Eco-tourism Society helps planningSocotra is a gem just waiting for new discovery [Archives:2005/804/Culture]

January 6 2005

By David B. Stanton
For The Yemen Times

Few countries have as much to offer tourists as Yemen, yet the travel industry in this country remains low. Uncertain security due to bad press in the west is probably the chief challenge faced by Yemeni tour operators. Yemen's security record since 9/11 remains about the best in the region, however, and Yemen is now, as ever, a safe country to travel in.

Of all Yemen's many beautiful and diverse regions, its Indian Ocean possession of Socotra is easily the safest and most fascinating. The island receives relatively few foreign visitors, however, mainly because of uncertainty as to how to go about organizing a Socotran tour. Since the inception of the Socotra Eco-tourism Society (SES), however, organizing a Socotran sojourn is as simple as sending an email.

SES was formed in 2003 when local visionaries realized that the untapped potential of sustainably managed tourism could bring some measure of local prosperity while conserving the natural beauty that makes Socotra such a desirable destination for adventurers.

The society maintains active contacts with utterly reliable drivers, guides, boatmen, and cameleers and can tailor an itinerary to suit any taste. Staffers with the society speak and write good English and Arabic so communication poses no problem.

Due to heavy rains in the past month, Socotra is presently at the height of its beauty. Every watercourse trickles or rushes with potable water. The hundreds of species of endemic plants have burst with greenery the likes of which hasn't been seen for more than 30 years.

With the rains, Socotra's profuse bottle trees are gearing up to bloom synchronously in a spectacle that will peak in March, turning hillsides pink with 'desert roses.'

Visitors to Socotra have many options, all of which can be easily and inexpensively organized by SES. While most tourists base themselves at one of several hotels in Hadibo, taking day trips to many of the fascinating environments that abound on Socotra, the opportunities to camp on Socotra are limitless. For the fit and adventurous, there is probably nothing as special as a trek into the Hagghier mountains and beyond with camels for support.

These gentle beasts are capable of carrying huge loads, and each can easily transport the gear for a party of three to four trekkers. With camels shouldering your burden it is relatively easy to get far off the beaten track for a truly unique experience.

Fishermen can guide parties of up to seven per boat on a coastal holiday to the most pristine of beaches. It is even possible to circumnavigate the island in the week between Friday flights by traveling a mere three to four hours per day, and stopping at many of the isolated spots that ring the island. Such a schedule leaves plenty of time to explore wadis and beaches on foot, or simply to relax and let your worries disappear.

Socotra is served by a network of tracks that can be traversed by 4 X 4s, so even the less energetic can safely and comfortably visit many of the most interesting parts of the island. Because of the roughness of the tracks, travel is relatively slow which gives tourists the illusion that they are actually going much further afield than they really are.

As part of its policy to promote eco-tourism, SES has helped to establish local enterprises in the protected areas of Dihamri and Homhil. The former is a marine protected area that can be reached from Hadibo by car or boat in less than two hours. The main attraction at Dihamri is a vibrant coral reef that abounds with colorful sea life. With aid from SES the local community has developed a camping area within a minute's walk of the reef.

Permanent shade, a shower and toilet block, and tastefully prepared meals are among the amenities offered at the camp. Snorkeling gear is available, but many visitors prefer to use their own.

A similar camp has been established at Homhil, a site of unique botanical interest adjacent to the Hamad'ero plateau. At Homhil, which is also within a couple hours' drive from Hadibo, there are more than 90 species of endemic plants, including dense stands of Dragon's Blood Trees and several species of Frankincense.

Local facilities include a camping area, several well-maintained hiking trails which are rated according to their difficulty, and a swimming hole known as D'kibkub Pool.

Development on Socotra is accelerating and the island is therefore changing rapidly. The island is as yet unspoiled, however, and the developments that have been initiated by SES, such as those at Dihamri and Homhil, have all been positive.

Socotra is nevertheless one of the last unspoiled places on earth and there is really no reason why you should put off your visit any longer.

For more information about visiting Socrota, or to make inquiries about a tour, or to book your holiday, contact Abdelateef or Ahmed Saeed at the Socotra Eco-tourism society: [email protected]