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Travel Guide Middle East Yemen Sana'a

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Introduction

Sana'a (صنعاء) is the capital of Yemen and has a population of about 1.8 million people. It is located in the central northwest of the country on a plateau at an altitude of 2,200 metres, surrounded by even higher mountains. It is a very ancient city with almost 2,000 years of history as one of its attractions for travellers and the old city of Sana'a is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is a very beautiful city and is less important to the country's economy and industry than its southern counterpart, Aden. But it does have multi-storied houses built from burnt clay tiles with alabaster windows and white chalked façades, narrow lanes in the souq with all sorts of shops and the smell of spices and thousands of years of cultural heritage.

Travel to Sana'a is strongly discouraged due to civil unrest and general lawlessness. A string of bombings attributed to Al-Qaida have rocked the capital during the spring of 2014. Check official travel warnings before considering travel to Sana'a.

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Neighbourhoods

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Sights and Activities

The Old City of Sana'a is World Heritage Listed and makes a great place to see the uniquely Yemeni style of architecture - multiple-storey tower houses with the distinctive qamariya windows. Within the Old City is the Souk al-Milh, arguably the best souk (marketplace) in the Arabian Peninsula.

  • Sana'a Old City
  • Salt Market
  • Bab Al-Yemen (the Gate of Yemen)

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Events and Festivals

National Unity Day

This is the day that North Yemen and South Yemen united and became one nation. It is celebrated each year in May through parties, public entertainment, and carnivals. It is also a day of family for locals and many citizens travel throughout the country to be together.

Sana’a Summer Festival

This month-long festival kicks off a series of events in the capital city each year during July. This colorful festival starts off with a huge carnival at Bab al-Yemen, the main gate to the Old City. Numerous people participate in the carnival and perform the traditional folkloric dance and take part in a fashion show to show off the traditional clothing of the country. Different events take place throughout the month-long event in parks, theatres, at historical attractions, and on the streets of Sana’a. The main focus of the festival is the handicrafts and industrial items of the country, with the crafts made by women of particular interest.

Eid al-Adha

This is an important Muslim holiday, whose name translates to ‘Feast of the Sacrifice’. It is celebrated in honor of the Prophet Abraham who sacrificed his first-born son to God, who then gave him a lamb to sacrifice instead. This four-day holiday starts on the 10th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, which is anywhere between September and November. This is the last month of the Islamic calendar and starts the day after the Hajj pilgrimage. The rituals in the mosques themselves are closed off to visitors though visitors can participate in the feast that follows.

Mouloud

This day celebrates the birth of the Prophet Mohammed. It takes place each year on the 12th day of the month of Rabi’ al-awwal, which falls in the winter of the Georgian calendar. A large street carnival takes place in cities and towns all over the country, as well as a large street procession. Houses and mosques are decorated, and food is distributed to everyone. Stories about the life of Mohammed are told and children recite famous Arabic poetry. Unlike other festivals in Yemen, Mouloud is a national holiday so all banks and businesses are closed.

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Weather

Because of its elevation (2250 meters above sea level) temperatures are mild compared to lower areas of the country and temperatures over 32º C are rare, even in summer. In winter, some frosts have been recorded but most times it is above 0º C. Most rain falls between April and September, with July being a little drier. Winters are mild but dry and snow is rare.

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Getting There

By Plane

Sana'a International Airport (SAH) is where all flights depart and arrive. Yemenia is the national airline of Yemen ) and it operates surprisingly many flights to and from here. Although destinations are mainly located in the Middle East and a few destinations further in Asia like Kuala Lumpur, there are flights to and from Paris, London, Rome, Johannesburg and Frankfurt as well.

Other airlines serving Sana'a are mostly airlines of neighbouring countries, although Lufthansa flies to Frankfurt.

Domestic services with Yemenia from Sana'a include Aden, Taiz and the island of Socotra.

By Bus

Yemen has a few bus companies. Sana'a is connected by all major cities (Aden, Ta'izz, Marib, Sayun, etc) via bus. Perhaps the best bus company in Yemen is the new-ish Raha (established in 2008). Raha buses are in good condition and fares are reasonable. The buses are still new. Note that travelers must obtain a travel permit (tasirih in Arabic) from the Ministry of Tourism before embarking on over-land adventures. Each town has a military checkpoint that will ask for a travel permit and will likely refuse travelers entry if they have forgotten to get one. Travel permits are issued free of charge. When applying, travelers should bring their passport, a list of places they are going to visit, and the time period for travel. Travelers should make many photocopies of their travel permit as each checkpoint may ask for a copy. Travelers should also have copies of the biographical information page (that contains their photo) of their passport handy. Often foreign passengers give a pile of travel permit copies to the bus driver so that he can provide them to officials at checkpoints. Travelers should let the bus driver or military personnel know of their nationality as they need to know. Note that there are also many traffic police checkpoints. They are not interested in your permit; only those with green uniforms and big guns are.

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Getting Around

Sana'a is a big city which, in common with many other developing-world capitals, is spreading in all directions at once. Visitors will almost certainly have to use taxis or hired cars to get around, as the street maps often leave much to be desired.

There are many "Dabaabs" or mini vans that go on different routes around the city. They serve as public buses and are quite cheap. They have fixed routes and cost 15-30 riyals/ride.

Taxis to the airport from the centre should cost 1000 rials (August 2008). Be prepared to bargain with your taxi driver for a reasonable fare. Usually fares can be reduced by a third of the price after a bit of haggling.

Cars are used a lot but they are mostly 4x4s or pick up trucks. Drivers tend to use the horn excessively which is normal in this beautiful congested city.

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Eat

Visitors should be careful when eating from street stands and the like, as the same warning which applies to tap water applies to poorly-prepared food. Salta is a popular Yemeni lunch dish that is served very hot.

Nearly all Yemeni food is budget. An average meal at a Sana'a restaurant will cost less than 2 dollars. Chicken is ubiquitous. A tuna steak served with rice costs 150-200 riyals.

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Drink

As in the rest of the country, the tap water should be avoided at all costs. Bottled water, both chilled and at room temperature, is readily available and very cheap - as is the normal range of fruit juices and soft drinks.

Nice tea and coffee house is "Friends Kafeteria" in Al-Tahrir area, Mocka Intersection. Here you can involve yourself into interesting conversations with Yemeni men. Also food is available. It looks like this place never closes down.

Near the Shumaila Hari Supermarket you will find the Coffee Trader, a place where you can get an excellent latte or cappuccino at Starbuck's prices and eat a piece of carrot cake while checking your e-mail on their wireless internet hotspot.

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Sleep

Good option to stay is new part of Sana'a. It's walking distance to Old part of town but hotels offer better value to money. Around Tahrir area there are about 10 hotels to choose, ranging from five star Taj Sheba hotel to no-star hotels. recommended are 2 Wadi Hadramout hotels. More expensive Wadi Hadramout hotel is cross the main road from Tahrir Square, other more economical is near Taj Sheba hotel at Ali Abdulmogny Street. There double room with bathroom and TV costs about 2000 Rials (usd 10). Staff is very helpful and friendly and some speak English.

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Work

Unless you have work lined up as an expat, work in Sana'a (and elsewhere in Yemen) will be very hard to come by. The majority of the locals sitting by the road will be waiting to be hired as manual labourers or domestic staff - in the latter role competing with guest workers from across the Red Sea. Those with good abilities in Arabic may be able to find work teaching English, however this will be informal and exceptionally temporary work. Schools such as AMIDEAST, MALI, and YALI hire English teachers, but you will likely need a Bachelor's and some sort of teaching certification.

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Learn

Yemen is a great place to study Arabic for several reasons: 1. Languages other than Arabic are much less commonly spoken than they are in nearby countries; 2. The low cost of living; and 3. There are several excellent Arabic language institutes that offer both group and private courses with flexible schedules and reasonable prices.

The Yemen College of Middle Eastern Studies (YCMES) offers courses in Arabic language as well as academic seminars in English language about the contemporary Middle East. With over 20 years of experience, YCMES is the first and only accredited program in Yemen (i.e. students can transfer credit to their home universities). Regular tuition packages include accommodation, meals, excursions, cultural activities, wireless internet, library, etc. The YCMES can also help with international and domestic travel arrangements.

Other options are Sana'a Institute of the Arabic Language (SIAL), the Center for Arabic Language Studies (CALES), and Saba Institute for the Arabic Language, all of which are located in the Old City.

Additionally, Yemen Institute for Arabic Language (YIAL) a teacher owned institute that offers similar courses outside the Old City, although it also has very good accommodations in the Old City and in the institute itself. YIAL primarily offers private courses. YIAL also organises activities and trips.

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Keep Connected

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

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This is version 6. Last edited at 9:06 on Aug 4, 17 by Utrecht. 16 articles link to this page.

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