Northern Cyprus Holidays
Northern Cyprus Holidays – The last bolthole in the Mediterranean?
With scarcely 100,000 foreign visitors annually, northern Cyprus likes to pitch itself as the ‘last unspoilt corner of the Mediterranean’. Perhaps compared to southern Cyprus, but it’s no longer a secret destination, and recourse – as in the south – to real estate promotion has wrought great changes since the 1990s. The 1974 war which divided the island into a Greek-Cypriot south and Turkish-Cypriot north left the latter a backwater statelet, unrecognised and unaided by all save Turkey, its creator and sponsor. Tourist development long lagged behind southern Cyprus, and the ‘unspoilt’ tag merely made a virtue of necessity. But those days are gone – there are hotels and restaurants in the north every bit as sophisticated as anywhere in the Mediterranean, and northern Cyprus’ infrastructure has improved beyond all recognition. Beaches – especially east of Kyrenia and on the Karpas Peninsula – are among the island’s best, while medieval walled Famagusta and Kyrenia old port ooze atmosphere.
When to go
Northern Cyprus is at its best in late spring (mid–April to early June) or autumn (which extends well into November). Summer on the north slopes of the Kyrenia range is generally tolerable, though apt to be on the humid side. Late winter is also enjoyable, with the countryside at its greenest (wildflower displays peak in February and March) and swimming just about feasible at noon, but many beachside resort hotels close from about New Year's to early April. Those that do remain open over Christmas and New Years can fill up with noisy groups of Turkish mainlanders at this holiday period.
The weather in northern Cyprus
Northern Cyprus has a typically eastern Mediterranean climate, where daytime summer temperatures can approach 40° and rarely fall much below 23°C by night. The Kyrenia coast and foothills are generally slightly cooler than the Famagusta area or the Karpas peninsula. Between December and April, strong storm fronts generated over the Turkish Toros mountains opposite can batter the Kyrenia coast in particular, and recent winters have been unusually rainy. www.cyprus-weather.org gives up to 10-day advance forecasts for Kyrenia.
Getting the best deal
Peak season for northern Cyprus is notionally rated as early July to early October, subject to the idiosyncrasies of individual tour operators. Be wary of ‘winter specials’ including half board and sometime car hire that seem priced too good to be true; at such low rates the hotels involved have little incentive to provide decent service or meals. Some of our best current deals are highlighted below.
Airport and transport need to know
Northern Cyprus has only one functioning airport, at Ercan (code ECN; www.ercanairport.co.uk), some 8m east of north Nicosia. The auxiliary airport at Geçitkale (code GEC) is not currently used by civilian aircraft.
Only four Turkish airlines currently fly into Ercan owing to the international boycott of northern Cyprus, always with a touchdown beforehand somewhere in Turkey. Because of the boycott, keying in ECN will often not return results when searching for cheap flights to Ercan.
You should arrange for a hire car to be brought in advance to the airport, as taxis are expensive (budget £35–40 to Kyrenia hotels) and the public bus-shuttle run by Kibhaş, while cheap, is infrequent (5 times daily) and dovetails poorly with flight arrivals.
Despite a light makeover in 2002–04, Ercan is hardly state-of-the-art and, with two bleak restaurants, it’s not the best of airports. But it’s small enough that you can show up 75 minutes or so before your flight departure.
View Northern Cyprus in a larger map
A selection of top resorts in northern Cyprus
Kyrenia (Girne in Turkish) and its immediate environs, on the north central coast of the island, is far and away the busiest resort in northern Cyprus, with accommodation and restaurants not only in the town but dotted along the coast some distance to either side. The core of the mostly modern town is a postcard-perfect Venetian harbour.
Of the inland villages in the foothills of the Kyrenia range, Bellapais (Beylerbeyi) with its exquisite Lusignan abbey has the largest quantity of notable accommodation.
Famagusta (Gazimağusa in Turkish) in the far east of the island had most of its hotel infrastructure trapped in the ‘dead zone’ of Varosha following the 1974 war, so holidays here effectively mean day trips to the medieval walled city, while staying out at a cluster of hotels near ancient Salamis some ways north, or even out at newer, more rustic accommodation on the unspoilt Karpas (Karpaz) Peninsula.
Although it now has a businessmen’s hotel or two, foreigners do not stay in northern Nicosia (Lefkoşa) and no organised holidays based in the city are offered.