If you are a country collector, then Yemen is notoriously one of the hardest countries to tick off the list, but worry no more! Young Pioneer Tours have just returned from our third trip to Socotra, another rip-roaring success, and a tour we shall be running more often!
So, what’s the skinny on Socotra? Here’s our top on the spot guidance…
Where is Socotra?
Socotra, which can also be spelled Soqotra is the largest Yemeni island in the Socotra archipelago. It is situated in the Arabian Sea, and is an island (duh). As an island, it has been somewhat insulated from numerous troubles that exist on the mainland of Yemen and the civil war that is there.
Is there a ferry to Socotra?
We used to think there was, but it turns out there isn’t!
However, locals will sometimes hop on boats carrying cement or livestock between the mainland and the island when they really have to go from one to the other. The cruise takes 3 days, on a dingy ship filled with sheep, or packed with stone dust… Not exactly your typical Norwegian cruise.
How do you get to Socotra?
At the moment, unless you are Emirati or Saudi (in which case more flights are available for you but restricted for any other nationals), you will have to fly to the island using Yemenia Airlines. The company links Socotra to the mainland with their weekly Seiyun-Socotra flight. That same flight has an international extension from Cairo. This means that you can fly to Socotra either from Cairo, with a short layover in Seiyun (the safe and more stable way and the one YPT uses. We’ve made a guide about it too) or you could cross into Mainland Yemen from Oman and drive to Seiyun to catch the flight from there (the balls of steel and dodgy option).
What is there to do in Socotra?
You won’t find bars, cinemas or museums on this island which has only two towns and a few villages so you’ll probably have to review your go-to when you travel.
However, that absolutely doesn’t mean that Socotra is boring! It is an outdoor enthusiast paradise.
Socotra has amazing beaches where you can swim and relax as well as climb some enormous dunes.
It has incredible flora in its National parks such as Firmihin Forest and Homhil NP. Here in Socotra, you can trek to your heart content in an environment that seems like it comes from another planet. You’ll see dragon blood tree, which look like trees that have grown upside-down as well as bottle-trees, which look entirely alien.
If you like caves, Socotra has some incredible caves waiting for you to be explored. One of them, Hoq’s cave, requires quite a hike to access it but is enormous. Here you’ll see stalagmite the size of church organs and would have enough space to fit a shopping mall.
In terms of specialist activities, Socotra has a tiny dive shop equipped to bring four people diving at a time. It has some pristine coral reef, which gives it a fantastic scuba diving scene.
The waters surrounding the island are also bountiful and filled with fish, making it an excellent place for both shore and sea fishing.
As tourism is going through its rebirth in Socotra, we can expect more and more activities to restart. Socotra used to have micro flights, parachuting and some more sports.
What are the hotels like in Socotra?
At the moment, there are two working hotels receiving tourists in Socotra. The Socotra Tourism Hotel is the budget option, and the Summerland Hotel is the slightly more comfortable option (click on the links for our complete review of each one). Both hotels are located right next to each other, in the main city of Socotra, Hadibo, located 25 minutes away from the airport.
What is the food and drink like in Socotra?
Since the Saudi’s have taken over the administration of the airport, it is now impossible for tourists to bring alcohol for their own consumption. The predecessor of the Saudis, the Emiratis, used to allow non-Muslim tourists to bring 1 bottle of a maximum of 1 litre. So that’s it for the alcohol situation… In terms of other drinks, you’ll find the usual soft drinks, such as coca-cola and sprite, imported from the mainland and a few other Yemeni drinks. Socotri mostly drink tea, which they sweeten quite heavily, all day, every day. Convenience stores have all sorts of snacks, once again, the usual bigger brands, imported from the mainland.
When it comes to food, Socotra is highly dependent on what it can catch to feed itself. This means that food involves a lot of fish with rice with the occasional meal of goat or chicken. You might also see some seafood, some more exotic than others, such as pufferfish or stingray.
What is the telecommunication situation in Socotra?
You won’t be able to keep your friends updated with your instastory here! Socotra has some connectivity, but it is grim. The two hotels have WIFI but, basically, if you send a whatsapp message in the evening and go to sleep, if you are lucky, by the time you wake up it should have sent, and you might have received the reply.
There are some antennas built by the UAE company Etisalat which gives a spotty signal to Hadibo and Qalansiya. In order to get data from those, you’ll need to have an Etisalat SIM card yourself. It acts as if you were in the UAE. By the airport, the antenna is run by a Saudi company and will support SIM cards with world roaming.
What is the political situation in Socotra?
Politically Socotra is part of Republic of Yemen, although with the current fractured political situation, and rival governments in the country this makes things a little more complicated. There is a large presence of military from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and many people consider it to be a pseudo-colony of the UAE and the KSA. You’ll see flags of both countries everywhere.
Historically not much interest was taken in Socotra until 1876, when the British decided to add it to its list of colonies. This all changed in 1967 when the former British colonies were united into the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, surely one of the most underrated communist countries that ever existed! Interestingly enough, a lot of Socotri feel a strong attachment for PDR Yemen to this day and you will see its old flag flying around as often as you’ll see the current flag, with a strong movement wanting to revert to the PDR! In 1990 PDR Yemen and the Yemen Arab Republic unified as the Republic of Yemen, and Socotra duly became part of the unified state. Things have not exactly been smooth since then, but Socotra at least has managed to keep a healthy distance from the death and destruction.
Socotra really is one of our favorite places on the earth, and we’d love for you to join one of our amazing trips!