The Mediterranean’s third-largest island, sunny Cyprus offers adventure on both land and sea. From the heights of the Troodos Mountains, whose lush dales are peppered with fruit trees and Byzantine “painted churches,” to miles of sandy shores and rocky precipices, Cyprus is a hiker’s delight, crisscrossed by countless trails and nature paths. For divers, pristine waters reveal colorful sea life, storied wrecks, and a seabed bristling with ancient amphorae and other treasures from the island’s 1,100-year history. Here’s a compact guide to hiking and diving in Cyprus.
Diving Into Crystalline Depths
Diving enthusiasts know Cyprus is the site of one of the world’s top 10 dives: the wreck of the MS Zenobia, a Swedish truck ferry, laden with cargo, which sank on its 1980 maiden voyage. But what most distinguishes Cyprus as a dive destination is its accessibility to divers of all levels, from beginners to experts, children to adults. Climate, of course, is a big factor. Abundant sunshine brings waters to comfortable temperatures of 60-80 degrees. There are virtually no dangerous tides or currents to hamper experts or frighten neophytes. An absence of plankton in some of the European Union’s cleanest waters ensures visibility from 30 to 130 feet. There’s also a variety of sea life, including colorful fish, sponges, octopuses, sea urchins and moray eels. In addition to notable wrecks, divers can explore countless underwater caves and tunnels. Best of all, throughout the island are well-established dive centers with expertise dating back 35 years.
The Zenobia truck ferry, as well as the submerged World War I-era H.M.S Cricket gunboat and the boulder-filled Fraggle Rock freighter lie off the coast of Larnaka, site of the island’s largest international airport. Lemesos offers both shallow dives like the Akrotiri Fish Reserve, where children and adults can hand-feed groupers and moray eels, and deeper cave plunges. On Cyprus’ southeastern tip there are more than a dozen well-regarded dives off the Agia Napa National Park and Protaras, including 55-foot-deep Amphora Bay, with ancient amphorae and stone anchors. But off the coast of Pafos - where, many Cypriots believe, the goddess Aphrodite first emerged from the sea-are two dozen major dive sites, including the 1970s wrecks of the Lebanese freighter Vera K and the Greek ship Achilleas, fish-filled caves and gullies like The Valley and Wall Street, and intriguing ancient sites like the Amphorae Caves with one cave encrusted with ancient amphorae.
Among the island’s top dive centers, offering equipment rental, escorted dives, as well as instruction and certification, are CyDive (www.cydive.com), with a main Pafos center and a nearby Coral Beach facility; Lucky Divers (www.luckydiverscyprus.com) with four sites in the Agia Napa area; Dive-In (www.dive-in.com.cy), with a Larnaca center, and three Lemesos (Limassol) centers including facilities at the Four Seasons Hotel (www.fourseasons.com.cy) and Mediterranean Beach Hotel (www.medbeach.com); Pafos-based Kalliopi Diving Centre, part of Kalliopi Travel & Tours (www.kalliopitrav
el.com), which also runs jeep safaris in Akamas National Park, and Sunfish Divers (www.sunfishdivers.com).
Hiking Over Hill & Dale
Hard-core trekkers are aware that Cyprus is the easternmost point of the European Long Distance Path E4, spanning thousands of miles and 10 European countries from its start in Gibraltar. The trail’s Cyprus portion is almost 35,000 miles, plus there are another 72 nature trails covering 200 miles. Not surprisingly, casual hikers will find the island crisscrossed by trails ranging from easy nature walks of 1-2 hours to tougher hikes.
Hikers, like bikers, gravitate to the Troodos Mountains, a wonderland of dense pine forests and fruit trees, etched by rivers and waterfalls as well as fresco-filled Byzantine “painted churches” and icon-filled monasteries. There are four main nature trails through this national forest park, including one around Mt. Olympus and another that takes in the Kalidonia waterfalls. For the handicapped, there’s a 30-minute circular trail.
In the west, five nature trails crisscross Akamas National Park with its limestone formations, rare orchids, and wild goats and pigs. Increasingly popular for hikers, as well as bikers, divers and other sports enthusiasts, is Cape Gkreko National Forest Park at Cyprus’ southeastern tip. One trail, an hour-long nature walk, takes hikers to the Cyclops’ cave.
Most hotels can provide guests with maps and advice on short nature walks. Some can arrange hikes with local outfitters. Zephyros Adventure Sports (www.enjoycyprus.com) offers both guided hikes and bike excursions. Cyprus Adventure (www.cyprus-adventure.com) leads hikes as well as horseback rides, jeep safaris and bungee jumping. The Cyprus Tourism Organization (www.visitcyprus.com) has excellent free hiking brochures, including “European Long Distance Path E4 and Other Cyprus Nature Trails” and “Cyprus Nature Trails.”
For more information, log on to www.visitcyprus.com or call (212) 683-5280.