Cyprus: bikepacking and beaches on the island of cats
I spent last month, the whole of November, exploring Cyprus on my bicycle, and with my time on the island now drawn to a close, I wanted to wrap up with a short post sharing my thoughts. As a whole, Cyprus was really good for me. I had been growing increasingly stir-crazy in England, with the days growing steadily darker and more miserable as winter's chill set in. Cyprus in November was the perfect antidote, with plenty of sunshine and daytime temperatures on the coast of around the low-20s, albeit dropping off slightly towards the end of the month. November is probably the ideal time to visit; not too hot, which is nice for cycling, and being off-season, the island is also mostly free from the boozy tourist crowds which plague it in the summer months, something I appreciated greatly in the more popular spots such as Paphos and Ayia Napa.
Although I was in Cyprus for more than a month, I only spent a little under half of that time actually cycling. Most of my time was spent relaxing, being a lord of leisure, lying on the beach, doing some remote work, and making plans for 2023. Although I enjoyed the cycling I did in Cyprus, particularly in the north of the island, I found I wasn't massively in the mood for it, and that what I really wanted was time to relax. This wasn't really a surprise to me as I'd been feeling quite burned out for a while, so I was happy to give myself the time I needed rather than forcing myself to ride when I wasn't quite feeling it.
Why wasn't I feeling it? Various reasons. If I'm honest, I've been burning the candle at both ends since my father passed away back in March 2021, working a lot on the family business he left behind. I've been under quite a lot of stress for most of that time, and my family have been a major worry for me, so I have been feeling increasingly drained. That aside, I've been increasingly finding myself unsatisfied and unchallenged by the few shorter duration (a month or less) bikepacking trips within Europe which I've found time to take. When you're used to crossing continents in massive expeditions spanning years rather than weeks, it's hard to go back to relatively small journeys, especially in all-too-easy and familiar Europe. This is a topic on which I'm currently writing a much more in-depth article, as it's something I've thought a lot about lately, but for now, I'll just say that I never really felt challenged in Cyprus. Part of that is down to me; after years of cycling around the world my comfort zone is now pretty hard to break out of, but nevertheless, Cyprus felt rather vanilla.
Don't get me wrong, Cyprus is beautiful. Crystal-clear turquoise water, big mountains, quaint villages, a Mediterranean climate, and quite a few interesting historical sites as well. On paper, Cyprus has a lot going for it. And yet, somehow, it rarely blew me away. With the notable exception of the Kyrenia Mountains in the north, I was not often 'wowed'. A lot of Cyprus was nice, but not much of it struck me as incredibly special. Admittedly, I am undoubtedly quite spoiled, with fairly high standards at this point, with the best part of a decade of travel under my belt, but from speaking to other backpackers I think similar sentiments are somewhat common. And for most visitors who don't have the benefit of independent transport, the best places are also going to be hard to reach.
I'm certainly not complaining. I had a great time in Cyprus and I'm very happy I went. For a place to relax, do a bit of exploring, and enjoy some warmer weather whilst most of the northern hemisphere is either bracing for winter or already wishing they could go into hibernation, I think Cyprus is great, especially in November. For beaches and beer, Cyprus ticks the boxes just fine. But I wouldn't really recommend coming to Cyprus for a travel experience expecting to be blown away. For that, I think there are better places. The Canary Islands are warmer and more beautiful, whilst Malta, southern Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece are all slightly colder but are generally more scenic and interesting.
Cyprus wasn't without its charms. I really enjoyed the fact that cats often seemed to outnumber humans away from the busy tourist areas. Cats really do seem to dominate Cyprus, and I will always think of it as the island of cats, which, as a cat person, definitely endeared it to me. The number of abandoned buildings and ghost towns was also quite remarkable, and I got a bit of a kick out of cycling across the no-man's land between the southern part of the island, the formal Republic of Cyprus, and the northern part, which is occupied by Turkey. The border was rather militarised, but not tense, and my impression was that relations between the north and the south are fairly relaxed these days.
It was interesting to see the differences between the Greek and Turkish sides; Turkish Cyprus felt a lot more run-down, more rugged, and more remote, and it was also very slightly cheaper, though not dramatically. There were also far fewer tourists visiting the north, and instead of the southern Greek Orthodox churches, in the north, you'll see mosques, some of which are very beautiful.
Overall I preferred the north, mainly because of the Kyrenia Mountains and the Karpas Peninsula, which were incredible, but also because it felt much less touristy than the south. That said, when I did eventually drop down to the coast at Girne, it felt uber-touristy there as well, and I didn't feel like there was too much real culture. It may just have been that I wasn't meeting the right people or going to the right places, but nevertheless, a month is long enough to get a general feel for a place, and that lack of widespread culture, I think, was my main issue with Cyprus. For a good chunk of the island, it felt to me like tourism was kind of all there was, and so it didn't really feel particularly genuine. I'm probably more sensitive than most to this 'overtouristification', though, as it really puts me off, whereas others don't seem particularly bothered. I'm not sure if 'overtouristification' is actually a real word, but hey.
As for the cycling, you're fairly limited in Cyprus. As I mentioned, the Kyrenia Mountains and the Karpas Peninsula in North Cyprus were for me the big exception. Absolutely spectacular, quite remote, very memorable, and unique. I'll be releasing a new bikepacking route combining both, 'The Kyrenia Traverse', quite soon, and I think it's a fantastic option for anyone looking for a week's cycling holiday in the sun. At only 3-4 days though, it's a fairly short route, so it won't keep you going too long. The problem with Cyprus is that outside of the Kyrenia Traverse, I didn't find too much to write home about.
The Troodos Mountains in the south of Cyprus were beautiful too, and to be fair I enjoyed the few days I spent cycling there, but somehow I just didn't love the vibe, so I didn't feel too inclined to explore more deeply. The Troodos Mountains still felt quite touristy, even though it was the off-season and most of the villages seemed to be partly closed up for the winter. I took my bike through some fun hiking and mountain biking trails, but it never felt like people were far away, and although the mountains were certainly pretty, I didn't find them as striking or dramatic as the Kyrenia Mountains had been. It's hard to put into words, as they were certainly beautiful, but somehow the Troodos Mountains just didn't quite grab me.
Cyprus' coastlines were pleasant but not spectacular, and they generally suffered from the same touristy vibe that I found along many of the coastlines in the Canary Islands. Inland, when not in the mountains, Cyprus was fairly unremarkable. Towns were fairly generic, and the historical sites, with the exception of the insanely impressive Kantara Castle in the north, were mostly fairly run down and neglected. Interesting, but not especially memorable. I ate some good food, but I wouldn't tell anyone to come just for the food, and Cyprus was also fairly expensive, with prices fairly on par with northern Europe for the most part. The Turkish northern part of the island was slightly cheaper, but still definitely not cheap. The only thing that was really cheaper than in northern Europe was alcohol.
So, such are my criticisms, which I'm mainly putting down for the benefit of anyone thinking of coming to Cyprus and looking for insight. Before coming, I had no idea what to expect, but my expectations were nevertheless probably a little high, so in that sense, I found Cyprus slightly disappointing. That said, I'm not at all disappointed with the month I spent there. I had a great time, enjoyed myself immensely, got plenty of warmth and sunshine, found time to relax, and had a lot of fun on the bike. Cyprus was great, and I'm glad I went.
Would I come back? Sure. Probably not again with my bike, although I definitely wouldn't mind riding the Kyrenia Traverse again one day. And probably not for a backpacking travel experience; for that, I'd look elsewhere. But for a winter escape, for some sunshine, beach time, a few excursions with a rental car, and maybe a party, I'd happily come back to Cyprus. Flights are cheap, the weather is warmer than just about anywhere in Europe bar the Canaries, English is widely spoken, and life is easy. Avoid the main tourist season, though. From conversations I had with the locals, for anything other than a party holiday, peak season is just way too much.
I'm now back in the UK for a couple of weeks before jumping on another plane and heading out to Gran Canaria for the second year in a row. I have a bikepacking route to finish there, the 'Gran Canaria Grande', and I'm insanely excited to get back onto the route, as it's such an incredible ride. I'll probably be in the Canaries for a couple of months, and then possibly southern Spain and Portugal in the Spring. Morocco may be on the cards too, but I'll have to wait and see what happens.
The next big journey will be starting in June 2023, when I'll be flying out to Alaska to meet my friend Clo, with whom I cycled the final third of Africa back in 2019. From the far north of Alaska at Prudhoe Bay, Clo and I will be spending most of the second half of the year cycling south through the wilderness, down into Canada to Vancouver. I've been waiting to restart my crossing of the Americas since the pandemic shut me down in Argentina, so I can't bloody wait to get going!