Of all the islands in the world, only Cyprus can say with certainty that it's where Aphrodite washed ashore and started doing all the sorts of things you'd expect a love goddess to do (and should you doubt her range of amorous superpowers, have I got an ancient sanctuary for you).
Lately, like the rest of us, the legendary lady's been somewhat on hiatus, caught up in the pandemic's tiresome tangle of lockdowns and travel plans deferred—but maybe not for much longer.
Can tourists visit Cyprus right now?
If you're currently snowbound somewhere in Europe and find yourself craving some of that bright late winter Cyprus sunshine, can you go while avoiding quarantine?
Whether or not you hold an EU passport isn't the main criterion for the procedure you need to follow to visit Cyprus right now; rather, it depends on what category the country of origin has been placed in by the Republic of Cyprus.
Germany, Greece, Finland, Iceland and Norway, for example, were of press time in Category B, meaning that travellers from those countries need to have a PCR test before boarding the plane (taken less than 72 hours prior), stay in self-isolation for 72 hours upon arrival and then take a new PCR test (and pay for it) after the expiration of that three-day period.
Eventually, travellers of any provenance who can show they have received both doses of the vaccine will be able to visit the island without having to show a negative PCR test—but despite some reports to the contrary, this rule will not come into effect before April 1 (for updates check this governmental site).
Cyprus recently announced an agreement that will allow free entry of Israeli tourists who have been vaccinated for Covid-19 - that is, no requirement for a PCR test before departure from Israel and no quarantine upon arrival to Cyprus. Israel traditionally sends a lot of tourists to Cyprus - more than 300,000 in 2019. Cypriot Minister of Transport, Yiannis Karousos, has said that "at the moment the agreement is with Israel" but added, "we will address the situation with other countries when the situation allows for it."
The government has also been discussing the planned new rule with the EU. In the meantime, all travellers must still fill in a Cyprus Flight Pass before boarding flights to Cyprus - airlines have been made aware of this requirement and are obligated to enforce it.
What are the best things to do in Cyprus for first-timers?
Plan that island spring fling now. Cyprus has seen its share of coronavirus restrictions and it would be wrong to say these have had no impact—in fact, the Cyprus Mail reports that nearly a third of the bars and restaurants won't be able to re-open once pandemic regulations permit, and that's a lot. But that's an unfortunate scenario playing out around the world and doesn't mean that it's too soon to start your Cyprus trip planning now.
First-time visitors to the island should think about spending at least a couple of days in either Larnaca or Limassol, the main cities on the long southern coast. The rationale is to soak up some of the historical context and flavour of the island before you start slathering on the sunscreen.
Ancient ruins and mezze in Larnaca
Everywhere in Cyprus has ancient roots and bares the marks of the early civilisations and empires that swept in and out of what is, after all, the third biggest island in the Mediterranean. Within Larnaca's city limits you can see the surprising ruins of Kition, an ancient city-kingdom with temple remains that date back to the 13th century BC, a seaside Byzantine castle with Ottoman inscriptions, and the legendary (and beautiful) Church of Saint Lazarus.
A fine array of restaurants and cafes beckon opposite the Finikoudes, a palm tree-lined promenade that straddles the sea. For Lebanese food, Maqam Al-Sultan is a must (it's quite atmospheric, but they also do takeaway) and the seafood mezze, or small plates, shine at breezy tavernas like Militzis, Monte Carlo and Pyxida Seafront.
Visit the amphitheatre that used to adorn Cyprus' bank notes
Limassol is Cyprus's sophisticated port city flanked by archaeological treasures: on the eastern edge there are the windswept ruins of Amathus, one of the island's original 10 royal cities, while to the west you'll find Kourion with its ancient amphitheatre perched above the sea - so emblematic a Cypriot sight that it featured on the reverse side of the Cyprus five-pound note, before the euro was adopted in 2008.
In Limassol itself there's no shortage of fun stuff to do, from pottering about the old town with its medieval castle and gracious British colonial buildings to luxuriating under the sun around the long seaside promenade or posh Limassol Marina. One of my favourite restaurants is the Karatello tavern, adjacent to the Carob Mill Museum and renowned for its contemporary Greek-Cypriot cuisine.
Holiday makers of a certain age - and by that, I mean the millennial crowd and younger - may equate Cyprus with devil-may-care sojourns in any of the numerous beach resorts around Ayia Napa, way over on the southeast coast.
The beaches are indeed great, but the tourism season will take longer to wind up there because the classic beach escape is more primed for summer than spring.
Luxury hotels and the Rock of Aphrodite in Paphos
My advice as a seasoned Cyprus aficionado? Do a 180 and, once you've had a serving of Larnaca and Limassol (each of which is frankly more fun than the landlocked capital of Nicosia) drive to Pafos (or Paphos, as it is sometimes called).
Along the way you'll pass the spectacular Petra tou Romiou, the Rock of Aphrodite where myth has it the goddess washed ashore many moons ago. No PCR requirement stood in her way as she edged up the coast to the Akamas peninsula, supposedly seducing a young Adonis along the way to what is today one of the last truly rugged parts of the island.
Pafos is not tiny but it's also very relaxed, packing in a staggering range of ancient sites including gorgeous ancient Roman mosaics and rock-cut ancient royal tombs along with a marvellously relaxed seafront area and plenty of swell hotels. My favourites are the 5* Annabelle and right next door to it, Almyra which is great for families with small children but that also has a terrific adults-only spa zone overlooking the sea
Pafos is split into sections. Kato Pafos, or the lower town, and Pano Pafos, the upper town. The archaeological goodies are found below, but equally lovely Pano Pafos is where the locals tend to hang out. Then there's the stunning countryside beyond, which by the middle of March erupts in a sea of fragrant blossoming almond trees and wildflowers: and who couldn't use some of that right now?
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