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Travel to Yemen: desert landscapes on the Red Sea

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile

Visitors to this country return home transformed thanks to the pure and authentic emotions this country provokes. Desert landscapes to mountain plateaux via the beaches of the red sea and the arabic sea, those who travel to Yemen will discover an amazing sight. The population lives in stone, earth, straw or brick structures that look like they haven't been modified in centuries. A journey through time to discover a welcoming population and a culture that is still intact.

Security: the FCO still advises against all travel to the whole of Yemen. See the full official advice.

Our Editorial team's advice

Spend 2 or 3 days in Sana'a (at 2,350m of altitude) and the surroundings to get a feel for the country.
To go to Chibam (an absolute must), the 'Manhattan of the desert' with its skyline of adobe houses, you can choose to spend a night in Marib, the largest archaeological site in the country. If you leave very early, you can cross the desert with a driver and a 4x4 and watch the sun rise over the dunes while enjoying breakfast.
Children have gotten into the habit of asking tourists for money. We recommend you purchase some raisins (which are delicious) at a market to offer to them.
Aden is currently Yemen's commercial capital but isn't really worth visiting. The house where Rimbaud stayed still exists but would need a major restoration to make it of any touristic interest.
If your dream is to have an island all to yourself, spend a few days on the Island of Socotra, near the Somali coast. The fauna and flora here are endemic and exceptional, and the deserted beaches are magnificent.

pros

  • +The high architectural and esthetic value of the area.
  • +Magnificent craftsmanship.
  • +A liberal Muslim country
  • +The kindness of the people

cons

  • -Rainy season June-September on the higher plateaux of the North-West.
  • -Internal political problems, "kidnappings" of tourists occasionally in the North.
  • -The tourist infrastructures are still small-scale.

Food

Easy peasy. The cuisine is simple and features rice, sorghum and beans. The staple element is bread. Salta, the national dish, is a kind of stew made from lamb, chicken and vegetables. Try the delicious, honey-based cakes. Food is eaten without a knife or a fork, but with a spoon and a piece of bread (always held in the right hand as the left is considered unclean). The coffee here is not strong (despite the local origin of the name 'mocha') and is often served with cardamom. You can only find Western-style cuisine in the hotels and restaurants frequented by tourists.

Souvenirs

The Al-Baqr souk, the main market of Old Sana'a, abounds with jambiya daggers starting at £4 a piece, but the prices increase drastically depending on the quality and decoration of the sheath. Keep in mind that it is normally forbidden to export antiques more than 100 years old. Silver jewellery (more or less vintage and often 'made in China'), coral, horn, carpets and embroidery can be found everywhere. The smells of incense and myrrh permeate the alleyways and are sold in little blocks for next to nothing. The souk is really exceptional because, far from the clichés of the souks like those to be found in Marrakech, this one is quite calm and when vendors ask you to come in and have a look at their goods, they do it with kindness and not to pressure you into buying something. This makes it easy to spend hours walking around the souk, looking at the stalls of daggers, fabrics, jewellery, spices and countless other treasures. Such a stroll makes it possible to watch the vendors at work until they stop for a rest in the afternoon and come back refreshed and ready to get back at it.