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Yemen

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Travel Guide Middle East Yemen

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Introduction

Rock Palace

Rock Palace

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Shoved down south beneath Saudi Arabia, where it is only a stone's throw away from the African continent, Yemen is a unique Middle Eastern destination with an architectural style unlike any other. Buildings of up to five stories tall, made of mud, brick or stone are a strange sight, but this is where Yemenis live, along with their animals. In Shibam, a town along the Wadi Hadhramawt (a seasonal river), the 500-odd collection of traditional skyscrapers has an astoundingly American look, despite being several centuries old. Yemen's capital, Sana'a, is supposed to have been established by Shem, Noah's son. Maybe so. In any case, it is a charming, ancient city with busy marketplaces and pretty mosques.

Yemen bewitches every visitor who ventures there, a veritable treasure chest of old Arabian culture and history, fascinating countryside and hospitable people. Unfortunately, travel to Yemen is at this time not particularly safe, so travellers should stay well aware of the political situation.

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Brief History

Yemen is a land laden with history. Between 2200 BC and the 6th century AD, Yemen was part of the Sabaean, Awsanian, Minaean, Qatabanian, Hadhramawtian, Himyarite, and several other kingdoms, which controlled the lucrative spice trade. It was known to the ancient Romans as Arabia Felix ("Happy Arabia") because of the riches its trade generated. For centuries, heavily laden caravans journeyed from the easternmost parts of Yemen to the Mediterranean, carrying the treasured cargo of frankincense. Perhaps the most famous convoy ever to come from Yemen was the Queen of Sheba's, when she visited King Solomon of Israel - though Ethiopians insist that the land of Sheba was located in Ethiopia. Throughout the generations, the people of Yemen have converted steep slopes in the western highlands into cultivable land with geometric clarity. This rugged region of Yemen was naturally well fortified against attack.

In the third century and again in the early seventh century, many Sabaean and Himyarite people migrated to North Africa and the northern part of the Arabian Peninsula, following the destruction of the Ma'rib Dam (sadd Ma'rib). In the 7th century, Islamic caliphs began to exert control over the area. After the caliphate broke up, the former North Yemen came under the control of imams of various dynasties, usually of the Zaidi sect, who established a theocratic political structure that survived until modern times.

Egyptian Sunni caliphs occupied much of North Yemen throughout the eleventh century. By the sixteenth century and again in the nineteenth century, North Yemen was part of the Ottoman Empire, and during several periods its imams exerted control over South Yemen.

In 1839, the British occupied the port of Aden and established it as a colony in September of that year. They also set up a zone of loose alliances (known as protectorates) around Aden to act as a protective buffer. North Yemen became independent of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and became a republic in 1962.

In 1967, the British withdrew from Aden. After the British withdrawal, the former Aden became known as South Yemen. The two Yemeni countries were formally united as the Republic of Yemen on 22 May 1990.
In February 2011, a number of protest rallies against the government started, and clashes with police and pro-government supporters occured and killed dozens of people. These protest continued into March and were getting more and more violent. The ultimate goal is to add pressure for the current president to step up and have better economical and political situations in the near future.

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Geography

Yemen is located in Western Asia, in the southern half of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering the Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Red Sea. It lies south of Saudi Arabia and west of Oman, between latitudes 12° and 19° N and longitudes 42° and 55° E. A number of Red Sea islands, including the Hanish Islands, Kamaran, and Perim, as well as Socotra in the Arabian Sea, belong to Yemen. Many of the islands are volcanic. The country covers about 527,970 km2.

Yemen is divided into four geographic regions. The Tihama is the coastal plain that stretches along the coast. The Tihama opens onto the western highlands, a region that is remarkably reminiscent of Africa. This area receives the highest rainfall in Arabia and is heavily cultivated with bananas, papayas and lemons. Further east, the central highlands are a 2000 metre high plateau, where the country's capital Sana'a is located. Finally, the sandy desert of the Rub al Khali, the "Empty Quarter" intrudes into the south of the Arabian peninsula. Yemen shares international borders with Saudi Arabia and Oman.

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Regions

  • The Yemeni Coastal Plains are a flat, dry territory along the Arabian and Red Seas.
  • The Yemeni Mountains rise steeply from the coastal plain.
  • The Yemeni Highlands descend slowly from the mountains toward the desert
  • The Empty Quarter is a desertous region inhabited by nomads
  • The Red Sea Islands consist of over 100 small islands in the Red Sea
  • Socotra is an island in the Arabian Sea

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Cities

  • Sana'a - In the heart of old town of Sana'a one can easily believe that time has stood still for centuries. Multi storied houses built from burnt clay tiles with alabaster windows and white chalked façades still adorn the old city. The tiny shops in the narrow winding streets of the souk are particularly worth checking out, as you can purchase beautiful jewellery unique aromatic spices.
  • Taizz - A city in the south of Yemen, dominated by majestic mosques.
  • Hodeidah or Hudaydah - Yemen's fourth largest city and a good starting point for excursions around Tihama.
  • Aden - A port city on the southcoast of Yemen.
  • Ibb - Inland city in the south
  • Sa'dah - City in the north with nice adobe buildings
  • Shibam - City in the region of Hadramawt
  • Mukalla

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Sights and Activities

Historic town of Zabid

Zabid is one of Yemen's oldest towns, boasting a university that is as old as the eight century. Zabid's domestic and military architecture and its urban plan make it an outstanding archaeological and historical site. Besides being the capital of Yemen from the 13th to the 15th century, the city played an important role in the Arab and Muslim world for many centuries because of its Islamic university and therefore is placed on the Unesco World Heritage List.

Diving

Directly north of Hodeidah behind the Ras Isa peninsula are many small islands basking in turquoise coloured water, a paradise for divers.

Socotra Archipelago

socotra_island_4

socotra_island_4

© All Rights Reserved elatrips

The Socotra Archipelago is a group of four islands in the Indian Ocean, several hundred kilometres south of the Arabian peninsula. Socotra is the largest of the four islands, with Abd al Kuri, Samhah and Darsa making up the three smaller islands. The archipelago is a territory of Yemen and is well-known for its remarkable biodiversity. Over 90 percent of the archipelago's reptile species and snail species are found nowhere else, and about 37 percent of its plant species are unique to the islands. Much of the islands' land area is occupied by national parks and nature sanctuaries, while it also harbours an abundant and diverse marine life, with hundreds of species of reef-building corals, fish and crab, lobster and shrimp. The Socotra Archipelago was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in July 2008.

Shibam

Shibam dates back to the 16th century and is called 'the Manhattan of the desert' and not without reason. The towns has some fine and impressive high rise buildings which tower above other buildings in the city. Shibam is surrounded by a fortified wall and is one of the best examples of historic urban planning in Yemen. Therefore it is placed on the Unesco World Heritage List as well.

Sana'a

Rock Palace

Rock Palace

© All Rights Reserved kiwilara

The old city of Sana'a is located in the north of the country at an altitude of 2,200 m and has inhabited for more than 2,500 years. In the 7th and 8th centuries the city became a major centre for the propagation of Islam. There are many ancient buildings that witness this period, among which are 103 mosques and many hammams (bading and washing places) and thousand of houses built before the 11th century. It is on the Unesco World Heritage List as well and for further reading, check the Sana'a article.

Other sights and activities

  • Mocha - an old port town best known for its popular strand of coffee, located on the Red Sea in Tihama.
  • Marib - East of Sana'a lies the legendary town of Marib where the pillars of the ancient temple still stand to remind one of bygone glory.

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Weather

Most of Yemen has a warm to hot climate, only in the higher parts in the nortwest are temperatures somewhat lower and thus more pleasant. Winters here are still mild though, only the highest tops can theoretically have a bit of snow, but that is rare. Part of Yemen contains the Rub al Khali desert, a large sandsea, where temperatures can hit 50 °C in summer and winter nights can be very cold. This is generally also the driest part of the country. Between the moutains/desert and the coastline is a fertile area with some more rain compared to many other parts of the country. On the southern coast rainfall is fairly low throughout the year, and most of the coastal area is (semi)desert. Temperatures and humidity are high throughout the year and the period from June to September is the most uncomfortable time, when maximum temperatures regularly rise to near 38 °C or more, with high humidity. Nights are sticky, just under 30 °C. In winter, temperatures range between 22 °C at night and 28 °C during the day.
Also along the Red Sea coast the weather is hot and humid for most of the year. In this lowland the rainfall is rather low, averaging about 100mm and although sparce, there is no real distinct wet season, rain can fall in summer as well as winter.

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Getting There

By Plane

Yemenia is the national airline of Yemen and is based at Sana'a International Airport (SAH). It operates surprisingly many flights and although they are mainly in the Middle East and a few destinations further in Asia like Kuala Lumpur, there are flights to and from Paris, London, Rome and Frankfurt as well. Johannesburg is another destinations of the airline. Other airlines serving Sana'a are mostly airlines of neighbouring countries, although Lufthansa flies to Frankfurt.
From Aden International Airport (ADE) Yemenia flies to countries in the region and to Rome. Few other airlines fly from here.

By Car

Borders with Saudi Arabia are closed to foreigners. To Oman, there are two main border crossings, both of which are open to foreigners and neither of which present any major problems. Transport from Sayun goes to the inland crossing at Makinat Shihan. The coastal route uses the Hawf crossing. On both routes, roads are brand new and in excellent condition and visas are available for most nationalities on the border with Oman.
Have your documentation and car insurance in order and be sure to have an international driving permit.

By Bus

There are two border crossings (see above) to and from Oman, both of which are possible to cross by public transport. You can enter Yemen by bus from the Dhofar region in the southwest of Oman. Buses leaves Salalah on a regular basis to the border and onwards to Sayun (16 hours), or to Al-Ghayda (9 hours), in both cases twice a week. Though it’s possible to make the same journey in a series of shorter hops it costs more time and money and there really isn't that much to see and do en route. In both directions, visas are available at the border for most nationalities.

By Boat

Although there is no fixed scheduled, there should be a couple of traditional dhow travelling between Mokha and Djibouti. It takes around 20 hours to cover this route. There might be boats available from Aden to Djibouti as well, but don't count on it.

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Getting Around

Note: currently travelling outside Sana'a and its immediate environs, and this is only possible when travelling with a local or foreign travel agency! It is a temporary situation though, so things might have cleared up. Check the current situation.

By Plane

Yemenia has several domestic services, including Sana'a, Aden, Taiz and the island of Socotra.

By Train

There are no train services within Yemen.

By Car

Driving yourself is not really recommended in Yemen because of roads and driving skills both being in a poor condition, except a few nicely tarred roads between main cities. Hiring a car with a driver that doubles as a guide though is popular, affordable and a great way to explore the country. If you really want to drive yourself, bring an international driving permit and buy a temporary local one as well.

By Bus

Regular intercity buses linke most major cities and towns, including Aden, Sana'a and Taiz.
Shared taxis (usually 7 seater Peugeots) leave when full an cover routes to smaller regional towns as well. It is faster but about 50% more expensive than buses.

By Boat

There are no real useful passenger services in the country, but some local ferries might operate between local ports, or you might be able to hop on one of the local fishing boats or yachts. Remember that this area is very prone to attacks by pirates!

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Red Tape

Visa regulations change quite regularly, and an embassy should be contacted to make certain that the relevant documentation is obtained (it is recommended also to ask one of the licensed tour opeartors in Sana'a). As of January 2010, visas on arrival are no longer available, and citizens of most countries (with the possible exception of Gulf Co-operation Council members) need advance visas. Most visas are valid for 30 days from the date of issue (3 months for European Union, but sometimes it depends on the mood of the official dealing with you). Another way of getting visa is via one of the licensed tour operators, as they are allowed to prepare pre-visa paper in the Ministry of Foreign affairs for their clients. Such pre-visa paper is valid for 30 days from the day of issue and upon this a real visa is issued at the Sana'a airport. As of Jan 21, 2010 Yemeni authority suspended all visa on arrival at all Yemeni ports. This action was taken to minimize the threat of terrorism in Yemen. More information about visas and processing at the nearest embassy or consulate.

Note that an Israeli passport stamp or any other proof of visiting the country will mean refusal of a visa or entering the country.

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Money

See also Money Matters

Yemeni rials (YER) circulate as banknotes of YER50, YER100, YER200, YER250, YER500 and YER1000 denomination and you are also likely to come across YER10 and YER20 coins.

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Work

Work in Yemen is difficult to obtain as a foreigner. The collections of young men waiting in public areas and by the roadside looking for work does not reflect a lack of jobs. Rather, it reflects that many Yemenis do not have enough education to work in non-manual jobs. As a result, immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa are often seen in service industries (with a popular joke among expats being that "something typically Yemeni" is in fact an Ethiopian maid). Educated westerners do not, however, have it easy as there are many bureaucratic hurdles to working in Yemen. Most westerners who find jobs there tend to be working as expat staff for a western company with interests in the country.

The only exception is that if you're an English native speaker, a lot of places in big cities, ranging from schools through universities to governmental organisations and companies are desperate for English teachers, and usually don't require any qualifications. Sometimes it is even possible to get a teaching job if English is not your first language. Also in Sana'a the local English-language magazines often need proofreaders.

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Study

Particularly in Sana'a, there are institutes offering instruction in Arabic. The advantages of learning the language in Yemen are that the dialect spoken is often quite close to Classical Arabic, and also that languages other than Arabic are much less commonly spoken than they are in nearby countries. However, the one important exception to this rule is the Old Sana'a dialect, which is difficult to understand even for Arabs from other countries, and becoming completely incomprehensible when combined with a big ball of qat in the speaker's cheek.

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Language

Arabic is the official language. While many locals will at least attempt to communicate with non-Arabic speakers in other languages, any visitor will almost certainly need at least some Arabic, particularly if traveling to locations outside the capital. Even within Sana'a, the bilingual signs common throughout most of the Middle East are commonly absent, with Arabic script and numbers predominating. This said, Yemenis are very open for communication, and hand-waving, making noises and smiling can get you very far, even if not always where you wanted to get (usually to a qat-chewing session).

Yemenis have a myriad of different accents, due to the historical inaccessibility of parts of the country. It is not unusual for a visitor to be told that his or her laborious attempts at speaking Arabic are in fact "Arabic" and not "Yemeni" or "Yemeni enough". The more vocal village children will almost certainly enjoy hearing a visitor's attempts at their language, and will show this appreciation either with peals of laughter or by asking questions about the visitor's homeland.

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Eat

Yemeni cuisine differs markedly from the rest of the Arabian Peninsula, and is a real highlight of any trip to the country - particularly if shared by locals (which is an invitation most visitors will receive more often than they might expect).

The signature dish is salta, a meat-based stew spiced with fenugreek and generally served at the end of the main course. The taste may take newcomers by surprise, but it is a taste well worth acquiring.

Yemeni honey is particularly famous throughout the region, and most desserts will feature a liberal serving of it. Of particular note is bint al-sahn, a sort of flat dough dish which is drenched in honey. Other sweet foods well worth the trying are Yemeni raisins.

While not a "food" per se, something else to put in one's mouth is the qat leaf. This is the Yemeni social drug and is chewed by almost all of the population from after lunch until roughly dinnertime. The plant is cultivated all over the country, and most Yemenis are more than happy to offer visitors a branch or two. Actually chewing qat is something of an art, but the general idea is to chew the small, soft leaves, the soft branches (but not hard ones) and to build up a large ball of the stuff in a cheek. The ability to chew ever-increasing balls of qat is something of a mark of pride among Yemenis, and the sight of men and boys walking down the street in the afternoon with bulging cheeks is one the visitor will soon get used to. The actual effects of qat are unclear, although it generally acts as a mild stimulant. It also has something of an appetite-suppressant function, which may explain why there are so few overweight Yemenis in spite of the nature of their cuisine. Insomnia is another side effect.

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Sleep

Outside of the capital and the major centres (Sana'a, Aden and al-Mukalla), accommodation tends to be rather basic and generally of the mattress-on-the-floor variety, generally with shared shower rooms and WCs. Most larger villages will have at least one funduq, which will provide this sort of accommodation. The places tend to be named the [Name of Village] Tourist Hotel. Be aware that electricity supplies tend to be a little erratic, so hot water cannot always be counted on.

Funduq accommodation is not rated on the star scale used in other countries, but rather on the Yemeni "sheet" scale, with "no-sheet" being the most basic and "two-sheet" the top of the line. Some other hotels, mostly in Sana'a, go by the star scale, most notably the Movenpick, Sheraton, and the Hilton. This does not mean that in a "no-sheet" funduq one will not receive a sheet, although in some places it may be worthwhile to bring one! Most funduqs will offer some food, almost invariably local cuisine, and the better ones will serve it in a diwan-style room, where one can eat while reclining on cushions. In some funduqs, dinner will be followed by a "party", featuring performances of traditional music and jambiya dances - sometimes with audience participation.

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Drink

Yemen is officially a dry country; however, non-Muslims are entitled to bring up to two bottles of any alcoholic beverage into the country. These may be drunk only on private property, and venturing outside while under the influence is not a wise decision.

Many juices and soft drinks are readily available, but you should avoid more scruffy-looking juice shops as they might be using tap water as base. Many Yemenis will drink tea (shay) or coffee (qahwa or bun) with their meals. Yemeni coffee is considerably weaker than the strong Turkish coffee found elsewhere in peninsular Arabia.

Tap water should be avoided. This is comparatively easy to do, as bottled water - both chilled and at room temperature - is readily available everywhere.

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Health

See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Yemen. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Yemen) where that disease is widely prevalent.

It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Yemen. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid. Vaccination against hepatitis B, tuberculosis and rabies are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.

Malaria is prevalent in the country, except in Sana'a and surroundings and above 2,000 metres. It is recommend to take malaria pills when going to these regions. Dengue occurs as well, so take other general precautions as well, including sleeping under a mosquito net and using repellant (50% DEET).

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

All travel to Yemen is strongly discouraged at the moment as there is imminent danger of civil war. Due to the volatile situation on the ground not even the Yemeni government is able to guarantee foreign travelers' safety. If already in the country, please leave immediately.

The island of Socotra is very safe compared to the mainland.

The public consumption of alcohol is punishable under Islamic law in Yemen. Homosexual acts are also prohibited and may be punishable by death.

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Keep Connected

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

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Quick Facts

Yemen flag

Map of Yemen

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Capital
Sana'a
Population
19,350,000
Government
Republic
Religions
Islam (Sunni, Shi'a)
Languages
Arabic
Calling Code
+967
Nationality
Yemeni
Local name
Al Yaman

Contributors

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Yemen Travel Helpers

  • ester.c

    I can give some information ,cause i was working there for a time

    Ask ester.c a question about Yemen
  • smbiz88

    I can help any one interested to visit or come to Yemen. my help such as giving information , arranging tours , guiding , hotel reservation and all other travel advice and assistance , pls be happy to ask me .

    Sufian Makhmari .

    Sana'a - Yemen
    E-m :-smbiz88@yahoo.com
    Mobile: + 967 77804703 or + 967 1 261414

    Ask smbiz88 a question about Yemen

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