Beckoning Beaches and Amazing Archaeology: 3 Days in Cyprus

Aphrodite Rock, birthplace of a goddess (Source: iStock/Freeartist)

Travel brief

  • Cyprus is divided into two partitions: a Greek portion on the southern part of the island, and a Turkish portion to the north. This itinerary takes travelers to Greek Cyprus.
  • Fly into either of the two international airports on the island. This itinerary begins at Paphos, but travelers flying into Lanarca can simply do it in reverse.
  • Public transportation is poor, so plan to rent a car.
  • Every day on the island should include both visits to Cyprus beaches and tours of Cyprus, since the two are almost always right next to each other.

Cyprus is undeniably an island of romantics — fittingly so, as it’s purportedly the birthplace of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. But there’s a lot more to this warm-weather getaway that lusty vacations; the island is rife with archaeological wonders, pristine beaches, and exceptional dining. While a three-day tour is short relative to the attractions and activities that Cyprus offers, it’s enough to provide a good overview of the island’s culture and natural wonders. Travelers from neighboring countries make the short jump to Cyprus for long weekends, and Americans touring Europe often prefer Cyprus to vistor-clogged mainland destinations like Rome and Athens.

Before you book tickets, however, you should know: The romantic allure of modern-day Cyprus has been tarnished somewhat by political turmoil and occasional violence. In one violent culmination of the Greek and Turkish conflict that persisted over millennia, Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974. The island remains partitioned, with the larger Greek portion to the south and the smaller Turkish enclave to the north. Fortunately, 40 years on from the invasion, Cyprus has calmed, settling into a peaceful existence and cultural hub. In fact, it is now considered one of the safest locations to visit in the Mediterranean region.

Flying into Paphos (Source: iStock/trabantos)
Flying into Paphos (Source: iStock/trabantos)

Getting to Cyprus

Flights to Cyprus used to be out of reach for the general traveling public, but are now fairly widely available. The southern Greek partition has two convenient international airport options: Lanarca and Paphos. Because this itinerary begins and ends on the southwestern corner of Cyprus, we recommend flying into Paphos to minimize travel times between stops.

Getting around in Cyprus

While we at The Wide World of Travel suggest avoiding rental cars whenever practical, we do recommend securing your own transportation for a three-day Cyprus itinerary. Public transportation in Cyprus is notoriously poor — bus service is spotty and the reliability of cab rides is completely dependent upon the quality of the driver. Note, however, that rental cars cannot be driven across the line that separates the Greek and Turkish portions of the island.

Track your Cyprus adventure:

Day 1: Peyia and the archaeology of Cyprus

Less than half an hour from the airport, Peyia offers tourists a wealth of natural and man-made splendors. Start with the Kato Paphos Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site that houses remnants of sites and monuments ranging from the 4th century BCE to the Middle Ages. While massive structures like the Odeon and the Tombs of the Kings are powerful, perhaps the most impressive feature of the park is composed of very small pieces. Four Roman villas — the honorary houses of gods Dionysus, Theseus, Aion, and Orpheus — feature astonishingly detailed mosaic floors that depict a range of scenes from Greek mythology.

Sunset over Peyia’s famous shipwreck (Source: iStock/Gatsi)
Sunset over Peyia’s famous shipwreck (Source: iStock/Gatsi)

Having familiarized yourself with the archaeology of Cyprus, it’s time to hit to the beach and relax. Family-friendly Coral Bay features the region’s softest sands and bluest water, plus a safe area for swimming and lots of parasols and sunbeds for whiling away the afternoon. When early evening arrives, drive north to catch the sunset at Peyia’s sea caves area. Capturing the waning light behind the much-photographed Edro III shipwreck is the perfect way to end an eventful day.

Day 2: The hotspots and water parks of Ayia Napa

Sea caves near Ayia Napa (Source: iStock/Kirillm)
Sea caves near Ayia Napa (Source: iStock/Kirillm)

You’ll want to get an early start on the two-hour drive from Paphos to Ayia Napa, which sits across the island on the eastern shore. Your first stop is Ayia Napa’s WaterWorld Themed Waterpark, named by CNN Travel as one of the world’s 12 best waterparks. The park’s 35-plus rides and attractions range from meandering kid-friendly creeks to pulse-pounding slides and 250-foot drops. One thing it shares with its North American cousins is long lines — but patience will be rewarded with one of the top waterpark experiences anywhere. Once you’ve had your fill of thrills, head over to the self-proclaimed “number one party spot” in Cyprus: Nissi Beach. From DJs spinning on the beach and famous nightclubs to palm-shaded beach paths, Nissi has something for everyone. Do be aware that the party always stretches late into the night.

Day 3: Limassol and Cyprus beaches

Kourion ruins near Limassol (Source: iStock/lucky-photographer)
Kourion ruins near Limassol (Source: iStock/lucky-photographer)

Your journey back to Paphos features a visit to Limassol, the island’s second-largest city and the home of yet more archaeological sites and lovely Cyprus beaches. You’ll be tempted to skip the sightseeing and head straight for the beach, but suppress that temptation and take in more of the archaeology of Cyprus — specifically, the massive ruins at Kourion and Kolossi Castle. Here, you’ll also find Aphrodite’s Rock, the precise location where (according to legend) the Greek goddess was born. After several hours spent exploring the ruins, you’re free to head for the sands at Limassol’s Promenade. Enjoy a strong Greek coffee or freshly squeezed juice while strolling the scenic beach and contemplating what you’ve seen over the last three days … and planning your return visit. (Oh, and be sure you read our article on Cyprus beaches for more insider info.)

For more information and to plan your trip, visit the website for Cyprus tourism.