Avakas Gorge and E4 Long Distance Trail - Kakopetria, Cyprus
On most of my ultrarunning destination weekends I only have 48 hours or less to fit in my travel and running adventures. This tight schedule makes it difficult to get in trips to locations farther away, so when I have the opportunity from a long weekend I take it. This year I planned a trip to Cyprus over Easter since in Europe many countries get Friday and Monday off, and my work schedule already had me in Berlin over the long weekend. The extra time was key since flying from Berlin to Larnaca, Cyprus, in addition to the drive to a mountain village, required over 8 hours of travel time.
When I booked my trip to Cyprus I didn’t know much else about the island other than its location in the Mediterranean sea and that I‘d need some extra time to get there. I guessed that it would be warm over the Easter weekend and have similar landscape features to Malta since Malta was my only point of reference in the area. However, I came to find out that Cyprus differs from Malta in a number of ways and is well known for the Troodos Mountains.
By pure happenstance I saw on Facebook that my cousin would be in Cyprus the same time I’d be there. Since I hadn’t seen him and his family for 8 years, it was a perfect opportunity to catch up in person. They were staying in the coastal town of Paphos while I was in the mountains in Kakopetria, about 60 miles (100km) away by road. On the drive there was plenty of nature to see since for the first half of the trip the narrow two-lane road wound its way across the mountain range. It was a tiring drive because of the constant gear shifting. It was also scary in parts, driving my small car on a winding road, on the opposite side than I’m used to while cars were racing towards me. Despite these things, the drive was a great way to get a sense of what was to come during my long run I’d planned for Sunday.
I met my cousins at the Paphos Castle and had a nice coffee while catching up. It was their last day on the island so they were dropping off their rental car and preparing to leave the next day. After taking some family pictures, I headed north to what I’d seen online as a popular hiking spot, the Avakas Gorge.
I drove about 25 minutes north until a turnoff where the rough dirt road began. My cousin had mentioned the roads on the northern peninsula being rough, and you didn’t have to go very far to find this out. The dirt road wound around for about 10 minutes, past a beautiful church facing the ocean, to a spot with a few other cars parked in random locations. It didn’t look like an official parking spot, so I was at first confused. I could see on the map where the gorge itself started, but I was still at least a mile away. It became clear since once I got out of my car and walked further ahead where I saw the large rocks they placed to block the road since it was in such bad shape. You cannot always rely on google to get you to the right place! I decided it was good enough to park, so parked under a tree, packed my backpack with water and off I went.
I jogged down to the start of the gorge where there was a big sign that said the road into the gorge parking area was closed. It was immediately clear why since the access road was completely washed out which showed how much water might come through here during a storm. I wasted no time, hopped over the small gulley and headed up the Gorge.
The trail followed along next to the stream in the gorge and crossed over it many times on the hike. I gave up trying to keep my feet dry and decided just to hike in the water since that was safer than trying to balance on slick rocks. The gorge in places is narrow with impressive vertical rock faces while in other areas it widened with a forest of trees and brush all the way to the rim. I tried to run the length of it but had to fast hike many sections because of the rough footing and stream crossings.
After exiting the gorge I kept going east to run up onto a plateau I saw in the distance. The plateau seemed like a good place to get a view back of the gorge and the ocean. I made it to the top, and the view was definitely worth the run up. I then decided that instead of going back the way I came, I’d make the run a loop, but that would require I find a way to connect two trails that were not connected on my Gaia GPS map. Fortunately, when I got to where the trail ended on the map, I could see goat paths In the grass going in the general direction I wanted to go, that would make moving through the tall grass easier. Off I went, and along the way I startled several resting goats but made it to the other trail after scaling a few short ridges. I then turned onto a very runnable dirt road heading back to my car and ended up with a nice 13 miler (22k) with 2000 feet (600m) of elevation gain.
The next day I had more ambitious plans to do a 50k run from the Kykkos Monastery back to my hotel, The Mill, in Kakopetria. Before my trip I arranged a taxi with the hotel via email to drive me out to the monastery on Sunday morning at 9am. It would be about an hour drive, but I figured that would give me enough time to make the run back before sunset.
When I woke up on Sunday and looked out my balcony, I saw fresh snow up in the mountains. I immediately questioned my plan but hoped that where I’d be going would not have so much snow. The taxi picked me up a little late because the driver said he slept in, but I didn’t feel too concerned about the time, yet. On the drive to the monastery the taxi driver had to take it very slow because of the amount of snow and ice on the road. In some sections it looked like 4-5 inches of fresh snow had fallen overnight. The weather report said that it would be around freezing for much of the day. What it didn’t say, or I didn’t notice, was how windy it would be.
The taxi made it to the final road leading to the monastery which crossed the Cyprus portion of the E4 European Long Distance Path. Instead of going all the way up to the monastery, I just asked him to drop me off at a road intersection, which always surprises the taxi drivers. When I got out of the car, the cold was a shock. I questioned my plan again because it was so cold and windy. I was carrying my extra cold weather gear for safety, but didn’t want to have to use it. I knew I’d descend in elevation first so figured it’d get warm quickly if I just got started. Luckily, just after getting started the sun also came out and for the next 4-5 hours I had clear skies and great sunlight that kept me warm. I could even run in my shorts and t-shirt despite the colder air temperature. The run started out on a road, but after a few miles changed over to a dirt road that got remote quickly.
One of the more unusual parts of this run was how few people I saw throughout the day. Even when the trail went through small towns, they looked to be boarded up since all the shades were drawn. Except for one man feeding his cats and two hikers I saw no one else was out on the trail. Other than one part of the run where I had to cross over a busy road, I only saw a few cars during the day. This ended up being one of the most remote trails I’ve done and I enjoyed the quiet time alone on the trail.
The trail is very scenic since it goes through dense woods, has ridge lines with views of the ocean and also a few short sections with rugged single track. Much of the run was what I would guess are fire-roads or roads used to maintain the forest areas. The biggest surprise of the run though came when I got to the Mount Olympus area. Cyprus is home to a ski resort at the top of its tallest mountain! The top part of the slope was still completely covered by snow, which of course I tried to climb up. But, given the lateness of the day and effort to get to the top I decided it was best to keep moving. In addition, you cannot even get to the absolute peak because of a military facility on the top.
The last 10k was a surprise since I’d only planned about 50k but ended up running 60k (38 miles). The difference was because I took some detours during the day on what seemed to be better trails than my original route. It's tough to fully scout 50k of trail online, so I’m always willing to make changes on the fly. The last 9 miles (15k) was from the absolute peak of Cyprus so I descended 4000 feet (1200m) in those final miles. It was one of the most beautiful parts of the run since in my field of view were evergreen trees, snow, mountains and ocean coastline in the distance. I even took a break for 20 minutes to eat my Twix Bar, and take it all in while the sun was setting.
While I thought I could finish in the light, I missed that goal by about an hour and completed the decent guided by the lights of the town in the distance. I’d made dinner reservations at the hotel restaurant at 9:30 so still had plenty of time to have a beer and get a shower before eating.
Cyprus was a great ultrarunning destination because of the E4 trail, running options at the coast and in the mountains, and amazing views of mountains and coastlines. Runs of almost any distance are possible through this rugged mountain range so one could even go for an epic extra long run. I thoroughly enjoyed my 38 mile (60k) run with 7000 feet (1200m) of elevation gain. There are many direct flights to Cyprus from all over Europe, especially from England, so it makes a great place for an exotic ultra-run with many surprises. If you have more time, you could even enjoy a relaxing day on the beach after your run!
Distance : 12.57 miles / 20.2k
Elevation Gain : 2,272 feet / 692m
Distance : 38 miles / 61k
Elevation Gain : 2,272 feet / 2112m