Cyprus wasn’t as I expected. It’s the third biggest island in the world, and located, technically, in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe all at the same time. It has been inhabited for thousands of years, so I had envisioned large metropolises and a well-built, long-established infrastructure. We found instead concrete, expressionless buildings and parched, empty rock land, save for a few sizable cities. It took me a while to warm up to the place. After seven weeks there though, I decided I liked it well enough, especially Limassol. Cyprus has some hidden gems worth finding.
The British occupied the area for a good while. They set up the road system in the “proper” British way, on the left. You’ll find a variety of fish and chip shops, and Tesco products for sale in the grocery stores. But now the Greeks own the place, so we were told all the Greek charms would be part of our experience here (amazing food, cute tavernas, kind people, quaint, beautiful villages.) But again, it was not so. It turned out to be incredibly international with just a hint of Greekness to it. We saw many Filippinos, Sri Lankans, Indians, and of course so many Russians and Eastern Europeans.
Half the island had been occupied by the Turks, unofficially. There’s a UN line cutting through the capital city, Nicosia, where the two sides, Greek Cypriot and Turk Cypriot, split.
Why We Went
We flew there for a few reasons. One, it was getting cold in Greece and our allotted visa time for the EU was almost up. We could have easily taken a bus over to any of the countries bordering Greece, since they were all Eastern European countries not part of the Schengen area.
But those non-Schengen countries on Greece’s border were all to the north and it was December. We were still running away from the cold (we gave up and are in England in February now…ha) and so looked for a non-Schengen country close by to the south.
This island was just south of Greece, non-Schengen, full of history (Biblical history to boot), and we had never been there. So why not go? After deciding on Cyprus, we thought we’d find a place to rent for three months while waiting for our tourist visa for the EU Schengen (I’m using that word a lot, aren’t I? Annoying visas) countries to reset, so we could reenter.
Where to Visit
Our flight dumped us in Pafos, a city of British expats on a stunning coastline. Just about every backpacker we met agreed that this town was pretty boring. However, we did visit Coral Bay and the Tombs of the Kings, just outside Paphos, and really enjoyed both those places.
I started warming up to Cyprus after our visit to three places: Kurion, Aphrodite’s Rock, and Akamas. We didn’t find anywhere to rent short-term that was affordable, so we ended up spending our seven weeks camping at a hostel called Trip Yard in Limassol. An awesome girl from Ukraine, who worked at the hostel, Yana, recommended Kurion to us.
was a huge archaeological site an hour drive from Limassol. After Paul and Barnabbas, from the Bible, arrived in Pafos and shared the gospel, they were driven out and went to the ancient area of Kurion. They had more success there, and later a church was built. The ruins were superbly preserved. You could see the way baths were heated and massive, intricate mosaics. It was so cool to be in a place where Paul and Barnabas walked! There are pyramids all over the world, and this is one of the places you can see the remnants of one!
There’s a lot of myth on this island about Aphrodite. Of course, in the Bible, these gods usually refer to Nephalim, or beings that were part demon, part man, like Goliath, the giant that David slew. Aphrodite’s rock is just a beautiful beach area with a large rock in the water, supposedly the place where Aphrodite was born. We went down to see this rock with Yana and her boyfriend, Volva. Then we continued past Paphos until we reached
The gorge of Akamas.
For seven weeks, the hostel in Limassol was our base as we’d take day trips around in our rental car (which we were able to rent super cheaply through ryanair.) The rental car was a bit of an adventure all in itself as my mom had to drive on left side of the road, and use a stick with her left hand as well. While I generally prefer bus systems, for Cyprus I’d highly recommend renting a car if you’d like to get out and see around the island.
The best part about a hostel is of course getting to meet so many other cool travelers. We saw the flamingos (in the salt lake near the airport) in Larnaka with a young Romanian couple, hiked the 7 kilometers around Aphrodite’s baths in Polis with a Norwegian named Marco and a German named Nina, and had a beach/hiking day there again with Marco, and up to see the snow in the Troodos mountains with a French girl named Elise. In Limassol, we had our hostel family to play cards, go to the market, go to the theater, and celebrate holidays with.
We were always teaching each other our languages too, which was lots of fun. The hostel always had a native speaker of a minimum of five languages at its disposal at all times. We learned phrases in Russian, French, Spanish, Greek, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Norwegian, Chinese, you name it.
Before arriving in Cyprus, I had read on a blog not to go to Lemesos. The blog claimed that Lemesos had a bad vibe and was full of Russian criminals and prostitutes. [It was full of Russians, but I don’t know if they were criminals (mostly I saw them bringing their kids to the swings or walking along the marina…) and I didn’t see any prostitutes.]
I suggested we drive down to Limassol from Paphos after not finding affordable lodging there because I knew Limassol was supposed to be the biggest city, and therefore probably had the largest selection of hotels and hostels. So I routed the way on my phone app.
Thing was, all the road signs kept saying we were going towards Lemesos. Oh, we don’t want to go there! I had said. I think Lemesos is just the Greek name for Limassol, my mom had replied. I was surprised because Lemesos was written with the English alphabet, and not in Greek. But she was right, we were going exactly where I thought, since the blog said so!, we shouldn’t go. But we were on our way there, so oh well. I’m glad too, since Limassol ended up being my favorite place in Cyprus.
Everyone seemed to have a different favorite. Some liked Paphos best, some Nicosia (the capital,) and some Larnaka.
I loved the promenade along the ocean front in Limassol. Apparently it’s something new that the city poured money into. It turned out beautifully. There are pools and playgrounds and cafes, benches, and a long walking path and a bike path. It was a perfect social and scenic place to go for runs and sit on the beach.
There were also walking and biking paths that stretched throughout the entire city. I followed the paths around the city, part by part, on days that I taught English online. I’d teach until 3pm, then go walk a section of the city.
Many go to Lady’s Mile Beach for a quiet, long stretch of sand.
Kolossi Castle lies just a short drive west of the city. Its history is fascinating and holds a medieval feel. You get great views from the top, and you’ll find ruins of a sugar factory as well.
sports stunning views as you chug along up its steep roads. The area boasts hiking paths, waterfalls, and even an inexpensive ski center at the top. I heard you can get a day ski pass for around 25 euros, but I’m not sure how current or accurate that number is.
We had been planning on going to the beach, but instead drove up to Troodos on a whim… which is why we were in sandals… XD
Is famous in summer for its upbeat, sun-soaked, beach side vacation style. Here you’ll find the popularly photographed sea caves. There are hiking paths all around from the sea caves to the tip of the peninsula.
This cute kitty cat hiked around the peninsula with us. (:
Aphrodite’s baths in Polis
This, along with Limassol and Akamas Gorge, was my favorite spot. It was a long-looped hiking area with stunning views and small, secluded beaches. You can see “Aphrodite’s Bath,” a boring little pool, but that was besides the point. There was a camping area here too.
Had expensive hostels and hotels, but an energetic and quirky downtown with narrow streets that’s worth a walk around.
Little Facts about Cyprus
- There was an amazing grocery store right around the corner from our hostel called Papantoniou. Cyprus had incredible fruits and vegetables and they’re super affordable. Some of the best produce we’ve had. That never got old!
- It’s full of cats. Apparently, as the story goes, a monastery was built in a boggy area where there were a lot of snakes. So they brought in cats to kill the snakes. The cats did their job, the snakes are gone, but the cats are still here, and having more babies all the time! Haha You can see lots of cats while walking along the promenade in Limassol. The cats are friendly and well-fed.
- There are ruins dating all the way back to 11thcentury B.C.
- There’s a HAARP facility outside of Limassol, in an area somewhat around the Lady’s Mile Beach.