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Few people outside of the Arabian Gulf have heard of Socotra, and even less have visited. It’s one of the most jaw droppingly alien looking islands in the world, and one of the most inaccessible to tourists. The visa process is tricky, and there is just one weekly flight – which stops over in war torn Yemen, and can’t be booked online! On top of that, it’s a destination that’s short on modern comforts – there’s no cellphone reception, no ATMs, and certainly no five star hotels or restaurants.
Discouraged? Don’t be! A ‘trip of the lifetime’ may be an overused phrase, but if it applies anywhere, it applies to a trip to Socotra. The island was separated from the nearby coast millions of years ago during the Miocene Epoch, which meant that its unique flora and fauna evolved very differently over the years that followed. There are more than 700 endemic species on Socotra, while Socotri, an ancient Semitic dialect spoken on the island, is one of the oldest languages still in use on earth. At its heart, Socotra is an ecological paradise, which while neglected, lies peaceful and untouched by the modern world.
Where is Socotra?
Socotra or Soqotra, lies between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, off the coast of the Republic of Yemen. Although politically a part of the troubled Arab nation, Socotra has avoided many of the difficulties that haunt its troubled mainland.
Off the radar of most tourists, Socotra is one of four islands that make up the Socotra Archipelago, and home to incredible desert landscapes, beautiful beaches, and a diverse range of flora and fauna. The ecological paradise is ideal for those keen to dive off the beaten track, and visit an incredible, although distant part of the world.
However, with a fierce cyclone season between June to September, very little infrastructure outside of the small town of Hadiboh, and a native language which is almost unintelligible to mainland Yemenis, Socotra is probably best seen in the company of an experienced guide. The island is a remarkable place for camping, hiking, wildlife spotting, and snorkeling, but the degree of isolation you’ll experience and the difficulties that you’ll face in getting there may be intimidating for some.
How Do You Get There?
The only way to travel to the island at present is from Yemen. Given that the country has been marred by political crisis and civil unrest since 2011, tourists are advised to take extreme care when travelling to the region. Not only is a guided tour, arranged by a licensed travel provider, one of the safest ways to visit Socotra – it might also be your best bet in terms of securing a visa to Yemen and then for Socotra itself.
There are several companies which can get you to Socotra and back safely, with packages to suit most stay lengths and budgets. To help you weigh up your options, we’ve put together this handy guide to the best Socotra tours, filled with plenty of nifty travel tips and useful links.
1. Rocky Road’s Socotra Island Tours
One of the biggest names in travel when it comes to sightseeing in the world’s most remote and least visited countries, Rocky Road offers both private and group tours to Socotra between March and October. You’ll start your trip from the Egyptian capital of Cairo, and then make your way to the airport to board a Yemenia Airways flight to Socotra. After a quick stop over in Seiyun, Yemen, you’ll be met at Habido, the largest town on the island by a local guide and a western tour leader.
Your trip will entail a mix of hotel and homestays, allowing you to see all that the island has to offer, from the Homhil National Park, famous for its dragon blood trees, to the Dihamri Marine Protected Area. Prices start at $1895 for 8 days twin-share, which includes all meals, activities, and transport. To find out more, head to the Rocky Road website.
2. Socotra Eco-Tours’ Eco-Friendly Packages
Socotra first opened its doors to tourists in 1999, after a small commercial airport was constructed to connect the island to the Yemenini mainland. Socotra Eco-Tours started running small group expeditions to the island shortly thereafter, making it possible for international tourists to engage with the island’s unique local flora and fauna in a safe setting.
Depending on their guests’ interests, the tour company can arrange hiking, paragliding, birdwatching, fishing, and diving activities, keeping in mind the need to take care of the island’s fragile environment and economy. They employ professional English, Arabic, and Socotri speaking tour guides and naturalists, 4×4 cars with trained drivers, provide guests with camping and cooking equipment, hotel accommodation where necessary, and can assist with visas.
If you’re keen to trek across the island, but want to ensure that you leave nothing but footprints, Socotra Eco-Tours can help. Their tour packages have been designed to benefit the local community, and primary stick to using eco-camping sites and lodges. For more information and price guides, you can view the companies various tour packages on their homepage.
3. Young Pioneer Tours – New for 2021!
If you’d like to explore Socotra’s amazing landscape of beaches, dunes, wadis, canyons, and see its fascinating archaeological sights with your own eyes, Young Pioneer Tours has the package for you. The company are launching their first Socotra Arabian Sea Tour in 2021, with plans to lead a small group of 14 around the island, to see everything that the otherwise inaccessible destination has to offer.
Famous for their North Korea tours packages, Young Pioneer Tours has plenty of experience bringing tourists into inaccessible countries – safely. The team have already conducted a research trip to Socotra, and said that while the flights cannot be booked online, and the ‘visa procedure relies a lot on connections’, they’re convinced they’ve found a way to run group tours which showcase the gorgeous and unique scenery of the island.
If you follow Young Pioneer Tours to Socotra, you’ll explore white sandy beaches, untouched crystal-clear lagoons, and then join local fishermen for a sea expedition. During the evening you’ll camp near Dragon’s Blood trees, watching the sun set over the giant dunes, as your freshly caught fish supper cooks over the fire. And before you leave on your return flight home, you’ll have the opportunity to meet with some of the islanders and get acquainted with their unique traditions and curiosity as to the outside world.
Prices start at $1,795, but you’ll need to pay extra for your flights and visa. Interested? Check out the Young Pioneer Tours’ Socotra Arabian Sea Tour on their website for more details.