Unfortunately Yemen is, at the moment, a no-go area for tourists. But this will change one day, and when that day arrives there will be very good reasons for being the first to visit it. Yemen, by all accounts, should be right up there with Egypt, Thailand and Italy as far as tourist potential is concerned. The reason it isn’t has got to do with its troubled past and present. Because, let’s be honest, even when it was open for tourists and relatively calm and stable, it still had its issues. Issues like the kidnapping of foreigners by local tribes in order to extort money or concessions from the central government. Or the long conflict with the Shia minority which often turned violent and of which the current civil war is but the latest (and most violent and widespread) installment.
It’s all to do with the tribal nature of this nation, which has always made it hard to govern. The Yemeni are proud, which doesn’t make things easier. The rule of law and the governments grip never really extended far beyond the capital and the main cities. That said, it was very possible to travel around Yemen in those days without much trouble, as long as you were well informed and took the necessary precautions (like not travelling to certain areas). The same will, undoubtedly, be the case in the future.
Yemen is the greenest country on the Arabian Peninsula, and its oldest! Purportedly this is where Queen Sheba came from, and it was called Felix (happy) Arabia by the Romans. It has beautiful ancient cities, enigmatic ruins, a lush countryside, a plethora of tribes, good diving and even surfing and (if you are not kidnapped) a very hospitable population.
When Yemen once again becomes Felix Arabia, you shouldn’t miss this pearl on the Red Sea, and see why it earned its nickname Happy!
Highlights from Yemen
- Old Sanaa, the old beautiful heart of the capital, will hopefully still be beautiful when this silly war ends. It has ancient tall white washed houses, winding alleys, exotic markets and people
- Socutra Island in the Indian Ocean has surfing, and snorkeling, diving, and weird and wonderful nature for those who make it out there
- Shibam is full of the characteristic tall houses that Yemen is famous for
- The Great Ma’rib Dam is one of Yemen’s most famous monuments, old Ma’rib is nearby
- Visit the ruins of ’Arsh Bilqis, also known as the Temple of the Moon
- The port of Aden, has a good museum, and a port vibe
- Walk around Jibla with its Queen Arwa Mosque and her palace
- The Sultan’s Palace in Sayun
- Al-Kaf Palace in Tarim is a concoction of many different styles
- Hiking the Haraz Mountains
Hints and Tips for Yemen
- This is obviously not the right time to visit the country, best to wait and see how things develop. Even once things calm down, keep abreast of the situation and read up on where it is possible to go and where not. Some of the destinations mentioned might still be dangerous even if the war ends and normality returns.
- Yemen is a devout Islamic nation, so no alcohol and dress appropriately.
- Yemen harbours various terrorist organisations, they are unlikely to disappear anytime soon, whether or not the war ends.