Cyprus is famed for its beaches, but don't overlook the serene national parks and reserves that beg for inclusion in your itinerary. From dense pine forests where the only sound is the wind bending the pine needles to untouched beaches marked only by the tracks of sea turtles and wild donkeys, you’ll uncover a very different side to the island.
The national parks and reserves dotted around the island are perfect for hiking, climbing, bird-watching, picnicking, swimming and quite a bit more. Here's a guide to the best of the island's protected natural spaces.
Akamas National Forest Park
Best park for unspoiled nature
The newest national park on Cyprus protects the largest remaining tracts of undeveloped land on the island. Spread across the Akamas Peninsula – between Pafos and Polis (Poli Crysochous) at the island’s western tip – the park’s boundaries were only confirmed in 2021 and cover nearly 230 sq km (89 sq miles) of public and private lands.
Wild terrain of evergreen and olive trees, dramatic bluffs and open meadows is framed by the Mediterranean on both sides of the peninsula. Small country lanes link perfectly picturesque villages such as Dhrousia and Kritou Terra, which are centuries old.
Amidst the natural splendor, you’ll spot syncopated rows of small vineyards. Countless hikes here include evocatively named paths such as the Adonis and Aphrodite Trails, visiting sights associated with these two mythical figures. The bird-watching is excellent and you can drop in on the lovely Lara Toxeftra Reserve, immediately south.
Lara Toxeftra Reserve
Best park for spotting turtles
At the heart of this new reserve edging onto the Akamas Peninsula near Pafos is famed Lara Beach, an important nesting ground for green and loggerhead sea turtles. Likely destined to become a designated national park like Akamas National Forest Park to the north, the reserve protects remote beaches, turtle nesting grounds and marine habitats flanking 10km (6.2 miles) of coastline.
Flags mark the nesting sites of these critically endangered turtles along remote and hidden beaches and these areas should never be disturbed; to see turtle hatchlings, visit the reserve's turtle conservation camp at Lara Beach during the nesting season (June to September). If paths are clear of flags, you can hike down rough trails and tracks to beautiful stretches of beach that see only a handful of people thanks to the difficult access. The limestone rocks and powdery sand take on a memorable glow at sunset.
Troödos National Forest Park
Best park for mountain views
Right near the center of the island, the Troödos Mountains are the highest peaks in Cyprus, and their namesake national park takes in 1,952m (6,404 ft) Mt Olympus – not to be confused with the fabled peak of the same name in Greece. Cyprus's highest peak is no slouch either, with a variety of ski runs and fantastic year-round hiking on its forested slopes.
The main visitor center for the 90 sq km (35 sq mile) park is in Troödos village, which is blessed with endless views and crisp, clean air thanks to its 1,900m (6,233ft) elevation. Displays detail the local fauna and flora and you can get up close to the latter on a short nature walk. Further afield, the park has more than 60km (37 miles) of trails climbing its rocky ridges; the popular Artemis Trail takes a 7km (4.3 mile) spin around the summit of Olympus, while the 6km (3.7 mile) Kaledonia Trail visits a 15m (49ft) waterfall.
Athalassa National Forest Park
Best park for a quick visit
On the southeast edge of the Greek Cypriot capital, Nicosia (Lefkosia), Athalassa National Forest Park packs a lot into its 840 hectares. If most of your time in Cyprus is going to be spent at the beach, with the occasional foray to see one magnificent ancient ruin or another, add on this park to get a real sense of the island’s natural beauty.
Botanical gardens, nature trails and a pretty lake provide a home for dozens of bird species and native plants. Trails veer off into the forest, which is fragrant with the aroma of pine trees soaking up solar heat, and there are castle ruins on the hilltop just east of the park.
Rizoelia National Forest Park
Best park for views
On a clear day, you can see right across Larnaka from this 97-hectare forest park. This raised hillside features groves of four tree species that are iconic to Cyprus: Turkish pines (known for their reddish bark); stone pines (naturally ornamental because of their signature crowns); acacias, which overflow with bright yellow flowers as winter turns to spring; and ancient cypresses, which are woven into Greek and Middle Eastern mythology.
It's a great spot for a picnic. Trails wind up the hill through the trees and stop at observation pavilions; families with kids appreciate the gentle climbs and the woodsy playground.
Cape Greco National Forest Park
Best park for outdoor adventures
Rugged Cape Greco at the eastern end of the island is the place for hiking, cycling, kayaking, swimming and much more. There's a lot packed into the park's 385 hectares – trails lace the rocky peninsula, and paths lead down to rocky ledges where you can plunge into the blue sea, while kayakers weave in and out of the craggy cliffs and sea caves.
Cycle 14km (8.7 miles) of trails or simply get lost on foot amidst the trees, where stunning views can be glimpsed amongst the foliage. Don’t miss the small white-and-blue chapel of Agia Anargyroi, perched on a table of slate-grey rock above the waves.
Petra tou Romiou (Aphrodite’s Rock) National Forest Park
Best park for selfies
Legend has it that Aphrodite, the patron goddess of Cyprus and the favorite deity of romantics everywhere, emerged from the sea at Petra tou Romiou in search of earthly lovers. With a backstory like that, it’s little wonder that this rocky strand is the most famous beach on the island.
Summer crowds flock here to admire the dramatically stacked rocks just offshore and ever-swimmable waters. Obviously, the rosy glow of sunset is the ideal time to visit a beach fabled for its romantic history — the light also flatters all who pose in it, making this the best place in Cyprus for that perfect selfie.
Karpas (Kirpașa) National Park
Best park for unspoiled beaches
Get here before it’s too late! Vegas-style development is encroaching around the southern edges of the fabulous Karpas Peninsula, which arrows off from the northeast of Cyprus into the Mediterranean (locals call it the "panhandle"). The good news? More than 150 sq km of this rugged peninsula is now protected as a national park by the government of North Cyprus.
One of the highlights of this still-remote Mediterranean idyll is turtle-visited Golden Beach on the south coast, which many say is the island’s best strip of sand. Wild donkeys munch seagrass amongst the white-sand dunes, while the dazzling waters are clear, calm and ideal for swimming. Villages are few and more somnolent than active, so there's little to disturb the peace.
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