Occupying the southern part of the Arabian peninsula, Yemen has been a crossroads of cultures for millennia – linking the Middle East to Africa. The country’s long coastline, along the Red, Sea, Indian Ocean and facing out towards East Africa, has been an important trading centre for centuries, with many coastal towns and a rich maritime heritage. Along the narrow lowland coast you find bustling ports and beautiful white sand beaches, looking out into the Gulf of Aden. In the dry desert highlands and the narrow wadis that run off them you can find a people and culture that are rarely. There are cities of mud built skyscrapers to explore, and small villages to discover, situated precariously on rocks and surrounded by date palms and lush greenery. Further from the shores of the mainland is the Yemeni island of Socotra – Known as the ‘Jewel of Arabia’ – a UNESCO world heritage site, recognised for its immense biodiversity and wildife. It has unrivalled scenery and many opportunities for swimming, scuba diving and hiking.
The major inhabited areas of the Hadhramaut are in long valleys of wadis and oases, fertile lands below the high plateau. There are numerous striking towns and villages with unique architecture, incorporating the landscape and pise de terre (rammed earth).
Highlights include the extraordinary Wadi Dawan where date palms fill the plain and buildings cling to the steep valley wall. The iconic Bait Bugsham palace, now a hotel, is painted in glorious pastel colours. However, the jewels in the crown are the high “skyscraper” mudbrick houses of Shibam, which has rightly been given the name “the Manhattan of the Desert”.
The region is also famed for it’s honey, the conical hats worn by the women of the district and for being the resting place of the prophet Hud, who was worshipped as a deity across Yemen before the arrival of Islam.
Linking the interior of the Hadhramaut with the coast is the ancient port of Al Mukalla. As the traditional place for trading frankincense to the rest of the world, the city has been developed over the centuries with traditional Arabian buildings, supplemented by Indian, Victorian and Modern quarters. The Sultan’s palace is now a museum and there are abandoned forts and guard towers for those exploring the outskirts of the old town.
It’s famed in history and legend as the Jewel Of Arabia and often coined the Galapagos Of The Middle East due to its immense array of wildlife and plant life. Socotra’s isolated position, in the Arabian Sea, makes it a unique habitat. It has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage sight for its biodiversity, with an extraordinary richness of flora and fauna. In the interior the Dixsam plateau and Homhil boast frankincense and dragons blood trees. Those wanting to bird watch or hike can find vultures, buzzards and flamingos as well as others that can only be found locally, such as Laughing Doves and Bruce’s Green Pigeons. The landscape and scenery are unmatched, offering unique views and dramatic terrain. Its an island of contrasts, with Aher Beach boasting golden dunes and blue waves, and scuba divers will find sea turtles and other creatures in waters as rich in life as the land. You can see much of the island by staying in a hotel and making day trips or an alternative is to camp in a different spot every night, in the tradition of the Bedouin of the island.
The largest city in Yemen it has been continuously occupied since before records began – legend claims it was founded by Shem, the son of Noah. Located in the heart of a fertile plain, the old city still has its pise de terre walls. The old city is a UNESCO World Hertiage site and is filled with examples of the unique historic architecture and facades. The Bab al-Yaman, the Yemen Gate, is a magnificent sight in itself, which leads to awe-inspiring views of the minarets and towers, along with traditional white washed buildings. The National Museum, a former palace, can be found here, as can over 100 mosques including the Great Mosque of Sana’a. Finally no visit is complete without seeing the bustling souq, which is teeming with life, sounds, smells and examples of Yemeni craftmanship.
If you are interested in visiting mainland Yemen and/or Socotra – contact us for more details.
Visa are required for both the Yemeni mainland and Socotra. The process is open to most nationalities, apart from Israeli citizens.
You are not able to apply for a visa online or independently, it has to be organised through a registered tour operator. Untamed Borders is one of the few international companies which organises visas to Socotra.
Visa Authorisation is obtained ahead of travel, so your visa can be obtained upon arrival, either at a land border or a local airport.
Tropical climate. Hot all year round with a dry season in winter.
The local currency in Yemen is the Yemeni Rial, YER.
ATMs and cards will NOT work. USD is preferred for exchange purposes.
Please note, Yemen only accepts USD notes printed after 2009. Older notes cannot be used.
Power can be temperamental on the Yemeni mainland and in Socotra. Mobile data coverage doesn’t work well in Yemen.
Yemen power plugs and sockets are of type A, D and G.
Yemen country dialling code: +967
Yemeni cuisine is very varied, due to its geographical location – with a mix of Ottoman style influences in certain places, such as Sanaa, & Indian influences in the southern areas around Aden and Mukalla.
Lunch is seen as the main meal of the day.
Alcohol is not permitted in Yemen.
99.3% of the population are Muslim, with 0.7% Hindu.
Yemen is a conservative country and as such there are social norms we should adhere to with regards to dress.
For security reasons we will provide some local dress for you to wear, such as an Abaya.
In Socotra, rules for a foreigner are less strict. We suggest that women bring a headscarf and wear long loose-fitting trousers and tops that covers the shape of the body when in the main town.
SAFETY & SECURITY
The FCO advises against travel to Yemen. This is due to anti-government forces operating in the country, the ongoing civil war, government instability and the risk of opportunist violent attacks. We avoid travel to most of the country and take precautions in the areas we do travel. Contact us for information on where we do and do not guide in this region and how we work to minimise risk for our guests and staff
A History of Modern Yemen – Paul Dresch
Yemen: Travels in Dictionary Land – Tim Mackintosh-Smith
A Tribal Order – Shelagh Weir
The Graves of Tarim – Engseng Ho
Arabian Sands – Wilfred Thesiger