According to Country Explorer, the Socotra archipelago is located in the Arabian Sea, 350 km south of the coast of the Arabian Peninsula and 80 km east of the Somali Cape Guardafui. The total area of the archipelago is 3660 sq. km. Its largest island – Socotra – has an area of 3625 square meters. km, length – 130 km and width – 40 km. The archipelago also includes three small islands of Samkha, Abd el-Kuri and the uninhabited Darsa and two tiny uninhabited islands of Sabunia and Kaal-Faraun, which are rocks towering above the water.
For several million years, the Socotra archipelago isolated from the mainland. During this time, a unique animal and plant world has formed on the local islands, for which they are often called the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean. 37% of the 825 plant species, 95% of the terrestrial mollusks, 90% of the reptiles and 70% of the birds found here are found nowhere else in the world. The symbol of the archipelago is the endemic dragon tree. It got its name because of the red resin secreted from the damaged areas of the bark, which has healing properties and which in ancient times was associated with “dragon’s blood”. Among the reptiles, endemic geckos and non-venomous snakes stand out, the only indigenous mammals are bats and shrews, and goats, sheep, cows, camels and donkeys were brought by ship from different parts of the Earth.
From insects, about 60 endemic species of butterflies, moths and dragonflies live on the islands. In addition, there is a high diversity of terrestrial mollusks. 192 species of birds have been recorded on the archipelago, with more and more new species recorded each year. Socotrans Bunting, Starling, Sunbird, Sparrow, Songbird and Cisticola – 6 species that you won’t find anywhere else. In the waters surrounding the archipelago, there are 253 species of corals, 300 species of crabs and lobsters, 730 species of fish and such large marine life as sperm whales, pilot whales, long-snouted whales, bottlenose dolphins, whale sharks and rays. In 2008, for its uniqueness, the Socotra archipelago was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is worth noting that tourists arriving in the archipelago should in no case import or export biological objects, litter, destroy corals and drive off-road cars.
Local residents – Socotrians – are also unique, they are the descendants of mixed marriages of Arabs, Indians, Ethiopians, Greeks, Portuguese, Somalis and British, who arrived in the archipelago at different times. Soctorians have their own language – Socotri, belonging to the ancient Semitic group of languages. It is believed that the first to visit the archipelago were the South Arabian tribes, it happened in the 1st millennium BC. Seven centuries later, the Greeks came to the islands, and by the beginning of our era, Indians also lived here. In 1507, the Portuguese tried to take over the island, but their attempt was unsuccessful. From the end of 1886 until 1967, the Socotra archipelago was part of the British Eastern Protectorate of Aden. Today Socotra is part of the republic Yemen.
The airport, all hotels and the main infrastructure of the archipelago are located in its capital – the city of Hadibo – in the eastern part of the northern coast. This is a small town, more like a fishing village. And the whole island as a whole bears little resemblance to a popular resort. There are practically no paved roads on the island, so for traveling it is better to hire local guides and rent SUVs, and some areas of the island can only be reached by sea by boat, in addition, there are no well-equipped dive centers, although the archipelago has a lot of places that will be of interest even to experienced divers. The fact is that the development of tourism began here relatively recently, but every year the unique archipelago attracts more and more investors. But the poorly developed infrastructure is more than covered by an abundance of natural attractions.
Much of Socotra Island occupied by a limestone plateau with many karst formations. In its northeastern part, the plateau passes into the Hagier Mountains, the highest point of which – Mount Hajar – has a height of 1525 m. Narrow plains with beaches stretch along the coast of the island. Tourists arriving in Socotra are offered hiking in the Hagier mountains, towering over the city of Hadibu, the slopes of which are covered with forests; ornithological tours in mountain valleys and coasts; visiting numerous caves and sea excursions to small rocky islands of the archipelago, which have chosen a wide variety of bird species. Also Socotra Islandattracts lovers of diving, windsurfing and kiting. But it is worth remembering that the infrastructure here is poorly developed, so you need to plan your trip in advance: even before arriving on the island, contact local guides, book hotels, and also have all the necessary equipment for water sports with you. Beaches stretch
along the entire coast of the island of Socotra. In the calm bays and lagoons of the northern and southwestern parts of the island, beaches of white coral sand stretch. Here you can have a great time: sunbathe, swim and snorkel. Masks and snorkels should be brought with you, as there is no equipment rental on the island. The rest of the beaches of the island are composed of pebbles.
Diving in Socotra the best time is from February to March, when the monsoonal northeast winds subside, the sea calms down, which means underwater visibility improves. But still, in some areas along the coast of the island, quite strong currents are observed at any time of the year. Underwater visibility, depending on the season, varies from 15 to 20 m. There are no well-equipped dive centers on Socotor Island, since the Socotra Biodiversity Conservation Association believes that the development of this type of tourism will negatively affect the preservation of the unique nature of coastal waters. At the time of preparation of the material, one dive master worked in Hadibo, and in the capital ‘s hotel “Summerland” there were two small compressors, about 8 cylinders and 2-3 sets of equipment.
You will have to sail on an ordinary fishing boat to the dive sites, and you cannot rent a boat in the territories protected by the state. Also, dive prices are unreasonably high here: the cost of one dive on Socotra, in comparison with the most equipped dive resorts in the world, is high and amounts to 100 or more (depending on the number of divers in the group) US dollars, which includes a fee to the dive center, village where diving is carried out and collection is carried out by the authorities. Diving rules are also strict – no more than 5 divers in a group on a fairly large area, who must have at least 25 dives and have a certificate of at least PADI OWD (or equivalent) and only with a local guide.
The most popular dive sites are located off the northern coast of Socotra Island. While diving, you can see more than 200 species of corals and about 700 species of fish, as well as whales, stingrays, manta rays, whitetip sharks, barracudas, monkfish, lobsters and moray eels. The local underwater world is so rich and diverse that sometimes divers do not see daylight because of the numerous schools of fish. The coastal waters of the eastern coast of the island are known since ancient times for their cunning. There have been many shipwrecks near Cape Ras Arsel, because numerous rocks are hidden under the water. In the local shallow water, you can see not only the wreckage of ancient ships, but, if you’re lucky, some ancient things. It is also home to various types of sharks. In the western part of the island of Soctor, in the coastal waters of the second largest city of the island – Qalansiya – the sunken ship “Sunrise” rests. The ship lies at a depth of 25 meters. It is split into two parts and is a huge reef inhabited by lionfish, trevally, stingrays, monkfish, groupers, groupers and moray eels. You can also dive near other islands of the archipelago, where large marine life is found.
The best conditions for windsurfing are observed on the island of Socotra in the summer (from June to September), when steady southwest monsoon winds blow. At this time, wind gusts often reach 30 m/s. The most popular places are the surroundings of the cities of Hadibo and Qalansiya, capes Ras Arsel in the eastern part of the island and Schaub in the western part of the island, as well as the southeast coast of the island.
In recent years, the island of Socotra has become increasingly popular among kiting enthusiasts. Kiters go here in winter during the northeast monsoon. The best place for kiting is the northern coast of Socotra Island.