Socotra Island, Yemen – the amazing nature of the archipelago

Socotra Island

Socotra Island is the largest piece of land of the eponymous archipelago, located in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean on the territory of Yemen. The main town on the island is the settlement of Hadeibo (Hadibo). The name “Sokotra” comes from Sanskrit and means “Island of Happiness. The archipelago is the crown jewel of Arabia, as it has preserved the unique flora and fauna. The pristine nature of Socotra attracts scientists, eco-tourism enthusiasts and relaxed vacationers.

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Video: Socotra Island

Geography and Climate

Socotra Island is 130 km long and 40 km wide. Its central and eastern part is dominated by pointed mountains. The highest of them is Hajar (1570 meters). There are mountain hiking trails, which travelers can be shown by a local guide. Uplands alternate with real green oases of plains, which stretch along the coast and at the foot of the peaks.

On the whole, the scenery in Socotra is very diverse: limestone plateaus, precipitous cliffs, lush palm groves, and deserted tropical beaches washed by salty waves. It is a great place for hiking, camping, and water sports.

Experts classify the local climate as tropical semi-desert and desert. Rainfall is more abundant in winter, but affects mostly the mountainous parts of the island. During the monsoon season, you can see high waves blown up by the strong winds. The average temperature during the year ranges from +25 to +32 degrees Celsius, but during the summer period, it often reaches the mark of +42 degrees.

You can come here practically at any time of year, because the water temperature never drops below +24 degrees. Winter and summer are drier, but in the spring and autumn precipitation is quite high.

The Pearl of Socotra – its unusual trees In the interior of the island view of the ocean

History

Supposedly in the 1st millennium BC, representatives of the South Arabian tribes arrived on the islands and became the discoverers of Socotra. Seven centuries later, the Greeks arrived, and closer to the A.D. mark, the Indians settled here. The Portuguese tried to take over Socotra in 1507, but were defeated and retreated.

T-34 tank of World War II The beach with white sand

For a long time, the island of Socotra was in complete isolation. This is largely responsible for the preservation of natural and cultural uniqueness. The first scientific expedition came here only in 1880. The head of the British group of scientists was Isaac Balfour. The research results just stunned the scientific community: in less than 50 days on the island it was discovered about 200 new plant species. So far the flora and fauna of these places have not been fully studied.

From the end of the XIX century to 1967, this land was a British protectorate. Today the archipelago is part of the state of Yemen.

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Among travelers this destination is not yet too popular, so the island has avoided the ruinous impact of the great flow of tourists.

The mountains of the island surrounded by lush vegetation

Flora and fauna

The biodiversity of the archipelago is its main wealth and attraction. Several tens of millions of years ago, Socotra separated from the African mainland and has been virtually isolated ever since. That’s why many relict species have survived here that are found nowhere else on Earth. For example, 95% of land-dwelling mollusks, 90% of reptiles, over 70% of birds, as well as 30% of plants exist only on the archipelago. This haven of unique species is sometimes called the Galapagos Islands of the Indian Ocean.

Cinnabar Red Dracaena (or dragon’s blood tree)

An old Indian legend says that long ago, on the island of Socotra in the Arabian Sea, there was a bloodthirsty dragon that attacked elephants and drank their blood. But one day an old and strong elephant fell on the dragon and crushed him. Their blood mingled and soaked the ground around it. Trees called dracenas, which means “female dragon,” grew on that spot.

In 2003, Socotra was listed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Travelers have the opportunity to observe the rarest varieties of animals, birds and plants in their natural environment: the cucumber and dragonblood tree, giant aloe, nectarberry and so on. Some of them live only in limited habitats in the interior of the island. For this reason, tourists are not allowed to export or import any biological objects, to destroy plant communities, to drive cars outside paved roads.

Recreation

Socotra’s coastal waters are unusually rich in tropical fish, corals and plants. Several major ocean currents bring here a cocktail of marine life. Scientists have recorded at least 253 species of corals, more than 700 varieties of fish, 300 different crustaceans. Among the larger inhabitants are whale sharks, morays, stingrays, long-finned whales, bottlenose dolphins, sperm whales.

You can admire this living diversity during scuba diving. On the coast it is not difficult to rent all the necessary equipment. February and March are the most suitable months for fans of this type of recreation. During this period, the sea is very calm, the monsoon winds subsides, improving visibility at depth. The easiest way to get a permit for diving, if you already have experience diving. Local authorities strictly control tourist activity in the region, so it is important to follow all the rules.

For organization of diving is best to contact local guides or excursion services. The cost of diving off the coast of Socotra is quite high, since it includes a fee to the settlement, near which you will dive, the commission to the tourist center and the state fee.

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Sunset on Socotra Qalansiya Village

For windsurfing enthusiasts, the best time to come here is during the summer, June-September, when a steady monsoon begins to blow from the southwest. The speed of these winds often reaches 30 meters per second. The beaches near Calancia and Hadibo, the headlands of Shaub and Ras Arcel, and the southeastern tip of the island are considered the best spots for fans of this sport.

In winter, the monsoon blows from the north-east and this creates favorable conditions for kiting. The northern coast of Socotra Island is considered the best spot.

Despite the prevalence of extreme sports, most tourists prefer a quiet holiday: swimming in the warm tropical sea, excursions to the picturesque caves and canyons, mountain walks, acquaintance with the most striking representatives of flora and fauna.

Inside Dogub Cave. South of Socotra Central Island Vegetation A natural harbour in the north A lake in the middle of the Rocks

Culture

Special mention should be made of the local population. The Socotrians are of mixed ancestry, inherited from the Arabs, English, Ethiopians, Greeks, Indians, Somalis and Portuguese who came to the archipelago at different historical periods. Here they speak their own language called Socotri, which has very ancient Semitic roots, as well as Arabic. Most guides and other tourist workers speak English.

Although the Sokotri language is unwritten, it has been the medium for the development of a rich poetic as well as musical culture. Researchers consider it as interesting as classical Arabic or Akkadian.

A local guy with a camel in camp

The Socotrians are friendly and cheerful people with an optimistic outlook. They treat their lands with care: they don’t cut down living trees, strictly follow the rotation of pastures and cattle grazing. Largely thanks to this attitude to nature, today we can observe such a rich world of the archipelago. Traditional occupations of the inhabitants are fishing, cattle breeding (goats, sheep), cultivation of some rare plants, which are used by pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies around the world.

Interestingly, trade routes and various sea routes leading to India and Africa have passed by the islands since ancient times, so sophisticated divers can see many shipwrecks. The most difficult reefs lay near the Cape Ras Arcel, so that here there are many remains of ancient ships. Near the coastline of the city of Calencia on Socotra Island rests the ship Sunrise, split in two, which long ago became a home for numerous sea creatures.

The Underwater World of Socotra

Tourist Information

The tourist infrastructure of the islands can hardly be called very developed, but the requirements of the average traveler will be more than satisfied. Accommodation in a hotel or campsite of your choice is available to all comers. You can get to Socotra not only as part of organized tours, but also on their own.

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Getting here is easiest by direct flight from Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, or Dubai (UAE). There is also an occasional boat trip to Oman. Most travelers come to the island from the Yemeni side, which is the best route. The airport is only in Hadibo, so you arrive directly to Socotra island.

A flock of dolphins off the coast of Socotra

It is worth taking into account that the military and political situation in Yemen is not always stable, so the transport of tourists to the archipelago may be irregular. Nevertheless, the situation on the island itself is calm, and it will not be affected by distant military action. Today there is talk about the isolation of Sokotra into an autonomous province with the right of its own visa control. But the authorities of the island and Yemen assure that this will not complicate the movement of travelers, so your trip to this extraordinary tropical region you can plan without fear.

Tourists have a unique opportunity to see the rarest natural beauty on Earth, so to visit the islands of the archipelago is definitely worthwhile. Planning a trip on your own is not difficult, but it is worth taking care in advance about obtaining a visa to Yemen. Your efforts will be repaid in full – you won’t see anything else in the world that is hidden in the island of Socotra!

General information about Socotra

Map of Socotra Island

The archipelago of Socotra is the jewel of Yemen and the entire Arabian region. Socotra is a treasure house of flora and fauna, which has been preserved and handed down to us by generations of Socotrians, bearers of a unique cultural tradition in Yemen. For centuries, Socotra Island was inaccessible to early explorers and naturalists. But in the late 90s, Socotra received unprecedented attention, especially from those interested in economic development and the preservation of the natural environment of these unique islands.With its unique nature, preserved since prehistoric times, Socotra attracts not only scientists and specialists, but also lovers of quiet rest and ecological tourism. The archipelago is one of the few places in the world where the advancing progress has not yet spoiled the proper attitude of man toward nature and himself.

Geographic location

Socotra and Yemen on the world map

The Socotra Archipelago lies 380 km. from Cape Fartak on the Yemeni coast of the Arabian Sea and consists of the islands of Socotra, Darsa and Samha and Abd al-Quri. The westernmost island point of the archipelago is located exactly 80 km. east of Cape Guardafuy on the Somali Peninsula.

Socotra is the largest of the islands, covering an area of 3,625 sq km. The eastern and central parts of the island are dominated by high mountain ranges with sharp peaks, reaching into the clouds at a height of 1570 meters. The mountain valleys, often hidden from view, are refreshing green oases.

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The limestone plateaus are open to all winds, the steep slopes overhanging the dry, flat coastline or right above the breathtaking waves. The islands of Darsa and Samkha with their steep cliffs resembling majestic castles in the middle of the ocean are also very picturesque. The mountain ranges of Cal-Faroon and Sabunia Islands, covered in centuries-old guano deposits of countless waterfowl, are a great place to rest and shelter a variety of marine life.

A haven for unique species

Endemics of Socotra

Once upon a time, the Socotri Islands were part of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, now separated by the Gulf of Aden. A long period of isolation of at least 20 million years provided the impetus for evolution and the emergence of new species.

All land molluscs, 90% of reptiles and one-third of plants are endemic to these islands. The population of endemic bird species is the largest in the entire Middle East, and among less studied biological groups, such as crustaceans, insects and spiders, many more discoveries await researchers.

The diverse topography has also contributed to speciation both within the islands themselves and within their various sites, with many local endemics living within limited island ranges.

Biological cocktail.

The Beaches of Socotra

In contrast to their terrestrial neighbors, marine species communities are relatively poor in endemics. However, they also occupy a unique place in the world because they are a species “cocktail” that emerged at the junction of three major biogeographic areas: Arabia, East Africa (western Indian Ocean) and the larger Indo-Pacific region.

Located in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean, east of the entrance to the Red Sea, these islands lie at the intersection of several important ocean currents, each bringing in marine organisms and their larvae from different areas, all finding new habitats here. All this has resulted in an exceptional diversity of fish, coral, and invertebrate species from both nearby and distant seas. This has created unique communities of marine life around the Socotri Islands.

People unlike others

Socotrians are cheerful and self-sufficient people with an optimistic outlook on life, despite their difficult living conditions.

Seasons of bad weather and lack of regular transport links until recently have isolated the inhabitants of Socotra Islands, as well as their biological neighbors – representatives of flora and fauna. Therefore, the local indigenous population has hardly been influenced by the rest of the world.

The Sokotrians speak the unique ancient Semitic pre-written language of Sokotri, no less ancient and interesting to researchers than Akkadian or classical Arabic. Having no concept of the safety and comfort that modern man takes for granted, the Socotrians developed a deep understanding and respect for their land and sea that was essential to the survival of the people.

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World Recognition

The islands of Socotra are globally significant for their evolutionary uniqueness, biological diversity, and socio-cultural heritage. The Republic of Yemen, with the assistance of the UN and an intergovernmental alliance of several states, has implemented a number of programs to preserve the islands and ensure their sustainable development. As a result of these efforts, The Socotra Conservation Zoning Plan was adopted in 2000 with the approval of the President of Yemen.

In recognition of the international recognition of the unique culture of the islands as well as the efforts of the Yemeni government to preserve them, in 2003 the Socotra Islands were inscribed on the UNESCO World List of Biosphere Reserves under the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) program and were recommended for inscription on the World Heritage List.

In 2003, UNESCO added the islands to the 440th Biosphere Reserve under the Man and Biosphere (MAB) programme.

Sokotra Tourism and Visiting Sokotra

Photographer on Socotra

Tourism on Socotra is still in its infancy. On average, the island is visited by no more than 2,000 tourists per year, which has not yet spoiled the environment much.

Socotra is a fairly small island. With the increase in the flow of tourists, Socotra will noticeably lose its attractiveness as a relatively uninhabited place with a magnificent nature, unspoiled by world progress. Hopefully this will not happen in the next few years, but already many popular campgrounds are spoiled by the influx of visitors.

Socotra is becoming a fashionable and popular destination. However, when going to Socotra you should have a clear idea about the format of visiting and seeing the island, accommodation and dining arrangements.

We are glad to offer our services to those who want to see not only the beautiful nature of the island but also have a rest so that you will remember Socotra as an island-tale.

Socotra guides

We represent a community of Sokotri guides who have been working with tourists from different countries for many years and can professionally show you the island, tell you about its nature, language and culture, organize diving, trekking and special programs.

We offer organization of individual and group tours which include visits to little-known places of the island, organization of camping and meals for the group. We accompany and take care of you during the whole trip, paying special attention to catering.

With our help you can order a standard tour, which includes overnight stays in a hotel in Hadibo (3-4*) and at equipped campsites with meals in the campsite and overnight stays in tents.

We know a lot of interesting places, which are not included in the usual tourist programs and are fully preserved in their pristine condition.

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