Cyprus has been on the tourist trail for 120 centuries: despite its island status, it has been periodically visited by hunter-gatherers since 10,000 BCE and settled with village communities since 8,200 BCE.
Larnaca is the oldest continually inhabited city on the island, established in 6,000 BC. In the 13th century BC the city became an important port for Mycenaean traders, an Ancient Greek civilisation which named it Kition. By the 9th century AD Larnaca was under the rule of the Byzantines who ruled Cyprus until the late 12th century. In 1191 the city was captured by England’s Richard I before being sold the following year, and invaded many more times over the next seven centuries by the Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Romans, Venetians and Ottomans.
The British landed in 1878 to begin a second – and substantially longer – period of rule, which culminated in Cypriot independence by 1960. But following a period of escalating tensions between the Turkish and Greek communities on the island, war broke out in 1974 when Turkey invaded Cyprus, eventually occupying much of the northern part of the island.
Today, although Cyprus remains divided, peaceful negotiations have been ongoing for a number of years – but with no agreement to date; in the meantime southern Cyprus remains a safe place to visit. Larnaca continues to welcome people from all over the world – albeit tourists this time - and more than three million annual visitors arrive to soak up the island’s year round sun.
The majority of visitors to Cyprus go for a holiday on its famous coastline, visiting nightlife hotspots such as Agia Napa. Larnaca also has some beautiful beaches but the city has the additional benefit of 8,000 years of history.
Start your tour at Larnaca Archaeological Museum, where you can investigate the history of the artefacts recovered from local digs. Once you are finished, take a walk to the ruins of Ancient Kition where you can see for the digs for yourself. Located in Pamboula, five temples dating back to the 13th century BC can be seen, as can the remains of Cyclopean Walls.
Nearby is Larnaca Salt Lake which fills with rainwater and attracts 10,000 flamingos during the winter. By July the lake dries to a 10cm-thick salt crust and the blaze of pink flamingos is replaced with a glistening white shimmer. On the western edge is Hala Sultan Tekke, an ancient Muslim mosque and shrine which houses the tomb of Umm Haram, the foster-mother of the Prophet Mohammed.
South from Hala Sultan Tekke is a causeway which leads to MacKenzie, a popular sandy beach. Stop here for a day of sunbathing, or charter a boat to the Zenobia, one of the top ten wreck dives in the world. Three kilometres from shore, at a depth of 18-42 metres, this Swedish ferry capsized in 1980 on her maiden voyage and the cargo of vehicles can still be seen.
Larnaca is a popular holiday destination and has a wealth of dining options. Its nightlife is not as active as some of the other nearby tourist towns, but the city provides enough excitement to keep all but the extreme late-nighters happy.
Many of Larnaca’s restaurants line the city’s three beaches and are a good place for people-watching and shoreline dining. The food is not necessarily as good as the panorama; the nicest places tend to be filled with Cypriots rather than tourists. Cypriot food is delicious and a far finer choice than the ever-present all-day breakfast you’ll be offered at some of the best-avoided tourist traps.
Bars and nightclubs line the Promenade and the old quarter, Laiki Yeitonia. This pedestrian area is teeming with nightlife, but note: it doesn’t get going ‘til late. Visitors looking for all-night large-scale clubs can take a 15-minute taxi ride northeast towards Agia Napa to a strip of nightclubs and bars – a tourist-favoured clubbing destination.
Thirty kilometres east of Larnaca is the wild peninsula of Cape Greco. Dramatic cliffs, incredible views and a wealth of rare flora and fauna make this area a popular place to spend the day. This beautiful coastline has a nature reserve and a government-protected conservation area, and is known for its superb snorkelling and scuba diving.