The four islands group of Socotra are located around 217 nautical miles off the Yemeni coast and approximately 130 off the coast of Somalia. This well kept Yemeni secret is a treasure trove of botanical and zoological wonders and the legendary island of Socotra used to be the source of ambergris, dragon’s blood, frankincense, and myrrh during the ancient times. Now protected as an International Biosphere Reserve, the island which is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site is often referred to as the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean, and one of The Most Alien Landscapes on Earth. For centuries, the islands of the Socotra have intrigued early explorers’ and naturalists’ and by the end of the 90’s they shot to fame in the adventure tourism circuit too. However, due to its isolation, the trickle of tourists visiting Socotra is ridiculously low and according to local tourism industry, in 2013 only 1000 foreigners had traveled to Socotra. This figure had risen a tad bit in the following years, only to dip to nearly nothing in 2016. This is a handy Socotra travel guide for those who are interested in this offbeat island.
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How feasible is Socotra travel?
While difficult accessibility to the islands is one of the reasons why Socotra travel is not on an usual bucketlist, being a part of Yemen takes a toll on it too. The reality however, is that it is too far removed from any of the civil disasters happening on the mainland and life on Socotra is peaceful and quiet. In fact, I clearly remember how isolated and cut off I had felt during my last days at Socotra, when the mainland had been embroiled in war and all the embassies, airlines and civil foreign offices had shut shop. The only news I had received of my fate of return to India had been on television and media had as usual sensationalized the whole event totally out of proportion. While there’s no denying that Sanaa had been indeed been burning under air raids and bomb drops at that time, but at Socotra not even a murmur of the war had reached.
Detailed Socotra travel guide
As mentioned in my last Socotra travel blog post, the island, despite being one adventurous roller coaster ride had been a life changing experience for me and it is truly a destination unlike any other. So, presenting a brief note on Socotra tourism through the eyes of an Indian travel blogger and solo woman traveler’s perspective, as well as my trip costs. Please note that it is extremely advisable to check travel advisories to Yemen before embarking on a journey to this fantastic island and for the latest updates, check the Ministry of External Affairs page.
Yemeni visa process
Yemen offers visa-free travel to only a handful of countries like Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Turkey and most Yemeni embassies do not entertain direct visa requests. The requirements too are extremely changeable and the best option is to avail it through a local tour operator. They’ are also very adept in getting necessary permits required for moving around the country beyond Sanaa, as well as Socotra travel, and taking care of any bureaucratic hassle. After a bad experience with a shady operator, I had used the services of Al-Hamed Tourism Agency Socotra Island and he had been both reliant and professional. Though it is possible to discover Socotra in a very DIY adventurous manner, the best option is to either get a complete tour package with transfers, accommodation, guide, visa etc or join any of their small group tours. Also note that it is important, to find out about the kind of accommodation, English speaking guide/cook/driver and type of food the package will include.
When to Go
While planning for your Socotra travel, keeping a consideration of the climate is important. For nature enthusiasts the best time to visit is from early October to late April and wildlife and natural viewing is best from the end of January through May.
Getting into Socotra Island
Until 2016, Socotra Island could be accessed only by flights from Sanaa and there were talks of direct connectivity from Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Felix and Yemenia airlines catered to Socotra on a weekly basis and sometimes the Yemeni air force carted passengers to and fro from the island. Because of the two annual monsoons (southwest from June-October and northeast from April-May), no natural harbor and a flourishing piracy, arrival by sea even from the closest port of Aden is next to impossible and it makes sense to depend upon the national carrier Yemenia’s flight schedule. A return ticket to Socotra from Sanaa by either of the two airlines cost around $300, round-trip and Felix had a bad reputation of canceling their flights without prior notice at the last minute.
Public transportation being a joke in the island with only one road, hitchhiking is the most common mode of transportation and most travelers commute by their own four wheel drives. Transportation is always included in a Socotra travel package and it is also possible to rent a car there on a daily basis at very steep rates.
Accommodation plans for your Socotra travel
The capital town of Hadibo has a cluster of hotels like the Taj Socotra (not to be mistaken with the Indian luxury chain) and be prepared for basic amenities even at the most expensive property. Internet, television channels, great room service etc are spotty at Socotra and on the beach camping at the lovely Delisha Camp, Detwa Lagoon Camp or similar makes more sense. For the rest of the island, either sleep under the stars, in caves, in the shadow of sand dunes or at a Bedouin’s home. The Socotra Island tour packages include mattresses and tents and it is advisable to carry your own sleeping bag. My stay at Taj Socotra hotel had cost around 60 USD/day and my ten days itinerary had been for approximately 3360 USD. This had included visa, accommodation, food, transfers, guide, transportation, water and other beverages etc.
The disappointing Socotri food
Local Socotri food is available at Hadibo restaurants and apart from goat meat, which is available in plentiful, it is best to opt for fresh seafood. Ful is one of the best options for vegetarians and the little town market sells stuff which arrives by planes or boats. You can load up on quick snacks, cereal bars, chocolates etc from home if you wish quick bites for the road. A good meal at a local restaurant at Hadibo is as low as 2 USD/per person.
Miscellaneous Socotra travel tips
- Shopping – Local products like wild honey, goat hair accessories, blood dragon henna etc are some of the souvenirs you can buy at Socotra. Please be aware of buying endangered plant or animal product at Socotra as it can be a punishable offence.
- Activities – Camping, trekking, snorkeling, fishing, windsurfing etc.
- Places to Visit – For beaches (Qalanciya, Shouab, Arhar, Nogid, Omak), For Wadis and fresh water pools (Homhil, Wadi Dir Hul etc), For Caves (Hoq), For trekking/hiking (Hagghier Mountains, Moumi Plateau etc), For Blood Dragon Trees (Diksam Plateau)
- Socotra is the home to over 300 endemic plants along with nearly 200 species of insects and birds. The critically endangered Egyptian Vultures are also found here in large numbers. The most striking plants to watch out for blood dragon, desert rose and cucumber trees.
Follow the rest of the Yemen series here
- YEMEN CRISIS AND MEMORIES OF OLD SANAA
- MEMORIES OF SOCOTRA
- HOW I ENDED UP ON THE SOCOTRA ISLAND
- HADIBO AND URBANIZATION OF SOCOTRA
- THE MOUNTAIN BEDOUINS OF SOCOTRA
- LOSING TIME IN WADI DIRHUR
- CAVE ESCAPADE IN SOCOTRA
- THE SHIFTING SAND DUNES OF ZAHAK
- GETTING BURIED IN SAND IN OMAK
- DRIVING FROM QADAMA TO QALANCIYA
- THE AMBER HUNTER OF DETWA LAGOON
- LIVING A BIT OF LOCAL LIFE IN QALANCIYA
- EMPTY MOUMI PLATEAU: THE DESERT ROSE FOREST
- SOCOTRA YEMEN: TRAVEL DREAMS GO FROM AWESOME TO HORRIBLE.
- SOCOTRA TRAVEL DIARY DURING THE YEMEN WAR
- SANAA, THE UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE OF YEMEN
- SANAA TRAVEL QUIRKS AND SHOCKS
- MY SANAA IMPRESSIONS
- UNCONQUERED FORTIFIED CITADEL OF THULA
- GREEN WATER OF HABABA
- TRAVEL TO KAWKABAN
- BAYT BOWS AND THE JEWS OF YEMEN
- ROCK PALACE OF WADI DHAHR
For information and travel blogs on Socotra, check out
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE