The Travel Dream List: Socotra (or Soqotra), Yeman – the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean

I’m a big fan of weird geology, tropical beaches, and odd plants. This means there may be no place on earth that intrigues me as much as Socotra, a small island off the coast of Yemen in the Gulf of Aden.

Although separated from the mainland some 250 million years ago, Socotra is near enough to the mainland of the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa to collect seeds and birds and to the cross currents of three oceans (the Indian, Pacific and Red Sea) to have a wild mix of marine life. When combined with the archipelago ancient species, all this mixing provides an amazing amount of biodiversity for s small place. With hundreds of endemic species, Socotra has some of the rarest and most unusual plants and animals on earth.

It also has some of the most dramatic landscapes on earth, extending from coastal plains and cliffs to dunes and rugged mountains. It is a harsh, landscape, but one that looks fascinating both in its variety and sculpted beauty.


This is not a completely uninhabited wilderness. Despite the wildness of the islands, there are about 44,000 people living here, mostly in the main town of Hadibu. The population is Muslim and speaks an ancient language that is unique to these islands.

I’m a bit unclear as to the current political situation on the island itself. All trip reports indicate that the people of Socotra are welcoming and there have been no security concerns at all. However, other sources have indicated that the population of Socotra is not pleased by the limitations on development that have been put in place to preserve the island. There has also been more general discontent with the actions of the government of Yemen toward the islanders over the years. This discontent is broad-based, including the woeful economic condition on the islands as well as the required use of Arabic (instead of the local language) in the school.

To date, Socotra has been developed as an eco-tourism destination, although it also attracts budget-minded beach tourists from Europe who come strictly for its pristine beaches. Most visitors come to hike, dive, and camp, eager to explore the diversity of the island. There are no luxury resorts here – no resorts at all – just a few primitive eco-lodges and campsites. I’m generally not big on camping, but there are places where camping is the way to go. Socotra seems like one of those places.

It is now possible to travel to Socotra from Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. This means is it possible to travel to the island without transferring through mainland Yemen (a fascinating country that has become very dangerous for western tourists).

This is not a sailing destination, as it is well within range of Somali pirates.

Resources:

The Socotra Governance and Biodiversity Project is, in essence, the successor organization of the Socotra Conservation and Development Programme. Most articles on Socotra have (dead) links to the previous program.

Sites with good general travel information (as well as tour company contacts):

Travel stories:

Great photos are available on flickr, especially those of twiga_swala and Anthony Pappone.

Public Radio International has a beautiful video on the island and the threats it faces.

Have you been to Socotra or thought about traveling there? I’d like to hear about your experience!

The Travel Dream List

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