Cyprus, North & South
Two Unique Trips, One Amazing Island
Cyprus is an island I look at as my third home. Every summer during my childhood we visited as a family and then in 2001 my parents relocated there to enjoy this wonderful country for a decade. Of course I took full advantage of the free accommodation and car hire to spend time exploring the hidden gems of the island, getting lost on dirt roads, navigating between North and South and I took plenty of time to find out about the most intriguing aspects of Cypriot culture.
If you visit Cyprus you’re really visiting two countries, and if you see the whole island on your visit you’ll understand. Though most people simply refer to it as Cyprus, the lower half is the Republic of Cyprus and is a nation independent to Greece. The Northern half is actually the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and while not officially recognized by anyone but Turkey, it is most certainly its own country and very different to the South.
Though the economy in the North increased dramatically between 2000-2010 the country is still a long way behind the South, which feels a lot like a Greek – UK hybrid except hotter. The North is in a process of modernization, when my parents moved there you could count the countries ATM machines on two hands and supermarkets on one. Now its a very different place, but it still feels like a relatively untouched travel destination, the beaches are phenomenal, the waters still clear and unpolluted and the towns still small and quaint.
The South of the island is of course already a successful tourism giant with locations such as Ayia Napa, which is still a clubber’s paradise. However it caters for everyone, with a vast array of quaint small villages and towns, well preserved historical sites and delicious restaurants everywhere you look. So, should you see both sides? Absolutely. What are the highlights? Lets go through by category and see what both sides have to offer.
North: You can find an array of very different looking beaches in the North. An area called the Karpaz Peninsula, or the panhandle region, has a long stretch of extremely undeveloped beach, it literally goes on for miles. Though in recent years highways have connected this area to more popular regions, it is still a lovely quiet getaway.
In the area just West of the main tourist spot (Kyrenia) there are a number of developed beaches, some busier than others. If you prefer a beach bar, music, waterspouts and fast food, Escape Beach is your place, otherwise head to the others in the area. You’ll also find many little coves and beach areas with nobody on them if you drive a little further West.
South: Though busier, the beaches here often look like something you expect in Fiji, white sands and beautiful colored waters dominate, though you may share them with a few other tourists. Nissi Beach and Makronissos Beach on the East side of the
island are part of the Aiya Napa madness, but are undeniably beautiful beaches. Head West and you will hit Aphrodite’s Rock and Beach, which is between Limassol and Paphos, which gives you a nice place to relax and marvel at a little mythology at the same time.
North: Both sides of the island have a wealth of historical buildings, museums and monuments to visit. In the North, the most obvious and dominant historical site is Kyrenia Castle, which is the cornerstone of the beautiful main harbor in the city. It is at least two thousand years old and well worth exploring. St Hilarion Castle is a beautiful place to look around, named after a Saint of which we know very little, the ruins are old, possibly 11th Century and it’s a nice walk to reach the main castle areas. The views from the top are remarkable, with lookouts onto the whole Kyrenia Mountain Range, which is particularly spectacular in the evening.
Other notable sites are the Monastery of Apostolos Andreas, and the Iskele Icon Museum.
South: This half of the island, being more economically affluent and tourism ready, boasts tons of well maintained informative exhibits from Neolithic villages to Roman ruins. Tombs of the Kings, in Paphos is a World Heritage Site (actually the whole of Paphos is!) and well worth exploring. This 3rd century BC structure was a place to bury the elite, visitors can wonder down into the tombs and atriums and the displays are very engaging. Paphos Castle, like the Kyrenia Castle, is one of the things to do in Paphos, the 13th Century construction is beautiful and its history tells a story of change which reflects the island as a whole.
Other amazing sites include the Church of Agios Lazaros, which is said to contain the tomb of Saint Lazaros, and Kourion, which is an inspiring archaeological site near Limassol full of mostly Ancient Roman and Byzantine ruins. It’s most impressive feature is a theatre, which can still hold 3,500 people, believed to have been in use up to 6,500 years ago!
North: In the North half of Nicosia (Lefkosa) is Büyük Han, which has an amazing array of silk clothing and displays. Family owned, this store will impress anyone. The nicest little bookstore, not far from Büyük Han is Rüstem Kitabevi, which has a lovely selection of Turkish and English books, plus a nice place to sit outside. If you’re looking for decorative glass wear or house gifts for friends, THC specializes in Iranian glassware and ceramics.
South: Kings Avenue Mall and the Mall of Cyprus are testaments to the South’s economic strength and links to Europe. These contain all the usual European outlets such as Topshop and H&M. If you’re looking for a more Cypriot experience, try Pleiades, a store in Lemesos which sells handcrafted pottery and art works. Located in Platres is Cyprus Chocolates, a store so delicious and now famous that Queen Elizabeth II is a fan! In Paphos, there is a municipal market which is both huge and diverse, from gifts to fresh fruit and vegetables, you can stroll, eat and then head out to the beach.
Keep your eye on us here at Unearthed World for future posts on specific Cypriot locations and activities.