What do Middle Earth, Tatooine and Westeros all have in common? They’re all sadly fictional, but don’t lose hope, a galaxy far far away might be a lot closer than first thought. To all the adventurers and explorers reading this, forget Atlantis or El Dorado, as a divine and otherworldly experience can be found concealed amongst the sapphire waves of the Arabian Sea. We of course refer to Socotra, which has been dubbed by many as the most isolated and alien island in the world.
The four islands of the aptly named Socotra Archipelago lie hundreds of miles to the east of Somalia and an even greater distance to the south of Yemen, resting between the continents of Africa and the Middle East. Socotra is packed full with deep canyons, stalagmite filled caves, jagged narrow mountains and alien ‘dragon’s blood’ forests, offering a truly unique expedition for those with a serious case of wanderlust.
This Yemeni principality is home to the indigenous Soqori people who are approximately around 50,000 in number. Most of the current population live on the northern coast of the island, with over 8,000 inhabiting the capital, Hadibu. This is a relatively new tourist discovery, as its sole airport was only built in 1999, before this, it was via cargo ship alone!
The Garden of Eden 🏞
Socotra’s unique location, geography and climate accumulate together, creating what can only be described as God’s playground. Due to the isolated nature of the island, life has been able to adapt and evolve uninterrupted without any external interference. As a result, over a third of the isle’s species are endemic to Socotra, earning it a spot on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Types of birds, reptiles and even crustaceans are some of the bizarre and exclusive inhabitants; but the island’s true individualism lies with its plants, in particular, the trees.
This is where the landscape begins to look more like an alien world with chunky, disproportionate shaped Bottle trees (also known as the desert rose), which can hold an extraordinary amount of water. The trademark, Dragon’s Blood Trees weave and intertwine their branches upwards and outwards, resembling an inside-out umbrella. They get their ominous title from their viscous dark red sap, which has historically been used for medicines and dyes!
The wildlife is not Socotra’s only rarity though, as the Hajhir mountains are also unusual in appearance. These rocky formations have multiple sharp, slender peaks that jut upwards that could easily be likened to the landscape of James Cameron’s Avatar, further adding to the island’s otherworldly aura. A particular oddity though is the two tallest twin peaks called the Mashanig Towers. A pillar of stone has fallen and become stuck directly between the two stone titans creating a natural bridge that can be seen for miles around, radiating an enigmatic, yet eerie feeling.
Take a look for yourself...a whole 30 minutes of Socotra in stunning 4K.
How To Get There 🧭
Please note these are the current routes upon publishing this blog on 10/05/21. Flight routes are subject to regular change and interruption due to political crisis and pandemic related concerns in Yemen.
It is all well and good describing this slice of bliss, but how do you actually get there?
Currently, there are only two companies that fly to the island but this will change with time. This is due to the isolated nature of the island, the ongoing pandemic but mainly, the complicated political situation in Yemen. A Yemeni visa is required to enter Socotra and tickets cannot be bought directly online, but must instead, be bought through partners or native agencies in Seiyun or Abu Dhabi. We never said visiting this exotic world would be easy!
Yemen Airways offer a weekly connected flight to Socotra from Cairo that stops in Yemen’s Seiyun before continuing to the island itself. The flight leaves Cairo every Wednesday at 2 am (EET) and arrives in Socotra at 8.45 am (AST). These are scheduled for every Monday but have had interrupted services due to the ongoing pandemic. There are multiple agencies that have local agents that can book tickets for you, Inertia being one great example.
United Arab Emirates
The most recent option was announced in March this year. The United Arab Emirates will potentially fly direct from Abu Dhabi to Socotra in the near future. Every Monday, the flight departs Abu Dhabi at 10 am (GST) and lands in Socotra at 11:30 am (AST). Bookings can only be made through local travel agents, Welcome to Socotra is a great choice as they have direct contacts in Abu Dhabi that handle everything from your flights to your necessary visa.
Where to stay 🧳
Staying in Socotra offers a rustic, authentic experience for travellers! The only two viable options are one of the select few hotels or camping! All of the main hotels live on Street 20 in Hadibu - the only tarmacked street in the city. Socotra’s Eco Tours have provided a comprehensive list of the five hotels, explaining which have restaurants, air conditioning and TVs, whilst also offering examples of some of the more rural types of accommodation including lodges and camping under the stars.
The Yemen Civil War
A hard truth about travel to Socotra, or lack thereof in recent years, isn’t down to the isolated location of the island, but the Yemen civil war. This complicated political upheaval began in 2011 between Houthi revolutionaries and the Yemeni Government. Things escalated in 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition backed the Yemeni Government and seized control of local airspace. This makes travel tricky. The island itself was untouched by the war up until June 2020, when revolutionists deposed the Yemeni Governor.
In reality, Socotra is an immensely unique and intriguing marvel of nature that offers an incredible hub for biodiversity that has flourished in its originality. An incredible spot to add to all our travel bucket-lists but in truth, if your heart is set on venturing to Socotra’s white sanded shores anytime soon, please check your Government’s advisory website on Socotra and travelling within Yemen’s territories.