Hi! My name is Alessandra Rufini (@passport162 on Instagram), I’m 29 years old and I was born in Spoleto, Italy. I’m someone who has lots of hobbies in life such as hiking, climbing, scuba diving and photography – but traveling is definitely my top passion! I’ve been to 86 countries and today I’m going to talk about a special place I visited in April of this year: Socotra!
A few years ago I was watching a documentary, and it was featuring an island located between the Arabian peninsula and Somalia with endemic plants, otherworldly scenery and a unique culture. Of course, it was Socotra island. I fell in love at first sight and simply had to visit it one day!
Fast forward to April this year and I could finally go to Socotra. I left from Abu Dhabi with a charter flight (you won’t be able to purchase tickets online, since the Yemeni agencies are the only ones who can organize your flights and visas) and after a couple of hours I reached the island.
The only way to visit Socotra is to join one of the tours that the Yemeni agencies offer. It could’ve been a private tour but I wanted to join a group with eight other people. Over the duration of seven days, we explored most of the island including the Archer Sand Dunes, Detwah Lagoon, Diksam Plateau, Di Hamri, Kalysan and Zaheq. We also camped in epic places!
What it’s Like Traveling in Socotra
Visiting Socotra was like being transported back in time. It felt like traveling during the 80s, when mass tourism wasn’t a thing and when hotels or guesthouses weren’t something to be taken for granted. I think every adventurous traveler who is seeking an off-the-beaten-path experience and otherworldly landscapes should have Socotra at the top of their list!
Just imagine camping in the middle of nowhere surrounded by towering mountains, majestic dragon trees, huge white sand dunes and crystal-clear sea waters – with no modern comforts in sight. If this appeals to you, then don’t hesitate to book ASAP! And if you’re in the planning stages of going, be sure to check out the most unique things to do in Socotra listed below.
6 Unique Things To Do in Socotra
1. Watch the Sunrise at the Archer Sand Dunes
Ascend the pinnacle of nature’s grandeur at the Archer Sand Dunes, where 400-meter-high heavenly white sand dunes stand as sentinels overlooking the awe-inspiring union of sea and mountains. The ascent to this elevated vantage point promises to be challenging, requiring determination and stamina as you conquer the steep climb right at the crack of dawn.
Once at the summit, a breathtaking vista unfolds that reveals the beauty of the surroundings. The azure sea stretches out as far as the eye can see, merging seamlessly with the rugged mountains and creating a visual symphony of nature’s contrasts. The reward for your climb isn’t just the stunning sunrise view but the exhilarating descent down the sand dunes!
2. Camp in the Firmihin Forest with its Dragon Trees
Embarking on a camping adventure in the Firmihin Forest promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, as it’s home to dragon trees found exclusively on the island of Socotra. Nestled within this enchanting area, the landscape is adorned with the iconic and otherworldly dragon blood trees – which creates an atmosphere of wonder and awe for campers.
These ancient trees, resembling something out of a fantasy tale, boast an umbrella-shaped canopy with twisted, gnarled branches, casting intriguing shadows as the sunlight slowly filters through. As you pitch your tent amidst this forest, you’ll find yourself immersed in a realm untouched by human civilization. The ethereal surroundings, characterized by the endemic dragon trees, offer a surreal backdrop for your camping escapade.
3. Meet the Famous Cave Man of Detwah Lagoon
The journey to Detwah Lagoon allows you to meet the legendary figure of Ellai who resides in a cave that encapsulates his entire life story. Born, raised and still dwelling in this unique abode – Ellai is known as the hermit of Socotra island and has become the most celebrated man in the region.
His cave overlooks the mesmerizing Detwah Lagoon, providing him with a remarkable backdrop for his life. From the entrance of his rocky refuge, Ellai skillfully captures the bounty of the lagoon including stingrays, octopuses, oysters and shellfish that sustain his lifestyle. Ellai’s existence serves as a living testament to the harmonious relationship between man and nature.
4. Take a Dip in the Natural Pools of Kalysan
Kalysan is a hidden gem where nature’s marvels unfold. Imagine descending a mountain, greeted by a magnificent canyon adorned with pristine white rocks and crystal-clear emerald colored water! Amidst the scorching island heat of Socotra, the natural pools of Kalysan offer a refreshing oasis – inviting you to indulge in a revitalizing swim to cool off.
5. Swim with Dolphins and Spot Whale Sharks
Aquatic adventures abound in Socotra, none more thrilling than swimming with dolphins and spotting whale sharks! Encountering dolphins, as they frolic and twirl around you, is nothing short of life changing. And if luck smiles upon you, the ocean might unveil more spectacles: the chance to witness the graceful presence of whale sharks, the world’s largest fish.
6. Learn About the Soqotri Language and Culture
Discover the linguistic and cultural tapestry of Socotra by delving into the intricacies of the rare Soqotri language. While the island of Socotra is geographically linked to an Arabic nation (Yemen), Soqotri serves as its primary spoken language and it embodies the heritage of its inhabitants.
Amidst the local population, Arabic still remains a secondary language, emphasizing the distinctive identity of Socotra. Engage with the locals through expressive gestures and warm smiles, fostering a connection that transcends language. And enjoy the unforgettable eye contact of locals!
My Highlight: Archer Sand Dunes
The entire island of Socotra was the highlight for me, as it was a dream come true to visit, but if I had to pick one favorite experience it would have to be the sunrise at the Archer Sand Dunes. We spent two nights in our tents next to these incredible dunes and enjoyed a range of experiences such as seeing bioluminescence, spotting dolphins and crabs, visiting a natural spring and dancing with the local people. It was just perfect!
Visiting Socotra with an Agency
I reached Socotra from Abu Dhabi with a charter flight. There are different ways to reach Socotra: by plane from Sana’a, Cairo or Abu Dhabi, or by boat from Oman. The easiest way, thanks to the non-stop weekly flight, is from Abu Dhabi. But remember, you won’t be able to find flights online.
Flights, visas and tours (food, accommodation and activities) are arranged by local agencies. So you’ll only have to pick one and they’ll take care of everything for you. I went with the agency Welcome to Socotra and it’s a fantastic choice in this regard. Nowadays it’s not possible to visit the island by yourself, without a local guide, but you can choose to do a private tour.
Tips for Your Visit to Socotra
The main advice I have for Socotra is to be adaptable. You’ll sleep in tents (not glamping), and the toilets and showers are austere. You probably won’t have cold drinks for every meal as well, since I only had them a few times during the week. The heat is also something to be aware of.
Starting from 6am until sunset, the heat makes your hikes much harder than expected. Finally, bring a converter and a solar panel rechargeable battery as the only way to charge your electronics will be during the car trips. Thanks for reading everyone! If you still have questions about this amazing travel destination, don’t hesitate to write to me on Instagram.