Socotra Island in Yemen

 

Bottle Trees in Socotra

Bottle Trees in Socotra

Right in the Gulf of Aden, in front of the Horn of Africa, the Socotra archipelago is one of those unique and mysterious places that attract our mind making us dream about other times. Within its four islands, you’ll find one of the most fascinating and weirdest natural diversity in the world, a place where the cucumbers become trees, and the trees tap an intense red resin. Due to more than 6 million years of isolation and a specific climate very scarce in water, the flora and fauna of the island evolved separated form everything else in the earth, presenting plants and trees with shapes apparently coming from another planet.

Although it’s situated in front of the coast of Somalia, Socotra is part of the territory of Yemen, and the capital city is Haddibo. The principal island (also named Socotra) is 125 km length and 45km width, being the biggest island in the Middle East. The population is about 40.000 people who speak Arab and a unique Semitic language, the Soqotri. They live mostly from fishing, date cultivation and farming.

Socotra map

One third of the 900 plant species in the island are endemic, including the famous Dragon’s Blood Tree or Dracaena Cinnabara (known for its red resin, used as dye since antiquity and very appreciated by European Renassance painters ) and the cucumber tree or Dendrosicyos socotranus (also called bottle tree or desert rose), without doubt the most strange of all. But not everything is nice in being unique and rare: Socotra’s ecosystem is one of the most endangered in the world. Not in vain it was listed in the UNESCO World Site Heritage as World Natural Patrimony.

But it’s not only about plants in Socotra. You’ll also find gorgeous beaches and immaculate white sand dunes, beautiful and rare endemic birds, mountains ready for some hiking and unique diving and snorkeling possibilities.

Flora and fauna sightseen

Dragon Trees Socotra

Dragon Trees

Probably, hiking the Haggeher Mountains (1600 m high) is the best way to see the flora and fauna of the island, and there are plenty of places to head for. Good ideas are the ascension to the Dixam plateau, where you’ll find some forests of Dragon Blood Trees and nomads grazing their cattle. Homhill protected area is also an awesome place to see wildlife: here you’ll find forests of Dragon’s blood trees, frankincense trees and bottle trees, which are all around the island in the cliff zones. Rokeb Firhim and Momi are also good places to see the Dragon trees.

Other nice trekking opportunities are the Ayhaft Canyon –excellent for bird watching-, or the Dirhor Canyon near Firhim, as well as the beautiful Wadi Deneghen, just outside Hadibo.

Bottle Tree Socotra

Bottle Tree

Beach Socotra Yemen

Socotra's clear waters

Beach and dunes

Socotra’s stunning beaches are other main attraction of the island. In the north side, bathed by the Arabian Sea, Delicia is a sandy beach not far from Hadibo, with some dunes and a quiet sea. Further, to the East, Dihamri is a protected coral reef that offers excellent snorkeling and diving possibilities, probably the best in the island with its waters filled with coral, parrotfish, morays, rays and 200 more species of fish. Continuing to the east, Rosh and Arher beaches are also a good idea not far from Homhill, with silver sand dunes and a calm environment far from the onlookers.

On the Southern shore, in the Indic Ocean, you’ll find the big beach of Aomak, a good place to go before reaching the pristine white sand dunes in Noged, Zahik and Hayf.

Finally, in the western part of the island, you’ll find maybe the most splendid beaches in Socotra. From the picturesque fishing village of Qalansiya, with its traditional houses and narrow alleyways, you can reach the protected area in Detwah Lagoon, renowned for its spectacular landscape and expansive endless beach with clear crystalline waters. From there, you can take a boat to Shoab beach (not reachable by land). While in the boat, you are likely to see dolphins and other fishes, as well as heron birds flying around the cliffs. Finally, you’ll arrive to the clear turquoise waters of the Shoab beach. Look at the pictures of this impressive beach:

Water pool Socotra Yemen

The biggest water pool in the island

Water pools and caves

Water pools come to the surface in the karstic areas all around the mountains, and represent a vital source of water for the wildlife, the shepherds and the exhausted tourists tired from hiking. The biggest one is between Momi and Kalysan, but you’ll find also in Daerhu Canyon, Wadi Al Shifa, Wadi Dirhor and Wadi Ayhaft, among others. And if you didn’t have enough with the “outside-wells”, you can try to explore the Hoq Cave and the Dogub Cave.

Hadibo

In Hadibo city there’s not much to see. It’s a dirty and noisy city, with frequent water and electricity cuts, but you’ll be able to find good restaurant serving local dishes made mostly of grilled fish, beans and rice.

Socotra landscapeHow and when

If you are thinking about a trip to Socotra, you must have in mind that it’s not an easy destination where you’ll be able to plan everything. Flights are reasonably frequent and the hosting possibilities in the capital are enough with its 2 hotels, but out of there it will be difficult to find everything by your own. Hiring a local guide or an organized tour is probably the best option.

The best time for going there is from January to May, as it’s the best season to see wildlife, but from October to December it’s also fine. Avoid the monsoon season from June to September.

Another good advice is to bring some cash with you, because there is no ATM in the whole island.

Finally, if you want to reach the other islands, Samha and Abd Al-Kuri, or the uninhabited Darasah, strength yourself!

And we’ll finish the post with a gallery of freaking beautiful images of Socotra Island in Yemen. Enjoy it!

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Sierra Leone Beaches

 

Sierra Leone Map

Sierra Leone Map

Yes, I know. When you hear the name of Sierra Leone, atrocious images of people killed and mass riots came to your head. It was the same with me. But the war finished 12 years ago, the democracy was reestablished and the political stability returned to a country that became one of the safest in the region. And since then, Sierra Leone is making great efforts to attract tourists to their stunning beaches. Some of the best beaches in continental Africa.

Sierra Leone holds a special place in the history of the anti-slavery movement, as it was where free slaves could find a new home in the beginning of the 19th century, mostly coming from America and Jamaica. The name of the capital –Freetown-, founded by former slaves settlers, is quite descriptive.

 Generally tourists are treated with warmth and courtesy, free of those annoying harassements that usually happen in other tourist hubs. Also, in some areas the prices are still down, so now it’s still a good time for going there!

Freetown Sierra Leone

Freetown beaches are amazing

Freetown and Freetown Peninsula

Freetown is the capital of Sierra Leone. Apart of the National Museum and some colonial-era buildings is not a big thing, but its location in the point of the Freetown Peninsula makes it a place surrounded by water, with many beautiful breathtaking beaches not far from there. As mass tourism is still developing in Sierra Leone, the beaches are quiet and lonely, which means that most of them are still in pristine condition, even more, it’s quite possible that on a week day you can have an amazing entire beach just for yourself.

 The best beaches around Freetown are Tokeh (famous among French supermodels before the war) and River Beach Number 2, palm lined and white sands lonely beaches that will make the joy for most of the visitors. Other beaches in the Peninsula are Lumley, Goderich, Lakka, Hamilton, Baw Baw, Sussex, Tombo, York, Bureh and Kent. Although they are usually very lonely, most of the beaches has basic tourist services (hotels, bungalows or guesthouses, food, internet cafés, beach umbrellas and so on), in some you´ll even be able to catch a local boat for exploring the shore from the water: the scenery is simply amazing. Note that camping is well possible in all the places.

John Obey Beach is another fabulous beach that offers an interesting possibility of eco-tourism: the Tribe Wanted project. There you’ll be able to fish, cook and engage in many other activities while staying in beautiful eco-friendly mud houses.

Cotton Tree Freetown

Cotton Tree in Freetown

 About 20 miles up the Sierra Leone River you can find Bounce Island, a former British slave station. The first slave traders arrived around 1670, and by the 18th century the island was the biggest slave station in West Africa. That was the starting point for the journey across the Atlantic for thousands of enslaved Africans. In Plantain Island you’ll find another slavering fort.

Opposite to the symbols of slavery, there are also symbols of freedom, like the Connaught Hospital or the more important Cotton Tree, the place where the firsts Afro-Americans slaves who arrived at the Freetown Peninsula landed and there, near that big tree, prayed and sung hymns to thank God for finally reached a free land. The tree is still there, placed in the old town near the Supreme Court building, and Sierra Leonians still pray and make offerings beneath the old Cotton Tree.

Another one-day excursion from Freetown is the Tacuguma Chimpanzee Sanctuary, where you’ll see the chimps rescued by the workers of Tacugama organization from illegal petting, bushmeat trade or poachers. The sanctuary is located 40 min from the city in the surrounding hills, which are also a home for some lovely waterfalls, interesting villages and the oldest stone church in West Africa.

Monkey in Sierra Leone

Monkey in Sierra Leone

Accommodation in Freetown is as it is in every capital. You can pay 200€ per night in a deluxe hotel, or you can stay in a guest house or bungalow for 6€ per night. It depends on your demands, but think that in some places where electricity and current water are not generalized, rooms with these services can be expensive. In these cases, remember that in general all the beaches are suitable for camping.

Banana Islands

Not far from Freetown Peninsula, Banana Islands are reachable by boat and are an ideal destination for a day trip or an overnight stay at some of the guest houses placed there. The two main islands, Dublin and Ricketts, are linked by a piece of sand that submerges under the water at high tide, but a causeway is made to connect them permanently.

Banana Islands are ideal for diving and snorkeling, with some coral and Portuguese cannons in shallow water left by a shipwreck. In Dublin, you can see also the remains of a church dating from 1881 and the old slave docks left by the slave traders. After them, the island became an important place in the history of slaves’ freedom, being one of the first places where they lived for free. It’s also recommendable to explore the forests and some fruit bat caves.

You can get to the Island from Kent beach by boat, and then you can stay at some of the lodges for quite a cheap price.

Sierra Leone Banana Islands

Fishing stuff in Banana Islands

Turtle Islands

A group eight of idyllic gorgeous islands situated southwest of the Peninsula,  inhabited by turtles (and its nesting areas) and a friendly fishing community. The waters are fresh and clean, as well as the air, and you’ll have the possibility to fish with the locals. Due to their remoteness, they can be expensive to reach. From Freetown it will take you 3 hours by speedboat, and a little bit less from Bonthe. As always while traveling, time is money: if you want to get there fast, it will be expensive; if you can wait for some days until there’s a local’s boat heading there, you can save a lot.

Turtle Island Sierra Leone

Turtle Island

Other

Although we focused on the beach environment, Sierra Leone has many more places to visit inland. Tiwai Island wildlife sanctuary, in the Southern province, is an inland island in the middle of the Moa River, and is home for a wildlife sanctuary where you can see one of the highest concentrations of different species of primates of the world (11), hippopotamus and many other kinds of animals. 

Other options are visiting Kilimi or Outamba national parks, or explore the surroundings of the Mount Bintumani, the highest point in the country with its 1945 m.

And yet, if you don’t have enough, you have 400 more km of coastline to explore!

Turtle Island Sierra Leone

Turtle Island

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