The 20 best places to visit in Yemen

 

On the southern coast of the country on the Gulf Of Aden is an area known as Balhaf, a landscape of coastal dunes, palm trees, and where white sand meets black basalt lava. One of the highlights of the area is the Bi'r Ali Crater, an extinct volcano that holds within it a clear turquoise lake. From it's peak visitors have a wonderful view of the countries dry desert, close by port towns and it's long coastline.

20. Bi'r Ali Crater

 

Built in the 12th century in the ancient city of Taiz is the Al Qahira Castle, otherwise known as Cairo Castle. Located high up on the northern slope of the rocky Mount Sabr, this ancient fortified structure of palaces, thick castle walls and lush terraced gardens gave visitors unhindered views over the old city of Taiz and the surrounding landscape.

Unfortunately in 2015 during the Yemeni Civil War the castle was overtaken by rebels and then subjected to two separate airstrikes. The level of destruction is currently unclear.

19. Al Qahira Castle

 

East of the capital, Sana'a, close to the ancient city of Ma'rib is the Mahram Bilqis, otherwise known as the Temple Of Awwam. The oldest inscription found in the temple dates back to the 7th century BC, leading scholars to believe the temple itself is centuries older still. The ruins of ancient courtyards and monolithic pillars are all that remain of what would once have been a most incredible structure in the desert.

18. Awwam Temple

 

Completed in 2008 in the capital city, Sana'a, is the Al Saleh Mosque, known by many as the People's Mosque, the largest in Yemen. Open to non Muslim and international tourists this vast structure covers an area over a quarter of a square kilometre and can hold up to 44,000 people, with each of it's six minarets reaching a height of 100 metres (330 ft) into the air.

17. Al Saleh Mosque

 

East of the capital, Sana'a, to the south of the modern city of Ma'rib are the ruins of Old Ma'rib. Once the capital city during the period of the Sabaean Kings, Ma'rib flourished for over a thousand years before falling around the year 575 AD. Abandoned as recently as the 20th century, the ruins of a small village of mud brick buildings is all that remains.

16. Old Ma'rib

 

In the south west of the country to the north of the city of Aden is a landscape of dry steep rocky mountains. Cutting through this rough terrain is the high mountain road of the Lawdar Pass, reaching an elevation of 2,267 metres (7,437 ft) above sea level. With twists and turns, over thirty tight hairpin bends along exposed sheer drops the Lawdar Pass offers drivers incredible views on one of Yemen's most dangerous roads.

15. Lawdar Pass

 

In the far north west of the country not far from the border with Saudi Arabia in the mountainous Yemeni Highlands is the medieval city of Sa'dah. The original capital of the Zaydi Dynasty, Sa'dah is rich in history with traditional burnt brick architecture dating back centuries.

Due to Saudi led coalition airstrikes the ancient city of Sa'dah has been heavily destroyed. The level of destruction is thought to be beyond repair.

14. Sa'dah

 

In the south west of the country is the ancient town of Zabid, the capital between the 13th and 15th century and one of the oldest continuously occupied towns in Yemen. At it's heart is the Great Mosque of Zabid, built around 628 AD it is thought to be the 5th mosque ever built, making it the most important of Zabid's eighty six mosques. With it's narrow alleyways between deteriorating ancient buildings of early Islamic architecture, Zabid holds enormous archaeological and historical importance, with the entire town having been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in danger.

13. Zabid

 

Covering an area of some 650,000 square kilometres (250,000 square miles) the Rub Al Khali is the largest continuous desert in the world, encompassing southern Saudi Arabia, as well as northern Oman and Yemen. Known as the Empty Quarter, this enormous desert is 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) long and over 500 kilometres (310 miles) wide. With huge sand dunes reaching up to 250 metres (800 ft) high it truly is a land of spectacular scenery.

12. Rub Al Khali

 

North of the capital, Sana'a, atop the steep mountain of Jabal Shaharah at an elevation of 2,600 metres (8,530 ft) above sea level is the village of Shahara. Overlooking mountains to the north and a great desert to the south, the village consists of several old stone buildings within incredible surroundings. The areas most famous architectural landmark is a 17th century footbridge known as the Bridge Of Sighs, built to connect two neighbouring villages across a deep gorge.

Pictured is the Bridge Of Sighs.

11. Shaharah

 

Dating back to the Himyarite Kingdom around 100 BC, close to the modern capital, Sana'a, is the ancient town of Thula. With exceptionally well preserved traditional houses and mosques, Sabaean period ruins and it's massive stone fortifications, Thula is a town of exceptional archaeological importance, allowing visitors to almost step back in time.

10. Thula

 

Built as recently as the 1930's on the outskirts of the capital, Sana'a, is the Dar Al-Hajar Palace, a grand castle like structure built on the side of a tall rock spire with a large tower at it's peak. This former palace is today a museum, with visitors allowed to tour this incredible unique structure for free, though the best view is undoubtedly from the ground looking upwards.

9. Dar Al-Hajar

 

South of the modern capital, Sana'a, is the town of Jibla, located within forested mountains it resides at an elevation of 2,200 metres (7,217 ft) above sea level. This ancient town was at one point during the 11th century the capital of Yemen, holding one of the countries most famed historical stories. Steeped in Yemeni folklore, perched in beautiful natural surroundings this ancient traditional town of climbing and weaving narrow walkways between centuries old buildings that include the former palace of the Great Mosque is another of the countries most picturesque towns.

8. Jibla

 

Close to the capital, Sana'a, and just south of Thula is the Old Walled City Of Shibam. Built during the 16th century on a partly destroyed older settlement it was at one time a very important caravan stop on the spice and incense route through the southern Arabian plateau. Tall clusters of sun dried mud brick buildings rise from the ground and have earned the town the nickname, 'Manhattan Of The Desert'. Regarded as one of the oldest and best examples of urban planning based on the principle of vertical construction, the entire Walled City Of Shibam has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

7. Shibam

 

In the Haraz Mountains in the west of the country is the former market town of Al Hajjarah, today primarily used as a base camp for trekkers or visitors seeking to see one of the mountain ranges finest ancient fortified villages. Founded in the 12th century, Al Hajjarah has become one of the most famous mountain villages in Yemen, it's towering houses standing remarkably stable on the edge of sheer cliffs makes it a photographers dream in a hugely picturesque location.

6. Al Hajjarah

 

In the almost exact centre of the country visitors will find themselves in the superb surroundings of the Wadi Dawan Valley. Set at the foot of a deep canyon this spectacularly beautiful location is home to a whole community of mud brick buildings often cited as one of the most dramatic villages in the world. Unfortunately the village has been deemed off limits by almost every tour company after an incident in 2008 where terrorists opened fire on a group of European travellers passing through on the way to Shibam.

5. Wadi Dawan

 

In the west of the country, the Haraz Mountain Range or Jabal Haraz is a region of steep imposing mountains, though naturally beautiful in itself they have become most famous for the fortified villages that cling to the almost inaccessible rocky peaks. The towns are generally built like a castle, the houses themselves working as a defensive wall, the surrounding mountain then manipulated into terraces for growing crops and keeping livestock. Some of the most remarkable villages to seek out are Manakhah, Khalil, Al Hajjarah, Hutaib, Bayt Al Qamus and Bayt Shimran, each one showcasing remarkable architecture from Yemeni villagers during the Sulayhid Dynasty.

Pictured is the village of Khalil.

4. Jabal Haraz

 

In the Wadi Dawan Valley in the centre of the country, south of the spectacular village of the same name is another village that is almost unreal in it's appearance, it's name is Haid Al Jazil. Perched on a rock above the valley floor, mud brick houses have been bunched together to make probably the most dramatic village scene anywhere in the world.

3. Haid Al-Jazil

 

In the western centre of the country is the capital city, Sana'a, filled with architectural gems that span 2,500 years it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and at 2,200 metres (7,217 ft) above sea level it is also one of the highest capital cities on the planet. Surrounded by ancient clay walls which stand 9 to 14 metres (30 to 46 ft) high, the old city contains over 100 mosques, 14 bath houses and over 6,000 houses all built before the 11th century. These densely rammed red brick towers resembling ancient skyscrapers are decorated with elaborate and intricately carved frames usually with windows of stained glass, giving Sana'a a truly timeless feel. The entire Old City has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

2. Sana'a

 

In the Arabian sea some 380 kilometres (240 miles) south of the mainland is the island of Socrota, one of the most unique places on Earth. From it's narrow coastal plains to it's high mountain plateaus this small tropical desert island is one of the most biodiversity rich and distinct islands in the world, due mainly to it's high number of plant and animal species that are found nowhere else. Described by visitors as one of Earth's most alien looking landscapes, regarded as the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean, the island of Socrota is a site of global significance and has been declared a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site of enormous Universal importance.

Pictured is the Dracaena Cinnabari, known as the Dragon Blood Tree.

1. Socrota

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