Somewhere in the Arabian Sea lies an island full of strange forms of life and is one of the strangest-looking places on Earth. The island is small and has been populated by a people whose genetic chain is only found on this strange island.
Socotra is now part of Yemen and has faced conflicts for long portions of its existence. Because of its unusual aspects, Socotra has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in order to protect the hundreds of species endemic to the island and to work to ensure that it stays protected.
This list will focus on a variety of aspects that make the island such a unique space, ranging from blue tarantulas, to white sand beaches and weirdly-shaped trees. Socotra is truly one of the most fascinating—and underappreciated—places on the planet.
Socotra island is full of flora and fauna that don’t exist anywhere else in the world, many of which look awfully funky. The most iconic of these is the Dragon’s Blood Tree. With its upward-facing needles, veiny branches, and extreme symmetry, this tree is usually the first thing you see looking into this mysterious island.
While not every plant and animal is as nice-looking as the Dragon’s Blood Tree, this is a good example of the oddity that you’ll get into on this island.
All 29 native species of reptiles across the island are endemic including the Chamaeleo monachus. There are also 6 endemic bird species, along with a handful of spiders and several crabs. The only mammals native to the island are bats. You probably get the point by now. There are a lot of things that grow and live here that you aren’t going to find anywhere else in the world.
While there have been some species introduced over the years by humans, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is full of weird creatures.
The cucumber tree is another species endemic to Socotra and is easily recognizable thanks to its ‘elephant-leg’ trunks. The tree is one of the funkiest species on the island and can grow anywhere on the island that stays dry. In some areas, there are just the occasional isolated trees, but in others, there are nearly forests of the things in the desert regions of the island.
This was one of the first strange species that tipped people off to the fact that this island was unlike anywhere else in the world.
The many beaches across the island shores have unique white sands that look as alien as the rest of the island. The warm temperatures and beautiful sands would naturally make the island a beautiful place for a beach vacation. Of course, that’s not necessarily how things have worked out, but the beaches definitely show how strange and beautiful this island can be. The island is mostly bordered by these beaches and some mountainous cliffs.
Beyond the unusual and unique forms of life across the island, there are also plenty of strange sights. Images like this ‘floating tree’ hint that the island is a great location for hiking and climbing. You’re sure to find all kinds of peculiar things across the mountainous regions of the island.
The isolation of the island has resulted in some pretty extreme evolutions in the plants and animals, resulting in a weird, alien-looking landscape.
Socotra is one of four islands in the archipelago, but is by far the largest and one of the only inhabited. The island is only about 80 by 30 miles large but is the most alien-looking place on Earth.
This isolated island is technically part of Yemen, but is closer to the coast of Somalia. There are plenty of beaches along with a large desert and a mountainous area as well.
This small island holds a decent amount of geographic diversity. While the rainfall is usually mild, the island gets more rain during monsoon season and around the coastal mountains, leading to some serious fog across the coasts. The temperatures across Socotra stay fairly steady throughout the year, going from fairly mild (around 70 degrees) to hot (around 95 degrees).
No matter what time of year you find yourself on the island, chances are you’ll see these mysterious mists off the shore.
The so-called ‘Galapagos of the Indian Ocean’ has over three hundred species of plants that are only found on Socotra island. According to National Geographic, over 90% of the reptiles and mollusks are endemic as well.
The famous Dragon’s Blood Tree is the most recognizable species on the island and is said to have grown from the spot where two brothers fought to the death. Some of them are thousands of years old at this point.
Because of the rare species all over the island, Socotra became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the mountains and plains are littered with these trees, it has been very difficult to get new ones to grow. Most of the Dragon’s Blood trees across the island have been there for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
This is a potential issue for the future of the island since they are dying off quicker than they are growing.
Socotra is the largest of four islands in the archipelago, sitting in between Yemen in the Middle East and Somalia in Eastern Africa. The Guardafui Channel is one of the most-travelled shipping routes in the world and passes just over the archipelago. Ships passing by can look over to the inconspicuous island that, from the ocean looks like any other.
It’s a good spot for whale watching because it opens up right into the Arabian Sea, sitting as the first sight of land going into the Channel.
The island is largely tropical with a significant amount of desert climate, but of course, there are beaches all around. There aren’t too many people living on the island, so large parts of it are fairly isolated. There are multiple white sand beaches to venture to across the island and, being so far away from mainland Yemen with just a few small towns mostly on the north of the island, Socotra has some of the best stargazing in the world.
Around a quarter of the species on the island are endemic to Socotra, meaning they are only found on this small island and nowhere else in the world. Because of how sparse the human population is on the island and the lack of resource-mining, most of these species are doing quite well, if not thriving.
The Socotra Starling, or Onychognathus frater, is fairly large for starlings and munches on just fruit and insects across the island.
Despite its alien-like characteristics, Socotra actually isn’t that difficult to get to because of the airport that has been there for twenty years. However, it is possible to boat from mainland Yemen to the island, and the sea is a major system of traveling across the island since there are mountainous and desert terrains across the land. Fishing is also one of the most important portions of Socotra’s economy so you’ll likely see plenty of these small motorboats all around the island.
Across the mountains in the center of Socotra, there are hundreds of small caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites alike. The views from these high-up caves reveal the strange, barren, alien landscape of the island. There are tons of unexplored nooks and crannies that make the whole place just a little bit creepy.
These vantage points are home to a variety of native species but you never quite know exactly who, or what, might be looking down from them.
This “jewel of biodiversity in the Arabian Sea,” according to Reuters, is home to nearly 700 endemic species, similar to just a handful of islands or archipelagos across the globe.
Socotra, Hawaii, New Caledonia in the South Pacific, New Zealand, and the Galápagos Islands are the only places on Earth where you will find such extreme rates of endemic species, so make sure you check out this island if you need to fill out your Pokédex.
The majority of the people living on the island are native members of the indigenous Soqotri peoples. These people are genetically similar to Southern Arabian peoples, but there is also a small number of Somali people across the island as well. There are a handful of towns across the island with Habidu being the main ‘city’ with about 8,500 people according to the island’s census.
Most of these towns lie far apart from one another, so off-terrain vehicles, sand buggies, and boats are commonly used to get from one town to another.
While there is certainly plenty of unique wildlife across the island of Socotra, the sea around it is full of dolphins, whales, and fish. Just off of the mountain coasts and white sand beaches, you can see these dolphins playing in the Arabian Sea. International tourism doesn’t provide very much to the Socotra economy; however, it is a common place for Yemeni vacation homes.
There is also a United Nations Development Program on the island that’s in place to preserve and promote the island.
Socotra has been inhabited for 2,000 years and has several archeological sites across the island. While there haven’t been that many major finds in terms of financially-valuable resources or many historical artifacts, there are some sites that are worth visiting. There are a handful of ancient and abandoned forts on the coasts that are free for visiting and give some diversity to the types of things you can see on the island.
The island of Socotra is lightly populated, primarily by the Soqotris people. The number of people that live across the island (estimated around 60,000) mostly live between the towns of Hadibu and Qalansiya. Most of the native residents live in relative poverty and work largely in agriculture.
Fishing is the largest source of income along with shepherding and dates. There are some genetic lines that only appear in natives of the island and nowhere else in the entire world.
The most extreme area of the island in the Hajhir Massif mountain range. You can easily make it to the mountain range north of the town of Hadibo on the Southern coast of the island.
The highest point of the mountain range and the whole island is Mashanig mountain which peaks at 1500m above sea level. Several popular local myths across the island focus on climbing the mountain range. This is still a common activity for the locals and the few tourists that travel here.
The white sand beaches open up to the beautiful Arabian Sea and Guardafui Channel. Not only are the beaches warm enough to enjoy, but from just off the shore, you can see fishing boats around several of the shore towns.
On clear days, you can see across to some of the other islands in the archipelago. There are also great views over the beaches from the nearby cliffs and mountains, depending on where you are on the island.
Yeah. These things exist, and they can be pretty aggressive as well. They haven’t been particularly well-studied, but it is believed that they are fairly toxic. This endemic species is occasionally exported out of Socotra to be sold as pets. The Socotra Island Blue Baboon gained quite a bit of popularity when it won the ‘World’s Prettiest Tarantula’ at the British Tarantula Society. While this thing can be pretty intimidating, its color and unique nature make this spider one of the most unique tarantulas in the world.
The Hajhir Mountain range stretches over about half of the island. These are traversed by the locals, especially the people of Habidu, with just a valley between the mountain range and the coastal town.
These granite mountains have a somewhat strange color and the fog that can roll in from the nearby seashore makes the mountain range as strange-looking as anywhere else on the island.
During WWII, southern Arabia was occupied by the German army and then by the British until the middle of the Cold War. During that time, the Soviet Union largely occupied the island of Socotra. Today, there are still relics from the war such as this tank in the middle of the desert. The island has had a long history of serving as a military base and is still in the middle of a U.A.E. intervention, so it’s a little unstable at the moment.
This strange, beautiful island is truly unlike anywhere else in the world. With expansive, eerie mountain ranges, harsh deserts full of scary lizards and spiders, and beautiful white sand beaches, there is plenty to see.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is certainly far less known than, say, the Galapagos, but certainly deserve to a be one of the most respected places on Earth.