Getting to mainland Yemen and Socotra Island, the Tim Burton inspired natural wonderland 380 kilometers of its southern coast, requires a few additional bureaucratic hops that aren’t too cumbersome if you know where to step. Both are surprisingly accessible and having spent 10 days in the country, I got to know a number of contacts that will make planning your trip to Yemen, Socotra, or both, a simple process.
Why Go To Yemen?
I’ll be covering this question in detail over the coming days but in short – Yemen has some of the most spectacular landscapes I’ve ever seen and Socotra Island is quite possibly the most exotic, yet untouched, place (that’s reasonably visitable) on the planet. When it comes to both mainland Yemen and Socotra, if you like natural beauty, trekking, or traveling in a country that has an unexplored feeling to it, these might be the next places to put on your travel list.
- Although Socotra Island is a part of Yemen, getting there requires a slightly different process, so I’ll show you how to get to both separately.
How To Get To Mainland Yemen
Yemen offers visa-free travel to very few countries (Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Turkey) so chances are you’ll need to apply for a visa. Most Yemeni embassies don’t handle visa requests directly – plus the requirements change often – making it essential you call or email them directly for updated instructions. Be sure to plan at least 4-6 weeks in advance and not have your passport during that time. (For most nationals, Yemen requires you to mail in your passport as part of the visa process.)
Some of the standard Yemeni visa requirements are:
- A passport valid for 6-12 months beyond stay
- Completed application forms
- Passport photos (confirm the exact dimensions)
- Letter of invitation (a local tour operator can provide this, I recommend Eternal Yemen)
- Doctor’s note confirming you’re free of communicable diseases
- Some money (price varies)
Visas are typically only issued for travel to the capital Sana’a or the port city of Aden. You can, of course, save yourself a lot of the trouble by simply contacting a local tour operator like Eternal Yemen to take care of the entire visa process for you. They’ll also be able to get you the necessary travel permits to move around the country if you plan on exploring outside of Sana’a or Aden. (Permits must be shown at security checkpoints in between every governorate.) I have also heard that visa applications for United States citizens are especially likely to be rejected or have last minute problems, another reason to use a local tour operator who can circumvent any obstacles directly with the government.
- Flights – A number of airlines service Sana’a and Aden, the two most common entry points into Yemen. Turkish Airlines, Emirates, and Yemenia all connect many major Middle East and European cities to Sana’a, with stopovers in Aden. Budget airlines also fly to mainland Yemen routinely from Sharjah (outside of Dubai) in the United Arab Emirates.
- Overland – Land crossing from Saudi Arabia is not permitted for non-Yemeni nationals however buses run from Salalah, Oman to several cities in Yemen. Rides are over 10 hours and I’m told it’s not a comfortable journey.
- Where To Stay – In the map below you can locate all of the places I’ve stayed at and recommend in Yemen. And, as most stays will include at least one night in Sana’a, I suggest you look no further than the Dawood Hotel.
View Yemen in a larger map
For more information on each hotel, including contact information, check out my Yemen travel information page.
Is Travel To Mainland Yemen Safe And Do I Need Any Special Preparations?
The first part of that question has a layered answer that I’ll elaborate upon in the coming weeks and the second part is a short no. However, the U.S. Centers For Disease Control (CDC) recommends malaria vaccinations if you’ll be traveling to areas in Yemen below 2,000 meters (~6,500 feet). Sana’a is high enough that it doesn’t meet that criteria and I never got (and never have actually) taken anti-malaria medication; but you may decide to proceed more cautiously.
- Is Yemen Safe For Travelers? – I traveled to Yemen with my friend and fellow blogger Wandering Earl, who writes in detail about the security situation there.
Generally speaking, travel to the most dangerous and unstable parts of Yemen are strictly restricted. Elsewhere, the use of a local guide and driver both enhance your safety while opening up many of the smaller villages you’d likely miss if on your own. Once again, Eternal Yemen can organize custom trips giving you a local’s glimpse into Yemeni culture and heritage.
How To Visit Socotra Island
Air travel to Socotra from several Yemeni cities can be arranged on Felix Airways or Yemenia, which fly to Socotra 1-3 times a week for about $300, round-trip. If they don’t cancel the flights that is, which happens regularly, without warning, and at the last minute.
- Direct Flights To Socotra Outside Of Yemen – There aren’t many options except for Felix Airways flights to and from Sharjah, UAE. A good multi-city flight would be to book airfare to Dubai, connect to Sharjah using local ground transportation, and catch your Socotra plane from there.
Many travelers to Socotra simply skip mainland Yemen, save for a layover in Sana’a on the way to the island. Keep in mind any stops or layovers exiting in Sana’a generally require you have a travel permit. They can be obtained from the Tourist Police office in the Old City of Sana’a or a tour operator can get for you if you’re not planning on staying in the city.
Renting A Car On Socotra – It’s possible, but expensive at about $50 per day (not to mention fuel). Aside from the asphalt road that circles the outer-edge of the island, the interior is some serious off-roading on “road.” Imagine you driving in the video to the right.
- Where To Stay – There are a few luxury hotels with rooms for $100 per night but I’d recommend saving your money and sleeping right along the beach at one of two camps: Abdulluh Edib Camp or Delisha Camp.
There are over 300 endemic plant species plus nearly 200 species of insect and a similar number of bird species to be found on Socotra. Navigating them, even the most famous bottle and dragon blood trees isn’t easy initially and it helps to get in touch with a local guide for part of your trip. If you’re looking for one, I can recommend Saaber Aamer (email: firstname.lastname@example.org tel: 00967-771-969-576).
- Why Go To Socotra? Because it’s sort of like evolution got bored with the rest of the planet and decided to drop acid while creating the four-island archipelago. This video says it all.
Socotra is a hard place not to be mesmerized by, so following up on my I Love Istanbul Tour, I’m planning on giving a Socotra Tour at the end of this year. If you’re at all interested in visiting Socotra for New Year’s, send me an email and Wandering Earl and I will add you to our list of participants!
Socotra And Yemen Mainland, Not So Hard To Reach Both
Outside of the visa process and obtaining the necessary travel permits, arranging a trip to Socotra and Yemen much like booking any other trip. Depending on where you plan on going and whether or not you’ll be using a local tour operator like Eternal Yemen, the amount of added legwork varies. But once you arrive and meet the faces of Yemen, wander through plateaus of countless dragon blood trees, or sit on the edge of Burra Mountain, you’re likely to find the added effort well worth the time.
My travels are usually well ahead of my writing, which lags behind a queue of new trips and past stories to be told. Hence why I’m so late in writing about the 2012 Best City To Visit Travel Tournament winner, Sarajevo. A contest won by an incredibly energetic and enthusiastic group of Balkan supporters who reflect how connected a community the inhabitants of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital form.
There is no correlation between my tardiness and how I felt about Sarajevo, where I was welcomed by many I met – not as a visiting traveler – but rather someone returning to a home he didn’t know he had. Tourism to Sarajevo and the rest of Bosnia and Herzegovina has increased by 13% [PDF] since 2010, yet it still retains many advantages for independent and budget travelers.
War Torn No Longer
The streets of Sarajevo still bear the marks of the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, literally, as you can see in the picture to the right, where residents have painted the cracks left by grenade explosions red. There were many more of these memorials in asphalt throughout the Sarajevo, which endured the longest siege of a capital city since World War II: from April 5, 1992 until February 29, 1996. Like the pavement however, the city hasn’t forgotten the war that changed Sarajevo’s demographics drastically, reducing ethnic diversity according to some estimates by 30%.
The Bosnian War created a lost generation of children in Sarajevo, who missed an opportunity for education, as sniper fire and regular bombardment of the city made any formal schooling impossible. One of the few ways food, medical supplies, and weapons were smuggled into the city during the siege was through the Sarajevo Tunnel. Constructed by the Bosnian Army covertly, it connected Sarajevo to just outside the city’s airport, controlled by the United Nations. You can get a fascinating look inside the tunnel, parts of which are still intact, on the HYH City Tour. In addition to the Sarajevo Tunnel, my guide took us to the abandoned bobsled tube from the 1984 Olympics and sniper alley – his personal stories from living through the siege alone were worth the 21 Euro price.
The divisions of the war have brought modern Sarajevo together today as it can confidently concentrate on the future – a hint of which you can see in its hip present. Students from the over 5 universities in Sarajevo hang out in sleek cafes like Delikatesna Radnja after classes and you’ll find no shortage of bars along the blocks of the Miljacka River on weekend nights.
Advantages Of Independence For Independent Travelers
With the Bosnian War in the rear view mirror (it’s completely safe in case you were wondering), travelers who head to Sarajevo have much to look forward to. First of all, it’s inexpensive. Businessweek ranks it the 19th cheapest city for expensive living, whether you’re looking for a fancy two-bedroom apartment for $699 a month, or staying a few nights in a private room for 20 Euro a day at the comfortable Hostel City Center.
- All of the city’s main sights are easily walkable and you can hike from hills of the Alifakovac neighborhood’s centuries-old cemetery, walk across the Eiffel Bridge (a smaller version of Gustave’s style on the Douro), and stand at the spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated all in the same afternoon.
In the evening recuperate lost calories with the pastry burek or have a complete meal of cevapi (kebab) with duvec (vegetable stew) at an affordable spot like Sedef. Afterwards at the warmly lit Bascarsija Square drink from the Sebilj Fountain, which is said to ensure one’s return to Sarajevo – although in my opinion a visit to the city has the same effect.
Warmest Welcome I Can Remember
The Best City To Visit Travel Tournament really took off in Sarajevo last year and everyone I came across seemed to have voted or heard about it. So many Bosnians took time out of their day to come meet me as I was traveling around the city to have a drink or just say hi – thanking me for highlighting the city through the contest. But to be honest, it’s all of the Bosnians who deserve my thanks for welcoming me to a city I could easily see myself living in, and treating me like I have been, for a lifetime.
Hello and welcome to a special live chat marking the one year anniversary of my ebook, The Ultimate Tech Guide For Travelers Version 2.0. An ebook that comes with 6 months of personal tech support from yours truly covering anything mentioned in the book. I’ve gotten on Skype calls to walk fellow travelers through setting up automated online backup systems, discussed the right smartphone for others, and even helped one person recover their stolen laptop. Today, I’m extending my tech support offer to all of you – for the next two hours – answers to any and all tech or blogging questions you may have. No limits, ask away in the comments below and between 3pm-5pm US EST I’ll give you the best live support I can.
The live chat is now closed – thanks everyone for the questions and conversation!
Additionally, I’ll be giving away away two free licenses to Hotspot Shield Elite, worth $29.95, and offering a special price of $10 for The Ultimate Tech Guide For Travelers Version 2.0, today only. All of that, plus the specific answers to your blogging and tech questions in the comments below, ask away!
- There is a video embedded in this post, those of you reading through my daily email update will need to click through to the article to view the video.
Since 1959, every evening a bizarre military ritual takes place along the India-Pakistan border, between Lahore and Amritsar, in the border town of Wagah. This is where the Grand Trunk Road crosses the India-Pakistan border along the Radcliff Line, which splits the region of Punjab. A line on a map drawn in 1947 by British lawyer Cyril Radcliff, who had never been to either country, yet was tasked with outlining their borders at the end of England’s occupation of India. The official purpose of this dance is the synchronized lowering of the national flags on both sides, yet the subtext is “we still don’t like you” – but strangely can get together and choreograph what has become a tourist attraction in addition to military exercise.
Personally, I found the spectacle of the supporters on both sides making more symbolic noise than the most aggressive foot stamps of any solider. The Indian side essentially is a party – and you’ll notice in the video above that it’s all women who are dancing. A stark contrast to the segregated Pakistani side, where only the men boisterous and the females, mostly covered, sit in relative silence.
In 2010, both Pakistan and India agreed to remove some of the more aggressive gestures in the ceremony, but it’s not really the soldiers sending the messages any more here, at the only road crossing a 2,900 kilometer border.