The author travelled with the Canadian company The Inertia Network (travel.inertianetwork.com) in February 2020. The week’s itinerary encompassed all the island’s main highlights, with two additional days in Cairo. The two-week itinerary usually involves camel trekking (the camels carry the luggage not people). The total package cost US$4,584pp (£3,550) with two sharing, including the Cairo to Socotra flight.
Location: The largest island in the Socotra Archipelago, approx. 250km from Somalia and 380km from mainland Yemen.
Language(s): Arabic and Socotri Time: GMT + 3
International dialling code: +967 (0)5
Visas: At present Socotra tourist visas are provided through whichever international or local tour operator you use to book your trip.
Money: The Yemeni rial. (YER) Because of the war, its value is fluctuating sharply so no meaningful exchange rate.
When to go
May-Sept: Summer Monsoon. High winds, very hot (highs around 32°C) and periodic rain. Little tourism. Oct-Nov Rainy but usually good conditions and a lush landscape.
Dec-Jan: The wettest month with a risk of flooding.
Feb-May: Popular months because the desert rose blooms at this time. Strong winds and some rain.
Health & safety
As a governorate of war-torn Yemen, the FCO currently advises against all travel to Socotra. However, visitors to the island are treated with kindness and respect, and there are very few cars, so traffic accidents are rare.
For the latest advice on entry requirements, including regarding COVID-19, visit the FCO site.
Health risks are fewer than in other tropical destinations, with limited malaria risk and the small population reducing the risk of other easily spread diseases; this is not applicable to Yemen as a whole. Check in with fitfortravel.nhs.uk for latest updates.
All visitors should carry a first aid kit for minor accidents – rocks are sharp and paths often slippery.
There has been an ongoing civil war in Yemen since 2015, which has had a disastrous humanitarian consequence. While the conflict has had comparatively little impact on Socotra itself, the island remains strategically valuable, and various political factions jostle intermittently for power. This seems likely to continue. In June 2020 the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (a mainland separatist group seeking self-rule for South Yemen) displaced Socotra’s UN-recognised Yemeni government team in a non-violent coup.
Because Socotra is on the FCO list for prohibited travel, it makes insurance expensive and hard to obtain.
The author used the American company Global Underwriters.
Panorama Insurance specialise in ‘frontier destinations’ for UK citizens, and there are other British companies covering ‘high risk’ destinations.
In early ’20 there were weekly flights by Yemenia Airways from Cairo, with a stop at Seiyun, but this route may very possibly change when tourism re-starts.
All visitors currently travel on escorted tours, whether scheduled or tailor-made, using 4X4 vehicles.
Cost of travel
With transport, accommodation and meals included in the pre-paid cost of your tour and only a few opportunities for shopping, expenditure while on the island is likely to be minimal, apart from contributing to a kitty to provide tips for the camp crew.
The island currently has only four fairly basic hotels and an eco-lodge, all in or near capital Hadiboh; some visitors base themselves there and travel daily for sightseeing. However, most visitors stay at (often very) basic campsites in tents provided by their tour operator.
Food and drink
The best hotel, the Summerland, provides okay buffet breakfasts and a handful of restaurants in Hadiboh cater for tourists, serving snacks and the island’s staple of goat meat and fish, with pasta or rice. The camp crew rustle up good, if somewhat monotonous, meals at the campsites, plus picnics at midday. Alcohol is strictly prohibited.
This is a strictly Muslim country, and most Socotri women wear the full niqab. Women visitors should cover their arms and heads in Hadiboh and wear unrevealing baggy trousers or long skirts, and dress conservatively in villages. In the countryside, normal attire should be fine, but it is always courteous to be aware of local practices.
Further reading and information
Bradt Guide: Socotra (Oct ’20) by the author and Janice Booth is the only guidebook to the island. friendsofsoqotra.org – informative and kept up-to-date website.