Socotra, the largest of the four small Yemeni-owned, UAE-controlled islands that together form the Socotra archipelago - a Unesco-designated World Heritage site since 2008 - is located 350km south of the Arabian Peninsula and 95km from Somalia. In ancient lore, Greek and Arab sailors were tempted to its shores by the potent scent of frankincense carried on warm sea breezes. Today, the island remains a place of untouched natural wonders, with its "Galápagos of the Indian Ocean" moniker making perfect sense on looking at South African photographer Carl van der Linde's astonishing images of this little-known destination.
Travelling with specialist tour operator Find Socotra - "whose profound local knowledge and exceptional hospitality were instrumental in making this trip one of the most remarkable I have ever undertaken" - van der Linde was mesmerised both by the island's arid, rugged interior and its white sand-fringed coast. Crossing the terrain by Land Cruiser allowed for camping stops on pristine beaches and a deep immersion into Socotra's ecological riches.
"Majestic mountains with porous rocks adorned with caves and caverns towered above us as we explored the coastline. The crystalline water, painted in shades of teal, teemed with life - turtles, dolphins and stingrays. Venturing inland, the spectacle of dragon blood trees captivated me. These ancient trees, seemingly growing upside down, were alien-like. Despite Socotra appearing barren, with its scarce inland water and hot desert climate, the island thrived with indigenous fauna and flora found nowhere else on the planet."
While this might not be the kind of island that promises a big choice in plush hotels or bars selling craft cocktails, it is, as van der Linde puts it, "a place steeped in biblical history. It's quite possible that the frankincense and myrrh given to Jesus by the three wise men were sourced from native Socotra flora." For those looking to escape the clutches of modern life, the opportunity to witness the rich cultural history woven by the Soqotri people, who have inherited traditions passed down through generations, amid Socotra's sun-baked serenity - well, that might just be the most precious gift of them all.