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Kyrenia Harbor, North Cyprus.

Kyrenia harbor in North Cyprus

North Cyprus: Waiting to Be Discovered

There are some places in the world many travelers are still itching to visit.  After they’ve been just about everywhere that’s accessible to the modern traveler, some places still beckon, they’re a bit harder to get to but sometimes can provide these can be the most satisfying travel experiences.

North Cyprus, the isolated country in the north bordering the island nation of the Republic of Cyprus, is one of those places. It’s set in the sparkling Mediterranean, near the coasts of Turkey and Syria. 

When I visited Cyprus in 2006, we enjoyed long feasts, with lots of Cypriot wine and the traditional mezze dishes in small villages, and traveled the country seeing sites like Aphrodite’s fountain and the beautifully preserved frescoes of the Temple of Athena.

Nicosia the Divided Capital

Our first night was spent in Europe’s only divided capital, Nicosia, where we visited the border wall that has separated the two nations since 1974.  Climbing up some stairs and peering over the wall, just past the armed guards I saw a mosque and a streetscape that was not much different than Cyprus.

But it was a land that I would not get to visit, and ever since the country has intrigued me. Even the shape of the country, resembling a hand with an outstretched finger pointing northeast, makes me want to see more.  I want to drive up to the end of that tip, called Iskele, see lands end, and find out what it’s like to visit a place that much of the world has forgotten.

An Isolated Yet Friendly Nation

There are some things about North Cyprus that are unique among nations you can visit. International telephone calls are routed via a Turkish dialling code (+90 392) as Northern Cyprus doesn't have its own country code.

Children in traditional folk dancing dress in North Cyprus.

Children in traditional folk dancing costumes in North Cyprus.

North Cyprus is also one of few nations that is not recognized by the Universal Postal Union, so all mail must be addressed ‘via Mersin 10, Turkey’ 

Direct flights to Northern Cyprus and the trade traffic through the Northern Cypriot ports are restricted as part of the embargo on Northern Cypriot ports. The airports of Geçitkale and Ercan are only recognised as legal ports of entry by Turkey and Azerbaijan. Direct charter flights between Poland and North Cyprus started on 20 June 2011.

The seaports in Famagusta and Kyrenia have been declared closed to all shipping by the Republic of Cyprus since 1974. By agreement between Northern Cyprus and Syria, there is a ship tour between Famagusta and Latakia, Syria. Since the opening of the Green Line Turkish Cypriot residents are allowed to trade through Greek Cypriot ports.

No Bank Problems in North Cyprus

Cyprus was in the news in March 2013 after a spectacular banking collapse.  The millions of rubles that Russians had deposited into the country’s banks were suddenly in jeopardy. Despite the financial jitters this caused the Republic of Cyprus, there was and is no banking crisis in North Cyprus.

North Cyprus uses the Turkish Lira, rather than the Euro, as its currency. It’s not a member of the Eurozone, and never asked for nor needed an IMF bailout.

Today, tourism is thriving in North Cyprus, as Brits and other Europeans have discovered its quaint old villages and beautiful beaches. It’s one of the cheapest ways to get a tan on the Mediterranean.  There are pretty places to explore, it’s a safe destination, said Izzet Zorlu, who runs Go North Cyprus offering tour packages and accommodations in the country. Another useful website about what's going on in North Cyprus is WhatsonNorthCyprus, which is also in English.

“North Cyprus represents a terrific value for the money at the moment, especially for UK tourists, thanks to the exchange rate with the Turkish Lira. Savings are secure in North Cyprus bank and visitors can withdraw cash with no problems,” he said.

An old defense tower in Kyrenia harbor.

A former defense tower in Kyrenia Harbor, North Cyprus.

Travelers who have spent time renting villas in North Cyprus share their stories on the Cypress44 website,

There are about 300,000 people in North Cyprus, which means it’s not at all crowded, versus the approximately 800,000 Cypriots living in the South.

What It’s Like in North Cyprus

To find out what a vacation in North Cyprus is like, we interviewed two couples from the UK who spent a glorious week renting a villa in Esentepe, Kyrenia, at the very top of the island nation. “I expected the village center to be somehow touristy and overdeveloped,” said Sally Rogers, of Leeds, who stayed there with her husband Howard.

“It was neither; the central square with its mosque and small public park was surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Turkish Cypriot life. The cafés were filled with people chatting over cups of Turkish coffee and everyone looked across the superb views down the mountainside to the shimmering coastline.”

The couple traveled in their rental car down to the road that ran alongside nearly empty beaches, hugging the craggy coastline. They drove through forests of bamboo and past palm trees, the view and the open country made the bumpy ride worth it.

After a few days they had settled into a comfortable routine—long lunches on the veranda with wine, a nap, and then more exploring for places to dine in the evening. The villa’s owners (also from the UK) provided a visitor’s book with lots of ideas, like “Bar B” where they found a table under a banana tree and feasted on sizzling garlic king prawns as well as fresh grilled fish and organic  home-grown veggies. “Simple and superb,” as are more memorable meals in special settings.

Famagusta, North Cyprus: peaceful, safe and prosperous.

famagosta-smaller

One morning they traveled to Kyrenia town to explore the Venetian harbor area, with its old castle and waterside restaurants. Much of what the Rogers had read in guidebooks turned out to be false. There was no problem finding parking and the car park only charged one pound for the whole day—right next to the castle!

One of the memorable stops as the couple popped in and out of shops was the Round Tower Gallery, that is located in one of the old defensive towers of Kyrenia. It was a collection of old photos taken during the British rule of Cyprus before 1974, with smiling British army officers in shorts in brown sepia.

Helping Turtles

Ecotourism takes many forms in islands around the world, whether a dedicated week to a cause you believe in, or just a chance to help out some babies trying to be born. The North Cyprus Turtle Project (SPOT) is based at Alagadi Beach and brings volunteers from the University of Exeter to monitor the green and loggerhead turtles as they lay their eggs in beaches on the North Cyprus coast. 

The odds are stacked against them—one in 1000 will successfully hatch and survive. The volunteers help clear away sand and debris and make sure the hatching turtles make it all the way down to the ocean.

Helping tiny baby turtles make it from eggs to the sea in North Cyprus. photo: whatsonnorthcyprus

Helping tiny baby turtles make their trip from eggs to the sea in North Cyprus.

Besides the Roger’s work helping the turtles, there was much more relaxing than work during their North Cyprus holiday. There is a quiet there that no where in UK can match, and the satisfaction of swimming on one’s own quiet private pool, away from any crowds, is priceless.

“I swam in our crystal clear villa swimming pool, with uninterrupted views over our little valley to the mountainside beyond. In today’s overcrowded world, it’s easy to forget the delights of swimming on your own pool.  Like many of the villas for rent, theirs had a eco-friendly salt-water pool, with no harsh chlorine.

For their final night in Kyrenia, they treated themselves to a ride in a white stretch limo, where their hosts treated them to the country’s specialty, the full kebab. In Cyprus, mezze is the way people eat, that means dozens of small plates with delicious grilled meats, marinated vegetables, seafoods of all sorts and the famous grilled halloumi cheese, which is salty and tangy.

The dishes keep arriving, and just after one is done, another delightfully different dish is set before you. It’s a dizzying culinary display and it leaves you with a world of tastes one after the other. Paired with the local wines, it’s a wonderful way to eat.

Dek's Restaurant in Karpaz, North Cyprus. photo: TripAdvisor.co.uk.
 Dek's Restaurant, run by a British couple, is a friendly place to enjoy local Cypriot cuisine and drinks.

Dek’s Treks

On another road trip from the villa, The Rogers explored more of the Karpaz Peninsula, and there they came upon Dek’s restaurant, which is owned by a friendly British couple whose daughter married a Cypriot policeman. The restaurant’s owners take visitors on guided walks into the mountains to discover old ruined churches like Ayios Thyros Church and mysterious statues.

Despite the Turkish government and predominately muslim population, two of these old churches are kept tidy and clean so that visitors from the South, who once made pilgrimages here, can still enjoy them.  Other patrons who have visited Dek’s have said the owners here are so friendly and welcoming that Dek’s was a highlight of their North Cyprus visit.

“We were greeted by a lovely English lady who owned it, who was very friendly. We had drinks under a shaded table with fabulous views of the coastline. We were so impressed by her hospitality we returned on our journey back, this time for snacks and drinks.”

If you’re now interested in discovering a place that few have seen, and as of today is unspoiled, inexpensive, safe and friendly, then check out North Cyprus. A great place to start is Go North Cyprus, a website with information and accommodations across the nation.

  

Max Hartshorne



Max Hartshorne
is the editor of GoNOMAD and writes a daily blog called Readuponit.

 

 

 

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