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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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!