Small it may be but Cyprus punches above its weight in terms of outdoor pursuits. Whether it’s sun, sand and sea on the coastline that tempts you or the rugged mountain terrain inland, this island has activities that suit every age and energy level.
The azure-blue waters of the Mediterranean are Cyprus' biggest drawcard and it’s not difficult to see why. From May to late October sea temperatures rarely dip below 20°C. While during the peak summer months of July and August, water temperatures average between 24°C and 27°C, making Cyprus the perfect place to plunge right in.
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In the South most beaches are well equipped with all the facilities you’d need for a day on the sand. Even quieter, less developed beaches will have one or two tavernas on hand for supplies and sunlounger and sunshade hire. From April to October the popular beaches have lifeguards on patrol. The South has 57 beaches that have been awarded Blue Flag status and 11 beaches that are fully accessible for wheelchairs right down to the waterfront; visit www.blueflag.org for more information.
Some of the safest swimming on the island is in the calm sheltered waters of Coral Bay (Pafos) and Fig Tree Bay (Protaras). Konnos Bay on Cape Greco (Agia Napa) is also an excellent strip of sand for those more interested in swimming than sunning themselves.
Although the beaches of the North have lagged behind on the development front they are fast catching up. Northern Cyprus beaches are divided into public and private. The private beaches have an entrance fee (though between October and May they are usually free) and, unsurprisingly, have the most facilities on offer. Even the public beaches usually have toilets, though, and a restaurant or two which will rent sunshades and sunloungers.
Cyprus draws flocks of tourists to dive its pristine waters, which offer ancient remains, reefs, sea shelves and shipwrecks. Some of the best diving can be found along the Cape Greco Peninsula and Protaras bay.
Diving centres hiring full equipment and offering certified instruction are in Larnaka, Agia Napa, Protaras, Lemesos (Limassol), Pafos, Coral Bay, Latsi, Kyrenia (Girne) and Yenierenkoy (Yiallousa). And check out www.oceanssearch.com to stay up to date with Cyprus' diving community.
Situated off the coast of Larnaka, where it sank in 1980, the Zenobia is rated as one of the world’s top-10 diving wrecks. The 200m-long Swedish cargo ship is now home to giant tuna, barracuda, amberjack and eel.
The Vera K is a fascinating wreck located 5km from Pafos harbour. This Turkish cargo vessel sank in the 1970s and has since been used as a romantic background for underwater photography; its submerged arches are particularly special. It’s also an ideal dive for beginners.
Officially called the Helicopter Wreck, this former British Army Air Corps helicopter is located 15 minutes by boat off Larnaka’s shore. With excellent visibility to 25m, it attracts many divers and is a magnet for sea creatures such as octopus, jack and groper.
M/Y Diana, near Lemesos port, is a 15m Russian yacht that foundered in 1996. Now sitting upright on the seabed, it’s frequently used for diver training and night dives. Its large squid and many fish make it popular with underwater photographers.
Just off the coast of the Karpas Peninsula, the Ancient Wreck site is just that: the excavation site of a Greek merchant ship which sank off the coast here in around 300 BC. It is the oldest shipwreck ever to have been recovered from the seabed.
Sea Caves & Culture
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Beautiful underwater caves such as the Big Country (23m below sea level), a multilevel cave site near Lemesos, and the Akrotiri Fish Reserve (9m below sea level), are ideal dive sites for the inexperienced but enthusiastic. You can expect to see groper and sea bass among shoals of fish.
Serious divers should head to Mushroom Rocks (50m below sea level) near Larnaka; it offers mass fish sightings and canyons sprouting from the sea floor. Many of the rock formations are mushroom-shaped, hence the name.
Ancient history underwater is best found at the Amphorae Reef in Pafos (5m to 10m below sea level). An abundance of pottery and amphorae sit hauntingly on the seabed, shadowed by a wreck beached on the reef.
For marine life, Northern Cyprus' huge Zephyros reef, with its 18m to 28m drop-off, is an exciting dive while the Antique Shop site (25m below sea level) mixes archaeology with spotting shoals of soldier fish.
Wind-, Kite- & Stand-Up Paddle Surfing
Thanks to the island’s steady winds and mild weather, various forms of sea surfing (windsurfing, kitesurfing and stand-up paddle surfing) have become some of the most popular and widespread of all water sports.
The season runs from April to September with peak conditions for all these water sports from June to August.
For novices, the best location is Makenzy Beach, Larnaka, where you can hire everything you need, including an instructor. Expect to pay roughly €75 a day for equipment and tuition.
Experienced windsurfers and kitesurfers rate Pissouri Bay (north of Lemesos) highly for its strong wind conditions in season.
In the North experienced wind- and kitesurfers should head to the beaches on the west coast, along Morfou Bay where the sea and wind conditions are excellent.
Surrounded by sea and with a score of plentiful reservoirs, the age-old Tao of fishing is a popular pastime of local Cypriots as well as visitors.
Over 250 species of fish enjoy Cyprus' warm waters. Many fishing villages along the coastline hire out boats, and at the marinas of the resort towns you’ll find plenty of anglers willing to take you on board or on organised fishing excursions (kids welcome). These trips usually include a village lunch.
Deep-sea fishing is also possible, with bluefish, sea bass, barracuda, tuna, jack and amberjack all copious catches. In North Cyprus, Kyrenia is the main centre for organised deep-sea fishing trips, while in the South you’ll find trips easy to organise in all the main resorts.
Mountain Biking & Cycling
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Tracks through terrain that once took pack mules and camel trains are now some of the best-recommended mountain-bike areas on the island. The Troödos Mountains and their valleys take in both surfaced and unsurfaced roads. Long, sweeping and slowly increasing gradients lead up and down the mountains, providing riders with some of Cyprus' most scenic areas. Further west, the Akamas Peninsula offers kilometres of pine-forest trails, rocky tracks and twisting roads worthy of a yellow jersey. Bikes with a good range of gears, puncture kits and maps are essential.
Check out Mountain Bike Cyprus for information on bike rental, bike service and tours in the Akamas Heights and Troödos Mountains. The Cyprus Tourism Organisation also carries a handy booklet, Troödos Cycling Routes, which describes three routes and includes comprehensive maps.
The Karpas Peninsula, in Northern Cyprus, offers some worthwhile traffic-free and flat rural roads along its cape. It has the added bonus of isolated beaches along its coastline, always available for a dip in summer. Got to www.cypruscycling.com for information on cycling clubs, races and events.
Cyprus has oodles of trails with plenty of wilderness and unspoilt nature to discover. Its many paths span the ages and history of the island, leading to Byzantine churches, picturesque monasteries, Venetian bridges, Gothic arches, crumbling ancient ruins and waterfalls, to name just a few.
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In the South hikers can fully immerse themselves in the expanses of the Akamas Peninsula and Troödos Mountains. Cape Greco on the eastern coast also offers wonderful trails, filled with spring flora, leading to its majestic coast of sea caves and natural rock arches. Paths are well marked, making independent hiking perfectly feasible for the less-experienced. For serious through-hikers and ramblers, the South is part of the European Long Distance Path E4.
For those shorter on time, the Aphrodite Circular Route (four hours, Akamas Peninsula), Atalanti Circular Route (five hours) and Kannoures to Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis Church trail (three hours), both in the Troödos Mountains, all offer good walking with a good slice of historic sites thrown in.
Northern Cyprus offers walkers vast tracts of empty trails in the Kyrenia Range and Karpas Peninsula. Many of the paths are part of the way-marked Kyrenia Mountain Trail which stretches for 230km across the full breadth of the coast. The hiking industry here lacks infrastructure and detailed maps are difficult to come by so unless you’re an experienced trekker it’s generally best to hire a local guide.
Some of the best shorter hikes in Northern Cyprus are in the craggy hills between Buffavento Castle and Bellapais village.
One of the most southerly ski resorts in Europe really comes alive over winter from early January to mid-March.
The spectacular 1952m peak of Mt Olympus, part of the Troödos Mountains, is the perfect venue, and its facilities have recently increased in quality and gained in popularity.
There are four ski runs close to Troödos, operated and maintained by the Cyprus Ski Club. On the north face of Mt Olympus you’ll find two sweeping runs, one of 350m that’s suitable for enthusiastic beginners, and a more advanced run of 500m. In the peaceful Sun Valley, on the southern side of the range, are two faster, shorter runs, each 150m long. One suits beginners and one is for intermediate-level skiers.
There’s a ski shop on the southern side of the mountain with an ample supply of items for hire. The newest and best-quality equipment always goes first, though, so be sure to get in early or risk being left with slightly shabbier pieces. Check out www.cyprusski.com for ski-club information and snow updates.
The island’s diverse range of landscapes and scenery make it an exhilarating place for horseback riding. Cypriots’ love and respect of the big animal have led to well-organised riding facilities and networks across the south of the island. The various clubs and centres offer everything from sunset rides, scenic treks, skills improvement and kids’ lessons to letting you be a cowboy (or cowgirl) for a day.
Rates usually run from €25 to €40 per hour. Trails often take in ruins and the island’s ancient history, which makes riding an unforgettable way to get to know Cyprus, so pony up.