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North Cyprus - Travel and visas
British and US passport holders do not need visas for North Cyprus and a 90-day stay is permitted to all visitors. If your flight is simply transiting Turkey en route to Ercan and you do not leave the transit lounge, you do not require a Turkish visa. If, however, you want to leave the airport and visit Istanbul for a few hours or a few days, you will have to buy a visa, available as you exit through passport control. The visa must be bought in foreign cash, preferably sterling, though it is cheaper at $20 USD to get an e-visa in advance through the relevant government website (www.turkishconsulate.org.uk). For those who wish to avoid a North Cyprus stamp in their passports, there is a special form that can be requested from the cabin crew before landing, and this can then be stamped in place of the passport. This form must be retained throughout your visit. Contrary to what most people believe, a TRNC stamp in your passport does not in fact prevent a future visit to Greece or its islands. The TRNC stamp is simply cancelled with your permission on arrival in Greece.
There are two distinct ways of flying to North Cyprus, either ‘direct’ to the north, via Turkey, or alternatively via the Republic of Cyprus (‘the South’) and transferring across the border.
Direct to the North
TRNC’s airport for tourist traffic is Ercan (formerly called Tymbou). Small, but well equipped, it is situated some 24km east of Lefkoşa. Flights from London to Ercan take a minimum of 6 hours, but don’t expect much in the way of in-flight entertainment. These flights, on a range of different aircraft, are operated up to three times daily from Stansted by Pegasus and from Heathrow and Gatwick by Turkish Airlines. The latter also fly to Ercan from Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh. Atlasjet fly from London Luton to Ercan. Return fares on these airlines vary from £130 to over £500 according to season and availability.
Via the South
The second way of flying to the TRNC is to fly to the Republic of Cyprus, then cross the border. As it is now possible to move freely between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot sectors, this alternative of flying in to the south has become extremely popular. With healthy competition between scheduled and charter operators, and the recent appearance of budget carriers, it can be an attractive and cheaper proposition to enter North Cyprus by this method. British Airways offers direct flights from Heathrow and Gatwick to Larnaca (5hrs), and flies to Paphos from Gatwick (4½hrs). EasyJet covers Larnaca from Gatwick and Liverpool; and Paphos from Gatwick, Luton, Manchester, Bristol and Edinburgh. Return fares on some of these routes can be as low as £80 if you book far enough in advance, but rise to a totally ridiculous £550 for short-notice reservations in peak season.
Fares and timetables for ferries are subject to frequent change, so check in advance if you are planning a trip that involves sea travel. The Cyprus Turkish Shipping Company operates a car ferry all year round from Mersin in southern Turkey to Gazimağusa. Currently they run three times a week in each direction, with a 12-hour journey time, departing Gazimağusa at 20.00 Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday and departing Mersin at 20.00 Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The journey takes approximately 12 hours. Foot passenger single fares are currently TL105. Cars must be booked in advance and a standard saloon car plus driver costs TL310. The company’s office is just before the military barrier by the Icon Museum in Gazimağusa. Tickets can be bought there, but not online, nor at travel agencies.
Cheaper and quicker routes to North Cyprus are offered by Akgünler Shipping and by a more recently established operator, Filo Shipping. Both companies operate from Girne’s ferry port. To and from Taşucu in southern Turkey, the fastest ferry is operated by Akgünler for passengers only and carries 250 people, departing Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday from Girne, and making the crossing in 2½ hours or less, with a single ticket costing TL135. This fast ferry returns from the mainland on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays.
By car: access to/from Greek Cyprus
The stringent border regulations that for so long prevented free movement between the north and south sectors of Cyprus have eroded. Since 2003 both Cypriot locals and EU tourists have been able to cross at one of five designated checkpoints, open 24 hours. A further crossing at Locmacı Street/Ledra Street in Lefkoşa was opened to pedestrians in April 2008, and in October 2010 an additional crossing was unveiled by both presidents at Yeşilirmak. The formalities are straightforward – simply present yourself with your passport and complete the appropriate visa application. The current crossings are:
Metehan (aka Agios Dometios or Kermia) (Lefkoşa): This crossing handles the most traffic of the six vehicle crossings and may also be used by pedestrians.
Akyar (aka Black Knight or Agios Nikolaos) (Gazimağusa): Within the British Eastern Sovereign Base Area and open to all traffic.
Ledra Palace (aka Ledra Gate) (Lefkoşa): Right by the Green Line in Lefkoşa. Open to pedestrians, cyclists and diplomatic vehicles only.
Locmacı Street (aka Ledra Street) (Lefkoşa): This is a result of north/south rapprochement and is the newest, and perhaps the most interesting and most frequented, of the pedestrian-only crossings. The familiar repository of global highstreet names that is Nicosia’s Ledra Street contrasts starkly with Lefkoşa’s Locmacı Street. The distance walked is insignificant, but the gulf of culture and affluence is huge (though diminishing) – truly ‘east meets west.’
Dhekelia (aka Pergamos or Beyarmudu) (Gazimağusa): The other gate in the British Eastern Sovereign Base Area, again open to all traffic.
Güzelyurt (aka Zohdia, Bostanci, Morpho, Astromeritis, Morfu, Omorfo) (Güzelyurt): The crossing point with the most names. Open to all traffic.
Yeşilirmak: Situated in the far west, at the end of a road partially funded by the EU. The newest crossing, open to all vehicles and pedestrians.
By public transport
Public transport in North Cyprus is still somewhat limited and most visitors will hire a car for at least part of their stay. For those who do not want this extra cost, there is a network of dolmuş (minibuses) which is perfectly sufficient to get between the main towns, at least during daylight hours, provided you exercise a degree of patience. Most routes do not run to a timetable, but instead set off from their start-point when the driver is satisfied that he has enough passengers. Lefkoşa is the main transport hub, and you’ll find dolmuş to all of the major towns from the bus station in the north of the town, or from in front of Kyrenia Gate. Fares are very reasonable TL5 (single fare) by dolmuş between Lefkoşa and Girne, for example). As many routes are serviced by more than one operator, buying a single ticket (rather than a return) allows you the greater flexibility to return with a different company. The main problem with public transport, however, is that many of North Cyprus’s principal historic attractions are in isolated and remote locations, far from any town or village. The Crusader castles, for example, cannot be accessed other than by organised tour, self-drive car or taxi. Buses also only run once or twice per day from remote villages to the nearest major town. Hitchhiking is not unheard of, though the same potential risks apply as anywhere else in the world.
By far the best way for the visitor to travel is self-drive hire car. All you need is a UK or international driving licence, and vehicles can be picked up and returned at Ercan Airport to avoid taxi transfer costs, which amount to about TL90 one-way to Girne. The road network is generally good and is being regularly improved, with an increasing number of dual carriageways between the main towns. Car-hire rates are cheap. Traffic drives on the left – a hangover from British administration – though it’s worth keeping watch for the occasional rebellious exception. Most cars are right-hand drive, though you will also see left-hand drive vehicles, imported or visiting from Turkey.