Set in the northernmost corner of the sparkling Mediterranean Sea almost equidistant from Africa, Asia and Europe, Cyprus can claim to be the stepping stone between the three vast continents. During its nine thousand years of dramatic, violent history, the sun-drenched island has been fought for by almost every major civilization and empire since the dawn of time and has the ruins, remnants and buildings to show for it.
Cyprus’s stunning beaches are linked in legend to Greek gods and goddesses whose temples still adorn the countryside and rugged coastlines with Romans, Crusaders, Byzantines, Franks and Venetians all leaving tangible marks on the island. The history of Europe and Asia Minor can be traced back through the palaces, churches, monasteries, monuments, museums and landmarks, as well as in the fascinating heritage and culture of the Cypriot people.
Cypriot Greeks and Turks are amongst the world’s most welcoming and friendly people, going out of their way to help visitors confused by language, road signs or any other aspect of life. Accommodations range from small, family-owned hotels to huge, luxury five-star resorts and spas with good value for the money at all budgets. Cuisine in Cyprus is an intriguing mix of Greek, Turkish and Italian gastronomy, with many local dishes as old as the settlements themselves.
The island is split in two between the southern Greek region and the northern Turkish enclave, but it’s easy for visitors to get between the two halves on daytrips. Cyprus is a land of beauty from the soaring Troodos Mountains, rich in flora, fauna and picturesque villages to the picturesque coastal beaches and rugged cliffs. All varieties of water sports are available, and adventure enthusiasts can enjoy paragliding, mountain biking, quad-biking, rock climbing, horse riding, skiing, or a game of golf.sss
Cyprus’s weather make the island an all-year-round destination, although high season accommodation and flights April-November are much more expensive than early spring and late fall. The large number of low-cost flights to the island during the eight-month vacation season may give a visitors a chance to find special offers or discounts, but winter travel is often still the cheapest and mostly restricted to full-service carriers.
Official language: Greek, Turkish
The island of Cyprus has been occupied since prehistoric times, as witnessed by the Neolithic village of Khirokita, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Mycenaean Greeks arrived 3,000 years ago after their empire collapsed, and sparked the island’s Greek character and links to mythology. Three empires in succession, Assyrian, Egyptian and Persian, ruled the island between 708 and 545 BC, followed by Alexander the Great’s forces and Ptolemaic Egypt. By 58 BC, Cyprus was part of the Roman Empire.
After Rome fell, Cyprus came under Byzantine rule until the 12th century, when it was captured by England’s King Richard I. Almost immediately, the king sold it to the powerful Knights Templar, who passed it on to Guy de Lusignan, with Lusignan’s brother becoming the first King of Cyprus. In the 15th century, Venice assumed control and fortified Nicosia, Famagusta and Kyrenia against Ottoman attacks, with the walls still standing today. Frankish nobles, Italian merchants and Hellenized Cypriots lived uneasily side by side for almost two hundred years.
Seeing the power of Venice declining, the Ottoman Empire mounted a successful full-scale attack in 1570 and abolished the feudal system. Its rule ranged from oppressive to indifferent and by the time the Ottomans had weakened, Cyprus’s economy was in shreds. In 1828, mainland Greece’s first president called for Cyprus to join Greece, leading to uprisings by both nationalities on the island. By the end of the 19th century, enosis (union with Greece) had become the goal.
In 1878 the British took Cyprus as a key hub in their colonial routes, although Ottoman sovereignty remained until 1914. In 1925, it became a British colony, and remained so until gaining independence in 1960. Turkey’s immediate response pressed for autonomy of the Turkish sector, with Cypriot president Archbishop Makarios supporting the Greek side. Following 10 years of diplomatic non-solutions, a coup by the Greek military junta sparked a Turkish invasion of Cyprus leading to war.
Although combat only lasted a few days before a ceasefire, 30,000 Turkish troops landed around Kyrenia and Nicosia and a successful second invasion begun a week later. By the next ceasefire, 37 percent of Cyprus was in Turkish hands and 180,000 Greek homeowners had been displaced. In 1983, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was declared, still to this day only recognized by Turkey itself. Although Cyprus is now an EU member, the situation remains unresolved.
Culture in Cyprus is divided between its two ethnic halves, both with distinct attributes and religions which remain completely separate from each other. The late arrival of the Turkish in 1570 compared with more than 2,000 years of Greek influence gives little chance of union in the future. The strengths of Greek culture rest on music, dance, poetry, visual arts and pride in a long, troubled heritage, shown in traditional celebrations and festivals linked with Greek Orthodox saints’ days and similar events.
Prior to the events of 1994, Greek and Turkish Cypriots lived together in villages and shared celebrations and community events. Since then, the two communities have been effectively isolated from each other, although there are many things still in common due to more than 400 shared years before partition. Families are the most important loyalty, and hierarchy related both to age and position is essential in both Islam and Orthodox Christianity
The climate of Cyprus is split into two regions, semi-arid in the northeast and subtropical Mediterranean on the rest of the island. Coastal areas mainly see warm to hot summers and mild, pleasant winters, with late spring and early fall still good times to visit for a beach vacation. Summers are generally dry, with most rainfall occurring in the winter months. The central Troodos Mountains have enough snow in to offer a short ski season.
Cyprus has the warmest year-round weather of all the European countries, with annual average daytime coastal highs reaching 75°F and nighttime averages of 57°F. The vacation season runs from April through November, with temperatures going from 72°F in the early months to 91°F in July and August and back down to 72°F in November. Even in the remaining four winter months, highs of 68°F aren’t uncommon. Sea temperatures are equally welcoming, with 63°F in February getting all the way up to 82°F in the high season.
Sunshine hours along the coastline vary from five to six hours in December to 12 to 13 hours in July and August. In the interior, weather depends mainly on altitude, with cold, often freezing winters on the peaks and hot summers in the valleys. The inland weather is less stable than its coastal equivalent. The arid northeasterly region receives little rain and in general, humidity isn’t a major problem, with 65 percent the average. Spring winds blow for a few days from Africa, bringing sand from the Sahara and Arabian deserts that reduces visibility.
Visitors wishing to obtain a visa are advised to be in possession of a passport valid for at least six months from date of entry to Cyprus. The visa for the return country must be valid for at least three months after the period of the intended stay.
Taxi travel around Cyprus is relatively expensive and comes with two options. Service taxis, also known as shared taxis, operate within set times and to individual destinations, and are a convenient way to get around and between towns. Personal cabs can be hailed on the street or booked in advance, and are metered by law. Extra charges apply after 8:30 p.m. so due to cost, travel between towns is best done by service taxi. Travel Express (+357-77-777-474) links most main towns every half an hour. In the Turkish sector, service taxis are called dolmus or kombos and are also the most economic way to get around. Go North Cyprus Transfers (+357-533-834-2137) operates in this region.
The car is the most-used means of personal transport on Cyprus for both nationals and visitors, with car rental available through trusted international companies easy to arrange. Several motorways link coastal towns from Paphos to Ayia Napa and Limassol or Larnaca to Nicosia in the Turkish north. Car rental is expensive, but is the most practical way to get to attractions in both sectors of the island. If you’re planning to tour the north, you will need to buy extra insurance as what’s issued in the south is invalid in the north.
The only practical means of boat travel to Cyprus nowadays is the ferry from Tasuku in southern Turkey to Kyrenia in the northern region, as the frequent ferries from Greece stopped running 10 years ago. Cars entering Turkish-occupied Cyprus are not allowed to pass the border into the Greek sector.
There is no train service on Cyprus, with buses the only means of public transportation. Bus routes cover long-distance and local journeys, but may not serve major tourist attractions, especially if they’re slightly off the beaten path. Comfort levels vary from good to poor, with some rural buses resembling relics from the 1950’s, and the trip is inexpensive, but extremely slow. An exception is the new service running from behind Nicosia’s Plateia Solomou bus station to the Troodos Mountains, taking in picturesque villages along the way.
Before you leave on your holiday, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:
Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)
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