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10 Days in Socotra: The Most Alien Looking Place on Earth

Updated November 2020, 10 Days In Socotra was originally written in June 2017

The island you have to see to believe, an island like nowhere else. This is Socotra

Socotra is an out-of-this-world island sitting within the four-island Socotra Archipelago in the Arabian Sea. The island became a territory of Yemen in 1967 when the island joined the Democratic People’s Republic of Yemen, or better known as South Yemen.

At this time (2017) most foreign countries are advising against all travel to Yemen due to the ongoing war, to read up on the US advisories on travel in Yemen visit travel.state.gov. This was also the case in 2014 when I first visited Socotra (and what the blog post is based on). Ultimately, I decided to split up posts on Socotra from the mainland of Yemen because they are so extremely different. If you are interested in reading more about Yemen, check out this post on my time in Sana’a in 2014.

Socotra tour
Socotra outlying islands tour, Abd al Kuri, Samha, Darsa

Are You Looking To Travel To Socotra

Socotra has been nearly impossible to reach for the last few years. But with a lot of efforts and arrangements, I’m excited to be offering two small group trips to Socotra Island in March 2021 with Inertia Network.

With a lot of efforts and arrangements, I’m excited to be offering two small group trips to Socotra Island in March 2021 with Inertia Network.

The first departure will include visits to the highlights of Socotra plus a camel trekking trip through the Haggier Mountains. The second departure will take us to explore the outlying islands of the Socotra Archipelago of Abd al Kuri, Samha, and Darsa, as well as a trek across the Haggiers and Noged Plateau back on the main island of Socotra. The second departure offers an option 5 day Mainland Yemen Expedition add-on.

If you want to learn more about Socotra and even start planning a visit, I recommend picking up the new Socotra Guidebook that I contributed to for Bradt Guides.

Socotra Facts

  • Socotra is full of many endemic plants and birds found nowhere else, leading to its nicknames: The Galapagos of the Indian Ocean, The most alien-looking place on Earth, and The Pearl of the Indian Ocean.  Over 700 endemic species call this unique island home. Three of the most notable species are the endemic Dragon’s blood trees, the Socotra cucumber tree, and the Socotra desert rose or bottle tree.
  • The otherworldly island is located just 150  miles (241 km) from Somalia and 220 miles (354 km) from mainland Yemen.
  • The archipelago was isolated millions of years ago during the Miocene Epoch. The isolation Socotra has had for millions of years is what has led to all the endemic species present there.
  • The archipelago consists of four islands. The largest being called Socotra. The other three are Abd al-Kuri, Samhah, and Darsa.
  • Socotri, the language spoken on Socotra is an ancient Semitic language spoken nowhere else on Earth.
  • Many of the female inhabitants of the island have a DNA haplogroup found in no other humans anywhere else in the world.

The Galapagos of the Indian Ocean, the most alien place on Earth, the Pearl of the Indian, the rumored location of the Garden of Eden:What it was like to travel to Socotra

In early 2014, I had the opportunity to travel to Socotra Island, and am I glad I took it. I had been eyeballing the location for about 10 years at this point. In December of 2013, I contacted Socotra Eco Tours to begin setting up a tour of the island (at the time the only way to be issued a tourist visa was to book a locally guided tour).

Before I knew it Radiwan and Abdul-Jameel had me booked on a Felix Airlines flight to travel to Socotra from Sana’a on February 1, 2014. I had 10 whole days to explore my dream destination, and in actuality, this is one of the only regrets I have in life thus far. No, not because I decided to travel to Socotra. The fact that I didn’t stay longer.

Had I known what would happen in the following months I would have stayed for much, much longer. I can’t sulk too much about it, at least I was able to have 10 days there. The following is what I saw and experienced each day during my travel in Socotra. To read more about my time in mainland Yemen, you can read my post ‘That One Time I Decided To Travel To Sana’a, Yemen‘.

Luckily I have been able to return to Socotra in 2019 and 2020, as well as travel across South Yemen. If you want to read more posts from the most current visit, click here.

10 Days In Socotra

Day 1: Fly to Socotra

I was dropped off early in the morning at the Sana’a airport for my Felix flight to Hadiboh by my guide Gamal. My backpack was checked and quickly boarded the flight. It’s open seating, so I plopped down in a window seat a few rows back.

We had one stop to make en route to Socotra- Al-Mukalla, the seaside city, and important port for the Hadhramaut Province. A few people deplaned in Mukalla and a short time later began to fill again.

A man asked if he could sit next to me, but through hand gestures, because we had no common language. He was wearing the typical Socotri outfit– sandals, a turban, a short-sleeved shirt, and a fouta (a long wrap-around skirt traditionally worn by Socotri men).

He tried to to communicate with me, what I got was that he was Socotri and was going back home after a visit to mainland Yemen. He seemed friendly enough. I told him I was from Alaska and showed him on a map.

About 2/3 the way through the flight he began rubbing the bottom of his bare foot on the top of my foot and smiling at me. I still don’t know what this means. I’d seen pictures of the way Socotri men greet each other which is quite different from any greeting I’ve ever seen… But nowhere did I read about foot-on-foot rubbing. Wasn’t sure if it was some kind of new-friend footshake or a territorial claim, no idea.

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My first photo after stepping foot in Socotra. These are the Haggier Mountains

As I walked into the airport in Hadiboh I was quickly greeted by Radwan (Radwan would become a good friend over the years), one of the men working with Socotra Eco-Tours that I had spoken to while preparing for the trip, and my guide Sami. We all jumped in the Landcruiser after grabbing my backpack to check in at the office in Hadiboh. On the way, Sami was pointing out endemic bottle trees and cucumber trees, meanwhile, I was in disbelief that I had made it while staring the entire time, weird plants, blinding white sand, cliffs, and emerald water.

After a short stop off at the office, we were met by Ahmed. Ahmed, a giggly 4×4 driver only a couple of years older than me would navigate the couple of paved roads on the island and the crazy off-road jeep tracks I’d encounter later. 

Before heading off we made a quick stop at the Taj Hotel restaurant for lunch and then to stock up on supplies. Sami asked me where I’d like to go that day.  He said most people go to Delisha Beach the first day to relax after the flight, but he said he would like to take me on a hike to a reservoir instead, as we were to be staying on Delisha Beach that night anyway.

We went to Wadi Ayhaft, that after a short hike wound up at a reservoir. Sami then informed me that he was testing out how fit I was and that the plan was to hike up into the Haggier Mountains the next day.

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Wadi Ayhaft

After a swim in the reservoir, we made way to Adeeb Eco-Lodge where we would be camping for the night. Of course, this drive was interrupted with frequent stops to get my first glimpses at the unusual plant life on the island.

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The endemic Cucumber Tree

I spent a lot of the day and evening trying to get to know Sami and Ahmed since I was traveling alone. I was open to having others join my tour, but as Socotra is rarely visited I never had any takers.

We arrived at Adeeb right as the sun was going down. We walked into the yard and Sami ran up and smacked a man on the belly and they all laughed.

This was Abdullah, the owner. Sami said that people think he’s the happiest man around because he looks like he has a baby in his belly. Apparently thin people are viewed as depressed in Socotra.

A short while later the sun began going down and the whole group began their final call-to-prayer for the evening.

Abdullah’s family all helped run the campground. They cooked up a big meal of Yemeni flatbread, fuul (beans, tomatoes, onions, and chilis that you dip bread in), and shai (sweet tea, that I had become very familiar with and fond of in Sana’a). This was my first run-in with the most dangerous thing about travel to Socotra and its people- they want to feed you to death.

That night I sat and ate dinner with Sami and Ahmed, and the other guide and driver staying the night there with their Russian clients, we also invited Abdullah and his family over to eat with us.

Our ‘rooms’ here were little houses made of sticks, with a mattress and mosquito net inside. It was quite nice considering I thought I was going to be sleeping in a tent that night.

Day 2: High In The Haghier Mountains, A Night With The Wadi Derher Genies

I woke up at sunrise for breakfast and to head off into the Haghier Mountains. From Adeeb Lodge we drove up onto the Dixam Plateau and then turned onto a dirt path up towards the mountain pass and parked.

We met a young man who looked about 15 years old. He was a local guide from the area. He and his family lived up in the mountains for generations and knew all the trails well.

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The start of the hike
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My first Dragon Blood Trees

The hike started out on gravel with little vegetation but became greener as we ascended. Sami even made a stop off to show me the Acacia trees. Knowing that I am a dental hygienist back home, he demonstrated to me how they break off dead branches and fray them to be used as toothbrushes.

Eventually, we ran into a patch of dragon blood trees, the plant I’d been waiting for. They were even odder in person than in the pictures. They look like giant inside out umbrellas.

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Looking out at Skånd Peak from the top

We finally arrived at the top a few hours later with a great view of the jagged Skånd Peak and goats hopping all around the mountain top. After a quick lunch of flatbreads, brine cheese, and tuna we descended back down to Ahmed. Our plan was to head down into the bottom of Wadi Derher to set up camp for the night. We had to drive across the Dixam Plateau to get into the wadi, passing by giant Dragon Blood Trees- enough to make you feel like you were in Avatar.

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Driving through the Dixam Dragon Blood Forest

I will always be thoroughly impressed by the places Ahmed could get that land cruiser. It was not much more than a narrow path teetering on the edge of a sheer vertical drop to the bottom of the wadi. 

Ahmed and Sami sang Socotri songs to me the whole way down the canyon. They are more used to singing because they don’t have regular electricity outside of Hadiboh. They did play some local Socotri rap music they had on an mp3 player for me. I would get used to their singing over the following days with them.

Once we arrived Sami and Ahmed set up camp fairly quick and began making dinner before the dark of night set in. They literally do everything for you. I tried to help because I feel weird being waited on hand and foot, but they kicked me out and sent me over to the wadi pool to take pictures.

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No one lives down in the wadi, which is quite a surprise, with its unreal teal pools. The local legend is that genies live in the canyon, and the people of the hill tribes fear genies.

Check out the Firhmin Forest, the highest concentration of Dragon Blood Trees on Socotra

Day 3: A Magical Waterslide, Dragon Blood Trees & The Sea

Once again, we rose with the sun. This time it was to get an early start on a jam-packed day ahead of us that would start with a swim in a beautiful natural rock pool.

The pool is almost terraced with a smooth rock creating a natural waterslide. After visiting Socotra’s natural amusement park, I wandered along the Wadi checking out the crabs and vultures that inhabit the canyon.

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Egyptian Vulture, Wadi Dirhur, Socotra Island, Yemen

The Dragon Blood Tree Forest

We made the treacherous journey back to the top of Wadi Derher, this time to run about the dragon blood trees growing atop the Dixsam plateau.

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The endemic Dragon Blood Tree on the Dixsam Plateau
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Wadi Derhur

Journey To The Center Of The Earth

From the depths of Wadi Derher, we made way to Dagub Cave. I’d never really been in a cave prior to Dagub, this was massive. The Landcruiser looked like a toy car inside this thing and the crazy thing is: this isn’t even the biggest cave on the island.

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That’s me on top the rock, and that is a Landcruiser- for reference
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On To The Sea

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Omaq Beach

Travel to Socotra will guarantee one thing- Socotra is blessed with so many beaches it’ll make your head spin and most are far more beautiful than the monotonous lists you find online of what ‘experts‘ deem the best beaches in the world. Our camp for that evening would be set up on Omaq Beach. Naturally, I jumped right in with no hesitation, clothes, and all.

Sand Dunes, As Far As You Can See

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Late in the afternoon, we drove over to Hayf sand dunes to watch the sunset. This was the first time in my life I had ever been on sand dunes. We don’t have much opportunity to climb them in Alaska.

The Hayf Sand Dunes were sandwiched between the Haggier Mountains and the Arabian Sea, and much like Omaq Beach, they were blindingly white.

After the sun had set we headed back over to Omaq Beach under the light of the moon. When we arrived we were greeted by a large group of young men who seemed to be having a great time drinking Shai, sat around shisha, and some even out on the beach with headlamps chasing crabs.

Their travel to Socotra was for a completely different reason than most tourists you’d see here. They were an engineering class from the University of Sana’a who was working on a project to help bring electricity to areas outside of Hadiboh.

That evening I sat out on the beach talking with Sami and a couple of the students camping nearby. They talked about what they had hoped for the future, their religion, and even Sami opened up and spoke about his biggest fear as we sat under the stars. Sami feared getting married.

At 28 years old he was an unusual case in Socotra. Most are married off young in arranged marriages. Sami’s family had tried arranging two marriages in the past, both of which he declined. He didn’t want to end up with a mean and demanding wife and as most arranged marriages are set up and with local cultural traditions, you don’t have the opportunity to get to know your future wife (or husband) beforehand.

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The sunset over Hayf dunes

That night we camped on the beach, without tents. Sami said he was surprised that I hadn’t asked or been worried about Somalian pirates, given that it usually is a concern of the tourists who travel to Socotra.

Given the proximity, I surprisingly hadn’t given it much thought, Sami said it was incredibly rare for them to turn up here. In the few instances they had, they usually were out of gas or shipwrecked. Villagers would supply them with some food and gas to get them out of there and they would go on their merry way.

In the middle of the night I was awoken by something crawling up my leg. No it wasn’t a pirate attempting to kidnap me. It was a crab!

Day 4: More Sand Dunes, My First Camel & The Day I Felt Like I Was Dropped Into A Super Mario level

After the crab visitor I had the night before I woke up to an Egyptian vulture peering straight into my eyes. I couldn’t look away until I felt the tugging of my blanket off of me. I looked down toward my feet and there stood a goat with hunger in his eyes chomping away at the blanket. Where am I?

After breakfast and goodbyes to the friends made from the University, we began our day that would include the Zahek sand dunes, the Qaria Lagoon, and eventually the Homhil Protected Area.

Zahek Sand Dunes

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Zahek Sand Dunes in Socotra
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Sami jumping for joy at Zahek

The Zahek sand dunes were even nicer than the ones at Hayf the night before. There isn’t much to say about it that the pictures don’t say for me.

Back On The Trail Again

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We ended up in an oasis where we had to cross the stream in a couple of spots. where we ran into the three tourists that decided to travel to Socotra from Hong Kong here that I met on the plane from Dubai to Sana’a, their Landcruiser was broke down. Sami and Ahmed hopped out and greeted their driver.

Witnessing The Socotra Handshake

When men greet each other they will shake hands while tapping their noses and foreheads together 3 times. This is how Socotris gesture friendship and respect.

After the four of us tourists stood there watching the interesting greeting I started talking to the other group while we were waiting there. They were college friends on school break and had read about Socotra and decided to go.

A short while later their car was back up and running. This was the last time I’d run into them on the island as they were only taking a 5 day tour. We continued to along the oasis to Momi Plateau and onto Qaria Lagoon.

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Home: Qaria Lagoon

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Sami was born in Qaria. He got out to point out the village in which we grew up and of course to show me the opaque turquoise lagoon. There are flamingos that reside near the lagoon, but I didn’t get to see them that day.

From Qaria Lagoon we continued on up to Homhil Protected Area.

Where Super Mario Meets Real World: Homhil

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Homhil is covered in Dragon blood, bottle, Frankincense, Cucumber, and Myrrh trees as far as you can see. And to make matters better, there is a natural infinity pool overlooking the Arabian Sea. For a short while I had the pool, the view of the sea, and the trees all to myself before a group of 22 Slovenians turned up. They had arranged a tour to travel to Socotra and Yemen much like I had.

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The best view on the island

After spending an afternoon in the sun with the group we headed back toward the camp and abundance of trees for sunset where I bought $1 pouches of Frankincense and Dragon Blood Tree varnish off little girls who would collect the saps after school. Sami brought me over to a dragon blood tree and showed me how they collect the varnish from them.  When you slash the bark of the tree a red sap comes out making it look like its bleeding.

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Me and my favorite tree

Soon after I noticed could hear a baby goat somewhere. Sami ran over to a pile of rocks and started moving them.

The people up here started burying baby goats under rocks during the day while they are out working.  House cats were brought to the island, which has led to a stray problem and they kill the baby goats.  So this is what the people do here to protect them.

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Sunset over Homhil

The sunset looked almost like it could’ve taken place on a grassland savannah in Africa from the looks of the trees in the distance.

Day 5: Beaches, Sand Dunes & Creeks

From Homhil Protectected Area, we walked back on down to the infinity pool overlooking the Arabian Sea. From there Sami and I would scramble down the rocky mountainside down to the bottom, where Ahmed would meet us with the Landcruiser continue a little way down the coast to Arher Beach to camp for the night. On our descent, we passed bottle trees, dragon bloods, and the occasional goat.

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Standing with a dragon blood tree as we began the climb down
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Goats with a view

The beach at Arher was even more beautiful than Omaq. I couldn’t believe my eyes, I was looking out over a small bay with a giant white sand dune leaned up against a rocky cliff on the other side.

To make it even more unbelievable I had the entire beach to myself. Not a single soul around for the first couple of hours. A boy who lived nearby saw us and dropped on by to have a chat for a short period of time and then low and behold, the Slovenians turned up again. They were in just as much awe as I was.

Of course, Sami’s response to all of us talking about how perfect the beach was, was “Just wait till you see Shua’ab.”

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Looking toward Arher Beach from the Irisal area
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After spending a few hours swimming, playing in the airy-soft bright white sand, and taking thousands of photos with the Slovenians we made our final short move to Arher Creek where we would be camping that night at the base of Arher Dune, the tallest on the island.

We set up our mat where we would sleep under the stars yet again in the soft sands and went over to help Ahmed catch a fish out of Arher Creek for dinner. Ahmed returned to camp to begin cooking while Sami and I and a handful of locals from Hadiboh on a weekend camping trip hiked up the tallest sand dune on the island.

This was my first time hiking up a sand dune, every step forward slid 3/4 the way back to where it started. I said I’d never climb one again when I made it to the top, little did I know I’d climb countless sand dunes in the years to come.

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The Hike Was Worth This View Though

The trek down was a lot more fun rolling down the sand dune. Later on, we sat around a campfire eating fish we caught out of the creek and spent the evening talking and laughing.

We slept outside again without tents. Oh, and ps: this was like bush camping- no toilet. I don’t know if you’ve ever pooped in the sand before, but I’d never felt so much like a cat before in my life.

Day 6: The Deepest I’ve Been Inside The Earth & Rare Corals

Day 6 began with a beautiful sunrise over the dunes of Arher before we headed off for the day.

Hoq Cave

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Looking out of Hoq Cave

I never had thought I’d ever journey down to the center of the Earth. Well, I almost did at Hoq Cave, 2 kilometers in at least!

That morning, after packing up we headed to Terbak Village where we met a local young man who would be guiding us into the cave. He was from Terbak and knew the cave quite well. He even helped research teams who came to study the cave in the years prior.

Soon we began the roughly hour and a half hike up to the opening of the cave.

Hoq cave has not been fully explored. It is often believed to be the largest cave on the island, but there are other larger caves on Socotra that are harder to access. Not to take away from how mighty Hoq Cave was.

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Inside Hoq Cave

There were giant stalagmites and stalactites all around. The air would change as we moved to different areas, feeling warmer gushes of air in some spots and cooler in others.

Eventually, we were so deep that even with flashlights it was difficult to see the inside of the cave. Add another regret to the list here- not knowing how to take a long exposure shot for interior cave photos.

After a couple hours of exploring the monstrous cave and a stop in Terbak Village, we made our way over to Dihamri Marine Protected Area.

Dihamri Marine Protected Area

Dihamri is surrounded by rust-red rocks, but the real action happens below the surface. The coral reefs surrounding Dihamri are the richest in the archipelago. Here you can see colorful fish and even a few endemic species.

Unfortunately, this was long before I had any form of underwater camera. So you’ll have to just believe me.

DiHamri, Socotra Island, Yemen

For sunset, the best place to go would be the top of the mound of red rock giving you a rainbowy, bird’s-eye view of the protected area. Naturally, we all fell to sleep under the stars listening to the crashing waves.

Day 7: The Most Beautiful Lagoon To Ever Live With The Most Friendly Inhabitants

The boy and the dhow boat

We left Dihamri bright and early for our long drive across the island to Qalansiya Village and Detwah Lagoon.

First, we needed to make a quick stop in Hadiboh to stock up on a few supplies, but not before heading to the fish market. Sami wanted me to have a chance to see the fish market just outside Hadiboh. 

It was definitely worth the stop, it’s a wild place. A lonely concrete and stone block shack sat there on the beach with a few dhow boats parked outside, inside was complete chaos.

Blankets were strewn about with piles of fish on them and jam-packed with Socotris haggling a good price. Then suddenly a dirtbike’s engine revs and there goes a young man doing a wheelie in between the blankets full of fish.

After the chaos at the fish market, we made a couple stops in Hadiboh, mostly picking up fresh fruits and vegetables and then of course a final stop to buy some Qat. Sami and Ahmed said I had to try it before I left since it is such an integral part of Yemeni culture whether you like it or not.

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Qat salesman in Hadiboh

The debate over Qat chewing and Qat farming is whole other debate for a different post.

The drive then got held up for an additional hour due to our lack of foresight. It was Friday. Friday is a holy day.

We needed to fill up on gas and of course, the station was closed for the mid-day call to prayer. We decided to start in on the Qat while waiting. It was bitter and didn’t taste great, but you’re supposed to just keep chewing it. Sami got out a packet of peanuts and said to chew them up a bit and push them into your cheek to help combat the unpleasant taste of the Qat leaf.

Detwah Lagoon

After a couple of hours, we arrived in the Detwah Lagoon. Ahmed drove us up to the top of the hill overlooking the beach. It looked like colorful ribbons of blue from above, the tide was going out, so it was only a matter of time before the ribbons of blue faded away for the next few hours.

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The first glimpses of the lagoon

We headed down to the beach on the lagoon to set up camp and go for a swim. I finally spit out the wad of Qat as it was hurting my cheek at this point and to be honest I didn’t really feel anything from chewing it anyway.

I spent the afternoon kicking around in the perfect seas. When I came back out to have a walk around I was met by two boys from the nearby village in Qalansiya.

They saw that I had a camera and wanted me to take their picture. The funny thing I found about Socotri people by this point in the trip is that they love to pose for a picture for you because they want you to remember them when you go home.

Late in the afternoon, another group of kids from the village had come down to the beach and they had started telling me that I should go out in the lagoon with their Uncle Abdullah: The Caveman to catch some fish. They went on and on about how cool Abdullah was and that I needed to meet him.

Sami saw them and came over and he said that that was the surprise for me the next day. Shortly after, no other than Abdullah came walking up with his day’s catch and introduced himself. Abdullah the Caveman, who lives in the village by night and in the cave by day.

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After watching the sunset, we had a dinner of shrimp that had been caught in the lagoon that day. Sami said he and Ahmed loved shrimp but every time they ate them it made them both itch really bad. They didn’t know they were allergic to shellfish! 

I gave them both all of my Benadryl I had brought with me for their future shrimp dinners and the rest to keep because allergies can turn very bad.

We spent the evening laughing because they were rolling around itching all over. This is when the only side effects of the Qat kicked in for me: Insomnia. Sadly, I wasn’t in Holland so I had no access to Nutra CBD olie. This is a Dutch company that provides CBD Oil for those of you unaware.

Day 8: A Day With Abdullah The Caveman

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Today I was woken not by the sun, but by another hungry goat chewing on the corner of my blanket near my feet. I slept a little later this day because of the Qat-fueled insomnia the night before. Although it wasn’t all bad, as I just stared up at the stars above.

I had breakfast with Ahmed and then we went over to meet Abdullah. Sami was exhausted from not sleeping at all the night before from the Qat, so he stayed back at camp to get a nap in.

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Abdullah showing me how to toss the fishing net
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Detwah Lagoon
Success!

We walked to the edge of the water where we were quickly met by Abdullah. He had already gotten an early morning fishing session in and was excited to take me out. The first thing we did was go out into the water where he taught me how to toss a net to catch a few unsuspecting fish.

He got several. On my toss, I got three.

The lagoon was crawling with life. There were urchins, sea cucumber, fish, mussels, and clams all around. We even came across a squid.  I made him ink when I went to catch him with my bare hands. Abdullah was able to snatch him up barehanded on his first attempt.

The big blow fish was my favorite thing we caught by far.  They don’t eat these guys so he got to be set free after we checked him out.

The Real Life Nerf Gun

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Giant sea urchin
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Abdullah and a spiny fish
A huge conch
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Balloon fish

Abdullah showed me that you could lightly squeeze his sides and the fish would blow water out his mouth. The fish seemed pretty unbothered by it. I tried holding him but he was heavy and slippery so I put him back into the sea.

We then loaded up all of our catches and took them up to the cave to cook them. Abdullah spends the afternoons up there with tourists that he takes out fishing and on days without visitors, he uses it as a place to store his catch until he heads home in the evening.

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Abdullah’s Cave
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The view from Abdullah’s Cave

Abdullah has a great view from his cave over the lagoon. It was here that he took some time to tell me a little more about himself.

Abdullah had 6 kids and a 7th on the way, so he spent his days fishing in order to feed the family. He even had scarecrows up to keep the birds from making off with his catches.

Day 9: The Best Is Yet To Come

Awake bright and early Ahmed drove us toward Qalansiya village to catch our dhow boat to Shua’ab Beach. Soon we were pushing off in our dhow with Sami and our boat captain singing Socotri songs as we bobbed along in the sea.

Sami said that he usually sees some dolphins between Qalansiya and Shua’ab when he takes tourists out there. That was an understatement. A few minutes later we had hundreds of dolphins jumping around our boat.

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A dolphin jumping

Once we rounded the corner past the dolphin show, the dhow ride was turn after turn of the most emerald green waters I’ve ever seen set against a fire orange rocky coast. Eventually, we rounded one last corner and Shua’ab Beach was in plain sight.

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The craggy coastline
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On the way to Shua’ab

Shua’ab Beach

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Shua’ab Beach

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. This was the most perfect beach I’ve seen. Even after three years and hundreds of beach later, I still have yet to see a beach that rivaled Shua’ab. 

It was a long sprawling empty white sand beach with giant cliffs backing it and the most crystal clear waters I’ve ever seen. If Socotra was located anywhere else in the world this place would be fully developed, but luckily, that isn’t the case.

Only the occasional Socotri from Shua’ab will pass by, after a lengthy chat of course. This is where I met the amazing Ahmed, who called this beach home for decades and welcomes just about every visitor with a glass of shai.

I was there for a few hours and two other tourist boats did come. The three Russians I had run across on my first night at Adeeb’s swilling vodka away and a young French couple. That was it.

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Shua’ab Beach
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A fisherman selling fresh lobster he caught
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Shua’ab Beach

The hours here flew by, but not before my camera battery died while my bag was at the other end of the beach. I of course, took enough photos for a lifetime at Shua’ab Beach before the battery ran out, but just getting to watch the land and sea was a nice alternative. 

When we were getting ready to jump back on the dhow a man and his sons who had caught a lobster nearby offered their catch for sale. I immediately took them up on it.

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Secret beaches along the way
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Crazy rock formations
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A scorpion tail shaped rock along the coast

Back To Qalansiya

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Sami and the lobster we bought for lunch

Sami and I hopped back off the boat yet again in Qalansiya to meet Ahmed and head back over to the lagoon for lunch. Before we could leave the small seaside village of 4,000 we were ambushed by about 20 kids out playing football (soccer).

It was like watching an awkward flock of birds try to turn in unison to head over. They wanted to say hi to me and have their pictures taken.

We had the fresh lobster for lunch before we packed up and headed back up the hill to take one last view of Detwah Lagoon from above. Was this really my last 24 hours?

We made our way slowly back toward Hadiboh, stopping in scenic spots and even for the old tank on the beach. That night we returned back to Adeeb Eco Lodge for my final evening. Where it all began.

Day 10: Do I Really Have To Leave?

It hadn’t felt like I had been camping for the last 10 days without any western amenities. I kicked around out in the water on Delisha beach after breakfast before had to go back to Hadiboh.

We went by the office and I paid my bill for the tour. I was unable to pay for my trip online before I left home because no US bank would wire money to Yemen. I even tried to pay when I initially arrived but was told I could pay at the end.

It’s amazing how trusting the people of Socotra are. Although it would be a difficult place to make off with someone’s money seeing that getting there and back isn’t easy.

I wandered on out from the office for a bit to have one last look around Hadiboh. But before leaving my dream destination I had to leave with something to take home. I opted for a jar of local Socotri honey in addition to the frankincense and dragon blood varnish that I bought up in Homhil.

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The last stop was lunch again at the Taj Restaurant. This time the goats were on the prowl and one even lept up onto the plastic table outside and began eating one man’s food. He quickly shooed it down and then continued eating the food. Looks like the nuisance goat is a regular installment on the Socotra street-side restaurant.

After lunch, Ahmed’s next group of tourists had arrived so I had to say my goodbyes to him a little earlier. Radwan and Sami took me out to the airport later that afternoon where we all said our goodbyes. Sami ran in and got my ticket printed for me and checked my backpack in and then wished me good luck.

My Overall Impression After my travel to Socotra?

I absolutely loved it. Socotra and Tajikistan are my two most favorite places I’ve visited. I can’t wait for the day I can make it back and travel to Socotra again.

I really hope that I will see Ahmed and Sami in the future, I do miss them. One of the funniest things I remember about the trip was when we were driving down the only paved road in Socotra and Ahmed had to slam on the breaks to avoid hitting a goat.  When we came to a stop he just turned to me, giggled, and said “Dinner”.  We all about died laughing.

I cannot however remember when on the trip this happened. Dinner was one of the few English words that Ahmed did know which I think made it even funnier.

Socotra Really Is A World Away From Mainland Yemen & Its Other Neighbors

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The endemic Adenium Obesum subspecies Socotranum, or better known as the Bottle Tree

The way of life is completely different out there. During my travel to Socotra, Socotra of course had a very negative connotation held to it being a territory of Yemen. So much so, that shortly after I returned home from the trip I learned to not share with people that I had traveled to Socotra and especially not in mainland Yemen.

It was always met by a lecture of how dangerous it was or how irresponsible of me it was to go out there. Not many seemed to be able to separate Socotra from Yemen. An island with no crime, in a remote corner of the world where people live simple and subsistence lifestyles.

I find it very odd coming from the state of Alaska, where Alaskans usually are adamant that the state as a whole is a completely different world from the Lower 48, while technically being a part of the USA. That didn’t translate to most anyone I had spoken to at home, they only heard Yemen and their minds went straight to drone strikes and Al Qaeda raids.

It’s unfortunate that Socotra is tied up in what’s happening in the region. The island is essentially sealed off from the outside world right now. Only the occasional cargo ship will head on out here to deliver much-needed food and supplies.

In late 2015 the island was devastated by Cyclone Megh, just a few days after being just skirted by Cyclone Chapala. It was incredibly difficult for supplies and help to arrive, all because of the war in mainland Yemen. It is extremely rare for cyclones to occur in this area of the Arabian Sea, but did you see that in your mainstream news? Didn’t think so.

I hope that Socotra stays as it is, and love that the island is protected by UNESCO. It’s unfortunate that UNESCO isn’t doing more to guard it as I feel they should be a little more active in preventing the development of a UAE training camp on its shores.

I don’t want to Socotra turned into a giant resort island with ugly buildings backing the beautiful and untouched shorelines, that it remains a place you have to be willing to tent camp with no toilet facilities. A best-kept secret for those willing to rough it and veer far off the beaten path.

A hope that the unique alien-like trees that have inhabited the island for thousands of years are never chopped down to make way for highways or mountain resorts. And most of all I hope that they stay protected from the war going on in mainland Yemen right now.

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Donate to Those Effected By the Crisis in Yemen

As you are likely aware, Yemen and particularly mainland Yemen is currently experiencing one of the worst humanitarian crises known to humankind. If you would like to donate any money to help bring relief to those in need, consider donating to:

  • Zakat Foundation: Provides emergency relief and food distribution in several countries including Yemen.
  • International Rescue Committee: Helps to bring safety, education, power, and health services to some of the world’s most devastating humanitarian disasters including Yemen.
  • Baitulmaal AHED: Organization that works in Yemen as well as all over the world to help bring poverty and disaster relief.
  • Islamic Relief: Working to alleviate hunger, illiteracy, and disease in Yemen and globally.
  • Solidarios sin Fronteras: Spanish organization helping bring relief, food, water, and reconstruction projects to Yemen as well as Socotra.

Need Travel Insurance The Covers Yemen?

Start shopping plans over at battleface, my go-to travel insurance choice.

21 thoughts on “10 Days In Socotra: The Most Alien looking Place on Earth”

  1. Hey Nicole,
    I have read about far away places and have dreamed of going to at least one soon. I am 53 now but feel 24 in my head. 😊 I have had 13 surgeries and more metal in me than the bionic woman. I have some $ coming my way soon and really want to take my partner somewhere. A place to be happy and memories to remember to share with the grandkids one day. Your trip to Socotra sounds amazing I have seen beautiful beaches as well but there looks breath taking. I really don’t think I can handle the hiking and a few other things. I wish I could. So can you suggest another place to visit as a couple without the worry of bad things happening lol. When you have time could you please maybe supply me with a few other places you would suggest. Just want a few jaw dropping moments with amazing food, scenery and good people. You are an inspiration to travel and hope of seeing remote wonders we would never hear or go to. I pray you and your family are well and safe.
    Blessings always,
    Lisa Ann ⭐

    1. Hi Lisa Ann,
      There are always options to arrange a more relaxed Socotra trip by creating a custom trip with one of the operators on the island that could require less hiking and strenuous activities. Oman could be a great alternative option for you as traveling there is quite easy and offers dramatic sceneries, beaches, and lovely people. If you’re looking for island-type trips in that general area of the globe, Zanzibar and Sri Lanka are two places I’ve enjoyed in the past that may be worth looking into for you. Glad to hear that your health is improving, hope you are able to travel soon.

  2. Hello! I visited to Socotra in February with my bf. It was unforgettable trip to Socotra. We loved the place so much but the only negativity was our tour guide which is their names are Sami and Ahmed same people as i read in this blog. They were so irresponsible to their work they let us to pay more 1000$ to local policeman because we don’t have marriage certificate. First time heard about it and we shocked. Sami even let policeman take my bf to police station just want us to pay that amount of money. And he canceled our ticket without our confirmation. So much bad story about Sami. Luckily my bf could speak arabic so he found his far relatives there and solved the problem. Any new travelers please don’t trust this person SAMI or SAMID whatever. Be aware of him. HE’s very dangerous man. He seem to be kind but don’t trust his words.

    1. Hi Mila,
      I’m sorry to hear what happened to you and your boyfriend. I’m guessing that when you said it happened to February that you mean February 2020? The Sami (Samir) and Ahmed I was with on this trip are no longer on Socotra. Sami left several years back to pursue a degree in Brno, Czech Rep. (I believe it should be complete soon and will then move back), and Ahmed left in 2018 to the mainland for treatment due to health issues. Do you have the name of the company you booked your trip through?

  3. Nicole,
    First, thank you for sharing your adventure. I enjoyed every bit of your post.

    My family is originally from Yemen, and I spent a good amount of my childhood and highschool years in Yemen. I have always wanted to visit Socotra, in fact, I had a trip planned out there just one week before the Saudi war on Yemen. Thus I was not able to make it and had to leave. I cannot wait for the time I can go and explore the amazing island.

    It really saddens me to see how the UAE is taking advantage of the situation and use the island for their own benefit.

    Again, thank you for the amazing post, it really did bring tears to my eyes.

    I pray for peace and love worldwide.

    1. Hi Amar,
      Thanks for your message. I hope you are able to return to Yemen and see Socotra one day. I’ve just returned from South Yemen and Socotra again and cannot wait to return. If you ever need help arranging getting back, let me know, I can help.

    1. Hey Alex,
      I just got done taking a group with Inertia Network to Socotra last month. They have more trips slated for this year and next. I’ve not gone on any trips with YPT but I’ve heard mostly negative feedback unfortunately

  4. Stunning photos, and loved reading about your travels in Socotra! Would love to visit one day, very unfortunate whats happening in Yemen.

    1. Thank you! It’s very sad to see what has happened in Yemen. I hope that it changes for the better soon, but it’s just not looking that way.

  5. Very nice photos and information, I’m really amazed with this island, for long time I wanted to visit Socotra, I have been in Yemen many times as I’m Yemeni citizen but live in out of Yemen, and I have been in Hadramout my homeland which is very close to this island, but by that time I had no information or interest about Socotra.
    I become very interacted about this island since I become scuba diver and I have met some divers who could make it and dive there , and I have seen the impression that this island made on them.
    Right now I don’t know if there is agencies or groups going there, but as far as I know every thing is fine in south of Yemen specially in Hadramout I have many families members go there from time to time.

    I really appreciate sharing your story with us, Thank you.

  6. Very nice photos and information, I’m really amazed with this island, for long time i wanted to visit Socotra, i have been in Yemen many times as I’m Yemeni citizen but live out of Yemen, and i have been in Hadramout my homeland which is very close to this island, but by that time i had no information or interest about Socotra.
    I become very intersected about this island since i become scuba diver and i have met some divers who could make it and dive there , and i have seen the impression that this island made on them.
    Right now i don’t know if there is agencies or groups going there, but as far as i know every thing is fine in south of Yemen specially in Hadramout i have many families members go there from time to time.

    I really appreciate sharing your story with us, Thank you.

  7. I’ve always dreamt of visiting Socotra Island, and this has really put things into perspective for real travel there!
    I love the way you’ve taken the time to learn about the lives of the locals, and really reveal the details that they’ve shared with you on your journey.

    1. Thanks Milly!
      It’s the one place I really really wish I would have spent more time.. there is nowhere else quite like it. Hope you get there one day too.

  8. Such beautiful pictures and great stories. I am ‘booked’ on a tour to visit after hearing about it a little while ago, obviously not sure when the tour will happen due to the current flight and political situations. So, bookmarking this and will keep visiting through these shots until then 🙂

    1. Thanks!
      I absolutely loved Yemen, and am so glad I made it over there when I did. I’m leaving next spring to travel around the world for a year, and was hoping to at least make it back to Socotra next winter, preferably without having to go through mainland Yemen, since I don’t see the situation getting better any time soon. I got in touch with Socotra Eco-tours who I did my first trip there with and there were weekly flights between Amman, Jordan and Socotra as of last month (although I’m sure they’re currently suspended due to the damages on the island from the two cyclones that ripped through there). I hope you are able to make it there soon, it’s such an amazing place and you’d totally lose your mind photographing it!

  9. Socotra looks so otherworldly! Much like Madagascar or the Galapagos. It has always been a place that has fascinated me, but I’ve never really heard of many people going there. I loved reading this post and looking at your photos. Incredible scenery! Hopefully I’ll follow in your footsteps and make it there myself someday.

    1. Thanks! I loved Yemen, such an amazing place especially Socotra! Galapagos and Madagascar are high up on my to do list as well!

  10. Absolutely loved this! Your writing is so much fun, and it sounds like such an adventure. I’ve been thinking about visiting Socotra for a few years, but haven’t known anyone who’s actually been, and done it exactly the way I’d do it. Like you I hope they don’t spoil it with development. It’s perfect the way it is!

    1. Thanks Heather!
      Socotra was amazing and still by far my most favorite place visited! And I loved how I was able to tweak the itinerary to my liking.

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