Socotra is the largest of a four-island archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Its name is believed to be derived from a Sanscrit name, meaning ‘The Island of Bliss,’ but at first glance it appears to be from a sci-fi film. Its harsh environment, hot, dry climate, sandy beaches, and towering mountains have resulted in amazing and bizarre flora and fauna. Of their 700 rare species, one-third are endemic. Due to its unique biodiversity, it was recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site in July 2008. Home to around 40,000 people, the island constructed its first road in 2011, and the locals are dedicated to eco-tourism and preserving the natural beauty of their island. There are few places on earth that feel new and undiscovered, but Socotra is one of them. Alas, such extreme beauty cannot go unnoticed for long, so a visit to Socotra as soon as possible is a must. The island is a truly incredible place that must be seen to be believed.
The Highest Heights
The first visual to strike any visitor to the island is its unique landscape, so we’ll take it from the top. At the centre of the island, the granite peaks of the Hajhir Mountains rise up to 1,500 metres above sea level. Local guides are more than happy to take visitors hiking, making it the perfect place to watch the sun set over endless clear water, and survey the otherworldly views of the island below. Journeying through the mountains, you can also reach the depths of the Dihor Canyon and take a dip in one of the beautiful pools of water. The stark contrast in the landscape as you traverse the island must be seen to be believed.
Chilled out coast
A vast expanse of white sand awaits all who visit Socotra. Explore the caves, watch the crabs scuttle about, clamber up one of the many huge dunes to take in the view, or let the crystal-clear water lapping at the sand lull you to sleep, the only stressor on Socotra’s coast is the heated debate on which beach is the best; Qalansiyah or Shoab. On the north-west coast, summer travellers can witness a truly incredible spectacle on Qadama beach; turtles emerging from the water to lay their eggs. There’s something for everyone on these incredible beaches.
Below the Surface
Surrounded by warm, clear water, Socotra is the perfect place to go diving. Snorkel along the beautiful reefs of the Dihamri Marine Protected Area, watching the fish and turtles that make it their home, or go diving with the rays and reef sharks at the Qalansiyah Protected Area. Those looking for something extra-special can take a diving tour of the shipwrecks off the island, an amazing experience.
Socotra was separated from mainland Africa for 6-7 million years, meaning all species evolved independently in isolation. Today, Socotra is home to approximately 800 species of rare flora and fauna, about a third of which are endemic, meaning they cannot be found anywhere else on earth. As life on the island has had minimal interference, some plants are thought to be 20 million years old. The harsh environment has produced some truly bizarre flora, the most striking of which is probably the dragon tree, whose dense umbrella-shaped canopy and odd branches give it a mushroom-like appearance. Its name comes from its blood-red resin, which was used a dye, varnish and as a medieval medicine. Another peculiar sight is that of the desert rose, or bottle tree, which grows on rocky terrain without any soil, a testament to evolution and survival on the island. A greyish, bulbous trunk supports dainty pink flowers on this eccentric species. From the ‘bucha’ vegetable to the cucumber tree, no matter where you are on the island, there’ll always be some outlandish greenery to behold.
In its isolated location, Socotra is the perfect stopover for birds migrating to and from Africa, Asia and Europe, resulting in an interesting mix, to say the least! Socotra has over 200 species of birds, at least 10 of which can only be found on the island, such as the Socotra starling, sunbird, bunting, sparrow and golden-winged grosbeak. Many endangered species, such as the Socotra cormorant and the Egyptian vulture, are plentiful on the island. Watching these birds glide over the crystal waters, or soar over the mountains is a breath-taking sight, and a pair of binoculars is a must for anyone visiting the island.
Visit Socotra as part of our Somaliland, Eritrea and Socotra group tour happening on May 15th 2018!