I have been wanting to travel to Socotra, Yemen to see the dragonblood trees and bizarrely beautiful landscapes for a while now, but given the current instability in the rest of Yemen, is it advisable? Are Socotrans heavily involved in the current goings on or are they somewhat isolated from it? If so, are there ways of getting to Socotra which bypass the more dangerous parts of Yemen?
No, it is currently (2016) not safe to travel to Socotra nor Yemen at all.
Yemen is in a bloody civil war since 2015, with no peaceful outcome currently in sight. Basically all governments warn against travel to all of Yemen, including the island of Socotra.
- UK travel advice
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Yemen. This includes the mainland and all islands. If you’re in Yemen, you should leave immediately.
- Australian SmartTraveller
Yemen overall, do not travel
For Socotra in particular, it either impossible or unsafe to even get there:
As of March 2015, nearly all flights in and out of Yemen have been suspended due to the ongoing war and bombing by Saudi Arabia. As of November 2015, the city of Mukalla (where all flights to and from Socotra would normally stop) is occupied by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, making it extremely dangerous for visitors if entry is possible at all.
Additionally, high levels of pirate activity around Socotra (as reported by the U.S. Department of State) make visiting the island by sea very hazardous as well. With sea and air links severed, Socotra is thus essentially inaccessible for the time being until hostilities cease.
Wikipedia says similar:
Yemenia and Felix Airways flew from Socotra Airport to Sana'a and Aden via Riyan Airport. As of March 2015, due to ongoing civil war involving Saudi Arabia's Air Force all flights to and from Socotra have been canceled.
In fact most (all?) foreigners were evacuated from the island as far back as April 2015.
Answering my own question: it looks like all flights currently go through larger Yemeni cities, and traveling by boat is likely to be just as dangerous due to Somali pirates. From the Australian Government's Travel Advisories for Yemen:
There is a high risk of piracy in the coastal areas of Yemen. There have been attacks by pirates against all forms of shipping in and around Yemen’s waters and the Gulf of Aden. Pirates have been using motherships to attack shipping further than 1,000 nautical miles (1,850km) from the coast of Somalia.
All forms of shipping are attractive targets for Somali pirates, including commercial vessels, pleasure craft (yachts etc) and luxury cruise liners... maintain a high level of vigilance and to exercise extreme caution when anywhere near these waters.
According to the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC), there were 217 attempted attacks of piracy with 47 vessels hijacked and 867 crewmembers taken hostage in the Gulf of Aden and off the east coast of Somalia in 2009.
The trees look amazing!
According to Wikitravel:
Yemania Airlines offers two flights per week on Friday and Monday:
From Sana’a to Socotra Island (Friday departure time 5:00 am) From Aden to Socotra Island (Monday departure 9:00 am) Flight durations are almost three hours.
Felix is a new airline and has taken over all flights to Socotra, providing flights almost every day to and from the island.
And at least one website claims it's totally safe, at least in the tourist areas, which is certainly where the trees will be:
A common concern of visitors to Yemen is safety.
In general, personal safety in Yemen is so much better than communicated abroad.
All cities are safe. There is some ordinary criminality as anywhere of course, normal precautions as not to displaying money and keeping it not visible are sufficient.
Travelling is safe, exept(sic) the north, far ist(sic) end particularly Marib.
Non-advisable areas are anyway blocked for tourists.