We’ll let you in on a secret: away from the resort Shangri-Las, Cyprus brims with empty hillside trails and some of the Mediterranean’s best dive sites. Sure, you could just flop out on the beach with the crowds, but the rugged terrain of this sunshine-splashed island just begs to be explored. From scenic mountain-bike runs to paragliding thrills, here are the best Cypriot outdoors experiences.

Hiking in the Avgas (Avakas) Gorge on the Akamas Peninsula. Image by Steve Fleming / Getty Images

On the trails

There are oodles of trails to discover, from day-long hikes traversing tall pine forests between cobblestone villages to epic multi-day treks linking castle ruins across the craggy Kyrenia Range.

In the South: The Troödos Mountains are one of the best regions to pull your hiking boots on. Mix a touch of culture into a scenic walk through the Adelfi Forest on the Asinou–Agios Theodoros trail, which begins at the Byzantine-frescoed Panagia Forviotissa church, or loop around Mt Olympus on the Artemis Trail. Out west, the wild Akamas Peninsula is prime hiking territory if you’re partial to a good view, with the Aphrodite Trail offering up panoramas of the peninsula’s jagged shoreline as it bites into the blue sea.

In the North: While walks in South Cyprus are well marked, North Cyprus is more rough and ready, which for many hikers is exactly what they’re looking for. The coastline strip quickly gives way to a furrowed spine of peaks forming the Beşparmak and Kyrenia mountain ranges criss-crossed by old shepherd tracks. Hike the Beşparmak Range Trek from the heights of Buffavento Castle to the abbey at Bellapais (Beylerbeyi) and revel in rolling views stretching out to the sea. Don’t forget to congratulate yourself for finding a hiking Arcadia that, so far, seems to be mostly ignored by walking fans.

Venetian bridge in the Troödos Mountains. Image by Michael Runkel / Getty Images

On your bike

Compact size – tick. Diverse terrain – tick. Lack of strong headwinds – double tick. Biking in Cyprus can take you from the sea shore to the mountain flanks on a half-day ride. Road biking is already a popular activity, while mountain bikers will find a growing network of trails that provide dramatically scenic runs.

In the South: Cycling has taken off hugely in the Republic of Cyprus, with biking routes leading out from the main towns and coastal resorts and offering everything from a half-day jaunt to entire cycling holidays. For scenic mountain-biking runs, the Troödos Mountains with their dipping valleys and mountain slopes offer plenty of twisty pine-forested dirt tracks with panoramic views.

In the North: The island’s best-kept biking secret is the outstretched finger of the Karpas (Kırpaşa) Peninsula in the far northeast. Traffic on even the main roads is minimal, while exploring the rural tracks, rimmed by olive and carob trees connecting itsy-bitsy villages snuggled into the hillside, is a slice of slow and rural Cyprus life.

Wreck of Edro III, sea caves near Pafos. Image by Getty Images

Underwater wonderland

Experienced divers already flock to Cyprus to dive the world-famous Zenobia wreck. The shallow reefs just offshore mean that this is a great place for complete novices to take the plunge as well.

In the South: More than a few vessels have come a-cropper just offshore, making the wreck diving off the South’s coastline among the best in the Mediterranean. In Larnaka, the Zenobia (Swedish cargo ship sunk in 1980) is rated as one of the world’s top 10 diving wrecks, while the Vera K (Turkish cargo ship sunk in the 1970s) is a particularly haunting sight for wreck divers off the coast of Pafos. Head to Pafos too for a spot of underwater history and dive the Amphorae Reef, strewn with ancient pottery shards and home to abundant soft corals.

In the North: Kyrenia (Girne) and the holiday resort town of Alsancak are the centre of North Cyprus’ diving community. For a history lesson underwater, the well-named Antique Shop site is scattered with broken amphorae. Amateur underwater archaeologists shouldn’t miss diving the Ancient Wreck site, off the coast of the Karpas Peninsula. This is a unique chance to see the leftover excavation site of a Greek merchant ship which sank off the coast here in approximately 300 BC and is the oldest shipwreck ever to have been recovered from the seabed.

Fishing from a sea cave near Agia Napa. Image by Chris Mellor / Getty Images

Water-based activities

Sure, the sandy beaches are what brings folks flocking, but activities on the water provide ample reasons to get off your beach towel. Steady winds and sun-kissed weather provide peak conditions for kitesurfing and windsurfing, while fishing remains a popular pastime for Cypriots as well as visitors.

In the South: Novice wind- and kitesurfers can learn the ropes at Makenzy Beach in Larnaka, while the holiday village of Pissouri Bay provides excellent facilities for both complete beginners and the advanced. Keen anglers looking to bring home the catch of the day can organise fishing excursions from any of the coastal resorts, while winter is the best time for freshwater fishing in the South’s reservoirs. The Asprokremmos Dam near Pafos, with its yield of trout, carp and bass, is one of the most popular spots to throw out a line.

In the North: Fishing jaunts can be arranged easily in Kyrenia harbour with gület (traditional Turkish wooden yacht) captains. Angling enthusiasts should arrange trips with Aphrodite Boat Charters or Ladyboss Fishing, whose captains know the best spots to cast a line. Experienced wind- and kitesurfers with their own equipment should make a beeline straight to the lonely beaches along Morfou Bay on the west coast, where they’ll find some of the best wind and sea conditions on the island.

Paragliding over Agia Napa’s Nissi Beach. Image by Juergen Richter / LOOK-foto / Getty Images

In the air

Cyprus has a couple of tandem-paragliding opportunities for adrenaline junkies who want to scope bird’s-eye views over the island’s craggy terrain. In the South, Cyprus Fly Adventures (cyprusflyadventures.com) offers learn-to-fly courses as well as tandem jumps for novices, while in the North, Highline Tandem has its jump site in the Beşparmak Range offering riders aerial views with serious ‘wow’.

If you’ve already explored at ground level, taking to the sky for some air-side thrills is an ideal way to soak up this island’s wild beauty in full.

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