Walking Holidays in Cyprus
By: Richard Bowles
With its unspoiled natural beauty and myriad historical sites, Northern Cyprus sounds like an excellent place for walking, hiking and rambling. For once, the reality is as good as the expectation and the country certainly doesn't disappoint! No matter what your level of ability or fitness, north Cyprus has plenty to offer those who prefer feet to wheels.
There are many beautiful walks to take; from old walled cities through deserted mountain tracks and breathtaking castles to coastal strolls along deserted beaches. Although walking in the summer months can be wonderful, for the more dedicated ramblers, the spring, autumn and winter seasons hold the most promise. In particular, the months of March, April and May show the countryside at its most stunning. Meadows crammed with wild flowers are everywhere and the scenery is lush and green. Northern Cyprus is home to a number of species of wild orchids, some exceptionally rare, and many in surprising abundance. 'Casey's Larkspur' is one of the world's rarest and is found only at one point on the island. There are also birds aplenty and, perhaps more widely known, a few beaches on the western coast of the island are the nesting grounds for species of marine turtles.
Walks in north Cyprus come in all varieties, but some places are notable. The area around the ancient village of Bellapais is criss-crossed with Crusader paths and with only some basic research you can find yourself following in the footsteps of Richard the Lionheart. Venture further afield and there are some breath-taking vistas available to the more sure-footed. The walk to Buffavento Castle from its car park on the main road is one of the tougher walks, due to the steep hike to get up the last few thousand feet to the castle right at the end! But this is one of the best walks there is for those who want good terrain, indescribable views, the chance to picnic along the way and genuine peace and quiet. Driving up the track is possible, but walking means not missing the flora and fauna and being able to pinpoint the massive cave entrances high up above in the mountains.
North Cyprus is home to a variety of ancient archaeological sites and most offer superb opportunities for walks of all lengths. As well as Buffavento, the areas around St Hilarion Castle, Vouni Palace and Bellapais Abbey are rich in pathways and all offer staggering vistas. The Karpas peninsula – covering the entire north-eastern tip of the island – is an area of outstanding beauty. Dotted with tiny villages, untouched beaches and vast expanses of land, a little planning is essential, as the area is too large to venture into haphazardly. However, driving, parking up and just walking in the region will invariably lead you to some new and surprising places.
If you prefer to keep to more built-up areas, the towns of Kyrenia, Famagusta and Nicosia offer many delightful routes. In particular the old, walled part of Famagusta is liberally sprinkled with historical treasures, as well as many enticing shops, coffee houses and places to eat! Kyrenia and Nicosia offer much for the shopper, but also house some notable buildings and other places of interest.
Walking in Northern Cyprus really is a treat and if you prefer to 'go it alone' you can simply arm yourself with a half decent map and take off. The island has a sizeable ex-pat community and as a result, plenty of small leaflets, booklets and books are available on the subjects of rambling and walking. There are also numerous publications detailing the fauna and flora of the region. A number of local companies and groups offer walking tours and some of these are well worth considering. Some are extensive, and designed mainly to appeal to the most serious, but there are also short, guided tours suitable for anyone. A search of the internet will turn up plenty of options and if you have already booked a holiday in Northern Cyprus, you should contact your hotel. Staff are generally very knowledgeable and will be able to offer plenty of advice and contacts.
The countryside is mostly untouched and although paths are frequently apparent, they are also often non-existent. If you plan on walking in the mountains and hillsides, some sort of guide book is more than just useful, as it can be very easy to find yourself going round in circles. It goes without saying that sensible walking wear is essential, but it is also worth noting that many areas are truly all but deserted. You are unlikely to come across places with refreshment on offer, so taking enough fresh drinking water with you is a must. Although mobile telephone coverage is widespread, parts of the mountains – and particularly the Karpas peninsula – are not fully served, so do not assume you can call for guidance if you get lost!
All in all, Northern Cyprus remains one of the least known Mediterranean destinations for walkers and hikers, but it is also one of the best. Get to see it now, before everyone else discovers it!