When you think of Cyprus you think of apres-ski on snow capped mountains or hiking through pine forests right? Ok, maybe not. The warm blue seas, and miles of beautiful coastline are a justifiable draw for most visitors to this island nation, but if like me, you cannot sit still then the options for outdoor adventure are plentiful. A meze of outdoor activities awaits those wanting to explore more than just beaches.
With 340 days of sun per year, it may be tempting to spend lazy days by the pool, but our guide below will help those of adventurous spirit to walk, hike, climb, swim, paddle, ride, and drive on the wild side of Cyprus.
Follow the flowers whilst hiking in the Akamas National Park
The Akamas Peninsula in the west of Cyprus is great hiking country, especially if you visit in spring when wild flowers, hillside herbs and pine trees fill the air with their sweet aromas. The Aphrodite Trail is a popular choice for hikers and includes the ancient ruins of Pyrgos tis Rigainas, long sections of coastal walking, and spectacular hilltop views across the peninsula and down to the picture perfect blue lagoons.
The Pissouromoutti trail is a shorter circular route starting at a pine sheltered car park half an hour drive from Polis. The route gently twists up hill on good paths that take you by wild orchids, poppies, carob trees, and thyme to a craggy outcrop which reveals stunning 360 degree views. To the east are the Troodos mountains which are home to Cyprus’s tallest peak, Mount Olympus, where higher level walking awaits. You can walk all year round in Cyprus but the best times to visit are in the spring months of March to May when the flora is in full bloom or September to November after the heat of summer.
Snorkel the crystal clear waters off the Cypriot coast
The sea here is calm, clear, and warm which makes it ideal for snorkelling – snorkelling in the cold is nobody’s idea of fun. Although the Mediterranean is not flush with coral reefs, there are fish to see here, especially in the summer months when the sea is warm and you can swim through shoals of silversides and if you are lucky you may spot a ray or two, or even a sea turtle. Of course, there are no tides in the Mediterranean and the sea is particularly flat and clear around Cyprus with few strong currents.
We spent some time snorkelling with the friendly and experienced staff at Dive Point in Paphos and saw plenty of silversides and sea bream which made me feel a little guilty for having them on my plate the night before. Dive Point also specialise in scuba diving and the calm waters mean that this is a good place to learn for anyone wanting an introduction to the sport. For more experienced divers, the Zenobia, which sank on its maiden voyage just off Larnaca in 1980 is completely intact and is one of the top 10 shipwreck dive sites in the world.
Cycling tour through Paphos Old Town
Cycling is increasingly popular in Cyprus and just driving around the island you will notice Lycra-clad cyclists whom have been enticed by Cyprus’s hilly roads and sunny weather. For those not looking for an Alpe d’Huez experience, then more prosaic cycling is on offer. We spent a leisurely Sunday morning cycling around Paphos Old Town with Ride Easy bikes. Paphos was designated European Capital of Culture in 2017 so this is a great way to take in both the very old and the new of this lovely town.
We weaved through the narrow streets by old churches, passed walls elaborately decorated with street art murals, ancient burial tombs, and the tranquil Town Hall square which is next to a shaded park if you need to escape the sun for a while. Towards the end of the ride you can enjoy a well earned coffee – or a frappe if you are going native – with a view overlooking the new town and the huge beach front hotels that adorn the long coast.
Sea Kayaking around Yeronisos Island
One of the best ways to explore the beautiful and rugged coastline around Paphos is by sea kayak. As we have mentioned above the sea here is calm so sea kayaking can be enjoyed by both beginners and experienced oarsmen. We kayaked with the lovely Lucy from Zephyros Adventure Sports who organise kayaking tours around the Paphos coastline, Our afternoon began with an introduction to kayaking skills in the safety of the harbour; how to steer, stop, and stick together, plus a little bit of fun swapping kayaks which my kayaking co-mate and I managed ungracefully but without a dunking.
After our initiation we set off on a tour of Yeronisos Island, which sits just off Paphos. The island has been uninhabited since the 15th Century and excavations are underway to uncover its once forgotten history and artefacts. The lack of human inhabitants means that Yeronisos is teeming with birdlife, which became evident as we passed around the back of the island. If you are lucky you maybe some passing turtles, but alas we were not so fortunate. By the time we headed back to shore the shoulders were starting to feel the strain, but this was great fun and a way to view Cyprus from a different perspective.
Horse riding on the biggest horse in Cyprus
I’ve never been horse riding before, so when Samson the Shire horse, and the largest horse in Cyprus by all accounts, was given to me to ride I started to wonder whether or not horse riding was one of the listed activities covered by my travel insurance. How do you even steer one of these things and where are the brakes? I need not have worried of course. The staff at George’s Ranch in Paphos were professional and friendly and led us on a circuit from the ranch down to the beach and back on their well schooled horses.
We were given some pointers on how to stop and start the horse – they don’t have brakes it turns out – and how to steer them, but in reality our guides were largely in control and I just had to dissuade Samson from munching leaves on our pleasant amble down to the beach. It took a while to re-align my hips and groin after abseiling down from Samson, but it gave me time to enjoy watching the rest our non-equestrian group ungracefully getting off their normal sized horses. Despite our lack of experience we managed to enjoy the ride and spent a little time watching seasoned riders being put through their paces in the parade ring back at the ranch.
Getting dirty and dusty on a Buggy Car tour of the Akamas Peninsula
Don’t let the dust put you off. Buggy car riding over the dirt tracks of the Akamas Peninsula is a tremendous amount of fun. I had never been buggy riding before, so I had not known what to expect. The goggles we were given as we entered the 2 or 4 seat open sided vehicles suggested that this might get a bit messy. And it was. The eye protection was needed; the dry dirt roads kick up mini sand storms and following our guide in the lead vehicle meant that we were eating his dirt! Despite the dust, this is a great way to explore the protected areas of the national park that are inaccessible by cars.
The roads are rugged, and the terrain undulating but there are jaw dropping views at every turn. Deep gorges drop down in the valleys below you, mountain goats feed themselves on lush hillside grass, and the rugged limestone coastline is dotted with turquoise blue lagoons. There are some fantastic view points on the safari route that allow you to see both sides of the peninsula and the Troodos Mountains off in the far distance.
By the time we finished I looked like a ghost of my future self; the dust had turned my hair grey(er?) and my skin pale white. Apart from our ghostly apparition, the thing that all of our tour had in common was that we were all smiling and loving the experience. Despite the uneven terrain the vehicles are safe and sturdy and you never feel that you are in any danger. The open sides of the vehicles make the vehicles seem deceptively fast, but you will rarely get near 30mph as you negotiate the tricky terrain. We were led on our trip by our guide from Petrides Motors who drove us through all the best spots on our 2 and a half hour tour. The head to toe dusting is a small price to pay for this experience.
If you’ve never tried rock climbing then Cyprus is a great place to start. When you are hanging backwards from a rope with 20 metres of air below you, it’s likely that there will be some inner dialogue going on between a part of your brain that is asking very valid questions about what you are doing 20 metres from the ground, and the part that knows that you are perfectly safe. ‘Look at the views’ safe brain will say, ‘meadows of wild flowers, wild garlic, sandstone crags, and miles of coastline’. ‘I could see all of that from the floor’ counters the risk averse voice in your head. Climbing is a very safe sport and if you have never tried it before then a half day beginners course in sunny Cyprus is great place to start. There are stunning views all around, crags that are great for learning on, and our guides from Zephyros Adventure Sports were brilliant with those new to the sport. The sense of satisfaction from climbing up part of or all of your first route will keep you smiling all day. We have written more on climbing and hiking in Cyprus in another article on Bald Hiker.
Culture, archaeology, relics, and other non-sports related fun
If you need a break from outdoor pursuits, then there is no shortage of interesting things to see on an island with such a rich history as Cyprus. Archaeology, mythology, ancient relics, and traditional villages are never far away and Cypriots are more than happy to share their knowledge and stories with you. The Aphrodite Cultural route takes you from the Akamas Peninsula in the west to Ayia Napa in the east on a tour that links together nature trails, archaeological sites, and museums that celebrate the goddess of love and beauty and the protectress of Cyprus.
If you are staying near Paphos then the Archaeological Park and mosaics are a must see. The House of Dionysus houses intricate mosaic floors that detail mythological scenes, whilst the rest of the park contains 2nd and 4th century buildings that were once home to the King of Paphos on a site that what was a strategic stronghold over-looking the sea.
There are so many more places to visit and so many more activities to do that that make Cyprus a great destination for those looking for much than just sun, sea, and sand (and there is no shortage of that!). And I’ve not even mentioned the fabulous food; the best halloumi that I’ve tasted, salads and vegetables full of favour, and of course grilled meats and seafood so tasty that your belt may be eased back a notch or two by the time you leave.
I travelled to Cyprus courtesy of the Deputy Ministry of Tourism for Cyprus and had such a fantastic time staying with them. We stayed at the Aphrodite Beach Hotel near Polis, a great location for accessing the Akamas Peninsula, and a welcome as warm as their breakfasts are delicious. We also stayed at the super-swish Constantinou Brothers Asimina Suites Hotel on the beach at Paphos, which is adults only, luxurious and a special place to unwind after a day exploring.
For more information on what to do in Cyprus, visit the Visit Cyprus website. Go and find some adventure there. You’ll love it.