We’re heading away from the major settlements of Girne and Famagusta and into the most isolated region of Northern Cyprus – probably the most isolated region of the entire island. The area boasts a protected National Park, deserted beaches and unspoilt natural beauty. Perfect!
Narrowing out into the Med, the Panhandle of Cyprus stretches some 70kms towards its neighbours, Turkey and Syria. It may be a bit busier in summertime, but in late April we had most of it to ourselves. Two days would have been nice, but we’d only allowed one and, after losing an hour due to missing a poorly marked road early on in the day, not to mention some rough surfaces in areas with our very basic car, we only managed to scratch the surface and squish in a few highlights.
The first written records of Kantara Castle date back to 1191, when it was taken by Richard the Lionheart, but it was probably built in the 7th century to protect the coastline from Arab raids. Over the centuries, the fortifications were strengthened and Kantara was transformed into a garrison castle. As war strategies changed, it lost its importance and by 1525 the castle was abandoned.
Like other castles on this coast, Kantara was built on several levels and the ruins include a watch tower, defensive posts and walls, accommodation buildings, remains of water cisterns, etc. They’re not the most exciting ruins but, at 600metres above sea level, it’s worth the drive up the steep winding road and the short hike up from the car park for the views alone.
(Entrance 10 TL/ €0.58. There is no public transport serving the castle)
There are great views of the mountains and the coast as well as the peninsula stretching out ahead of us…..
Our car way below us….. no crowds here!!
Driving through the village of Sipahi, you’d almost miss its main attraction, tucked away in an olive grove. The Basilica of Agia Triada dates back to the 5th or 6th century and was destroyed during the 7th century Arab raids.
The ruins are attractive in themselves….
…. but just look at those mosaics!!
There’s a decent road running along the shore….
You can’t ignore the clarity of water…
Dipkarpaz / Rizokarpaso is the main settlement in the area and gateway to the tip of the peninsula. The town is home to the largest community of Greek Cypriots in Northern Cyprus. They chose to remain here in 1974 and have continued to live side by side with their Turkish Cypriot neighbours. The Orthodox church and the nearby mosque overlook the main square but most businesses in the small centre seem to revolve around services for tourists passing through – a few small shops and cafes as well as some accommodation options. There are a few interesting churches in the area but we didn’t have time to seek them out..
There was very little on offer in the cafe we opted for. Our few words of Turkish, along with a bit of gesturing, resulted in two plates of delicious Gozleme – thin Turkish pastry filled with haloumi – being freshly prepared inside as we babysat the host’s toddler on the porch.
Dipkarpaz National Park covers most of the peninsula beyond Dipkarpaz and promises some 128 endemic plants, not to mention migratory birds, turtles, butterflies, lizards and snakes galore for those with time to slow down and explore. The landscape changes and becomes even more wild and rugged – almost lunar in places.
We were unsure about road conditions – traveling in the most basic car we could rent, we knew we’d never make it to the tip of the peninsula. The quality of the road deteriorated and the potholes intensified with each slowly negotiated mile. The route was surprisingly busy however – we came across more visitors here than any where else in Northern Cyprus.
One of the peninsula’s 46 beaches….
Golden Beach – miles of unspoilt and virtually empty golden sand…..
We were promised donkeys – LOTS of wild donkeys! The most famous residents in the park are descendants of farm animals that were left behind when Greek Cypriots moved away in 1974. Protected by law since 2009, numbers are estimated anywhere between 900-1300.
Well we certainly didn’t see numbers like that! maybe a dozen at most …….
Adorable and shy as reported? Some of them I suppose… but not the cute hoors (Irish slang! – basically a shrewd scoundrel!!) patrolling the road and extorting treats from tourist!!
Look at this guy – menacing or what!!
Practically everyone on the road was heading to Apostolos Andreas Monastery. Make what you will of the stories – Apostle Andrew landed here and created a spring with a single strike of his staff – or his ship crashed into the rocks and the captain’s blind eye was healed after he came ashore – but this has long been an important place of pilgrimage and many travel here for its healing waters.
This is the one place in Cyprus I didn’t take to – maybe because it was getting late in the day and there hadn’t been time for a much anticipated swim along the way, or I hadn’t seen enough donkeys, or I was sick of potholes – but it was most likely because of the commercialism – having travelled all day without hardly meeting a soul, the relative ‘crowds’ and the stalls and the begging donkeys screamed tourist trap and were just a letdown…
….out behind the monastery, the views over the sea, and that ever clear water, restore the spirit somewhat..
We’re less that 5kms from the tip of the peninsula but its getting late and the road deteriorates to dirt track from here so we head back. But arriving here in morningtime, that would make for a gorgeous 10km walk me thinks.
It’s back the same way – 30 odd kms to Dipkarpaz and onwards.
We manage one final stop – the lovely little fishing port of Bogazi – for a coffee…..
Traditional industry – agriculture and fishing – still dominates this remote region but not for much longer, one suspects. Some casual, ‘cheap and cheerful’ shack accommodation options on the beaches have been closed by government – locals fear the move is a clearing of the way for the big hoteliers. Not far from Sipahi and its beautiful mosaics, the new marina boasts 300 berths as well as luxury accommodation, beach clubs and five-star service.
It might be a good idea to visit the area ahead of the bulldozers!
The area is not well covered by public transportation. It might be possible to catch a bus to Dipkarpaz from Kyrenia, but schedules appear to be rather vague to say the least and there’s nothing then beyond the town.
There are organized tours from hotels around Northern Cyprus.
Ideally, you will need to rent a car.
Before you go….
Thinking of visiting Northern Cyprus?