Everybody who is minimally interested in Yemen knows that you need a visa to enter the country. It's rather expensive and the easiest way to get it is through someone in Yemen or some institution such as a language school.
One must also have the EXIT visa. I learned about this just 3 days before departure!! I was told that since I stayed just one month then I did not need it. However I decided to do it anyway. SIAL wrote me the appropriate letter of application in Arabic. I went to the Ministry of foreign Affairs in Sana'a. It is the building with round windows near the imposing Saudi Arabian embassy.
I nearly got shot in the process. I ignored the guard at the door and walked straight in. The electricity went out before I entered the lift so I had to climb about 5 flights of steps. All conversation was in Arabic and I was sent from one desk to another. I paid 400 YR. Finally the visa sticker was peeled off its sheet and stuck triumphantly onto my passport. Shukran wa ma assalaama.
The colonel was very helpful.
Traffic in Yemen: is it really that bad?
Yes and no. Death toll is staggering (2500 per annum, compared to less than 800 in the Netherlands). Everything that's probably officially not allowed is to be expected: igoring red lights, driving on the wrong side of a dual carriage way, horrendous speeding, bad lighting both on the cars and on the streets, overall appalling state of maintenace of most vehicles, underage drivers, drivers with tunnel-vision due to qat use, women drivers with limited lateral vision due to their wearing of the niqaab. Add to this winding roads alongside steep ravines, and during Ramadan all of this aggravated by fatigue in the morning and hunger in the afternoon.
So what about the no in the first sentence? Just expect the unexpected. Sounds like a cliché, but it works.Related to:
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A typical Governments warning
Canadian Government Warning
SAFETY AND SECURITY
There exists heightened tensions in Yemen, together with increased threats globally from terrorism. Since April 2005, there have been a number of grenade attacks in Sana'a against Yemeni government forces. On September 15, 2006, two oil installations near Ma’rib and al-Mukalla were attacked in simultaneous terrorist operations.
On July 19, 2005, the Government of Yemen announced the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies. A number of civil unrest incidents have occurred since the announcement. Westerners may be targeted and there is a possibility that the unrest may escalate. Avoid leaving vehicles unattended. In the event that you have to do so, carefully inspect both the interior and exterior upon return to detect any attached devices or suspect packages nearby. Treat mail and packages from unfamiliar sources with suspicion. If you notice anything unusual, contact your sponsor or employer, or call the Yemeni police immediately. Suspects as well as witnesses to incidents may be held for lengthy periods without access to legal counsel or consular officials. If access is granted, it may be severely limited by the Yemeni authorities.
The level of risk to foreigners in Yemen is high. Vehicle hijacking is common. Yemeni authorities have increased security throughout the country, especially in areas frequented by tourists. Remain vigilant, do not show signs of affluence, and ensure personal belongings and travel documents are secured. Kidnappings of foreigners, mainly by disgruntled tribesmen, have occurred in the past. In most cases, these have been resolved peacefully, although there have been fatalities.
Canadian Government Warning about local travel
Driving habits, poorly maintained vehicles, unclear and unheeded traffic laws, excessive speed, roaming animals, and pedestrians pose hazards. For security reasons, travelling along routes outside cities should be avoided. Should you need to do so, you should drive in convoy and during daylight hours. Advise friends or employer of your route as well as expected time of arrival and destination. Travellers should not use the Aden-Taiz-Sana'a highway. Anti-personnel mines and unexploded munitions remain a danger in the southern and eastern areas of the country, particularly around Aden, and the central highlands.
There is no rail service. You should avoid city buses and use only officially marked taxis after pre-negotiating fares. Car hires with chauffeurs are advisable. You should travel by air between major cities.
A spate of kidnappings in the second half of the nineties gave Yemen a very bad name. What's worse, after a lull from 2002 to the summer of 2005 kidnappings resumed. The last one was in September 2006. Although they were all resolved peacefully and various kidnapped travelers simply continued their travels in Yemen as if nothing had happened, one would naturally want to avoid this happening to you. If you're planning on travelling through Marib and Shabwah, make sure beforehand what the current travel advice is and ask your tour operator or guide about precautions he's taking (routes to be taken, possibly arranging for police escort).
Police escorts often will appreciate some money to buy qat. This is in no way compulsory and as a matter of principle you may not want to do this. Then again, if you feel like it you may not want to be too moralistic in this respect.Related to:
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...is still largely absent among the population. And for the most part it's not a great concern to the authorities either. Desertification is setting in as the groundwater table sinks. In the Sana'a basin water is being pumped up from the fourth (and last) aquifer, up to 1000 metres of depth. In other areas agriculture has knocked itself out already through over-pumping for irrigation. The island of Socotra is still a biodiversity hotspot but unscrupulous developers might end that as soon as they smell money. And garbage collection is greatly lacking. One of the good exceptions is the city of Sana'a, where the mayor decided to offer a job to an army of 'akhdam', the lowest caste, supposed to have descended from Ethiopian conquerors long ago. Pay is low, but it provides for steady income AND a remarkably clean city.Related to:
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Safety Issue - Updated (June 2009)
Yemen has been labeled a "dangerous" destination; travel warnings do exist. The main reason so far were kidnappings of tourists/expats on a regular basis with a peak in the mid-nineties. Unruly tribes tried to gain concessions from the central government with hostages as leverage. The number of kidnappings is on the decrease since then. In the last two years though, there were an increasing number of attacks against tourists or foreign embassies, with several victims killed or wounded. In consequence, ad hoc travel limitations were issued in the aftermath of terrorist attacks. Each case is tragic - no doubt about that - yet statistically, given how many people travel to Yemen each year, these are still are exceptions and it boils down to a matter of bad luck and being at the wrong place at the wrong time. But it cannot be denied that in 2008 there has been a dramatic increase of incidents. Compared to the situation two years ago, after speaking with several expats my impression is that the overall security situation is now worse than before, so you have to weigh the risks against the benefits. For the moment, though I am sad to say it, I would monitor the news closely and postpone Yemen travel till the security situation stabilizes again.
If you should decide to go to Yemen, there are still a few a number of pro-reasons:
1. The government issued the death penalty for abductions and at the same time encouraged involvement of the local tribes in tourism (as guides, secuirty guards, drivers etc.).
2. Most tourists travel with organized tours, so the tour operator will avoid areas with a volatile security situation. That means, mainly Marib and Shabwa provinces + Saada area(occasional civil warfare & abductions) to the north.
3. The kidnappings took mainly place in the provinces of Marib and Shabwa which can be avoided altogether. If you want to visit the Hadramaut, take an inland flight from Sanaa instead of driving through the Marib.
4. Sanaa - as a major city - is quite safe. Expats who worked there for a long time confirmed that theft let alone robbery, violent crime etc. is completely uncommon, even if you walk the streets in the evening or get lost in the Old Town. I felt much safer than in many major cities in Europe.
5. Unlike other destinations, you will most certainly not be harrassed by hawkers or agressive youths. As a female traveller, you will likely be stared at even when you are modestly dressed, but it is highly unlikely that you will experience sexual harrassment, flirting or else.
Yemeni traffic is chaotic. Yemeni drivers disregard any traffic rule ever invented, and even though, somehow the traffic flows. It is common to disregard lanes, it is absolutely necessary to use the horn, and even when it gets dark don`t count on a Yemeni driver to turn on the lights (even if he is driving in the wrong direction). Crossroads are most chaotic of all, as traffic rules are only valid if a policeman stands in the middle. Orientation is difficult as only few street signs are bilingual, if there are street signs at all. Jaywalking is common. Believe me: You would not want to drive a car in Yemen. So if you are not going with an organized tour, hire a local driver + car (which is pretty cheap) for longer trips or share a taxi for short distances. Forget about self-driving.Related to:
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The only thing that really put me off in Yemen was the custom to throw away any rubbish on the street just where you stand (even if it is your own house door, or your neighbours). Sanaa though is pretty clean, yet the villages around Sanaa are virtual rubbish dumps. Especially the villages on the way to Manackha/Hajjara are very dirty. The villages of Hadramaut again are rather clean (with the exception of Shibam), measured from Yemeni standards.
On the photos you can see some examples of waste thrown away. It is no unusual sight to see plastic bags "growing" from trees. Sad to see, as Yemen would certainly attract even more tourists if there was an efficient rubbish disposal.
People say that the traffic caos is caused by the fact that there are no road rules. This in part is true, though I would like to point out that many Yemanis simply cant drive! Some really are completely useless! Watch someone try to park and dont be surprised if they just drive into a wall. At traffic junctions cars just shunt into each other. Having seen 4 such minor accidents in as many weeks I cant believe this is just coincidence. Besides - just look at the state of the cars on the road! Just pray Im not witness to anything more serious.
Take great care when crossing busy highways. Idealy cross when locals cross and stay close, putting them in between you and the oncoming traffic.Related to:
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The Dangers of Desert Travel
Off-road desert adventures are an activity that is becoming more popular among visitors to Yemen, especially in the sandy Empty Quarter. There are sand dunes, mountains, wadis, and pools and waterfalls to explore. Because of the dangers of desert travel, anyone wishing to participate in an off-road trip should go with an experienced guide. Otherwise, getting stranded in the desert can be fatal. It is easy to lose a sense of direction, especially because in the deep desert, all sand dunes look alike. It is very easy to become hopelessly bogged down in the sand and very difficult to get out. And the intense heat, especially in the summer, can impair the judgment of almost anyone.
For those who choose to go into the desert alone, there are certain precautions that should be taken to ensure a safe trip. First of all, a plentiful supply of water must be taken. In hot weather, a person needs about four pints (two liters) of water per day. Also, a medical kit is a must.
For driving in the sand dunes, it is necessary to slightly deflate tires so they will have adequate traction in the sand. An air pump will be needed to re-inflate the tires after leaving the sands. And drivers should proceed at a slow, steady speed. Accelerating and then quickly braking can cause a vehicle to become stuck in sand. A shovel for digging out, and planks of wood or mats to be placed under the tires can be helpful in getting out of the sand
Some places in Yemen require a police escort and they usually charge about 2000 to 3000 YR. The Sana'a to Ma'rib road as well as Sa'da require them but Shaharah no longer requires them. Aden to al Mukalla also requires the assistance of the police. You can check with any travel agent or with your embassy for information. Generally speaking, these roads are problematic and kidnapping does occur. My driver to Shaharah told me that one week before I arrived he accompanied 3 Austrians to Ma'rib and they were kidnapped. They ended up unharmed but he had to wait four days while the governments negotiated a release. Be careful and use common sense.
Staying healthy should be one of your major concerns as it can spoil the pleasure of your journey. So take care of the following:
1. Tap water is not generally drinkable even by locals. We were told that probably only Seiyun has good quality water. Luckily bottled water is readily available everywhere so as beverages. As for tea, water is boiled
2. Take care of fresh vegetables that are tap water washed.
3. Take care of forks, spoons, plates, cups before you eat. I noticed that in many restaurants cleaning them meant only dipping them in some water and serving them to the next customer. I always dried everything with napkins
4. Fresh juice is very popular but if you order one and they tend to add water, do ask them politely to use bottled water or give them one yourself
5. Wash hands!! In many cases we ate in places with bare hands. There is always a water sink somewhere but don't expect to find soap. So either carry one or use the travel disinfectant wet napkins.
6. In seaside areas take precautions for mosquito bites (though I was not annoyed at all) as malaria is always a risk
7. In case you seek medical advice, better ask your driver or your hotel where you can go. I noticed there are many medical offices-clinics but conditions varied. There are also a lot of private medical clinics some run by foreign doctors, so don't hesitate to ask.
IS YEMEN SAFE???
This is issue is frequently posted and I can undestand concerns as recent kidnappings have badly damaged the image of this wonderful country.
If you exclude the "dangerous for kidnapping routes" (Dhamar to Bir Ali and Sana'a to Wadi Hadramawt) where mainly the presence of police escort caused me some nervousness, Yemen is an extremely safe country. But imagine, that the yemeni government is doing its best to guarantee your safety.
Though there were few tourists around I NEVER really felt any threat. I was even walking around alone in between men carrying their jambiyas and kalashnikofs but all I could face was people saying hello and "welcome to Yemen"!!
Yemenis are among the friendliest people I have ever met. Very hospitable, kindhearted, love to have fun. Just open your mind and heart, greet them in arabic (learn some in advance) and you'll be rewarded by their hospitality. The people are of Yemen's best impressions.
And please don't take any travel instructions posted by governments seriously...
In a nutshell: GO TO YEMEN. It is a rewarding experience! (read my proposed itinerary in "Things to do" in order to enjoy the best of Yemen with minimal sense of insecurity)
In Yemen - though a poor country - begging is not as visible or usual as in other third world - countries. In the outskirts of Sanaa or at traffic crossings, sometimes veiled women or children will approach you and beg for money. In some villages the children sometimes beg for pencils, sweets or money (especially in Shibam/Hadramaut or Hajjara/Manackha). The Yemeni adults do not approve, and you shouldn`t encourage their children begging (even if they are cute). In the long run, it doesn`t help them. If you want to improve their living conditions, donate to a project, but don`t give them money.
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