Sunset over the walled city of Shibam.
With thirty million inhabitants, Yemen is one of the most populated countries in the Arab world. Historically situated at the crossroads of Arabia, Africa and India, Yemen is a diverse, ancient land with thousands of years of human history steeped traditions. However, the story of modern Yemen is not so rosy.
The corrupt and ineffective regime led by Ali Saleh that had been in power since 1978 was ousted during the Arab Spring. This led to a dangerous power vacuum and sent shockwaves throughout the country.
In 2015, regional powers and their more nefarious proxies moved in to grab control. As the Iran-backed Shiia Houthi rebel movement took control of the north, Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) swept territory in the south. For 9 months AQAP held the port city of Al Mukalla, extracting significant economic gain. Saudi Arabia and the UAE formed the Arabian Coalition with US backing and began to conduct aerial bombing campaigns against the Houthis, while at the same time quietly removing AQAP, sending them back underground.
As of 2020, three governments effectively control segments of Yemen's territory— the Houthis in the north, the Saudi-backed Hadi government in much of the south, and the Emirates-backed STC Government in Aden and Socotra.
The Yemen of today can be characterized as a failed state with a high necessity of transformation. While fragile stability has in fact returned to much of the country, many parts are still embroiled in conflict and the humanitarian toll across the country is significant. According to UNICEF "Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people – some 80 percent of the population – in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children."
SOUTH YEMEN & THE ISLAND OF SOCOTRA
with Jeremy Woodhouse
(15 days/14 nights), maximum group size 5
AT A GLANCE
This itinerary is designed to take you from the Oman border through the Al Mahrah and Hadhramaut Governorates before ending in Seiyun. A full week of exploration time is ideal for this region and we will be combining it with a trip to Socotra Island. You’ll visit fabled mud-brick towns, the deserts of the northeast, architectural wonders and cultural highlights through this diverse, fascinating corner of Arabia.
Weather-wise, this trip is best in October through November or February through May, as this will also coincide with ideal weather conditions in the Arabian Sea area and is not swelteringly hot. Southern Yemen heats up to extreme temperatures from June to September.
DAY 1 :: WEDNESDAY :: SALALAH / SARFAYT / AL-GHAYDAH
You will depart Salalah in the morning by car, driving 2 hours through windy mountain roads along the Dhofar’s stunning coastline to the Oman border post at Sarfayt. The border is quite straightforward. First you’ll fill out an exit card and stamp out of Oman, before being waived through the border fence by and Omani military officer.
You’ll arrive on the Yemeni side where you must pass a basic customs inspection and receive your visa on arrival— your guide will meet you on the Yemeni side of the border with your visa paperwork and help you get your visa form the immigration desk.
From the border, you’ll drive along the beautiful Mahri coastline, stopping at scenic spits and in fishing villages along the way to the regional capital, Al Ghaydah. The city has all the signs of a border town— hustling markets, lots of building construction, banks and trucks, plastic garbage abound. You'll have a late lunch in Al Ghaydah and a rest before heading out to the Souq for some evening shopping.
Overnight: Al Ghaydah (hotel)
DAY 2 :: THURSDAY :: AL-GHAYDAH / EMPTY QUARTER DESERT
You’ll depart Al Ghaydah in the morning, and drive northeast up towards the Omani and Saudi border region. Here, at the edge of the Empty Quarter Desert, you will meet Mahri Bedouins. They speak in Mahri, an ancient South Arabian language and continue on traditions from centuries past, mostly herding camels in the scrub desert on the southern fringes of the greater Empty Quarter.
You’ll visit a camel camp in the desert, share meals and tea with the Bedouins and spend a night camped out with them amongst the stars, sand and camels.
Overnight: Camping in the Empty Quarter Desert.
DAY 3 :: FRIDAY :: EMPTY QUARTER DESERT / TARIM
You will begin this morning early, as the sun rises over the desert and the ground begins to heat up. After some breakfast, you’ll be escorted back to a paved road by your Bedouin hosts before continuing across the desert highway to the trucker towns of Rumah and Thamud, crossing from Al Mahrah to the Hadhramaut region. The total driving time for the day is around 7 hours, as you’re essentially crossing over one third the length of Yemen.
Your destination for the day is Tarim, the a Sufi pilgrimage city and home of Islamic education, and the earlier you arrive the better, as today is Friday and being in the town for Friday prayers is a special occasion. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to find some Sufi dancing in town today.
Overnight: Private residence in Tarim
DAY 4 :: SATURDAY :: TARIM / AYNAT / WADI DOAN
In the morning, you’ll explore Tarim’s scenic old town on foot, wandering around the souq, exploring the city’s culture and architecture, and visiting the outside of the Al-Muhdhar Mosque, famous throughout Yemen.
You’ll then take a short detour to the town of Aynat to check out the Sufi shrines and cemetary there, before driving west, past Seiyun and Shibam, to the Doan Valley (Wadi Doan or also spelt Wadi Dawan).
Along the way, you’ll stop to visit the town of Hajrain, which has tons of stunning mud-brick homes clustered along a hill in the valley. Hajrain is also famous for its honey production and if you’d like you can visit a local honey shop to learn more.
You’ll reach the top of the cliff near Haid Al Jazil before sunset and can catch the last rays of light leave the valley from the Hays Al Jazil Resort.
Overnight: Hayd Al Jazil Resort
DAY 5 :: SUNDAY :: WADI DOAN / AL MUKALLA
After breakfast at the resort, you’ll head out on a hike down the canyon wall to the town of Hufa. The hike is beautiful and offers sweeping views of Wadi Doan and the villages of both Haid Al Jazil and Hufa, a particularly vibrant Doani town, where you can observe local Hadhrami village life.
In the afternoon, you’ll drive south on the canyon rim towards the coast. After 2-3 hours you’ll arrive in the city of Al Mukalla, the largest city in the Hadhramaut. This port city was held by Al Qaeda for 9 months in 2015, but has since come under tight government control. Upon your arrival, you’ll check into your accommodation for the evening, and then go for a wander around the old city and souq.
Overnight: Al Mukalla (hotel).
DAY 6 :: MONDAY :: AL MUKALLA / WADI DOAN
Before breakfast in Al Mukalla, you’ll visit the fish market, as the fishermen arrive very early with the daily catch. You’ll also get to go for a walk around the marina and check out some of the central parts of town before morning traffic picks up.
After breakfast, you’ll drive back north to Wadi Doan, where you’ll visit some of the more remote (and stunningly beautiful) towns along the southwestern part of the valley.
Overnight: Hayd Al Jazil Resort.
DAY 7 :: TUESDAY :: WADI DOAN / SHIBAM / SEIYUN
After another stunning sunrise over the valley and breakfast in at the Hayd Al Jazil Resort, you’ll continue by car to the northern side of Wadi Doan, visiting the friendly town of Sif. There’s plenty to explore in Wadi Doan, so definitely take some time to explore the towns as you see them throughout the morning.
After a quick lunch, you’ll visit the walled city of Shibam. Shibam is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to some 7,000 inhabitants. The city’s architecture is incredibly unique and has been called the ‘Manhattan of the Desert’ due to the town’s densely concentrated mud-brick high-rises, some over 11-stories tall. You’ll spend the early afternoon wandering around the inside of the town, observing local life and soaking in this incredible place.
In the late afternoon, as the sun begins to set, you can visit the Shibam viewpoint on the opposite side of the valley. Here, you can enjoy a spectacular view over the city as golden hour engulfs the buildings. If you stay just past sunset you can hear the call to prayer from the local mosques over the city— the experience is quite magical.
Overnight: Private residence in Seiyun.
DAY 8 :: WEDNESDAY :: DEPART SEIYUN /SOCOTRA
Today, after meeting the rest of the group, you will depart from Seiyun to Socotra Island.
Sunset on the Dixam Plateau
The Island of Socotra
AT A GLANCE
Socotra is one of the most isolated landforms on Earth of continental origin, meaning it is non-volcanic. The archipelago is located in the Indian Ocean about half-way between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, having broken off from Mainland Arabia millions of years ago. This geographic isolation, paired with high rocky mountains, plateaus, deserts and vast coastlines have turned Socotra into one of the most distinct ecological hotspots in the world.
In the 1990s, a team of United Nations biologists conducted a survey of the archipelago’s flora and fauna where they accounted for nearly 700 endemic species. These species, making up around one-third of the flora and fauna on Socotra, are found nowhere else. It’s no wonder why Socotra has been called “the most alien-looking place on Earth.”
However, Socotra is under immense pressures from within and abroad. The war in Yemen has had devastating effects on the island. While Socotra was not physically impacted by the war, it lost its air links and most of its maritime trade with the mainland. This left Socotra and its 70,000 inhabitants effectively cut off from the outside world, economically strained, and stuck in the middle of a regional power struggle between Arabian Gulf nations.
Cyclones in 2016 have also wrecked much of the infrastructure, leaving many residents without clean drinking water and harming the island’s unique ecology. Ecotourism, once a major economic driver on Socotra, is slowly recovering— the island’s people and endemic species need this lifeline moving forward.
This itinerary has been designed to offer a solid overview to Socotra while taking advantage of the dry season to spend more time along Socotra’s coastlines and beaches, as well as explore the mountains and swimming wadis.
DAY 8 :: WEDNESDAY :: SEIYUN / HADIBO / HOMHIL
You’ll depart Seiyun on Yemenia’s only weekly flight into Socotra arriving around 10:30am. You’ll be met upon arrival at Socotra Airport by your local team ready to explore— but first they will help you clear immigration and customs procedures. Have a copy of your Yemeni visa ready for inspection on arrival at the airport.
You’ll first visit the only “city” in Socotra— Hadibo— to have some lunch and go shopping for some local clothes and products if interested. In the afternoon you’ll drive to the Homhil Protected Area, a prehistoric-feeling national park with incredible scenery. There, you can enjoy a sunset walk amongst the Bottle trees, Frankincense and famous Dragon’s Blood trees.
Overnight: Camping at Homhil.
DAY 9 :: THURSDAY :: HOMHIL / ARHER
You will begin this morning like all of your days in Socotra, waking up just before sunrise, followed by a simple breakfast. You’ll then go on a hike down to a beautiful natural infinity pool at the edge of the plateau, surrounded by Dragon’s Blood Trees and Bottle Trees. On the way, you’re likely to come across local children selling dragon blood resin and frankincense from the nearby village. The scenery is absolutely otherworldly. This is Socotra.
You’ll return to camp for lunch and then drive to Arher, a spectacular camping spot on the beach in the far northeast of the island, where a fresh creek comes out from a crack in a granite mountain. You can relax on the beach around the creek, swim in the sea, or if you feel up for it you can climb a huge 100+ metre sand dune to get a fantastic view over this charming spot— amazing for sunset. If you’re lucky, we can see bright blue bioluminescence in the ocean at night (common February-May).
Overnight: Camping at Arher Beach.
DAY 10 :: FRIDAY :: ARHER / HOQ CAVE / RAS IRISSEYL / ARHER
You will start early today, with a drive to the base of Hoq Cave in Terbak village. Before the sun gets too strong, you will hike up about 2.5 hrs to the entrance of the cave. The cave itself is more than three kilometres long, with a water pool at the end. Inside, you will see stalactites, stalagmites and crystalline formations, with wide chambers, much like an ancient cathedral.
In the early afternoon, you’ll drive return to Arher for lunch. In the later evening, as the tide goes out, you’ll drive to Ras Irisseyl, the easternmost point of Socotra where the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea meet. There is a small fishing village here where you can see the locals returning with the afternoon catch. You will also visit “crab city”; this beach is home to thousands of sand crabs who build small castle like structures above their holes during low tide.
Overnight: Camping at Arher Beach.
DAY 11 :: SATURDAY :: ARHER / WADI KALISAN / ZAHEK / DIKSAM
You’ll depart Arher after breakfast and drive through a series of dirt roads to the far southeast of the island. After driving past rolling hills of Dragons Blood Trees, you’ll reach the start of the hike down to Kalisan Canyon. Kalisan is impressive to say the least. It’s a deep swimming wadi, replete with numerous crystal clear freshwater pools and waterfalls. The hike down (and back up) takes about 45 minutes and you’ll pass Bottle Trees along the way.
After spending the morning at Kalisan, you will drive to Omak Beach for lunch and a break in the mid-afternoon. Here, you can body surf in the waves, as the Indian Ocean side of the island is a lot more turbulent than the more tranquil Arabian Sea side.
In the late afternoon, as the sun begins to set, you’ll visit the “sea of sand” at Hayf and Zahek. There you can wander this incredible landscape, climbing between the dunes all the way to the sea. Finding pieces of ancient pottery is not uncommon here, as much of this area was under the sea not too long ago. In the evening you’ll drive up to the Diksam Plateau.
Overnight: Camping in Diksam.
DAY 12 :: SUNDAY :: DIKSAM / FIRHMIN / DIKSAM
After breakfast, you will trek to the Firhmin Forest, which is the last woodland comprised of Dragon's Blood trees. Nowhere else in the world can one find Dragon's Blood trees in such density. Nur, a local goat herder, will show you how they used to collect— and still collect on a smaller scale— the precious red resin of the tree. You will continue hiking down into the Derhur Canyon, where we will see unusual rock formations and can swim in freshwater pools, where we can enjoy a picnic lunch.
The Diksam plateau is home to nomadic Bedouin herdsmen who move from one site to another with their goat herds. From Diksam you can watch the sunset amongst the Dragon’s Blood Trees and canyon below.
Overnight: Camping in Diksam.
DAY 13 :: MONDAY :: DIKSAM / DETWAH LAGOON
After breakfast in Diksam, you’ll visit the Dragon’s Blood Tree nursery where young trees have been growing since 2006. Since goats were introduced to the island, many of the young trees have been destroyed by the goats when their leaves are still soft, so it’s essential to grow new trees in protected environments.
You’ll then visit the Diksam middle and high school, where you will visit classrooms, meet teachers and students, and if you’d like, volunteer to teach an English class.
Following your visit to the school, you will drive to the northwest of the island to Detwah Lagoon, a marine protected area renowned for its magical landscape and incredible coastline for swimming.
You’ll be charmed by a white sandy peninsula jutting out into the sea surrounded by turquoise waters, where you can swim. There is also an array of sea birds and marine wildlife to be seen in the lagoon. There, you’ll meet Abdullah the Caveman and he’ll take you exploring for marine wildlife from his cave over the lagoon.
Overnight: Camping at Detwah Beach
DAY 14 :: TUESDAY :: DETWAH / SHU’AB / QALANSIAH / DETWAH
After breakfast, we will drive to the city of Qalansiah, the second largest settlement on Socotra. From there, we will hire local fishing boats to take you to see spinner dolphins and go snorkelling in the warm turquoise waters off Shu’ab beach on the west coast of the island. You’ll relax on the beach for a while, and head back to Qalansiah for lunch.
We’ll enjoy our last afternoon in Socotra around the Detwah Lagoon where we can swim and fish with locals.
Overnight: Camping at Detwah Beach.
DAY 15 :: WEDNESDAY :: DETWAH / HADIBO / CAIRO
After breakfast at the camp, you’ll drive to Socotra Airport for your flight to Cairo via Seiyun. The flight is scheduled to depart Socotra at 9:15am, arriving back in Cairo at 4:45pm. Delays of a couple of hours could happen.
Try not to book a flight out of Cairo with a tight connection. It’s recommended to spend the night in Cairo and fly the next day.
Average Weather in March at Socotra Yemen
The long dry season (mid-January through May) is a wonderful time to really explore Socotra’s coastlines, beaches, and mountains. The weather is generally dry and arid, the waters are calm along the Arabian Sea, snorkelling and diving conditions are great, and the mountains are easy to hike through. While the air may be a bit hazy with sand and dust, this should not deter you from visiting, the dry season a great time to be in Socotra.
The average minimum temperature (usually the minimum temperature is noted during the night) in Socotra in March is 23.4°C (74.12°F). March is a dry month with an average of 11mm (0.4in) rain. The average maximum temperature lies around 29.0°C (84.2°F).
5 SPOTS OPEN FOR SOUTH YEMEN & SOCOTRA (15 DAYS)
TOUR COST: $8,400
FLIGHTS SEIYUN / SOCOTRA / CAIRO: FROM $900
5 SPOTS OPEN FOR SOCOTRA ONLY (8 DAYS)
Tour Cost: $2,900
FLIGHT CAIRO / SOCOTRA / CAIRO FROM $950 - $1,200
Due to the enhanced security and logistics, we are only able to offer the mainland Yemen tour with the Socotra extension for just 5 people.
Those people participating in the full tour will meet in Salalah, Oman from where our tour will start. We will meet on a Tuesday and the tour will begin on the Wednesday.
A further 5 spots are available for the Socotra-only leg of this tour— those joining this leg of the tour will fly in from Cairo and meet the group in Seiyun, Yemen from where we will fly directly to Socotra.
At the end of the Socotra leg of the tour we will all depart Socotra and fly back to Cairo.
Tour Price Includes
- Airport pick up / drop off
- All land travel including 2 Land Cruisers and 1 pickup (to carry extra bags, equipment)
- Driver and petrol costs
- English speaking guide
- Travel permits and entrance fees
- All meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner)
- Treks on Socotra and in the mountains with local guides
- Boat trip on Socotra to Shoub Beach from Qalansyia
- Camping equipment for Socotra
- Round trip tickets to / from Socotra
Tour Price Excludes
- Airfares to Oman and airfare from Cairo to your home destination
- meals not mentioned in itinerary
In Socotra, hotels are not available at most places and we will be camping at well maintained campsites. All camping gear (tents, cooking supplies, mattresses, etc,) will be provided and is included in price.
We advise you to be reasonably fit as we will be hiking outdoors every day photographing landscapes
Electricity is rare commodity in Socotra. We will not have it available every day so bring enough memory cards and camera batteries for at least couple of days
Camping gear will be provided, but you should bring our own sleeping bag. Make sure it’s light enough as temperatures on Socotra will be warm.