The third largest island in the Mediterranean, Cyprus is steeped in not only Greek Mythology and Roman history but has a complex political history which has seen the country split in two (or 3 if you include Akrotiri in the south, owned by Great Britain).
Divided by a 300km long UN Buffer Zone or The Green Line: The West and South of the Island is under the effective control of the Republic and the North is owned by the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. It’s complicated to say the least.
Why Cyprus & the Akamas Peninsula?
What’s not complicated here, is being a tourist. In the summer, expect 14 hours of sun and temperatures easily in the 30s. I have never been to Cyprus before and it’s never really been on our list of places to visit due to it’s lack of surf. But when it comes to other outdoor activities and sight seeing, Cyprus is thriving.
This post should have been an extension to the Basque Country of France and Spain, but in the week running up to our departure, the weather and the surf was looking rather depressing. So we spent a couple of days discussing what we could possibly do with bad weather which would limit outdoor activities (we’d go insane) and decided to use EasyJet’s very easy ‘change destination‘ option for a small admin fee of £32 + fare difference (off-peak). The beating sun and glassy waters of Cyprus was calling!
We stayed in the Republic of Cyprus, nestled in the North-West of the Island on the Akamus Peninsula and only an hour’s drive from the airport and away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist mecca of Paphos/ Pafos. Unless you’re there to see the ruins, Paphos centre is best left off the visit list – we dropped by on our way back to the airport and struggled to find anywhere authentic to eat (thankfully we finally stumbled across this Taverna).
Flights may be on the more expensive side, but once in Cyprus it’s a pretty cheap place to holiday. Staying self-catered, we spent most of our money in the supermarket, but dinner out (1 course – they’re huge – plus a drink each) every so often only saw us parting with €30 for the evening. Attractions are also either free to enter or very cheap.
Around the Akamus Peninsula
One of the least developed areas on the island, the peninsula is engulfed in protected forests, home to some of the islands most treasured creatures and produces some of the most awarded wines.
There’s so much to explore in this region we didn’t have many rest-days in our stay of 9 nights (a car is definitely recommended to get around though) . Our villa was perched on the hillside of Neo Chorio, a 5 minute drive from the seaside village of Latchi (or Latsi). We lucked out a little with a 3 bed split level villa with private pool. And, with temperatures above average, the pool was definitely a winner.
Neo Chorio, Latchi and Polis
Neo Chorio otherwise, is a sleepy 300 year old farming village with 2 taverna’s. Smiyes serves a delicious 12 plate meze for €14 each and what for us became more a Man v Food episode.
The beachside “resort” of Latchi offers a wealth of ocean-side restaurants set along a promenade all offering home cooked Greek-Cypriot delights and fresh seafood. Although service can be slow (as is the way of life) we enjoyed moussaka at Periyiali Restaurant and souvlaki and fresh fish a few nights later at Nostos. Far from Ayia Napa, Saturday night was still bustling with locals out to meet friends for a drink, the Island beach bar providing the cocktails and beats for the evening. The Ice Cream bar at at Porto also proves extremely popular in the day.
Further along the coast, the main town of Polis offers the larger supermarkets, shops and banks. We didn’t quite make it this far for lunch or dinner with so much on offer closer to home.
Mountain Biking & Hiking
The village is the perfect place for cycling and walking, with the road through the village soon turning into gravel tracks across the north-western tip of Cyprus. From here, there’s a wealth of options heading east or west to beaches either side of the peninsula. We’ve hired mountain bikes on a lot of our holidays, but we quickly learnt that the terrain in Cyprus really is unforgiving, especially in the heat. But a quick dip in the some of the most crystal blue seas I’ve seen made it worthwhile. Our trip to Lara Bay, aka Turtle Beach (see below for details) was definitely the hardest (578m of climbing in 7.5km) and our trip to the Blue Lagoon the most rewarding.
We hired 2 hard tail mountain bikes from Wheelies . Located in the area, Alistair or Helen (both English) will deliver to your door and give you some route ideas, making the process extremely easy. (See bottom of page for more GPX routes).
Swimming, snorkelling & must visit beaches
The world’s 81st largest island is located in the pristine calm blue waters of the Mediterranean. A mix of golden sands and volcanic shingle there are plenty of options for a dip. But the seas of the north west are particularly spectacular, with many bays, inlets and lagoons of shallow turquoise waters.
Baths of Aphrodite / Amphitheatre Bay / Blue Lagoon
The north western peninsula of Akamus is surrounded by beaches and swimming opportunities aplenty. Most tourists are drawn to the area by the famous mythological Baths of Aphrodite – it’s free to visit although probably best described as a pond, surrounded by ‘botanical’ gardens (think more your neighbours over-grown scruffy back-yard). But more interestingly, below the cliffs of the baths is a narrow strip of shingle beach. The large rock set just off the beach is alive with plenty of marine life. We were lucky enough to spot an octopus nesting in the rocks here, apparently a rare sight these days.
From here the road turns to a rocky track, suitable for 4wd vehicles only (trust us on this one!), by foot, sand buggy or bikes. Amphitheatre Bay, well named for the the way the rocks hug this lagoon are 2km along the coastal path. It’s worth stopping to check this little beach out or swim if you wish to avoid the crowds, but for Instagram worthy photos continue on further for another 1km to the aptly named Blue Lagoon. Popular with boat tours from Latchi, the wide sweeping Blue Lagoon is the epitome of the holiday post card and a welcome break on our first bike ride of the holiday.
Tucked on the west side of the Peninsula, Lara Bay is a long sandy bay and home to nesting loggerhead and green turtles. This makes it quite a rugged beach with strict rules on loungers and parasols. It can still get quite popular due to it’s turtle links but the conservation information centre provides great insight to the work in the area.
North of Paphos, on the west coast, the white sandy rocks have been carved to create beautiful sea caves, the glistening turquoise water screaming to be swum in. Don’t just follow the crowd for a walk along the top, climb down to find private sandy beaches and explore the caves by snorkel.
16 km west of Paphos, the flora and fauna rich Avakas Gorge cuts deep into the land. For the walkers and ramblers, this is a great place to explore and a good way to enjoy one of Cyprus’s natural beauties whilst sheltering from the sun thanks to the 30m high limestone rock. Many sites will tell you this is a difficult hike that requires walking boots and hard hats, and although you have to climb over a couple of rocks here and there, we weren’t the only ones in trainers and standard shorts and t-shirts to venture 5km in.
Don’t make the same mistake we did by putting the Gorge into Google Maps – 5km into a rocky-off road pursuit we soon realised you should head to Toxeftra Beach and start your hike from there (although a longer hike from the top-down is possible).
Having previously tried and not liked the tasteless wines of Croatia, I was pleasantly surprised by the wine of Cyprus. We happened to be on the edge of the ‘Wine Route‘ with a choice of 3 or 4 wineries within a 20 minute drive of the villa. We popped into the award winning Vasilikon Winery, near the sleepy village of Drousia. The free-to-enter, free-to-taste winery offers fab views across the grape yielding fields, a room rich in historical wine-making tools and the opportunity to try 3/4 of their on-site made white and red wines. We lucked at the chance of asking for a peek of the factory space beneath the building and were treated to a tour by one of the owners. Of course, we couldn’t leave without buying a bottle of their 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Futher Afield – Troodos mountains and Limassol
On one of the days we set out into the Western Troodos mountains / Paphos Forest with the intention of walking some of the trails. As we drove up the winding mountain roads (the road cyclist in my crying to be on my bike), and deeper into the pine forrest, the clouds also grew darker. As we arrived at our destination of Stavros at 860m, the heavens opened, pelting us with marble sized hail stones. After a quick look around the endangered Mouflon’s enclosure and a drink in the local cafe we had no choice but to make our way back (slowly, thanks to rock slides from the rain!).
We would have loved to have headed to the North of the island and experience the difference in culture but to do this you need separate car insurance. We looked at a day trip to Nicosia as an alternative and the option to cross the Green Line, but after 90 minutes in the car (it’s worth remembering the roads are mainly A and B roads with many gravel roads connecting) we ended up abandoning the journey and spending the day in Limassol.
On the south coast, Limassol is the second largest town to Nicosia. Popular with tourists. The town centre has a wealth of bars and restaurants to pick from, many located around the Medieval Castle (€1.70 entry fee) and old port, now a new marina after a €350 million make-over.
West of the city and on the GB – Cyprus border of Akrotiri, ruins of the Ancient city of Kourion sit high on the hill overlooking a patchwork of fields and Episkopi Bay. With many of the mosaics still in tact, the functional design of the public baths on display and the now restored amphitheatre, Ancient Kourion (€1.70 entry fee) is worth the day trip.
Some of Our MTB rides:
Neo Chorio > Lara (Turtle Hatching) Beach: https://www.strava.com/activities/1541111420
Lara > Neo Chorio: https://www.strava.com/activities/1547500596
Baths to peninsula & swim at Amphitheatre Bay: https://www.strava.com/activities/1558787192