If you ever have the opportunity – go to Cyprus. I highly recommend a visit to both sides of the island — Southern Cyprus and Northern Cyprus. Despite an area of half the size of New Jersey (3,572 sq miles vs 8,729 sq miles) it is extremely diverse and the two halves of the island are worlds apart. The island is easiest to reach from Greece or Turkey but if in Turkey, I highly recommend you go from there as you can find flights on Turkish Airlines and Pegasus Airlines for less than $100 round trip. Travel Trip: Don’t be afraid to mix one way flights on different airlines to lower costs and maximize your travel times.
In 1974, following a failed coup d’état, Turkey invaded Cyprus and occupied a small portion of the island before a cease fire was declared. And although tensions have reduced dramatically in the last few years, the country remains divided. As such, Cyprus has the only remaining divided capitol in the world (Lefkosa or Nicosia depending on which side of the border you are standing on) and still has UN troops stationed in country to maintain the peace. And to be frank, one of the draws for me to Northern Cyprus, officially known as Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, is it is only recognized as an independent country by Turkey. The adventurer in me loves that I have been to an unrecognized country.
Biblical History: For the pilgrim, Cyprus is deep in Biblical History. Cyprus was one of the stops on Paul’s first journey (Acts 13). In Northern Cyprus you can visit the ruins of Salamis, where Paul landed and taught in the Synagogue. You can visit the ruins of Paphos where Paul was whipped as described in Corinthians. You can also visit the Church of Lazarus in Larnaca where tradition has it Lazarus died and was buried (for the second time). And if you have time and transportation, don’t forget to visit Kykkos Monastery to see where the Icon of the Virgin painted by St. Luke is kept (you can’t actually see the icon or tradition says you will go blind).
Beaches: It shouldn’t be a surprise since Cyprus is an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, but it has wonderful beaches with gorgeous turquoise water. While the beaches in the North are just as beautiful as those in the South, for services and pampering, I definitely recommend the South. And if for swimming and lying out in the sun, you prefer the pool like I do, there are some amazing and affordable resorts to choose from!
Nature: If you visit Northern Cyprus in May, you might be lucky enough to see Turtles come ashore to lay their eggs or more spectacular, in July see the newly hatched babies make their way out to sea. Like many islands, most of the roads stick to the perimeter shore line while the interior of the island is more pristine. The Troodos mountains have several trails and opportunities for hiking.
Mythology: In addition to its biblical history, Cyprus also has strong Greek mythology roots. The founder of Salamis was Teucer, nephew of the Trojan king, half-brother of the hero Ajax, cousin of Hector, Paris and Achilles. Teucer was banished to Cyprus after the Trojan war. Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and fertility, emerged from the sea in Cyprus and you can see Aphrodite’s rock as you drive the southern coast near Paphos.
Unique architecture: Visit Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque which was converted from the medieval Saint Nicholas’s Cathedral. While it is common for mosques to be former churches, they are usually byzantine and this is the only former gothic church I have seen as a mosque. St Hilarion castle ruins were Walt Disney’s inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. And take a boat tour around eastern edge of the island or rent a car to see the ghost town of Famagusta up close (you can’t go inside the city). This city remains a constant reminder of the divided island as it remains off limits and stands frozen in time and looks as it did in 1974 when it was evacuated and people left with only the clothes on their backs. Victoria Hislop provides a moving description in a telegraph article at the below link.
Travel Tips: You can’t take a rental car from one side to the other. However, you can hire a service to take you across (make sure they know your nationality as it makes a difference for which border crossing you use) or you can walk across the border in the capitol and then rent a car from there. Northern Turkey is less developed but very very affordable. Prices in Southern Turkey are comparable to elsewhere in Western Europe.
Books: Two books on my to read list about Cyprus: Lucky In Cyprus: A True Story About A Teacher, A Boy, An Earthquake, Some Terrorists, And The CIA by Allan Cole and by Chris Christodoulou.