Why March may not be the best time to visit Socotra and other myths busted!

As an up and coming destination, there are all kinds of rumours flying around these days about Socotra. It’s a destination that’s created real intrigue lately, and it’s hard to sort the fact from the fiction. But when is the best time to visit Socotra? Can you go as an American? Isn’t it dangerous?! And what about the flights? They’re impossible to book and always cancelled aren’t they??

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With so much mystery surrounding Socotra and so much concern over safety at the moment, it can be difficult to find concrete information. We ask A LOT of questions when we travel and, on our trip to Socotra, we got a lot of these answers! So we tried to put together as much of it together as we could to bust some myths for you. One thing that is absolutely vital as tourists is that we visit Socotra responsibly.

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A Bottle Tree blooming with pink flowers in front of a dragon blood tree

Myth number 1: “March is the best time to visit Socotra”

Now firstly, we’re not saying this is totally untrue. Many people do believe March is the best time to visit, because this is when the bottle trees are in bloom and you can see bioluminescence on Socotra.

However, here are two very good reasons our guides gave us, which made us reconsider suggesting March as the best time to go:

  • March in Socotra unseasonably hot. The last few years, temperature in Socotra in March have been consistently around 35 degrees celsius, often over 40! Our guides told us it was extremely unpleasant and there is not often much relief from the heat.
  • For the next four years at least, it’s Ramadan during March. It’s generally not a problem for tourists to eat during the day in Ramadan in Socotra. However, your guides will be fasting during the day. Of course, they’ll always be extremely professional, but it does add some extra strain on them. The guides and drivers cook for you during the day, and have to work really hard, pulling down and putting up tents. Personally, we would prefer to avoid contributing additional stress for them during this time.

Additionally, the two things that often bring tourists in March are visible at other times!

Why do people visit Socotra in March?

  • Bottle trees: it’s long been a myth that the bottle trees in Socotra bloom only during March, but this is completely untrue. We saw these blooming in January and apparently, they often bloom as early as mid-December. It wasn’t exactly a full covering, but we definitely saw enough blooming trees to get an idea of what they looked like in bloom and to get some lovely photos! We also later spoke to someone who had visited in March, and they said they only saw a few bottle trees in bloom – it looked like just as many as we saw.
  • Bioluminescence: again, often people say that the bioluminescent algae is at its best in March, but we caught glimpses of this in January too! We also heard that it’s usually visible as early as late December. It is more of a guarantee the closer you get to March.

Pro tip: if you need any further reason to visit December or January, it’s whale shark season! Whale sharks aren’t as common in Socotra as they are in other places, so this shouldn’t be your main reason to visit, BUT there is a chance you’ll spot them in December or January around Detwah lagoon or Shoab beach.

A valley with a forest of dragon blood trees
Firnhin Forest of Dragon Blood Trees

Myth number 2: “You can’t visit America after you visit Socotra”

This is not true at all, but it does come from a legitimate concern. Socotra is part of Yemen, which famously doesn’t have the best relationship with the USA. When you apply for an ESTA visa (the US visa waiver programme), you have to confirm that you have not visited Yemen, or else your ESTA will not be validated. Though a visit to Yemen will therefore stop you getting an ESTA, or invalidate any current ESTAs you have, it’s not true that you can’t visit America after a visit to Socotra (or even to Yemen mainland). The ESTA is a visa waiver, so you need to instead apply for a full US visa.

We can’t speak for all nationalities, but for UK citizens this means a visit to the US consulate in London. It’s usually a quick appointment, but you will need to answer a few questions, and obviously go to London or find your nearest US Consulate here. This will include disclosing your reasons for visiting Yemen.

For US citizens returning home, the process is very straightforward and you shouldn’t have any issues. One of the staff members of our tour company was actually American herself and she travelled back and forth between the US and Socotra really regularly. When we asked her if she needed to do anything extra to get home, she told us no, she didn’t. It was basically like returning home from any trip.

A valley with a stream of water running through it
Wadis in Socotra are amazing

Myth number 3: “It’s dangerous”

*Full disclosure*: since the time of our visit, the tensions in Yemen have escalated. We can only speak to what we saw and the experience we had. You should ALWAYS check the latest travel advice from your own government. For UK citizens, you can check here. At the time of writing, Socotra is not affected by the Yemeni civil war but it is unclear how the situation will develop in future.

What we can speak to is the island itself. Safety, of course, varies from person to person and many different factors are at play. Nevertheless, we think it would be hard for anyone to feel anything but safe on Socotra. Life is very simple and little to no news of the outside world often reaches the island. Of course there are televisions in Hadiboh, the capital city, so that’s not entirely true, but when you’re out in the vast expanses of nature in the countryside, it’s hard to worry about anything! The people we encountered were extremely friendly and welcoming. We never even worried about things we would normally pay attention to in capital cities, like pick-pocketing.

There are also no predators on the island. This is excepting marine life. In fact, the animals you’ll encounter most are goats!

An abandoned iron boat covered in rust in the middle of the sea in Socotra.

Myth number 4: “it’s hard to book flights to Socotra”

Ok, so there are three ways of getting to Socotra. 1) a flight from Abu Dhabi, 2) a flight from mainland Yemen and 3) a 1.5 day long boat trip. Most tourists take the flight from Abu Dhabi. It’s a charter flight with Air Arabia, and is organised by the UAE Government. The flight from mainland Yemen is also a charter flight, organised by Yemenia. To all intents and purposes, it operates like a normal flight. You even get a meal, even though the flight is only 2 hours!

It is a little complicated to book your flights, if you’re trying to do it alone. That’s why we highly recommend booking a tour company that will include the flights for you. As a first-time visitor to Socotra, you need a tour company anyway, so you may as well choose one that will help you will this side of it. Some are willing to help and others are not and in our opinion, it’s a bit of a red flag when the company refuses to help you.

For the Air Arabia flights to and from Socotra, there is one man who books them for the whole island, and his name is Abdullah. He can be reached via WhatsApp only and naturally he is extremely busy. The tour companies who book flights with him every day have a great relationship with him and as such, can book tickets much more quickly than the average person can.

The company we used (Socotra Specialty Tours) booked our flights and our visas. We strongly recommend taking this route rather than trying to organise alone.

Myth number 5: “the flights to Socotra are often cancelled”

This was a strange one! We had quite a few people say this to us before our trip, but weirdly we’d never heard that before. The rumour seemed to be that Air Arabia cancelled flights every other week, but when we checked this with anyone who had been before, there didn’t seem to be any concrete examples. Our own flights were absolutely fine. Our rep too, who flew out from America regularly, said she had never had a flight cancelled!

Put simply, flights to many different places are cancelled every day, but the flights to Socotra are no more likely to be cancelled than flights anywhere else.

If you’d like to know more about Socotra, this is the video for you!

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    Written by Emma


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