Cyprus, not to be confused with Cypress, the tree. Although there is an endemic tree called the Cyprus Cedar found in mountains of the island. Also to clarify, yes, Cyprus is it´s own country and an European Union member.
As soon as you land you will feel the island’s relaxing vibe and immediately want to stay longer. If you have only a weekend you will know it isn’t enough simply by breathing the air. There is a ton to see and do here it would be best to give Cyprus at least a week. Whatever you decide to do with the days you have be sure to visit Nicosia and cross the UN border zone and at least one beach area. I recommend Paphos with it´s chill vibes, historical sites and beautiful sunsets on calm water or Aya Napa area for the abundance of beautiful beaches and amazing nightlife.
This country did not disappoint. You could go anywhere and it would literally be the best and you will be happy. Well maybe except Stavrovouni Monastery as a female….but even then the drive up and views at the top were spectacular! If you happen to be male, know that this monastery is one of the oldest in the world and has a piece of the holy cross. So wish I could have entered! Maybe check before going to monasteries in Cyprus to see if you can enter.
In the week that I was there I had the chance to check out the Southern Side of the island. It is hard to select a favorite place here but I must say the experience in Nicosia [spelled Lefkosia (GRE) or Lefkoşa (TUR) locally] was for me the most enthralling. It is the only city still divided between two nations, Greece and Turkey…both really just Cypriots. Now, yes, Cyprus is it´s own country but it had a harsh past where the two countries fought over who was in charge especially when the Turkish side conceded the island to the British in 1878. Being an island in the Mediterranean many empires, rulers, nations claimed it over the centuries but when it all boils down it is now just between the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots as to who claims what on the island and which religion is strongest (yes, religion divided this island in the past too). The United Nations stepped in and created a border that splits the whole island (Green Line), including the capital, to ease tensions and today it remains divided.
The capital of Cyprus is Nicosia but it is split right down the middle (the last divided capital in the world). Each side has it´s own president, language, currency, religion beliefs and traditions yet this border is mainly just a control point and can basically be crossed freely by both sides. The Turkish side claims it is Northern Cyprus and waves it´s flag proudly next to the Turkish one while the Greek side has the Cypriot flag and is actually recognized by the EU and UN as a country whereas the Northern counterpart is not recognized separately, as the Turks might prefer, at all. To cross you enter a passport control area for both nations that check your passports (no stamps added) and at this time the Covid Vaccine Card (or digital Cyprus Safe Pass, what you will need to have upon landing anyway) or a Covid Test to cross. The covid antigen test is easy to get near the border, takes 15 minutes and costs about 5 Euros. It was fairly simple to cross yet they do turn people away as we witnessed. I for one enjoyed this experience so much I did it again in the evening as part of my run. As a runner this felt extra special because I crossed a border running.
Wandering around on both sides you can see the decrepit buildings and plenty of evidence of bullet holes or impacts from grenades. You also run into a lot of dead ends where there is a barricade, a brick fence with barbed wire or a military station. The walls without guards all say:
NO ENTRY BEYOND THIS POINT
KEEP AWAY, RESTRICTED AREA!
NO PHOTOS, NO FILMING ALLOWED!
Of course I did take photos, there were no cameras or guards at most walls but just seeing the walls and this sign so often felt eerie. Seemed less guarded, maybe due to a recently renewed UN agreement for another year and continuing peace talks. Although there were blatant signs of this harsh past lived out on this island, signs of revival were everywhere as hip nooks popped up among the almost ruined buildings. It reminded me sometimes of Casco Viejo in Panama where the roof was missing, the walls were left and they made the inside a bar or club…well there was more than just that style popping up. There were also buildings being revived like the coffee shop/bakery at the end of one of those dead end streets or an old mansion renovated as a boutique hotel. More so was this noticeable on the Greek side where the bars and restaurants were vibrant and entire streets were renovated.
Besides the experience of crossing the border in Nicosia I would recommend visiting the Southern side at night, it is quite lively with music and lots of chatter and good times filling the air (right of Ledra) and the Eleftheria Square by the old city hall was very modern and nicely lit at night. Obviously during the day wander around both sides, they each have their charm. If you want a good view of the whole area you can go up to the Shacolas Tower. There they explain the most important areas and buildings, most of which are visible from the tower and will relieve most doubts you have, such as the mosque on the Northern side or the white plant building on the Southern side. Otherwise Ledra street (where you cross sides) continuing onto Girne Cd (Northern side) lead you past a chunk of worthwhile sites (painted blue line leads you most of the time) and just obviously wandering will get you to see a lot in the best way possible.
As far as beaches go I personally loved Aya Napa area. Paphos area also has nice beaches and plenty of other things to do too. I also thought Larnaca was decent for being a bigger city with beaches and Polis was super cute and a complete contrast to the others with the mountains diving into the sea on either side. I did not go everywhere nor did I do much on the Turkish side but still feel these were all worthy cities with beaches to check out.
Aya Napa (spelled Ayia Napa locally) has shallow water beaches all around the area that are beautiful hues of blue. It is a town that just kept giving more for me. I went for the beaches but stayed because there was ever more to see. The coast in these beach towns all have a walkway along them that you can enjoy for miles, in fact, many Cypriots do so in the evenings. I enjoyed running every single one of them on the island that I could! Aya Napa was no exception, each beach was interconnected by this path and each watering hole made you want to wade on in. The center of town was the better place to go for food but keep exploring since there is a cute park and an old monastery right there too. I kept going further up the hill here and discovered these huge themed night clubs (Pirates, Flintstones, even Senor Frogs). It was insane! It made me want to go back later just to see the party but I was alone and hell, the clubs didn´t even open until 1 am! That was way too late for me to wait…even if I was car camping ha. Whatever you do don´t miss a visit to Nissi Beach or if time Cape Greco for some sweet views. Many say Konnos Bay is the best beach. Maybe do some research and decide for yourself. I didn´t have time for all of them and chose Nissi because it had an island you could wade out (no swimming needed) to plus the beautiful colors. Obviously, if you have time do them all!
A side note about food, it is very Greek and very Mediterranean. Don´t be shocked if your waiter brings a dessert, a shot or both before you even get your check…it was a lovely custom I could easily permit. The best was going for a Meze which if possible is best done in a smaller town…don´t be rushed, be ready to eat a ton and go with someone because it is basically a lot of small plates filled with delicious food that seem to never end. We went to Taverna Fettas although we meant to go to Koutoupou across the street in old town Paphos and it was an excellent experience! Otherwise don´t miss the Halloumi Cheese, it is very addicting; a souvlaki plate (gyro) because yumm, and at least the stiffado (rabbit), kleftiko (lamb) or moussaka (eggplant). Oh and beer was way better on the Northern side (also way cheaper).
In the past blogs I have told stories of angel dogs. Well I had another in the town of Aya Napa but this time it was the feline version. Interestingly enough I, although I had a car, first arrived to Aya Napa from Larnaca (spelled Larnaka locally) by bus because I thought I had to cross the Turk border and I wouldn´t be able to do so with the rental car (they are all GPS tracked) so instead I took the hour long bus for 1.50 Euros. As I was about to return I saw on the map a place with my aunt´s name, my aunt who passed away in 2020, and I wanted to go take a photo or eat at the restaurant with the same name. Since I was catching a bus soon, that came only every 2 hours, I decided I better wait for the bus instead and not try to make it to said place on the map. SO, on the way back I decided I would just return by car 40 minutes and just stay the night there. Although my rental was due back the next day all the way on the opposite side of the island…it only added 30 minutes to the drive by going farther out given the highway was fast and direct. There I was driving back to Aya Napa at sunset just to see this place with my aunt´s name (Carina). I parked where I would spend the night and began walking over, in a rather backwards way (ha, I explored the beach walkway first, sat and wrote in my journal, etc). When I finally was approaching the place with my aunts name a kitten came over and began walking with me. He/she distracted me so much because it was cute, first of all, but also because cats don´t do this with me and he/she was not just walking alongside me but also going between my legs and rubbing on them. Then suddenly the cat turned and went back (with a couple walking down the street, but still) and I looked up and realized I had arrived. The cat literally dropped me off! Now, I guess this was just my aunt saying ¨hello¨ from above and wanting me to pay attention to her and given the crazy amount of cats here, her spirit was in that cat. At least this is how I see it. The place though didn´t seem to be open (maybe due to covid, maybe it was too early at night…) so I snapped a photo and went back, again the cat joined me, this time to where I would turn back toward the car.
You could say I fell in love with Aya Napa yet I really spent very little time there.
I am also glad I visited Cyprus in shoulder season. It was still mostly warm weather, not overly hot, water was warm enough once you got in and used to it, yet every day it was getting cooler (mid November). Plus there were far fewer tourists which made places like Aya Napa pretty darn amazing (unless, I guess, you want a full clubs and beaches) given I imagine during summer this place is probably packed (quite a well known tourist spot actually). It was also nice to be one of very few American´s visiting (not for work), since this is mainly a top European vacation spot, we were a rarity which is always exciting for local.
Paphos or Pafos as they spell it locally is on the complete opposite end of Cyprus compared to Aya Napa and it has an airport making it easily accessible. I flew in and out of Pafos on simplistic and cheap Ryan Air flights (great if not checking any bags or having paid priority for a bigger bag on board beforehand) from Jordan (common travel spot for Jordanians). If you want to fly closer to Aya Napa or Nicosia, the best airport is Larnaca which is a much bigger airport with an equally enjoyable beach area. Again, either works because you can easily get a car or bus and go elsewhere.
Paphos was wonderful! The old town up on the hill was bliss to walk around. It gave a very local feel with the many popular bars becoming vibrant at night. Not to mention, sunsets from here were superb…well in Pafos anywhere. Sunrises were great in Larnaca though, in case that is more your thing (you could do sunset at the salt lake there if needed though). Either way people loved to be in the water to watch sunrise all over the island and now I can see how relaxing it must make their day feel.
In Paphos, definitely visit the Archaeological park (aka Kato Paphos) and do go across the street too as that was actually my favorite part to explore! Avoid the Tomb of Kings if you are not into history…I´m not sure why that is so highly rated…I only thought Tomb 3 and 6 was good, everything else was not worth it in my opinion. Whereas the Archaeological park had the mosaics, Greek ruins, the lighthouse, the medieval castle with some cool remains if you go inside (ex. huge kitchen), some caves (similar to the feel of the tombs), viewpoints and more.
Know that you can rent a car and there are a ton of companies to choose from or you can also use buses. There were plenty of local and long distance buses available. For instance many people took the local regional bus from Paphos to Coral Bay (1.50 Euro) while plenty also took the Intercity long distance buses, for instance to Nicosia (much higher cost). Some buses go straight from the airport even which saves time for sure. As for renting a car we choose a Cypriot company called Elephant and it was amazing (airport pickup, cheap, empty gas at return, understanding and detailed). You should know whether going with a local or non local company that you need to rent for at least 3 days. Also you should be aware that they drive on the left side of the road given the prior British occupation (Yeah, at some point the Turkish side said England could be in charge of the whole island). Otherwise, roads were great, there were tons of roundabouts and in general driving was smooth sailing…not aggressive at all. Speeds were decent but we were informed that you can go 10 kmph over limit no problem but after you can get a ticket and as of late November (just after I left) the cameras on highways would be working…tracking average time from one destination to the next and sending tickets based on if you went over. For example, drive time to Larnaca is say 2 hours and it takes you 1.5 hours then they know you sped and will issue a ticket…just be aware if you are a more speedy driver. One last thing, with Elephant, and possibly all rentals, there was a 10 Euro carwash fee that you could pay before or take it to the carwash yourself. This might just be a covid protocol of Cyprus, since we were told it is the only approved place to get chemicals to clean the car properly.
While in Pafos obviously also jump in the water, either near the marina (Kato Paphos area) along the main boardwalk and the underwater sculpture park or the beaches nearby. All have plenty of entry areas with steps, even rocky ones. If you venture out, which you should many liked Coral Bay, although I wasn´t as impressed it is a nice calm beach with facilities. I preferred Petra ta Romoiu also known as Aphrodite’s Rock where that famous Greek goddess is said to have been born.
Since I spent most of my time in Pafos I had time to explore more. l would recommend heading out to Polis or Latchi (right next door) for some quieter beaches with mountainous views on each side. I went over for the day and loved it. I actually would have loved staying to hike around the Akamas Penninsula National Park which I hear hides some great trails.
I didn´t go to the mountains in Cyprus but would totally advise doing so. The Troodos Mountains actually get snow and even have a ski area at Mount Olympus, no, not the one you are thinking of in Greece…this is the other…at 1952m only (Greece´s is at 2917m a hem 9.5K feet). I hear the villages are wonderful up there and can be done on a day tour made in town, if that is your preference. Having attempted and failed a visit to that monastery I can say the mountains must be gorgeous because my short stint in a mountain area on that drive up was well worth it, for me, simply for the views looking out over the trees and at the ocean. The main reason I avoided the mountains was due to low temperatures up there in late November…I did not come prepared for winter. I would however love to return and try the ski area out in the future (January to March is best they say).
Lastly, the other thing I did not do was rent a bike in Cyprus. I feared the weather the weekend I planned to rent one as the end of November started to bring the island lower temps. The forecast looked stormy too but as I learned, don´t let that scare you because the truth is Cyprus has more monsoon type rains…it pours for 30 minutes and then usually clears quickly or at the very least you would have several chances of great riding during the whole day. Next time, I will do it because it looks like it would be amazing. They compare it to Mallorca in terms of training (triathlon/cycling)…if that is your thing. Otherwise, there are also plenty of bike paths around town to use, even along the shore and plenty of flat options out of town too (all worth a spin). Rentals are best at Ride Easy Bikes, they even offer tours or guides, if you prefer.
I should mention I did also visit Larnaca and Limassol (spelled Lemosos locally) but both were rather short visits. In Limassol, we just walked along the promenade of the waterfront park so I have no real recommendations besides this and maybe the mosque. I was not really interested in spending time in this city, it felt big and dirty. Lemosos is the second largest city on the island after the capital. It did have some interesting tall towers with more underway as well. On the other hand, Larnaca I actually enjoyed more. I ran along the waterfront, and went to the salt lake, enjoyed the old town area especially the huge doors and the Greek Orthodox church which was stunning inside and the beach areas here were nice and shallow for swimming too. Looked like it offered quite the happening beach life spot in warmer months. By the way the parking lots at the end of the waterfront by the bus station have free parking after 4 pm and were also great for car camping. 😉
You may have noticed I included multiple names for the same city when mentioning them above. I feel it is important to know because you will see it spelled the Greek way or Turkish way most likely while in Cyprus. It can take some getting used to and might cause confusion if you aren´t prepared…or so I seem to believe. I totally missed my exit when driving back from Ayia Napa to Pafos because I forgot that Lemosos came first and that it was spelled as such…I guess I could have used Google Maps or Waze or something but I thought being on the highway was straight forward and I knew where I was going….until you know, you miss the exit. HA! Knowing the local version of a city´s name is also useful when researching travel information because it often brings better and more search results.
Cyprus Travel or Safe Pass (covid entry requirement)
How to get to Polis (from Pafos old town)