For many visitors crossing into Turkish-controlled north Cyprus is akin to time travel. Gone are the busy resorts, malls and familiar international chains of the south, replaced by remote villages and a slower place of life – “the Mediterranean as it used to be” in the words of the local tourist board. This sense of suspended animation can be dated precisely to the Turkish invasion of 1974, when the north, stripped of its Greek Cypriot population, became cut off from the rest of the world, a self-styled republic recognized by no one but Turkey itself (see the section The state within a state).
While tourism in north Cyprus remains a sore point in the south, it is now commonplace – Greek Cypriots themselves come in their thousands, both on day-trips and for overnight stays. This is largely due to the gradual opening up of the Green Line, the de facto “border” between the two communities. Consequently, it is perfectly feasible for travellers staying in the south to see as much of the north as they wish, with many attractions little more than half an hour’s drive away from the south’s major resorts. Others choose to spend their whole trip in the north, though this necessitates travelling via Turkey.
There is certainly plenty to draw you here. North Cyprus boasts two of the island’s best-looking towns (Girne and Gazimağusa), half the capital city (Lefkosia/Lefkoşa), three of its mightiest crusader castles (St Hilarion, Buffavento and Kantara), and arguably the island’s most significant archeological site at Salamis. Its wilderness areas, particularly the Kyrenia Mountains, are a hiker’s paradise and many of its beaches remain mercifully free of high-rise resorts. Furthermore, any visit to Cyprus which includes both sides of the island offers the unique experience of two very different cultures: Orthodox, Greek Cypriot and Muslim, Turkish Cypriot. There’s also the small matter of cost – being outside the Eurozone the north can feel a cheaper place to means that visit than the south, while its tourist infrastructure is gradually improving.
As for sightseeing in the north, you might find that many museums and other places of interest seem rather neglected and old-fashioned (dusty old mannequins seem to be a particular favourite), while its hotels and restaurants lack the sophistication of the south. You might also come across a cavalier attitude to published opening times – if something’s really important to you, if possible phone ahead or check with the tourist office. Finally, if you haven’t had a chance to obtain Turkish Lire, don’t worry: euros and dollars are widely accepted.Read More
The state within a state
The state within a state
The Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC), as it has called itself since 1983, is still in many ways a pariah state, and this lack of international recognition continues to starve it of investment. Global chains such as McDonald’s and Starbucks are conspicuous by their absence and its tourist industry is still dwarfed by that of the south. In part this is self-inflicted: the shabbiness of many of its museums and attractions contrast markedly with the magnificence of its totalitarian-style military monuments and the regular sight of Turkish troops and bases, often incongruously close to tourist attractions, can be a jolt to the senses. The empty shells of Orthodox churches and monasteries that dot some parts of the landscape are also an uncomfortable reminder of the wonton destruction that followed the invasion or “intervention” as the Turks put it. While the north remains in political limbo, its future seems to hang on demographics – with Turkish settlers now outnumbering Turkish Cypriots, north Cyprus increasingly feels like an offshore province of Turkey rather than the independent state that it claims to be.