Traveling abroad to unfamiliar destinations can be an enlightening and intriguing adventure. No matter what part of the world you decide to explore, understanding the local customs and tourist climate is crucial to a safe, enjoyable, and successful journey. Some countries offer unique and historically significant sites, but Western governments deem them unstable due to turmoil within the country. If you’re an experienced globetrotter who understands the intricacies and complexities of exploring a Middle Eastern country, you won’t find a more authentic destination than Yemen.
Few cities in the world are as ancient as this one. Locals say the Prophet Muhammad planned and helped build The Great Mosque of Sana’a here in the seventh century. Archaeologists discovered artifacts inside the mosque that support these claims. The mud-brick towers and buildings within the city pay homage to the craftsmanship and accomplishments of ancient master builders. Traditional building materials harmoniously reflect the local landscape.
Freya Stark, a British explorer, dubbed Shibam the “Manhattan of the Desert” in the 1930s. Mud skyscrapers tower above this UNESCO World Heritage site, a remote city that sits on the northern edge of the Empty Quarter desert in Hadramaut. Historians say it is the oldest metropolis in the world to use vertical construction. An ancient, fortified wall surrounds the 1700-year old city. Unfortunately, floods and conflict have damaged the buildings and houses. Still, the view of this magical city rising out of a vast desert high into the sky is a magnificent and miraculous sight to see.
Heralded not only as a remote paradise but also as the jewel of Arabia, Socotra is the only place on the planet where the legendary dragon’s blood tree grows. Around 34 million years ago, the island separated from mainland Arabia. It lies about 220 miles off the coast of Yemen in the Arabian Sea. Researchers say that nearly 40 percent of the flora that grows here grows nowhere else. The Queen of Sheba and Alexander the Great were among those who sought the natural riches on the island. Travel to the island is challenging, and after 2015, it's become nearly impossible. However, experienced agencies available in Yemen can help you with arrangements.
Travel 22 miles southeast of Mahwet, and you’ll find Jabal Maswar, a 10,000-foot mountain. Magnificent terraces cover its slopes. Trekkers list this as one of the top sites in Yemen to explore, primarily due to its breathtaking mountain vistas. From a distance, it looks like someone carved steps up the side of the mountain, but these fantasy-like ridges are part of the landscape. The friendly locals are another plus for the Mahwet area. Those who choose to explore the mountain usually camp in a village called Bait Adaga.
For centuries, the Ma’rib Dam stored water for drinking and irrigation. The Sabaeans began construction in the seventh and eighth centuries BCE, and it collapsed in the sixth century CE. Engineers constructed a new dam close by in the 20th century. Today, the sluices or sliding gate walls of the original dam still stand, but airstrikes have damaged the ruins in recent years. Archaeologists say the dam was originally 197 feet thick at its base and about 50 feet high. It crossed the Dhana valley from the northern mountain of Balaq to the southern one, a distance of more than 2,300 feet. The wall is a testament to the know-how of ancient civilizations.
For centuries, the Sira Fortress has been a mystery. Most people believe the Ottomans built the fort on Sira Island in the 11th century. It served as a military installation, overlooking the harbor in the port city of Aden and the Yemeni military still uses it today. Archaeologists have completed a few studies in the area, so they know little about the fortress’ history. Four years ago, someone vandalized the site. However, local officials reopened Sira Fortress this year, and they encourage tourists and citizens to visit the historic locale.
The only point of entry to this remote mountain village is to travel across an arched stone bridge that spans a wide gorge. Shaharah is a distinguished locale for Islamic learning dating back to the ninth century. Throughout its history, its inaccessible location protected it from potential sieges until the 1960s. Although the village is a safe place to visit, travel experts don’t currently recommend travel there due to the danger on the roads leading into the area. However, this is a destination worth waiting for.
One of Yemen’s most adored queens constructed one of its oldest mosques in 1056 in Jibla. Born in 1048, Queen Arwa co-ruled Yemen with her mother-in-law when her husband became ill. Following her mother-in-law's death in 1087, Queen Arwa, beautiful and educated, was the sole ruler until she died in 1138, a notable accomplishment in the Islamic world. Arwa established schools and mosques for girls in Jibla, built aqueducts that brought water to the city, and wrote books on irrigation and aquatic plants. The queen’s tomb is located in the mosque.
If you visit Aden, you’ll no doubt hear about the Cisterns of Tawila, also called the Tawila Tanks, the most well-known historic site in Aden. Only 13 of the original 53 tanks remain due to renovations dating back to the 19th century. The connected tanks are of various sizes and capacities. Originally designed to catch rainwater and protect the city from flooding, they can hold about 19 million gallons. To see the cisterns, head to Wadi Tawila, an area southwest of the city’s oldest district, Crater.
In recent years, the Yemeni Civil War ravaged the city of Taiz, the home of the historic Cairo Castle, also known as Al-Qahera Castle. Over the past four years, a military faction had control over the castle, using it as a military barracks. But last year, the Yemeni government took back control and reopened it to the public. You’ll find the castle on the northern slope of Mount Sabr overlooking the city and the Yemen Highlands. Artisans built the castle more than 800 years ago and it was a top international tourist destination. Today, Cairo Castle seems to be on its way to earning the designation once again.