The legendary birthplace of Aphrodite, Cyprus is every inch the Mediterranean – Sandy beaches, ancient monasteries, classical ruins, thyme scented mountains, terracotta houses and, of course, the obligatory party resorts full of sun-seeking twenty-somethings. Cyprus is the third largest island within the Mediterranean and it started off as a former British Colony. Cyprus has always been a country full of love and war. According to a myth, the goddess Aphrodite was born within the country and she represented beauty and love. Cyprus is an independent sovereign Republic with a presidential system of government.

Cyprus gained independent status in 1960. By this time there were two main populations living on the island and they were the Greeks and the Turks.

In the south, the Greek Republic of Cyprus grew into a modern European state, while the Turkish north half of the island remains isolated, recognised only by Turkey and well off the mainstream tourist radar. The days of war are long over and the culture and the history of Cyprus are now celebrated by its local people. The history is definitely an interesting one and it is worth knowing if you are planning on travelling to the country. These days, however, Cyprus is a much more peaceful country.

On May 01, 2004 the Republic of Cyprus became a full member of the EU completing a long journey that lasted more than three decades. Accession to the EU was a natural choice for Cyprus, dictated by its culture, civilisation, history, its European outlook and adherence to the ideals of democracy, freedom and justice. EU accession has launched a new era of challenges, opportunities and responsibilities for Cyprus.

The application of the EU laws and regulations (the acquis communautaire) is suspended in the area under military occupation by Turkey, pending a solution to the division of the island. Meanwhile, the government of Cyprus in cooperation with the EU Commission has been promoting arrangements to facilitate increased economic transactions between the two communities and improve the standard of living of Turkish Cypriots. On January 01, 2008 the Republic of Cyprus joined the Eurosystem and in so doing introduced the Euro as its official currency, replacing the Cyprus pound as the unit of account. Thus, Euro banknotes and coins are the country’s legal tender.

Tourist development went into overdrive in the Greek half of the island, with the emergence of Ayia Napa, Protaras, Limassol, Paphos and a string of other package holiday resorts along the southern coast. This is one face of Cyprus – whitewashed villas, sunbathers, banana-boat rides, boisterous nightclubs and hordes of young people enjoying the blistering summer sunshine.Inland, the old Cyprus endures, with beautiful villages full of UNESCO-listed churches, peaceful mountain trails, and vineyards that have been producing wines since ancient times. A similar old-world atmosphere pervades in the divided capital, Lefkosia (Nicosia), where quiet lanes lined with Turkish mosques and Byzantine churches come to a sudden halt at the Green Line, the de facto border between the two enclaves.

The north is something else again, more Turkish than Greek, even down to the menus on restaurant tables, but studded with ancient ruins and dramatic Crusader castles. While rampant development is taking place along the coast around Famagusta (Gazimagusa) and Kyrenia (Girne), the remote Karpas Peninsula offers a journey back in time, where ancient ruins spill out onto golden beaches that see more sea turtles than human visitors.

Location: The Middle East, island in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Turkey

Capital: Nicosia

Climate: temperate; Mediterranean with hot, dry summers and cool winters

Population: 1,172,458

Ethnic Make-up: Greek 77%, Turkish 18%, other 5% (2001)

Religions: Greek Orthodox 78%, Muslim 18%, Maronite, Armenian Apostolic, and other 4%

Government: Republic

Since the 1960s and despite the internal political turmoil, the island has grown into a popular Mediterranean summer sun destination. At the same time, tourism has provided the foundation for rapid and successful economic growth, but the island has also become increasingly dependent upon tourism and upon a small number of major markets and tour operators.

The effects of tourists’ behavior and activities on young people in the area are very noticeable. The increase in drug trafficking and crime are the two major effects of tourism on the local communities. Young people tend to spend a lot of their free time away from their families and from community activities, since they spend more time in the tourist areas going out clubbing or at bars. As a result, they have an increase in the number of school dropouts and in the number of people smoking at early stages of their age. Cyprus is considered to be one of the few destinations that have controlled tourism well, and it is now repaying the benefits.

Old buildings do not have enough capacity to provide accommodation for the growing number of tourists, so they are destroyed to give room to new and large guest houses with appropriate capacity and tourist facilities. The majority state that tourists have a negative effect on the Cypriot way of life and that tourism changes the traditional culture, also it decreases the lifestyle quality of Cypriots who live in tourist areas. The extreme concentration of tourists resulted in the modification of social attitudes among young people, particularly towards sexual behavior. The European way of living has altered the Cypriot society as younger generations are seeking different values than their families’, and thus resulting in weaker family bonds. A number of researchers examined the link between the perception that tourism contributes to increasing in crime and the support for its development

Along with numerous negative impacts, the cruising industry can bring to a destination, one of the most significant is the situation of the sea turtles.  It is the place where rare species of the sea turtles nest: the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) and the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas). Currently, the growth of tourist infrastructure in the south of the island, with the accompanying pollution and depletion of the coastal strip, led to the displacement of the sea turtles to the north-west coast and Northern Cyprus, where the conditions for the breeding population of these unique reptiles under the government project “Protection and preservation of turtles” have been created.

Freshwater resources are extremely limited on Cyprus. Seawater is contaminating the country’s major aquifer, and other sources of fresh water are becoming polluted by industrial wastes and raw sewage. Centuries of deforestation have damaged the island’s drainage system, and no permanent rivers remain. Major waterways are fed by rainfall during the winter months and become dry during the summer. A network of dams and reservoirs stores runoff from rainfall, which averages less than 500 millimeters (20 inches) annually.

Therefore, Cyprus is attempting to reduce its reliance on rain-fed sources of water. A permanent desalinization plant, capable of converting 40,000 cubic meters (1.4 million cubic feet) of salt water into fresh water per day, opened on the island in 1997. Several additional desalination projects are planned, including two portable plants. Cyprus has established several game reserves and a state forest, protecting 8.1 percent (1996) of the island’s land. In addition, the country has ratified international agreements protecting biodiversity, endangered species, and the ozone layer, and limiting air pollution, environmental modification, ship pollution, and whaling. Furthermore, Cyprus was famed in antiquity for its extensive forests, but over the centuries the trees that once covered the island’s central plain have been cut down for firewood, shipbuilding, and other construction. 

Cyprus enjoys an intense Mediterranean climate, with long dry summers from mid–May to mid–October, and mild winters from December to February, which are separated by short autumn and spring seasons.Summer is a season of high temperatures with cloudless skies, but the sea breeze creates a pleasant atmosphere in the coastal areas. Isolated thundershowers are possible mainly over the mountains during early afternoons. The island enjoys abundant sunshine, and even in December and January, there is an average of six hours of bright sunshine per day, whilst over the six ‘summer’ months, there is an average of 11.5 hours of bright sunshine per day.

Cyprus is located at the crossroads of the three major flora zones of Europe, Asia and Africa, and it is therefore not surprising that the number of plant species found on the island runs to 1,750, of which 126 are endemic.The variety of fauna is equally as impressive: 168 birds, 12 mammals, 20 reptiles and 16 butterfly species have been sighted in the area. With its approximately 1,800 species and subspecies of flowering plants, Cyprus is an extremely interesting place for nature lovers and has all the attributes which make it a botanist’s paradise. Being an island, it is sufficiently isolated to allow the evolution of a strong endemic flowering element. At the same time being surrounded by big continents, it incorporates botanological elements of the neighboring land masses.

The island’s great variety of habitats, attributed to a varied microclimate and geology, is the main reason which contributed to this high number of endemics. The arrival of animals in Cyprus has been a subject of interest to zoologists since it has always been an island. According to existing evidence, the first arrivals were hippopotami and elephants, both excellent swimmers. They arrived 1,5 mil. years ago and apart from some shrews and mice, were the only land mammals roaming the island prior to man’s arrival 9,000 years ago.

The present-day fauna of Cyprus includes some 7 species of land mammals, 26 species of amphibians and reptiles, 357 species of birds, a great variety of insects and mites, while the coastal waters of the island give shelter to 197 fish species and various species of crabs, and sponges. The largest wild animal that still lives on the island is the Cyprus moufflon (Ovis orientalis ophion), a rare type of wild sheep that can only be found in Cyprus. Cyprus is used by millions of birds as a stepping stone during their migration from Europe to Africa and back, something that has been observed since Homeric times. The main reason for that is the occurrence on the island of two wetlands, with unique and international importance, namely Larnaca and Akrotiri salt lakes.

From the numerous wild birds of Cyprus, birds of prey are the most fascinating and amongst them, Eleonora’s falcon (Falco Eleonora) and the imperial eagle (Aquila heliacal) are the jewels of the crown. Our sea creatures include seals and turtles, though unfortunately the Monk seal no longer breeds in the coastal sea caves of the island. On the other hand two marine turtles, the Green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) have been found to breed regularly on the island’s sandy beaches Akamas Peninsular, the last wilderness. 

Cyprus enjoys an exceedingly high level of freedom of worship. While the majority of Greek-Cypriots are Greek Orthodox Christians, other denominations are represented on the island, including Armenians, Maronites and Roman Catholics. The Turkish-Cypriot community is predominantly Muslim. 

The official languages of the island are Greek and Turkish, whilst English is widely spoken. French, German and Russian is also spoken within the tourism industry.

Healthy and hearty….The island’s geographical position and its history have resulted in a very interesting merge of Greek, Turkish, Arabic and English culinary influences.

Dinner is the most important meal of the day and locals rarely eat before 8 pm.

In the south, the cuisine is pure Mediterranean, with an emphasis on fish and pork dishes such as the ubiquitous souvlaki kebab. Cooks make extensive use of the wild thyme that grows across the island, as well as cinnamon, cumin and coriander, showing the influence of the Middle East. Perhaps the most famous Cypriot dish of all is grilled halloumi, a hand-made Cypriot cheese. In North Cyprus, the cuisine is effectively Turkish, with lamb replacing pork in grills, stews and soups. Many of the inhabitants of the north are settlers from Anatolia and meaty kebab dishes dominate menus. North and South come together in the mezze, a rambling meal of dips, snacks and tasty small dishes – almost invariably featuring houmous and halloumi – served on both sides of the island. Food is an essential element of any and every social occasion in Cyprus.

The style of dining comes from the Cypriot preference for meze (which means “mixture”), which consists of many small dishes with a little of everything that is available on the day in that tavern or restaurant. There is no better way to sample Cypriot cuisine than the meze, as you can literally enjoy the widest variety of local food in one sitting. Cypriot dishes are well seasoned, but not spicy. The price of seafood is quite high as this part of the Mediterranean is not rich in fish, and many species have to be imported deep-frozen. Traditional Cypriot seafood dishes include small, deep-fried fish and cuttlefish rings. 

The family is the centre of the social structure and includes the nuclear family and the extended family. Both maternal and paternal grandfathers have strong bonds with their grandchildren. Elders are respected and children expect to take care of their parents when as they become old and or infirmed. Moreover, Cypriots are extremely respectful of hierarchy, which can be traced through back to their two main religions, Islam in Turkish Cyprus and Greek Orthodox in Greek Cyprus.
People are respected because of their age and position. Older people are viewed as wise and are granted respect.The oldest person in a group is revered and honoured. In a social situation, they are served and introduced first.

Whilst socially conservative, Cyprus has enacted LGBT laws to comply with EU requirements. Same-sex activity is legal and there are limited anti-discrimination laws.  Similar anti-discrimination protection came into force in Northern Cyprus in 2014. However, gay life continues to be very discrete with very few openly gay venues.