When I landed in Cyprus, I had no idea I would get to explore an abandoned castle in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Heck, I didn’t even know that there was a separate territory to Cyprus on the island.
In the evening of my second day on Cyprus, I got a message from Ashley Brown of The Way Away Vlog. She and her husband Josh had teamed up with Go North Cyprus to explore the northern half of the island, and they offered me to tag along on a tour of the port city of Kyrenia. Of course I accepted. I just had to get there, on the other side of the island.
Getting to Kyrenia
Kyrenia is a port town and the second-largest city in Northern Cyprus. It’s a key tourist destination, especially with the monastery, castle and several other attractions nearby.
I only had a few minutes to research how to get there from Larnaca, where I was staying in an Airbnb. I left home at 6:15 in the morning, catching the 6;40 bus to Nicosia at the Old Hospital bus stop. The round-trip ticket cost €7*. The ride took an hour and I was dropped off at the central bus station in Nicosia, the capital of both Cyprus and Northern Cyprus.
From the bus station, I had to walk roughly one kilometer to the border. Using my US Passport, I left Cyprus, and entered Northern Cyprus. A website I had read said I would need to get a free 90-day visa, but they only looked at my passport and waved me through.
From the northern side of the border, it was two more kilometers to walk through the old town, and then another kilometer to the bus station. It turns out I didn’t have to walk that far, as the bus stops outside the entrance of the old town. If you know where to go, you can do the walk in half an hour. Since I didn’t know, it took me nearly an hour.
The bus to Kyrenia was €3 round trip, and nowhere near as comfortable as the air-conditioned buses in the south. I was entertained by how the bus would take off with the door open, using the momentum to close it. The ride was half an hour. I had to jump off on the street when it veered away from my final destination.
I arrived at Ashley’s hotel just after 9:30 AM, exactly when we agreed to meet by. A few minutes later, our tour began.
*At the time of this writing, €1 (Euro) is roughly $1.10. So €10 = $11.
Go North Cyprus Tours had provided a car to Ashley and Josh, and a private tour guide for the day. Huseyin was a Turkish Cypriot with an amazing knowledge of his country and its history. Rather than exploring Kyrenia, we went straight up to Bellapais to explore the famed monastery overlooking the town.
Bellapais Abbey was originally built in the 12th century during the Crusades as a refuge for the Knights Templar. Over the years, it was expanded several times to accommodate the expanding order of monks on the island.
Our tour guide led us through the abbey, giving us all kinds of information and historical facts. Ashley and Josh recorded their vlog, while I ran up and down the hidden staircases (because that’s what I do). The view of the city was wonderful, but I’m always more interested in seeing how they built such a fantastic structure so long ago. The Knights Templars were an order connected to the Masons after all.
Entrance to the abbey is €2.25, but it will probably be included in any tour you take of Kyrenia, such as with Go North Cyrpus.
St Hilarion Castle
We were on a bit of a time crunch, so we only went to one more stop. While the abbey was rated #2 in the city, our final stop was the main attraction.
Nearly 1000 years old. the ancient stronghold of St Hilarion started off as a monastery as well. It was later converted into a castle fortress, one of many dotting the island acting as a mass communications network in the middle ages. There are three levels to the castle complex, with royalty getting the highest living quarters. The queen’s balcony definitely has the nicest view in the castle.
No matter how much I travel, I will never get tired of castles. Perhaps that’s why I’m so enamored with Scotland. True, there are far more ruins in St Hilarion than there is actual castle, but then again very few castles around the world remain truly intact. Don’t worry, there still are several that are even inhabited to this day.
We spent a couple hours wandering around the various rooms and parts of St Hilarion. Josh and I climbed up to Prince John’s tower, where Huseyin refused to adventure . The tower has quite a sordid history. As legend has it, back in the 13th-century, John threw his entire army to their deaths out of the tower, one by one. Several tourist have also spotted apparitions around the tower. Well, I like haunted places too, so the story certainly didn’t stop me.
Returning to Cyprus
Finally it was time to get back to Cyprus. John and Ashley had their daily vlog to upload, and I had a dinner ate with Sarah Funk
and her boyfriend for supposedly the best lamb dinner on the island (story coming soon). We (Huseyin, Josh, Ashley and I) did stop in Kyrenia for a kebab before I left. I then traced my route back to Larnaca, making much better time this time since I knew where to go and the bus stops.
Two attractions hardly qualifies as exploring a whole country (or rather territory). The story behind the separation of the island is rather involved and deserves it’s own post (or you can just watch The Way Away’s video). I look forward to going back someday to see the rest of the island. Perhaps it will be a completely different political situation the next time. What do you think? Would you like to visit someday?
Planning to visit Cyprus?
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.