Socotra: The land of the Dragon Blood Tree and other wonders
Being in Socotra felt like everyone almost knew each other, running into people you met along the way on top of some mountain hiking under the sun or having the daily dinner at the local restaurant in Hadibo catching up on the news about the "guy" who is walking the whole island. As it turns out, this guy is Hichame Moubarak, a philanthropist that was walking / running around the island during that week to help raise money for local schools in Yemen. You can find more about his story here.
|Feet meet Socotra
When I came back from Socotra, I got a lot of questions about it as people are quite interested in visiting, so here's the low down and all the details you need:
Budget: Around 2,650$ per person including everything (flights, visa, accommodation, food, guide & driver)
From the UAE, there currently exists one weekly direct flight from Abu Dhabi to Socotra, operated by Air Arabia. It cannot be booked directly, you will need to book through an agency. We booked through an agency called Find Socotra who were very responsive and supportive.
|Meeting the locals near Diksam Forest
In general, you can camp all over Socotra for the duration of the trip, you can also request to stay in a hotel for some or all nights, all options are actually feasible. If you decide to be in a hotel the whole trip, you will miss on some night camping experiences, and this also means some more back and forth driving given that hotels are only available in the capital Hadibo. There is also only a handful number of hotels in Hadibo.
|Camping on our first night in Dihambri beach
We opted to do a mix of camping and hotel, mainly because the weather has gotten hot & humid when we were there, and frankly, the ground is rough to sleep on, a lot of small rocks.
We went for a full week (8 days, 7 nights), and I did feel that there was a lot of downtime, thus why it is actually possible to drive back every day to the capital and stay at a hotel. The things we did can easily be packed into 3-4 days, however I this case, I think camping would be more ideal as it would then allow you to move faster between destinations.
|Goats are all over the island. Including in the cities and nearby restaurants, where they jump on your table and eat your food
I will share below my thoughts on Socotra, as a lot of people have Socotra on their bucket list, mainly because of the rare Dragon Blood Tree, however, and in all honesty, I think 8 days is too much for this location, especially if you are going around shoulder season when the weather is not actually at its best, and there isn't much you can do during this downtime, even swimming as the sun is quite strong. My recommendation would be to wait until there is a second flight per week, so your trip would be 4-5 days instead.
|As it turns out, the Dragon Blood tree's sap is rich in protective antioxidant phenols, and anti-inflammatory compounds of various kinds.
|A collage of Dragon Blood Trees "Dracaena cinnabari"
The below is the itinerary we did. There are some situation where you need to do certain things back to back due to their proximity to each other and depending on the camping spot, however, we ran into different groups all the time and it was noticeable that different groups had different order of things to do.
- Day 1: After landing at the airport, we went to Dihambri beach where we did some snorkeling then camped on the beach
- Day 2: We left early in the morning to reach Kalleesa Canyon where we did a 20-30 minutes hike (depends on your pace, my pace was slow due to how hot and humid it was, and I guess I wasn't exactly in great shape) and then went swimming in the natural pools which was wonderful. We then drove for a while to reach Arher dunes where we went for a nice sunset swim in the beach. We also camped there, but unfortunately, it was quite windy, and because we were near the dunes, the wind was full of sand. What fun :)
- Day 3: We were supposed to visit Hoq cave, but given the hike was going to be around 2.5-3 hours, I asked to skip it as heat and me don't get along well. So instead we went to Homhill forest and hiked all the way down to the viewpoint of the coast, there's also an "infinity" pool there, but we couldn't swim due to shallow water given it was end of season and not much rainfall by then. We then drove to the most eastern point of the island, then headed to stay in Hadibo, and in our air-conditioned room which restored some balance in my life.
- Day 4: We went to Diksam which is a forest full of dragon blood trees. The hike was quite smooth and easy, and the view was wonderful. We then had lunch there and chilled under a large Dragon blood tree, then went back to Hadibo.
- Day 5: On our 5th day, we went to see the sand dunes near Aomak camping site, then chilled by the beach there, then visited a cave nearby.
- Day 6: We left Hadibo and headed to Detwah lagoon, quite a nice location, we then hiked for 15-20 minutes in order to have lunch at the caveman's cave... This was my favorite experience of the whole trip, you can read more about it below. At night, after a very nice dinner cooked for us by our driver Wael, we then went to another location on the beach, where the guides and drivers have gathered around, brought percussion instrument and treated us to some Socotri dance.
- Day 7: On our before last day, we visited Qalansiye village which is very close to Detwah lagoon, where we took a boat to the isolated virgin Shuab beach, on the way we saw dozens of dolphins that swim along us. After a nice swim, we went back to our campsite for lunch, then headed back to Hadibo for our last night.
- Day 8: We had breakfast at the one and only restaurant we have been eating in where the waiters now knew our orders by hear, then headed to airport.
Should you visit Socotra:
Many people asked me about safety in Socotra. In terms of general security, it felt quite safe, there was also nothing close to pickpocketing, we really felt secure leaving our bags far from us. Granted our driver and guide were always around, which also made me feel super safe on a gender level. And I saw several women traveling solo around the island, certainly accompanied by a driver and / or guide. However, I can’t say if it is safe if you’re on your own (no guide / driver), especially as a woman and I don’t think that’s even possible yet, given that the flights are chartered and you need an official travel agency to help you book it, no car rental in sight, and lots of areas are not covered by network so no way to get around without the help of an expert local.
|Adenium Socotranum - another native plant to Socotra
As I mentioned earlier, 7 nights / 8 days felt too long, and once there's a second flight allowing a 5 day trip, I believe this would be a better option. At the top of the post, I also mentioned the cost, but I really am unable to justify why it’s this expensive given how cheap the country itself is. So for that same price, you can easily get 5 days in the 5* hotel in the Maldives for example. Of course, Socotra is a wonderful place to visit, a place that reminds you of what it's like to live a basic life that is quite close to nature, and this is something everyone should experience, I just hope that with time it becomes more affordable.
|One of the many caves in Socotra
We had a booking to have lunch at the one and only caveman (or hermit?) of Socotra. He's actually known as the Hermit of Socotra island. His name is Ellai. He fishes by hand and cooks and serves food in his cave, where different tourist groups visit him. We had seafood and rice for lunch (rice was cooked by his wife) followed by tea made on fire that he made himself. I really enjoyed this experience, he's quite a talkative character, each person who visits him gets a version of his life story, we learned about the number of kids he had, his wife, and how when he was still a child, his pregnant mom who was also living in the cave, went to the sea to fish, but came back with a newborn baby!
|Ellai - Also known as the caveman or hermit of Socotra
He served us mussels, fish, and calamari, and honestly the freshness and taste were so good. The view from the cave is fantastic, and the tea was just very filling.
|Chilling at Ellai's cave!
Socotri Words to know:
- Nimlaha = What's up?
- B3afiyye = Similar to Bon Appétit
- Amoor Tayyibeh = All good?
- Shahi = Tea
Big shoutout to our wonderful driver / cook Wael and guide Mohammed for taking really good care of us.
Feel free to head over to Instagram and watch the Reel video I created here.