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Highlights of Northern Cyprus
The Karpas Peninsula
Jutting out to the northeast of Cyprus is the wild and wonderful Karpas Peninsula. This is the most remote part of the island where few tourists make the effort to reach. Public transportation is non-existent in these parts, so bring your own wheels or hitch a ride. It’s worth it if you enjoy peace and quiet and the chance to see the wild, indigenous donkeys, which are the symbol of Cyprus. All the way at the end of the peninsula is Apostolos Andreas Monastery.
Many aim to reach as far as Golden Beach, just shy of the monastery, which may be the best beach on the island. Its white sands and clear waters can be enjoyed in an environment free from development, except for the wooden bungalows where you can spend the night. It’s also known for being a turtle nesting area.
Girne is a picturesque port on the northern coast of the island. Once a Venetian harbor town, Girne is backed by the steep wooded hills of the Beşparmak Mountains. Even though it’s the most popular tourist destination in the north, you shouldn’t be conjuring up images of all inclusive holidays to Ayia Napa. Girne is different.
True, it gets it share of foreign holiday makers, but it still retains its old world charms: cobble streets, an old harbor, and the massive Kyrenia Castle. Located next to the harbor, it is thought to have been built by the Byzantines in the 7th century. Inside is the incredibly preserved wreck of a wooden merchant ship dated to 306 BC, which was found in 1965 off the coast. The cargo of 400 clay jugs filled with olives and almonds was found inside still intact.
The best day trips from Girne are to Bellapais, known for its ancient monastery of picturesque ruins with Gothic arches and stone walls, and to St. Hilarion, the best-preserved castle on the island, which is located halfway between Girne and Lefkoşa.
The old city is surrounded by one of the best preserved Venetian fortifications in the eastern Mediterranean. (Leonardo da Vinci is thought to have been involved in the design.) There are plenty of medieval/renaissance buildings that can be visited in Gazimağusa, unfortunately most of them were severely damaged during the Turkish siege of the city in 1571.
At the top of your list should be the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, which was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest and re-named LalaMustafa Paşa Mosque, the Land Gate with its drawbridge, the Martinengo Bastion, and a walk around Othello’s Tower.
If you are taking the ferry from Mersin, Gazimağusa is where you will arrive. (Alternatively, seasonal ferry runs a shorter route from Taşucu, Turkey to Girne.)
The best day trips from Gazimağusa are to the many fine beaches along the coast to the north, around Gazimağusa Bay, or to the ancient Greek city of Salamis. Today much of the site lies in ruins, but it is, nevertheless, one of the most impressive monuments to be found on the island. Don’t miss the spectacular gymnasium and theater and what remains of the mosaics.
About Northern Cyprus
The first thing you might notice when researching travel to Cyprus is that almost everyplace has two names: one in Turkish and another in Greek. The recent history of Cyprus has been a complicated one and even bloody at times.
The island is shared by Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots, and even though both sides agreed to a constitution in 1960, they were never practically able to live together. Following a civil war in the mid-1970’s the country divided, but Turkey is alone in recognizing Northern Cyprus as an independent state. Northern Cyprus has only about a quarter of the islands total population living on one-third of the total land area. Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily and Sardinia.