Yemen (Arabic: ٱلْيَمَن) is a country in the southern Arabian Peninsula of the Middle East. Although it is rich in history and culture, being part of several civilizations, the country has been in a state of flux since the 1980s. It is one of the least developed and poorest countries in the world.
However, under less extreme circumstances, this vast country has a lot to offer to the adventurous, thrill-seeking traveller, from desert to mountains. Yemen is a difficult country to get around, but the rewards for the persistent visitor are unforgettable.
Yemenis are very friendly and open, and tourists might find themselves being treated as celebrities here; in fact, they might be showered with a lot of hospitality and care, even if they unintentionally make a few cultural blunders.
|Yemeni Coastal Plains
The dry flat territory along the Red Sea and Arabian Sea.
The mountainous region rising steeply from the coastal plain.
The region descending slowly eastwards from the mountains of the west.
The desert, inhabited only by nomads.
|Red Sea Islands
Over 100 small islands in the Red Sea, undeveloped and some actively volcanic.
A large island in the Arabian Sea that is a UNESCO world natural heritage site.
- 1 Sana'a – capital
- 2 Aden – seaside former capital of South Yemen.
- 3 Al Hudayda – a relatively large city on the Red Sea with beautiful beaches
- 4 Al Mukalla – East Yemen's biggest city and bustling port, the gateway to the historical Hadhramaut region
- 5 Dhamar
- 6 Ibb
- 7 Kawkaban
- 8 Mokha – birthplace of one of the greatest things known to man: mocha coffee.
- 9 Shibam /Seiyun/Tarim – the three famous historical towns of Hadhramaut, perhaps Yemen's most fascinating and exotic destination
- 10 Ta'izz
- 1 Haraz Mountains
- Hutaib – the most important center of pilgrimage for Yemen's Ismaili population
|Yemeni rial (YER)
|28.2 million (2017)
|230 volt / 50 hertz (NEMA 1-15, AC power plugs and sockets: British and related types, BS 1363)
|edit on Wikidata
Yemen has long existed at the crossroads of cultures, linked to some of the oldest centres of civilization in the Near East by virtue of its location in South Arabia. Between the 12th century BCE and the 6th century, it was part of the Minaean, Sabaean, Hadhramaut, Qataban, Ausan and Himyarite kingdoms, which controlled the lucrative spice trade, and later came under Ethiopian and Persian rule. In the 6th century, the Himyarite king Abu-Karib Assad converted to Judaism. In the 7th century, Islamic caliphs began to exert control over the area. After this caliphate broke up, South Arabia came under the control of many dynasties who ruled part, or often all of South Arabia. Imams of Persian origin ruled Yemen intermittently for 160 years, establishing a theocratic political structure that survived until modern times.
Egyptian Sunni caliphs occupied much of Yemen throughout the 11th century. By the 16th century and again in the 19th century, Yemen was part of the Ottoman Empire, and in some periods Imams exerted control over all of Yemen.
The modern history of south Arabia and Yemen began in 1918 when Yemen gained independence from the Ottoman Empire. Between 1918 and 1962, Yemen was a monarchy ruled by the Hamidaddin family. North Yemen then became a republic in 1962, but it was not until 1967 that the British Empire, which had set up a protective area around the South Arabia port of Aden in the 19th century, withdrew from what became South Yemen. In 1970, the southern government adopted a nominally Communist governmental system. The two countries were united as the Republic of Yemen on 22 May 1990.
Unification did not lead to peace, however. The USS Cole, a visiting U.S. Navy ship, was attacked by Al Qaeda in 2000 while on a fuel stop in Aden. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has since grown stronger in the country, and the U.S. has responded by striking targets in Yemen repeatedly with drone-fired missiles. The government of longtime dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, fell amid dramatic protests associated with the Arab Spring in 2012, but his successor, former Vice President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, hardly rushed to institute the reforms demanded by the demonstrators and was overthrown by the militia of the Shi'a Houthis, who took over the government outright in February 2015. Sunni Arab governments, especially that of Saudi Arabia, were close to Saleh and Hadi and oppose Shi'a rule in this Arabian country. They have supported a coalition of Sunni Islamists called Al-Islah in a civil war against the Houthi forces, and have led a brutal bombing campaign that has damaged the country's infrastructure to the extent that the December 14, 2014 U.S. State Department travel warning states that:
- "The military conflict has significantly destroyed infrastructure, limiting the availability of electricity, clean water, and medical care, and causing travel by internal roads to be dangerous. This instability often hampers the ability of humanitarian organizations to deliver critically needed food, medicine, and water."
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. Sana'a for example is at an elevation of over 2,195 m (7,200 ft). During the winter months, the temperatures can fall to freezing point during the night.
Narrow coastal plain backed by flat-topped hills and rugged mountains; dissected upland desert plains in the centre slope into the desert interior of the Arabian Peninsula. The interior of Yemen is a highland dissected by valleys. Yemen can be divided into five regions:
Coastal Plain: The Tihamah coastal plain is a low-lying flat plain that has areas with very fertile soil from the streams from the mountains emptying into it. Some of the hottest places on Earth are in Tihamah. Most of its towns are coastal because the salty sea air can lessen the effect of the heat.
Western Highlands: The coastal plain ends abruptly at the western mountains, where monsoon rains coming from Africa gain strength across the Red Sea and the clouds coming in get tangled by the jagged peaks of the Western mountains and precipitate all of whatever the clouds hold. Some areas in the western highlands, notably Ibb and Ta'izz, get rainfall similar to rainforests, supporting fertile land great for coffee, qat, wheat and sorghum. Mountains here are known to have lengthy ascents; most mountains pop out of land 600 m (2,000 ft) above sea level to 2,135-3,050 m (7,000-10,000 ft) peaks. Notable peaks include Jabal Sumarah, Jabal Ba'dan, Jabal Sabir, and Jabal Ad Dukayik, all about 3,000 m (10,000 ft) high.
Central Highlands: This is more of a plateau with rolling hills atop it, for the mountains are less jagged and get less precipitation because most of it is released onto the Western Highlands. Some of the highest mountains of the Arabian Peninsula can be found here, including the legendary Jabal an Nabi Shu'ayb near the capital Sana'a, at about 3,660 m (12,000 ft) above sea level. Some areas in the central highlands have extremely fertile soil, like in Dhamar, and temperature in the central highlands are extreme also. Diurnal temperatures are the highest in the world, with daytime highs of around 80°F while during the night they can dip to below freezing. Most of the central highlands, other than the mountains, is above 2,000-2,440 m (7,000-8,000 ft) high.
Central Plateau: As a gradual descent from the central highlands begins, it eventually levels off at a 915-1,525 m (3,000-5,000 ft) plateau that is bisected by valleys and wadis, or streams. This terrain is not as rough as the central or western highlands, but vegetation is only possible in the valleys or near wadis, for they provide a lot of irrigation water from precipitation that only occurs in the remote areas. Flash floods are very common. This extends from Shabwah though Hadhramaut and Al Mahra, continuing into Dhofar in Oman, which also revered by many Yemenis as part of Greater Yemen, not to mention also Najran, Jizan, and Asir in Saudi Arabia.
Desert: Rub Al-Khali, aka the Empty Quarter, the most treacherous desert in the world, and also the largest expanse of sand in the world, is in northeastern Yemen, southeastern Saudi Arabia, and northwestern Oman. It receives no rain at all for periods of years, and little to no vegetation exists. Temperature can reach 61°C (142°F)
You might think that Yemen is one of the more ethnically homogeneous countries in the Middle East, if all you knew was that nearly 100% of the population identify themselves as Arab. However, many Yemenis have strong regional, sectarian and tribal identities, and political differences also run deep, giving rise to an often contentious and sometimes violent diversity.
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 operators in Sana'a). Citizens of most countries (with the possible exception of Gulf Co-operation Council members) must obtain visas in advance. 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). If you have a local contact to help you push the paperwork through, this can increase your chance of getting the visa. 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 2023, most flights to Yemen are suspended. Yemenia runs a skeleton service based in Aden with flights from Amman, Cairo and Riyadh. There are also flights into Say'un as of 2023 from Aden and Cairo. Other airports, including Sanaa, are either closed permanently or operate only infrequently.
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. Arriving from Oman can be difficult, especially if you're trying to get to Sana'a. There are buses from Salalah to Sayu'n in Wadi Hadramawt and Al Mukalla on the Indian Ocean, but tourists (especially from non-Arab countries) are not allowed to use public transport on roads linking the East and the West of Yemen: Al Mukalla - Aden and Say'un - Sana'a. The tourist have to take a plane in order to come from the west to the eastern part of the country.
There are passenger ferries from Djibouti. They are pretty cheap, but not very comfortable.
Supposedly, people have hitchhiked on a cement ship to Socotra from Salalah that leaves once a week and takes 4 days. However, it is often delayed.
Yemen is not an easy country to get around, since foreign nationals need travel permits and, in some regions, independent travel is not possible. There is a lack of road infrastructure in the eastern Mahra region, while all other Yemeni regions have hundreds of kilometres of newly built roads. If you are an intrepid traveller, the local transport (taxis, buses, aircraft) is perfect to get around on the cheap. More expensive, but more efficient travel is to book your tour via one of the registered tour operators, that are found on the Yemen Ministry of Tourism webpage[dead link]. Be aware that there are many non-registered tour operators in Yemen offering lower quality services, providing non-relevant information and many times tourists do not get all the paid services. In case of any problem, the Ministry of tourism will not be able to help you if you choose to travel with a non-registered tour operator or services provider.
For trips outside the capital, many travellers prefer a car (preferably 4WD) and may choose to hire a driver through a local travel agency. More intrepid travellers 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 slower 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 the tourist police; their station is 30m up the canal from the Arabian Felix Hotel. You need your passport, list of destinations and 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) 14:00. Then you take many photocopies of the tasriih which you hand 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.
- See also: Arabic phrasebook
The official language of Yemen is Arabic.
Yemeni Arabic, the local vernacular, is spoken natively by almost everyone. The dialect is perhaps the toughest Arabic dialect to learn; Yemeni Arabic borrows many features from Classical Arabic, i.e., the variant of Arabic used to write the Qu'ran. It is not unusual for a visitor to be told that their Arabic is not "Yemeni" or "Yemeni enough". Don't be discouraged by this; most Yemenis will appreciate your efforts!
English is gradually becoming more and more popular, but most Yemenis have little to no knowledge of the language, which is why you will most likely be spoken to in Arabic. If you don't know any Arabic, don't panic! Yemenis are open communicators, and you can get your point across by hand-waving, making noises, and using a variety of gestures.
Sana'a: Babel Yemen (old city), Wadi Dhar (Dar al-Hadschar Palace—also known as the rock house). Sana'a is at over 2,200 metres (7,200 feet) in elevation. The old city is a mystical and amazing place and also a UNESCO World Heritage site. The streets are alive and bustling around gingerbead-like houses several stories high, one of the oldest cities in the world.
Socotra: Off the south coast of Yemen—an idyllic island untouched by modern man and home to many rare species and plants. The seas are turquoise blue and the sands white and unspoiled. One of the most valuable islands on the planet, often described as the most alien-looking place on Earth. Its beaches resemble those of the Caribbean and its mountains and Yemeni mountains covered in 300 species only found in Socotra. A must-see.
Kawkaban: An old fortress-city northwest of Sana'a 3,000 m (10,000 feet) high, with elegant old buildings an artefacts from the old Himyar civilization 2,000 years ago. Himyaric inscriptions can be seen and so can old Stars of David from the old Jewish roots of Himyar. Below the mountain is a magnificent view of a plain dotted by old towns made of mud-brick.
Sa'dah: The northernmost major town in Yemen, with its old city made entirely out of strong mud that keeps internal temperature warm during the bitter winter. Its surroundings are known for its delicious grapes, raisins, date palms, and other fruits.
Al Mahweet: A northwest town from Sana'a, Al Mahweet is a beautiful and magnificent town atop a mountain where the green scenery and outstanding architectural example of Yemen are at its best. It is part of the western highlands, an area where rain can be extensive and clouds can always be seen below the mountains during the summer.
Bura': A protected area in Yemen in Al Hudaydah governate, this place is a 2,200 m (7,200 foot) mountain covered by a natural forests resembling one of the rainforests of Africa. There are many flora and fauna varieties in Bura' located only in Yemen and its historic boundaries (Najran, Jizan, Asir, Dhofar, & ar Rub' al Khali). It is one of the most beautiful places in Yemen.
Manakhah: A large old town on a peak 2,700 m (9,000 feet) high known for its daring location and beautiful scenery. This town is a good example of life in medieval Yemen.
Ma'rib: The capital of the Sabaean Kingdom, built about 3,000 years ago, with its famous Ma'rib dam, one of the engineering wonders of the world. It was said that thousands of years ago the magnificent dam helped create some of the greenest areas in the world, a notion also supported by historical texts like the Qur'an. The Queen of Sheba is known to have had her kingdom here and artifacts and temples from her reign are still preserved and present.
Ibb: The green heartland of Yemen, with annual rainfall at about 1200 mm per year. It sits in 3300-m high (10,000 foot) mountains. The city of Ibb, however, is in the valley, but waterfalls are known to be present and beautiful. The historic town of Jiblah is near Ibb city. And with the freshest climate on the whole peninsula, there is no wonder why it is referred to as the Green Heart of Yemen.
Al Khawkhah: At one of the hottest places on earth, you need a beach, and at Al Khawkhah, it has one of the best beaches in Yemen. The shore is long and back by fields of palm trees and a small pleasant town. The Red Sea is relatively calm and cool, great for an area where summer temperatures are commonly over 48°C.
Ta'izz: The cultural capital of Yemen, which is the most liberal and the friendliest city in the country. It has been the capital of Yemen when the last Imam was in power and is a medieval city. Towering above Ta'izz is the 3,000 m (10,000 foot) Jabal Sabir, which is known all around Yemen for its dazzling ascent and view from the top. This mountain is very fertile and is home to tens of thousands of people living on and around the mountain.
Shibam: Commonly referred to as the Manhattan of the Desert, this town located in Wadi Hadhramaut has the first skyscrapers of the world. Hundreds of adobe homes ranging from 5-11 storeys high are boxed into a walled area that is simply marvellous. The tops are painted with gypsum, a mineral commonly found in Yemen. Some of the buildings are over 700 years old.
Tarim and Say'un: These nearby towns are made almost entirely of adobe. The towns are well organized and elegant, with famous palaces and mosques in each city.
Al Mukalla: Perhaps the most developed-looking city in Yemen, Al Mukalla is the jewel of the Arabian Sea. Around it around beautiful beaches, however, the best in Yemen is known to be at Bir Ali, which is a lengthy 100 km drive, though well worth it.
Hauf National Park: The only natural forest in the Arabian Peninsula because it is affected by the seasonal monsoon rains that also affects India. Mountains and Hills are layered with a cap of green for mile with wild life similar to one of a rain forests, this forest also extends to the Omani side of the border, from Qishn, Yemen to Salalah, Oman.
Although the accommodation might not be the best, the country holds so many treasures that appeal to any open-minded visitor. The sights are amazing, the people are friendly, their culture is unique, and their food is tasty. Take trips with a personal driver through the mountains to see natural beauty found nowhere else on the planet. See the historical role Yemen played as it survived even during the times of the Sumerians and the Ancient Egyptians, and how no one was able to completely conquer Yemen. And enjoy what the country provides, like gemstones literally littered throughout the mountains, precious beaches, and historical artifacts from this multi-faced nation.
Exchange rates for Yemeni rials
As of January 2024:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The currency of the country is the Yemeni rial (YER or ﷼). Banknotes circulate in denominations of 50, 100, 200, 250, 500 and 1000 rials, and you are also likely to come across 10 and 20 coins.
The rial is freely convertible and subject to frequent fluctuations.
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. When purchasing a jambiya, remember that it classed as a weapon for customs purposes. 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. Cheaper options are 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 are made of the semi-precious stones the souvenir sellers claim. Nevertheless, a healthy grain of salt taken a necklace is made of lapis lazuli or other precious stone.
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.
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.
The rial is subject to high inflation. As a result, many prices, particularly those quoted to light-skinned visitors, will be given in euros or US dollars. 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, but you may be lucky.
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.
Mandi is a popular dish of meat and rice with spices originating in the Hadhramaut region. What distinguishes mandi from other similar dishes in the rest of the Middle East and South Asia is that the meat is cooked in a clay oven and hung over the rice, allowing the juices to drip onto the rice as it is cooked.
Yemeni honey is particularly famous throughout the region, and most desserts will feature a liberal serving of it. Bint al-sahn is 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. 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. Qat acts as a mild stimulant, and 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. Qat is associated with mouth and esophageal cancers, so partake carefully.
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, but 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.
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. 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.
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.
Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world. The main reason for the lack of wealth: Yemen has paltry deposits of oil compared to its oil-rich neighbours.
Most of the following applied before the ongoing civil war:
- 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.
Yemen is at war, under international attack, and is heavily damaged; see the warning at the top of this page. In addition, there have been problems with terrorism and kidnappings of people including foreigners.
Once it is possible to visit Yemen again, the following will again become relevant:
- The public consumption of alcohol is punishable under Islamic law in Yemen. Homosexual acts are also prohibited and may be punishable by death.
- 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. A city limits border pass is required as only the cities are well protected by the military. It is also worth noting that Yemen has one of the largest populations of armed civilians in the world, so be polite.
The country in the midst of a cholera outbreak. Wash your hands often, cook food well, and clean up well. For more information on how to stay safe, you may view more information here.
Tap water should be avoided. To stay safe, it is recommended to stick to the bottled variety.
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 'til April) can be bothersome, causing cracked 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. Some peak ascents can be at a near 70-80 degree angle, so any fall will be devastating. Be prepared with bandages and/or anti-bacterial creams just in case you get a cut, which is normal during hiking.
Malaria is present in low-lying areas along the Red Sea.
Rabid dogs are common in Yemen. If you are bitten by a rabid animal, there is little to no chance that you will be able to receive a rabies vaccination, and you will likely die if you are infected with rabies. Preventative vaccination for rabies prior to arrival is recommended.
Ramadan is the 9th and holiest month in the Islamic calendar and lasts 29–30 days. Muslims fast every day for its duration and most restaurants will be closed until the fast breaks at dusk. Nothing (including water and cigarettes) is supposed to pass through the lips from dawn to sunset. Non-Muslims are exempt from this, but should still refrain from eating or drinking in public as this is considered very impolite. Working hours are decreased as well in the corporate world. Exact dates of Ramadan depend on local astronomical observations and may vary somewhat from country to country. Ramadan concludes with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which may last several days, usually three in most countries.
If you're planning to travel to Yemen during Ramadan, consider reading Travelling during Ramadan.
Things to avoid
There are some things which will be met with disapproval and you should avoid doing the following during your stay in the country.
- Avoid talking about the United States — many Yemenis feel that the US 'interferes' in the affairs of the country and has done more harm than good.
- Avoid talking about Israel — like their counterparts throughout the Arab world, many Yemenis express negative feelings towards Israel.
Islam is the state religion of Yemen and it plays an important role in the lives of every Yemeni. As is the case throughout the Arab world, religion is a delicate topic of discussion. Always approach religious discussions with sensitivity and respect.
- When visiting sites of religious importance, behave and dress well. Some mosques may be off-limits to non-Muslims. If in doubt, ask.
- During Ramadan, you should refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and chewing in public. Not doing so would be seen as incredibly disrespectful.
- Do not criticise or speak badly of Islam; Yemen has some harsh blasphemy laws.
- Do not talk about religion from an agnostic point of view; this will be met with total incomprehension.
- Anything hinting at proselytism will neither be appreciated nor welcomed; apostasy is a crime in 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). However, if you ask with good manners and the guards are in a good mood, you might be allowed and take a souvenir photo with a military man holding a machine-gun!
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.