the last original Arab country
I know that visited
Yemen love it and many of them return
there again. The main reason are it's friendly and hospitable people, I
think. The other reason might be it's nature and culture, both unique
in Arab world. I believe that Yemen is the last presevered 'true' Arab
country, with 'true' Arab hospitality. If anyone was at least partly
disappointed by mass tourism Arab speaking destinations like Tunis,
Egypt, Morocco or UAE and Oman then Yemen should offer quite different
experience. The global world is changing quicky, so I don't want to
long this uniqueness will last. But better to go there sooner that
Yemen does not have much oil, compared to other
states and therefore it's people still need to live by their work as in
This probably helped to preserve the old customs and Arab hospitality.
But it can't be only that. Yemen, especially the north, was in one Al
Jazeera documentary (used to be on YouTube) called 'Republic of
Tribes'. Thas it true especially in the north, that did not experience
socialist regime as south did. Many people feel more loyalty to it's
tribe than to
the government and state of Yemen.
People of Yemen, although traditional in their
customs, are very
friendly and tolerant towards foreigners. But men and especially women
should not wear shorts (we did wear them during first visit but not
second visit). Short sleeve is not a problem, but long sleeve is more
for women of course. Headcloth is not necessary, compared to e.g.
People are very family oriented. If you are introduced to any women at
all, they are mostly willing to talk about childern and family only. So
you want to be better preprared, take photos of your childern, family,
house. That is good for conversation with men as well. They will show
the photos to their women anyway.
Where to go
I can't say I know at all to know all areas of
Yemen! During my
first visit - 6 day
stopover with Yemenia airlines, on the way to Ethiopia in 2006, I
visited the capital Sanaa, unique Bura mountains and Red sea coast. I
was impressed by Yemen, especially compared to my second visit of
Ethiopia during the same trip later. That time, I visited Bura
for longer time, added eastern Yemen areas (Shibam, Sayun, Tarim,
Mukkala towns) and fortunatelly Socotra island. To me,
Bura mountains and Socotra island are the areas, there were the best.
Noone should miss them while visiting Yemen. Due to not the best
security situation in Yemen in last years, many areas e.g. the north
near Saudi Arabia or the desert between Sanaa and east Yemen are often
closed to tourists or at least independent tourists. But both Bura and
expecially Socotra lie in completely safe areas, that have not been
subject to restrictions so far, fortunatelly.
I travelled mostly by shared taxis in Yemen. They
go frequently when
they fill with people. They are cheap and have quite fixed prices per
and destinations (drivers don't give you foreigners surcharge, that is
quite unbelievable in many mass tourism Arab / North Africa
destinations!). It is necessary to hire a jeep with driver on Socotra
order to go anywhere there. The price of jeep with driver should be
about 70-80 USD per day in continental Yemen, maybe a bit more on
Yemen has very good food. But for trekking in
Socotra, you need your
own food. For trekking in Bura mountains - if you are with guide, you
could probably eat evening and morning with people, where you stay (and
pay something for that). If you are trek independetly as me, you have
to take your own food, although you might be invited serveral times as
well to local houses, especially if you speak Arabic (but you can't
rely on that).
When to go
The hot and somewhat rainy season is
June-August. The best time to visit
Yemen is after this - late September and all October, when
mountains are greener with streams with water there. Expect
occasional rains even during this 'best' time. But Yemen can be visited
quite anytime - even the rainy+hot season is not unbearable I think,
it's just too hot in lower areas and some roads can be block by
unpredictable heavy rains. But bear in mind, that rainy+hot season in
Yemen corresponds to windy season in Socotra, when most of flights
there are cancelled - so quite impossible for combination with Socotra.
Unless you are in Yemen during or right after the
rainy+hot season, you basically even don't need a tent for trekking in
Socotra island or elsewhere.
Lower areas of Yemen are very hot, but Sanaa
itself lies in the altitude about 2000m !, so it's quite cold (it can
there in the night during winter time). You don't need mechanical water
filter for trekking usually, the streams are not so muddy, but chemical
treatment of water is very recommended. Yemen has good GSM signal
and roaming with major international operators, even in Bura mountains.
Only Socotra had some limited CDMA coverage where local SIM card and
CDMA phone was necessary - that was in 2007.
||Note on Arabic language
Few people in Yemen speak English, especially
in the more interesting north. Even in the south, that used to be
British protectorate, you can't rely on English at all. So I studied
Arabic and returned there for second time in one and half year. Arabic
is a difficult language, so one a half year was just enough to be able
to perform some conversation for me.
Yemen can be visited even if you don't know
Arabic at all. It was the same
with me during my first visit and I was excited. But for deeper
experience and expecially for repeated visits (that usually tend to be
not so great that the first great experience for me), I would recomend
a book called Formal Spoken Arabic - fast course. One needs at least 3
cover most of that book by studying in the evenings, I think. It does
not deal with Arabic script too much. Script is very usefull of course,
studied that, but not necessary for conversation. It contains good
audio, so it's good even for self studying. It contains usefull words
(especially verbs) and teaches you something between school standard
literary/news Arabic and too country specific spoken Arabic. It's name
something like 'generalised spoken arabic'. Actually, it's spoken part
is based on Lebanon-Palestine-Jordan-Syria area, but they will show you
more or less only that spoken words, there are comonly understood
across Arab world, I believe.
All people in Yemen, that went to primary school
or watch TV understand standard school/news Arabic and are more or less
reply in standard Arabic. This is especially true for men. Yemen has
the lowest level of literacy among women in Arab world (about
30% ?). And Yemen is of course one of the best countries, if not
best, where to study standard school/news Arabic. There are many
schools in Sanaa or Aden.
||Bura mountains - maybe
the greenest place in Yemen
When looking for information about trekking in
Yemen, one usually finds something about Haraz mountais only, maybe
about Socotra. Haraz is OK, just 2 hours from Sanaa and people are used
to tourists there. But Bura is something different - vertical rock
ridges, high houses standing right at the top of these ridgers, green
forests from the west (Red sea) side, monkeys in the forest, almost no
tourists, living villages (not abandoned as some in Haraz), friendly
people still not so much used to tour groups (although this is already
changing). Bura is changing as well, new roads are being constructed,
electricity is coming to many places. Bura is not far from more famous
Haraz mountains. It's just about 4 hours by shared taxi or bus to Bajil
town an then about 2 hours by hired car to Bura mountains.
It's better to start from Sanaa in the morning,
in order to reach the
mountains by the evening and sleep there already. If you start around
noon, you most probably end up sleeping in very hot town of Bajil.
Hotels in Bajil are not good and the one airconditioned in overpriced
compared to Sanaa given it's not very good quality.
Asphalt road goes all the way from Bajil to
Bamii village (just under the highest mountain, in the middle of Bura
mountains). Another road goes to the green wadi Raaba (access form the
west, from Red sea side). Plus rough road forks from the asphalt road
under Bamii village to Magraba
village as well. And rough road goes to Kohl village - that is near
Antara - this is the access from the north, good for trekking all of
the main ridge from north to south. I don't know about any maps. The
mountains are so small and vertical, that even these Russian maps do
now show it well. Some correct hand drawn map would be better.
Hopefully some locals will do it one day.
driver from Bajil to go the
Kohl, but ended up in some village under it, where the rough
road ended anyway. There
are definitely other roads that I did not mark here. If anyoned intends
starting trekking the whole ridge from the north, as
we did, try to say Kohl or Antara village in Jebel Bura mountains to
drivers in Bajil. Some of them should know. I takes about 3-4 days to
cover the green dotted path on
foot, but we did not go the the highest moutain (spent time with our
host instead). Although we had 4 days
at disposal, we spent a lot of time with people on the way as their
It's possible to go independently, without guide,
difficulties when communicating about where to go next (even if you
village names marked here) and don't automatically expect to be invited
to some home if you don't know Arabic (although this still may happen).
Every bigger village should have school and teacher of Arabic there. As
far as guide, it's better to get him from Sanaa using some travel
agencies. I would not hope for someone in Bajil or even some English
speaker in the first village of Bura, where car will drop you.
known protected area with paid entrance (about 2.5 USD probably)
This would probably be the easiest destination to go from Bajil
independently. Most drivers in Bajil should know it as a lot of Yemenis
go there for picknic or just the see the green forests there nowadays.
It's not a proble to get into some car from Wadi Raaba to Bajil or to
Sukhna. From Sukhna, it's quite fast go over Tihama plains to Taiz and
to Aden - going back over mountains to Sanaa would be much longer.
come to Socotra for
different reasons - trekking, sea life, diving, rare fauna, fishing,
caves etc. I spent there three and half days only. It such short time,
one can do the easy 2 day trek (and I did not know about something more
difficult at that time anyway) plus some caves and swiming in sea on
the third day. But 1 week or even more is better, either for lond
trekking or more of sea life, fishing etc. As can be seen in the
map down, only righ-central part of Socotra is the part suitable for
trekking. Fortunately, it lies just next to airport and main town of
Hadibo. Full south to north travese would take around 3-4 days taking
the easy route or more trying the difficult route - see detailed map
below. I was told, that the highest mountains was normally climbed with
a guide from Hadibo as daytrip. Crossing the the main ridge in the area
of the hightest mountains might be quite challenging, but definitely
not impossible. If I go back to Socotra some time, I'll try it.
Upper central Socotra from Google Earth sattelite
maps. The 'Y' like
fork/junction of wadi Dirhur (left) and Darho(right) was the start of
our short 2 day
trek. All the area around this junction is called Firmihin area. You
need to tell this to the driver, if you need to go there independently,
together with the wadi names. Asphalt
road goes almost there from north-west (from airport). Jeep track
continues further on
at least half the way of wadi Darho (right, easy wadi). But it's
difficult for any car to
go even down the wadi if it was just a bit of rain. We walked it down
the wadi and all the way further. The path is very clear, there are no
paths and orientation easy. It's not necessary to have a guide.
If you arrive to Socotra independently, there is
some UNESCO or what sponsored friendly office in Hadibo. They speak
English will tell you what to see, help you to arrange you itinerary,
call the guide etc. There seemed to be only one good restaurant in
Hadibo, where locals directed all foreigners. So this was the place to
meet others, but they were usually with tour agencies there. There were
a few hotels around as well.
If you are intrested in caves, try Hoq cavers on
the northern coast, maybe 1 hour by car east of Hadibo. They should be
better than the small cave we visited in the south. It should be
possible with some effort and contacts to arrange an unforgettable trip
with local fishermen, when they go to fish (we did not have time for
Socotra from Russian military 1:200 000 map with our trek + more
adventurous alternatives marked.
permit - how it worked in 2007, this is not mentioned in 'new' Bradt
One needed a tourist permit (called somthing like
'tashrih' in Arabic) to go in fact
anywhere outside Sanaa (in autumn 2007, still valid in autumn 2008).
The pemit was issued 24hours a day at Minitstry of
Tourism by Tourist Police, Hotoba area in northern Sanaa. I think one
could get it in other big towns such as Aden as well. We went there by
taxi, we did not know the exact location at that time either. The place
is about half way between the airport
and center of Sanna, so it might be good to stop there right when
coming from the airport. They speak English and the permit is issued to
independent travellers as well. They wanted us to list all
destinations that we wanted to visit with exact dates when we wanted to
be there. So it might be good the have this itinerary prepared in
speed up the process.
If you are independent, they may try
to restict you more than groups with tour agencies (yes, they need this
permit as well). E.g they did not
want to allow us independently to Bura mountains at first, they allowed
us when I spoke Arabic and said we were having friends there. In the
end, after you supplied them with your detailed itinerary in English,
write you permit on preprinted paper in Arabic only. This permit states
(if I remember it correctly)
overall from - till date of your travel and even does not list all
people who are travelling !
was no detail route descriptoin on this, to be checked by local police
there! So if they don't want to let
you go somewhere, don't insist on it and say something on the main road
close to it instead (e.g. Sanna to Hudayda at Red sea for problem
to Bura mountains) or leave that completely. Eventually, if it's not
completely closed area or
there are not police
check points there, you may go there or at least try it. The most
important is to leave the office with the permit in hand.
They told us,
they we cannot start the journey the same day, only next day after the
permit was issued. Probably
because they want to report your group to all police check points on
the way. I don't know if they do this in reality, but we started our
journey just after leaving the office and had no problems. Make many
copies of this permit immediately (e.g. 20). At any road check point, I
handed one copy out of car window to the police and in 5 seconds we
continued. There was
no check made whether we were reported there in advance or not and
usually there was no
passport check as well.