From its humble beginning as a small, insignificant fishing village, Ayia Napa now shoulders the mantle of Cyprus' prime sun-and-fun tourist resort. Ayia Napa is not everyone's cup of tea and 90% of people visiting here are overseas tourists on packages intent on specific and limited pleasures - drinking, eating and sunning themselves. The beach, while crowded, is good and the nightlife never stops.
Protaras is a slightly watered-down version of Ayia Napa. It is another beach resort area, but is more spread out, has a better range of beaches which tends to give visitors more breathing space. Protaras is considered by many one of the most popular resorts on the island due to its popular sandy beaches and wide range of facilities, most within easy walking distance of wherever you have chosen to stay.
Paralimni has reluctantly taken over from Famagusta as the capital of the eastern section of Cyprus. It's a pleasant little town seemingly a universe away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist scene only a few kilometers away on the coast. There is a pleasantly paved central square with two versions of the church of Agios Georgios, a sprinkling of restaurants and shops and perhaps a gaggle of curious tourists.
This south-west corner of Cyprus has an ambience all of its own: soft breezes, old stone, elusive enchantment and an air of antiquity. This is the kingdom of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and her presence seems to linger. Paphos itself is really two towns, each with its own character; Ktima on the cliff and Kato Paphos by the sea, two kilometers down the road. The one is unchanged over centuries and thoroughly Cypriot while the other has expanded over the last decade from a sleepy fishing village and harbor into a bustling, busy, sprawling cosmopolitan resort which is still growing.
Roman Paphos was the island's capital, and the 3rd century mosaics here are the finest in the Mediterranean. The atmosphere is fun-loving and friendly, with plenty of bars, pubs, discos, a few nightclubs and innumerable eating places providing anything from choice Italian cuisine to sizzling souvlaki off the spit.
Swimming in the bay's deep, clear waters is good. The coastline to the north is peppered with small sandy coves but the area's best beach is a 15 minute drive away at Coral Bay. Paphos is an ideal centre from which to explore this region of wild coastline, un spoilt hillside villages and natural beauty; yet it takes less than an hour by car to reach Limassol.
Paphos combines both culture and entertainment in a conveniently sized package. In Paphos you will find some of Cyprus' most stunning archaeological gems such as its Roman mosaics and Tomb of the Kings situated amongst beach-front resort hotels and golden beaches. Cultivated bananas grow in profusion along the south-western littoral, yet the Akamas Peninsula is one of the island's last unspoilt wildernesses and is home to flora and fauna species found only on Cyprus. Small beach resorts that have not yet succumbed entirely to commercialization await discerning travelers and there are abundant land and sea based activities to suit every taste. While Limassol is brash and Larnaka is demure, Paphos is quite friendly and is one of Cyprus' most desirable cities. Kato Paphos (Lower Paphos) is the port annex of Pano Paphos (Upper Paphos) and is home to the greatest number of archaeological sites in the area. It provides a lively and friendly ambience in its renovated port area where visitors, unlike elsewhere in Cyprus' ports, can actually swim. With its palm tree lined boulevards, tasteful public and private buildings, Paphos is a pleasant place to spend a holiday. There are ample restaurants and watering holes and if you tire of the beach annex you can always retire to Pano Paphos for an afternoon's stroll or evening meal.
The mountains of the Troodos rise grandly above the scorching plains and coastal strips of Cyprus' south, culminating in Mt Olympus, the country's highest peak at 1952m. In the past the mountains have provided refuge to religious communities, colonial civil servants and the wealthy of the Levant seeking respite from the heat. More recently it attracts skiers in winter and, in summer, hikers and weekend picnickers throng the spiraling mountain roads. Visitors to the Troodos should allow themselves at least a week to see most of what the region has to offer.
Limassolians have a reputation for being fun loving and always ready to party. The wine festival in September and the Carnival in March are major events on the island. Limassol is a large, cosmopolitan port and resort with some of the best hotels in Cyprus and an enormous selection of restaurants, night clubs, discos and shops. This is the gateway to the mountain resorts which can easily be reached via a very good road from Limassol. Pissouri and Governor's beaches are within easy reach as is the enormous beach at Curium. The villages in the mountains around Limassol are set in the midst of vineyards and several are featured in our programme. The crusader castle of Kolossi, the headquarters of the Knights Templar and St John of Jerusalem, is within easy reach as are the ancient kingdoms of Curium to the west and Amathus to the east. It was in Limassol castle that Richard the Lionheart married Berengaria of Navarre.
The capital and the main commercial centre, Nicosia, the last divided capital in the world, is often ignored when visiting Cyprus because it is not on the beach. A very dynamic mayor has, over the last 10 to 15 years, forced the renovation of the old town which is now quite charming with many cafes, open-air restaurants and shops within the narrow streets and gracious old buildings. Nicosia is only a half hour drive from Larnaca and it is very easy to reach the Troodos mountains from here too. The archaeological museum is world famous and must be visited. The Cyprus tourist office runs free walking tours every Thursday. The restaurants in Nicosia, because they cater for the home market, are the best on the island. The historic, divided inland capital and centre of the island's activities is not a resort but a place of interest and a useful base for excursions. The old quarters are coming alive with courtyard restaurants, craft shops and houses as traditional buildings are renovated to stand side by side with excellent modern shops. A visit to the Archaeological Museum is a must, the restored 18th century House of Hadjigeorgakis is worth a visit, and guided tours within the walls of the old city are run regularly.
One of Cyprus' most famous exports is its exquisite lace and most of it comes from the pretty mountain villages Pano Lefkara and Kato Lefkara. The village is pretty enough even if you are not keen on frilly patterns or intricately designed tablecloths. A wander around its picturesque streets is almost certain to guarantee an invitation to 'see my lace' from the many women who sit at doorways, seemingly whiling away their hours in a relaxing hobby. The lace is undoubtedly of high quality and exquisite, but not necessarily dirt cheap.
Larnaca was once the main port of Cyprus and the wealth still shows in some very beautiful and gracious buildings in the old town. Larnaca has a very interesting salt lake which in spring is pink with flamingos. Like Paphos and Limassol, Larnaca has developed into a busy resort with many hotels and apartments built on the beaches that stretch away from the town. The town is a very central spot on the island and an ideal base from which to visit Protaras, Ayia Napa and even Paphos which is a two hour drive away along the excellent new motorway. Larnaca has a very traditional, palm fringed harbour promenade and a very large marina. There is a wealth of historical interest around the town including the church of St Lazarus, the Teke Muslim shrine, Kiti church and the monastery of Stavrovouni.