The walls of medieval Sana'a at Market Gate. Sana'a is the capital of North Yemen.
Yemen is an almost perfect picture of medieval Arab life. It has a long history, buildings are ancient, unique and spectacular,
the people are fierce but friendly and social habits are curious.
But until a few years ago tourists were not allowed to travel
in this extraordinary country.
Sana'a's mud-brick housing
We have to thank Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait for the opening
of Yemen to foreigners. When the government supported Iraq during
the Gulf crisis, thousands of expatriate workers in Mid-East countries
were sent home, cutting off one of the country's main sources of
Tourist dollars were the easiest and fastest way to replace the
lost income. So, with the end of the Gulf War came the beginning
of tourism and though the infrastructure for tourism is not well developed, the
attractions are clear.
Sadly, just as Yemen tourism was beginning to flourish Al Quaeda emerged and the country became hazardous to the health. Then came the Arab Spring democracy movement in 2011 which is not yet resolved. We love the country but cannot recommend it for tourism at present.
up-to-date terrorist information please
check the excellent Foreign
Office (FO) world travel safety site or US State Department.
The most dramatic feature of Yemen today, especially in and around
the capital of Sana'a, is the buildings. Sana'a, 2,300m above sea level, is considered to be architecturally
unique and has received hundreds of millions of dollars from UNESCO for its preservation.
Many houses are over 400 years old, and most are built in the
style of 1,000 years ago.
Five or six floor, brown mud and brick houses grow out of the
brown land, like huge square vegetables.
A Japanese tourist in Sana'a central market, before Al Quaeda.
Yemen people are as colourful as their homes. Large, curved, silver daggers are the Yemen equivalent of the
western necktie, while Kalashnikov machine guns are carried with
the same frequency as cellphones in Tokyo, only with a deadlier
A Yemeni woman, walking towards the camera.
Since Yemen is a staunchly Islamic society the women appear in public fully covered, mostly in
black like negative ghosts, and do not communicate at all with foreign travellers. Trying
to take pictures of them is probably the most dangerous action
a traveller can do in this country.
Dinner in a Yemeni house.
The weapons the men carry are not just for show but they generally
keep their gunplay away from foreigners and are the perfect hosts.
Inviting strangers into their homes for tea or sharing some narcotic
qat leaves with a curious traveller is not unusual.
The usual afternoon or early evening Qat party.
Qat (also known as kat, khat, quat) is a another unique feature of the Yemen. A narcotic
bush, cousin to the coca plant in South America from which cocaine
is produced, qat is chewed in some other countries, but not to the
same degree as in Yemen.
The whole country seems to be fueled by this legal drug, a euphoric stimulant, with 90%
of the population chewing it for up to 5 hours a day.
Afternoon or evening qat parties are a part of daily life where
groups of men, or women - but not both together - gather on the
top floor of a house, or in a cafe, or their workplace; they lean
on cushions, drink cola, smoke, chat and chew the qat.
by leaf, they stuff their faces until their eyes are bright, their
blood pressure is up by 20%, their conversation is wild and their
cheeks take on the shape of oranges.
Newspaper articles argue endlessly about the bad and occasionally
about the good effects of qat on the body, but what is indisputable
is that Yemen is poor country with very little rain.
A Qat farm outside Sana'a. Next, Sights outside Sana'a in North Yemen.
Most of Yemen's countryside is barren earth or rock, with a few small plots of
carefully, expensively watered land, yet 50% of this tiny land
area is used to grow qat, since people would rather chew the leaf
Many families spend one third of their monthly income on this
drug, but the government doesn't dare to mess with the habits
of so many fiercely independent, well-armed citizens.
Yemen weather: Sana'a is at an elevation of 2,400m (7,200 ft) so it's cold in winter. But it's also extremely hot and dusty in summer so the shoulder months of spring and autumn are the best time to go to this part of Yemen.
The west coast of Yemen is mostly hot, humid and rampant with malarial mosquitoes. The south coast is hot and dry but apart from Shibam there's little to see. The port of Aden is hideous.
Yemeni People | Yemen
Guide | Yemen
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