socotra fisherman

Getting to mainland Yemen and Socotra Island, the Tim Burton inspired natural wonderland 380 kilometers of its southern coast, requires a few additional bureaucratic hops that aren’t too cumbersome if you know where to step. Both are surprisingly accessible and having spent 10 days in the country, I got to know a number of contacts that will make planning your trip to Yemen, Socotra, or both, a simple process.

Why Go To Yemen?

I’ll be covering this question in detail over the coming days but in short – Yemen has some of the most spectacular landscapes I’ve ever seen and Socotra Island is quite possibly the most exotic, yet untouched, place (that’s reasonably visitable) on the planet. When it comes to both mainland Yemen and Socotra, if you like natural beauty, trekking, or traveling in a country that has an unexplored feeling to it, these might be the next places to put on your travel list.

  • Although Socotra Island is a part of Yemen, getting there requires a slightly different process, so I’ll show you how to get to both separately.

How To Get To Mainland Yemen

Yemen offers visa-free travel to very few countries (Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Turkey) so chances are you’ll need to apply for a visa. Most Yemeni embassies don’t handle visa requests directly – plus the requirements change often – making it essential you call or email them directly for updated instructions. Be sure to plan at least 4-6 weeks in advance and not have your passport during that time. (For most nationals, Yemen requires you to mail in your passport as part of the visa process.)

old city sanaa rainbow

Some of the standard Yemeni visa requirements are:

  • A passport valid for 6-12 months beyond stay
  • Completed application forms
  • Passport photos (confirm the exact dimensions)
  • Letter of invitation (a local tour operator can provide this, I recommend Eternal Yemen)
  • Doctor’s note confirming you’re free of communicable diseases
  • Some money (price varies)

dawood hotel sanaa yemenVisas are typically only issued for travel to the capital Sana’a or the port city of Aden. You can, of course, save yourself a lot of the trouble by simply contacting a local tour operator like Eternal Yemen to take care of the entire visa process for you. They’ll also be able to get you the necessary travel permits to move around the country if you plan on exploring outside of Sana’a or Aden. (Permits must be shown at security checkpoints in between every governorate.) I have also heard that visa applications for United States citizens are especially likely to be rejected or have last minute problems, another reason to use a local tour operator who can circumvent any obstacles directly with the government.

  • Flights – A number of airlines service Sana’a and Aden, the two most common entry points into Yemen. Turkish Airlines, Emirates, and Yemenia all connect many major Middle East and European cities to Sana’a, with stopovers in Aden. Budget airlines also fly to mainland Yemen routinely from Sharjah (outside of Dubai) in the United Arab Emirates.
  • Overland – Land crossing from Saudi Arabia is not permitted for non-Yemeni nationals however buses run from Salalah, Oman to several cities in Yemen. Rides are over 10 hours and I’m told it’s not a comfortable journey.
  • Where To Stay – In the map below you can locate all of the places I’ve stayed at and recommend in Yemen. And, as most stays will include at least one night in Sana’a, I suggest you look no further than the Dawood Hotel.
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View Yemen in a larger map

For more information on each hotel, including contact information, check out my Yemen travel information page.

yemeni soldiersIs Travel To Mainland Yemen Safe And Do I Need Any Special Preparations?

The first part of that question has a layered answer that I’ll elaborate upon in the coming weeks and the second part is a short no. However, the U.S. Centers For Disease Control (CDC) recommends malaria vaccinations if you’ll be traveling to areas in Yemen below 2,000 meters (~6,500 feet). Sana’a is high enough that it doesn’t meet that criteria and I never got (and never have actually) taken anti-malaria medication; but you may decide to proceed more cautiously.

Generally speaking, travel to the most dangerous and unstable parts of Yemen are strictly restricted. Elsewhere, the use of a local guide and driver both enhance your safety while opening up many of the smaller villages you’d likely miss if on your own. Once again, Eternal Yemen can organize custom trips giving you a local’s glimpse into Yemeni culture and heritage.

How To Visit Socotra Island

Air travel to Socotra from several Yemeni cities can be arranged on Felix Airways or Yemenia, which fly to Socotra 1-3 times a week for about $300, round-trip. If they don’t cancel the flights that is, which happens regularly, without warning, and at the last minute.

dragon blood trees socotra

  • Direct Flights To Socotra Outside Of Yemen – There aren’t many options except for Felix Airways flights to and from Sharjah, UAE. A good multi-city flight would be to book airfare to Dubai, connect to Sharjah using local ground transportation, and catch your Socotra plane from there.
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Many travelers to Socotra simply skip mainland Yemen, save for a layover in Sana’a on the way to the island. Keep in mind any stops or layovers exiting in Sana’a generally require you have a travel permit. They can be obtained from the Tourist Police office in the Old City of Sana’a or a tour operator can get for you if you’re not planning on staying in the city.

  • Renting A Car On Socotra – It’s possible, but expensive at about $50 per day (not to mention fuel). Aside from the asphalt road that circles the outer-edge of the island, the interior is some serious off-roading on “road.” Imagine you driving in the video to the right.

  • Where To Stay – There are a few luxury hotels with rooms for $100 per night but I’d recommend saving your money and sleeping right along the beach at one of two camps: Abdulluh Edib Camp or Delisha Camp.

socotra beaches

There are over 300 endemic plant species plus nearly 200 species of insect and a similar number of bird species to be found on Socotra. Navigating them, even the most famous bottle and dragon blood trees isn’t easy initially and it helps to get in touch with a local guide for part of your trip. If you’re looking for one, I can recommend Saaber Aamer (email: [email protected] tel: 00967-771-969-576).

  • Why Go To Socotra? Because it’s sort of like evolution got bored with the rest of the planet and decided to drop acid while creating the four-island archipelago. This video says it all.

socotra volcanic formations

Socotra is a hard place not to be mesmerized by, so following up on my I Love Istanbul Tour, I’m planning on giving a Socotra Tour at the end of this year. If you’re at all interested in visiting Socotra for New Year’s, send me an email and Wandering Earl and I will add you to our list of participants!

Socotra And Yemen Mainland, Not So Hard To Reach Both

Outside of the visa process and obtaining the necessary travel permits, arranging a trip to Socotra and Yemen much like booking any other trip. Depending on where you plan on going and whether or not you’ll be using a local tour operator like Eternal Yemen, the amount of added legwork varies. But once you arrive and meet the faces of Yemen, wander through plateaus of countless dragon blood trees, or sit on the edge of Burra Mountain, you’re likely to find the added effort well worth the time.