Yemen is off the list for travel. The country is in a volatile situation, and it is like a ticking bomb, which can explode at any time. The Al Qaeda and the Shia militant groups are wrecking havoc throughout the country. The rugged landscape and looming mountains are a blessing of nature but the violence ruling this land has made it hell.
The coastlines of Yemen cross the Red Sea (west), the Gulf of Aden (south) and the Arabian Sea (southeast). Saudi Arabia neighbors the country to the north; Oman borders Yemen to the east. Further inland from the coasts are the towering mountain ranges. West of the mountains you can see the Yemeni Highlands. The Highlands have fertile cultivable land and desert too. This area is also known as the Empty Quarter.
The capital of the country is Sana. Furthermore, this city is among the most dangerous places to travel. The narrow alleyways are full of threats. Because of the unrest in Sana, the capital has shifted to Aden.
Sana might be declared dangerous, but that does not sour its beauty. The bustling streets and colorful surroundings of the old city are a joy to watch. Nobody would guess that there is death looming over this intriguing city.
If you are a fan of Jewish culture, head to Kawkaban. Socotra is an island off the southeastern coast and also the natural hub of Yemen. The island sports a crystal blue beach and unique wildlife. If you want human interaction, then Taiz is the place to visit. There you can study how people survive in this challenging environment.
Places to See in Yemen
You need to drive along the sunken streets of Al-Sailah to arrive at the ancient heart of Sana’a. Visiting Sana’a will be the most enduring memory of Yemen for many visitors. The Great Mosque of Sana’a is the oldest and largest of the mosques in the capital city and one of the oldest in the Muslim world. The National Museum in Tahrir Square contains a vast collection of artifacts from pre-Islamic times including bronze statues, beautiful mashrabiyya and examples of folk art. Also, the Souk al Milh will be a paradise for shopping enthusiasts.
Situated 8 km to the north of Sana’a, this garden city is famous for its sweet grapes, the mosque built by Ahmed ibn al-Qasim and the Rawdha Palace, which is now a hotel.
Lying on the edge of the fertile basin of al-Bawn, the city is surrounded by the old city walls of pre-Islamic, Sabean origin.
This city was the capital of North Yemen until 1962. It still boasts beautiful old houses and mosques within the 13th-century city wall, although the Old City has been swallowed up by the fast-growing modernity.
Hodeida is the modern Red Sea port, where fishing boats are still built from wood, just like they were hundreds of years ago. The fish market will definitely make your mouth water.
You can visit the Al-Hadi Mosque, which is an important educational institution in Zaydism. In Sa’dah, you can also walk along the top of the city walls, which offer great views of the city.
The port city of Aden offers its visitors a gateway to ancient biblical history and fine museums. The oldest part of the city lies in the crater of an extinct volcano and is where the most ancient constructions in Aden reside.
Bab al-Yemen Market
This 1000-year-old market is the best place to shop for souvenirs. The spice market is one of the best to visit. Other markets include the Souk Al-Nahhas, where you can find embroidered headdresses, belts and jambiyas (curved daggers).
Situated between Sana’a and Sa’dah, this city offers its visitors a subtropical climate and a huge mountain, Massif, the highest point of which is 9,840 ft. above sea level.
This walled desert city on the open prairie is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Called the “Manhatten of the Desert,” it consists of 500 mud tower houses. Some of these homes are nine stories tall and have been standing for 500 years. These unique structures are home to 5,000 residents.
These central mountains provide one the best trekking areas in Yemen. Guided hikes may be arranged in the larger villages of Manakha, Al Hajjarah, and Huytayb.
This Red Sea fishing port hosts numerous colorful wooden fishing boats skippered by crews from Yemen, Eritrea, and Djibouti. The sea fauna of the area includes sharks, swordfish, and tuna.
One of the few World Biosphere Reserves, the Socotra archipelago boasts of unique flora and fauna. In the Haggier Mountains, one can find 700-year-old Dragon’s Blood trees and Socotra Desert Rose. However, this reserve is still undeveloped – only 2,000 visitors come here annually.
When to Visit
The prime season in the country is between October and April, after the rainy season and before the high summer temperatures arrive. However, temperatures, humidity, and rainfalls can vary greatly.
What to Wear
If you come in summer, pack light clothing and be prepared for rain. Also, if you choose to visit in the summer, be prepared to sweat. If you travel to higher areas in the mountains, the temperature will drop considerably. The eastern region, the most dangerous area of Yemen, is scorching hot.
The official language is Arabic. But English is also understood in larger cities.
One USD is equal to 250 Yemeni Rial. The currency exchange is available at banks, bureaux de change, and hotels. US Dollars are preferable for exchange. Major hotels accept credit cards, while other facilities not so much. There are also just a few ATMs throughout the country.
Local SIM Card & Free WiFi
In Yemen, GSM coverage is good in the west and coastal areas of the east. However, 3G data coverage is currently non-existent. Roaming agreements exist with most international mobile phone companies. So, you will have no problem with the mobile connection in the country.
Most hotels offer Wi-Fi connection, and numerous internet cafes are opening throughout the country.
The predominant religion is Sunni Muslim and Shia Muslim. There are also small Christian and Hindu groups, as well as a tiny Jewish minority.
Traditionally, Yemeni hospitality is courteous and generous. Don’t forget, Yemen is a conservative Muslim country, so some ground rules apply. Women, in particular, should dress modestly and in some instances cover their hair. Mosques are typically off limits for non-Muslims. Alcohol is forbidden to sell and consume.
Yemeni cuisine is excellent. It includes dishes traditional for the Middle East, such as ful, falafel, lamb, chicken and goat kebab. Outside of upmarket hotels, meals are generally consumed communally, often sitting on the floor, sharing bowls and using crisp, freshly baked flatbread. Also, note that you must use your right hand for eating. Sweet desserts precede tea, with or without milk. Local specialties include Saltah, Fahsa, Fassolia, Bint as Sahn and Qishr.
Alcohol is forbidden in Yemen, but it is sold legally at a limited number of hotels. However, foreigners are allowed to import up to two liters of alcohol and consume it in private.
Tipping is not common in restaurants, except those catering to tourists. However, it is becoming more common, so an extra 10% – 15% tip is always welcome if you receive some quality service.
The best way to get into and around Yemen is to book a tour with a travel agency. Registered travel agencies have the best chance of taking you on a safe trip.
Taxis are generally cheap and easy to find with two types operating in Sana’a. Car hire is also available from Sana’a airport and in main towns. The minimum age to rent a car is 25. Chauffeur-driven cars are also available. However, road conditions and driving standards are rather poor. Cars drive on the right side of the road.
It is quite cheap to travel around in Yemen. Plus, the people here are friendly. Moreover, the citizens will even attempt to communicate with you in languages besides Arabic. It will be an incredible place to travel once the violence ceases. However, many doubt the violence will stop anytime soon.
Electricity & Plug Type
As for electricity, Yemen uses types A, D and G sockets. You need to bring a travel adapter to fit the proper socket type. Check out the above-linked page to see the photos and other useful information about sockets. The standard voltage is 230 V. Many of your devices may need a step-up transformer to match the electrical voltage.
How to Arrive
The national airline is Yemenia. However, most international flights have recently been suspended.
The main ports are Aden, Al Hudaydah, Al Mocha, Al Khokha, Al Mukalla, and Nashtoon.
Where to Stay
Accommodations in Yemen vary from simple village guesthouses to converted tower houses, restored Sultans’ palaces and five-star international facilities. Sana’a has the widest range of hotels. Outside of the capital, Ta’iz, Seiyun, Wadi Do’an, Al Mukalla and Al Hudaydah also have a wide variety of accommodations.
If you hike in the Haraz Mountains of Western Yemen or explore the unspoiled wilderness of Socotra, you will find numerous camping facilities in the area. However, you should take a local’s advice on where it’s permissible and safe to pitch a tent.
How Safe is Yemen?
If you are going to Yemen, you need to get the following vaccinations: diphtheria, hepatitis A, tetanus, typhoid, and sometimes malaria, rabies, tuberculosis, and hepatitis B.
Health care facilities in the country are rather inadequate, especially outside of the main cities. So, medical insurance is essential. However, most large cities have general hospitals.
Tap water is not safe to drink. You should only eat well-cooked meat and fish. Be careful with dairy products, as they may contain unpasteurized milk. Vegetables should also be cooked and fruit peeled.
You should avoid swimming and paddling in standing fresh water. However, swimming pools are safe.
In Yemen, weapons are readily available and tribal disputes over land are quite common and may include the use of weapons. You should always be aware.
If you visit Yemen, in spite of the instability do not forget to bring the traditional dagger home with you. It will be a token of your trip to this lost land of glory. Or you can pick some pieces of handmade jewelry as mementos.
May 10, 2016 12:00 am 2 Comments