Link - article by Avi Abrams

Socotra Island: you have to see it to believe it

We covered some otherwordly places before (see, for example, The Bolivian Salt Lake, or The Richat Structure), but this island simply blows away any notion about what is considered "normal" for a landscape on Earth.

(images credit: Jan Vandorpe, socotra)

Imagine waking up on the Socotra Island and taking a good look around you (let's say your buddies pulled a prank on you and delivered you there, and lets also assume that you don't have any hangover from abuse of any substances). After a yelp of disbelief, you'd be inclined to think you were transported to another planet - or traveled to another era of Earth's history.

The second would be closer to the truth for this island, which is part of a group of 4 islands, has been geographically isolated from mainland Africa for the last 6 or 7 million years. Like the Galapagos Islands, this island is teeming with 700 extremely rare species of flora and fauna, a full 1/3 of which are endemic, i.e. found nowhere else on Earth.

(images credit: dianadrz, Irina Travina)

(image credit: socotra)

The climate is harsh, hot and dry, and yet - the most amazing plant life thrives there. Situated in the Indian Ocean 250 km from Somalia and 340 km from Yemen, the wide sandy beaches rise to limestone plateaus full of caves (some 7 kilometers in length) and mountains up to 1525 meters high.

(image credit: Marco Pavan)

The name Socotra is derived from a Sanscrit name, meaning "The Island of Bliss"... Is it the beaches? The isolation and quiet? or the strange and crazy botanical allure?

Alien-looking plants: H. P. Lovecraft's secret inspiration?

Was the famous Chtulhu myths creator aware of these forbidding mountains with their hauntingly weird flora (think of plant mutations from his "The Color out of Space") ? We almost tempted to call Socotra the other "Mountains of Madness" - the trees and plants of this island were preserved thru the long geological isolation, some varieties being 20 million years old...

We begin with the dracena cinnibaris or Dragon's Blood Tree, the source of valuable resin for varnishes, dyes, and "cure-all" medicine; also (predictably) used in medieval ritual magic and alchemy -

(image credit: Christian Besnier)

The branches spread out into the sky and from below appear to hover over the landscape like so many flying saucers... and from above they have a distinct mushroom look:

(image credit: Jan Vandorpe)

(image credit: dianadrz)

There is also the Desert Rose (adenium obesium) which looks like nothing so much as a blooming elephant leg:

(images credit: Jan Vandorpe)

(image credit: Denis Romanov)

Dorstenia gigas - apparently does not require any soil and sinks roots straight into the bare rock:

(images credit: Jan Vandorpe)

It also has a distinct personality and likes to smile for the camera:

(image credit: Tomas van Houtryve)

Somewhat similar to the weird Dorstenia gigas, is this "bucha" vegetable, found as far north as Croatia. I hope it's not pregnant with anything malignant inside this sack. John Wyndham (with his "The Day of the Triffids") would've loved it:

(image credit: Damir)

Also found in Socotra's landscape is the ever-strange and extremely rare Cucumber Tree (dendrosicyos socotranum) - and yes, it's related to what's sitting in a pickle jar in your fridge:

(image credit: Jan Vandorpe)

Getting around can be a challenge, as there are almost no roads

Despite the fact that this island has around 40,000 inhabitants, the Yemeni govenment put in the first roads just 2 years ago - after negotiations with UNESCO, which has declared this island a World Natural Heritage Site. I would prefer a camel ride to what is bound to be a bumpy and slow 4x4 ride... It is a quiet and peaceful enclave in an otherwise troubled world. If you decide to visit there, you can forget about beachfront hotels and restaurants; this island is geared towards eco-tourism and sustaining the local economy and way of life.

(images credit: Adele Obice, Marco Pavan, Denis Romanov)

Though not home to any parrots, this island is a birder's paradise as well, with 140 different species of birds; 10 of which are not found anywhere else in the world. A unique Socotra warbler, sunbird, starling, bunting, sparrow and cisticola are among the ones found here. There are also Socotra Cormorants:

(images credit: Magellan Tours, Rafeek Manchayil)

Want to see some fairy-tale (and possibly haunted) shipwrecks? There are diving tours available... Hopefully some IMAX crew would film it in all its glory one day.

(image credit: socotra)

To give you a glimpse of Socotra's and Yemen's in general totally unique architecture, check out this place located on the mainland:

Al Hajarah, Yemen - Walled city in the mist

Computer game designers take note - this mysterious city in the foggy Yemen's Haraz Mountains can surely fire up imagination of anybody who decides to explore it:

(image credit: Jan Vandorpe)

(image credit: Bellosta)

(image credit: Michaela Diener)

Dune? Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique? Pack your bags, for this is on our good old planet Earth, no interstellar visa required.

(image credit: Socotra)

Article by Avi Abrams, Dark Roasted Blend.




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Blogger Xander Qruze said...

Im seriously gonna put Socrota island as one of my destinations next year for my travels...I'm completely stunned by that tree...never thought anything like that existed..:)

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The dragon's blood tree is the source of cinnabar?
What have you been smoking?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazingly, like that weird tree branching up there is a tree in the Dominican and I image other Caribbean countries that have many many roots like that. However they can only grow in salt water but it's insane to see also. Great post.

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

post corrected... but we're not alone in this:

"Dracaena resin, "true" dragon's blood, and the poisonous mineral cinnabar (mercury sulfide) were often confused by the ancient Romans, as there appears to be a tendency to call all things that are bright red "dragon's blood". In ancient China, little or no distinction was made between the dragon's blood from the different species." (info)

Anonymous Anonymous said...

that mushroom like tree is scary >_<

Anonymous Fritz Ruehr said...

Dude: Zothique, definitely.

Now we know where they can shoot for the movie. :)

Blogger Davin Hattaway said...

Reminds me of Cape Verde, a but, actually. A lot of similar flora, fauna, and landscape, until you mentioned Yemen.

Blogger Michael said...

I think goblin valley should be on there. Has anyone seen Galaxy Quest when they go to another planet and they fight a rock monster? That's goblin valley, utah.

Anonymous amoeba said...

beryllium spheres!

Blogger angieandphil said...

Great site .I'll take two trees for my rockery please

Anonymous Roberto said...

Amazing indeed... I had a similar 'alien' experience in Madagascar (Isalo National Park, if I remember correctly). The rock formations, strange plants and pachypodia, bathing in a weird low light... stunning.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

All the visitors of Soqotra are inspired by its not-here alien-looking nature. It's right, but the Soqotran people and their oldest folklore are not less wonderful. And their Soqotri language is simply great!


Blogger MooPig_Wisdom said...

Very nice. All new to me. Thanks.

Anonymous Rowan said...

Ok, that seals the deal. I have been wanting to go to Yemen and around that area, and this Island just tops it off. I am off, hope to see you there Xander Qruze!

Blogger mmm said...

please include this one (from Thailand)

Blogger Gargamello said...

Very cool look into this stragne otherworldly place. Loved the medieval city in the rocks especially.

Anonymous pampuka said...

omg 0___0 amazing. earth is so unbelieviable...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another bizarre and unique place on earth is Mount Roraima. It's located in South America on the borders of Venezuela, Guyana and Brazil. Several facts make this place unique. It's one of many "plateau" mountains that are absolutely flat-topped, yet remarkably high. As a result, a lot of the vegetation there has evolved separately from others in the world. As such, they are unique and striking, much like Socotra Island. Look up Mount Roraima in Google and Google Earth for locations and neat photos. Angel Falls (the world's highest waterfall) is located on another nearby "plateau" island. It's navigable on a week-long hike! (ugh, I'm not quite up to that just yet!)

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Anonymous - we did write about Angel Falls and the plateau mountain "lost world" here:

But its environment is so strange that perhaps warrants another post... Don't get lost in there!

Blogger 3 Colours Silver said...

Isn't it just amazing!? Extremely hot and dry climate, what do you need? Shade! And what does the earth produce? Giant, umbrellas!!!!!:) Very cool blog.

Anonymous Will said...

Hey Avi, you have spelt Bolivian wrong at the beginning, lol Bolvian

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Жгете не по-детцки

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, the nature sure is amazing there!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a fantastic place. If ever I get a chance to visit the place, I might as well settle here forever.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

do want! to visit that place

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm sad this is online for everyone to see but i'm glad i'm around to at least see it in pictures. i don't believe anyone should be allowed to go there though. wouldn't want every idiot going there and ruining it.

Blogger spiritsentient said...

those photos are very, very cool, and i am pleased (as punch) that they're on the web for people to see.

bravo. :)

Anonymous amar said...

hey there, my family come from yemen and my grandfarther and grandmother were living over in socrotra for around 4 to 5 years and i visted them a few times and all i can say that i was thinking of never getting back on that plane again!!! as u see in picture 12 that place is not that far from where they had opened a small b&b.well, on that sand mountain me and my brothers and sisters took some sacks and we were sack-boarding down the white sand mountain, were hoping to vist the island again soon and we will take a snowboard and do the same thing!!

i would recommend a trip to the island (not for children aged 10 and under)

Blogger Wingles.angel4 said...

Even though i come up with lame comments, i had to comment!!! THIS IS WICKED SICK, what planet did you take these pictures from! Crazy shite.

Blogger Mavis said...

absolutely amazing and beautiful! a must see place in this lifetime.

Anonymous Kittesse said...

Необыкновенно красиво!

Blogger Matt said...

What an incredible looking environment!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

anyone remember the artist roger dean who designed some record covers for the uk band yes in the 1970s, some of these photos wouldnt be out of place in his surrealist landscapes, maybe he had knew about this island and used it as an inspiration


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please don't go there, unless you're a scientist. Please don't ruin the place for your vulgar, selfish curiosity.

Blogger Fernando said...

Check out Rio Tinto in southern Spain. Can't get weirder than that.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in a neighboring country and have been meaning to go to Socotra for a while but things in Yemen just keep getting crazy...Stop bombing embassies already...

Blogger MooPig_Wisdom said...

You see Timmy: "It [this tree] also has a distinct personality and likes to smile for the camera:..."

"You mean all things have personality, Mom?"

"That's right, Timmy, not just Lassie or you, but everything on this blue marble."

"Mom, Are you a tree hugger?"

"Yes, Timmy, guilty as charged."

Anonymous Anonymous said...

the plants are creepy ><

Anonymous Lucas said...

Brilliant post!

That is the most unreal scenery I've ever seen. I want to head over to Yemen now.

Blogger trivee said...

In the last picture, whats that 'box' shaped item? Is that trash? say it isn't so!
At least some one could see that in the view finder of the camera and remove it?!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This place is the best! I love the trees and bushes. Perfect place to vacation for the freak in us all. I so want to go there and take pictures in my predetor costume.

Blogger C said...

There is so much to see - wish I could travel more. Thanks for the great pictures!

Blogger Axendra said...

nature sure is amazing

Blogger Ghems said...

it's that Earth?
It's really awesome to visit....
don't forget sunblock!!!!!!!!!!

Blogger Cassie said...

Neat! The Desert Rose looks a lot like a baobab tree.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow. speechless.

Blogger Calvin said...

my friend from Yemen says that he goes camping there often, as many others do. Its the local's favorite tourist destination apparently.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like Khamis Mushayt in the Asir province near the Yemen border

Blogger Nicole said...

The first thing I thought of was the baobab trees from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Le Petit Prince.

Anonymous Kitty said...

Oh my goodness!! AMAZING! I would LOVE to go there! I love the blooming elephant leg :) haha.... I am such a sucker for fantastic flora and fauna, especially odd species I've never before seen. The blooming elephant leg reminds me a bit of a smaller baobab tree...? Possibly a very distant relative? The Earth is such an amazing place!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybee. . . Thats where the Pirates are hiding out. Doesn't sound very far away.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been there twice, taking almost 2000 photos total (actual, not digital) and these are *super amazing* and convey the marvel of the Isle of Bliss. Thank you!

There is a bit of formality to go there but not a big deal. Flights now daily I believe. Don't let MSM scare you off. Yemen is a wonderful place (parts still unaccessible, though). Mainland food is great, people are friendly and the scenery is mind-blowing.

Question is, will the Socotrans be able to preserve the fantastic environment they have ably stewarded for perhaps 2000 years? "People pressure" is everywhere, even on Socotra.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing weird-looking trees! Fabulous article.

Blogger winston jamz said...

Absolutely great photos of a place I keep hearing about. I have a small one of the Dracaeno trees. No plans to visit though.

Anonymous Terry said...

What a cool place to visit, how can I get there from Cape Town & what would it cost?

Blogger jason said...

Anyone know if there is surf there. The water looks amazing and some wave would make it out of this world

Anonymous Kamal Saba said...

Both my parents are from Yemen. I've lived there for about 5 years. However, I stayed within the country, but always wanted to visit Socotra. But soon next summer, my father has already made plans and we'll be visiting this strange island and i can't wait! Yemen is a beautiful country with such a rich culture. I was born and raised most of my life in America, when i went to Yemen to learn about my religion and culture, i realized how much of the world is absent in peoples lives. I hope everyone gets a chance to visit these great places. I just hope they preserve them. And i hope no one tries to ruin this beautiful island.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is wonderful archipelago in the world and the last one when we need to enjoys with your family you most to see the Island

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Went past if a few times on the shipping route from the Red Sea in my deep sea Merchant Marine days, remember the fierce currents that run round it. Never thought to wonder what the interior was like. Strange after a gap of decades to suddenly get a glimpse of the wondrous, secret landscape. Too young and too busy in those days to know or care, i suppose, but age does bring some benefits...

Anonymous lolostefanis said...

Oh, i think i should visit Yemen one day :)

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It Looks Just Like A Dr. Suess Story! It's Weird, And Impossible, But At The Same Time, Amazing!

Anonymous Hmmm(: said...

OMFG.! WOW these places l00k awes0me..i wud love to go there..! ima plan this trip with my borfirend(: l0l l0ve These palces s0 c00l(:

Anonymous Denis Romanov said...

More new photos about Socotra you can see at


Also you can find a lot of info about island.

Anonymous willythirsty said...

Nature still remains the king, and forever will continue to do so. I personally hope that the environmental conditions of the island remained unchanged with the Yemeni government's tourism policy which increasingly progressive lately.
@Denis, thank you for sharing.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

radical to the power of awesome.

Blogger NikiWonoto said...

You know,..seeing these kind of amazing, "out-of-this-world" photos really move my heart, inspire me a lot, and also I have to admit, given a sort of "Energy" back into my life again.

the 'Real-world' is not a boring place, after all.. :)

I wish someday I could go there
(maybe I SHOULD! anybody wanna join me?? :))

Anonymous Socotra Eco-tours said...

Socotra is an amazing island, If anyone wants to have comprehensive information on Socotra Visit www.socotra-eco-tours.com

Anonymous Joseph said...

Know what's going to happen to this? They put roads in, soon they ship automobiles in, and then guess what? Poof. No more Dragon's Blood trees.

Anonymous kiwivic said...

wow, I had never heard of this place before, it is so beautifully stunning, I have now added it to my "must do" list. Your photographs are great, a perfect way to introduce us to Socotra

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow simply astonishing. I'm from Yemen and I've visited the Al Hajara and those pix don't do it any justice. However, the Socrota Island looks like something unimaginable. I wanna go!! lol Now with the civil unrest and political issues I won't be going any time soon though. :-(

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is really a magical island, more information on socotraisland.com

Blogger Don said...

Wow! Such a beautiful place!

Blogger Maryam said...

Eek! I'm from the northern highlands—cities by the names of San'aa, Kawkebaan, and Shaharah.

I have never been to Yemen sadly, but after I get the chance to explore it and hop from roof to roof of the ancient architecture, I would love to trek down south, then kayak to our alienated island. Those plants are eye-popping! O_O I hope it stays alien to others.

I thanketh thee for the post. :D I shall now show this to my folks.


Blogger historicus said...

Two years back I made a trip from Ajman,UAE,to Salalah in Oman by 3 cars, one Benz, one Camry, and one BMW. some 1500 kms. I think. It was a real adventure and our aim was to go to Mukallah and try to get a lift to Socotra on a cargo ship. But that attempt did not materialise. Now I have booked a ticket via Rian Mukkallah and Abdujameel. I hope this time I would succeed in take in all the sights and sounds and sea and mountains of Socotra which they say is the Island of Bliss or Diva Sukhdhara or the Island of Tranquillity. I am reading up all the books I purchased from McGrudy's and from the xerox section of the Sharjah Public library (which unfortunately closed down when I went to look at some of the books on Socotra i hadn't completed. I will tell you more about Socotra, probably much much more than you care for, and with illustrations to match when I come back.Also I want to do a little bit of historical research on the Muziris and Bernicke connection of Socotra, and even about the religious evolution perhaps. Pl. pray for the success of my much dreampt about trip. -G. Menachery

Blogger 90minup said...

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