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Where to go
Because of the mutual hostility of South and North, you'll have to choose which side of Cyprus to visit on any given trip: except for severely restricted day-trips from the South into the North, you are not allowed to move from one side of the island to the other. If you go to the South after having been to the North, keep evidence of such a prior journey out of your passport (see "Visas and red tape" in Basics for a full explanation).
Yet either portion of the island has plenty to keep you occupied for the typical one-, two- or three-week duration of package deals. When the South's busiest beaches east of Larnaca pall, there's the popular hill village of Pno Lfkara, unique sacred art at Byzantine Angelktisti church and nearby Lusignan "Chapelle Royale", or the atmospheric Muslim shrine of Hala Sultan to the west. Beyond functional Limassol, the Crusader tower of Kolossi guards vineyards as it always has, while still-being-excavated ancient Kourion sprawls nearby atop seaside cliffs.
Of the three main south-coast resorts, Pfos has most recently awoken to tourism, but with its spectacular Roman mosaics and early Christian relics has perhaps the most to offer. The hinterland of Pfos district belies its initial bleak appearance to reveal fertile valleys furrowing ridges sprinkled with brown-stone villages and, to either side of the Akmas Peninsula, the last unspoiled stretches of coast in the South. If you don't require lively nightlife, then Plis or Latch make good, comfortable overnight bases in this area, serving too as possible springboards into the foothills of the Trdhos mountains.
Inland from Pfos or Limassol, the mountains themselves beckon, covered in well-groomed forest, lovingly resuscitated from a nadir last century. Pltres, the original Cypriot "hill station", makes a logical base on the south side of the range; to the north, more authentic village character asserts itself at Pedhouls or Kakopetri. Scattered across several valleys, a dozen or so magnificently frescoed late-Byzantine chapels provide an additional focus to itineraries here if the scenery and walking opportunities aren't enough.
While not immediately appealing, southern Nicosia - the Greek-Cypriot portion of the divided capital - can boast an idiosyncratic old town in the throes of revitalization, and, in the Cyprus Museum, one of the finest archeological collections in the Middle East. North Nicosia, on the other side of the nearly impervious 1974 ceasefire line, is graced with most of the island's Ottoman monuments - and also introduces the Frenchified ecclesiastical architecture bequeathed by the Lusignan dynasty.
For the majority of tourists in the North, however, Kyrenia is very much the main event, its old harbour the most sheltered and charming on Cyprus. Modern residential and resort development straggles to either side of town, but this coast is still light-years behind the South in that respect. The hills looming above support three medieval castles - St Hilarion, Buffavento and Kantara - whose views and architecture rarely disappoint. Add villages in picturesque settings below the ridgeline, and it's little wonder that outsiders have been gravitating here longer than anywhere else on the island.
The beaches north of Famagusta are Kyrenia's only serious rival for tourist custom in the North, and hard to resist in tandem with Salamis, the largest ancient site on Cyprus. Famagusta itself is remarkable, another Lusignan church-fantasy wrapped in some of the most imposing Venetian walls in the world - though churches and ramparts aside there's little else to see or do, the town having lain devastated since the Ottoman conquest. North of the beach strip, the Kdrpaca (Krpas) Peninsula points finger-like towards Syria, its fine beaches and generous complement of early churches - most notably at yios Flon and Aya Tris - little frequented.
When to go
Because of a situation as much Middle Eastern as Mediterranean, Cyprus repays a visit in almost any month; the overall mildness of the climate allows citrus to grow at altitudes of 450 metres, grapevines to flourish up to 1000 metres and frost-tender cedars to sprout at 1500-metre elevations in the Trdhos. Such plant-zone limits would be unthinkable even on nearby Crete, despite an identical latitude of 34 degrees north.
If you're coming for the flora and birdlife - as more and more people do - then winter and spring, beginning early December and late February respectively, are for you. Rain falls in sporadic bursts throughout this period and into March, leaving the rare spectacle of a green, prairie-like Mesaora, the central plain which most tourists only know as a parched, stubbly dustbowl. You'll also cut costs significantly by showing up in the off-season.
As the months progress and the mercury climbs, you can either brave the multitudes at the seashore - considerable in the South - or follow the wild flowers inland and up the slopes of the Trdhos mountains, veritable havens of coolness and relative solitude. In the coastal South, midsummer is a bit too hot for comfort (though Pfos tends to be 1-2C cooler than Limassol or Larnaca), and of course incurs high-season prices (June-Sept). During July or August you're probably better off in the North, where the seaward, damper slope of the Kyrenia hills especially offers a refuge both from crowds and extreme temperatures.
Autumn is delightful, with the sea at its warmest, forays into the hills benefiting from stable weather, and the air (around Limassol or Pfos especially) heavy with the fumes of fermenting grapes. And if it's resort life you're after, the coastal strips don't completely wind down until after New Year.