Variously spelled Karpaz and Karpas, and also known colloquially as the ‘pan handle’ because of its shape on a map, this area forms the north-eastern tip of the island of Cyprus and is within the Turkish Cypriot region. The area is massive. Some 80 kilometres in length and up to 20 wide, it is a haven for wildlife and one of the most sparsely populated parts of land in the entire Mediterranean region.
This part of Cyprus is rugged. Mountainous in some areas, underground water is nevertheless comparatively abundant. Combined with fertile soils and a superb climate, it is something of a mystery that more people did not venture here to farm, but the result is that even in today’s hectic world, the Karpaz is a place where you can still drive for an hour without seeing another person, where you will find villages where time seems to have stood still forever, and where herds of wild donkeys almost certainly outnumber human inhabitants.
The region was not affected by the last ice age and the wealth of nature that can be found here is amazing, partly as a result. Cypress, Maquis and Pine trees are the largest species, certainly in the coastal parts and at higher altitudes, but shrub-land is also plentiful and wild flowers cover the meadows for much of the year. There are around 1700 species of flora, of which approximately 30 are native only to the Karpaz, including some extremely rare orchids. The place is also a haven for birdwatchers, as hundreds of species stop off here during annual migration in the spring and autumn.
The trees and smaller plants are not the only things inhabiting the land either. Many reptiles and smaller animals have made this their home, apart from the donkeys. However, it is for sea creatures that the region is possibly best known. The mainly deserted beaches on the northern coastline are the annual nesting sites for some rare marine turtle species, including the loggerhead sea turtle (caretta caretta to those in the know). This is now considered an endangered species and the government of Northern Cyprus has made considerable efforts at conservation. There is a marine biology camp in the area and the relevant beaches are not only protected, but actually closed to visitors for part of the year.
Not that visitors are short of beaches though! On the east coast, the Karpaz begins just north of the town of Famagusta. The site is marked by the truly amazing remains of the city of Salamis, the capital of Cyprus in Roman times. From there along the coast heading north, it is not unusual to come across miles of beach without a single person on the sands. Along this cost, you will come eventually to the village of Bogaz. The largest settlement in the area, the village is now almost entirely based around fishing, and supplies from here go to many hotels and restaurants in the island. Slightly further north, abandoned buildings can be seen, which used to be part of the main industry of ancient Cyprus – copper mining. This is where the name ‘Cyprus’ comes from.
Finally, we come to one of the most unusual places in the world. Many years ago, Cyprus was divided into two, with the Turkish Cypriots in the north of the island and the Greek Cypriots in the south. However, near the very tip of the Karpas is the Apostolos Andreas Monastery. A Greek Cypriot enclave, the monastery has a fascinating history as is considered to be the site where St Andrew – the brother of St Peter and the man who served John the Baptist – landed in Cyprus on his journey to Palestine. Worthy of a complete future article, the Cape of Saint Andrea where the monastery stands, is regarded as a holy place by Turkish and Greek Cypriots alike.
Whatever your reasons for having a holiday in Northern Cyprus (and there are many), the Karpaz Peninsula is worth a full day of your visit, if for no other reason than that you are unlikely ever to find anywhere so peaceful so close to a major holiday resort.