For many visitors, crossing into Turkish-controlled north Cyprus is akin to time travel. Gone are the busy resorts, malls and familiar international chains of the south, replaced by remote villages and a slower place of life – “the Mediterranean as it used to be” in the words of the local tourist board. This sense of suspended animation can be dated precisely to the Turkish invasion of 1974, when the north, stripped of its Greek Cypriot population, became cut off from the rest of the world, a self-styled republic recognized by no one but Turkey itself (see the section “The state within a state”).
The Republic’s government has done all in its power to limit relations between north Cyprus and the outside world, and the issue of Turkish-Cypriot (and indeed Turkish) occupation of property owned by Greek Cypriots in the north continues to be a major stumbling block in any movement towards reunification. The republic’s stance on “legal” entry points and property ownership hasn’t changed, and is very clear. Nevertheless, it is now commonplace for Greek Cypriots in their thousands to cross into the north, both on day-trips and for overnight stays. This is largely due to the gradual opening up of the Green Line, the de facto dividing line between the two communities – there are now seven crossing points, and two more are under discussion. The process of entering the north from the south has been made even simpler since Mustafa Akinci became President in 2015 – one of his first acts was to get rid of irksome visa requirements. Consequently, it is perfectly feasible for travellers staying in the south to see as much of the north as they wish, with many attractions little more than half an hour’s drive away from the south’s major resorts. Others choose to spend their whole trip in the north, though this necessitates travelling via Turkey.
There is certainly plenty to draw you here. North Cyprus boasts two of the island’s best-looking towns (Girne and Gazimağusa), half the capital city (Lefkosia/Lefkoşa), three of its mightiest Crusader castles (St Hilarion, Buffavento and Kantara), and arguably the island’s most significant archeological site at Salamis. Its wilderness areas, particularly the Kyrenia Mountains, are a hiker’s paradise and many of its beaches remain mercifully free of high-rise resorts. Furthermore, any visit to Cyprus which includes both sides of the island offers the unique experience of two very different cultures: Orthodox, Greek Cypriot, and Muslim, Turkish Cypriot. There’s also the small matter of cost – being outside the Eurozone, the north can feel considerably cheaper than the south, and its tourist infrastructure, though inferior, is gradually improving.
As for sightseeing in the north, you might find that many museums and other places of interest seem rather neglected and old-fashioned, while its hotels and restaurants lack the sophistication of the south. You might also come across a cavalier attitude to published opening times – if something’s really important to you, try to phone ahead or check with the tourist office. Finally, if you haven’t had a chance to obtain Turkish Lira, don’t worry: euros and dollars are widely accepted.