“So, where exactly is Cyprus?”
Yep, I get it. Scouting out our destination for February break, we also had to look at a map to get our bearings.
Flights from Kyiv were relatively inexpensive, and our interest was piqued, so off we went!
Cyprus is a nation lying at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and Asia. With decent visibility, we could see Lebanon from the shore line. As an island in the Mediterranean Sea, the weather is exceptionally mild and comfortable in February. Sun spilled through the windows in the mornings, tempting us to drink coffee on our Airbnb’s balcony in Larnaca. And we capped off every evening with a cocktail beneath a patio heater downtown.
We hit the low season, so even though some things were closed, we didn’t encounter very many people. We didn’t have to wait for a table in restaurants, and traffic wasn’t bad at all (except for on Sunday, but I’ll get to that). And the weather was spectacular: sun and in the mid-70s. If we ever go back (and I wouldn’t be opposed!), I’d go again in February. In fact, locals told us to avoid visiting in the summer — too hot and too many people, they said.
We had a tentative idea of what we wanted to do there but left room for spur-of-the-moment plan changes. Every day turned out to be interesting, fun, and very different from the day before.
Day One: Sunday
The big bonus of going to Cyprus in February? We hit the end of Carnival celebrations!
Pretty much everyone on the entire island makes their way to Limassol (Lemosos) for the last day of Carnival (hence the traffic jam), but the crush of people was totally worth it. In advance of our trip, I tracked down face masks — because, what’s Carnival without costumes? — but we had nothing on the tens of thousands of people dressed in all kinds of costumes.
For hours upon hours, we laughed and sang and clapped and took pictures of merrymakers in the massive parade that winds through Limassol. There were dozens of floats with just as many themes — Mario Bros., goth, fairies, medieval, Pikachu — and everyone was all smiles. The parade creates an incredible amount of litter, but in the moment when everyone is just so damn happy … well, it’s worth it.
Definitely a stellar way to kick off a week in Cyprus.
Tip of the day: Unfortunately, public transportation isn’t reliable in Cyprus, so plan on renting a car to get around. Vehicles drive on the left side of the road. Pull in side mirrors when navigating narrow city streets.
Day Two: Monday
With Carnival behind us, we embraced Green Monday by heading to Troodos National Forest Park, which is located toward the center of the island.
We walked the 7km Artemis Trail, which makes a circular path at 1800 meters up Mt. Olympus, the highest peak on Cyprus. Signage was poor at times, but it was so nice to be outside. We often walked in silence, breathing in the fresh air and stopping to take photos of the countryside in the distance.
As we strolled along the path, we happened upon a paw print in the dirt. We never figured out what it belonged to, but it got me thinking about the curious nature of island nations. Once upon a time, pygmy hippos and elephants lived on Cyprus. It’s not simple for critters to arrive on and leave a place like Cyprus, and yet the circle of life marches on as different forces of nature leave their thumbprint on the landscape.
Tip of the day: Though there are cafes on the round trip from Larnaca, access may be limited on holidays or during low season. Definitely pack some snacks.
Day Three: Tuesday
We turned the steering wheel in a different direction and headed toward Cyprus’ southeast coast.
Leaving the freeway, we drove along a beach road tracing the coast. We parked the car often, popping out to admire the clear, clean, aquamarine water — so clear at times that boats in the distance looked like they floated in midair.
Our ultimate goal was a series of sea caves. Once we reached our destination, we wandered along the shore looking for the caves, confused why we couldn’t find them. Turns out we walked right by a sign indicating where they were — and we’d been walking on top of them the entire time! They were lovely once we found them, though, and definitely worth the drive.
Tip of the day: It’s not worth stopping in the truly unappealing resort town Ayia Napa, which is located on the coast in this part of Cyprus. This tacky beach town has been stripped of its authenticity and character and is stuffed with crappy souvenir shops, bad food, and generic “attractions.” Take a hard pass and drive right by.
Day Four: Wednesday
Midway through the week we visited Cyprus’ contested capital city, Nicosia.
I’ve never been to a divided city before — with a wall topped by barbed wire — and the general concept of it bounced around in my head all day long. How does someone decide how to divide a city, street by street and building by building?
We spent the day in the old town on the Cypriot side. It was downright depressing with empty storefronts, locked-down shops, and quiet streets. The only thing that seemed to be open were wood-working shops run by old men. Graffiti tagged everything, feral cats ran rampant, and it feels like a ghost town crumbling at the edges.
Close to the border crossing, there were a handful of cafes and shops clearly open for tourists, though nothing about this part of town felt genuine. It felt like being on a movie set that stretches just a couple blocks in each direction.
On one of these streets was the border crossing to the Turkish side of the island. Within the small part of the Turkish side of Nicosia that we walked through, the city felt more vibrant. Well-dressed men sat eating lunch and people gathered in public places to play backgammon. Though it was mid-week, people made their way in and out of the mosques.
What is it like to live in a divided city, sharing a street but separated by a wall, language, and culture? How different are the history classes taught down the street from each other? If two kids met who grew up only one mile from each other but on different sides of the wall, how foreign would their stories be to each other?
Tip of the day: You need to go through passport control to visit both sides of the city. Be mindful of visa restrictions that have visitation guidelines. We saw someone crossing from the Turkish to the Cypriot side who had overstayed his visa, and it didn’t look like a good situation to be in.
Day Five: Thursday
I don’t think a trip to Cyprus would be complete without acknowledging its archaeological significance.
On day five we headed toward the islands southwest coast, which is dotted with several noteworthy ruins.
Our first stop was Kourion, a sprawling ancient city with a truly jaw-dropping view overlooking the sea. It consists of several different areas: large recreation buildings, a bathing complex, a basilica, and even an impressive open-air amphitheater that still hosts productions. Built in the 2nd century BC, Kourion was a thriving city until its destruction by an earthquake in 365 AD.
We took our time walking from building to building, stopping to snap pictures of the sea and marvel at the impressively intact architecture. Most impressive, perhaps, was the tile floor mosaics that have remained in incredible condition over the years. The colors have faded a bit and some pieces are broken off, but considering their age, they look fantastic.
Next we stopped at the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates, a quick jaunt from Kourion. A religious center, people worshiped Apollo Hylates here from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. It’s a smaller site than Kourion but worth the stop even just to check out the awesome temple with its tall pillars.
Finally, we managed to sneak into the Tombs of the Kings with 45 minutes to spare. This UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of several underground burial sites spread out over several acres. We walked up and down stairs into the sites, checking out the now-barren cavernous holes in the walls where aristocracy used to be buried. Interestingly, each of the sites is distinctly different from the others. I’m glad we did our best to see as many as we could in the short time we were there.
One of the things I most appreciated about visiting Cyprus’ archaeological sites was witnessing respectful visitation in action. It should be a given people will respect the places they travel to, but that’s not the case. Throughout these sites, though, very little is roped off. People are invited to walk around and observe freely. The conditions seem perfect for vandalism, yet, besides a bit of trash here and there, I saw no destruction. No one has carved their initials into an ancient set of stairs. No one has pulled up pieces of the tile mosaics. People should be free to explore these sites at their leisure, observing the details up close and wandering among the rooms as humans did hundreds or thousands of years ago. It was refreshing to see these places in such pristine condition.
Tip of the day: It’s a long drive from Larnaca to reach this side of Cyprus. We left mid-morning for our day’s excursion but should have left much earlier to maximize all our time at the three archaeological sites we stopped at. Get an early start on the day so you don’t make the same mistake we did.