In the seaside resort of Larnaca, Cyprus, the European summer travel season goes on — and that suits everyone there just fine.
With temperatures in the high 80s and a cooling breeze from the Mediterranean, visitors from Germany, the U.K. and Russia are trying to squeeze in one last beach vacation before winter.
It’s already rainy and cold in Scandinavia and other parts of northern Europe, where fall is in full swing. Cyprus is one of Europe’s last warm-weather holdouts. Not surprisingly, that has extended the tourist season here, too.
“Visitors from Northern Europe prefer late summer and early fall because it isn’t as hot here,” says Sophia Charalambous, a market development officer for Visit Cyprus. “So this October is high season here.”
Cyprus is an island in the eastern Mediterranean. It’s about 80 miles south of the Turkish coast and west of Syria and Lebanon. A member of the European Union, it is famous for wreck diving, dessert wine and artisan traditions like needlepoint lace and basket weaving.
The somewhat central location of Cyprus — between Europe and the Middle East — makes it a favorite destination of Europeans, Israelis and Russians. It’s a curious meeting point, but the road signs tell the story. In Larnaca, near historic St. Lazarus Church, you can see signs in Greek, English and Russian. The receptionists at the Opera Hotel on the main square easily switch among the three languages, depending on the guest.
As an American in Cyprus, I felt a little uneasy at first about sharing a resort with so many Russians. But as one local explained to me, the eastern Europeans, including the Russians, Bulgarians and Poles, come here to escape politics. And, as it turned out, all of the Russians I met were exceptionally friendly. After all, they were on vacation — or maybe dodging conscription.
Cyprus is relatively safe. COVID cases remain low and there are no vaccine requirements for entry. The Department of State classifies Cyprus as a “1,” which means you should exercise normal precautions. The most prominent government warning is to use an authorized crossing point when entering the Turkish side of the island and not to take pictures of any border crossings.
But “safe” is a relative term. If you live in Cyprus, you have to remember to avoid drinking the tapwater (it’s not safe, say locals) and, while I’m on the subject of bathrooms, never flush toilet paper. It clogs the antiquated pipes. For more information on travel safety, see my free guide on travel health and safety.
Tourism to Cyprus took a hit during the pandemic, with visitors dropping dropping below 500,000 and then rebounding.
This summer, Cyprus tourism authorities reported that revenue from tourism reached $382 million for the first half of the year, up 55 percent from a year before. Officials are hoping for a full recovery by 2023
Cyprus is not exactly on the map for most American visitors. Tourism officials say many Americans who come to Cyprus are exploring their cultural heritage. There are some special-interest tourists, too — those who are interested in the culinary scene or the island’s artisans. Cyprus also offers a lot for adventure-seekers. The wreck of the Zenobia, a ferry that sank on her maiden voyage in 1980, is a draw for scuba divers. Still, last year, fewer than 20,000 Americans came to Cyprus, making it one of the more undiscovered European destinations.
In Nicosia, there’s a more laid-back vibe than you find in other southern European destinations. Even Athens seems more high-strung — a word that’s not often used to describe Athens — in comparison to the Cypriot capital.
In the old town, tourists browse the antique shops and clothing stores. In the evening, they sip coffee and sit with their hookahs in one of the many cafes under the watchful gaze of the ever-present St. Helen cats.
Cyprus is an ideal destination for travelers who lover history. The Cyprus Museum in downtown Nicosia is just a sampling of that history, with exhibits that take you from Neolithic artifacts to the early Bronze Age. At this time of year, there are few visitors and plenty of opportunities to linger and read every display.
There are fewer tourists in Nicosia, the capital, than in Larnaca. Most of the visitors I met were from Germany and the U.K, and many seemed to be on organized tours. You can easily hit the highlights of Nicosia in a day, including the museums and old town. But this city, and indeed this island, piques your curiosity. It is a place that doesn’t quite align with your perceptions. It is somewhere between Europe and the Middle East, and yet depending on where you are, it is also fiercely Greek or Turkish.
For visitors, Cyprus is a mystery that is begging to be explored.
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