Socotra Island is the largest piece of land of the eponymous archipelago, located in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean on the territory of Yemen. The main town on the island is the settlement of Hadeibo (Hadibo). The name “Socotra” comes from Sanskrit and means “Island of Happiness. The archipelago is the crown jewel of Arabia, as it has preserved the unique flora and fauna. The pristine nature of Socotra attracts scientists, eco-tourism enthusiasts and relaxed vacationers.
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Video: Socotra Island
Geography and Climate
The island of Socotra is 130 km long and 40 km wide. Its central and eastern part is dominated by pointed mountains. The highest of them is Hajar (1570 meters). There are mountain hiking trails, which travelers can be shown by a local guide. Uplands alternate with real green oases of plains, which stretch along the coast and at the foot of the peaks.
On the whole, the scenery in Socotra is very diverse: limestone plateaus, precipitous cliffs, lush palm groves, and deserted tropical beaches washed by salty waves. It is a great place for hiking, camping, and water sports.
Experts classify the local climate as tropical semi-desert and desert. Rainfall is more abundant in winter, but affects mostly the mountainous parts of the island. During the monsoons, you can see high waves blown up by the strong winds. The average temperature during the year ranges from +25 to +32 degrees Celsius, but during the summer period, it often reaches the mark of +42 degrees.
You can come here practically at any time of year, because the water temperature never drops below +24 degrees. Winter and summer are drier, but in the spring and autumn precipitation is quite high.
The Pearl of Socotra – its unusual trees In the interior of the island view of the ocean
Supposedly in the 1st millennium BC, representatives of the South Arabian tribes arrived on the islands and became the discoverers of Socotra. Seven centuries later, the Greeks arrived, and closer to the A.D. mark, the Indians settled here. The Portuguese tried to take over Socotra in 1507, but were defeated and retreated.
T-34 tank of World War II The beach with white sand
For a long time, the island of Socotra was in complete isolation. This is largely responsible for the preservation of natural and cultural uniqueness. The first scientific expedition came here only in 1880. The head of the British group of scientists was Isaac Balfour. The research results just stunned the scientific community: in less than 50 days on the island it was discovered about 200 new plant species. Until now, the flora and fauna of this place have not been fully studied.
From the end of the XIX century to 1967, this land was a British protectorate. Today the archipelago is part of the state of Yemen.
Among travelers this destination is not yet too popular, so the island has avoided the ruinous impact of the great flow of tourists.
The mountains of the island surrounded by lush vegetation
Flora and fauna
The biodiversity of the archipelago is its main wealth and attraction. Several tens of millions of years ago, Socotra separated from the African mainland and has been virtually isolated ever since. That’s why many relict species have survived here that are found nowhere else on Earth. For example, 95% of land-dwelling mollusks, 90% of reptiles, over 70% of birds, as well as 30% of plants exist only on the archipelago. This haven of unique species is sometimes called the Galapagos Islands of the Indian Ocean.
Cinnabar Red Dracaena (or dragon’s blood tree)
An old Indian legend says that long ago, on the island of Socotra in the Arabian Sea, there was a bloodthirsty dragon that attacked elephants and drank their blood. But one day an old and strong elephant fell on the dragon and crushed him. Their blood mingled and soaked the ground around it. Trees called dracenas, which means “female dragon,” grew on that spot.
In 2003, Socotra was listed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Travelers have the opportunity to observe the rarest varieties of animals, birds and plants in their natural environment: the cucumber and dragonblood tree, giant aloe, nectarberry and so on. Some of them live only in limited habitats in the interior of the island. For this reason, tourists are not allowed to export or import any biological objects, to destroy plant communities, to drive cars outside paved roads.
Socotra’s coastal waters are unusually rich in tropical fish, corals and plants. Several major ocean currents bring here a cocktail of marine life. Scientists have recorded at least 253 species of corals, more than 700 varieties of fish, 300 different crustaceans. Among the larger inhabitants are whale sharks, morays, stingrays, long-finned whales, bottlenose dolphins, sperm whales.
You can admire this living diversity during scuba diving. On the coast it is not difficult to rent all the necessary equipment. February and March are the most suitable months for fans of this type of recreation. During this period, the sea is very calm, the monsoon winds subsides, improving visibility at depth. The easiest way to get a permit for diving, if you already have experience diving. Local authorities strictly control tourist activity in the region, so it is important to follow all the rules.
For organization of diving is best to contact local guides or excursion services. The cost of diving off the coast of Socotra is quite high, since it includes a fee to the settlement, near which you will dive, the commission to the tourist center and the state fee.
Sunset on Socotra Qalansiya Village
For windsurfing enthusiasts, the best time to come here is during the summer, June-September, when a steady monsoon begins to blow from the southwest. The speed of these winds often reaches 30 meters per second. The beaches near Calancia and Hadibo, the headlands of Shaub and Ras Arcel, and the southeastern tip of the island are considered the best spots for fans of this sport.
In winter, the monsoon blows from the north-east and this creates favorable conditions for kiting. The northern coast of Socotra Island is considered the best spot.
Despite the prevalence of extreme sports, most tourists prefer a quiet holiday: swimming in the warm tropical sea, excursions to the picturesque caves and canyons, mountain walks, acquaintance with the most striking representatives of flora and fauna.
Inside Dogub Cave. South of Socotra Central Island Vegetation A natural harbour in the north A lake in the middle of the Rocks
Special mention should be made of the local population. The Socotrians are of mixed ancestry, inherited from the Arabs, English, Ethiopians, Greeks, Indians, Somalis and Portuguese who came to the archipelago at different historical periods. Here they speak their own language called Socotri, which has very ancient Semitic roots, as well as Arabic. Most guides and other tourist workers speak English.
Although the Sokotri language is unwritten, it has been the medium for the development of a rich poetic as well as musical culture. Researchers consider it as interesting as classical Arabic or Akkadian.
A local guy with a camel in camp
The Socotrians are friendly and cheerful people with an optimistic outlook. They treat their lands with care: they don’t cut down living trees, strictly follow the rotation of pastures and cattle grazing. Largely thanks to this attitude to nature, today we can observe such a rich world of the archipelago. Traditional occupations of the inhabitants are fishing, cattle breeding (goats, sheep), cultivation of some rare plants, which are used by pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies around the world.
Interestingly, trade routes and various sea routes leading to India and Africa have passed by the islands since ancient times, so sophisticated divers can see many shipwrecks. The most difficult reefs lay near the Cape Ras Arcel, so that here there are many remains of ancient ships. Near the coastline of the city of Calencia on Socotra Island rests the ship Sunrise, split in two, which long ago became a home for many sea creatures.
The Underwater World of Socotra
The tourist infrastructure of the islands can hardly be called very developed, but the requirements of the average traveler will be more than satisfied. Accommodation in a hotel or campsite of your choice is available to all comers. You can get to Socotra not only as part of organized tours, but also on their own.
Getting here is easiest by direct flight from Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, or Dubai (UAE). There is also an occasional boat trip to Oman. Most travelers come to the island from the Yemeni side, which is the best route. The airport is only in Hadibo, so you arrive directly to Socotra island.
A flock of dolphins off the coast of Socotra
It is worth taking into account that the military and political situation in Yemen is not always stable, so the transport of tourists to the archipelago may be irregular. Nevertheless, the situation on the island itself is calm, and it will not be affected by distant military action. Today there is talk about the isolation of Sokotra into an autonomous province with the right of its own visa control. But the authorities of the island and Yemen assure that this will not complicate the movement of travelers, so your trip to this extraordinary tropical region you can plan without fear.
Tourists have a unique opportunity to see the rarest natural beauty on Earth, so to visit the islands of the archipelago is definitely worthwhile. Planning a trip on your own is not difficult, but it is worth taking care in advance about obtaining a visa to Yemen. Your efforts will be repaid in full – nowhere else in the world will you see what the island of Socotra holds in itself!
Socotra Island, Yemen (36 photos)
Socotra Island is one of the most beautiful and amazing places on earth. In the harsh desert environment here have survived unique representatives of flora and fauna. And thanks to the isolation of the island a lot of local species of flora and fauna are not found anywhere else in the world.
The island of Socotra is part of the state of Yemen. It is located in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean, 250 km from the coast of Africa, and about 350 km south of the Arabian Peninsula. It is part of the Sokotra Archipelago of the same name. The island’s modest size, 134 km long and 43 km wide, does not prevent it from being one of the most important biodiversity centers.
Sokotra means “Island of Happiness” in Sanskrit. And it’s easy to agree with this – a riot of botanical fascination neighbors here with isolation, silence and huge snow-white beaches.
For centuries, Socotra Island was inaccessible to naturalists and early explorers. But in the late ’90s it received a lot of attention, especially from those interested in its economic development and the preservation of its unique natural environment. Thanks to its nature, which has been preserved since prehistoric times, the island attracts not only specialists and scientists, but also eco-tourists and relaxationists. Socotra is one of the few places on the planet where progress has not spoiled the proper attitude of man to his environment and to himself.
The island is famous for its unusual landscape, which can be mistaken for the scenery of a fantasy movie about an extraterrestrial civilization. The east and center of the island are dominated by mountain ranges with pointed peaks rising to a height of 1,570 meters into the sky. The mountain valleys are life-giving green oases. Steep slopes overhanging the flat coastline or right above the raging waves, limestone plateaus located at the crossroads of all winds – all these are the amazing landscapes of Socotra.
The island of Socotra is a piece of the African continent with a mountainous topography. This part of the continental plate separated from Africa about 6 million years ago. Isolated from the outside world, the local nature has evolved in its own special way, acquiring unique features. The location of the island has created excellent conditions for a large number of rare specimens of flora and fauna.
All the land mollusks that live here, 90% of the reptiles and a third of the plants are endemic, i.e. occur only on this island. The population of endemic avifauna is the largest in the entire Middle East. On the island you can meet about 140 species of birds. Endemics include the Socotrian starling, the Socotrian nectar, the Socotrian sparrow and the Socotrian golden-winged grosbeak. Cormorants of Socotra Island:
Communities of species of deep-sea dwellers, unlike their terrestrial neighbors, are not rich in endemics. What makes them unique is that they are a peculiar “cocktail” of diverse species that originated at the junction of three major areas: East Africa, Arabia and the Indo-Pacific region.
There are about 800 plant species on Socotra. Scientists say that the island’s unique plants are fragments of ancient terrestrial flora that disappeared on the mainland millions of years ago. The most famous are the Dragon Tree, Cucumber Tree, Dorstenia gigantea and Desert Rose (Adenium Socotranum), which resembles an elephant’s leg decorated with delicate pink shoots.
Ancient legends say that the Dragon Tree has dragon’s blood flowing in it, which has magical and healing properties. The resin of this tree has a blood-red color, it is actively used in cosmetics and medicine. The dragon tree is famous not only for the unusual color of the resin, but also for the original shape of the trunk and crown. The tree’s branches extend to the sky, giving it the appearance of huge mushrooms growing in the middle of the desert.
The cucumber tree can only be seen on the island of Socotra. It is the only tree species of the pumpkin family in the world. It looks like a baobab with a thick, fleshy trunk up to a meter in diameter and small branches stretching up the sparse crown. Previously, this unique species was often found on the territory of the island, but due to the active use for agricultural purposes, its numbers significantly decreased. And the cucumber tree got its name because of the fruit, similar to cucumbers, but studded with a large number of thorns. The cucumber tree:
Desert Rose (Adenium Socotranum) does not look like a rose at all, but it is still beautiful. This plant is considered one of the most beautiful desert flowers. The trunk of the tree is fleshy and thick, and can include several fused trunks. Adenium reaches a height of more than 3.5 meters and a trunk diameter of 2.4 meters. Some of the species can grow upwards, while others grow wide, becoming almost flat barrels. The tree’s short branches form a crown decorated with pink flowers. The desert rose is a slow growing and very rare tree. Dorstenia gigantea is a tree that requires no soil – it can grow right on bare rock. Desert Rose:
Once lying in the arms of the Arabian Sea, Socotra was a legendary land on the edge of the world known to men at the time. The raging sea off the island threatened mariners with shoals and shoals, and its inhabitants were thought to be able to control the winds, by which they drove ships that passed by to the shore and plundered them. But the most desperate treasure hunters risked their lives for the mysterious island’s unseen riches. Today, however, Socotra attracts explorers with entirely different riches.
Ancient Romans, Egyptians and Greeks all used Sokotra’s natural treasures, such as aromatic resins, frankincense, medicinal aloe extract and “dragon’s blood” – the sap of the dragon tree. Numerous adventurers came to this land to get rich prey, despite the legends of the island’s creepy guards, the giant snakes that live in the local caves. Alexander the Great, the Queen of Sheba and Marco Polo all dreamed of the riches of Socotra. As for the inhabitants of the island of Socotra, they are very self-sufficient and cheerful people, despite the rather difficult living conditions. They speak the ancient Semitic pre-written language of Socotra, no less ancient and interesting to scholars than classical Arabic and Akkadian. With no concept of safe and comfortable living, the inhabitants of the island developed a deep respect and appreciation for the sea and the land, which was essential to the survival of this people.
Socotra is globally significant for its biodiversity, evolutionary uniqueness and socio-cultural heritage. In recognition of the unique culture of the Socotra Archipelago, as well as the tremendous efforts of the Yemeni government to preserve it, in 2003 it was included by UNESCO in the World List of Biosphere Reserves under the Man and the Biosphere program.
To reach the capital of Socotra, Hadiba, one must fly to Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, and take a local airline plane to Hadiba. You can spend the night in town by renting camping equipment or checking into a hotel. The best time to visit the island is from December to April.