Socotra Island is one of the most beautiful and unspoiled islands in the world. The island is well known for its Dragon Blood Trees and its surreal landscapes full of towering sand dunes and deep canyons, making it one of the most beautiful UNESCO sites in the world.
Socotra, which is located in the Arabian Sea just below Yemen has roughly over 42,000 inhabitants in an area of 3,796 square kilometers. This means the island is “barely inhabited!”
There are only small villages here and there, and even its capital city, Hadiboh, feels like a big village. All in all, Socotra is a natural paradise and one that should be enjoyed by everyone.
Socotra has gained notoriety on being almost impossible to visit, but that’s not true. Sure, there are some planning logistics you must understand to get there, but this post will share all of that with you so you can enjoy this unique, mind-blowing spot on earth.
Why You Must Go Now! And, Is Socotra Safe?
Being part of Yemen, Socotra has suffered the collateral damage of being part of a country that has been at war for over five years now. But, Socotra itself has never been at war and it is very safe.
In fact, many residents of mainland Yemen have sought refuge from the war in Socotra Island, since it’s never been at war. Locals on the island are very friendly (though women are culturally shy) and will always make you feel welcomed and treated with respect. Everyone treats you as if you’re their guest.
Having said that, the island is politically unstable, which makes traveling to Socotra a bit harder – though still safe.
Unfortunately, due to the war in Yemen and other power struggles with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia that are affecting the island politically, Socotra has been neglected by tourists who have stopped visiting the island due to misinformation or fear.
On one hand, this sucks for the island’s economy. On the other hand, this is a beautiful opportunity for us as travelers to enjoy an island with virtually NO ONE around us.
Access to Socotra is very limited at the moment (more on that below), so you’ll only see a handful of tourists during your trip. And by a handful, I mean, I counted, at most, 25 other tourists on the island the week I was there.
Almost everywhere I went to I was either by myself, or I crossed paths with only one or two travelers (at most) for a brief period.
Another reason to go there now is that unfortunately, the UAE has “administrative control” (in other words, invaded the island with “good intention” to help it during the war) and is being a dick by “stealing” Dragon Blood Trees from the island.
Socotra is a UNESCO site, so these trees are protected. In fact, the Dragon Blood tree is an endangered species as it takes roughly 800 years for it to grow to the size we see them today.
In addition, the UAE is slowly trying to convert the island into a military outpost for themselves and fill all of its beautiful, deserted beaches with resorts.
If the UAE gets away with their power grab plan, it’s possible the Socotra we have today will no longer exist. Hopefully, Yemen and the local Socotrian government will give them a good political and figurative fight to keep their natural heritage intact.
So, go now!
When to Go to Socotra Island
October to May is the best season to visit, but the peak months are October, November, and February. These months are not too hot and not too rainy, which are perfect for hiking and doing outdoor stuff, which is basically the main thing to do in Socotra. This time is also great for wildlife.
December and January are rainy, but still manageable if you want to visit. June to September is monsoon season and too windy, which makes it undesirable both for hiking and outdoor sightseeing. The only exception is for windsurfers, which is optimal for them.
I visited during March, and while it was hot, it wasn’t crazy hot. In fact, it was perfect beach weather. During the hikes, it got a bit hot, but nothing too crazy.
How to Get to Socotra Island
As of now, the only way you can get to Socotra Island is by flying from either Seiyun, Yemen or from Cairo, Egypt – with a layover in Seiyun. Yemen Airways (Yemenia) is the only airline flying to Socotra and currently, it only has one flight a week.
It is every Wednesday, departing from Cairo at 3:30 am, arriving at Seiyun at 8:00 am. You spend over an hour on the plane waiting to pick up new passengers and depart at 9:15 am, arriving Socotra at 10:15 am.
The return flight takes the same route, departing at around 11:00 am and arriving in Cairo around 4:00 pm. Also every Wednesday. You can, of course, stay for two, three weeks, and so on, as long as you plan on leaving on a Wednesday. Be aware that this schedule could change.
Know that as of now, this flight is not available for purchase online. It can only be purchased in person with the evidence that you have a visa to Socotra.
Here, you have two options: 1) know someone from Socotra who can get you the visa and purchase the ticket for you, 2) pay for a tour (what I did).
Regarding the flight, be aware that you must book these flights at least three weeks in advance to get a seat.
While only a handful of tourists fly to Socotra (on my flight we didn’t even reach to 20 tourists) the rest of the Airbus A320 seats (a big plane) are filled with local Socotrans who need to fly to mainland Yemen for business, supplies, or medical visits (there’s only one hospital in Socotra and not good for medical emergencies or surgery).
So, those single flights a week are always sold out.
While airfares change constantly, this flight from Cairo to Socotra seems to be averaging $1,200 roundtrip.
For a good while, there were ferries from Salalah in Oman going straight to Socotra, but for the time being, these are not running.
Getting the Visa to Socotra
If you know someone in Socotra, they might be able to get a visa for you. Since I didn’t, I contacted a tour agency to do this for me, purchase my flights, and of course, organize my whole trip.
The agency I went with is Socotra Trek Tours. They were recommended to me via other travelers and they were among the cheapest I found. I recommend sending Adnan a Whatsapp message and take it from there. (+967777948334)
Now, this was my process of getting the visa with them. First, I sent a copy of my American passport (via email) and the dates I was interested in visiting (remember, Wednesday to Wednesday), and they moved forward on getting the visa.
In my case, I believe they got a dummy visa to purchase my flight as quickly as possible but then got the visa approved right away. The whole process took just a few days.
The visa costs $100 USD. My tour was $1,400. Have in mind, though, that the tour cost varies drastically depending on the number of travelers and whether you’re camping or not. The more you are, the cheaper it is per person.
Given the monetary restriction that Yemen and Socotra are facing at the moment (at least by the US), payment can only be made via Western Union (at least with my tour company). I paid for the flight and visa via Western Union and paid for the tour with cash once there.
I found it curious that my visa said it was for “work,” so not sure if that’s the workaround these days to get the visa approved. Yemen is notorious for changing its bureaucracy all the time, so it’s no surprise if this is the new trick to get tourists there… for now.
IMPORTANT: You can’t have an Israeli stamp on your passport. Should you have visited Israel with your passport, and there be evidence of it, your visa will be denied.
Is a Tour Really Necessary?
Yes, it is. Not only to cover the logistics mentioned above but also to travel the island. Socotra has zero public transportation and no proper tourism infrastructure. So, renting a car, finding hotels throughout the island, random restaurants, and getting one day tours here and there are not a thing.
Your multi-day tour will take care of you and it will include everything, from all your food, transportation, driver, guide, accommodation, and whatever activity was discussed/included.
As mentioned previously, I went there with Socotra Trek Tours, but while in Socotra, I met some other travelers who visited with Easy Yemen Tours. I have no personal experience with them, but these other travelers had no complaints about them.
As with everything, I always recommend comparing your options and see which one is best for you.
If you’re feeling even more adventurous, some travelers add three or more days to their week in Socotra to travel from Salalah, Oman to Saiyun overland – before hopping on the flight to the island. Know though, that traveling mainland Yemen is still a bit risky.
Expect the Unexpected
Given that Socotra is located in the Middle East, is part of Yemen (which is at war), and is suffering a power grab by outside forces, it’s possible the peaceful panorama the island has kept in the last decade could change in an instant and affect your travel plans.
In fact, this happened to me when I planned my trip the first time in March 2018. My trip got canceled close to the departure date due to “force majeure” after the island’s governor died, invalidating my visa.
This is why you must buy travel insurance on every trip, to be covered in case of any cancellation or unexpected changes.
While I highly recommend WorldNomads travel insurance for all destinations, unfortunately, they don’t cover Yemen at the moment. But, SquareMouth was my top choice to find a good insurance policy for Socotra.
Thankfully, on my second attempt to visit Socotra, everything went smoothly!
What to Do on Socotra Island
There’s a lot to do in Socotra and all of it is nature-driven. If you’re a hiking enthusiast, you could hike from the south to the north of the island in a week (camping along the way).
For windsurfers, you could practice this watersport during the monsoon season. Fishing aficionados could spend an entire week fishing all around the island. And for everyone else, here are several of the highlights you shouldn’t miss while in Socotra.
• See the Dragon Blood Trees at Diksam
The Dragon Blood Trees are the endemic ancient trees Socotra is well known for. Of course, you can’t leave the island without seeing them. These trees grow in altitudes over 800 meters, so you must go to the highlands – preferably the Diksam Plateau.
There’s the Fermahin Forest, which is the biggest Dragon Blood Tree forest in Socotra – you’ll see hundreds of those trees as you hike along the plateau.
• Stay at a Bedouin Village at Diksam
Spending time with a Bedouin family is a great cultural addition to a trip that is mostly nature-driven. Eat with the family, share stories, and get to know them a bit.
• Hike the Dirhour Canyon
If time allows, hike along or down the Dirhour Canyon while at the Dixam Plateau. It’s beautiful!
• Deleisha Beach
This might be the first beach you’ll visit as it is located very close to Hadiboh. It’s a nice beach and a very warm welcome to what should be a visually stunning trip!
• See the sand dunes at Zahik… and go to Zahik Beach
These sand dunes are located on the southern side of the island. Socotra has several sand dunes across the island thanks to the windy weather that carries a lot of that sand from mainland Africa.
One of the most surreal sights for me there was seeing cows walking and resting on the sand dunes! Cows in the desert!
And of course, go to Zahik Beach not far from the dunes. It’s a beautiful and mostly deserted beach!
• Aomaq Beach
Another beautiful beach not far from Zahik Beach. I found Zahik to be more beautiful than Aomak, but the latter is nicer to camp for a night.
• Degoub Cave
A small window cave on the southern part of the island. It is not too deep, so you can go there with no flashlight. The hike there is also short, just five minutes at most.
• Archer Beach
I LOVE Archer Beach! For me, it is surreal having mountains cliffs covered by giant sand dunes on one side (towering up to 300 meters in height), and on the other a beautiful turquoise colored beach.
This beach is also an excellent spot to spend a night camping. In fact, it was one of my favorite camping spots.
• Houq Cave
To date, this is the largest cave discovered in Socotra. You hike one hour to get to it; then you can explore up to two kilometers inside the cave. Though the cave is empty now, archaeologists found petroglyphs and pottery there.
You still see the beautiful rock formations like stalactites, stalagmites, and columns. Worth visiting if you like caves. Take a flashlight and get ready to get your shoes all muddy.
• Homahil Protected Area and the Wadi Difarhou Natural Pool
Possibly one of the most beautiful and surreal spots on the island when it comes to flora. As you hike – about 1.5 hours to the natural pool – you’ll see hundreds of Dragon Blood Trees and Bottle Trees – the other iconic tree from Socotra.
The hike is gorgeous but even better is the natural pool by the edge of the mountain. You have a stunning view of the coast from up there, and if you’re lucky enough, you’ll have it all for yourself, as I did!
• Detwah Lagoon
A gorgeous lagoon next to the small town of Qalansiyah (the second largest town in Socotra). Go to the viewpoint near the military outpost from where you’ll see an overview of the lagoon and the beach. Camp one night at the lagoon.
The lagoon beach might not be the nicest one to swim in, but the scenery is gorgeous. And, there’s a caveman nearby! I wrote about my amazing experience meeting him!
• Shouab Beach and Swimming with Dolphins
Shouab Beach is, in my opinion, the most beautiful beach in Socotra (at least of the ones I visited) and probably one of the most beautiful in the world, if not the most beautiful.
The only way to get there is by taking a fisherman’s boat early in the morning – at 7:00 am the latest – to see the Spinner Dolphins swimming in herds and doing tricks as they jump out of the water. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to spot them on your way back from Shouab beach too.
Shouab beach is a long, deserted white sand beach that you’ll probably enjoy by yourself. There is a small shack made with twigs and branches, belonging to a man who apparently lives there, but he wasn’t there when I went there.
Apparently, he is friendly enough to let you take shelter there during the day as you enjoy the beach. And if he isn’t, you can still take cover from the sun at his place. If you have time, camp at the beach for a night.
• Dihamri Marine Reserve
This marine reserve has a decent camping spot right next to the beach. It also has one of the best places in Socotra to snorkel and dive.
Your guide can arrange the snorkel rental, which costs about $5. They can also arrange the diving (as there’s not dive shop you can just walk in) but the dive there is way too expensive. I skipped on it.
• Go Fishing
If you’re a fishing aficionado, there are great fishing spots all around the island. In fact, Socotrans are pescatarians, so fishing is something they know how to do very very very well.
Honestly, I recommend you simply stay offline during your time in Socotra. Wifi is shit and so is their local internet. In fact, Yemen doesn’t have any telecommunications service on the island.
The current cellphone service there was recently set up by the UAE as part of their dubious plan to “help” Socotra, when in fact they are quietly turning this Unesco-protected paradise into a military outpost and holiday resort island.
The UAE is slowly trying to take power away from Yemen and Socotra is both benefitting and suffering from this power struggle – depending on who you ask.
Anyway, back to staying connected. Your guide can help you get a SIM card if you really need one. It’s preferred to let him know beforehand as these are not the easiest to get while on the island. They cost 50 euros just for the SIM card, and 30 euros per 1 gigabyte. The 1-gigabyte package lasts 30 days.
Having said that, it’s a waste of money. There’s barely any signal across the island, and where there is, it’s so weak that uploading a photo might take a while.
Wifi is only available at the three hotels in Hadiboh. And again, they are basically useless. It took me about 30 minutes to upload one picture on Facebook.
Socotra has a cash economy, which means, everything you buy must be purchased with cash, using their local currency – the Yemeni Rial.
Make sure that whatever bills you take to Socotra (Euro, Dollar, Pounds) is crisp, unmarked, and without any tears. Basically, take new bills to Socotra. Otherwise, they will refuse your money.
This applies to your tour payment and any money you’ll exchange for your daily purchases not included on your tour (if you’re on one).
Everything is cheap in Socotra. I changed only $40 to cover my drinks and random souvenirs for the entire week and still left with extra money.
First and foremost, Socotrans are very friendly. Unfortunately, though, there’s not a lot of local interactions there, especially with women, given that Socotrans are very conservative and they like to keep it that way.
All local women wear the burqa in public and they often shy away from interacting with foreigners. Also, women aren’t allowed to eat at local restaurants. They eat at home, separate from any male guest. That’s why you never see them at restaurants or hanging around.
If your driver sees women walking on the street, he’ll probably offer them a ride (hitchhike). This is common in Socotra as there’s no public transportation. If they get a ride with you, you’ll be asked to sit in front, so you have no physical contact with the women.
Kids, on the other hand, are very playful and curious. They’ll talk to you and call for your attention.
Local Food in Socotra
Food-wise, Socotra has a pescatarian diet. This means you’ll probably eat fish or seafood every single day (unless you have a dietary restriction – which you should tell your guide). Chicken and goat meat are rarely cooked, so you’ll be lucky if you find it in a local restaurant.
Beef is only cooked on special occasions, like a wedding, when they sacrifice several cows and offer the meat to their guests. If you’re lucky enough to be there during a wedding, you might enjoy that special event and the beef!
I don’t eat seafood nor fish, so I spent my entire week eating bread, beans, potatoes, and rice. It was fine. The one night I was served goat meat… well, it was more of a goat skull than goat meat!
Also good to know is that Socotrians serve only a communal plate that they put on the floor in the center of the room, and they all eat with their hands from that one plate. They are ok giving you a spoon if you feel uncomfortable eating with your hands.
You’ll find Coca Cola, Fanta, and a few recognizable snacks only at a few local shops in Hadiboh. Outside of that everything else is local products – and warm water. If you have any cravings of your favorite sweets and snacks, make sure you bring enough with you for the week.
What to Pack and the Dress Code
Packing for Socotra is easy. Pack clothes for warm weather, flip-flops, hiking/comfortable shoes, swimsuits, shorts, and t-shirts. If you go during winter, take a light jacket and long pants with you as it can get cold in the mountains.
Make sure you take with you some mosquito repellent and sunblock lotion as you won’t find these on the island. Hand sanitizer is also recommended. Take a headlamp or flashlight for camping and the caves.
Also make sure you take a power bank/battery to charge your phone or camera while camping, and an outlet converter.
Men can wear shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops pretty much everywhere. The only time I was asked to wear long pants, as a courtesy, not mandatory, was when going back to the airport on my departure, as there are many women at the airport waiting for their flight.
As mentioned, they are all conservative and wearing the burqa – so out of respect, I wore my jeans. But many guys there were wearing shorts with no issue.
Women, on the other hand, while in Hadiboh, should dress appropriately. Shorts are ok as long as they are not too short (but long pants are preferable) and t-shirts should cover your shoulders. Outside of Hadiboh, while at the beach or far from any small town, you are free to wear your bikini and sunbathe.
Where to Stay in Socotra Island
While in Hadiboh, you have only three hotel options. The way locals describe it is there are two shitty hotels and a good one.
The Summerland Hotel is the good one, and it costs around $150 per night. I didn’t stay there but my friends did. They said it was ok. Comfortable, clean enough, and your best option in the city.
I stayed the first and last night in one of the shitty hotels, the Taj Hotel. Honestly, go without any expectations. It’s dirty and things barely work (and this is coming from someone not squeamish and easy-going). But hey, it’s cheap.
The other shitty hotel is the Socotra Hotel. I have no firsthand experience with it, but it seems to be worse than the Taj Hotel.
Outside of Hadiboh, everything is either camping or homestays. There are no hotels outside the city.
I opted to camp and I highly recommend it! It’s one of the best ways to experience Socotra.
Should you not want to camp, you can stay the entire week in Hadiboh and do your trip as a series of day trips. Socotra is not that big, so any point on the island is reachable within a few hours driving.
About Camping in Socotra…
Do it!! I went there during March which is during the dry season, so I didn’t have to pitch my tent a single night. Nights were really comfortable, temperature-wise, but be aware that there might be mosquitos, ants, and other bugs around. It’s nature, after all.
I was fine just covering myself with my blankets.
The camping equipment is basic. I never used my tent, so I can’t speak of it, but know that the sleeping mat I was provided was a bit thin, so you have to get used to it if you like soft beds. The pillow was fine and so were the blankets.
My guide and driver took care of all the meals, cooking right on site.
Socotra has a few official camping sites, but most of them were partially destroyed during a strong hurricane that hit them in 2018. At the moment they are in slow recovery, so you might have a mix of official campsites and random camping spots here and there.
Just Relax and Enjoy Solitude in Paradise
Last but not least, make the most of your offline time there by relaxing, reading a book, enjoying the beach, and talking with your friends. You know, the kinds of stuff we used to do before the smartphone and the internet.
Trust me, at first I wasn’t sure how’d I last a week offline, by myself, but in Socotra (and with a good book) it was easy and so enjoyable I’m dying to go back!
It is a true paradise!
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