Yemen © Jialiang Gao
*All but essential travel to Yemen is advised against. This includes the mainland and all islands. US and British nationals have been strongly urged to leave immediately by their respective government's travel advisories. The security situation in Yemen has continued to deteriorate over the last few months and is likely to continue to be dangerous for travellers in the near future.
Yemen is a place of incredible scenery, striking Islamic architecture, bustling souks, and peaceful mosques, lush valleys and epic mountains, and running throughout it all 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.
Certain sights are common no matter where you travel: most men carry rifles, and 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.
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 thrives intact after thousands of years.
To the Romans, the country of Yemen known as Arabia Felix, the 'fortunate land' on account of its fertile fields. To it's Biblical ancestors this was the land of milk and honey, a place of great significance. Today it is a shame that a few high profile incidents such as the 2001 bombing of the US Embassy have shaped public perception of this country more so than its plethora of extraordinary attractions and warmly welcoming people. Visit soon for an experience of a lifetime.
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