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Tips Yemen

Written by DanielaZavala. Posted in Middle East, Tips

Published on December 02, 2012 with No Comments

Tips Yemen

General advise: Although Yemen is considered a dangerous place and tourists are discouraged to travel there, I personally found that it is possible to travel to this country with no problem if basic measures (such avoiding the tribal areas and always be with reliable travel agents, as well as be informed of the political situation and avoid demonstrations) are taken. Here are some information about the places I visited and the people who made my journey memorable (and so much interesting, easier and safer)

Places to visit:

-Sana’a: The Yemeni capital is supposed to be about 2000 years old. Its distinctive architecture with story buildings decorated with geometric windows is spectacular. Men in traditional dress with their gambias (curvy knives) in their waists and women in black burkas made the whole city experience more fascinating. It is traditional and conservative, but very welcoming to those who visit.

-Socotra: A beautiful and remote island in the Indian Ocean, about 380km or 240 miles from Yemen’s mainland. It is considered a hidden treasure in the Arabian Sea with nearly 700 endemic species that cannot be found anywhere in the world but there, including the Dragon’s Blood Tree. Besides exotic plants, you can enjoy of endless miles of virgin (and empty!) sandy beaches and turquoise waters, as well as amazing hospitality. It is rare to go to a place where you don’t see one foreigner on your journey, but this was the case, which made me feel I was an entire paradise just for me. Hurry up and go before mass tourist spoils the island. If you are afraid of traveling to Socotra through mainland, there are flights from UAE to Socotra (although I will strongly encourage to spend a few days in Sana’a)

-Haraz Mountains: About 2 hours drive for Sana’a. Great place for hiking and home of some ancient towns. It is supposed to be one of the most conservatives’ areas (still ruled by sheiks) but people are really hospital. They haven’t seen many tourists in months (actually two years) so I was very welcomed by locals everywhere (I was offered to have meals and tea by those I encountered). You need a permit from the tourist police in Sana’a to visit the Haraz Mountains but can be quickly arranged by a tour agent.

Visa: Most nationalities need a visa to enter Yemen. You can get a visa directly through the Embassy of Yemen or it can be processed through a tour operator that sponsors your visa -they will do the whole process in Yemen and send you a PDF so you can get your visa stamped in the airport upon arrival. Always double check about the visa processing as it changes depending on the situation in Yemen.

How to get there:

-Sana’a: Yemenia Airway, Fly Dubai and Emirates are some of the airlines that fly to Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. The taxi from the airport to the old town can cost 1500 to 2000 Yemeni riyal.

Socotra: Yemenia Airway (www.yemenia.com/) and Felix Airways (http://www.felixairways.com) are currently the only airlines that fly to Socotra. You can fly from Sana’a or you can skip mainland Yemen by traveling by connecting in Sharjah in United Arab Emirates. Check schedules because there aren’t daily flights.

Moving around: Unfortunately, nowadays it is not possible for tourists to travel freely across the country due to security problems. Some places are off limits for foreigners and others required a permit –to pass security posts- or a tour arranged by a travel agency. However, you can wonder around Sana’a freely. Socotra is VERY safe, it is very far from mainland and not affected by the unrest that is affecting the rest of the country.

Tour Agents:

-Socotra: I STRONGLY recommend Eco Socotra (www.socotra-eco-tours.com) Experienced, knowledgeable and welcoming, Abduljameel Abdullah Ali is a 29-years-old Socotri who goes the extra mile to tailor your trip and make your journey memorable. I was treated like a special guest and a friend. The agency offers different kind of tours to fit the interests of the various travelers and budgets. They also process your visa and even flights. For more info, check their website, call Abduljameel at +967 770689762 or email him at holidays@socotra-eco-tours.com Be aware that the cell coverage in the island is limited and that sometimes Abduljameel is out of the office taking tourists around, but he was (among the tour operators I contacted) the fastest to respond and help my travel needs.

-Sana’a and Haraz Mountains: There are three people I will recommend…

Taher M.Al Saedy: A former military office turned into the funniest, kindest and liveliest Yemeni tour guide! I strongly recommend him for a tour to Old Sana’a, Haraz Mountains or other places in mainland Yemen. I contacted an agency in Sana’a (Discovery Yemen at www.discover-yemen-tours.com) to arrange my tour to Haraz Mountains and the permits, and Taher was the driver. However, he did more than driving me around. He showed me as much as he could, and everywhere we went (both in Haraz mountains and old town Sana’a) he was well known and welcomed by everyone. His English is limited but his enthusiasm and efforts to make the traveler see and experience as much as possible the culture make him an ideal guide to enjoy Yemen. You can reach Taher at +967-771972800. Email: taheer.2020@yahoo.com

Doaa Alwaseai: If you are a woman and you want to learn about your counterparts in Yemen, you cannot miss the opportunity to meet Doaa, the first female tour guide in Yemen. A strong advocate to tourism in Yemen, she has faced challenges in her conservative hometown to welcome foreigners and show them the beauty of her country’s capital. Her English is impeccable and she is very knowledgeable of Sana’a and its history. Tel. +967-777487095. Email: doaa.oldcity@gmail.com. Negotiate a price in advance. She can be pricy –compared to other local guides- but feel free to negotiate with her. She is really good.

Accommodation:

-Socotra: I mostly camped in Socotra, but I stayed in a wonderful place called Eco-Lodge no far from Hadibo. Its owner Abdullah is a lovely Socotri who will quickly make you feel at home and among family (he will make you eat tons!) The accommodation is basic but comfortable, clean and cute. Besides being located on the beach, which allows you to go to bed and wake up listening to the waves, you will have an opportunity to meet an amazing Socotri family. Abdullah’s father, Abid and his wife (with the help of their children) run a reserve where various endemic species of the island have been planted in an effort to protect them.

-Sana’a: Arabia Felix Hotel (www.arabiafelix.free.fr ): Great location in the Old City and budget prices. Rooms are basic but charmy (hot showers!) The hotel has Wi-Fi and the cost includes breakfast. A single room with bathroom cost US$30 (2012 price) but once you are there, you can try to negotiate the price, as tourism is low now. There are cheaper places but I found this to be a great value for what it offers in terms of location, comfort, security and connectivity. Tel +967-1287330. Email: Arabia-felix@y.net.ye

Burj Al Salam Hotel: If you have a bit more to splurge, this hotel in Old city mixes tradition with modernity. Excellent views from the rooftop and also has wireless internet. Tel. +967-1483333.

Advise for women and solo woman travelers: I traveled to Sana’a, Haraz Mountains and Socotra on my own. Although I have some concerns about traveling solo in Yemen, I found no problems at all. I was very welcomed everywhere I went. Locals treated me with kindness and respect. Since it is a conservative society, I tried to always be sensitive and respectful to the locals by wearing lose clothes and covering my wear with a scarf. I even bought a Yemeni Abaya for about US$8 in the market in Sana’a and it turned out to be very comfortable and well received by locals, who seemed to appreciate my consideration to their customs. Being respectful and sensitive to their traditions can open many doors in Yemen!

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