In the Arabian Sea – where the Gulf of Aden opens towards the Indian Ocean – lies an island named Socotra, belonging to the territory of Yemen. Hosting a few tens of thousands of people, being so far off land and with very peculiar climate conditions, the island is home to many endemic species, making it among Earth’s most biodiverse land formations. Nestled between the tip of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, Socotra is the most strategically important island in the entire Indian Ocean, given its proximity to the Strait of Bab El-Mandeb and the oil and gas trade from the Persian Gulf to the Suez Canal. Belonging de facto to Yemen, the island is culturally and socially very different from its motherland. The Socotrians are a population with a language and ways of life opposite Yemen’s. Yet, with the outbreak of civil war in the country in 2015, the island has faced new geopolitical challenges. It is understanding the strategic location and the possibility of economic investment for tourism purposes in the United Arab Emirates, which occupied the island in 2018.
Socotra Island is a place most have never heard of. Its isolation, both historically and currently, is a gift. It is one of the world’s most unique and untouched destinations for nature lovers. Socotra has been called “the Galapagos of Arabia”. In 2008, it was recognised as a UNESCO Heritage site because of its biodiversity with rich and distinct flora and fauna: 37% of Socotra’s 825 plant species and 90% of its reptile species found nowhere else on Earth. Probably the most outstanding is the Dracaena cinnabari, or so-called dragon blood. This tree has a unique and strange appearance, with an “upturned, densely packed crown having the shape of an uprightly held umbrella”. This evergreen species is named after its dark red resin, known as “dragon’s blood”.
It has become more and more apparent that the heritage of Soqotra cannot easily be separated into “natural” and “cultural” counterparts as these are inextricably linked. Further, the cultural heritage of Soqotra has been neglected in comparison with the knowledge acquired about its biodiversity, which has been extensively documented and researched, as have the uses of biodiversity in the traditional knowledge and practices of the Soqotri people. I had the chance to visit for a tour with Welcome to Socotra, where we camped all around the island. I am very interested in Socotroa’s history, culture, and heritage, but it would go beyond the scope of this blog if I dived into these fascinating and diverse stories. Primarily since I intended to capture the beauty of the natural landscapes – the alien looking Dragon trees, emerald-coloured freshwater canyons, and snow-like dunes – and the way those landscapes evoke a kind of otherworldly magic so unlike what most people think of when they see the word Yemen. However, here is a short video clip, and it doesn’t need much imagination to understand what the tank stands for. For further information, click on the link: United Arab Emirates takeover of Socotra.
Embracing the Ethereal. Socotra’s Spectacular Itinerary Unveiled. Rousing amid this remote paradise, we journeyed to Qalansiya port, setting sail on a breathtaking boat cruise along the cliffs toward the beach of Shoab—promising glimpses of spinner dolphins. A seaside feast laden with fresh seafood became our delight as we revelled in the unique experience of swimming with dolphins. The day concluded with a mesmerizing sunset walk on the endless sandbank emerging from crystal clear shallows, leading to dinner and overnight camping at Detwah Lagoon.
Relishing Tranquility in Paradise. The western journey gifted us with two days of pure relaxation in paradise. The serene Detwah Lagoon, at the confluence of the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, offered a magical landscape, a haven for sea life, and a respite for the soul. Wanders through the village of Qalansiya and hikes to the highest peak painted panoramic vistas, ending the day with dinner and camping by the shores of Detwah Lagoon, a tranquil haven.
We were embarking on an Adventure in the Sands. Descending to the southern coast, Aomak’s pristine sandy beaches awaited our exploration. Visits to Socotri villages and a stop at Dagub Cave, filled with intriguing rock formations and historical significance, stirred our curiosity. The breathtaking white dunes of Zahek became the playground—climbing, sliding, and wandering amidst the vast desert landscapes, an experience like no other. The day’s culmination unfolded with dinner and camping, whether by Aomak Beach or amidst the dunes, dictated by the season’s sway. What a surreal scene.
Discovering the Extraordinary. The trail to the Diksam plateau beckoned, unveiling the sanctuary of the revered Dracaena Cinnabari. Exploring the valley’s hidden settlements and engaging with the nomadic Bedouin herders amidst the dramatic limestone gorge left an indelible mark. Traversing the uniquely shaped Fermhin forest, where the iconic Dragon’s Blood trees thrived, provided insights into the famed resin’s mysteries. The descent into Wadi Direr brought an oasis enclosing a freshwater pool with a natural waterslide—a cherished moment. The dinner and overnight respite unfolded in the embrace of the Diksam plateau, a sanctuary in its own right.
A Journey into Aquatic Bliss. The quest led us to Wadi Khalistan, a hidden gem in Socotra’s expansive terrain. A 30-minute trek unveiled mesmerizing turquoise pools amidst smooth, white limestone—an exquisite spot for swimming, diving, and exploration. Later, the dive into the Dihamri marine protected area offered a kaleidoscope of underwater life—a diverse coral reef brimming with secrets. Snorkelling unveiled the captivating underwater world while diving enthusiasts explored the shipwrecks. As the day waned, dinner and camping were set at Dihamri Beach, sealing another chapter of our adventure.
Immersed in Nature’s Bounty. Homhil—a name etched in memory. Another encounter with the mythical Dragon’s Blood tree marked an enchanting moment in the protected Homhil area. The hour-long hike, surrounded by the island’s most peculiar and captivating flora, led to a natural pool—the infinity pool —offering unparalleled views of the turquoise ocean. A return to Arher for a midday meal, a choice to relax or engage in another hike for panoramic vistas, and a journey to the traditional village of Erissel as the sun set—a tapestry of interactions with locals, the vibrant life of fishermen, and savouring Socotri chai at a family house. Once more, I dined and camped under the captivating Arher Beach’s spell. To highlight, as mentioned initially at the beginning of the blog, 90% of reptile species are endemic to Socotra. Attached is one of my favourites, the Chameleon.
The Beginning of an Enigmatic Journey. As we drove, we immersed ourselves in the breathtaking vistas—passing by villages, catching glimpses of pristine beaches, and marvelling at the extraordinary plant life. Arher, an ethereal landscape of colossal dunes against the rugged rock faces, welcomed me into a world of wonder. These majestic monsoon-carved dunes, towering 200 meters high, cradled a freshwater creek flowing from a cave in the granite mass. Surrendering to the surreal beauty of the unspoiled beach, it is time to venture and climb the dunes, seeking the mesmerizing viewpoint atop. The dinner and camp beneath Socotra’s starlit sky set the stage for the extraordinary days ahead.
At first, the story of Socotra seemed to be different from many other remote islands around the world, but by zooming in and doing my research, I found a repetitive pattern that isn’t new. Overexploitation of natural resources and the sellout of land are view indicators before reaching the tipping point of no return. In the following article, You can find some hints as to why I named this blog Socotra, the elusive paradise. SOCOTRA: ECOLOGICAL PARADISE IN THE CROSSHAIRS OF CONFLICT. If you look up various websites about Socotra, you will find more or less the same information about the secluded, majestic and remote island. The number of yearly visitors, a couple of thousand, is emphasized, but don’t let yourself get fooled since mass tourism has already started on a small scale without the necessary infrastructure. And given the island’s location, almost everything is imported from abroad or mainland Yemen. The topics mentioned represent only some indicators of Socotra’s challenges, and although Socotra is officially part of Yemen, the United Arab Emirates has controlled the elusive paradise for years.