It’s still only January, but anticipation for summer is at an all-time high in Europe now that it has entered the post-pandemic phase. Popular countries like France, Italy, and Greece are all seeing a rise in demand — as expected — but this hidden gem, in particular, is stealing the show as one of the top destinations for sun, sand, and culture in 2023:
Welcome To Cyprus
Cyprus is an island nation in the Mediterranean and the Southeasternmost member of the European Union (EU). Although it is indisputably European, its closest neighbors geographically are Turkey (the Anatolian peninsula is only 50 nautical miles north), Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. Due to its unique status, it sits at the crossroads of Europe and Western Asia.
It is also one of the most ethnically diverse states in Europe, home to Cypriots of Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Maronite, and Latin origin. Although the ethnic Greek population forms an overwhelming majority – over 78% of the island – the cultural contributions of minority groups are evident, whether it’s the local folklore, cuisine, or customs.
As a tourist destination, Cyprus boasts a scenic Mediterranean coastline, untouched nature, and a fascinating History. From Ayia Napa, in the East, to Paphos out West, it offers a plethora of sandy beaches, heavenly turquoise-water bays, and marine parks, all interspersed with quaint fishing villages and lively urban developments.
During the health crisis, international arrivals dropped to a historical low of 663,000, a 79.57% decline from 2019. Similarly to other EU member states, the Republic of Cyprus enacted some of the strictest anti-tourism measures in their attempt to keep Covid variants from being imported, including banning entry to most non-EU nationals.
It only reopened for the wider public in 2021, though its vaccination, multiple testing, and mandatory quarantine requirements discouraged a majority of tourists from visiting. Once the virus came under control across the Union, however, Cyprus became one of the first European countries to lift all border measures as early as May 2022.
Cyprus Is Nearing Pre-Pandemic Levels
Following two years of self-imposed isolation, the move was warmly received by tourism officials, who feared the Cypriot Government’s tough stance would harm its competitivity in the Mediterranean region in the long term. Indeed, arrival figures are below 2019’s nearly a year into reopening, but they are nearing pre-pandemic levels fast.
According to the latest data published by the Statistical Service, between January and December 2022, 3,201,080 foreigners arrived in Cyprus, up from 1,936,931 tourists the year before. So far, 2019 retains the all-time record for yearly arrivals, with close to 4 million holidaymakers registered that year.
From 2020, the year-on-year growth is rather impressive, taking into account that border curbs were only lifted in 2022 Q2 (second quarter), and the war in Ukraine led to a sharp decrease in the number of tourists from Russia and Ukraine, two of Cyprus’ most lucrative markets. To put it simply, Cyprus is totally smashing it on the post-pandemic scene.
Despite its popularity within Europe, Cyprus is still relatively unknown among Americans. They are nowhere to be seen in the top 10 nationalities visiting Cyprus every year, though the Government is investing heavily in online campaigns aimed at introducing the beautiful island to the world, reaching, on average, a billion smartphone users per year.
Why Is Cyprus Your Best Bet For A Relaxed European Summer?
More challenging to reach from the mainland U.S. than Italy or Spain due to non-existing nonstop flight options, Cyprus is largely ignored by U.S. passport holders heading to Southern Europe. For the crowd-wary traveler looking for alternatives off the beaten path, it is one of the best bets for a slow-paced, truly relaxing Mediterranean vacay.
If it’s all-inclusive packages you’re into, Protaras and Ayia Napa, on the Southeastern tip, have an extensive portfolio of luxurious beachfront resorts and villas. Looking for a lively social scene and the island’s best nightlife? Head to the coastal Limassol, the country’s second-largest city dubbed the ‘mini Dubai’. You’re a History aficionado? No problem:
Some of the top sights include Romanesque cathedrals dating back centuries, incredibly well-preserved Hellenic ruins, such as the UNESCO-protected Tombs of the Kings in Paphos, and cobblestone towns tucked away in a mountainous inland, famous for their tradition and winemaking. On top of that, Cyprus is the birthplace of Aphrodite in Greek mythology.
North vs. South Cyprus
Traveling to Cyprus, non-European tourists are reminded the island remains divided between the internationally-recognized Republic of Cyprus, an EU member, and the breakaway, unrecognized state of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). A UN buffer zone runs along the northern third of the island and splits the Cypriot capital Nicosia in half.
For tourism purposes, there are only two official entry points into the Republic of Cyprus: the airports in Larnaca (LCA) and Paphos (PFO). The third airport, Ercan (ECN), is controlled by TRNC authorities. Foreigners landing first in Ercan will be denied entry to the Republic of Cyprus when attempting to cross from North to South.
Read more about the Cypriot division and other important travel tips here.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com