Mediterranean islands are commonly associated with beach getaways, translucent, teal waters and breathtaking sunsets, and they usually compete with each other for the title of leading summer destination every year. There’s just too many to name, and we’re sure you’ve heard all about Ibiza, Santorini, Mallorca, Malta and the like…
But what about the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus? Cyprus is gaining popularity fast and travelers may want to get there soon before everyone else has the exact same idea.
Move over, Italy
We can already see our British and European readers rolling their eyes at this, with Cyprus having been a major vacay hotspot for years. We totally get it, it is hardly Albania or one of those unheard-of, severely underrated countries most people can’t even pinpoint on a map. It is, in fact, one of Europe’s favorite summer islands.
Unfortunately, from our side of the pond, Cyprus is still not nearly as successful as Greece or Spain: the U.S. did not rank anywhere in the top ten of tourist arrivals into this country back in 2019, with fewer Americans visiting than Romanians, Poles, Ukrainians – and even the blacklisted Russians.
After two years of Covid and strict border rules, that have only recently been dropped completely, we will take a wild guess here and presume U.S. arrivals have dropped even lower on the list. While this may be attributed to a lack of nonstop flights between the two countries, this has never discouraged Americans from traveling to faraway locations before.
Thailand has been a major Asian destination for years, and direct flights have only returned recently after 10 years of pause; not to mention the Pacific islands, where connecting flights are the norm. No matter how far you go, you will find an American snoozing at the beach, beer cup hanging from the classic neck strap, in places as remote as Fiji.
So why have most Americans still not heard of Cyprus, one might wonder? On this article, you will find out why, as a U.S. citizen, you may be one of the few in the Western World still sleeping on this Mediterranean jewel – and of course, why it should definitely be as big a summer destination as other Southern European countries:
Where is Cyprus to begin with?
That’s a tricky question, and there is no simple answer. Let’s start with a few facts: first, Cyprus is a Mediterranean island, and over the ten millennia it has been inhabited it has received a large influx of immigration from neighboring kingdoms and Empires, such as Greeks, Persians, Turks, Armenians and whatnot.
It is a member of the European Union, even though it is located 226 miles from the nearest Greek island. Regardless of the distance, Greece is still Cyprus’ nearest fellow EU member. Comparatively, Turkey’s southern coast is only 50 miles away from the Northern Cypriot shore, and other closer neighbors include Lebanon, Syria and Israel.
While it is indisputably culturally European, Cyprus may be geographically placed in either Europe or Western Asia, due to its remote location in the East Mediterranean, only a stone’s throw away from several Middle Eastern nations. But then again, the line that divides the continents is blurry and has changed over time.
Today, despite surviving numerous invasions and being subject to the rule of every single superpower you can name, Cyprus has remained loyal to its Ancient Greek origins. The vast majority of Cypriots speak, and some even identify purely as Greek, meaning the island is Greek in (nearly) all aspects – despite being its own country.
Some takeaways from this:
- Cyprus is a Mediterranean island, and a country
- Although it is technically in Western Asia, it is a definitely a European nation and an EU member*
- Its official currency is the Euro
- 1.2 million people live there
- The vast majority of islanders speak Greek, although some speak Turkish (more on that later)
*Think the Canary Islands, that are an integral part of Spain and have been for centuries, but are geographically located in Africa
Ok, but what exactly are Americans missing out on?
1. First of all, Cyprus is warmer than most of Europe all-year round
Cyprus is hot. And we mean sizzling hot. In the words of the country’s own tourism board, it has an ‘intense’ Mediterranean climate. The long dry summer extends from mid-May to mid-October, when temperatures can reach over 100 degrees in many coastal cities. Luckily, the sea is never too far away for a refreshing dip.
Temperatures can easily reach triple digits as early as late April, though, and winters remain pretty mild, to say the least: the coldest it usually gets on the coast is an average 16 degrees. We’re of course not taking into account the island’s towering mountains, where snow falls profusely and skiing activities are widely promoted over winter.
The point is: Cyprus is the ultimate paradise island. For those who grew up facing the harsh Northeastern American winter, even January in Cyprus will feel like a summer break. It enjoys between 300 to 340 sunny days per year, and the sea remains considerably warmer than most other Mediterranean hubs, even in the low season.
If you would still rather experience that classic Mediterranean summer, make sure you bring enough sunscreen to avoid burns, limit your time at the beach, especially during peak sun hours, and drink plenty of water, maybe double the amount you would normally at home. Trust us, the Cypriot heat is no joke.
2. 402 miles of coastline with turquoise waters
Unlike most Southern European countries that are only partially on the Mediterranean – Spain, France, Croatia, Turkey and others – Cyprus is fully surrounded by it. More precisely, it has 402 miles of either sandy beaches or scenic coastal rides where the turquoise glow of the ocean dominates the landscape for miles on end.
This means Cyprus is one of the few European nations with just enough beaches to counter overtourism. Don’t get us wrong, we are definitely not saying it does not get crowded. Many of the most popular beaches in the country like Ayia Napa and Protaras are absolutely packed in summer, but if you’re looking for quieter spots, it won’t be too hard to find them.
With so many beaches and other bathing areas inland available, including calm water rivers and waterfalls, you will be surprised at how many unblemished natural sites Cyprus still hides. Some of the best ones are situated on the island’s Northern coast, and they do not receive half as many tourists as the South.
We will explain why that is further below, but many of the seaside towns and sandy beaches on Cyprus’ Karpas Peninsula, that one crooked finger stretching out on the map that gives the island its distinct geography, are virtually unspoiled by mass tourism. The same cannot be said about other Medi competitors like Italy.
Before item No. 3, the shortest History lesson possible
So why is the North not as popular among tourists? In sum, Cyprus has been a divided island from 1974 onward, when an attempt to unite the island with Greece was violently hampered by a Turkish invasion. Due to its proximity to Turkey – the Cypriot coast can be seen from the Turkish mainland with the naked eye – the North was seized by the latter’s troops.
Prior to that, both of Cyprus’ Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking populations lived somewhat peacefully in mixed communities. After the invasion, Turkish Cypriots were forced to move to the North, and the Greeks living in the North had to flee South. Fast forward a few decades, and a second de facto country now claims 36% of the island: the TRNC.
TRNC is an acronym for Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a ‘country’ whose independence has only been recognized by – tee-hee – Turkey! The entire international community, including the United States, considers the North to be an integral part of the Republic of Cyprus (the South) that has been under an illegal occupation since the division took place.
For that reason, Turkish-speaking Cyprus has not enjoyed the same economic boom the Greek side has, maintaining official diplomatic relations only with Turkey and being under harsh economic sanctions. Even though visitors are welcome, and the Northern Cypriot administration strongly encourages tourism, very few actually venture far North.
Off path travel, anyone?
3. Here you will find the last divided capital in the world
Curiously, the UN-established Buffer Zone separating the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus from the self-proclaimed TRNC runs along the heart of Nicosia, the island’s capital, dividing it between both states. Greek Cypriots claim the entire city – at the same time, Turkish Cypriots consider Northern Nicosia their capital.
Due to this complex situation, checkpoints have been installed in the city, including on the main street, effectively functioning like international borders. Because of that, in order to cross from the Greek part into the Turkish, you will need to present your passport, even though the Cypriot Government considers the TRNC a part of Cyprus.
Much like Berlin in the 1980s, prior to fall of the wall, Nicosia is a city plagued by division. Sad as it might be, and we are sure this is not easy for Cypriots raised there, it is the barbed wire-protected streets, the political murals lining up the Buffer Zone, and the constant clash between the Greek and Turkish worlds that make it such a unique, fascinating city break.
You could be having a sumptuous Turkish breakfast in the morning on the Northern side, as you listen to the Quran being recited out of the nearest minaret, and then cross to the South in the afternoon to try some traditional Greek pastries and visit museums where you’ll learn about the island’s Greek origins. Quite literally, Nicosia offers the best of both worlds.
4. Wine tours. Yes, in Cyprus.
Those coming to Europe with their hearts set on a winery tour will hardly ever think of Cyprus as their first pick. After all, how could Cyprus even compete when France has Bordeaux, Champagne and the Loire Valley, right? That’s when Cyprus becomes massively underestimated – even among Europeans that have been visiting for years.
It has the ideal climate for growing grapes, and Cypriot wine is among the best quality wine in the whole of Europe, ranking 50th in the world in terms of total production. A majority of visitors may want to head straight to the nearest beach straight out of the plane, but little do they know Cyprus has a whole wine industry that is yet to be discovered.
An off the path thing to do in the country – we love those – is going wine tasting in any of the inland villages, particularly those on the slopes of Troodos Mountains. This range sits on the exact center of the island and features the highest Cypriot peak: the aptly titled Mount Olympus, evocative of the Ancient Greek mythology.
As for the wine produced here… It is the drink of the gods. Among some of the best wine-producing villages, we have Lofou, where the busy seaside life is replaced by mountainside town views, with cobblestone streets and a more laid-back feel. Other mandatory stops include the picturesque Omodos and Pera Pedi, only a few miles north of the city of Limassol.
5. Cyprus is much more affordable than other Medi vacations
Minimum wages are a strong indication of a country’s purchase power and how expensive things are. In Spain, the minimum wage is roughly $1,068.84, beaten by France’s whopping $1,566.62, and both of these countries expect tourists to provide proof of at least $101 in spending money per day for the duration of their stay.
Even though Cyprus does not have a minimum wage, the average Cypriot makes about $940 a month, proving living costs are far less exorbitant than France’s, where the bare minimum a worker is paid is still 60% higher. Naturally, these figures have a direct influence on the price of basic items (meals, a bottle of still water, sunblock, insect repellent etc).
We won’t lie to you: Cyprus is not an ultra cheap summer destination. It is surely no obscure Balkan country where tourists can go by with $`100 dollars a whole week, or the budget-friendly Central America, that has even overtaken Europe lately in total hostel bookings. But it is cheaper than the Western Mediterranean.
Paphos, a city on the country’s West Coast, has been named this year the fourth most affordable summer destination in Europe, where tourists can live comfortably off of $72.78 on average per day. Needless to say, Paphos beats old summer favorites like Italy’s Amalfi Coast, Spain’s Costa del Sol and France’s Côte d’Azur in terms of affordability.
6. Oh, and Cyprus is not that far away
There may be no direct flight connections between the U.S./Canada and Cyprus, but North Americans can easily reach this summer dreamland via short stopovers in a number of European countries. An Austrian Airlines flight leaving from JFK, final destination Larnaca (Cyprus), with an air-side transit in Vienna only takes about 12 hours.
In addition to Austrian Airlines, other European carriers like AirSerbia (Serbia), Swiss Airlines (Switzerland), and Lufthansa (Germany) offer non-direct links to Cyprus, with transfers usually lasting less than two hours. But hey, even if you have a long layover ahead, this is not necessarily a bad thing, at least on certain routes.
Plus, Cyprus just needs that much-needed U.S. tourism boost. Prior to HBO’s Game of Thrones, that introduced Croatia to a wider American public, there were no direct flights between the Balkan country and the States. Now, United has a successful summer route connecting Newark and Dubrovnik. Who knows… Maybe Cyprus will follow suit one day?
Now that you know all about Cyprus, and what makes it a serious contender for the best Mediterranean summer ever, how about booking those tickets right away? Just make sure that you also get insured for flight delays and cancellations: in case you haven’t heard, U.S. travel is in turmoil and we don’t want your dreamy Cyprus trip to turn nightmarish.
One last thing… and this is VERY important
In case this piece of information has already slipped your mind – we forgive you, as the wonders of Cyprus do take precedence over anything else – the island is split in two. To the South, you have the Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus, a UN member. To the North, lies the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which occupies the territory illegally.
The island of Cyprus has three airports, though only two of those are under the control of the Republic of Cyprus. Those are the airports in the cities of Larnaca (Southeast Coast) and Paphos (West Coast), where most international flights arrive. The third airport, Ercan, served the capital of Nicosia until it was split in half.
Now, it is under the control of the TRNC. As a result of an international embargo, all flights to Ercan have a layover in Turkey, the only other UN member that has recognized the TRNC as an independent state. If you are planning on visiting Nicosia on your trip to Cyprus, make a mental note to NEVER book flights through Ercan.
Foreigners arriving in the island via the North will be turned away at the border when attempting to cross into the South afterwards, as the Republic of Cyprus considers any entry into the territory through Ercan, or any of the sea ports in the Turkish-controlled North, to be illegal. Cypriot and European citizens are exempt from this restriction.
If you’re an American, in order to avoid problems, just fly into Larnaca or Paphos instead. There are several shuttle buses, as well as public transport, linking the capital to the Republic’s airports, though Larnaca is the closest hub to Nicosia (33.6 miles away). Oh, and please: do not let this discourage you from visiting the North!
This rule does not go both ways: Americans who land in the South, and then enter the North are allowed back in the South any time, without any issues, no matter how many times they cross in one trip. Just remember to always keep your passport on you if you’re visiting the TRNC – or, in the case of Europeans traveling without their passports, a national ID card.
A Quick Recap
- Always use Larnaca or Paphos as your point of entry into Cyprus
- The Euro is the official currency in the South
- The Turkish Lira is the currency in use in the North*
- Never enter military, no-go zones without permission
*Euros may be accepted in North Nicosia, but not other cities in the Turkish-controlled North
Main Sights In Cyprus
- The Church of St. Lazarus in Larnaca, the oldest in all of Cyprus dating back to the 9th century
- Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque, on the shores of the Larnaca Salt Lake, one of the holiest sites in Islam
- Cape Greco for scenic views of the Mediterranean and sea caves
- Ayia Napa and Protaras, where some of the clearest waters in the island can be found
- Nicosia, the last divided capital city in the world
- The Kyrenia medieval castle in Kyrenia/Girne (Northern Cyprus)
- The Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque in Famagusta (Northern Cyprus)
- Varosha, a ghosttown in the North left in ruins in the aftermath of the Turkish Invasion (Northern Cyprus)
- Limassol, Cyprus’ second largest and most modern city
- Lofou, a traditional inland Cypriot village
- Mount Olympus
- Nea Paphos, an archaeological site housing the ruins of an ancient Greek city in Paphos
- The Tombs of the Kings in Paphos
- The Akamas National Park
- The Adonis Baths
- The Blue Lagoon
What Are Cyprus’ Entry Requirements?
Since May 28, 2022, Cyprus has no Covid entry requirements. In other words, Americans can enter the country regardless of vaccination status, without testing and quarantine. Visiting is as simple as it was prior to the pandemic, though other requirements, such as indoor mask wearing once inside the country, may still apply.
Americans (and Canadians) can stay in Cyprus – both the South and the Turkish-occupied North – up to 90 days out of every 180 day period. As the country is not yet a member of Europe’s Schengen Area, any visits to other EU countries, or Schengen-associated states, do not count towards your visa limit in Cyprus.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com