The bulk of visitors to Cyprus rely on tour-company coaches to get around. Independent travellers have a choice of renting vehicles, catching buses, or taking taxis. For the more intrepid, walking and cycling are also options. The transport system in the north is nowhere near as well-developed as that of the south, and your best bet here is to rent a car or book a tour.
Following reorganization in 2010, the south now has a good urban and intercity bus system. Buses are modern, usually on time, and although run by different companies in each district (Zinonas in Larnaka, OSEA in the Agia Napa/Protaras area – sometimes called “free Famagusta”, EMEL in Lemesos, OSYPA in Pafos, and OSEL in Lefkosia) fares are standard and simple: single journey €1.50, daily ticket €5, weekly ticket €20, monthly ticket €40, daily intercity €15). Each company has its own contact number and website: Lefkosia (77777755), Lemesos (77778121), Larnaka (80007744), Pafos (80005588), Gazimağusa (23819090). You can also access information about Intercity Buses and airport shuttles on 80007789, intercity-buses.com. A very useful combined website at cyprusbybus.com pulls all the information together. Rural buses, especially in the Troodos Mountains, are less frequent and less reliable.
Bus services in the north are unreliable, don’t seem to follow a timetable, will often wait until the bus is full before setting off, and are little used by visitors. Indeed, native Turkish Cypriots rarely use them either, so you’re likely to find yourself sitting next to Turkish mainland settlers or Turkish army personnel. If you decide to brave this rather chaotic system, note that fares fall into the €3–4 range.
The best and most efficient way of getting around Cyprus is to rent a car or, if you’re not put off by their poor safety record, motorcycles, quad bikes, scooters or beach buggies. Car rental starts at around €50 per day in summer, €25 per day in winter – the longer the rental period, the lower the rate – but it’s worth prebooking and shopping around. And if you intend exploring the remoter parts of the island, it is well worth splashing out on a 4WD, especially as normal rental agreements often exclude driving on dirt roads. Petrol and diesel cost around €1 per litre, and there are plenty of filling stations. Bear in mind, though, that some may be closed in August, so it pays to keep your tank as full as you can.
Motorways (prefix “A”) and main roads (prefix “B”) are of good quality but side roads, especially in the mountains, might be unsurfaced. Visitors from the UK will feel particularly at home because driving is on the left, cars are right-hand drive, and there’s a whole host of familiar street furniture, from Belisha beacons to zebra crossings. Speed limits (strictly enforced) are as follows: motorways max 100km/h, min 65km/h. Unless otherwise indicated main roads have a limit of 80km/h; built-up areas 50km/h.
Parking is free in many villages, while town-centre car parks charge €0.50 to €3 for half a day. On-street parking in major towns is meter controlled, falling in the range €0.80–2 during office hours. Parking is free on Saturday afternoons, Sundays and public holidays.
Driving in the north is similar to driving in the south: cars keep to the left, signs are international, there are plenty of petrol stations, road signs are usually in kilometres, though sometimes in miles. Because development has been patchy, you might well come across bottlenecks where good new roads disgorge traffic onto narrow unimproved ones.
Contrary to popular belief, Cypriots are usually courteous drivers. However, some drive very fast, while others, especially in rural areas, drive insanely slowly. While the fatality rate on Cyprus’s roads is higher than the UK’s (particularly low) figure, it still compares well with, for example, Greece and the US.
Main towns and cities are well served by rental agencies, both local and international. Those in holiday areas like Pafos and Agia Napa offer a range of vehicles in addition to cars – scooters, motorcycles, quad bikes and buggies.
Drivers under 25 who have been driving for less than three years must inform the rental agency so that special under-age insurance can be provided.
If you rent a car in the south, many companies will not allow you to cross to the north – check when arranging the rental. Where companies do allow you to cross into the north, most will not arrange insurance – you’ll need to arrange your own at the crossing point – there will be a booth where you can do this. Petsas Rent a Car will, however, arrange insurance for the north on your behalf.
Since none of the big international car rental companies covers North Cyprus, you’re limited to local firms. However, most will deliver and pick up from your hotel, or from Ercan Airport, and some now include that service for Larnaka. Note that to rent a car in North Cyprus you must be at least 25 years old.
The TRNC Rent a Car Association produces a booklet annually with advice on renting cars in the north, and the phone numbers of about forty rental companies. Otherwise, try British Rentacar or Sun Rent a Car.
In the south taxis are numerous in larger towns and cities and can either be hailed from the street or picked up at ranks. All urban taxis should have meters and fares are controlled by the government. In rural areas taxis do not have meters, so it’s as well to agree a fare before setting off. The fare structure for urban taxis is complicated: it is divided into day (6.01am–8.30pm) and night tariffs, with an initial charge (day €3.42, night €4.36) and a fare per km (day €0.73, night €0.85). There are also charges for waiting (per hour), for luggage (per item) and during public holidays. In the north, taxis (marked by a “Taksi” sign on the roof) do not have meters, so you should agree a price before getting in. Taxis are not allowed to cruise, and operate from official ranks which are closed at night. In both the south and the north you can also use shared taxis, which carry between four and eight passengers, between main towns. In the south (where they are also called Transurban Taxis) these operate on a fixed half-hourly timetable from 6am to 6pm (Sundays 7am to 5pm); in the north (where they are known as dolmuses), they usually wait until they are full.
Cyprus’s mild climate is ideal for cyclists, though during midsummer the obvious precautions – helmet, sun cream, plenty of drinking water – should be taken. Most towns in the south have bike rental companies, and mountain and road bikes are readily available, with charges usually being around €50 for three days, €100 for a week. A new cycle track has recently been established in the Troodos Mountains, with nearly 60km of well-signposted surfaced and unsurfaced track. For information on cycling in Cyprus, contact the Cyprus Cycling Federation, 21 Amphipoleos Street, Nicosia (22449870). The renting of bikes in the north is less developed than in the south, but a number of hotels will be able to help arrange this.
For such a small island, Cyprus offers a remarkable variety of exhilarating drives, from the ups and downs of the Troodos Massif to the off-road excitement of the Akamas Peninsula.
Take the old road B6 west from Lemesos, first through the Home Counties tidiness of the British Akrotiri base, then past the castle at Kolissi and the ancient sites at Kurion and the Sanctuary of Apollon Ylatis, to the beautiful coast at Petra tou Romiou.
A steep climb up from Pafos, along the E606, brings you to rolling upland vineyards, pretty villages and monasteries, and the birthplace of Archbishop Makarios III.
The empty wilderness of the Akamas Peninsula can be explored by car (though only a 4WD will do), from the Avagas Gorge in the south to Lara Bay in the middle and the Baths of Aphrodite in the north.
Experience both sides of the Green Line by driving through the orange groves of Güzelyurt, along the pretty north coast past the ancient sites of Soli and Vouni, across to Kato Pyrgos then south through the dense forests of Tilliria via beautiful Cedar Valley to lofty Kykkos, Cyprus’s most famous monastery.
This north Cyprus loop takes you north from the capital through the Kyrenia Mountains to the coast and west to Girne. Diversions off this route allow you to take in Buffavento and St Hilarion castles and the superb Bellapais Abbey.