and the Church of St. George. Originally a fortification built during the Crusades, the inner 12th century chapel still has Roman capitals. The Shipwreck Museum at this site holds the recognizable remains of a 4th century BC Greek merchant ship. It was made from Aleppo pine and covered with lead. Some of its cargo is also on display, and it was considered to be 80 years old when it sank, so it may be 2,400 years old. The inner courtyard and some royal residences can be viewed as well.
Salamis, on the easternmost side of the island, is well known for its Greek city-state status and its vast history from the 11th century BC. In perspective, bible references of Paul and Barnabas coming here are “newer” points of history before 61 CE. Barnabas was stoned to death here in that year, and the monastery declares that it is the burial site of his bones.
The British began excavations at Salamis in the late 1800s and found many pieces that can now be seen in British Museum in London. Some of the public buildings date from the post-Classical period. In Trojan War mythology, Teucer, brother of Ajax, founded Salamis, but could not return when he was unable to avenge his brother’s death. There is a great deal of history written about this archaeological site that cannot be covered here, but it is a significant place in world history.
Another part of Salamis resides in Nicosia in the form of “the Obelisk.” An open square features this centuries old object, brought from Salamis in 1550 by the Venetians. Sarayönü Square, home of the Obelisk, leads to the Kyrenian Gate via Girne Avenue. This beautifully preserved gate is in the northern part of Nicosia, and was finished in 1567 by the Venetians. The Ottomans renovated this gate in 1821, a mere two centuries ago.
Nightlife on the northern part of the island centers around Kyrenia on the northwestern coast and Famagusta on the southeastern coast. There are several bars in Kyrenia, including Onyx, a dance club, and there is a karaoke bar in one of them. Famagusta also has bars and nightclubs. Nicosia has more of a focus on daytime activities and dining.
There are many levels of culture in the North Cyprus that seem to span thousands of years of time all in one day. Visitors can see centuries old archaeological finds and go to an up-to-the-minute dance club within a few hours. Water sports are modern, but they are enjoyed on beaches thousands of years old.
Dining seems to span the centuries as well with dishes that may have been served 2,000 years prior along with the latest in new Mediterranean cuisine. This cuisine is a mix of cultures, including Greek, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Southern European. We don’t want you to pass up many new food opportunities, and the swimming and hiking will help contain the effect of extra calories. We can also rest assured that the Mediterranean diet is good for us if eaten within the guidelines conducive to good health. Or you could just have fun in North Cyprus. Cheers!