The gorgeous Mediterranean island of Cyprus has been divided in two since 1974. Northern Cyprus – The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to be exact – was long isolated from the ravages of mass tourism but (Covid aside) the past decade has seen substantial growth in the sector. While most visitors have traditionally come from Turkey, more and more international tourists are following up on their curiosity and beginning to explore what is on offer in this relatively unknown part of the island.
Getting to Cyprus and getting to Northern Cyprus is not the same thing – at all.
You can travel by air or sea…..
Airport – Ercan International Airport
Port – Girne and Famagusta
But it’s not that simple of course…..
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is not acknowledged by any country other than Turkey. This also goes for international organisations so Ercan Airport is not recognised by the International Air Travel Association. (IATA). All flights – including charters – must touch down in Turkey before continuing to Ercan.
A more viable option for most is to fly into Larnaca or Paphos in southern Cyprus and cross the border. Southern seaports include Limassol, Larnaca, Paphos and Latchi.
Note: Foreign nationals entering Cyprus through the north are considered by the Government of the Republic of Cyprus to have arrived through an illegal port of entry. The Government of the Republic of Cyprus reserves the right to fine you for illegal entry if you cross into the south, or decline you entry into or exit from the Republic.
Most visitors cross the border at one of two posts in Nicosia. The system is fast and easy – just present your passport to both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot Police. Passports are not stamped. Formerly, visitors were issued with a stamped piece of paper with passport details and date of entry. However, this practice seems to have been relaxed.
There are no restrictions for most passport holders.. NOTE: Nationals of the Syrian Arab Republic, the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Republic of Armenia are under obligation to apply in person to a TRNC Representative Office abroad to obtain a visa prior to traveling.
A short queue may build up, depending on the time of day.
By Private Car
There are currently several crossing-points along the buffer zone that separates North and South.
In theory, the border can be crossed by hire cars from the south with prior permission of the rental company. In practice, South Cyprus car hire companies do not wish you to take a hire car north and most do not grant permission. Although there is third party insurance available to purchase at the border crossings, you are advised to make alternative plans for crossing the border and then hire a car in the north.
(Note – only some border crossings offer 24-hour car insurance service – the others operate only in- office hours)
Cars hired in North Cyprus cannot cross to the South.
Some North Cyprus hire car companies arrange taxi pick ups from Southern airports.
mmmm…. hit and miss at best and very little service after dark!
The main cities are connected by bus during the day and there may be a rural service once per day. There is a bus service from Ercan airport to the main towns.
The Dolmus – shared taxi – is a better option although there is no schedule of course. They offer good value and are plentiful.
All the above might sound rather off putting but it only needs a little more organisation than usual…..
What we did
We spent 14 nights on the island, the first 5 in Northern Cyprus and the remaining 9 in the South.
1.Dublin – Cyprus
Flight – (First mistake!) When booking the flights, I’d a different plan, thinking we could rent a car and use it the whole time on the island. So I booked flights to Paphos – Larnaca would have been a better choice for Nicosia.
2.Paphos Airport to Nicosia
Plan A – Get one of the few direct buses from the airport to Nicosia. BUT. Covid testing upon arrival delayed us and we missed the 1.30pm bus. Next bus 5.00PM.
Plan B – Bus 613 to Paphos bus station and catch the 2.30pm bus to Nicosia. No sign of a bus or a schedule.
Plan C – Taxi to Paphos bus station and catch the 2.30pm bus to Nicosia.
Despite the listed taxi rates on the noticeboard, we were quoted €45 for the 20 minute ride. There may be an argument re resort hotels being closer than the bus station and we hadn’t an option anyway…
So – taxi to Paphos bus station.
BUT it’s a holiday (which we didn’t realise – although it wouldn’t have made any difference if we had) – so the daily 2.30pm bus appears at 3.30pm as per Sunday schedule
2 hrs to Nicosia – €7 (one way) Just pay the driver and he issues change.
3.Nicosia to Kyrenia
Nicosia bus station to Ledra Gate border crossing – 10 minute walk.
No delay with passport police – straight through.
Nipped in to Currency exchange bureau to change €20 for fares etc.
6 minute walk to Kyrenia Gate where the Dolmus Taxis await….
At 6.00pm we were sitting in a Dolmus ready to head to Kyrenia/ Girne – not bad! These shared taxis display signs which indicate their destination although, with our wheelie bags in tow, we were obviously going somewhere so were approached by the drivers as soon as we appeared.
Flat rate… 20 TL each (about €1.25)
The six passenger seats filled quickly and we were off.
Arrive Girne main Square at 6.40.
5 minute walk to our Hotel
Rented car (prebooked) delivered to hotel.
Drove to Kyrenia Gate in Nicosia. Met with car rental agent and returned car to him.
Crossed back into South at Ledra Crossing
Walked back to bus station.
Car rental office at station – our second car was ready and waiting…..
Return second car to Paphos Airport
This sounds long-winded but was actually easily done. From Larnaca airport, there’s an hourly bus to Nicosia – with a circa 30 minute journey – and that would have made the whole transfer rather trouble-free.
With suitcases? Yes – still very doable but the walking through Nicosia might take a few minutes longer and there might be a charge in the Dolmus for big bags.
Driving in Northern Cyprus
We rented from TUTASA LTD in Girne (delivered to our hotel – return to Nicosia). 4 days = €102. Our particular deal came with an empty tank (there was a petrol station close by). There was no credit for unused fuel but we were happy to fill the tank as we were doing a fair bit of driving.
They drive on the left, the same as in Ireland and the UK.
The speed limit is in kilometers per hour
Watch out for stationary speed cameras. Fines range from €50 to €150.
There are no motorways but there are dual carriageways. Surfaces may be unpaved away from the primary routes and in remote areas. Away from the main roads, access roads and tracks are often blocked by the military, due to army posts, exercises, etc..
Signposts are few and far between in places!! Also, maps in international guide books etc. are not very helpful because they use Greek names – not the local Turkish version. Try and pick up a map in the north.
What you’ll notice……
Lack of international brands – restaurants, industry, etc. throughout the region.
The landscape is surprisingly open – especially in the interior
Military bases and instillations – There are between 30.000 and 40,000 Turkish troops stationed here. You will constantly pass tracts of land fenced off and patrolled. But from a tourist point of view, we saw no military activity at all and apart from the ‘Keep Out’ signs and sentries on duty.
The national flag of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and is based on the flag of Turkey, with the colors reversed and two additional horizontal red stripes at the top and bottom.
There is no official meaning for the flag but it has been interpreted as the star and crescent depicting Turkishness, the red color representing the blood of Turkish Cypriots, and the stripes indicating Turkey (top) and Northern Cyprus (bottom).
Just north of Nicosia, on the side of Beşparmaklar Mountain, in the Kyrenia Mountains, is the huge flag of Northern Cyprus along with a star and crescent and the quotation Ne Mutlu Türküm Diyene (How happy is the one who says I’m a Turk). Depending on the point of view, it was painted to provoke Greek Cypriots, or painted as a memorial by survivors of one of the violent fights between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots in 1974.
Casinos – Every luxury hotel has a casino and they seem to be located everywhere apart from the remotest areas. They attract a lot of visitors from Turkey and southern Cyprus in particular. Turkish Cypriots are not officially allowed admission.
East European Time UTC+02:00
Eastern European Summer Time (EEST) (UTC+03:00)
Turkish is the official language. The dialect differs a bit from the Turkish spoken in mainland Turkey. English is spoken in major towns and tourist centres but don’t expect to be understood in a remote rural cafe!
North Cyprus has a 240v electricity supply and uses British 3-pin rectangular blade plugs. Power cuts are not uncommon.
The Turkish Lira, – denoted by the symbol TL – is the official currency. Euro and Sterling notes are widely accepted in the bigger tourist centres (change will be given in Lira). Credit cards are accepted in larger shops, supermarkets and many restaurants.
It’s advised to wait until you arrive in Northern Cyprus to change money, rather than ordering currency at home. You can use cash machines to withdraw Lira from your bank account – however the exchange rate is typically a lot lower than you would get for exchanging locally at a bank or money exchange shop (check with your bank to ensure they do not charge additional fees for cash withdrawals abroad).
A few prices (April, 2022):
Coffee: 19 – 45 TL (€1.08 – €2.56)
Efes Beer (500ml): 35 – 45 TL (€1.99 -€2.56)
Coke: 15TL (€0.85)
Entrance Fees: Typically 15-30 TL (€0.85 – 1.70)
Religion, Politics and Etiquette
Some 99% of Turkish Cypriots are Sunni Muslims but most areas are moderate and secular. You will particularly notice the casual dress of women (headscarves are rare, especially among the young) and the consumption of alcohol. Only civil weddings are recognised by the state so the occasional religious wedding, performed by an imam, is nowadays just a symbolic ceremony. However, secular and liberal as they may be, Turkish Cypriots would take deep offence at any insult of Islam (e.g. mocking the call to prayer).
The Greek-Turkish divide is a very sensitive issue and the subject is best not broached when talking to Turkish Cypriots.
Openly insulting symbols of the state, especially the flag, is liable to cause deep offence and may result in charges.
The same basic rules of respect apply here as anywhere else – but be mindful that some gestures, such as staring or addressing locals in a loud voice (which is regarded as condescending) are considered offensive.
Food and Drink
You will eat VERY well here!!! Even in obvious tourist snares like Kyrenia Harbour – and I live in dread of being ripped off at portside restaurants!! – you will get plenty for €10.
Flavour and preparation is primarily of Turkish / Greek/ Middle Eastern origin.
Meals usually begin with a selection of mezze or may be served as a combo package. – Expect hummus, olives, tomatoes, haloumi, etc….
(Here, in a Beach Bar, My Sea Bream came with mezze, bread, fries and salad – circa €9)
The most expensive thing we ordered –
A mezze / seafood combo in Famagusta – €27 total for 2 persons….
This grilled chicken and the kebab, along with a coke and bottle of water, totalled €10.25 in Famagusta.
There are European options in the larger towns as well as fast-food chains and Indian / Thai / Chinese restaurants.
Planning an Itinerary
Buffer Zone / Green Line
Kyrenia / Girne
St Hilarion Castle
Famagusta Old Town
Varosha ‘Ghost Town’
Mosaics at Basilica of Agia Triada
What we did (4 days / 5 nights)
Day 1 Kyrenia walkabout / Port/ Castle – Collect rented car – St Hilarion Castle
Day 2 Bellapais Monastery – Alagadi Beach
Day 3 Karpaz Peninsula
Day 4 St Barnabas, Monastery – Salamis – Varosha – Famagusta Old Town
Day 5 Return car to Nicosia Note – we’d visited North Nicosia on another occasion so that’s not factored in here.
Hindsight is a great thing isn’t it!!!!
With 14 nights in total on the island, we could easily have lobbed a day off the south. With and extra day I would leave day 1 and 2 the same. Day 3 I would go to Karpaz Peninsula but overnight somewhere there. Day 4 – morning still on the peninsula / afternoon visit Salamis en route to Famagusta. Day 5 Famagusta and Varosha at a more leisurely pace. Day 6 back to Nicosia
Where we stayed:
Dome Hotel, Kyrenia (3 nights – average rate €111 for double room / half board per night)
Great location in town
Nice room and large balcony
Good breakfast selection
Nice Pool area (plenty of beds but it was off season so cannot comment) / towels supplied
No atmosphere in dining room (Late April)
Ensuite a bit ‘tired’
Overall Verdict – Definitely worth considering but probably better value to be had in town. I wouldn’t bother with the half-board option. There are plenty of dining options close by.
Golden Palms Guest House Famagusta (2 nights €76 per night for Double room with Breakfast)
Great location, within walking distance of everything in the Old Town
Very good breakfast
Only thing I can think off is that it could do with a larger sign – we missed it twice!
Overall Verdict – Highly recommended – would happily stay here again.
Before you go……
Thinking of visiting Northern Cyprus?