With some of the oldest history on earth, cities guarded by mountaintop fortresses, and home to the Galapagos of the middle east, Yemen may have more to offer travelers than any other country in the entire region. Unfortunately in recent times when most people think of this country the first things that come to mind are terrorism and civil unrest. Not that you can blame them though; immediately before my trip here some international experts said Al Qaeda’s stronghold had moved from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Yemen, and news of sporadic attacks and other issues never help. But while the many Yemenis I met won’t deny their internal issues, the majority of the population is extremely welcoming to foreigners and will do their best to make sure you have an amazing experience.
One of the oldest and best preserved urban settlements in the world, Yemen’s capital of Sana’a is most famous for its old city. Old Sana’a became a world heritage site in 1984, and you can visit the city’s 14,000 tower houses that reach up to eight stories. Outside the old city you can find some of Yemen’s best restaurants, the King’s Mosque, and the country’s best museums.
Another ancient city of Yemen, this was the capital of the southern part of the country until the north and south were reunited in 1990. Aden is the site of many important religious stories from both the Quran and the bible. Many people believe that Cain and Abel are buried somewhere in the ancient city and some even believe the Garden of Eden is here! There are dozens of ancient religious cites, mosques, museums and plenty of interesting markets to explore.
This small city of several thousand is nicknamed the ‘Manhattan of the Desert’ for its towering buildings that rise against the surrounding desert. High rise apartments that reach over 10 stories may not sound impressive at first, but what makes these unique is the fact that they were built in the 2nd century, nearly 2,000 years ago. The city is a world heritage site and exploring Shibam is one of the most amazing experiences Yemen has to offer.
The magical islands of Socotra are not just a highlight in Yemen, but also the greater Middle East. With its amazing diving, unique endemic flora and fauna, and other wonders, one could call Socotra the Galapagos of the Middle East. The islands are a safe haven in the country so its quite easy for tourists to relax on the beach, go diving or explore some of the huge cave networks without any concerns.
Halfway between Sana’a and Aden, Taiz is a former capital of Yemen that is located up in the highlands. The city has multiple beautiful mosques, castles, and several historic quarters. It was once home to over 10,000 Jews who lived peacefully in what was known as the Jewish Sharab. In addition to all this, the surrounding mountains themselves are an impressive site, and so is the ancient city walls that traverses them.