Yemen © Jialiang Gao
*All touristic travel to Yemen is advised against. US and British nationals have been strongly urged to leave the country by their respective government's travel advisories. The security situation in Yemen has deteriorated over the last few years and the country is likely to continue to be dangerous for travellers in the near future. The risk of terrorism is high and civil unrest is widespread.
At its best Yemen is a place of incredible scenery, striking Islamic architecture, bustling souks, peaceful mosques, lush valleys and epic mountains, and the Arab world's warmest, most hospitable people.
The capital Sana'a embodies the two faces of Yemen. There is the modern city with upmarket tourist facilities, and the old city with its Grand Mosque and distinctive multi-story buildings crafted in clay. Sana'a is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the world and has much to offer visitors. Take in the view of the old city from the roof of the Taj Talha Hotel, enjoy the old souk for a sense of what life is like without malls, and be spellbound by the magnificent 700-year-old Great Mosque.
Aden, the second largest city, is a port dating from Biblical times. It has a more cosmopolitan, liberal air than Sana'a and makes for an interesting visit. Other cities worth exploring are Shibam, known as the Manhattan of the Desert, and the garden city of Rawdha. Yemen's most incredible attraction, however, is the Socotra archipelago, with over 700 species of wildlife and plants unique to the islands. Known as 'the other Galapagos', this is a place of unique beauty and scientific fascination, with a distinct tribal culture that has thrived for thousands of years.
Certain sights are common no matter where you travel in Yemen: most men carry rifles, and almost all men carry distinctive ritual curved daggers. The latter is really the essential souvenir for visitors - choose yours carefully and don't pack it in your hand luggage when you fly home! The other site you'll get used to seeing is qat, the mildly narcotic leaf that men of all ages chew while reclining in the shade, socialising and drinking tea.
To the Romans, the country of Yemen was known as Arabia Felix, the 'fortunate land', on account of its fertile fields. In Biblical times this was the land of milk and honey, a place of great significance. Today Yemen is struggling with unrest, instability and widespread terrorism but travellers eagerly await the day this famously interesting country will again be hospitable to visitors.
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