We visited Cyprus over Thanksgiving this year as I had 4 days off in a row (which is something that rarely happens now!). We flew Aegean Airlines from Heathrow to Larnaca with a total of 4.5 hours total flying time. Before going, I had little knowledge of the country other than the short National Geographic YouTube video I had seen.
I suppose since I’ve traveled to several places now, I seem to make comparisons between cities or countries and Cyprus was no different. I found it to be a country that had elements of Greece (the food, culture, people and the influence of the Goddess, Aphrodite), UK (since it was a former British colony, including many of the tourists and locals that lived there) and Malta (the dry, arid landscape). Since we visited in November, the weather was perfect – 70 degrees during the day. Plus, it was a nice change from London and Seattle’s freezing weather. Off peak meant we also got good deals on airfare and accommodation.
We rented a car to get around the island at a very reasonable rate. Renting a car is highly recommended as much of the sightseeing is a bit spread out from the major cities. If renting a car is not feasible, I would suggest booking a tour to cover the many points around the island as buses and public transport are not a good option for efficiency.
Cyprus is divided into two parts – the Greek Cypriot southern part which is part of the EU and the northern part which is only recognized by Turkey, officially known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. We had about 3 days to cover the major points of the country but were able to do so at a leisurely pace mostly staying mostly in the southern / EU part. Some of the highlights were:
West – Paphos and the archeological ruins
We started off in Paphos on the western side. This is normally a touristy place in the summer heavily visited by Brits as was seen in the clientele and eateries. But, a short distance away were the archeological ruins which contained intricate mosaics from the 3rd century AD. The main complex was the House of Dionysis, which was a real treat as it is something unique I have not seen in previous travels. About a 10 min drive are the Tombs of Kings, which was not really impressive. Although only a few euros entry fee, I’d suggest skip if pressed on time.
Northwest – Aphrodite’s baths and Fish mezze
We then continued to the northwest section of Cyprus to go check out where Aphrodite (apparently) bathed. This was a small pond and not a great deal to see but I really liked it as there was a small walk leading up to it, which made for a nice walk. Nearby there are proper trails but we did not have time for that.
We finished the afternoon with a massive fish mezze feast. There were many fish restaurants around Latchi’s pier. Warning – come hungry as there are many courses of fish (obviously) but also delicious bread, olives, various dips and other things that are served. We left overly stuffed but thoroughly satisfied.
South – Limassol
We spent the night and part of the morning in Limassol, the main city where people work and live. This seemed like the least touristy part of town and was a nice change from the what we had seen until then. Although there wasn’t a whole lot to see in terms of sightseeing, we enjoyed a promenade walk, nice cafes and bars in a lively part of town and a gorgeous sunrise the next morning.
North – Nicosia and the mountains
The last major area we explored was the divided capital of Nicosia. In 1974, there was an attempted coup and as a result the country was divided into the Northern part which is predominantly Turkish and the southern part which is predominantly Greek. Along the way to Nicosia, we drove through the mountains, where there are actually a lot of activities along the way such as wine tasting and waterfalls. Since we didn’t have time, we didn’t stop but this would be a nice mini road trip next time stopping in the little towns along the way. We made a small pit stop in a town called Trodoos, where we tried local treats such as honey wine, spiced cashews and smoked almonds.
The capital, Nicosia is divided into two parts with a border running through the middle. We didn’t venture too far north mostly staying close to the border crossing checking out the old town surrounding the border. The border crossing itself was interesting as we did go through two check points – one for EU and one for Northern Turkey, but as the Northern part is not recognized by any other country except Turkey, we did not get any actual stamps in our passports.
Stepping into the northern side was an instant change through. Immediately there were sellers with fake good, restaurants were serving more Turkish food than Greek and the call to prayer at the mosque nearby.
We ate at a really picturesque and historic place called Buyuk Han. Built by the Ottomans in the 15th century, it was originally a mosque, then a prison and now is a restaurant at the bottom with shops on top.
The last morning was spent exploring Larnaca before flying out from the airport.
All in all, a great, relaxing trip with a good mix of history and culture, great food, unique sights and great company