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  • Writer's pictureAlly Landes

SOCOTRA | Yemen's Treasure Island


ABOUT SOCOTRA

The Socotra Archipelago lies approximately 250km northeast of Somalia and 380km south of Yemen. The archipelago is made up of four main islands; Socotra, Abd al Kuri, Samhah, and Darsah. The main island of Socotra is 135km in length, 42km in width and has a surface area of 3,650km2 making it one of the largest of the Arabian islands.


Socotra’s population is geographically and culturally divided into two groups of people. Those who live in the mountains who are kin-based tribal groups who have access to specific land and water resources, and may own land who call themselves, Bedouins. And those who live along the coastal plains with no tribal affiliations. They do not own land and are mostly African and Arab settlers who live along the coast.


Socotra Trip

PLANNING THE TRIP

Socotra had been on my bucket list for the last 8 years, and finally became a reality and an absolutely fabulous trip from start to finish! The island of Socotra has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 2008 and there is much to see and still discover.


I planned our trip through Socotra Trip which is the only company that provides chalet options to break up the camping days which is perfect for those who like having showers/toilets to come home to and most importantly, power to charge up all your camera batteries and the chance to rinse off all your diving gear. If you are happy to go camping the entire week, there are plenty of other company choices to choose from.


The most important part of planning this trip was to make sure we also got to discover Socotra’s life underwater. With only a week at hand, our schedule worked out perfectly. We managed to get four dives in and not miss any of the must-see land excursions!


Flights leave/return from Abu Dhabi on Mondays for a week of adventure and you no longer need to provide Covid tests, but have your vaccination certificates ready. This is one trip to make sooner, rather than later. It’s still raw and untouched and we hope this gem won’t change any time soon.


Flights to Socotra from Abu Dhabi are approximately an hour and 45 minutes long, and there are strict weight limits of 20kg per checked baggage, due to the full cargo loads booked by Soqotris importing goods on the only international flight to arrive on the island. We were very lucky to get early flights at 5:30am (this is not always the case, the airline alters their timings during the seasons) which meant we arrived in Socotra at 6:30am. It also meant we got very little sleep as we needed to drive to Abu Dhabi’s International Airport for 3am, but it meant a full day ahead with no loss of time to enjoy and explore once we’d dropped all our things off at the chalets and had breakfast!


About to land on Socotra Island with our Air Arabia flight from Abu Dhabi.
Landed at Socotra International Airport.

DAY 1

OUR FLEET

Socotra Trip have a fleet of three comfortable Toyota Land Cruisers on the island, in the best condition of all the groups we saw. Those cars became a second home as we spent hours crisscrossing the island throughout the week, taking in the scenery en route to all our destinations. Our drivers, Salem Ahmed Qihan, Salah Abdurrahman Khayaat, and Muhamad Shinihan were all fantastic and our co-driver Yasser Awas Talib was a fountain of knowledge about the island.


With you every step of the way is Lara Nunez Castelo, the Director of Operations, who organises all of the trip logistics (flights and visas included as this cannot be done by yourself) and your weekly schedule catered to the type of trip you want to do. She kept us updated throughout the build-up of the trip with voice messages of important info we needed to know through our WhatsApp group, right up until our flight had landed in Socotra where she waits to collect you at the exit, and the adventure begins.


Our Socotra Trip Toyota Land Cruiser with our driver, Salem Ahmed Qihan, and our co-driver Yasser Awas Talib.

LA SIRENA CHALETS

The chalets are new – a guest house more than a resort – with basic amenities, but with everything you need, and a perfect home base to return to from excursions. There are 12 comfortable rooms with double or triple occupancy on a sharing basis. Single occupancy can be arranged at an extra cost. If you are in a group of friends, sharing is easy.


The chalets are included in the 8 days/7 nights Socotra Trip package. They all have en suite toilets and showers, and closets you can lock up the valuables you don’t want to haul around with you. Your towels are freshened every day and they will wash 2 items of clothing per person each day if you leave it in the hamper, which you will get back 2 days later. Something to consider when you’re aiming to pack light and you’ve got diving gear to bring!


There is a majlis area right over by the sea in which you can relax in the evenings or early on in the mornings. Your breakfast packs are delivered to the communal table outside your room where you also have your dinner in the evenings. And there are kettles in the rooms, with complimentary teas and Nescafe sachets to get you raring to go.


La Sirena Chalets in Socotra
La Sirena Chalet's Majlis by the sea in Socotra

ENDEMIC SPECIES

Socotra is wild and raw with a surreal beauty. It’s home to more than 800 rare species of flora and fauna, around a third of which are endemic, found nowhere else on the planet. Socotra ranks amongst the world’s most important centres of biodiversity which combines elements of Africa, Asia, and Europe. It is described as the most alien looking place on earth. But like everywhere, climate change, plastic pollution, habitat loss and overgrazing threatens this magnificent place with livestock grazing the biggest threat to the plant life.


Livestock grazing is the biggest threat to the plant life in Socotra. This goat is one of them.

Socotra was famed for seven species of frankincense trees, all unique to the island, but the numbers are said to have reduced to less than half!


The endemic Desert Rose, the island’s best known Bottle Trees (Adenium obesum socotranum) and Cucumber Trees (Dendrosicyos socotranus – the only species to grow in tree form) will blow you away seeing how they grow in these harsh environments. Sadly, with tourism really opening up now, we’ve seen a lot of these trees defaced with people’s initials or full names carved into them which is shameful.


The endemic Desert Rose, Socotra island’s best known Bottle Tree (Adenium obesum socotranum).

Socotra has three endemic species of Aloe Vera, in which we saw a purple hued aloe which might be the Aloe perryi, (I’m no expert, I can’t say for sure) and there are also the Aloe jawiyon and the Aloe squarrosa.


We saw this purple hued aloe on Socotra Island, which might be the Aloe perryi.

The gorgeous Socotran chameleon (Chameleon monachus) is a species of chameleon endemic to the island, and they are listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List due to overgrazing. We were so lucky to see one up close. They are so beautiful!


The Socotran chameleon (Chameleon monachus) is a species of chameleon endemic to Socotra island, and listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List due to overgrazing.

Pack a rugged pair of hiking boots as you’re going to be doing a lot of exploring on rough terrain that will have you looking in every nook and cranny. Touch nothing, and take nothing but photos and videos for your memories on this magical island, this is one trip you won’t want to forget.


WADI KALYSAN

After checking out our chalets, we unpacked a few items, and packed the items needed for the day’s first destination, had breakfast, and piled up into our vehicles for the start of our adventure. Our agenda was set for a short hike to the beautiful Wadi Kalysan and a swim in its freshwater pools. We made the obligatory roadside stops along the way to see our first bottle and cucumber trees.


From the top of the viewpoint, you can see the Indian Ocean in the distance. March has been quite warm and there was a light haze in the skyline, but stunning nonetheless. The wadi hike is an easy and short one to be made in hiking boots/shoes, but you are going to want to pack water shoes to have with you, plus your swimmers and a GoPro to get in that beautiful canyon’s cool waters.


The viewpoint at Wadi Kalysan where you can see the Indian Ocean in the distance.

For those of us from Oman days in the late 80s, Wadi Bani Khalid came flooding back to our memories (the days before it became a tourist attraction) at Wadi Kalysan. We had the whole place to ourselves to swim and jump into the deep pools from the cliff faces. What a great first day that was. Swim further up into the canyon and you’ll discover quaint little water falls to sit under and wash away all your worries!


Wadi Kalysan, Socotra
Wadi Kalysan, Socotra
Wadi Kalysan, Socotra
Wadi Kalysan, Socotra
Wadi Kalysan, Socotra
Wadi Kalysan, Socotra
Wadi Kalysan, Socotra

The drone decided it had a mind of its own on this excursion and conked out completely by the end of the trip in-between the one or two times it did work. Sadly, I didn’t get much of the shots I had hoped for with a bird’s eye view.


Wadi Kalysan, Socotra

When it’s time to move on, you hike back up to the cars for a short drive back to the viewpoint where a fantastic lunch awaits you under a canopy. This will be your first introduction to a common experience throughout the trip – ‘Lunch with the Vultures’ – for a novel end to a fantastic first day!


Lunch at Wadi Kalysan, with Socotra Trip.

THE EGYPTIAN VULTURES

The scavenging Egyptian Vultures (Neophron Percnopterus) are found absolutely everywhere on Socotra island. The Soqotris love them, as we have grown to love them too. They are an important part of the local communities and environment, and great fun to observe. Unafraid of humans, they flock like chickens pacing around waiting for scraps. It’s awesome watching them in flight as they soar the thermals. They are great in clearing all left-over food ­– bones and all included – so they clean the environment up well, but it’s when down in the villages and towns, where you see them picking their way through the forever growing piles of rubbish that you imagine these birds’ intestines must be full of plastics.


The Egyptian Vultures, Socotra.
The Egyptian Vultures, Socotra.

The darker feathered vultures are the juvenile birds waiting to get their golden adult feathers in. With quite a few rare species of bird, Socotra is a paradise for twitchers, a few of whom we met from other groups! There’s definitely something for everyone here.


The young and adult example of Egyptian Vultures, Socotra.

DAY 2

THE DIVING

There is one dive guide on the island with a good reputation, called Naseem, though he has yet to complete his Divemasters course, he at least knows his dive sites well. Divers should all be well experienced, as there is no hyperbaric chamber on the island if anything were to go wrong, and no oxygen on the boats. Even though you are limited to only 20kg on the flight, if you have your own equipment, travel with it. The dive gear for rent is in good condition, but it’s expensive, as is the diving.


You need to make two stops to first get kitted out. We were driven to the first storeroom near the beach to collect the dive gear Matt and Candice had rented, and sort out all our weights. We were then driven to another small building further inland to collect the dive tanks. After that, Naseem brings everything in his pickup for all the dive trips once he knows everyone has their equipment sorted.


Naseem's diving kit storage in Socotra.

Fishermen and their small wooden boats are the only transport to get to dive sites and an additional fee to the diving. It may look daunting at first, but it’s part of the Socotran adventure and as long as there are no more than 4 sets of equipment per boat, it makes for a comfortable trip. I would not however want to be in them with choppy seas, it’s hard enough getting back into them without feeling you might capsize if there’s not enough weight holding it down on the other side. Needless to say, it was great fun to add Socotra to our list of destinations dived.


Soqotri fishing boats are the only transport to get to dive sites and an additional fee to the diving in Socotra.
Soqotri fishing boats are the only transport to get to dive sites and an additional fee to the diving in Socotra.

Bring dive booties with you to get in and out of the boats, there were so many dead Long-spine porcupinefish (Diodon holocanthus) all over the coastline and there are a lot of sharp rocks at some entry points so you’re going to want to protect your feet. Tony and I wear full foot fins so we put our booties in our pockets for the shore dive or left them in the boat. Don’t forget to bring a small dry bag to bring sunglasses, hats, sun cream, etc.


DIVING AT RUSH

Our first dive was at Rush on the morning of day 2 on the northeastern coast of Socotra’s Arabian Sea. It was an easy dive with a maximum depth of 11.3 metres at 27˚C. A 5mm wetsuit is ideal, as it got a little chilly at times in a 3mm.


It’s a scenic dive site with lots of healthy coral structures, although there is also a lot of broken coral caused by two severe cyclones that happened in 2015. We counted 5 Whitetip Reef Sharks (Triaenodon obesus) throughout the dive. There’s plenty of marine life to observe, and we saw a relatively small Blotched Fantail Ray (Taeniurops meyeni) knowing they can reach a maximum width of 180cm.


Dive at Rush, Socotra.
Dive at Rush with Whitetip Reef Shark (Triaenodon obesus), Socotra.
Dive at Rush with Blotched Fantail Ray (Taeniurops meyeni), Socotra.
Dive at Rush, Socotra.

There are plenty of beautiful Scorpionfish to watch out for, so many lobsters, and I saw three species of cleaner shrimp that you’ll spot just about everywhere if you look up in the rock crevices. Difficult to manage with a GoPro, but great subjects for macro photographers. And of course, you’ll see most of the common reef fish of the Arabian Sea. We saw lots of Arabian Butterflyfish (Chaetodon melacpterus), Longfin Bannerfish (Heniochus acuminatus), and Golden Sweepers (Parapracanthus ransonneti). There are lots of yellow tinted Ternate Chromis (Chromis ternatensis) and electric blue outlined Trispot chromis (Chromis trialpha) playing peekaboo amongst all the table corals of Acropora.


Dive at Rush with Scorpionfish, Socotra.
Dive at Rush with Scorpionfish, Socotra.
Dive at Rush with lobsters, Socotra.
Dive at Rush, Socotra.
Corals on dive at Rush, Socotra.
Corals on dive at Rush, Socotra.
Dive at Rush with Whitetip Reef Shark (Triaenodon obesus), Socotra.
Corals on dive at Rush, Socotra.
Dive at Rush, Socotra.

Once resurfaced, you pass your weight belt and kit up, and getting yourself back into the boat is all down to arm power. There are no ladders, so a helping hand with a good strong kick of your fins will do it. There is nothing graceful about this – it got rather comical. You also need to make sure someone in the boat, stands on the opposite side when a body comes crashing in to counterbalance.


HOMHIL

The second part of day 2 was to the gorgeous landscapes of Homhil where we saw our first Dragon Blood trees, several species of Frankincense trees and where I broke my little toe because I was in flimsy flip-flops and slipped. This terrain is full of sharp rocks and loose grit and hiking boots/shoes are the only sensible way to go. Good job it was only the little toe and I was able to hike and dive for the remainder of the trip!


Homhil Dragon Blood tree, Socotra.
Homhil Frankincense tree, Socotra.

We first stopped for our private lunch by Socotra Trip’s chef, sheltered from the sun at a campsite before heading into the wadi for the afternoon. There is a floor toilet at this campsite which is great as you know the area around will be clean and you don’t have to watch where you tread. You just need to flush clean water down the hole for the next user. Everything is rustic as expected, but if there are toilets, they were all clean which was impressive.


The Homhil lunch stop, Socotra.
Dragon Blood trees in Homhil, Socotra.
The beautiful landscape of Dragon Blood trees, and Bottle trees in Homhil, Socotra.
The beautiful landscape of Dragon Blood trees, and Bottle trees in Homhil, Socotra.
The beautiful landscape of Dragon Blood trees, and Bottle trees in Homhil, Socotra.

Homhil was breathtakingly picturesque. The hike leads you to a beautiful hidden freshwater pool on a cliff edge overlooking the valley below to the Arabian Sea. The only other travellers were already packing up to head back to their campsite when we arrived, and it was all ours for the best of the afternoon light. The walk back during golden hour was spectacular!


Homhil, Socotra.
Homhil's hike leads you to a beautiful freshwater pool on a cliff edge overlooking the valley below to the Arabian Sea, Socotra.
Homhil's hike leads you to a beautiful freshwater pool on a cliff edge overlooking the valley below to the Arabian Sea, Socotra.
Homhil's hike leads you to a beautiful freshwater pool on a cliff edge overlooking the valley below to the Arabian Sea, Socotra.
Homhil's hike leads you to a beautiful freshwater pool on a cliff edge overlooking the valley below to the Arabian Sea, Socotra.
Homhil's hike leads you to a beautiful freshwater pool on a cliff edge overlooking the valley below to the Arabian Sea, Socotra.
Homhil's hike leads you to a beautiful freshwater pool on a cliff edge overlooking the valley below to the Arabian Sea, Socotra.
Homhil's hike leads you to a beautiful freshwater pool on a cliff edge overlooking the valley below to the Arabian Sea, Socotra.

DAY 3

DIVING AT DI HAMRI

Our two dives on the start of day three were at Di Hamri which is also on the northeast of the island. We set off on our boats to start with the deep dive at 30m where we didn’t see very much at all except for schools of busy body Bigeye Trevallies (Caranx sexfasciatus) which are always an awesome sight. It was a nice dive nonetheless. There was talk of the shadow of a shark swim past, but it doesn’t count when you haven’t seen it!


The deep dive in Di Hamri, Socotra.
The deep dive in Di Hamri, Socotra.

The second dive was a fantastic shore dive with a healthy coral reef at a max of 11 metres with lots to see in all the nooks and crannies. There is again, a lot of macro. We had different species of moray eels including a Geometric Moray (Gymnothorax griseus), a Jenkins Whipray (Pateobatis jenkinsii), a massive grouper who didn’t hang about long enough for a photo, octopuses wedged in tight to their dens, a beautiful Halfmoon Triggerfish (Sufflamen chrysopterum) which I’d not seen before, Steephead Parrotfish (Chlorurus strongylocephalus), Arabian Butterflyfish, lots of Golden Sweepers, the White-spine Surgeonfish as well as lots of the other common species of colourful Arabian Sea reef fish. The entry and exit to this dive site was very rocky, so booties were mandatory. We stored ours in our pockets during the dive.


The shallow shore dive in Di Hamri, Socotra.
The shallow shore dive in Di Hamri with this Jenkins Whipray (Pateobatis jenkinsii), Socotra.
The shallow shore dive in Di Hamri, Socotra.
The shallow shore dive in Di Hamri with this Geometric Moray (Gymnothorax griseus), Socotra.
Golden Sweepers at the shallow shore dive in Di Hamri, Socotra.

ARHER AND CAMPING

After our dives and lunch, we headed to the stunning location of Arher in the East, to see the White Dunes (the highest in Socotra) where we had our first night of camping on the beach, under towering cliffs covered in powder-white sand dunes! The dunes were created by monsoon winds and are constantly shifting. You can get a great view from the top if you’re up for the clamber.


The White Dunes of Arher in the East, Socotra.
The White Dunes of Arher in the East, Socotra.
The White Dunes of Arher in the East, Socotra.
Camping in Arher, Socotra.

There are quite a few campsites set up along the stretch, but we had a lovely beach to ourselves. There is a freshwater stream running from a cave in the cliff face down to the beach where you can rinse off the salt after a swim in the sea.


The Arher freshwater stream running from a cave in the cliff face down to the beach, Socotra.
The Arher freshwater stream running from a cave in the cliff face down to the beach, Socotra.

If you look hard enough, you will see freshwater eels in the streams and I hear they can get quite big. I didn’t see any, but Matt saw one. I wasn’t able to find any info on them online except that Soqotris do not eat them. They are bony and tasteless.


Keep your shoes on as there were lots of dead Long-spine Porcupinefish on this beach also which are hard to see in the dark. Stepping on those spines in bare feet would not end well. For the rest, there are no toilets at this campsite so it’s down to finding a discreet spot for potty and watching where you tread as some people clearly don’t care how they treat the outdoors.


Arher, Socotra.
Arher, Socotra and the White Dunes.
Arher, Socotra.
Arher, Socotra and the White Dunes.
Arher, Socotra and the White Dunes.
Arher, Socotra.

DAY 4

It was an early wake up on the fourth morning at our campsite to a beautiful sunrise. Matt, our fishing fanatic got some early morning angling in, and we caught a glimpse of a small pod of dolphins swimming past whilst waiting for the delivery of our freshly baked flat breads to arrive from Erissel for our breakfast, before heading out for our fourth and last dive in Socotra!


Sunrise at Arher, Socotra.
Early morning rise with Socotra Trip at Arher, Socotra.
Early morning rise with Socotra Trip at Arher, Socotra.
Early morning fishing with Socotra Trip at Arher, Socotra.
Early morning dolphin spotting with Socotra Trip at Arher, Socotra.
Early morning rise with Socotra Trip at Arher, Socotra.
Early morning rise with Socotra Trip at Arher, Socotra.
Leaving Arher behind as we move on to Erissel, Socotra.

DIVING AT ERISSEL WRECK

What a fantastic last dive we had on the very Eastern tip of Erissel where the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean meet. There are apparently 7 different spots to dive from here. As far as I’ve been able to find out, this area is made up of lots of different (some websites say hundreds and some say thousands) shipwrecks that have all run aground along the rocks at low tides over a timespan of anywhere between 50 years and hundreds, depending on where you get your info. We’ll never know, but there are clearly a lot of wrecks to explore!


Our wreck dive on the very Eastern tip of Erissel where the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean meet, Socotra.
Our wreck dive on the very Eastern tip of Erissel where the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean meet, Socotra.
Our wreck dive on the very Eastern tip of Erissel where the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean meet, Socotra.

This dive takes about 20 minutes to get out to by boat and the area we dived in had a maximum depth of 7 metres with strong currents. You have to backward roll into an immediate descent at the anchor line and once under, you are surrounded by large shoals of coral reef fish; White-spine Surgeonfish (Acanthurus leucocheilus), Emperor Angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator), Bigeye Trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus), and the smallest, the Indo-Pacific Sergeant (Abudefduf vaigiensis). We saw a couple of Honeycomb Morays (Gymnothorax favagineus) and there’s so much more to see over the different sections of the broken-up wrecks.


White-spine Surgeonfish (Acanthurus leucocheilus) and the smaller the Indo-Pacific Sergeant (Abudefduf vaigiensis) on our wreck dive on the very Eastern tip of Erissel, Socotra.
Our wreck dive on the very Eastern tip of Erissel where the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean meet, Socotra.
Emperor Angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator) on our wreck dive on the very Eastern tip of Erissel, Socotra.
Our wreck dive on the very Eastern tip of Erissel where the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean meet, Socotra.
Our wreck dive on the very Eastern tip of Erissel where the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean meet, Socotra.
Our wreck dive on the very Eastern tip of Erissel where the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean meet, Socotra.
Bigeye Trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus) on our wreck dive on the very Eastern tip of Erissel, Socotra.
Honeycomb Moray (Gymnothorax favagineus) on our wreck dive on the very Eastern tip of Erissel, Socotra.
Our wreck dive on the very Eastern tip of Erissel where the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean meet, Socotra.
Our wreck dive on the very Eastern tip of Erissel where the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean meet, Socotra.
Our wreck dive on the very Eastern tip of Erissel where the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean meet, Socotra.
Our wreck dive on the very Eastern tip of Erissel where the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean meet, Socotra.
Our wreck dive on the very Eastern tip of Erissel where the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean meet, Socotra.

It was a great way to start this day. It also proves there is plenty more to discover underwater around the island.


HOQ CAVE

After our morning dive, we headed over to Hoq Cave on the northeast which is 400+ metres above sea level. No one seems to know how deep Hoq cave actually goes (changes slightly on the info found online) but we reached the end of the marked trail at 2km. We brought our own head torches with us though Socotra Trip bring head torches for everyone. The more light you have, the better to light up all those amazing stalactites and stalagmites with. Knowing you have spare lights is reassuring when you discover the true meaning of darkness!


Our Socotra Trip group about to hike up to Hoq Cave, Socotra.
Our Socotra Trip group hiking up to Hoq Cave, Socotra.
Our Socotra Trip group looking tiny, perched at the entrance of Hoq Cave, Socotra.
Our Socotra Trip group at the entrance of Hoq Cave, Socotra.

I was lucky to experience the Al Hoota Cave in Oman in the early 1990s (5km long) before it became a tourist attraction in 2006 and they put a train in it. We had to abseil down into it with our group and there were deep water pools inhabited with blind fish you could swim through. I remember having to crawl through some narrow tunnels, thankfully not something we had to do this time, but it brought a lot of memories back. It’s a wide-open space all the way to the end of Hoq Cave where you reach a small shallow water pool.


When you research caves in Socotra, it turns out Hoq is not the largest one, but it is the easiest one to get to. The hike up is relatively easy which takes a minimum of 1 hour/maximum 1.5 hours depending on fitness levels, but tougher when you’re doing it in the peak of the day’s heat as we did and for March, this was particularly hot. The views from the top are fantastic!


Hoq Cave, Socotra.
Hoq Cave, Socotra.
Hoq Cave, Socotra.
Hoq Cave, Socotra.
Hoq Cave, Socotra.
Hoq Cave, Socotra.
Hoq Cave, Socotra.
Hoq Cave, Socotra.
Hoq Cave, Socotra.
Hoq Cave, Socotra.
Hoq Cave, Socotra.
Hoq Cave, Socotra.
Hoq Cave, Socotra.
Hoq Cave, Socotra.
Hoq Cave, Socotra.
Hoq Cave, Socotra.
Hoq Cave, Socotra.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t cold inside the cave, but it was thankfully cooler than outside. I’m sure during the cooler months, the temperatures drop considerably, and a small jacket may come in handy.


You need to keep the noise levels down as the cave system is sensitive. You can see a few of the stalactites have broken off and crashed down. It’s sad when you think these have taken hundreds of thousands of years to form, and just like that, they’ve broken. It is a beautiful cave, we’re so lucky to have seen it so raw.


Hoq Cave views, Socotra.
The landscape view on the hike back down from Hoq Cave, Socotra.

HADIBO

On the way back to our chalets, we made a quick stop into Hadibo where you can purchase local sweets, Socotran honey (highly recommended and sold in plastic water bottles), and the ‘miwaz’ which is the rectangular cloth of embroidered or patterned material worn by Soqotri men. They are wrapped around the waist and secured by folding the top part in, and sometimes secured with a belt. They make great beach sarongs.


Hadibo local sweet shop, Socotra.
Hadibo local sweet shop, Socotra.
Hadibo, Socotra.
Hadibo, Socotra.
Hadibo clothes shop, Socotra.
Hadibo vegetable shop, Socotra.
Hadibo pharmacy, Socotra.

DAY 5

TANKS AND ROCK ART

We had a couple of fun morning stops on day 5. To satisfy the ‘big kids’ in the group, we had to get up close and personal to see the old rusty Soviet T-34 tanks (from the days of WWII) that are lined up along the coast facing the sea to take lots of photos. They were brought onto Socotra Island in the 1980s (already rusty and out of action) and can be seen from the road coming in from the airport.


The old rusty Soviet T-34 tanks (from the days of WWII) are lined up along the coast of Socotra.

We made a second unexpected stop that Yasser had called for to show us an area with ancient rock art made in the limestone plateau of Eriosh which is a slight basin that fills up with water during the rains of the monsoon, covering up the petroglyphs which we got to see so clearly. Not having known any of this beforehand, I researched it online and rock art is all over Socotra, but remains one of the most neglected areas of study on the island.


The area where ancient rock art is found in the limestone plateau of Eriosh, Socotra.

These carvings are sought to be by Ethiopian tribes where we clearly saw motifs of goats, camels and feet, mostly in pairs. The feet are believed to suggest the site was considered sacred during the Christian period on Socotra. The fact that water covers the area symbolises birth, death and fertility, and they suspect rituals were held during the monsoon season for its life-giving water it would bring. They say these date back to the second half of the first millennium BC!


Yasser from Socotra Trip pointing out to ancient rock art in the limestone plateau of Eriosh, Socotra.
A goat is part of the ancient rock art in the limestone plateau of Eriosh, Socotra.
These feet are part of the ancient rock art in the limestone plateau of Eriosh, Socotra.
These feet are part of the ancient rock art in the limestone plateau of Eriosh, Socotra.

The ones that have been discovered in Hoq Cave are much further in than the 2km we got to explore, so there is no chance of seeing those ones.


For those interested in reading the paper on the rock art of Socotra, it can be downloaded here: www.mdpi.com/2076-0752/7/4/99/pdf


DIXAM

Next up, we headed to Dixam to see the endemic Dragon Blood Trees (Dracaena cinnabari) in the hundreds and get a high viewpoint of the Firmihin Forest. It’s a nature reserve in the Haghier Mountains which are about 1,500 metres high. It’s incredible to see so many of these trees and gawp at the wonder of them surviving in such harsh landscapes of these rugged granite peaks. The cyclones from 2015 damaged a lot of the trees, but they are incredibly resilient and the majority remain standing. Their thick umbrella-shaped canopies hold strong and face up towards the sky, they’re ever so majestic. They are named after the red blood-like colour of the sap they produce, and they can live to more than 300 years old.


The Firmihin Forest of endemic Dragon Blood Trees (Dracaena cinnabari) in Dixam, Socotra.
Our Socotra Trip group at the The Firmihin Forest in Dixam, Socotra.
The Firmihin Forest of endemic Dragon Blood Trees (Dracaena cinnabari) in Dixam, Socotra.
The Firmihin Forest of endemic Dragon Blood Trees (Dracaena cinnabari) in Dixam, Socotra.
The endemic Dragon Blood Trees (Dracaena cinnabari) in Dixam, Socotra.
The endemic Dragon Blood Trees (Dracaena cinnabari) in Dixam, Socotra.
Socotra Trip in Dixam, Socotra.
Our Dixam guide, Socotra.
The endemic Dragon Blood Tree sap (Dracaena cinnabari) in Dixam, Socotra.

They are however, listed on the IUCN’s Red List as ‘Vulnerable’. If these trees are not protected, they may go instinct, which would be a terrible tragedy. We look upon them and think there are many, but in reading up on this species, their growth is getting sparse and there is a lack of regeneration in the core habitat. The local people have noticed a decline in rainfall over the years which means it’s becoming too dry for seedlings to work their magic. So global warming is one factor, and the other is overgrazing (goats are no longer controlled and run wild, destroying everything they come across), and/or there’s a change in land-use patterns.


An endemic Dragon Blood Tree (Dracaena cinnabari) in Dixam, Socotra.
An endemic Dragon Blood Tree (Dracaena cinnabari) in Dixam, Socotra.
Endemic Dragon Blood Trees (Dracaena cinnabari) in Dixam, Socotra.
An endemic Dragon Blood Tree (Dracaena cinnabari) in Dixam, Socotra.

There is a random flute player that can be found in the same spot every day. He sits under a Dragon Blood tree to play his rustic sounds to the Dixam visitors. This is an encouraged stop in which Socotra Trip supports him. He’s all smiles and shy for the big round of applause, it’s nice to see.


The random flute player of Dixam can be found in the same spot every day. He sits under a Dragon Blood tree to play his rustic sounds to the Dixam visitors, Socotra.

It was then time for another fabulous lunch. We missed out on the spot planned for us with a view, another group had beaten us to it which was very rare, but we can’t complain with our second option. We had a huge entourage of Egyptian Vultures join us and we enjoyed watching them eat our scraps.


Our Socotra Trip lunch stop in Dixam, Socotra.
Lunch prepared by the Socotra Trip chef and team in Dixam, Socotra.
Egyptian Vultures, Dixam, Socotra.

After, we drove over to yet another viewpoint where you can sit over the edge of a large drop-off and have your photos taken – clearly not one for those with a fear of heights. It’s also a great spot to watch the Egyptian Vultures riding those thermals.


Dixam viewpoint, Socotra.
Dixam viewpoint, Socotra.
Dixam viewpoint, where Egyptian Vultures ride the thermals, Socotra.
Dixam children, Socotra.
Dixam viewpoint, Socotra.

NOTE REGARDING DRONES

It’s very difficult to capture the depth of field without a drone in this location. My gimbal decided to malfunction completely during our lunch break and that was the end of it. In case you want to travel with your drone, there are no problems bringing one into Socotra. You can easily travel out of the UAE with it, as long as you have a valid UAE General Civil Aviation Authority license to bring it back in on your return. I’m not sure how this would work if you are not a UAE resident though, as it could be an issue without a permit.


DEHAM BEACH & THE MANGROVES

Before heading back to our chalets for the night, we made a stop to Deham beach to catch the sunset and see the camels feeding on the mangroves.


Camels feeding on the mangroves at Deham Beach, Socotra.
Camel feeding on the mangroves at Deham Beach, Socotra.

The Ghubba Village which is further along the coast, is a pilot site for one of the mangrove ecosystem restoration projects they have set up in the north of the island. We didn’t go there to see the project, but it was interesting reading up about it afterwards. Mangroves are in declining numbers in Socotra and there are obstacles for the regeneration and replanting of these trees. Animals are a major problem (crabs, camels and goats) as they eat the seedlings and the growing shrubs.


The mangroves are a vital element to Socotra’s coastal and marine habitats. Not only are they important to the local communities for fuel (wood and charcoal) and in construction (plaster for houses), they are also used for animal grazing, providing food for their animals, which allows them to sell their milk and meat.


Mangroves are especially vital in protecting the coasts from erosion and act as wave breakers that help minimise flooding and the impacts storms have on coastal settlements. They provide nursery habitats for species of fish and most importantly, they fight against global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.


Sunset at Deham Beach, Socotra.

DAY 6

DETWAH LAGOON AND CAMPING

After breakfast and making sure we were all packed for our second and last night of camping, we headed to the northwest of the island to Detwah Lagoon which is a protected area and an important bird area where the Egyptian Vulture and the Socotra Cormorant (Phalacrocorax nigrogularis) breed. The tidal inlet is open to the sea, and is surrounded by sand dunes and 400 metre high limestone and granite cliffs. The sea grass habitat provides ideal refuge from predators, acting as a feeding area and shelter for juvenile fish. There’s a really good-looking side to this area with the beautiful white sand beach on one, and then the not so attractive side that overlooks onto the dark sand campsite grounds.


Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Detwah Lagoon's beautiful white sandy beach, Socotra.
Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Detwah Lagoon's camping grounds, Socotra.
Detwah Lagoon's camping grounds, Socotra.
Egyptian Vultures riding the thermals at Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.

Socotra Trip really do have the best campsite location here which is tucked away over on the furthest end and completely hidden away from the masses. We were tied to a lovely local lady’s home who came down from her house to embrace Lara like a family member coming home to visit. She was ecstatic to say hello to the rest of us, welcoming us into her domain with two shelters, one for us to lounge in, and another for our meals that overlooks the camping space the Socotra Trip team busily set up for us. There are 2 rustic but very clean private outdoor toilets and showers just one minute further on her property, which are located right next to her water well.


Socotra trip's tranquil end of Detwah Lagoon's camping grounds, Socotra.
Socotra trip setting up camp at the tranquil end of Detwah Lagoon's camping grounds, Socotra.
Socotra trip's tranquil end of Detwah Lagoon's camping grounds, Socotra.

The rest to follow was completely unexpected and one of my most favourite experiences to date!


MEETING ELLAI

I had read about him in the build-up to this trip when Tom happened to fall on a BBC article about the ‘Hermit of Socotra Island’ and shared it in our WhatsApp group months ago. We mentioned how fantastic it would be to meet Ellai, and then just like that, we forgot all about it. In no way did we put two and two together when it was explained to us we were going out for lunch to eat in a cave. We were instructed to wear our water shoes as we were going to get our feet wet and walk around the mountain and through the lagoon.


We started walking along the beach, headed towards the mountain which took us about 20 minutes. Muhamad Shinihan led us along the zig-zagging mountain path until we reached our meeting point where he shouted out up at the mountain that we had arrived. The call back told us to hold on and wait. I looked up and watched the Egyptian Vultures circling us from above.


The Detwah Lagoon walk to our lunch venue, Socotra.
The Detwah Lagoon walk to our lunch venue, Socotra.
The Detwah Lagoon walk to our lunch venue, Socotra.
The Detwah Lagoon walk to our lunch venue, Socotra.
The Detwah Lagoon walk to our lunch venue, Socotra.
The Detwah Lagoon walk to our lunch venue, Socotra.
The Detwah Lagoon, Socotra Egyptian Vultures circling above.

It took a good 5 minutes before we were told to come up through the natural rock archway into the realm of Ellai. A handsome charismatic character with a weathered face and lean build, Ellai was bare chested and wearing a brightly patterned ‘miwaz’, his hair sprinkled with glints of sea salt reflected in the sun. He greeted us with such a warm and giddy smile as he patted our shoulders guiding us up along another path to follow with a steep incline. He gave Lara a massive hug before darting off down the mountain to guide another group down that were just leaving – we had now understood why we had been made to wait. Ellai is quite the celebrity!


Come up through the natural rock archway into the realm of Ellai, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.

Arriving at the mouth of Ellai’s cave, the first thing you see are the big old whale bones fixed into a sturdy banister to help you hoist yourself up the stone steps onto the wide ledge covered in mats that serves as a dining area. We removed our shoes and sat down to enjoy the view overlooking the lagoon. What a fantastic venue!


The big old whale bones fixed into a sturdy banister at Ellai's cave, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
The view from Ellai's cave of Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.

We met two of his sons who were in charge of watching over the food that had been prepared, we imagine to make sure the vultures didn’t get to it before we got the chance to eat it. While we waited for Ellai to get back, we learnt that he and his wife have had 12 children, but only 6 survived their childhoods, and these boys are his youngest. They were not at all interested in us, and like most children their age, they looked as if they rather be anywhere else but here.


Ellai's sons, Detwah Lagoon Socotra.

Ellai ecstatically bounded back up to us once he had sent the other group off on their way and straight to his kitchen area to serve us his dishes of barbequed fish, mussels, squid and rice. The shell plates really were a fantastic touch and if you weren’t comfortable eating with your hands, you had the mussel shells to act like little spoons.


Ellai's prepared seafood lunch and exceptional hospitality, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Ellai's prepared seafood lunch and exceptional hospitality, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Ellai's prepared seafood lunch and exceptional hospitality, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Ellai's exceptional hospitality, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Ellai's prepared seafood lunch and exceptional hospitality, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Ellai's prepared seafood lunch and exceptional hospitality, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Ellai's prepared seafood lunch and exceptional hospitality, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Ellai serving tea to Socotra Trip's Muhamad Shinihan, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.

We then had tea and Ellai explained that this cave is where he was born and where he grew up with his parents and siblings. It’s home and he’ll always keep coming back to it. He also has his house in Qalansia which he goes to be with his family on other days as his wife prefers their house. When the cyclones hit, he brought his family here which turned out one of the safest locations to be. He described how high the water levels had risen and how they were untouchable, compared to the devastations that happened back on land. He’s got some tunnels further back in the cave that had the interest of researchers come to explore them. Listening to all his experiences was brilliant. He has learnt his broken English through the different foreigners he has met (French, Belgium, Italian, etc.) and he has enough vocabulary to take up centre stage. He has a sharp wit in which he gets dressed up in accessories to give his stories life and he had us in stitches.


Ellai dresses up in accessories to give his stories life, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Ellai has an incredibly sharp wit, despite his broken English, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Ellai has an incredibly sharp wit, despite his broken English, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.

After our lunch and entertainment, Ellai wanted to show us his lagoon so we got our shoes back on and made sure we had all our things we had arrived with as we weren’t coming back up. Tom and Candice didn’t have water shoes so Tom used his flip flops, and Candice went in Muhamad Shinihan’s sandals as he was perfectly happy to go barefoot. Soqotris’ feet are tough! They can outrun goats in their barefeet. You’ll see all the kids run barefoot in the mountains and skid across sharp gravel without flinching, our palms sweat just thinking about it. Their soles are like leather, but Ellai is so often in the water, I asked him if he’s ever hurt his feet, and he exposes the underneath of his foot to show me a deep and nasty gash that runs across it from having walked onto a razor-sharp Pen Shell. It’s not new, but it’s a wound that didn’t close properly from lack of stitches. My insides wanted to violently turn themselves inside out. Do not forget your booties!


Ellai couldn’t be more at one with this environment if he tried. He breaks into fresh oysters just down at his water front’s rocky outlet and gives them a rinse before handing those of us happy to eat raw seafood our treat. He’s gentle and he knows about everything in these waters and exactly how to handle each one. He has a loving relationship with an octopus he wades directly out to as he wants to introduce us. She’s far out but he knows exactly where she is. In his excitement he pulls her out to show us all and she is completely tolerant of being man handled. She actually wraps her tentacles around his leg and holds on while he walks her back to her den and she casually let’s go until they next see each other.


Ellai breaks into fresh oysters, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Ellai breaks into fresh oysters for us to taste, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Ellai has a close and trusting relationship with his octopus, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Ellai's octopus hitches a ride back to her den until they see each other next, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.

He really did give us an educational star treatment tour. He showed us how to find cuttlefish egg nests. A little broken hearted when he plucked one from the cluster to hold it up to the light and show us the tiny little baby squid growing inside, but he was completely enamoured by it as were we to sharing this experience with him that he clearly cares and loves so much. There were a few times when someone would step on something squishy and a flow of purple ink would squirt out all around their feet. Ellai picked one up to show us and called it a sea potato. I looked it up and a sea potato is an unusual species of sea urchin not found in our region. What Ellai had in his hand, looked more like it was related to sea cucumbers, but you could see where the potato came into it. Researching it online, we think it’s a sea hare, but I haven’t been able to identify the species.


Ellai showed us how to find cuttlefish egg nests, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Ellai showing us a close-up of a baby cuttlefish, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
A sea hare squirts it's purple ink in defence of having been stepped on in Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Ellai holding what he called a sea potato, which we think may be a sea hare in Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Ellai showing us a Long-spine Porcupinefish, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.

Ellai then found some Pen Shells and opened them up to feed us clean clams he cut up into bite sizes for us to try. We then tried Long-spined Sea Urchins. He broke them open with his iron stick and cleaned out the gonads and we had a seafood feast. It was the freshest seafood we’ve ever had!


Ellai opening up Pen Shells so we can try the clams he cut up into bite sizes for us, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Ellai opening up Pen Shells so we can try the clams he cut up into bite sizes for us, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Ellai collecting Long-spined Sea Urchins for us to taste, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Ellai cleaning up the Long-spined Sea Urchins for us to taste, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Ellai collecting Long-spined Sea Urchins for us to taste, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.

We must have been out there for a good 40 minutes before it was time to wade back to our camp through the sea grasses to head for a swim and catch the sunset over on the white beach before the day was out. It had been an incredible day, and a real highlight to the trip!


Taking one last look over at Ellai's cave, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
Our Socotra Trip group photo with Ellai, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
The local children of Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.
The last swim and catching the sunset over on the white beach, Detwah Lagoon, Socotra.

DAY 7

QALANSIA

I had really been looking forward to our Gyrocopter rides on our last day, but they were unfortunately cancelled as the pilots were called out on an emergency. Tom and Andrea got to do theirs on day 3 when we did our two dives so we got to see some of their videos and it looked fantastic. I highly recommend this to anyone looking to go to Socotra.


Instead, we headed to Qalansia’s fishing harbour and took two fishing boats to go out and see if we could spot any dolphins, and we got better!


A Qalansia day out with fishing boats, Socotra.
A Qalansia day out with fishing boats, Socotra.

Tony finally got to see his first Whale Sharks (Rhincodon typos) and we couldn’t have been happier for him. Dario got the video evidence of the whale shark with a hitch-hiking Remora fish (Remora remora) to prove it. We got one whale shark on the way out towards the white sandy beach we stopped at for a swim, and then we had 2 more on our way back where we got to jump in for a snorkel with them. And Matt caught his first fish (a small tuna) of the whole seven days trip. It really did save the day!


Whale shark spotting in Qalansia, Socotra.
Whale shark spotting in Qalansia, Socotra.
White sandy beach stop in Qalansia, Socotra.
First fish caught (a small tuna) of the whole seven days trip, Qalansia, Socotra.

Then it was back to the chalets for our dinner and last night, and to pack for the next morning’s flight back to Abu Dhabi.


SOCOTRO TRIP MEALS

Fresh fish cooked on an open fire is always on the menu for lunch and dinner (chicken can be arranged for the dinners) and our Chef was fantastic at making sure we were always well fed. There is always a vegetable option with rice, and pasta at dinners. Lunches always had a fantastic backdrop and were finished with tea, fresh fruits and dates.


Breakfasts at the chalets were tupperware containers packed in brown paper bags (could be eaten to go) with a bottle of water, a juice box, a hardboiled egg, foul mudammas (fava beans), small cheese and ham sandwich, tomatoes and cucumber slices with olives, zaatar, cheese or chocolate mini croissants, and a slice of sponge cake. We made our coffees in the morning in our rooms.


Camping breakfasts were on the beach with scrambled eggs, foul mudammas, flat breads, and fruits, with hot water for coffee or tea.


We would often stop in the local corner shop at the end of the day on the way back to the chalets to buy crisps. They are stocked with the one and only Chips Oman; and others, but if you know, you know! Bring your own energy bars/snacks for the in-betweens if you need them. We didn’t bring any and had no need for anything other than the odd crisps for the evening apéro. FYI, you are each allowed to bring a litre bottle of spirits of your choice from the airport duty free.


DAY 8

DEPARTURE

It’s always sad to leave with what feels far too soon, but this is one goodbye we turned to say, “see you next time”. Who knows! It’s not far from us, and we know there is still so much to see and explore. There’s the entire south of the island we never saw, and all the other dives still to be discovered, and those on the Indian Ocean side!


Our flight back to the UAE was to leave from 8am, give or take. Note, these schedules change within the seasons, so it’s not guaranteed they will all be morning flights. There is always a delay either way, but the one from Socotra was more delayed than the 20 minute one from Abu Dhabi. We picked our breakfast packs up on the way to the airport from the caterer so we had something to do in the wait while everyone else watched enviously as we had breakfast. We reached Abu Dhabi at noon instead of the scheduled 10:30am.


Reality kicks in the minute you step off that plane into Abu Dhabi’s International Airport – noise, bustle and traffic still exists!


Socotra Trip's Island Map

SOCOTRA TRIP

LARA NUNEZ

Director of Operations

Tel: +971 5 6408 7999

Email: lara@socotratrip.com


SOME EXTRA ACTIVITIES AVAILABLE:

• Gyrocopter

• Diving

• Kitesurfing

• Kayak and SUP

• Fishing


WEEKLY FLIGHTS

Air Arabia from Abu Dhabi


RECOMMENDED TO BRING:

• Head torch

• Cotton sheet sleeping bag

• Neoprene water shoes/dive booties

• Travel towels

• Small waterproof bag for boats

• Dive gear


TRAVEL INSURANCE

There are a few options out there that cover Yemen, and being residents in the UAE, we went with AXA. AIG are more expensive, and there is Global Rescue if you are not a UAE resident. Always have your DAN insurance with you if you are a diver.


BEST TIMES TO DIVE

From September to October and from March to May, when the winds fall and the seas are calm. Visibility is between 10-40 metres.


SOCOTRA INFO

CAPITAL: Hadibo


CURRENCY: Yemeni Rial

US Dollars & UAE Dirhams are accepted.


POPULATION & LANGUAGE

Socotra has a population of 60,00, with about 44,000 who speak Soqotri, an ancient dialect without script.


ETHNIC GROUPS

Majority: Soqotris

Minority: South Arabians


UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE

Socotra Archipelago, designated in 2008.

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