Yemen  is located on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, and sharing borders with Saudi Arabia and Oman. Yemen has had a troubled recent history with civil wars and tribal conflicts predominating.
- Yemeni Coastal Plains - the dry flat territory along the Red Sea and Arabian Sea
- Yemeni Mountains - the mountainous region rising steeply from the coastal plain
- Yemeni Highlands - the region descending slowly from the mountains toward the desert
- Empty Quarter - the desert, inhabited only by nomads
- Red Sea Islands - over 100 small islands in the Red Sea
- Socotra - a larger island farther out in the Arabian Sea
- Sana'a - the capital
HodyDah Yafia' Juban Ibb Abyan Lahaj Al-Bayda Al-Mahweet
Yemen is a difficult country to get around, but the rewards for the perseverent tourist are an unforgettable experience, populated with very friendly and open hosts. Despite being adjacent to Saudi Arabia and on the same peninsula as the United Arab Emirates, Yemen is definitely a place apart.
North Yemen became independent of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. The British, who had set up a protectorate area around the southern port of Aden in the 19th century, withdrew in 1967 from what became South Yemen. Three years later, the southern government adopted a Marxist orientation. The massive exodus of hundreds of thousands of Yemenis from the south to the north contributed to two decades of hostility between the states. The two countries were formally unified as the Republic of Yemen in 1990. A southern secessionist movement in 1994 was quickly subdued. In 2000, Saudi Arabia and Yemen agreed to a delimitation of their border.
Mostly desert; hot and humid along west coast; temperate in western mountains affected by seasonal monsoon; extraordinarily hot, dry, harsh desert in east. The weather can be chilly in areas where the elevation is high.
Narrow coastal plain backed by flat-topped hills and rugged mountains; dissected upland desert plains in center slope into the desert interior of the Arabian Peninsula.
Visa regulations change quite regularly, and an embassy should be contacted to make certain that the relevant documentation is obtained. Currently, citizens of most countries (with the possible exception of Gulf Co-operation Council members) need 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)and should be kept with the passport at all times before being surrendered at departure.
Arriving visitors will need to complete an arrival form, which has the unusual requirement of one's father's name and one's grandfather's name.
In practice, officials will only rarely ask for the visa form on departure. The form can therefore be kept as an unusual souvenir.
As of January 5th, 2008, an American citizen traveling alone could acquire a tourist visa for 5500 riyal at the Sana'a airport in a matter of minutes. The visa official will want to know your address in Yemen, so at least have a hotel's name and general location in mind.
Emirates Air flies from Dubai (United Arab Emirates) to Sana'a and back five times a week. The flight takes slightly more than 2 hours, and Yemen is one hour behind UAE time. Budget airline Air Arabia  also flies from Sharjah (near Dubai) to Sana'a on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The national carrier, Yemenia, flies to Sana'a from many mid-Eastern and several European capitals, including a daily non-stop from Cairo. Lufthansa flies from Frankfurt 3 times weekly with a stop in Cairo. Flight time to Sana'a from Cairo is about 3 hours, plus a 1-hour time change. Qatar Air flies between Doha and Sanaa three times a week as well. Royal Jordanian also flies twice weekly from Amman to Sana'a and to Aden. Syrian air lines also flies to Sana'a .
There are no trains to or within Yemen.
It is possible to cross the Omani-Yemeni border in a car, although the border posts are often difficult to negotiate. Crossing from Saudi Arabia in a car is substantially more difficult, as regulations for getting a car into Saudi are very intricate.
Some buses operating throughout the Arabian peninsula connect to Yemen. The buses are mostly air-conditioned and comfortable, although the fleet, sometimes contains old buses which may not be very comfortable to be on for several hour trips. Note that arriving from Oman can prove difficult, especially if you're trying to get to Sana'a. There are buses from Salalah to Sayu'n in Wadi Hadramawt and Mukallah on the Indian Ocean, but at the moment (August 2008) tourists (especially from non-Arab countries) are not allowed to use public transport on roads linking the East and the West of Yemen: Mukallah - Aden and Say'un - Ma'rib. You may be able to negotiate with the tourist police a permission to travel in a taxi if you agree to hire a soldier/policeman to travel with you ($20 - $30). Otherwise you might be forced to take a plane.
There are no regular boat services for tourists to Yemen. Hitching a ride on a cargo ship or a sambuq (large Arabian wooden cargo vessel) are the only, highly inconvenient, options.
Yemen is not an easy country to get around, due predominantly to the effects of civil war.
For trips outside the capital, many travelers prefer a car (preferably 4WD) and may choose to hire a driver through a local travel agency. More intrepid travelers should certainly take advantage of the local intracity bus service, which is cheap, comfortable, and a wonderful way to see the country. The buses usually take a pit stop every hour or so, making this a slow(er) but much more interesting way to travel for those who are up for an adventure and some friendly conversation. The biggest company in Yemen is Yemitco, their offices can be found in major cities.
Additionally, all travel outside the capital will require a travel permit (tasriih) from tourist police in ministery of tourism building. You need your passport, list of destinations and timerange how long you are going to stay outside the capital. No photos required, however bring a photocopy of your visa and the picture page in your passport, as the photocopier there often doesn't work. This takes about 15 minutes. Office is closed from noon to (let's say) 14hrs. Then you take many photocopies of tasriih which you handle over at military checkpoints along the way. This may seem inconvenient, however it is designed to prevent travellers unwittingly venturing into areas of tribal unrest - and vice versa. Some areas of the country are off-limits to travel without military escorts, and still other areas are totally off-limits to travel. While the concept of staying informed about local conditions in your intended destinations is an overused one, in Yemen it is essential, as failure to do so may result in kidnappings or worse. No tasriih is checked if you fly to main cities in Yemen, like Aden, Al-hudaida etc.
The usual Middle Eastern shared taxi system exists in Yemen. In every city and often in towns there is at least one shared taxi (bijou, from Peugeot) station, from where cars go to different destinations. Just ask anyone for your destination and they will point you to a car going there. The driver will not depart until all seats are completely full, which means 2 people in the passenger's seat, four in the middle and three in the back in a standard Peugeot almost invariably used for this purpose. If you want to travel in more comfort, you can pay for two seats or for the whole row. If you're a woman travelling alone you might be offered two seats in front for the price of one, but often you'll be asked to pay for both.
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.
Almost everywhere you look, you will have the chance to buy the curved dagger (jambiya) worn by local men. This purchase can be simply of the dagger and its accompanying sheath, however handmade belts and silver pouches are also for sale, with many tourists opting to purchase each item separately. When purchasing a jambiya, remember first and foremost that it counts as a weapon for customs purposes, even though it is not used as one anymore. Secondly, bear in mind that the sheath is predominantly leather with either a base metal or (in more expensive models) silver working added. Traditionally, handles were made of animal horn or even ivory. While it is doubtful that the handles sold today as being made from either of these products are the real thing, a wooden or amber handle may be a better option. If a real jambiya seems too much, there are also pendants and brooches commonly available in the shape of the knife and its sheath.
Necklaces and jewellery are also common souvenirs, and many of these will in fact be made of the semi-precious stones the souvenir sellers claim. Nevertheless, a healthy grain of salt should be added to any belief that one is actually purchasing a necklace of lapis lazuli or anything like that.
Bargaining (even with village children) is expected and worthwhile. If you are with local guides, a common approach is to have them ask for the "Yemeni price", however any bargaining on the part of the tourist will result in discounts. Bear in mind, too, that what may seem an absurdly cheap price for an item in Western terms will still be a great return for many locals.
In tourist sites, there will be souvenir-sellers everywhere you look. In some mountain villages, such as Kawkaban, their technique involves almost trapping the tourists with wheelbarrows full of souvenirs. There is an art form to firmly turning down the goods on offer, even when the seller is a young boy or girl in desperately poor circumstances.
Yemen's currency, the rial (riyal), is subject to high inflation. As a result, many prices (particularly those quoted to light-skinned visitors) will be given in US dollars or even euros. Any of these three currencies will be accepted by the seller, so ask for the cost in whichever currency you are carrying at the time. Discounts for paying in one currency or the other are not high enough to warrant only paying in local money (for example), but luck may be on your side.
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 is quite unlike any Western dishes, which 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.
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 only be drunk on private property, and venturing outside while under the influence is not a wise decision.
A wide range of juices and soft drinks are readily available, however 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.
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 bathrooms. 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. 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.
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.
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.
Homosexuality is punishable by death.
While Yemen has often attracted negative media attention as a result of kidnappings of tourists and internal strife, this should not deter the careful traveller. Anyone entering the country is taking a small, but ever-present, risk and should try to keep up-to-date on the exact security situation of their intended destinations and be prepared to change plans if the situation mandates it.
However, in March 2009, two separate but linked terrorist attacked occurred. 5 South Korean tourists were killed and 3 were injured in a suicide bombing while visiting Old Walled City of Shibam on March 15th. On March 18th, another attack occurred, aimed at investigators and family relatives of the March 15th attack. However, no one was killed except the perpetrator. Similar to many attacks and incidents in the country recently, Al-Qaeda called for these attacks to occur. As such, many embassies world wide are advising against travel to this country, especially since violence seems to be spreading to once thought safer regions of the country.
Driving is on the right. While Yemeni drivers have something of a reputation for bad driving, the reality is slightly more nuanced. Risks are taken, particularly in Sana'a, which would not normally be taken in other places, but the locals expect this to happen and compensate accordingly.
For trips outside Sana'a, however, a 4-wheel-drive is almost mandatory as most roads away from the routes connecting main cities are not paved. Travellers should also give serious consideration to hiring a local driver/guide, as maps tend not to be as useful as they can be in other countries.
Tap water should be avoided. To stay safe, it is recommended to stick to the bottled variety.
Additionally, be aware that the country is exceptionally dusty. Travelers with breathing difficulties (such as asthma) may encounter problems in more remote destinations.
The dry air (especially from September till April) can be bothersome, causing cracking lips and sometimes nosebleeds. Always carry a vaseline stick with you, available in most pharmacies in Yemen, and a packet of tissues.
Particularly when hiking, remember that much of the country is at altitude. Therefore, as well as taking the usual steps of drinking plenty of water and protection from the sun (which can be very harsh in Yemen), be aware of any dizziness you may be experiencing due to rapid ascents. Many of the more popular hiking routes are covered in loose stones, so be careful of your footing.
Three rules should always be followed in exploring Yemen:
1. This is a Muslim country. As such, be sensitive about where you point your camera. There are many great photo opportunities around every corner (the question is usually what to leave out of each image), but when photographing people, always ask first. The Arabic phrase "mumkin akhud sura minak?" is very useful indeed. Don't ever, ever try to take pictures of women, even if you're a woman yourself. This is considered a great offense and can even result in more than a few harsh words. Also don't try to take pictures of anything that looks as if it could be of any strategic importance (i.e. has at least one soldier or policeman guarding it).
2. Despite being close to the richer oil-producing countries, Yemen is one of the poorest states on earth. Living conditions for many locals are very tough. As a tourist, expect local merchants to demand higher prices from you. While being mindful of the poverty level in Yemen, tourists should resist sympathetic urges to pay the merchant's first price. Bargaining is a way of life in much of the world and is expected of all buyers.
3. If an area is off-limits, it is that way for a very good reason. Tempting as it may be to play the intrepid explorer, there is no reason to increase your risk of being kidnapped or worse unless you absolutely have to.
In addition, be prepared to be asked for pens (qalam, galam) for the local schools, and also sweets (bonbon). In the former case, if you have one to spare you may wish to consider it. In the latter, resist the urge to give a handout as it will create an expectation for the next foreigner to arrive. It should go without saying that you shouldn't give money ("fulus!" "bizniz!") to children. Donate to local charities instead.
This page was last edited at 05:07, on 23 March 2009 by Peter Fitzgerald. Based on work by Jedrek Burakiewicz and Simon, Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel and others.