12 February, 2013

Hadhramout: tips, recommendations and travel advice

In the last few years, the number of visitors and tourists to Hadhramout has very much dropped. Most of the visitors to Hadhramout, these days, are from other parts of Yemen or Hadhrami migrants from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states who come home to visit relatives. Very, very few Western or Eastern tourists travel to Hadhramout now. A few years ago, one could find a few yachts and sail boats passing through Mukalla; they don't do that any more. Still, Hadhramout is one of the most interesting, fascinating and wonderful places you can visit. For any one intending to visit Hadhramaut, here are a few tips, recommendations and travel advice:

How to reach Hadhramout: for those coming from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, there are excellent roads to Saudi Arabia and to Oman. Those coming from further, travel by air to Mukalla (Riyan) or to Seiyoun. No passenger ships or boats travel to or from Hadhramaut. A few small boats carry passengers along the coast - from and to Mahra in particular; as they have no safety equipment at all and the ride is rather too fast and bumpy - avoid these.

Where to stay: there are many hotels and furnished apartments with varying prices. Check with a travel agency or just travel to Hadhramout and take a taxi or if your have your own means - go around and look for accommodation that suits you. Most taxi drivers are very helpful and knowledgeable, they will assist you to find a suitable place.

Where and what to eat: in all urban areas, there are many restaurants. For the best and most authentic meal, try any of these.  The menus are rather standard and the same:  for lunch, it is usually, mainly rice and chicken or fish or lamb. Bread is also available. Normally chicken (which is of frozen French or Brazilian imported chicken) - is the cheapest and lamb is the most expensive. For dinner, instead of rice, bread is served with the same types of meat; a few restaurants serve rice too. Again, taxi drivers can easily guide you to the best restaurants. Most local restaurants are not particular about hygiene and if you are averse to such, then go only to the the very few big hotels in the main cities. Drink only bottled water. It is also advisable to eat only canned/packed food while traveling between cities.

How to get around: within the cities, it is best to use taxis (know what it will cost you before using a taxi - bargain). Between cities, use a rented taxi (a few rented car agencies are there) or one of the very few major bus carriers - arrange for the taxi or the bus ticket early as, at times, you might not find any. As there are no proper guides, it is the same taxi drivers who can be the best guides around.

Language and communication: Arabic is the main language. Very few people speak broken English - which might help foreign visitors. Those from Eastern Africa might find a few people who speak Swahili or Somali. For mobile phone line - there are three main ones and by providing your passport, you can easily get a SIM card within minutes. In the main urban areas, there are many Internet cafes.

People in Hadhramout: Hadhramis are simple, humble, engaging, hospitable and full of pride of being Hadhrami and of their culture. Most men dress in shirts and sarongs. Women dress in black. Qat and the smoking of shisha is not a part of Hadhrami culture, although many chew qat and very few young Hadhramis use the shisha. Out of respect for the locals, dress modestly; and men and women should refrain from public displays of affection.

What to see: most local visitors and those from the neighboring Arab countries, prefer to stay within Mukalla or Seiyoun. But Hadhramout is vast. If your visit is short, then see Mukalla, Wadi Hadhramout and Wadi Do'an. If you can, then do visit Socotra. The normal visitors' attractions are the old markets (souks) within Mukalla and Seiyoun; and Shibam, Tarim and Wadi Do'an. Some visit Prophet Hood's Tomb, east of Tarim. A few venture to that most amazing of places: Socotra. And there is much more: why not try the 'off the beaten track'? Visit Wadi Hajar in the west; and if you can - go up the mountains and you can see some of the most rugged and breathtaking mountains and cliffs. And why not drive, slowly, from Mukalla, along the coast and all the way to Mahra - you will see some truly breathtaking beaches and sights. Very, very few visitors to Hadhramaut venture out in to the desert; whoever does that, will have a most unforgettable experience of a life time. If you love real, breathtaking adventure, if you have the courage and the patience - then take a ride from Zamakh and Manwakh in the west, along the Saudi Arabian border and go all the way to Thamud and Rumah in the east; you will see such: deserts, hills, mountains, sand dunes, a variety of sand colors and landscapes, that you will find utterly out of this planet; and which you will find most unforgettable.

A few more tips and advice: the best time to visit Hadhramout, is between October and March - the weather, then, is cool and welcoming; avoid the middle of the year completely. In urban areas, be very careful when crossing roads - especially of motorcycles. Carry some basic medicines with you - pain killers, medicine for stomach upsets and flatulence, bandages and some anti-scorpion and anti-snake bite serums; if you are visiting the western, coastal areas and Hajar - it is very advisable to take/use anti-malarial pills. Though Hadhramout is almost crime free, it is still advisable to avoid off roads. If you are using your own means, be careful with gasoline as shortages are common.