expedition handbook

This Handbook contains everything you need to know about this epic Secret Compass expedition to Yemen’s Socotra Island.

Read on to discover our ethos and team-centred approach and for the nitty gritty such as flight and visa advice, insurance requirements and kit recommendations.

Use the buttons below to ask questions or to apply for this team or, once approved, secure your spot with a Booking Form and a £400 deposit.


Key facts

  • Book: International flights to Hadibu (via Cairo)
  • Arrive: into Socotra Airport on 15 April 2020
  • Depart: depart on the 22 April 2020
  • Insurance: Ensure you have comprehensive cover
  • Docs: send your flight, insurance and passport copy in
  • Balance due: 90 days before departure on 15 January 2020
  • Find FAQ and Testimonials online.

The aim of this expedition is to complete a camel-supported trekking traverse of Socotra’s main island. Described as ‘the most alien place on Earth’ and isolated for years due to its extreme location and then civil war, few travellers have reached the archipelago. As a result, major developments have largely bypassed the ‘Galapagos of the Indian Ocean’, preserving the unique flora, fauna and terrains of the island which is now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site. This varied route bisects Socotra, encompassing the Hajhir Massif mountain range, dramatic gorges and rolling plateaus, bracketed by the azure blue of the Indian Ocean with its expanse of sandy beaches. Be a part of our intrepid trekking team and experience first hand the wild beauty of this remote island.


  • Trek 120km with camel support across Yemen’s isolated Socotra island
  • Discover the UNESCO World Heritage listed flora and fauna
  • Cross the island on foot over a variety of challenging terrains
  • Explore gorges, plateaus and high peaks before descending to untouched beaches
  • Summit the highest non-technical peaks in the Hajhir Massif
  • Keep an eye out for dragon blood trees and blue baboon spiders
  • Swim in natural rock pools before camping for the night
  • Meet the vibrant communities who call Socotra home


You will need to organise your own international flights for this expedition. There are very limited options for flying to/from Socotra, so Secret Compass will send through detailed guidance on which option you must book once your space has been confirmed on the team. Currently the most reliable flight originates in Cairo, so you should plan to arrive into Cairo by lunchtime on the 14 April at the latest in order to catch an early morning flight onwards to Hadibu. If this connection to Socotra is missed, you will be unable to join the expedition team – please see our Terms and Conditions.

Return flights to Cairo usually land back in the early afternoon although these are often delayed so we recommend not booking onward travel until the evening of the 22 April at the earliest. Please note that if there are extensive delays or cancellations on the scheduled route from Socotra to the mainland, alternative arrangements may be made which could take up to 7 additional days – we therefore recommend booking a flexible return flight to accommodate unexpected delays.

Visas & Permits

Secret Compass will provide information to assist team members in applying for visas to Socotra. This includes visa forms, visa support, and the submission of applications for visas on arrival – the cost of visa applications via this method is included in the expedition price. The final decision on whether to issue a visa rests with the Foreign Ministry in Socotra and not with Secret Compass or our expedition partners (please read our Terms and Conditions) – if you have any specific queries about visas or entrance restrictions for your particular situation, please contact your local Yemeni Embassy or Consulate. Applications for a visa to Yemen can take over 3 weeks to process so please plan ahead and apply in good time.

Please note that recent changes to US entry requirements mean that if you live in a country which is part of the US Visa Waiver Program but have recently (since 2011) travelled to Yemen then you will not be able to use the Visa Waiver Program and must apply for a full visa to travel to the US. See here for more details.

If you are transiting through Egypt, please check the visa requirements for your nationality and ensure you hold the appropriate visas where required.

Secret Compass will arrange any other permits required.


You should have a passport valid for the duration of the expedition and for 6 months after your travel dates. You should also have at least two empty pages. Please send a clear, colour copy of the photo/information page of your passport to Secret Compass ahead of the expedition and carry photocopies and spare passport sized photos with you on the expedition in a safe place.


Travel insurance which provides cover for emergency repatriation in case of a medical emergency is compulsory for all expeditions. You should be aware that many standard insurance policies may not cover you adequately for all aspects of a remote expedition and so we strongly recommend that you purchase a suitably designed insurance policy. Please carefully check the wording of the policy and ensure you are happy with the level of cover, particularly in case of travel delays or cancellations. Secret Compass cannot comment on the suitability of your cover, so if you are in any doubt please contact your policy provider and ask them to confirm that you are covered to our minimum standard.

Minimum insurance requirements

  • Emergency medical repatriation (to home country) including any associated expenses abroad of at least $500,000.
  • Activities: ensure that any expedition activities are included, these could be trekking, camel riding, snorkelling etc.
  • Geographical region: check the geographical region you are going to is insured.
  • Foreign Ministry advice: check your insurance is not sensitive to any travel warnings issued by your respective foreign ministry. In the UK, many insurers will not insure you when the Foreign Office warns against travel to this area. Foreign Office advice will not necessarily mean we cancel an expedition or do not travel to a particular area. Please check @FCOtravel and the Travel Aware site.
  • Dates: make sure the period of cover begins at the departure and ends at the return to your home country. Many flights take a day or two and time zones vary. Insurance companies may prejudice your claims due to this.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions: disclose these to your insurance company and to Secret Compass.

Prior to travel Secret Compass will require the name of your insurance policy provider, their 24-hour emergency contact number and your policy number. For full information on travel insurance and links to suggested companies, please visit the insurance page on our website.

Day 1: Apr 15 – Hadibu

Early morning flight from Cairo to Hadibu, the capital of Socotra. The expedition officially starts on arrival to Socotra where the team will be met by 4×4 vehicles for a road transfer to a beach-side eco-camp. Here, the team will relax over lunch before a comprehensive expedition briefing. This afternoon is the opportunity to relax and get your bearings.

Day 2: Apr 16 – Haghir Mountains

Departing camp this morning, the team will transfer a short distance by road to the foothills of the Haghir Mountains where you will meet the local support team, including the pack camels. Loading provisions and camping equipment onto the camels, the team will start the trek carrying only daypacks. The route today will mainly follow a river valley, ascending into the heart of the mountain range through vast granite-edged wadis towards a small village where the team will camp for the night.

Day 3: Apr 17 – Haghir Mountains

Striking out from camp, the team will trek further into the mountains surrounding Socotra’s highest peak – Mt Mashanig at 1503m. As a technical climbing ascent, it will not be attempted by the team, however the surrounding mountains in the Skand area offer a multitude of trekking options and these, along with keeping an eye out for some of Socotra’s famous, endemic vegetation in the lush jungle, will be the team’s target this morning. Returning to camp to rejoin the camel train, the foot crossing of Socotra continues with a descent through the Da’aharoh wadi system.

Day 4: Apr 18 – Firmhin Forest

The terrain changes today as the team ascend the sides of the valley to reach Firmhin Forest, home to a traditionally-cultivated area of dragon blood trees. The team will seek out the local farmers who are tending these nurseries and still collecting the tree sap using traditional methods. The forested landscape and alien appearance of the foliage, followed by the descent into eroded canyons, showcases Socotra Island’s diverse ecosystems. Depending on local conditions, there may be the opportunity to swim in a local flooded wadi at tonight’s camp.

Day 5: Apr 19 – Coastal Range

The first glimpses of the southern coastline of Socotra may be visible to the team today. The trek will continue across the coastal plateau, traversing several watersheds as the team head towards the coast before following one of the many highland rivers to its delta. This area is more populated and the team will camp on the outskirts of a small village within sight of the sea.

Day 6: Apr 20 – Southern Coast

One of the final legs of the trek will take the team along the shoreline to complete the traverse across the island of Socotra. The shoreline is characterised by white sand beaches culminating in vast dunes, eroded caves and blue waters. The flatter trekking surface will be a welcome relief after the exertions of the previous days as the team complete the crossing.

Day 7: Apr 21 – Contingency

Operating in remote environments has many possibilities for delay so there is flexibility in the itinerary today to catch up on time lost earlier in the trip. If the team are on schedule, today will be a relaxed day to further explore the unique natural environment of the island including rock canyons, natural water pools, protected marine areas and traditional villages before returning to the beach camp for a final night of celebration as a team.

Day 8: Apr 22 – Depart

The team will transfer to the airport early this morning for the onwards flight to Cairo.

Note on this expedition itinerary

Please remember that this itinerary acts as a framework plan. It provides guidance as to our intentions but will not be followed religiously. This is an adventure and by definition the outcome is uncertain. The leadership team may flex and change the plan depending on numerous frictions encountered en route. An adaptable, team-centred approach is required.


All our expeditions are achievable by people with an active and healthy lifestyle. However, this is an arduous expedition that will test you and at times you may be sore, tired, hungry and possibly wet! You must be prepared physically and mentally for the expedition and for living in basic conditions for the duration. Please ensure that you train accordingly and arrive fit and ready to go. You will be required to be fit enough for the following.

  • Expedition Grade: 270°
  • Daily activity: up to 10 hours trekking per day
  • Walk: up to 25 km a day
  • Carry: up to 8kg daysack
  • Terrain: rugged, exposed, mountainous terrain including steep slopes, soft wadis and rocky surfaces
  • Elevation: up to a maximum altitude of 1500m
  • Climate: tropical desert with temperatures averaging 30C
  • Special note on Socotra: this is an extremely varied trip so come prepared for all eventualities

Previous experience

The fitness requirements must be met. Beyond that, there are no specific requirements however team members would benefit from multi-day trekking or hill-walking and camping practice and being used to carrying 10kg for multiple days.


VACCINATIONS. Please seek advice from your health professional on recommended vaccinations. The NHS Fit For Travel site and Travel Health Pro are both useful.

DENTAL. It is strongly recommended that you have a dental check up prior to departure. Dental problems far from help are very unpleasant.


Bring US dollars with you to change for local currency. There are no cash machines on Socotra and bank cards will not be accepted, so ensure you are carrying sufficient funds in cash with you. This expedition is all inclusive so you won’t need much money – only really if you want to buy a beer at the beach camp and some souvenirs on the way.

In addition to your planned spending, Secret Compass always recommends carrying an emergency fund of USD$400 in case of delays or other issues.

The following is Secret Compass’s recommended kit list for our expedition to Socotra. You will be required to carry your essentials such as water, lunch and personal equipment for the day, with the rest of your personal equipment and group gear to be carried by camels.


Secret Compass has arranged team members discounts with Cotswold Outdoor, Nordic Life, Outdoor Hire and Expedition Kit Hire, details of these will be sent through on booking.

Kit list

Baggage and sleeping

  • RUCKSACK/DUFFLE BAG: 50-70ltr, all your personal gear needs to fit easily into this pack which will be carried by camels – these must be soft-sided with no wheels.
  • DAYPACK: 20-30ltr. A well fitting day sack that will fit all your personal essentials for the day including 3 litres of water.
  • WATERPROOF RUCKSACK LINER: Sealable ‘canoe’ or ‘dry’ bags made by Podsac or Ortlieb etc.
  • SMALLER DRY BAGS: As above, but smaller bags to put essential items in. The large rucksack liners sometimes leak so anything important needs to be waterproofed individually.
  • SLEEPING BAG: Rated to +5°C comfort.  At altitude the temperature drops at night.
  • SLEEPING BAG LINER: Silk or cotton. May be used as a standalone for humid nights.
  • SLEEPING MAT: Thermarest or equivalent. Bring a repair kit.
  • WATERPROOF WALLET: For your passport and money.


  • 2 x LONG SLEEVE SHIRT: Quick drying long sleeve shirt or top (not cotton).
  • 1 x BASE LAYER:  Wicking top. Helly Hansen or equivalent.
  • 2 x LONG TREKKING TROUSERS:  Thin trekking trousers that dry quickly and are comfortable.
  • 1 x SLEEPING SET: You will require a dry set of clothes to sleep in as trekking clothes will likely be wet from humidity, sweat and river crossings.
  • 1 x MID LAYER: Micro-fleece or equivalent.
  • 1 x LIGHTWEIGHT INSULATED JACKET: For cooler evenings or summits.
  • 1 x WATERPROOF JACKET: Gore-tex or equivalent.
  • 1 x WALKING BOOTS: Must provide ankle support and be worn in before the expedition. Look for supportive but lightweight and breathable options. Please consult your nearest outdoor store for advice on choosing the correct boot.
  • SANDALS: Around camp and river crossings. Not flip flops.
  • 4 x UNDERWEAR:  Sport or cycling-style shorts which don’t chafe.
  • SCARF: We advise that all female team members bring a lightweight scarf to use as a headscarf whilst in transit through Yemen. Once on Socotra, the strict dress code does not apply, however you may find it more comfortable to cover your hair and shoulders whilst travelling to/from and avoid any unwanted attentions.


  • LARGE SHALLOW BOWL: Used as a bowl/plate combined.
  • CUTLERY: Knife, fork and spoon.
  • 2 x ROBUST WATER BOTTLE: Nalgene or Sigg.
  • 1 x CAMELBACK: You need to be able to carry a minimum of three litres of water in a combination of camelback and water bottles.
  • PERSONAL SNACKS: Any particular favourite items to supplement meals and as a morale boost. Plan for at least 1 item per day. Also bring any specific coffee/tea bags etc if you have a personal favourite.

Health and hygiene

  • SOAP: Anti-bacterial, PH neutral and biodegradable.
  • ANTIBACTERIAL HAND GEL: Bring enough for the entire trip.
  • SANITARY PRODUCTS: Also carry sealed bags to remove waste from the trek.
  • VASELINE: Keep readily available on to prevent chafing skin and heel friction blisters.

Small first aid kit

A team medical kit with a comprehensive primary care provision will be carried but please also bring a personal supply of the below:

  • A WATERPROOF BAG OR TUPPERWARE BOX: Keep kit dry and safe.
  • PAINKILLERS: Ibuprofen and paracetamol.
  • COMPEED BLISTER PADS: Please note that Compeed produce several similar looking blister packs for corns, etc. Please ensure you purchase the standard/original item.
  • DIORALYTE SACHETS OR SIMILAR HYDRATION PACKS: Also consider isotonic tablets eg. Zero or Nuun (caffeine free)
  • PIRITON TABLETS: For allergies.
  • EURAX CREAM: For bites.
  • ANY MEDICATION YOU NORMALLY USE: Find out the generic/chemical name for your medication in case you need to source more in-country. Please also check that your medication is legal in your destination. You MUST make Secret Compass aware of any medical conditions before you travel.


  • TREKKING POLES: Many team members find trekking poles useful on slippery or uneven terrain or for steep descents.
  • WATCH.
  • HEAD TORCH AND SPARE BATTERIES: Petzl Tikka heard torch or equivalent.
  • SUNGLASSES: With UV-filter lenses.
  • GAFFA TAPE: For emergency repairs to your kit, you can take some off the roll and wrap it around something else in your kit.
  • 1 x KARABINER: For securing your rucksack.
  • RE-SEALABLE PLASTIC BAGS: For dirty washing, wrappings etc.

Our approach

Secret Compass organises expeditions, not sightseeing tours. Our expeditions are team-centred, flexible and dynamic. Teams are managed on the ground by Secret Compass staff: industry-leading professionals and guides of the highest calibre. They put the structure in place for your team to have an incredible experience while achieving your expedition’s aims. Our people are as passionate as you are about achieving the extraordinary in the world’s wildest places. Secret Compass teams often go to places that others don’t. This makes our expeditions truly different, taking you beneath the skin and beyond the headlines of the world’s most remote reaches. Inspired by history’s great explorers and challenges, you’ll be set ambitious goals and will overcome similar hardships to those experienced on the audacious journeys of the past.

Remember this is not an organised tour. It is an adventure. More often than not expeditions don’t run smoothly! The nature of the areas we operate in mean that we will encounter a number of challenges that we expect everyone to meet and relish. Friction and hurdles are all part and parcel of an arduous expedition and also to our success as a team. These make the journey more interesting and are often the best and most amusing parts when looking back. Each expedition is thoroughly reviewed on its return and team members will have the opportunity to provide feedback which helps to inform planning for future expeditions.

Local partners and bureaucracy

Our teammates can only achieve the extraordinary with the help of people in the communities we travel through. NGO and aid workers, guides, fixers and interpreters all work extremely hard and are generous in their hospitality to us and our teams: visitors in their land. They are crucial to our success. Please remember and respect that their perspectives and concepts of time, environmental responsibility and customer service might differ to yours. Occasionally there is no established protocol for outside visitors which means we encounter local power struggles or disagreements. Our leaders have years of experience in delicate negotiations like these and conversational chess – especially through an interpreter – and these interchanges are often memorable parts of any expedition.

Infrastructure and natural events

The areas we travel to often especially remote. Transport infrastructure can be ageing, inadequate or non-existent. Flooded roads, collapsed bridges, fallen trees and vehicle break-downs are all par for the course. Our teams thrive on overcoming challenges like these – be prepared to get stuck in and push occasionally! Natural phenomena like desert sand storms, early monsoons, landslides across key routes, winter coming early, gale force winds and driving snow can all make for a more interesting time on the expedition.


In some areas our teams explore, we rely on local food sources. This can often be outstanding (but can also be very average) and we always make the best out of the resources available. In other cases, we will supply filling and high-calorie dehydrated expedition foods (ration packs).

Part of a team

Secret Compass fosters a team mentality across all its expeditions and projects. Like all teams you will have a leader who will give direction to your progress. Crucial to your team’s success – especially when the going gets tough – is the attitude of the teammates working together to achieve the aim. You really are part of a team, not a cosseted guest on a tour. We ask teammates to muck in and help out any aspect of the expedition, from fetching water and helping to prepare and cook food, to carrying some group kit and equipment if required. The working language of all teams is English.


This expedition will cover every terrain type on offer on Socotra from wide sandy beaches, to granite massifs, river valleys and wadis and open alpine plateaus. The vegetation ranges from desert scrubland to dense jungle forests and will present challenges of its own. Whilst the maximum elevation for this itinerary is around 1500m, there will be some sections of intense elevation gain/descent which can be physically taxing. You should also be prepared for river crossings.


April is the start of the summer season on Socotra so temperatures are beginning to rise, averaging 30 C during the day and around 20-25 C at night. These temperatures will reduce with elevation gain and exposed areas could be subject to some of the islands infamously strong winds which further lower the temperature. Rainfall is possible which will affect the condition of trails and you should be prepared for humid conditions in forested areas.


Travel to/from Hadibu is your responsibility. The expedition team will be met on arrival at Socotra Airport and transferred to the night’s accommodation by 4×4 vehicles. These will also be used to access the trailhead and to return the team to camp after the trek is completed. All other travel during the expedition will be on foot with camel support. It is not intended to use the camels for riding, however this does form part of Secret Compass’s emergency and risk management planning and team members should be happy to be around these animals (under supervision of the herders) and ensure they are insured for such activities.


Throughout the expedition, the team will be camping in tents provided by Secret Compass. These will be on a sole occupancy basis unless otherwise requested. The first, and last night will be spent at a beach-side eco-camp where there are more amenities including a restaurant, showers and toilets. All other campsites throughout the trip will be basic sites without permanent facilities such as wild camping spots or campsites near local communities.


Secret Compass will be sourcing the expedition food locally so you should expect basic but filling meals using local meat, fish and plenty of carbohydrates. Dietary requirements can be catered for (please note these on your application form) but may involve supplementing local supplies with dehydrated ration packs to ensure you reach an adequate amount of calories for the exertion levels required on this expedition. Whilst there will also be snacks on offer, it is recommended you bring at least one energy bar or favourite treat for each day of the trip for additional calories and a morale boost.


Yemen is an Islamic country and the majority of Socotrans are Muslims, although other religions are also present and traditional animistic beliefs are often woven into everyday life. The team should be aware of these sensibilities and dress conservatively along with avoiding drinking alcohol in public.

At all times, permission should be sought from individuals before taking any photos, particularly of women or children. The expedition is planned to conclude just before the start of the 2020 holy month of Ramadan, however if there are unforeseen delays, the team should be extra aware of the religious circumstances and their actions.


Men and women should both dress conservatively, avoiding shorts. Swimwear is acceptable at beaches but we suggest bringing a t-shirt or sarong for more coverage. Women are advised to bring a lightweight scarf which can be used to cover their hair and shoulders, particularly whilst in transit. Your team leader will let you know when you should consider using it and help avoid any unwanted attention. Once on the island, the dress rules are massively relaxed and you will not need to cover your hair – but may choose to anyway to escape the sun!

Local dynamics

We are only going to be able to achieve what we want to do with the help of people in the communities we travel through. The people will be very hospitable and friendly to us, strangers in their land. Please remember that they may look at life from a very different perspective.

They may not have the same concept of time, environmental responsibility or ‘customer service’ – patience and understanding are our tools and by taking the time to meet and learn from the communities en route, along with the expedition support team, the expedition experience will be greatly enhanced.


Secret Compass staff will be carrying at least two methods of communication, usually a Satellite Phone and a Garmin InReach two-way communication device. These will be used for regular updates to SCHQ and for emergencies.

Unfortunately, routine communication between team members and family/friends is not possible – please reassure them that no news is good news! If there is an emergency and someone needs to contact a team member, they can contact Secret Compass’s Operations Room on +44207 096 8428 – the SCHQ team will then endeavour to pass on a message to the expedition leaders within 24 hours.

You should not expect mobile coverage during this expedition so please plan accordingly and embrace the opportunity to unplug and unwind. There will be no opportunity to charge electronics during the trek so please come prepared with spare batteries, power packs or solar chargers.

Here are some frequently asked questions that are specific to this expedition. Read our general FAQ too for questions such as ‘how do I join an expedition’ and more. Can’t find your answer? Contact SCHQ.

Can you help with flights?

Secret Compass have researched various flight options to and from Socotra and identified that the route from Cairo via Seiyun is the most reliable – whilst we can’t book those for you, we have prepared in-depth guidance which is available to team members on booking.

Can I join the team late or leave early?

At present there is only one flight per week to Socotra so there is no flexibility for team members to join the team late or depart early from Socotra. To avoid any delays, or potentially missing the expedition, we suggest team members arrive into Cairo in good time ahead of the early morning Cairo – Socotra flight.

How far will we be trekking each day?

Distances will vary depending on the local conditions at the time and the speed of the group but you should expect to trek for between 6 and 10 hours each day. As the expedition team are using camels to support this trip, all timings and distances will remain flexible to accommodate the vagaries of the support team and we encourage team members to embrace the spirit of slow travel and accept any disruptions as part of the adventure.

Will there be phone signal on Socotra?

This is highly unlikely for the majority of the expedition so our advice is to unplug, switch off, and enjoy the challenge. Your Secret Compass leader will be equipped with several satellite devices in case of emergencies and our 24 hour Operations Room in the UK will be the point of contact for your friends or relatives throughout your expedition.

Can I charge my gadgets?

You should be prepared to be self-sufficient (power wise!) during this expedition so bringing a power bank is a good idea if you have any essential electronics.

Can you cater for vegetarians?

This expedition can accept people with some dietary requirements. Please outline your specific needs on the Application Form and we will respond with further details. Whilst we plan to use local supplies throughout the expedition, for some dietary constraints these may be supplemented with dehydrated ration packs.

Could local activity affect us?

Secret Compass has operated successfully in this challenging region for many years including our successful Socotra expedition all the way back in 2013. Due to the remote nature of the archipelago, there are limited transport options and this itinerary is tightly constrained by air access – should this no longer be available, or travel through the Yemen mainland considered outside of our risk tolerance, the SCHQ team have developed in-depth contingency plans to extract the team via other means. Please read our approach and terms and conditions to understand more about our position then contact SCHQ with any specific queries.

Is it safe?

Secret Compass take a comprehensive approach to risk management, from pre-expedition planning to our highly qualified and experienced leaders on the ground – you can read more about our approach to risk here. If the situation deteriorates in the the area, and we make the decision to no longer use the planned itinerary, we have robust contingency plans in place including a well developed alternative itinerary and we reserve the right to make changes without prior notice at any time, both before and during the tour.

Do you provide further advice?

Our Get Ready section useful, with further advice about fitness, flights, insurance, visas and our approach to risk management.

How can I apply?

Use the buttons below to contact Secret Compass with your questions or to complete our no-obligation Application Form to join this team. Someone will get back to you promptly.

The Journal