Perhaps one description that fits the Karpaz peninsula, popularly known as ‘the panhandle,’ would be ‘wild and woolly’. Whilst in area it comprises slightly more than 25% of the country, its population barely reaches 5%. This means a low population density and a lot of varied countryside.

The Kyrenia Mountain range continues, practically to the tip of the peninsula meaning that most of land has either a distinct north or south facing aspect towards  the sea. Nearly all that is unique to Cyprus in terms of geography and its flora and fauna can be found here. Life is quieter here and the pace a lot slower. The largest ‘town’ here is Dipkarpaz with a population of only 2,300;-barely a large village.

There’s plenty here for history buffs;-the Crusader fortress Kantara Castle, perched high up on a limestone crag and the Apostles Andreas Monastery, right at the tip of the peninsula which is still an important Orthodox place of pilgrimage. The scant remains of the ancient cities of Karpasia and Aphendrika speak of a time when the Karpaz was a busy, bustling hub of Hellenic civilisation.

Although its history is rich and varied, what really attracts visitors to the Karpaz today is its nature. Its geographical characteristic as a narrow, elongated peninsula and low population has meant that human interference has been kept to a minimum leaving a pristine environment in which flora and fauna can flourish. A particularly productive terra-rossa soil, formed from the weathering of limestone, is abundant here which is not only perfect for agriculture but also loved by the many wild orchids which spring up from February to May. Some of these are endemic to Cyprus and, as such, orchid and wildflower walking tours have become popular in recent years.

Bird-watchers are also drawn here as the Karpaz lies directly on two important migration routes; one from the Balkans to Africa and the other from Russia to East Africa. Of the hundreds of bird breeds to be found, several are endemic to Cyprus.

There are over forty sandy beaches in the Karpaz and one of them, Golden Beach, right up near the south facing tip of the peninsula is almost 5 km long. It’s a protected area as it is one of the north’s most important turtle nesting areas for loggerhead (caretta caretta) and green sea turtles (chelonia mydas). Quail also nest here in the dunes. A great attraction of the beaches are that, due to their remoteness, they almost never get crowded.

The animal which more than any other though, has become identified with the Karpaz, are the free donkeys. These are the descendants of the working donkeys of the Cypriot agricultural economy which were no longer required after modernisation. There are more than a thousand of them here, roaming wild and sometimes driving local farmers wild: they’re hungry creatures and were supposed to survive off the abundant maquis that covers large swathes of the countryside, though they’re fond of other grub when they can find it (hence the irate farmers)! Although they’re known for their occasional ill temper, they’ll often come and pose for pictures with passing tourists in cars. Don’t forget to pack a carrot!

The economy of the Karpaz is mainly based on agriculture.This was once the tobacco growing centre of Cyprus and it once grew as far as the eye could see. Competition from abroad led to its demise but it has recently made a comeback. In recent years though, there has been a concerted effort to develop eco-tourism for which the Karpaz is ideally placed. The village of Büyükkonuk, in particular, is developing as an integrated hub of green tourism within the framework of the Global Village Network.