The unique island of Socotra, Yemen – land of the Dragon Blood tree – an ideal tour destination for an intrepid travel lover and nature enthusiast! And chances are, you didn’t land here by accident. I’m going to take a punt and say you’ve heard of the hidden island of Socotra and may be curious about the possibility of tourism to this strange land.
I’ve been where you are, interest piqued by Nat Geo photos of an exotic island, an alien like tree, sandy white beaches and the bluest water you’ve ever laid eyes on. What’s more, the country to which this island belongs is seldom visited by tourists. Curiosity has probably got the better of you, just like it did me.
And at a quick glance, you’ll quickly see that Socotra island offers the perfect balance of adventure travel tourism AND awe-inspiring nature. From beach time, to hiking, cave exploration, snorkelling or diving, this little island packs one heck of a punch! It’s no wonder photographers and adventure travel junkies flock to Socotra for a glimpse of its unique landscape and compelling beauty.
So now it’s your turn and we’ve made this next step easy for you. Just read this post to narrow down the best tour operator and then book your Socotra expedition of a lifetime. Sounds cliché but trust me… I exaggerate not. Socotra in just two words is Next Level! Below I tell you all about what to expect on a guided tour of Socotra, who we recommend you book with and some tips should you go. So read on for all the juicy details.
How Tourism in Socotra Works
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We travelled to Socotra, post covid, from Abu Dhabi with Air Arabia.
On arrival we quickly gathered a better understanding of how tourism in Socotra functions. External travel agents are connected with internal locally certified tourism companies. The external operator arranges everything via the internal local Yemeni operator, including visas, flights, accommodation… the whole nine yards.
At this point there are only a few local providers and you can only enter and travel within Socotra with their sponsorship and guidance. Essentially, they invite you, arrange your tourist visa and are then responsible for you on the island.
This is why tourism in Socotra is only possible with a guided tour. Which when you consider the unique landscape and thus fragile ecosystem, this guided system is a necessity in protecting the island’s unique and rare biodiversity.
To Camp or Not to Camp?
You essentially have a couple of options regarding accommodation. When thinking about your tour to Socotra you need to decide if you prefer a bed and shower… or NOT! The alternative is camping.
And if you ask me, I thoroughly recommend the second option. Camping is where the adventure is AT. Your guides take care of everything too, they pitch your tent, prepare your mattress and so it’s up to you to simply pick the exact spot to park your tent.
Most of the camping is on the beach and are in designated camp sites. The only downside of this is the bathroom situation. But in my opinion, this is a once in a lifetime experience. And if it means you have to crap in the wilderness once or twice, well it’s a small price to pay for getting to sleep on some of the most stunning beaches in the world.
AND if the thought of camping literally scares the crap out of you, then read our packing list as we have some tips on how to make the experience a little less daunting and little more comfortable. Read this post on things to pack for Socotra.
The last night of your Socotra tour you will be taken to stay in a hotel. We stayed at the Heathrow Hotel which is across the road from the airport. And I’ve got to say it, but the shower and bed were a welcome sight after six nights of camping for my 40 year old self.
Hotels in Hadibo
However, if camping still doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then go for the hotel option of course. When you stay here the driver and guide pick you up and drop you off each day. This means that you stay in the main town of Hadibo (the capital of Socotra) and tour the sights by day. Which means, you need to be okay with a couple of longer days road trippin.
According to our guide there are a few hotels in Hadibo and they range between 2-3 stars and so they are very simple. Actually, I think what makes Socotra a special place to visit is the lack of 5 star hotels. I feel it preserves tourism in Socotra and protects the off the beaten track experience. Tourism in Socotra feels raw, real and as a result way more authentic.
Note: We met other travellers during our visit who opted for a hotel stay. While I know they did enjoy their bed and shower at the end of the day, I couldn’t help but pick up an element of regret in their conversation, that they had not camped.
How the Guided Tours Work
Your guide and driver are there at the airport to meet you on arrival. And it’s straight in! The tour of Socotra island immediately gets underway… so prepare to be wowed.
You are assigned a cook who will serve you three delicious meals a day, consisting mostly of biryani (rice dish), fresh fish, salad and flat bread. And breakfast is usually beans, eggs of some kind and flat breads. The food was simple but very good and at no stage will you go hungry!
You will likely stay in a different campsite each night as Socotra is surprisingly quite large. And given that each corner of the island has something uniquely different to offer, it makes sense that you will travel an hour or two between locations, setting up a new camp each time. I would highly recommend you don’t worry about the itinerary too much, just sit back relax and let the wonder unfold infront of you.
Ofcourse each tour provider operates slightly differently and so my experience of Socotra is based on our tour with Inertia Network. Read – Who to Book Your Tour With below for more information on Inertia.
Tip: If you prefer to avoid crowds let your guide know and they can find ways of making this happen. For example taking you to more remote locations and arriving to the hot spots earlier or later. We asked for a couple of unique requests and our guide was terrific at fitting this into our tour. And in fact, these became some of our favourite experiences on our Socotra tour.
Who to Book Your Tour With?
I did my homework before booking as I wanted to ensure that I found the right operator. If we were going to make the trip to Socotra, we wanted to do it right. I emailed many, asked many questions (as I always do) and finally came across one that ticked all the boxes for our family. I stumbled across the Engage Socotra website with Inertia Network and knew that I had found the right tour provider for us.
There were three main boxes I was looking for… company ethos around sustainability, group tour size and last but not least… cost. But let’s breakdown how Inertia met these prerequisites for me.
Reason Number One – Ethos
This is such an important one for our little free range family. Just to be clear, we don’t take preorganized tours often, it’s just not how we tend to travel. But after reading Inertia’s website from top to bottom I had an inkling that they could be the right provider for us.
After emailing back and forth, I felt that they shared a similar vision around travel that we go in search of. The kind of travel where you tread gently in off beat destinations, looking for authentic experiences. You know the kind of travel I’m talking about right?
Inertia take travellers on expeditions, rather than tourists on holiday if you catch my drift. They seek to protect and preserve the destinations they visit making travel more sustainable in the long run in terms of conservation and impact. Box one – tick.
Reason Number Two – Group Size
I reiterate we don’t often book tours! Booking a large organized group tour gives me anxiety. So, we weren’t wanting to be lumped in with a group feeling like just another number in the herd. And we were not, it was the two of us, a driver and a guide.
I can’t tell you how happy we were that we had this super intimate experience within Socotra. We saw many large groups travelling in convoys. Strangers grouped together and limited essentially to locations that could cater for larger groups.
While we could pick up and move on whenever we were ready, sleep in more remote locations like under the dragon blood trees, see more of the island and go to places that interested us, just us. Box two – tick.
Reason Number Three – Cost
Visiting Socotra is bucketlist stuff, it’s obviously super unique and that makes travel here more expensive than your average holiday destination.
After rounding in a number of quotes, I discovered that Inertia not only would give us what we needed in terms of experience, but also that their rates were very reasonable. Basically, they would provide us with a one week all-inclusive bucketlist expedition at a fair and competitive price. Box three – tick.
Inertia Network and Expeditions Beyond Socotra
If Inertia Network sounds like they might tick your boxes too, then you should also check out their other expeditions here.
The team always have SUPER unique and exciting travel expeditions up their sleeve… their intrepid adventures go way WAY beyond the main tourist trail. Basically, you should expect perspective changing type of travel but also the opportunity to meet really cool people at the same time.
It wasn’t until we got to Socotra that I was truly grateful for doing the research in finding the right tour operator. Read on to find out more about our travels, sustainable tourism in Socotra and the benefits of booking with Inertia.
Sustainable Tourism in Socotra
In a nutshell… we had the most amazing time in Socotra on our tour. It is just such a wildly unique destination that in our opinion needs to be on your travel radar if you love off beat travel. But at the same time it needs to be protected.
And so I urge anyone planning a trip to Socotra to choose a responsible tour operator who has sustainability and conservation clearly in their sights.
Following many in depth conversations with Mohammed the local tour operator, I was confident that our decision making, was well justified. You see, I love to get down to the nitty gritty and ask all those uncomfortable questions that need to be approached. I always want to ensure that our travel along with the tour providers that we recommend, do not negatively impact, or come at a cost to the local infrastructure, community and environment.
These conversations with Mohammed lead to a deeper understanding of the efforts he has personally taken to protect his homeland of Socotra. His goals for his island are based on several foundations. Cleaning the streets of Hadibo (the capital) and finding more efficient waste management systems, increasing access to education for all, better opportunities around gender equality and exploring new methods around and improving current agricultural practices.
Promoting sustainable travel is at the centre of why I show up here!
When You Support Local
I was very excited to hear that in 2020 Mohammed founded a school in Hadibo in which they accept international volunteers to assist with education and administration.
We also discovered that 20% of the tour profits go to supporting the school and teachers employed. Lessons around computer studies, english and other classes that will ultimately support local quality of life. A tour of the school gave me increased confidence that we were in good hands and that as a result of our booking with Inertia the locals were benefiting.
When asked about his thoughts on the future of tourism in Socotra Mohammed expressed his hopes that 5 star hotels would not make it to the island. An opinion that we share.
From our perspective tourism in Socotra would benefit from the continued current sustainable approach towards guided tours and camping on beaches. But only time will tell, how tourism will evolve in Socotra and in the meantime supporting local tour guides such as Mohammed, has a positive impact for the Socotri people.
If you have any questions or ponderings about visiting Socotra then absolutely do no hesitate to get in touch!
Don’t miss our post on Travel to Socotra – Everything You Ought to Know.
Or this one on Is it Safe to Travel to Socotra?
And of course I recommend that you bookmark or pin this post for later, for when your Socotra travel planning begins.
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