I have been to Cyprus many times but never to the north. My expectations were that it would be a different experience but I don’t think I realised how different it would be. They still use UK 3 pin plugs and they still drive on the left but there the familiarity ends.
So what makes the north different? It is much greener which surprised me as the climate is the same. The general feel is that of a Turkish resort the signs are all in Turkish, the street names are Turkish, kebab shops are plentiful and the currency is Turkish Lira but without the hassle of haggling nor being pestered by persistent restauranteurs constantly plying for your business. The atmosphere is very chilled and relaxed and it is a very safe and clean destination to visit. The majority living there today are either born Turkish Cypriot or foreigners that have taken advantage of the very cheap property prices. Living costs are generally considerably lower than in the South.
There are two ways of getting there, either with a touchdown or flight change via Istanbul to Ercan airport or through Larnaca and crossing the border with a longer transfer time.
The main resorts are Kyrenia and Famagusta but there is far more to this northern oasis than just beaches.
The roads are reasonable with some good motorways but public transport isn’t brilliant. There are a few buses serving the main towns and resorts and dolmus but not to the extent of either Cyprus or Turkey. The range of holiday excursions is excellent and prices are good.
I was surprised to learn that North Cyprus has 25 casinos, mostly within the 5 star hotels and a few standalone so it’s a much cheaper opportunity to win your holiday money back than going all the way to Las Vegas!
Kyrenia is a very pleasant harbour where you sit and watch the world go by whilst drinking a cold Efes beer and a very reasonably priced meal but Kyrenia has another facet of being a very busy shopping street selling fake designer bags and soft leather shoes. Kyrenia was also a walled city and the remnants of the wall give it a unique character.
Famagusta was a thriving resort in the late 60’s and in fact the main resort of Cyprus with arguably the best beach but the invasion of 1974 abruptly changed everything. The famous ghost town of Varocha is a vast area with hundreds of abandoned hotels, shops, houses and other buildings and is on a much bigger scale than I imagined, previously having only seen it through binoculars, a very sad reminder of the result of political and ethnic division, literally stretching all the way along to the border almost to Ayia Napa across the border.
Famagusta is a bustling town steeped in history and full of character. As well as being a good place to shop and a thriving port, it has ancient churches and mosques including St Nicholas which was a cathedral and still looks like cathedral with a minaret stuck on the top but it’s been a mosque since 1571 when the ottomans so it is a bit of an oddity but the square is also surrounding in walls and ancient buildings dating back to 285BC so it is a really interesting and unique place to visit.
I really enjoyed the visit to 13th century Bellapais monastery which was originally built as a Catholic monastery but became Greek Orthodox after the Ottaman invasion 1571 and remains so to this day. As it is up in the mountains, the approach to it is hilly so it is difficult for the less mobile but well worth the climb past craft shops, inns and boutique hotels but it is worth the climb as the top rewards you with an amazing view from the top and photo opportunities galore.
Some of the hotels are huge with over 800 rooms. There are quite a few hotels that have larger rooms and waterparks so they are ideal for the family market. Meals tend to be buffet style but most hotels have a la carte restaurants too so there is plenty of choice for the fussy eater and for vegetarians. There are some nice boutique hotels around so couples are catered for as well. There is also the Korineum Golf & Country Club so it also works as a golf and spa destination.