A to Z of Adventure Travel: Y is for Yemen

3 07 2009


Although one of the Middle East’s most spectacular countries and home to four World Heritage sites, in recent years Yemen has become better known for the kidnapping of tourists than it has for tourism itself.


Located on the Arabian Peninsula and bordered by Saudi Arabia and Oman, Yemen is an ancient land of rugged desert, magnificent coastline and historic architectural treasures. With a limited infrastructure, only hardy tourists have ventured to its capital Sana’a and the country’s striking interior, but those who have explored it  consistently rate it amongst their favourite destinations.yemen


Yemen is a magic land that has barely changed in appearance since biblical times. A country of fortified mountain villages and remote desert communities, untouched beaches and mud brick skyscrapers all with their own distinct and rich culture and heritage. While some of the country’s best sights are neglected and in need of preservation, all capture the imagination in a way that sights in more developed countries simply can’t.


In Wadi Hadramaut there sits Shibam, one of the most striking cities in the world. Dubbed the ‘Manhattan of the desert’, its skyline is comprised of more than 500 mud-brick skyscrapers of up to 8-floors in height surrounded by an earth wall. Not far away is the spectacular cliff-side village of Al Hajjarain while the country’s most important seaport, Aden, is purportedly where Noah built his ark. Algebra is said to have been invented in the 9th century in the city of Zabid, once one of the most important centres of learning in the entire Islamic and Arabic world and the region’s capital from the 13th to 15th century.  Just off the coast, the Socotra Archipelago was mentioned by Marco Polo and is home to an area of such rich biodiversity that it is often likened to the Galapagos.


Yemen’s capital, Sana’a is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth. Its architecture gives the city the impression of being frozen in time, and its old city is now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A place of bustling markets, towering mosques and ornate houses, Sana’a is one of the world’s most unique capitals.


Although there have been problems in the capital, the majority of troubles faced by tourists have been experienced away from Sana’a. Anyone venturing away from the capital must register with the Yemen Tourist Police and it is highly recommended that travel be made with a recognised tour operator rather than independently. The first tourist kidnappings were made by tribesmen who used their hostages as bargaining chips in negotiations with authorities. The hostages were generally treated well and released peacefully. Many visitors later proclaimed the experience was the highlight of their visit, but several years ago a kidnapping ended in a shoot-out with police and a number of the hostages were killed or injured. More recently however, branches of al-Qaeda have become involved with much more brutal consequences.


Anyone contemplating Yemen should be aware that many western countries have issued travel advisories against all travel there. While there are many responsible national and international tour operators in Yemen who have perfect safety records and take no chances with their clients, such government warnings may render travel insurance invalid.


A photographer’s dream, an explorer’s delight, a visit to Yemen is well worth the lack of luxury, but no visit should be taken without proper consideration.



Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

Photo by: Yemen Tourism


A to Z of Adventure Travel: G is for Galapagos

26 02 2009


                  “You’d be dancing too if your feet were this cold!” (Blue footed booby)



The Galapagos Islands were untouched by human civilisation until the early 19th century, but have more than made up for that since as a haven for those drawn by its wildlife, scenery, science and snorkelling.


Located in the Pacific Ocean 972 kilometres west of Ecuador, the world famous archipelago is comprised of 19 islands and more than a hundred islets and outcrops, although most visitors tend not to explore more than eight of them. The islands are of course legendary because of their role in Charles Darwin’s formulation of the Theory of Evolution and they remain a natural paradise to this day. The Ecuadorian government, while keen to allow travellers from all over the world to see this natural wonder, are also committed to ensuring that their trespass doesn’t adversely affect the very thing that people travel from all over the world to see – their unspoiled beauty. As a result, the numbers of visitors to the islands are limited and their movements and activities restricted. However, these constraints do not in any way detract from an incredible experience.


The vast majority of people who visit the Galapagos take a cruise around the islands. After a flight from the mainland, visitors are transferred to the harbour to board their vessel. Galapagos operators cater for all tastes and budgets from those seeking seaborne luxury and sparing no expense, to others with more modest tastes and more limited funds. Regardless of the price tag however, almost all boats have their own onboard naturalists who assist with the daily shore excursions and with general lessons in zoology, biology and oceanography to maximise visitors’ experiences and to provide them with the best appreciation of their trip.


Different islands in the chain offer different sights and experiences. Santa Fe is particularly renowned for its colony of sea lions with which it is often possible to swim. Espanola is home to red-billed tropicbords, blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas and is a nesting site to what is virtually the entire world’s population of waved albatrosses. Santa Cruz is home to the Charles Darwin Research Station and a nursery that caters for young tortoises. Bartolome boasts the rare Galapagos penguins while Floreana Island has a wooden barrel planted in the 18th century to be used as a post office for passing ships…and is still used by some visitors today!


Trips to the Galapagos vary from a few days to several weeks depending on how many islands the visitor wants to see. While almost all boats boast snorkelling facilities and many also offer scuba, there are also specialist operators catering for more experienced certified divers. But if you’re a bit of a landlubber and your sea-legs are as wobbly as a plate of Jell-O in a hurricane, there are also land-based trips that still explore the islands by boat but remain in hotels at night.


Although now connected to the outside world by direct flights from the mainland, the Galapagos remains as exotic and mystifying as the day that Darwin’s Beagle first explored the beaches, channels and volcanoes.



Photo by: Mariko Yuki     Post by: Simon Vaughan