VIDEO: Paraglide Over Paradise
Ever feel like escaping to a virtually uninhabited island where the plants and animals look like they sprang from Dr. Seuss' imagination? Picture turquoise surf pounding against towering white sand dunes set beneath red sandstone plateaus, granite massifs and limestone cliffs. Dragon’s blood trees—so-called for their dark red sap and 300-plus-year lifespan—dot the island, alongside myrrh trees and frankincense, where rare birds roost.
The place exists, 250 miles off the coast of Yemen in the Gulf of Aden. The island, the largest of a four-island chain and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is called Socotra, and you can see for yourself via Forgotten Island, a new Adi Geissiger documentary that follows a group of professional test pilots as they explore the remote island by paraglider. Socotra is beautiful from above, to be sure, but it also warrants a closer look. Although it’s just 83 by 27 miles, the island ranks among the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots. In the 1990s, a team of United Nations biologists conducted a survey of the archipelago’s flora and fauna. They found nearly 700 endemic species, rivaling the number found in Hawaii and the Galapagos. In addition, the island’s Hajhir Mountains are home to the highest density of endemic plants in southwest Asia.
If you go, you may want to build an aerial trip into your itinerary. The island isn't easy to get around, with roads so rough that it can take 90 minutes to travel just five miles. Infrastructure is likely to improve, though. Encouraged by a U.N. development plan, the locals are slowly dipping their toes into ecotourism. That's good news for adventurous travelers, because it means that instead of the typical tourism resort infrastructure, locals are building small, locally owned hotels and campsites that are less likely to threaten the fragile ecosystem.