‘As I left the office on Friday, people solemnly wished me luck, as if I was taking the Intercity Bus straight into a war zone.’ Julia Stern samples Cyprus’ party central

In the imaginations of American university students, the European club is a mythical destination. A place where drinks run freely, where the music is never dull, where the party goes ‘til dawn, where lab partners and roommates and frat beers are far, far away.

Perhaps it was this reason that made Ayia Napa so attractive to a certain group of five Texans and one Canadian, with whom I spent one memorable weekend in Cyprus’ hottest destination.

We set off on our pilgrimage Friday night, giddy, starry-eyed, hungry for hedonism. This was it. Two nights in what people often describe as the party capital of Cyprus –and among the top in Europe.

We had heard stories, of course. A student from the University of Nicosia had described Ayia Napa to us as “filthy”; a friend of a friend opted for “grimy”. When I had mentioned the trip to a coworker, he took a drag from his cigarette and shook his head, staring wistfully in the distance. You could see the vomit-stained memories in his eyes. As I left the office on Friday, people solemnly wished me luck, as if I were taking the Intercity Bus straight into a war zone.

Ayia Napa is a wasteland of modern architecture

With the necessary ammunition, then – sunscreen, electrolytes, and disposable shoes – I made my way from Nicosia to Ayia Napa. When I stepped off the bus, I was greeted by souvenir shops and sun-burnt Anglo-Saxons, some with strollers, some with mini-skirts. Then, I began the long trek through the back streets of Ayia Napa to our AirBnB.

Ayia Napa was much like the rest of Cyprus: sunny, hot, beautiful, though off the main road, the area was less developed than I expected. There were few people on the pavement, and most of the structures looked new and a touch garish. I wandered off down a nearby street, past white, cuboid houses with sports cars and pools and slick white gates that shook with thumping speakers.

The resort, too, shares this style of modern architecture, hasty, as if people had rushed to build the most resort-looking resort possible before anyone could say otherwise. The village was a quaint fishing town before it became a wasteland of modern architecture and overpriced souvlaki. This tells you plenty about the tourist industry in Cyprus.

We arrived at the AirBnB sweaty and dusty. No one was worried about how we would spend our night. The one thing that can be said about such a place is that it’s perfectly easy to enter auto-pilot tourist mode.

On our other trips around the island, we had researched the noteworthy sites and carefully planned our days, making sure to see this archaeological site or that village or those historic monasteries. But in Ayia Napa, a visitor rarely has to decide what to do. Beach, restaurant, nightlife: this cycle keeps the place going, and for good reason. We only had to look at our clock to know exactly where we would head next. It was 10pm. Time to go out.

My co-worker had recommended the bar “Señor Frogs”, which sounded kitschy and low-stakes in all the right ways, so we decided to try it first. Upon arrival, we were surprised to learn that Señor Frogs was actually “Senior Frogs”– which took a good couple of minutes to process – but before we could ask ourselves what a “senior frog” might be, a woman with lip injections grabbed our elbows to tell us about a limited-time, once-in-a-summer, unbeatable-value deal inside the bar. Naturally, we entered. I felt a familiar rush of adrenaline. We started dancing in the awkward way that all Americans do.

Senior Frogs was a tacky place, one of the world’s biggest tourist traps, but I loved it and I won’t have a word said against it. People were everywhere – young, laughing, smiling, wasted. Frogs were everywhere, too, giant frogs, mini frogs, woman frogs, male frogs, sexy frogs, frumpy frogs, painted on the walls, made into figurines. There was not a lick of Greek in the whole place, which settled any questions about the patronage’s 100 per cent tourist rate. This was a textbook tourist bar. As I swung my hair to British rap, I began to think: Ayia Napa, not so bad!

Then we decided to explore the other nightlife offerings. Mistake. The bars and clubs in Ayia Napa are all located in one cluster of streets, an area where one encounters a dazzling array of debauchery in every direction. I had the sinking feeling that I had entered an amusement park. This realisation was not helped by the fact that most of the club names could be roller coasters: Castle, The Pirate’s Inn, Bazaar, Car Wash. Some of them even looked like roller coasters. One building was a terribly gaudy, oversized structure that vaguely resembled a rainforest, called the Bedrock Inn, a bar dedicated to the Flintstones. The Flintstones!

Walking in a rambunctious fashion up and down the street were more crowds of tourists in Shein and cheap sunglasses, consuming alcohol or pizza, sometimes simultaneously, and huddling in little groups as people decided which of the 1,000 hard-nosed bouncers to try. Amidst the tourists were promoters – swarms of them – whose glib and relentless advertising was shockingly difficult to dodge. Each had deals that were never actually deals. Women walked around with balloons with nitrous oxide; you could huff some for a small fee. The landmark of the turning streets was a shop called “3 F****** EURO PIZZA.”

We bumbled and dribbled through the streets, before we bumbled and dribbled home, where I passed out at 5:00am. I woke up the next day feeling strangely jubilant and surprisingly calm. It was a campy, trashy and ridiculous experience, the kind of thing I’m glad to have only done once, but a satisfying one too. Ayia Napa fully leans into itself. Maybe there is something great in how unapologetic it is.

Nissi beach – welcome relief to the night time partying

Of course, Ayia Napa is not just nightlife. The beach itself was a joy. We went to Nissi Beach on a perfect Saturday morning, where the white sand led gently into clear, warm water dappled with sunshine, full of splashing, smiling young people. We spent the day floating in the water and sipping Strawberry Slushies from a restaurant on the beach. Even in a place with so much development, we all managed to find a lovely moment of tranquility.

And then we continued the cycle. Restaurant. All of us were pretty exhausted by that point, so we chowed down our €18 entrees in a worn, serene silence. Nightlife. A short, deep sleep. Some sort of baked good in the morning. We thought of visiting the Ayia Napa monastery, or perhaps the Thalassa municipal museum, but we decided to save these activities for our next visit. After all, we had just fought a war. Had we won? Lost? Before I could make up my mind, I fell into a deep, air-conditioned sleep on the Intercity Bus back to Nicosia.