Route 9: Yemen – Soqotra, culture, nature (Variante 1)

Politically, the island of Soqotra belongs to Yemen; geologically, however, it is a part of Africa, but separated from the mainland, so that it has developed its own land formation with endemic plant and animal life. Soqotra is about 100 km long and 35 km wide, with a central massif; petrified coral reefs extending to the coast give a reddish tinge to the diversified coastal area. The island lies some 400 km south of Mukalla, in the Indian Ocean to the east of Somalia, and has a population of about 50,000. The capital, Hadibo, is near the airport. The islanders live mainly from fishing and breeding sheep and goats. The language is Soqotri, a Semitic language spoken but not written, so that the local names have various spellings. In order to preserve its unique natural landscape, Soqotra has concentrated on eco-tourism. There are simple hotels, but only in Hadibo; excursions are accompanied by local guides, with picnic food and overnight stays in tents. Several camp-sites are run by local people, who are relaxed, hospitable and open – you can get to know them even without speaking the language.

The island's main attraction for visitors is the tranquillity, the almost untouched beauty of the landscape, and the simple, natural life-style. A week here, spent swimming, snorkelling, hiking, rambling, getting to know the country and its people, offers rest, recreation, well-being – and the experience of unique surroundings. Here everyone knows everyone else, and there is an atmosphere of complete security.

Adensafari offers two different 2-week trips to Yemen and Soqotra. One combines a week's stay in Soqotra with a week's trip from Mukalla over the Hadramaut to Sana'a; the other combines a 20-day trip round Yemen – from Mukalla via Aden, Taizz, Tihama and the Red Sea, Yemen mountains and Sana'a – with a 4-day taster tour on Soqotra.

These trips are organised at suitable times, i.e. not during the summer monsoon. Flights to Soqotra are available from Sana'a, Aden and Mukalla, with the Yemeni companies Yemenia and Saida.

1. Day | Arrival Sana'a – Transfer Soqotra – Hadibo

Arrival in Sana'a at night; early morning 2-hour flight via Mukalla to Soqotra, to be met by the local guide. Short drive to the capital, Hadibo, walk through the town, visiting the souq and the fishing harbour. Life on Soqotra is relaxed; the towns are comfortably small, the inhabitants all know one another and are friendly to visitors. There are relatively few vehicles, and apart from the main road, the roads in Hadibo are unsurfaced. Electricity, produced by generators, is in short supply. Check-in at the simple hotel. Initial guided tour and visit to a nursery garden where  indigenous plants are cultivated.

2. Day | Hadibo – Ar Harr

A surfaced road runs along the north coast, linking the east and west sides of the island with the capital. Since the distances are short, little time is spent driving. Purchase of provisions at the souq in Hadibo, then departure eastwards along the coast, with its spectacular rock formations and dazzling white scarps. Overnight camp at the foot of the enormous dunes formed by the white sand blown up the steep slopes by the monsoon.

3. Day | Ar Harr - cave – Di Hamri

The camp lies beside a stream which rises at the foot of the red coral reef and flows into the sea a few hundred metres further on. After a refreshing dip, open-air breakfast under the watchful eyes of Egyptian vultures, which will be our constant companions from now on. A short drive, then the ascent on foot through the endemic vegetation to a cave a few hundred metres up in the coral reef. Picnic on the beach and drive on to Di Hamri (two red rocks), a seaside village and established camp-site. This is a good place for snorkelling and observing marine life. A feast of fish, then overnight camp.

4. Day | Di Hamri – island museum – Dixon

The island museum, on the way back to Hadibo, has interesting exhibits showing cultural history and traditions: fishing, sheep and goat farming, wool industry, herbal medicine, tree resins, traditional costume and jewellery, pottery and tools. Maps and old photographs testify to the changing governance of the island. Stop in Hadibo to buy provisions in the souq, then on to the central massif, with its breathtaking rock formations, exotic vegetation – including dragon's-blood, paw-paw and cucumber trees – and deep wadis (ravines). Natural pools with palm trees and freshwater crabs invite the traveller to take a dip. This is an ideal place for rambling and communing with nature. Overnight camp on a rock high above a wadi.

5. Day | Dixon – Stera – Aumaq

On to the south coast, stopping in the fishing and livestock-farming village of Stera. Here the older women spin sheep's wool and weave it on primitive looms into strips, which are then sewn together to make covers and rugs (popular as souvenirs). Overnight camp on the beach. Lunch in a shady grotto where goatherds often rest, then on to the village of Aumaq, which is equipped for tourists to stay. The beaches at Aumaq and Qalansiyah are the best for swimming and long coastal walks, and for finding rare shells, corals, sponges and other marine creatures (NB: export is prohibited!). Fresh fish for supper, and overnight stay in straw beach huts

6. Day | Aumaq – Qalansia

Morning dip and breakfast, before returning along the same route (there are few serviceable roads) through the mountainous area to the north coast and westwards to Qalansiyah, the second-largest town. We walk round the town and buy fish at the harbour before driving on to the village of Qaysoh. Picnic in the large date-palm grove, with goats grazing on the nearby grassland. On to stay at the well-established camp-site on the beach at Qalansiyah, in a lagoon sheltered from the high waves of the Indian Ocean – ideal for swimming and walks.

7. Day | Qalansia –Hadibo

Morning swim and lunch on the Qalansiyah camp-site. Drive along the north coast to Hadibo. Time to explore the souq and buy Soqotran specialities: woven woollen blankets, frankincense, pharmaceutical herbal and resin products, pottery glazed with the red "blood" of the dragon tree. (NB: The export of natural produce such as plants, seeds, shells, coral, etc. is prohibited.) Overnight stay in Hadibo hotel.

8. Day | Hadibo - Mukalla

Morning transfer to Soqotra airport; 1-hour flight to Mukalla. City tour, visit to the souq, the newly-built promenade, and (if desired) the historical museum. Al Mukalla, the harbour of the Hadramaut, has in recent years experienced an upswing, with a boom in building. Indian influence is perceptible in both the architecture and the people. Overnight stay in the Hadramaut Hotel, with swimming-pool.

9. Day | Mukalla – Djol – Wadi Dawan – Busan

Morning drive eastwards along the coast, then on the main road into the Hadramaut, over the stony Djol plateau. This barren plain is sparsely populated; rifts lead down into the fertile wadis and on into the Wadi Hadramaut. About half-way there, we turn off westwards into the Wadi Dawan and descend on foot to Al Choreiba at the end of the valley, where we have a magnificent view over the wadi – an earthly paradise. Overnight stay in a palatial hotel in Busan.

10. Day | Busan – Seyun

After breakfast, a walking-tour through the Wadi Dawan, with its multi-storey houses built close to the cliff walls. Visit to the little town of Al Hajjarein, and  (if desired) to the excavations in Raybun at the end of the valley. Drive into the Hadramaut, to Sayun, to visit the museum in the central Kathiri Palace, with exhibits including archaeological finds, cultural history, and photos by Freya Stark (the pioneering 1930s explorer). Evening meal and overnight stay in the Alaghaf Hotel in Sayun.

11. Day | Seyun – Tarim – Seyun

The Hadramaut, a broad fertile valley some 200 km long in central Yemen, widens and flattens westwards between imposing  limestone cliffs towards the desert. It has always been an important and wealthy trading-place. The maharajah style of the splendid palaces testifies to the former strong ties with the Indian sub-continent. The main towns are Tarim, Sayun and Shibam/Hadramaut. In Tarim, we view the collection of rare manuscripts and the town centre with its huge clay-built palaces, many of which are in a derelict state. Overnight stay in the Alaghaf Hotel in Sayun.

12. Day | Seyun – Shibam – Marib

Westwards to Shibam, the best-known town in Yemen after Sana'a. Clay-built houses up to eight storeys high are squeezed together in the smallest possible space, with only narrow alleyways between. The bottom storey is reserved for the goats which still constitute the greater part of the population. Lunch in al-Qatn, then on across the Rub Al-Khali (the Empty Quarter) desert – a journey of some six hours – to Marib, on the western edge. The desert landscape is full of variety, with interesting stone, sand, dune and mountain formations. Overnight stay in hotel in Marib.

13. Day | Marib – Sana’a

In Marib, the capital city of the legendary Bilqis, Queen of Sheba, one can visit the following historic sites: north and south sluice-gates of the Sabaean dam; the moon temple of Bilqis, the Almaqa temple with 8m-high monoliths, and Old Marib, the now almost deserted mediaeval settlement outside the new town. On to Sana'a by the north route, over high passes and qat plantations. Overnight stay in the Felix Arabia Hotel in Sana'a.

14. Day | Sana‘ - departure

Sightseeing in the famous old town of Sana'a with its museums, and shopping in the souq. Departure.