An Epic Journey around Northern Cyprus (Part I)!

Hey everyone!

Back in July 2019, we had the opportunity to travel to Cyprus, a simply beautiful country situated on an island in the East Mediterranean Sea. Our friends there had recommended us to explore the whole of Cyprus (which comprises the Republic of Cyprus and Northern Cyprus), which we attempted in 8 days. This included a trip to Northern Cyprus, an area making up 36% of the north and eastern part of the island, which has been occupied by Turkey since 1974. We could not pass on this opportunity and so we rented a car and planned a short 2 day 1 night trip to Northern Cyprus.

Do note that this is PART I of a two-part series covering Northern Cyprus! If you have already read this post, do head on to PART II to read the rest of our travel itinerary!

Our initial impressions when we searched online for itineraries in Northern Cyprus (as tourists, mind you) were not particularly helpful or informative. For example, we were not sure of what to do when we reached the border crossing between the two regions. As such, we had not planned too much beforehand, and it was only when we reached Cyprus that our helpful Cypriot friends planned a last-minute itinerary which we followed. At the end of the trip, we had certainly seen and experienced more than we anticipated!

In this post, we hope to share with you what you would need to know when travelling to Northern Cyprus, and some important details. With that, let’s begin!

Our Route in Northern Cyprus

Our helpful Cypriot friends provided a driving route for us to follow, as shown in the Google map image below:

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You can obtain the Google Maps driving route here. The start and end point of our trip was Olivier Residence, a quaint apartment located in Nicosia, and operated by our friends. The accommodation is located in the heart of Nicosia and a short drive to the Old Town. Overall, it was a pleasant and comfortable place to stay in and we would definitely recommend this place if you are driving (which you ought to in Cyprus anyway)!

We will be referring to the various checkpoints in the Google itinerary above for the remainder of our post!

Things to Note about Northern Cyprus

  • Currency: As Northern Cyprus is occupied by Turkey, Turkish lira is the main currency used. However, Euros are also widely accepted (though the conversion from your home currency may not be as advantageous).
  • Flying to Northern Cyprus: We understand that when Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, EU citizens were also freely allowed to travel between Northern Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus. Hence, EU citizens are free to travel from Northern Cyprus to the Republic of Cyprus. However, for non-EU citizens, it has been reported that there may be complications at the border crossing, which have apparently resulted in tourists coming from Northern Cyprus being refused entry to the Republic of Cyprus. On this somewhat vague but realistic warning, we decided to fly to Cyprus instead of Northern Cyprus (even though the airfare to fly to Northern Cyprus is generally cheaper).
  • Car Rental: Renting a car has always been the recommended option when travelling in Cyprus and Northern Cyprus. However, because of the cross-border tensions, if you rent a car in the Republic of Cyprus, the insurance coverage does not extend to trips made to Northern Cyprus. Another option is to cross the border, and then rent a separate car in Northern Cyprus. We took the first option (at our own risk, of course), and thankfully there were no incidents with our car; also unsurprisingly, we saw a lot of rental cars in Northern Cyprus that were driven from the Republic of Cyprus. Rental cars in Cyprus are also distinct as they bear red licence plates, in stark contrast to the yellow or white licence plates elsewhere.
  • Insurance Requirement at the Border: When travelling to Northern Cyprus, every car must purchase third-party insurance before crossing over. This is obtainable at the border, although the specific directions can be a bit confusing. We hope to cover as succinctly as possible the requirements later below.
  • Photography: We cannot emphasize how STUNNING Northern Cyprus is. As the area is less developed than the Republic of Cyprus, you definitely should expect fewer skyscrapers and buildings, and more of mountains, ocean and valleys. For our trip, we brought our Fujifilm GFX 50R with the 23mm f/4 and 63mm f/2.8 lenses, the modified Polaroid 195 with Instax Wide back and the MiNT slr670s (Ming Edition)! Do follow our hashtag #DWSCyprus on Instagram to view our instant film photos.

With that, let’s start the journey to Northern Cyprus!

At the Border Crossing

The border crossing to Northern Cyprus at Nicosia is the most popular crossing point for tourists wishing to visit via cars, and when we reached, the queue to cross was pretty long! At this point, you would need your passport and third-party insurance to cross, but because of the lack of instructions or signs, we weren’t sure which lanes to take when passing through. As a result, we were on the wrong lane to obtain the insurance and one of us had to exit the car and speak to the attendant at the booth. Thankfully, the customs officer was understanding and simply asked us to park our car at the side while waiting for the insurance slip, before returning to him to have our passports checked.

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Naturally, we weren’t technically allowed to take any photos of the border crossing, but just down the road, the structure houses the customs border. On the left, the sign told us that this area was part of the UN Buffer Zone in Cyprus, between Northern Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus.

We passed through customs without any major hitch, and we continued driving through North Nicosia. As a tourist, we felt the difference immediately, with North Nicosia feeling somewhat less developed than its southern counterpart. The first thing we did was to pump petrol in our car, which unsurprisingly, was cheaper than if we had done so before crossing the border. We also started using our Turkish liras from hereon. As a reminder, you have to take the speed cameras and speed limit seriously!

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On entry to Northern Nicosia, the lack of tall buildings was evident. The mountain range immediately came to view as soon as we hit the main road.
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The flags of Turkey (L) and Northern Cyprus (R) flying over an apartment building.

Stop 1: Bellapais

Driving to Bellapais was not difficult with Google Maps leading us comfortably. The roads would bring us to Bellapais, a quaint village perched on the side of the mountain range. On it lied the Bellapais Abbey, a former monastery built in the 13th century. The stone cobbled roads presented a sight more commonly seen in Western Europe, and we had to be particularly careful when navigating the narrow roads. As you can see below, we enjoyed exploring the preserved (and yet also dilapidated) monastery, taking photos and enjoying the view from high above.

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The stunning view when we exited the carpark!
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Stone-cobbled roads cover almost every inch of this small town.
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The exterior of the Bellapais Abbey.
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There were a couple of visitors when we reached, which really dispelled the notion of Northern Cyprus being unpopulated or not frequented. We also saw some buses and vans bringing tourists as well.
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Sandra holding the modified Polaroid Land 195 camera!
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The remains of one section of the abbey, which was a common room.
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A wide-angle view of the abbey’s corridors.
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From atop the abbey, we relished the experience of being high up on the mountains.

Stop 2: Kyrenia Castle

After walking around the Bellapais Abbey, we drove down to the seaside town of Kyrenia, where we watched the boats anchored by the Kyrenia Harbour, before heading into Kyrenia Castle, built in the 16th century. It was also to get some respite from the sweltering hot summer Mediterranean sun! The castle provided a beautiful vantage of the North Mediterranean Sea once we climbed onto the fort walls; it also houses a shipwreck dating back to the 4th century BC.

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We were surprised at the number of boats occupying the harbour!
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A resident (?) dog, seek refuge from the sweltering sun.
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The castle was quite run down, save for the surrounding walls. The castle has been under siege a number of times since it was built, hence the rubble and stone laying around.
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From atop the castle walls, we were treated to a magnificent view of the mountain range further back. The town of Bellapais would be on that mountain!
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Sheer, endless ocean. The blueness was a sight to behold; in Singapore, you could never see waters this clear!

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Driving to Karpaz

After walking around the city, we braced ourselves for the long drive down to Karpaz, on the eastern point of the Cypriot island. It took about 1 1/2 hours, and on the way we were graced with long winding roads. We were surrounded on one side by the ocean, and on the other by the curving mountain range that was a scene straight out of most landscape photography books! The road leading to Karpaz was mostly smooth, with the odd bumps here and there (but nothing to trouble us significantly). We also stopped a couple of times when we saw something interesting or worthy of picture-taking!

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An abandoned vehicle which has been subject to much graffiti. It was a poignant reminder of the gulf between Northern Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus.
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We saw this HUGE mountainous cavern and decided to stop alongside the road, and the adventurers in us would have wanted to explore it!

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A couple of locals on motorbikes had gathered and were eagerly testing out their motorbike skills. We were just glad to see some humans after seeing mountains and ocean for a while!

At this point, we decided to check in to our accommodation, which was a series of bungalows facing the ocean (and along the way to the third stop)! We reached around early evening and decided to complete the remaining stops the next day. Thus, we set out into the nearby town of Dipkarpaz to search for some authentic local food. Once again, Google did not disappoint, pointing us to a small family restaurant called Manolyam, which served one of the finest fresh seafood, such as fried calamari and grilled sea bream. It was out of this world and one of the freshest fish we had ever tried!

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The bungalow was quaint and cosy, just nice for our needs!
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At Manolyam, where we had quite a sumptuous meal!
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With a beautiful sunset to boot, our dinner was a special affair!

Eventually, we returned to our accommodation to rest early, knowing that the next day would be jam-packed with so many things to do!

The second part of this travel itinerary can be found here. See you on the other side!

Till next time,

Damianwithsandra

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