Everybody told Catalina Martin-Chico how amazing Socotra Island was.
But when she first arrived, she wasn’t that impressed.
“It was very arid, not very green, not very blue,” she said. “So I go, ‘OK, where are all the beautiful spots?’
“And little by little, you go from one place to another and it’s like the incredible, beautiful spots are kind of hidden in the island.”
Moonlike rocky terrain gives way to sandy plains, immaculate beaches and towering mountains with trees growing out of the sides. The Yemeni island is only about 1,400 square miles, but it packs a lot of variety and character into that small space.
“I can have a forest with all these trees, and then half an hour later, this beach is incredible,” said Martin-Chico, a professional photographer based in Paris. “But it’s not like a normal beach because, first, it’s empty and it’s very, very wild. And the sand and the mountains are together. It’s like the sand is going up the mountain.”
Socotra has been referred to as the “Galapagos of the Indian Ocean” for its remarkable biodiversity. More than a third of its 825 plant species, 90% of its reptile species and 95% of its land snail species are not found anywhere else in the world, according to UNESCO.
Perhaps its signature species is the dragon blood tree, which resembles a mushroom or, in some instances, an umbrella. Its red resin, or “dragon’s blood,” has been used in dyes, medicines and other household products through the years.
For all of its beauty, however, not many people have visited Socotra, which is about 250 miles south of mainland Yemen, east of the Horn of Africa.
Monsoon winds can make it difficult to travel to the island in certain months, and there hasn’t been much development over the years, Martin-Chico said.
“It’s very empty and thoroughly wild – no hotels, no infrastructure built for tourists, nothing,” she said. “They built a road a few years ago that can bring you from one place to another, and that’s like a big deal. So you go there and all these beautiful spots are just empty. So you think you’re like Robinson Crusoe.”
Socotra was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. In addition to its endemic plants, reptiles and snails, the island has 192 species of land and sea birds, including many threatened species, and diverse marine life.
About 50,000 people live on Socotra, whose name is derived to the Sanskrit for “island abode of bliss.” Martin-Chico says the people are open-minded and generally happy to see tourists because they help boost the economy.
“Yemeni people in general are very curious of who you are and how you live and which God you believe in,” she said.
Martin-Chico said the island is starting to become a more popular spot for ecotourism, which is convenient “because it’s very, very ecologic,” she laughs.
“If you want to do real ecotourism, wild tourism, this is the place to go.”
- Kyle Almond, CNN