How to Get to Yemen's Ecological Paradise-- Socotra Island
YEMENIA 607 / 606 CAIRO TO SOCOTRA (CAI SCT)
It’s finally possible to get back to Socotra— Yemen’s ecological paradise in the Indian Ocean. When the war in Yemen started in early 2015 the islands lost their flight links to the mainland, and save for some supply ships, the islands were cut off until Yemenia was given permission from the Coalition (UAE and Saudis who control Yemen’s airspace) to being flights to the island again.
Yemenia’s once weekly flight 607 / 606 from Cairo to Socotra and back is the only reliable way onto the island. This flight leaves very early Wednesday morning, travelling to Seiyun, a desert city in Mainland Yemen’s Hadhramaut Valley and continuing onto Socotra, before flying back to Seiyun and then continuing back to Cairo. This means that one can spend one or two weeks (or more) in Socotra without much difficulty and enjoy a reliable way of getting to and from the island. The flight is safe and the plane is modern— I met the pilot, he’s been flying for 20 years.
The flight schedule is below. Please note, that while these are the scheduled departure and arrival times, the flight typically arrives 2-3 hours late, as the stop in Seiyun takes longer than planned.
WEDNESDAYS Cairo to Socotra YEMENIA IY 607
02:00 Depart Cairo (CAI) for Seiyun (GFX)
06:30 Arrive Seiyun (GXF)
07:45 Depart Seiyun (GXF) for Socotra (SCT)
08:45 Arrive Socotra (SCT)
expect to arrive closer to 11am
WEDNESDAYS Socotra to Cairo YEMENIA IY 606
09:45 Depart Socotra (SCT) for Seiyun (GFX)
10:45 Arrive Seiyun (GXF)
11:45 Depart Seiyun (GXF) for Cairo (CAI)
14:45 Arrive Cairo (CAI)
expect to get in closer to 6pm
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PRICE AND HOW TO BOOK
Yemenia, as the sole operator of Socotra’s only flight route, has monopolized pricing— meaning that tickets are expensive. When the flight was first announced, the tickets were $990 USD. They have now (as of April 2019) gone up to $1,300 USD per person for an economy class round-trip ticket, excluding booking fees and wire transfer fees.
Booking this flight is not exactly straightforward, but here’s how to do it. You can always contact us for help if you’d like to book a trip to Socotra, including the flight.
First, booking on the Yemenia website is not an option. You need to book directly with the Yemenia officer in Cairo in cash, or through an agency who knows how to handle these tickets.
Second, in order to have your tickets issues, you must send the Yemenia sales office a copy of your Yemeni visa, which is only valid for 30 days from the day of issue. The work around this is to go through a specialized agency or operator to have your ticket reserved, but not issued until your visa is ready.
Third, once your visa and invitation letter have been sent to Yemenia, along with a passport copy, the tickets may be issued in your name and you’ll be given an e-ticket number. You will need this e-ticket number, your valid passport, and a print out (2 copies) of your Yemeni visa paper in order to check in to the flight. Reminder: if your passport contains any proof of travel to Israel you will be deported from Seiyun. This includes any Israeli stamps, visas, arrival cards, departure cards, or border stamps from Egypt or Jordan that indicate travel to Israel.
Fourth, you should arrive ai Cairo International Airport Terminal 1 no later than 11pm to check into the flight. There is a lot of security at the airport, and the line to get your boarding pass is normally long and slow moving, as many Yemenis are travelling to the Mainland with a lot of stuff.
THE TRANSIT STOP IN SEIYUN (MAINLAND YEMEN)
This flight does make a stop in Mainland Yemen on the way to Socotra, and based on several messages and emails I’ve received asking about the safety of this stop, I’ll give an in-depth description of what it was like.
The flight leaves Cairo around 2am (3am for us, we were delayed as they finished loading up the place with luggage) and flies to the city of Seiyun in central Yemen. Seiyun is the gateway to the Hadhramaut Valley, one of the most picturesque regions of Yemen known for the famous “sand castle” city of Shibam.
However, for the last decade or so Hadhramaut has become a stronghold for Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as it’s a backwater Sunni-majority region in Yemen. While the situation has improved over the last year, with the UAE and Yemeni military gaining control over the region, Hadhramaut is far from safe to travel in for foreigners (especially Europeans and Americans).
That being said, don’t get too nervous. Seiyun Airport is secured by the Yemeni and UAE militaries and the stop here is quite uneventful. On the way to Socotra, the plane lands in Seiyun in the early morning (around 7am) and everyone it told to get off the plane. You walk right off the stairs of the plane, onto the runway and for those continuing on to Socotra, you’re directed to a waiting hall on the right hand side of the airport. There, you can use the washroom and charge up your electronics. Cell coverage works from here for most major international providers.
After a while, you’ll be directed to the main waiting hall area with the other Yemeni passengers boarding boarding the flight in Seiyun for the quick hour hop over to the island.
A security official from the airport will check your passport and maybe bring your passport into a back room for inspection. They told us they were looking for any evidence of travel to Israel, as any evidence of travel to Israel will prohibit your entrance into Yemen and you’ll be deported back to Cairo that same afternoon. Make sure your passport not only does not contain any Israeli entry stamps or visas, but also does not contain any border stamps from Jordan or Egypt.
When the plane is ready to board you’ll get your passport back and follow the other passengers onto the plane. The total amount of time we spent in Seiyun Airport was about two hours; it was a very straightforward and simple experience. There’s a small cafe in thee airport if you need to buy any snacks, but since they won’t let you beyond the immigration counters, you’re confined to the secure part of the airport.
You will pass through Yemeni immigration and customs at Socotra Airport, not in Seiyun.
So that’s the play-by-play of the Seiyun stopover. There is no change of planes I should add. You board the same plane that you took from Cairo, so there is no risk of cancellation or significant delay. Happy wanderings!