Socotra island is one of the most beautiful, biodiverse places on earth. Often referred to as the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean due to its biodiversity, if you’re one of the lucky ones to get to visit Socotra, it will be an adventure you never forget.
Socotra is the largest of four islands in the Socotra Archipelago. It lies between the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea and is officially part of Yemen. Although Yemen has been at war for years, make no mistake, Socotra is very safe and the island has never seen war.
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Unlike most sought after travel destinations, Socotra has been kept relatively quiet, a little secret if you will. Those who choose to visit Socotra often go into it blindly as there isn’t a lot of information about the island widely available.
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Here’s what you need to know before you visit Socotra
Table of Contents
- 1. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth
- 2. It’s not easy to get there
- 3. Camping is the best way to do it
- 4. You’re going to want to snorkel
- 5. Gifts for the locals are welcome
- 6. Bring USD (and bring extra just in case)
- 7. You’ll feel like you’re in Jurassic Park
- 8. Be prepared for the unexpected
- 9. Bring your hiking boots
- 10. Toilets are few and far between
- 11. You can swim every day in a wadi if you want to
- 12. You’ll never get sick of the Dragon Blood Trees
- 13. There are goats everywhere you turn
- 14. The island has an unfortunate waste management issue
- 15. Be prepared to eat the same things for lunch and dinner
- 16. At times you’ll feel like you’re on a deserted island
- 17. Its very safe
- 18. The island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- 19. Don’t leave souvenirs for the airport
1. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth
From beaches to sand dunes, from mountains to canyons and fresh water wadis, everywhere you look in Socotra you’ll see natural beauty for miles.
The island is a photographer’s dream, and even for non-photographers all you have to do is point and shoot for instant stunning images.
2. It’s not easy to get there
Socotra is somewhere you can’t just rock up to and tour the island. You can only book Socotra tours through a tour operator (or possibly from a local on the island). We highly recommend going with Trekkup Dubai.
Each tourist will need a Yemeni visa. Your tour operator should look after this for you.
The are currently only two options for flights to Socotra
- A direct Air Arabia flight from Abu Dhabi to Socotra on a Monday (also returning on a Monday)
- A Yemenia flight from Cairo to Socotra, via Yeman mainland, on a Wednesday (also returning on a Wednesday)
3. Camping is the best way to do it
If you want to immerse yourself in nature and the beauty of the island, then camping is the best way to do it. There are campsites all over the island and its possible to spend every night in a new campsite.
If camping isn’t for you, there are a number of hotels on the island, located in Socotra’s capital, Hadiboh. But be warned, these are pretty basic hotels, there is no such thing as a luxury hotel there.
The Summerland Hotel is the nicest of the hotels on the island but it’s also costly at USD$140 a night. Service at this hotel is impeccable! The man at the main desk, Daha, goes over and above to help everyone.
4. You’re going to want to snorkel
Di Hamri beach is said to be the best spot for snorkeling on the island and it didn’t disappoint. It’s not the nicest looking beach and is pretty rocky (so be sure to bring wet shoes) but once you get a little further out you’ll find many colorful fish of all shapes and sizes, as well as breathtaking coral.
This place is especially perfect for beginner snorkelers. I recommend bringing your own snorkel gear as there wasn’t a huge selection to rent.
5. Gifts for the locals are welcome
Bring some gifts, clothes, toys, especially for the children. As there is a shortage of this kind of stuff on the island, the kids welcome these with beautiful smiles.
Rice, lentils, flour and other dry food is also appreciated by the locals.
6. Bring USD (and bring extra just in case)
The local currency is the Yemeni Rial. It’s good to have a small amount of Rial to pay for bits at local stores and souvenirs.
If you plan to stay in one of the hotels, be sure to bring USD to pay for this as credit cards are not used on the island. There is only one ATM in Hadiboh but this was broken when we were there, so best to have spare USD with you. There is also a Western Union in Hadiboh just in case you need cash wired to you….yes this happens (see no. 8).
Don’t forget to bring USD to tip your guides, drivers and crew.
7. You’ll feel like you’re in Jurassic Park
Socotra is often described as Jurassic Park. Most of the island has a prehistoric feel to it. You wouldn’t even be surprised if a Brachiosaurus popped its head out of the bushes.
8. Be prepared for the unexpected
When visiting a remote and politically unstable destination, there is a risk that anything can change with little or no notice. Our return flight from Socotra was cancelled two days prior to flying home, with no alternative date given. At one point, we were told it could be three weeks before we could get a flight out. We quickly realized that there wasn’t much we could do about the situation, so we left it with our tour operator to update us and stayed a couple of nights in the Summerland Hotel in Hadiboh where we had WiFi to contact family and bosses to say we’d be late back.
We finally got a date for our new flight, just three days after it was meant to be, so we now had two choices: stay in the hot, humid city or head back up the mountains for more hiking and swimming in wadis and enjoy the last few days we had on the island. Obviously we chose the second option!
Because we had to stay extra days, the majority of us had to ask friends or family to wire money via Western Union so that we could pay for the extras. If I were to go again (and I want to!) I would be bringing more USD than necessary.
9. Bring your hiking boots
Socotra is the perfect location for trekking. Whether you’re an experienced trekker or a total beginner, it’s the best way to see the Socotra island trees, animals and plants. For many of the treks, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking natural wadis where you can bathe and cool down before putting the hiking boots back on.
10. Toilets are few and far between
What’s the toilet situation on Socotra? The world is your oyster! Simply find a bush and enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds you.
At some of the campsites, you may be lucky to find a hut with a hole in the ground and a makeshift shower.
11. You can swim every day in a wadi if you want to
Socotra is full of breathtakingly stunning wadis where you can bathe, relax and cool down after a long hike.
12. You’ll never get sick of the Dragon Blood Trees
The main event on the island is the almost alien looking Socotra Dragon Blood Trees. These trees take an incredible 600 – 800 years to be fully grown.
Even in the forest of 9000 Dragon Blood Trees, you’ll never get sick of taking photos upon photos of them.
13. There are goats everywhere you turn
Everywhere you look, you’ll see a goat! At the campsites, on the beach, on the mountain side, sitting in cars.
Be sure to keep an eye on your food, clothes and shoes at the campsites as goats eat absolutely anything they set their eyes on. They are pretty cute though.
14. The island has an unfortunate waste management issue
Most who visit Socotra will agree that it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. However, in some areas there is a huge waste management issue. This is especially a problem in Hadiboh city. Since they have no government, there is no money available to be put into rubbish collections. The streets here are filled with rubbish and it was quite sad to see.
15. Be prepared to eat the same things for lunch and dinner
The food all week was great! But be prepared to have the same thing for each meal every day.
For breakfast, we were served eggs, beans, bread, Nutella (yum!) and honey. Lunch was rice, veggies and fish, and dinner was spaghetti/pasta, veggies and fish.
A couple of hours before dinner was our favorite: popcorn and prawn crackers!
If you have any food intolerances, I suggest you bring some of your own food as there is no such things as ‘gluten free’ etc on the island.
16. At times you’ll feel like you’re on a deserted island
Socotra is one of the most remote destinations for tourists. And because there’s only one flight a week, there aren’t many tourists on the island at any given time. In fact, you could go the entire week without running into another tour group.
Shouab beach could easily be the most beautiful, white sanded beach in the world. The only way to get to this beach is by boat and you’re not likely to meet anyone else here.
17. Its very safe
One question that’s always asked: Is Socotra safe, given that it’s part of Yemen. And the answer is yes. Socotra itself has never been at war (although you will see some abandoned war tanks on the island).
The locals are very friendly and make you feel very welcome, even into their home.
18. The island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Due to its biodiversity with rich flora and fauna, Socotra is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Almost 40% of Socotra’s plant life is endemic to the island, meaning that they cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
19. Don’t leave souvenirs for the airport
After checking in at Socotra airport and going through security, there is a waiting room before you get on the plane. But there are no shops to buy souvenirs. There isn’t even somewhere to buy a coffee while waiting.
Throughout your tour, you’ll pass kids in the villages selling dragon blood resin and frankincense, which make great souvenirs. When you visit Hadiboh city, you’ll also find market stalls selling incense burners, scarves and rugs.
If you’re an avid traveler, make sure you visit Socotra soon. Some say that in the coming years, there is the danger that Socotra will become a lot more touristy and even start building resorts. With many endangered species of plants of animals, this would be detrimental to the natural beauty of the island.
Have you visited Socotra? What were your thoughts?