A journey into a country that does not exist
A short travel story about my trip to Cyprus and the TRNC.
Cyprus is an island in the Mediterranean with a Greek majority population, but few know that it is the only remaining country in Europe with a divided capital. While the whole country technically belongs to the Republic of Cyprus (an EU member), in reality the northern part is controlled by Turkey under the name the Turkish republic of northern Cyprus (TRNC). This pseudo state is only recognised by Turkey.
In this article I will share my experiences and give some important pointers, should you want to travel there yourself…
Renting a car
I flew directly into the republic of Cyprus and rented a car near the airport. Renting a car is cheap and easy, but if you want to drive into the north you will not be covered by the rental company and will have to purchase insurance at the border.
The north? You can go there, but you’re on your own if something happens…
If you want to fly in and out of the north, you will only be able to do so via Turkey.
The dangers of driving in Cyprus
If you are going to drive in Cyprus, you need to be aware of two things: first, people drive on the left and second, people drive like maniacs.
Never in my life have I seen such bad driving. People refuse to indicate and will swerve in front of you on a whim.
I even had one fellow slow down to 40km/h on a busy highway so that he could take a video of the fireworks going off at the time.
Driving at night is also hazardous as the lighting is very poor and the drivers will not slow down to accomodate this.
If you do decide to risk it anyway, know that you have been warned…
The scars of 1974
After picking up the car from the rental company, I drove to a random restaurant on the side of the road. An old lady greeted me and began serving me delicious local food.
Since I was curious about the north after watching videos like this, I asked her what she knew about it. This turned out to be an insensitive question and she began detailing how she had lost everything in the 1974 war.
They took my home and I had to start all over again here… we were finally allowed back in many years later but my home was gone… the war was horrible…
This lady’s story is hardly an isolated case, the war displaced many people and its scars are still obvious as you traverse the country.
The capital city, Nicosia, is still divided and if you walk around the city you will find that you are suddenly stopped by a large border rippling through the entire cityscape.
Entering the TRNC
To enter the TRNC, you must pass a border checkpoint. Your passport is required and if you are driving you will need to purchase insurance at the border. EU, EEA and CH identity cards are also accepted.
You should be aware that while the traffic signs in the republic are in Greek and English, the signs in the north are only in Turkish.
A warning about phone cards
If you purchased a sim card for the EU, be aware that your phone card may not work once you cross the border into the TRNC.
This made for a nerve wracking experience as trying to find the border crossing at night without internet was an ordeal. I recommend starting your journey to the TRNC early and making sure you have a rough idea of how to get back to the border.
Famagusta: a beautiful but tragic place
One of the most beautiful but sad parts of Cyprus is Famagusta.
Pre 1974, Famagusta was one of the most popular tourist destinations in Cyprus, one that attracted people from all over the world with some of the nicest beaches in the country.
Unfortunately, Famagusta found itself in the middle of the conflict and was closed off from the outside world until recently, when the TRNC decided to open it up to tourists.
The abandoned district of Varosha is open to the public and I highly recommend a visit. It is a surreal and somber experience.
Be aware that these buildings have been unoccupied since 1974 and can be very noisy and dangerous; enter at your own risk.
What do you think about Cyprus? Leave your comments below.