Yemen travel guide
If it were an authentic taste of Arabia that you’re craving, Yemen was long the answer. An antidote to Arabian Gulf bling, this was long the peninsula’s most fascinating destination.
The largest city in Yemen, Sana’a is where most visits start. The Old City is UNESCO listed, its multi-storey tower houses and ancient Souk Al Milh lending an overwhelming medieval atmosphere. Being woken pre-dawn by competing muezzins from the city’s fortyish mosques is a truly remarkable, unforgettable experience.
Outside the capital, explore fortified cliff-top villages overseeing cultivated plains or hike the foothills of the Haraz Mountains. To the east, walk the shady streets of Shibam, Freya Stark’s ‘Manhattan of the Desert’, where nine-floor mud towers stand testament to Yemeni building skills. On the coast, visit the bustling fishing ports of Al Mukalla or Al Huydaydah. Most remote is Yemen’s ‘Arabian Galapagos’, the Socotra archipelago. Cast adrift at the mouth of the Gulf of Aden, Socotra is two hours by air from Sana’a; 37% of plant species, 90% of reptiles and an estimated 90% of invertebrates here are found nowhere else on earth.
Once characterised as Arabia Felix (Fortunate Arabia) by the Romans and known as the land of milk and honey by Noah’s sons, these days an uncertain security profile deters all but the hardiest travellers from visiting Yemen. In 2011, Arab Spring protests led to a revolution aimed at improving economic conditions and ending corruption. Unfortunately, the aftermath of the protests has been ever-increasing violence between different rebel factions and jihadists.
When Yemen eventually recovers from this civil war, tourists will surely be drawn back to the land that the Queen of Sheba called home, and where Gilgamesh came in search of the key to eternal life. A country with such a rich history and culture, Yemen certainly deserves more than the present-day tragedy inflicted upon it.
527,968 sq km (203,850 sq miles).
27,477,600 (UN estimate 2016).
50.6 per sq km.
President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi since 2012.
Prime Minister Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr since 2016.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs with two flat pins, three round pins or three square pins are used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
If you travel to Yemen against FCO advice, you should regularly reassess your security arrangements and carefully plan your movements. Avoid routine, vary your travel routes, and keep a low profile at all times. You should take security advice from the host government, local authorities and/or competent security experts before any travel within the country. Routes in and out of Sana’a and the other major cities may become blocked and airports closed or inaccessible at little or no notice. A curfew from 8pm to 6am daily and a ban on carrying arms have been imposed in Aden. On 18 January 2016, Aden Police also imposed a ban on motorcycles within the city following several days of killings, or attempted killings, by armed men on motorbikes. The FCO continues to receive reports of this type of incident. You should check your routes in advance of travelling. Don’t advertise your travel or other plans through social media.
There’s an ongoing threat against foreigners and you are strongly advised to avoid places frequented by foreign nationals and to avoid travelling in an insecure and visible way.
Given the current political and security situation, there’s limited government control over parts of the country with Houthi or Al-Qaeda dominance in some areas.
The political situation is uncertain and the threat of a further escalation of violence and disorder remains.
The instability throughout Yemen has led to those in the south who support secession to call for southern independence and to draw attention to southern grievances.
Weapons are readily available. Incidents may not be solely criminal in nature, and may be linked to terrorism or other insecurity. Tribal disputes over land are common, including in major cities, and may involve the use of weapons. The Houthis are running extra-judicial detention centres. Take care at all times.
You can drive in Yemen using an International Driving Permit. Access routes in and out of major cities may be closed or blocked. Check that the road is open before starting your journey. Driving standards are poor and mountain roads hazardous. There is a severe shortage of fuel in Yemen. You should avoid all road travel outside the main cities at night. Take care to avoid minefields left over from civil wars and landmines used in the current conflict. Travelling off well-used tracks without an experienced guide could be extremely dangerous.
Due to the security situation, diplomatic staff were withdrawn and the operations of the British Embassy in Sana’a temporarily suspended in February 2015. If you need consular assistance, you can contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London at any time by calling +44 (0) 20 7008 1500.
The situation remains very tense and changeable. Clashes and airstrikes have caused temporary suspension or closure of airports across the country. Check with your airline or travel company before travelling to any airport in the country.
Yemeni air space is currently controlled by Saudi-led coalition forces. The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen have declared that starting from 15 August 2016, Sana’a International Airport will be opened for United Nations and other international humanitarian organisations’ flights. Humanitarian organisations must send a notice to the coalition in advance of each flight, and permission will be issued based on the status of military operations. Due to an outbreak of cholera, Yemeni passengers flying to Amman through UN Humanitarian Air Service flights or through commercial flights have been advised to provide a “disease-free certificate” certified by accredited sources before travel to Jordan.
Yemenia Airways flights from Sana’a airport are suspended until further notice. Yemenia Airways occasionally operate flights from Aden airport which reopened in May 2016, however Yemenia’s schedule is subject to last minute alterations or cancellation. If you’re looking to leave the country, contact Yemenia Airways for full details of their schedule, and how to apply for tickets, which can take several weeks to obtain and incur additional administrative fees.
There are no direct cargo or passenger flights between Yemen and the EU. Previous aviation incidents have included a failed attempt to bomb an aircraft destined for the USA, and two explosive devices identified in air cargo originating from Yemen.
The FCO cannot offer advice on the safety of other airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
The conflict also extends to Yemeni territorial waters off the Red Sea and the Bab-Al-Mandeb strait. On 30 January 2017 a Saudi Arabian warship was attacked 30 miles west of Hodeidah. Houthi intent to target Saudi-led coalition military vessels continues. There’s a risk that commercial shipping may be mistaken for a Saudi-led coalition vessel and hit by a water borne improvised explosive device or hit by a stray anti-ship cruise missile.
As part of the coalition response to the Houthi aggression, maritime restrictions are currently in place resulting in variable port and vessel accessibility. Further details are available on the UNVIM website.
While there have been no successful piracy attacks since May 2012 off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, the threat of piracy related activity and armed robbery in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean remains significant. Reports of attacks on local fishing dhows in the area around the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa continue. The combined threat assessment of the international Naval Counter Piracy Forces remains that all sailing yachts under their own passage should remain out of the designated High Risk Area or face the risk of being hijacked and held hostage for ransom. For more information and advice, see our Piracy and armed robbery at sea page.
President Hadi escaped Houthi-imposed house arrest on 20 February 2015 and has now established a government-in-exile in Riyadh. On 25 March 2015 a coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, began air strikes in Yemen following the request for support from President Hadi to deter continued Houthi aggression. The UN is facilitating peace talks between the Yemeni parties to the conflict.
There have been periods of Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) in 2016 although air strikes and ground fighting have continued throughout the country to the present day.
Further reports of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances raise concerns, as Houthis have carried out a wave of arrests of their opponents, and the list of abductees includes politicians, journalists, academics and activists. The political and security situation remains uncertain and volatile.