The vast majority of tourists begin their trip on the narrow coastal strip in the south, which hosts the main towns of Larnaka, Lemesos and Pafos, each with a historic old town, promenade and popular beaches. Beyond them, to the north, foothills rise to the island’s main mountain range, the Troodos Massif, dotted with villages, churches and monasteries. To the west of the island is a plateau covered in vineyards, the great wilderness forest of Tiliria and the stark empty beauty of the Akamas Peninsula. North of the Troodos (and lying within north Cyprus), lie the dramatic mountains of the Kyrenia Range, home to St Hilarion castle. Beyond here is the even narrower northern coastal strip on which Girne (Kyrenia) is by far the most important and most beautiful town. To the east is the broad and largely flat Mesaorian Plain on which stands the island’s divided capital Nicosia, known today as Lefkosia (south) or Lefkoşa (north);further east is the crumbling port city of Gazimağusa (Famagusta), with its range of pretty and not-so-pretty ruins, and the long, tapering Karpaz Peninsula, home to wild donkeys and far-flung villages.
For traditional sun, sea and sand holidays, you have an extensive choice – in the south, Protaras and Agia Napa east of Larnaka, the beaches either side of Lemesos, Pafos and its satellite Coral Bay are packed with resorts offering a range of activities; in the north, the coast either side of Girne and north of Gazimağusa offers more of the same. For smaller hotels with a more individual character, try the north coast around Polis and the Akamas Peninsula, or the hill villages of the Troodos Mountains which offer traditional homes converted into guesthouses.
In terms of what to avoid, be aware that certain southern resorts (especially parts of Lemesos) can be quite sleazy, (dominated, it’s said, by the Russian mafia), with dubious “gentlemen’s clubs” and working girls operating openly in the streets. North Cyprus has also developed a reputation for vice and more obviously gambling; its dozens of casinos attract not only Turks from the mainland but also, perhaps surprisingly, hedonists from the south.