What It’s Really Like To Visit Socotra – The Unique Island in Yemen
If you had mentioned to me a place called Socotra a few years ago, I couldn’t have told you a thing about it; I didn’t even know where in the world it was, so it never occurred to me to visit Socotra. I later discovered that Socotra was a remote island in the Indian Ocean; which is also part of Yemen. I started researching Socotra and discovered what an unspoiled paradise it appeared to be. Could it really be as pristine as the photos suggest? We made arrangements to visit in December 2019 – this is what is it really like to visit Socotra.
Post updated 10 Apr, 2022
Before the civil war broke out in 2011 in Yemen, Socotra had been experiencing a small amount of tourism, about 4,000 tourists per year. Once the civil war in Yemen started, Socotra was closed off from the world for over five years. It has only recently opened back up and intrepid visitors are curious to see for themselves what this untouched island is all about.
Is it safe to visit Socotra?
Socotra has never been at war and it is very safe to visit. This is, unfortunately, a different story on mainland Yemen, over 370 km away. Your biggest challenge is getting to Socotra as flights are limited.
Who can visit Socotra?
As the visas are arranged on arrival at the airport in Socotra, I believe any nationality can visit. Check with your tour provider before you book.
Who lives here?
For an island with an area of 3796 metres squared and a population of about 45,000 people, it still feels like hardly anybody lives here. After our arrival on the first day, we stopped for lunch in the capital, Hadibo. This ‘city’ feels more like a small town, but it isn’t the reason you would want to visit Socotra.
There are small shops here to stock up on dry goods, a few bakeries, butchers/fishmongers, clothes shops surrounded by dusty streets. Sadly there is a lot of rubbish on the streets and you find that it’s common for locals to drop rubbish anywhere.
Our visit to Hadibu Socotra was brief, as it is the countryside most visitors are keen to see. Once we left the city and headed out on the open road (which are for the most part, in good condition), the beauty of Socotra begins to unfold.
Where to stay and how to get around in Socotra
Basically, all tourists who visit Socotra need to make arrangements in advance with a local tour operator on the island.
You can join a small group tour or even book a private tour. As of late 2019, there is only one flight arriving into Socotra per week, and one flight out. The only way to visit Socotra is on that flight. This means that all packages will be at least 7 days long or 14 days if you wish to stay longer. *2021 Update flights are now out of Abu Dhabi and this is the only way to visit Socotra now. Find more info in our blog How to visit Socotra *
Expect that you will be wild camping during your time here, as once you leave the capital – there are very limited to no hotels and hot showers, etc. You may be able to sleep in homestays along the way, but this all depends on the company/guide you book with.
We travelled in 4WD with a local driver/guide to get around the island – if you visit Socotra this might be the way you travel.
Back to basics – Sleep in a tent and eat off the land
Our 7-night itinerary included camping in a tent in various locations on the island. To be honest, it was very warm and comfortable. Mattresses, sheets, pillow, and blankets were provided.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were included as part of our trip. We had a cook travelling with us and he prepared some tasty meals for our small group all week. As the infrastructure on the island is basic, there is no option to visit Socotra in comfort you might be used to when visiting other countries. Just be prepared.
What is the food like in Socotra?
This island relies heavily on fresh fish, so this is what we ate for lunch and dinner on most days. Fresh tuna fillets accompanied by rice or pasta and a fragrant sauce with potatoes and vegetables. So be prepared, your visit to Socotra will include plenty of fresh food.
There were always fresh oranges, apples, dates to munch on between meals, and let’s not forget about the endless amount of tea.
Yemeni tea is always available
If you can imagine yourself sitting with a hot cup of tea staring out at crashing waves over a pristine beach with the sun setting for the evening – you’ll love Socotra. At all times, you’ll find a hot thermos of prepared tea, loaded with sugar, ready to consume. Tea is life here. As our guide said, it is not possible to visit Socotra home without being offered at least a few cups of tea.
How much does it cost to visit Socotra?
NOTE: A visit to Socotra is NOT cheap. In fact, it is one of the most expensive destinations I’ve taken for a week-long trip, it even beat the pricey cost of visiting Bhutan.
Before our arrival, we researched most of the local tour operators who are currently running tours on the island. They all have very similar pricing, so for us, it simply came down to choosing one with a good reputation and a good recommendation.
Read our post about how to visit Socotra for all information on how to make your visit to Socotra happen.
It’s hard to imagine a land that is more diverse than Socotra. It really does feel like another world. The colour of the sand on the beaches here is powder white. The colour of the water, sparkling turquoise blue.
It is almost guaranteed that you will be the only person on the beach, leaving the only footprints in the sand on that day, if not the week.
The only issues can be rubbish that you might come across in piles, left behind by locals.
Snorkelling & Diving – There are opportunities to dive & snorkel in Socotra. This island is home to more than 680 species of fish and over 250 species of coral. Divers have opportunities to explore underwater shipwrecks and discover untouched reefs.
Crystal clear waters surrounding Socotra allow you to view marine life such as dolphins, barracudas, turtles, manta rays, and more. Unfortunately, during our visit to Scootra, we didn’t get to go snorkelling due to the rough sea on the day
The landscape changes dramatically on the island – it’s always stunning. Socotra is often referred to as the most alien-like place on earth.
There are caves to explore, massive rocky mountains to hike, limestone plateaus, waterfalls and wadis (natural waterholes) to discover, a desert, and stunning beaches everywhere. This island is rich in endemic plants and animals.
Dragon blood trees
The dragon blood tree is perhaps the most iconic symbol of Socotra. This unique and strange-looking tree is endemic to the island. It is named after its dark red resin, which is known as “dragon’s blood” and offers a range of traditional medicinal uses for the Soqotri people for centuries.
It’s a pretty cool moment when I saw my first dragon blood tree sitting high on the plateau. As we hiked up further, we came face to face with hundreds of these ancient-looking trees. It’s a highlight for anyone that visits Socotra.
An adventure lover’s paradise
Socotra is perfect for adventure lovers, keen hikers, and those who crave simplicity and natural beauty. A visit to Socotra feels like you are worlds away from anywhere…and that’s probably because you are.
There are few places left in the world where you can be surrounded by so much space, silence, and beautiful, natural surroundings.
If you’re looking for a destination unlike any other, Socotra is waiting to welcome you. Visit Socotra before the rest of the world discovers what a real gem this place is.
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Interested to travel to more of the least-visited countries?
To continue on the path of discovering AMAZING Roman ruins and visit another country that doesn’t receive many visitors, I’d recommend you check out Algeria. I’ll admit it, obtaining the visa isn’t so easy for many nationalities, but if you persist and get your hands on one, there are many incredible places to visit in Algeria. We learned many useful tips in the first week there and recommend you read our 13 essential things to know before you go. This information will help you plan the best trip, and most importantly maximise your time in this huge country and save money too.
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Rach is a self-confessed travelling foodie. Her passion for food and culture has seen her eat her way through 190 countries. She's currently on a big food adventure to visit EVERY country in the world!
When Rach isn't travelling, you can find her at the beach, drinking coffee or wine with friends or chowing down on the best eats around her home city of Melbourne, Australia.