The Karpaz Peninsula, Northern Cyprus

Sometimes spelled Karpas or Karpass, and known colloquially as The Panhandle due to its shape, the Karpaz Peninsula is a substantial land area covering the north-east tip of Cyprus. Very sparsely populated, this really is a place where modern life seems to have had no impact and where nature rules. There is no real ‘start’ to the Karpaz, but from around Kaplica on the northern coast and Bogaz on the east, the effects of humankind seem to all but disappear. From here onwards, you are far more likely to see wild donkeys than people, and it is by no means unusual to drive for half an hour without seeing another vehicle. There has been some development in the region, though nearly all on the northern coast. Near Yenierenkoy, the Karpaz Gate Marina caters for the international yachting community and is worth a visit.

There are regular excursions to the area, but hiring a car is ideal if you want to set your own itinerary. The roads are surprisingly good, although do not forget to take your map, as it is very easy to get lost exploring some of the tiny villages in the region. If you are going to include the very tip of the peninsula – a worthwhile journey – you really do need to allow a full day. Also, fill up with petrol whenever you get the opportunity. The village of Dipkarpaz is the last place with a petrol station before you reach the very end of the peninsula. The scenery is very varied and beautiful, with the pine and cypress covered hills in parts of the region reaching a thousand metres above sea level.

The soil in the region is fertile and underground water is plentiful. For the old villages here and there, farming and fishing are still the mainstays. The name Cyprus is widely thought to come from the ancient words for copper, as large deposits of copper ore are found here. There is some evidence still of the old copper mines on the eastern coastline of the Karpaz, but the mines long ago ceased operation. The fishing villages supply the majority of restaurants and hotels in Northern Cyprus and the village of Bogaz has an attractive harbour. It is worth a visit and if you are driving into the Karpaz from Famagusta, you will come to it on your route. Many of the other tiny villages are worth a visit, and even where farming is the staple industry, it is by no means unusual to find people still using horse-drawn ploughs.

Nature is in abundance here. There are over 1600 plant species including rare orchids, many of which are endemic to the region. You may catch a glimpse of some of the larger lizard species, but they are rare and very timid. For bird watchers, the Karpaz is a taste of paradise, with in excess of 300 migratory species passing through in the spring. Toward the eastern tip of the island, herds of wild donkeys roam freely. There are somewhere near to one thousand in total, though feeding them or getting too close is definitely not advised, as they have a reputation for being bad tempered! Probably the best known creatures here are marine turtles. A number of beaches in the Karpaz are nesting sites for the rare and endangered green and loggerhead turtles. All the sites are protected conservation areas and at times of the year, some beaches are closed to the public. However, the Society for the Protection of Turtles is based locally and arranges accompanied visits at various times of the year. Watching a hatching at night is a rare and wonderful experience. The society’s base is to the east of Kyrenia at Alagadi beach and is normally open between the start of June and the middle of September.

Dipkarpaz is one of the few settlements in the north where Turkish and Greek Cypriots still live side by side. The village was established by the Karpasians, who escaped from Arab invasions and moved inland during the Byzantine period. Towards the coast from here are the substantial ruins of the Agios Philon church, built in the 12th century. All around here are fragments of the Roman town of Karpasia, from which the peninsula gets its name and at the beach you can find the remains of an ancient harbour with a breakwater running out into the sea. Further along to the north east from Dipkarpaz, the wild and deserted nature of the area becomes ever more apparent. On the southern coastline here is Golden Sands Beach. Another well-known turtle nesting site, the sandy beach is over five kilometres long and frequently all but empty. The whole of the tip of the peninsula, including the beach, is a protected conservation area.

Back to the northern coastline you reach the remaining ruins of the city of Aphendrika. Although little remains now, apart from the ruins of three later churches, this was once one of the most substantial cities in Cyprus, dating back to around the 2nd century. Travelling further, near to the final tip of the island, you reach the Apostolos Andreas Monastery. Considered as a holy place by both the Turkish and Greek communities, it is an important place of worship and pilgrimage, as well as being an important historical site. The origins of the place are the St. Andrew is reported to have landed here on his journey to Palestine. He caused a spring to form, which was reputed to have healing powers. The monastery buildings date back to the 12th century, with later additions.

All along the Karpaz, both the northern and eastern coastlines, the one thing that is likely to amaze you are the beaches. Here, it really is still possible to enjoy miles of golden sand without another person in sight. There are a number of places to eat in the villages, and there is a small café at Golden Beach. The Karpaz can be reached from either Kyrenia along the northern route, or north from Famagusta. If you travel the latter route, you can incorporate a visit to Salamis as well, although it will be a long day! For something a little different, why not stay in the Karpaz itself, either as a full holiday or for a few days during your break? Karpaz Arch House consists of twelve traditional houses, surrounded by a beautiful garden. The breakfasts here are truly memorable and there is an adjacent restaurant serving meals throughout the day and evening.