Imagine there is an isolated, lonely island in the middle of the ocean, far away from any other land. Only about 40,000 people live on that island, and more than one third of the plants and trees there are unlike anything you have ever seen before. Now imagine that some of these unfamiliar trees are shaped like mushrooms, and others are shaped like bottles.
On this remote island, there are also turquoise blue lagoons next to large, powdery-white sand dunes. These dunes are wavy and perfectly shaped by the wind, without footprints interrupting their smooth texture.
Everywhere you look, your eyes are greeted with peace, harmony, and mysterious beauty. It is so surreal, yet so incredible, you are fascinated and mesmerized like never before.
Believe Your Eyes
What if I told you that this island is in fact real, and not just a figment of your imagination. Its name is Socotra, and it is located at the edge of the Arabian Sea. It lies approximately 150 miles west of the Horn of Africa, and 240 miles south of the Arabian Peninsula. Socotra, in fact, is one of the most isolated islands on Earth that did not originate from a volcano, but rather separated from an ancient continent. It is a territory of Yemen, and at present, nearly impossible to get to.
As of July 2008, Socotra Island was designated by UNESCO as a World Natural Heritage Site. Without question, there are so many good reasons for that move.
Natural Environment on Socotra Island
Because of its isolated location, the island has some truly unusual-looking plants and trees. Amazingly, many of them don’t exist anywhere else on our planet. The unique climate of the island allows for such interesting flora to thrive.
Perhaps, the two most photographed and memorable kinds of trees on Socotra Island, however are the Dragon’s Blood Tree and the Bottle Tree, also called Desert Rose.
Dragon’s Blood Trees
Dragon’s Blood Trees are definitely unique-looking for they are shaped like giant mushrooms. While there are different types of Dragon Trees in other parts of the world, Dragon’s Blood Trees are found only on Socotra Island. The peculiar thing about these trees is not only their shape, but also the color of the resin they produce. It is blood-red, which is the reason for their unusual name.
Resin from Dragon’s Blood Trees has been used in different ways throughout the centuries, mostly as medicine for various ailments. Interestingly, it is also believed that this resin was used as a varnish by famous Italian violin makers to stain their master instruments. Some of the most famous and most expensive violins in the world may owe their beautiful, rich color to the resin found in Dragon’s Blood Trees.
Bottle Trees or Desert Rose
Arguably even more bizarre looking than Dragon’s Blood Trees, the Bottle Trees (Desert Rose) of Socotra Island are also endemic to the island, and don’t naturally grow anywhere else on Earth.
Their funny name is a result of their hilarious shape. Indeed, there are many fine examples of these trees around the island that are shaped exactly like bottles. Their trunks are quite thick at the base, and thin out pretty quickly near the top. There, short finger-like branches hold onto a few leaves or flowers, if the tree is blooming.
Climate of Socotra Island
The climate of Socotra Island is just as unique as everything else on the island. It is considered mostly tropical desert climate, with small amounts of rainfall spread throughout the year. Normally, most of the rainfall comes between October and March, but this shouldn’t deter you if you are planning to visit, as it is not a lot of rain, and the weather tends to be a little cooler.
How to Visit Socotra Island
Sadly, Socotra Island has never been an easy destination to get to. In the recent past, pretty much the only option was flying to Yemen’s largest city Sana’a, and taking a connecting flight from there to Hadiboh, Socotra’s capital. The number of flights however was quite limited. There were also a few direct flights departing from Dubai in the UAE, but these too were in very small numbers.
At present, Socotra Island is inaccessible to visitors from near and far for all flights to Hadiboh have been cancelled. The main reason for that is the current civilian crisis and ongoing civil war in Yemen.
There are complicated ways to get to Socotra Island if, say, you are willing to board a cement boat, but you may want to reconsider this option. If, however, you are over the top adventurous, and just have to see this unbelievable place, check out 4 Days on a Cement Boat to Socotra. How I Became the Only Tourist in Yemen.
Most Memorable Places in Socotra Island
Let’s imagine now that the world was a perfect place where people of all colors and religions got along; there were no wars, and we could once again visit Socotra Island. After you arrive there, where would you stay? What would you see?
Here is a sample of what an adventure like this might actually look and feel like!
Stay the Night in Hadiboh, the Capital of Socotra Island
After arriving in Socotra Island, you may want to spend one night in Hadiboh at one of the few hotels in the city. This will give you not only a chance to rest, but also to experience a little of the unique culture there.
Meet Your Guides in the Morning
After you get a good night’s sleep in Hadiboh, you will meet your tour guides in the morning. You would have most likely arranged that in advance before coming here. You see, Socotra Island is not a place where you can just rent a car, pull out your phone GPS, and drive around to all the attractions on the island.
The tourists that come here hire tour guides who are very familiar with the island, and have experience with how to survive in the wild. The guides will not only drive you around, but also fish, and prepare food. You will most likely sleep in a tent, which is OK, since you will be surrounded by some of the most breathtaking landscapes you have ever seen.
Your true adventure will begin at Detwah Lagoon on the northwestern tip of Socotra Island. Here, you will witness one of the most beautiful meetings between land and water. This is where the vibrant turquoise color of the Arabian Sea creates a stunning contrast against a vast shore of pure white sand. Tourists often climb the nearby hills to take a wider panorama of this magnificent place.
At the end of the day, you will set up camp here, and most likely enjoy unbelievable sunset panoramas. Then you will go to sleep with the soothing sounds of the Arabian Sea.
Depending on your tour guides, your next stop could be Shuab Bay, located further south. This is a pristine beach, and according to many, the best one on the island. To get there you will most likely take a fishing boat from the small village of Qualansiya near Detwah Lagoon. While on the boat, keep your eyes open for dolphins as they often frequent the area.
Now, imagine the most picturesque beach you possibly can! Don’t be surprised if what you see at Shuab Bay surpasses even your wildest imagination.
Once again, you will likely spend the night here, nestled in a tent on one of the most stunning beaches you have ever seen.
The following morning, you will get back to Qualansiya again by a boat. From here you will head towards your next destination, Dixam Plateau, in the central part of Socotra Island. You will get a chance to see many Dragon’s Blood Trees up close, since they are found in abundance here.
Another attraction in this area is the Wadi Dirhur Canyon which you will get to enjoy from above and within. You will stop at an observation point first, and then descend into the canyon, making your way to the bottom. Once there, you will find pristine fresh water pools where you can take a relaxing swim while enjoying stunning views of rocks and native trees.
You will probably camp here between the walls of the canyon before heading towards your next stop.
Sand Dunes of Stero
As another day on Socotra begins, you will head towards the southern coast. You will arrive at the sand dunes of Stero, where smooth waves of pristine white sand create unforgettable landscapes.
Once again, your night will be spent in a tent among the incredible wonders of Mother Nature.
Ras Erissel and Archer
On another glorious morning, you will make your way back up to the northeastern end of Socotra Island. This point is called Ras Erissel, and offers more opportunities to swim in the Arabian Sea, enjoy the fresh air, and take some of the most incredible photos of land and water.
Archer is another place nearby you will visit. Here, you will find more clear white sands, this time piled up against tall rock formations. This is the result of winds coming in from the Arabian Sea.
Once again, you will set up camp here for the night, and watch the changing colors of the day as you relax surrounded by ethereal beauty.
On the following morning, you will make your way to Hoq Cave, one of the largest caves on the island. In order to access it, you will have to walk for a few hours while enjoying more of the unique landscapes of Socotra. You will need to use flashlights in the cave, since there are no other light sources to guide you inside.
When you return to your starting point, usually Terbah place, you will probably set up camp for another night out in Nature.
The next stop on your adventure will most likely be a protected region along the northern coast, called Homhill. Here, you will see more of Socotra Island’s native trees, as well as amazing rock formations. You will descend through a natural tunnel-like area. Then, you will reach a fresh water lake among the rocks, and see spectacular views of the Arabian Sea.
From here, you will make your way to a campsite, and put up your tent for the night once more.
Di Hamri Protected Area and Ayaft Gorge
The final destinations on your adventure-packed itinerary will be Di Hamri Protected Area, followed by Ayaft Gorge.
At Di Hamri, you will once again enjoy vast panoramas of the Arabian Sea, and nearby rocky mountains. This area is famous primarily for the abundant coral reefs, and marine animals that live here.
The Ayaft Gorge on the other hand will uncover a whole new side of Socotra Island. Here, the lush green environment will seem like quite a change from the preceding desert landscapes. You will see a number of streams, a variety of birds, and hills covered in vegetation. The high rocky walls of the gorge isolate this area from the rest of the island’s desert climate. They help retain moisture throughout the year, which is the reason for the lush environment found here.
After you enjoy this final day on Socotra Island, filled with variety and amazing new sights, you will spend the night camping nearby for the last time.
Back to Sana’a and Beyond
After one final breakfast in Socotra Island, you will get to the airport, and fly back to Sana’a, Yemen. This is where you will board your connecting flight, but before you do that, you might decide to spend a day or two enjoying this unique city. Sana’a is indeed a city filled with history and beautiful architecture! If this were an ideal world, you would not have to worry about your safety, but rather where to get the next delicious meal, and handcrafted Yemeni souvenir!
Socotra Island on Your Mind Forever
The above itinerary would be just one possible way to see Socotra Island, and certainly not the only way. One thing is for sure, you would have the experience of a lifetime, regardless of the order in which you visit all the attractions on the island.
Socotra, as you have seen, is without a doubt a world of mystery and timeless beauty; a world where your heart and soul can reach new levels of peace and harmony. It is also a place where the very fortunate tourist has a chance to reestablish a connection with Nature, and respectfully enjoy so many of the treasures that our planet has given us.
It is my great hope that someday in the near future, this island will be once again open to all who are eager to embrace its stunning beauty!
I would like to express special thanks to Yuliya Draganova, an excellent musician and photographer, who kindly shared her incredible Socotra pictures!
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