Yemen Country Profile
Mostly desert; hot and humid along west coast; temperate in western mountains affected by seasonal monsoon; extraordinarily hot, dry, harsh desert in east. The weather can be chilly in areas where the elevation is high. Sana'a for example is at an elevation of 2250 meter. During the winter months, the temperatures can fall to zero during the night.
Narrow coastal plain backed by flat-topped hills and rugged mountains; dissected upland desert plains in the centre slope into the desert interior of the Arabian Peninsula. The interior of the country is a highland dissected by valleys. Yemen can be divided into five regions:
Coastal Plain: the Tihamah coastal plain is a low-lying flat plain that has areas with very fertile soil from the streams from the mountains emptying into it. Some of the hottest places on Earth are in Tihamah. Most of its towns are coastal because the salty sea air can lessen the effect of the heat.
Western Highlands: The coastal plain ends abruptly at the western mountains, where monsoon rains coming from Africa gain strength across the Red Sea and the clouds coming in get tangled by the jagged peaks of the Western mountains and precipitate all of whatever the clouds hold. Some areas in the western highlands, notably Ibb and Ta'izz, get rainfall similar to rainforests, supporting fertile land great for coffee, qat, wheat, and sorghum. Mountains here are known to have lengthy ascents; most mountains pop out of land 2,000 feet above sea level to 7,000-10,000 foot peaks. Notable peaks include Jabal Sumarah, Jabal Ba'dan, Jabal Sabir, and Jabal Ad Dukayik, all about 10,000 feet high.
Central Highlands: This is more of a plateau with rolling hills atop it, for the mountains are less jagged and get less precipitation because most of it is released onto the Western Highlands. Some of the highest mountains of the Arabian Peninsula can be found here, including the legendary Jabal an Nabi Shu'ayb near the capital Sana'a, at about 12,000 feet above sea level. Some areas in the central highlands have extremely fertile soil, like in Dhamar, and temperature in the central highlands are extreme also. Diurnal temperatures are the highest in the world, with daytime highs of around 80°F while during the night they can dip to below freezing. Most of the central highlands, other than the mountains, is above 7,000-8,000 feet high.
Central Plateau: As a gradual descent from the central highlands begins, it eventually levels off at a 3,000-5,000 foot plateau that is bisected by valleys and wadis, or streams. This terrain is not as rough as the central or western highlands, but vegetation is only possible in the valleys or near wadis, for they provide a lot of irrigation water from precipitation that only occurs in the remote areas. Flash floods are very common here. This extends from Shabwah though Hadhramaut and Al Mahra, continuing into Dhofar in Oman, which also revered by many Yemenis as part of Greater Yemen, not to mention also Najran, Jizan, and Asir in Saudi Arabia.
Desert: Rub Al-Khali, aka the Empty Quarter, the most treacherous desert in the world, and also the largest expanse of sand in the world, is in northestern Yemen, southeastern Saudi Arabia, and northwestern Oman. It receives no rain at all for periods of years, and little to no vegetation does or can exist. Temperature can reach 61°C (142°F).
Sana'a — capital
Aden — seaside former capital of South Yemen.
Al Hudayda — a relatively large city on the Red Sea with beautiful beaches
Al Mukalla — East Yemen's biggest city and bustling port, the gateway to the historical Hadhramaut region
Shibam — a famous historical town of Hadhramaut, perhaps Yemen's most fascinating and exotic destination
Ta'izz; the most populated city in Yemen
Arabic is the official language. While many locals will at least attempt to communicate with non-Arabic speakers in other languages, any visitor will almost certainly need at least some Arabic, particularly if travelling to locations outside the capital. Even within Sana'a, the bilingual signs common throughout most of the Middle East are commonly absent, with Arabic script and numbers predominating. This said, Yemenis are very open for communication, and hand-waving, making noises and smiling can get you very far, even if not always where you wanted to get (usually to a qat-chewing session).
Yemenis have a myriad of different accents, due to the historical inaccessibility of parts of the country. It is not unusual for a visitor to be told that his or her laborious attempts at speaking Arabic are in fact "Arabic" and not "Yemeni" or "Yemeni enough". The more vocal village children will almost certainly enjoy hearing a visitor's attempts at their language, and will show this appreciation either with peals of laughter or by asking questions about the visitor's homeland.
Sana'a: Babel Yemen (old city), Wadi Dhar (Dar al-Hadschar Palace - also known as the rock house). Note that Sana'a is over 2,200m (7,200 feet) in elevation. The old city is a mystical and amazing place and also a UNESCO World Heritage site. The streets are alive and bustling around gingerbead-like houses several storeys high, one of the oldest cities in the world.
Socotra: Off the south coast of Yemen - an idylic island untouched by modern man and home to many rare species and plants. The seas are turquoise blue and the sands white and unspoiled. One of the most valuable islands on the planet, often described as the most alien-looking place on Earth. Its beaches resemble those of the Caribbean and its mountains and Yemeni mountains covered in 300 species only found in Socotra. A must-see.
Kawkaban: An old fortress-city northwest of Sana'a 3,000m (10,000 feet) high, with elegant old buildings an artifacts from from the old Himyar civilization 2,000 years ago. Himyaric inscriptions can be seen and so can old Stars of David from the old Jewish roots of Himyar. Below the mountain is a magnificent view of a plain dotted by old towns made of mud-brick.
Sa'dah: The northernmost major town in Yemen, with its old city made entirely out of stong mud that keeps internal temperature warm during the bitter winter. Its surroundings are known for its delicious grapes, raisins, date palms, and other fruits.
Al Mahweet: A northwest town from Sana'a, Al Mahweet is a beautiful and magnificant town atop a mountain where the green scenery and outstanding architectural example of Yemen are at its best. It is part of the western highlands, an area where rain can be extensive and clouds can always be seen below the moutains during the summer.
Bura': A protected area in Yemen in Al Hudaydah governate, this place is a 2,200 meter (7,200 foot) mountain covered by a natural forests resembling one of the rainforests of Africa. There are many flora and fauna varieties in Bura' located only in Yemen and its historic boundaries (Najran, Jizan, Asir, Dhofar, & ar Rub' al Khali). It is one of the most beautiful places in Yemen.
Manakhah: A large old town on a peak 2,700m (9,000 feet) high known for its daring location and beautiful scenery. This town is a perfect example of life in medieval Yemen.
Ma'rib: The capital of the Sabaean Kingdom, built about 3,000 years ago, with its famous Ma'rib dam, one of the engineering wonders of the world. It was said that thousands of years ago the magnificent dam helped create some of the greenest areas in the world, a notion also supported by historical texts like the Qur'an. The Queen of Sheba is known to have had her kingdom here and artefacts and temples from her reign are still preserved and present.
Ibb: The green heartland of Yemen, with annual rainfall at about 1200 mm per year. It is located about some 10,000+ foot high mountains. The city of Ibb, however, is in the valley, but waterfalls are known to be present and beautiful. The historic town of Jiblah is located near Ibb city. And with the freshest climate on the whole peninsula, there is no wonder why it is called the Green Heart of Yemen.
Al Khawkhah: At one of the hottest places on earth, you need a beach, and at Al Khawkhah, it has one of the best beaches in Yemen. The shore is long and back by fields of palm trees and a small pleasant town. The Red Sea is relatively calm and cool, great for an are where summer temperatures are commonly over 48°C.
Ta'izz: The cultural capital of Yemen, which is the most liberal and the friendliest city in the country. It has been the capital of Yemen when the last Imam was in power and is a medieval city. Towering above Ta'izz is the 3,000m (10,000 foot) Jabal Sabir, which is known all around Yemen for its dazzling ascent and view from the top. This mountain is very fertile and is home to tens of thousands of people living on and around the mountain.
Shibam: commonly called the Manhattan of the Desert, this town located in Wadi Hadhramaut has the first skyscrapers of the world. Hundreds of adobe home ranging from 5-11 storeys high are boxed into a walled area that is simply marvellous. The tops are painted with gypsum, a mineral commonly found in Yemen. Some of the buildings are over 700 years old.
Tarim & Say'un: These nearby towns are made almost entirely of adobe. The towns are well organized and elegant, with famous palaces and mosques in each city.
Al Mukalla: Perhaps the most developed-looking city in Yemen, Al Mukalla is the jewel of the Arabian Sea. Around it around beautiful beaches, however, the best in Yemen is known to be at Bir Ali, which is a lengthy 100 km drive, though very much well worth it.
Hauf National Park: The only natural forest in the Arabian Peninsula because it is affected by the seasonal monsoon rains that also affects India. Mountains and Hills are layered with a cap of green for mile with wild life similar to one of a rain forests, this forest also extends to the Omani side of the border, from Qishn, Yemen to Salalah, Oman.
Yemen is country that everywhere just simply must be visited. It is a tourist's country, where although the accommodation might not be the best, but the country itself holds so many treasures that appeal to any open-minded visitor. The sights are amazing, the people are friendly, their culture is unique, and their food is tasty. Take trips with a personal driver through the mountains to see natural beauty located nowhere else on the planet. See the historical role Yemen played as it survived even during the times of the Sumerians and the Ancient Egyptians, and how no one was able to completely conquer Yemen. And enjoy what the country provides, like gemstones literally littered throughout the mountains, precious beaches, and historical artefacts from this multi-faced nation with one heartbeat.