Tour 2: Golf of Aden - Bab Al-Mandab – Red Sea

This tour focuses on the two seas bordering on Yemen: the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, which is part of the Arabian Sea, which in turn is part of the Indian Ocean. The programme includes swimming, diving (on demand), fishing and hiking. We will be driving for long distances along the coasts, which are also the boundaries between Asia and Africa. On the opposite side are Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea, all young countries which emerged after the civil wars of the past twenty years. Bab-al-Mandab is the cape nearest to Africa, and thus since ancient times an important strategic base.

Since the route between Aden and Bab-al-Mandab has only recently been improved, it is rarely found in tourist brochures. There is little infrastructure, so we will camp on lonely beaches and do our own catering. The road along the Red Sea has been developed for tourism, and African influence is perceptible everywhere. The route ends with a detour over the fertile Wadi Surdud to Sana'a.

1. Day | Arrival in Sana'a

If your flight arrives in time – visit to the old town and the splendid souq.

2. Day | Sana’a – Ibb – Jiblah – Al-Janad – Taiz

We set out in the morning for the varied route through the mountains, driving on the main north-south axis through the hilly interior, green and fertile during the travel months, with three stops before Taiz.

In Jiblah we walk through the almost completely preserved old town to the building complex (burial mosque, palace, courtyard) of Queen Arwa bint Ahmed, who reigned in the 11th century. We visit the Al-Janad courtyard mosque, one of the oldest in Yemen, and in Ibb we stroll through the narrow, winding lanes with their typical façades.

Overnight stay in a hotel near the centre of Taiz.

3. Day | Taiz

In Taiz we visit the Al-Ashrafiah mosque, which stands on ancient, recently discovered foundations and has an ablution fountain for ritual washing, and the curious museum, which has an incredible collection taken from a wealthy colonial house of the 1930s. Excursion to half-way up Jabel Saber, with a view over the town, the third-largest in Yemen. Visit to the large souq and overnight stay in Taiz.

4. Day | Aden

We leave in the morning for a three-hour drive to Aden and round the ancient quarters of Krater (with its historic water reservoir), Mualla and Al-Tawilah. Brief stop at Steamers Point, where the passengers from the big steamships used to check in during the British colonial period. Overnight stay in Aden.

5. Day | Aden – Bab Al-Mandab

In the souq we stock up with provisions for two days' camping, drive west round the harbour bay of Aden, and on the coast past Little Aden towards Bab Al-Mandab. On the way there is a bay, and the remains of a prehistoric settlement. The coast is full of variety, and there are several bays for swimming. We spend the night camping between the two seas.

6. Day | Bab al-Mandab

The 27km-wide strait of Bab al-Mandab ("gate of tears"), is the natural link between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The name probably comes from the ice age, when sea level was several metres lower than it is today, and it was a mere rivulet that separated Arabia from Africa. Research has shown that on the Somali side opposite a channel is forming, which will some day split the African continent. We spend the day bathing and diving, and stay overnight in the tents.

7. Day | Bab al-Mandab - Al-Mokha - Al-Chocha

From Bab al-Mandab we have a three-hour drive north along the coast on a track to Al-Mokha, the former coffee harbour from which mocha takes its name. The town is now a sad place, for the former splendour of the trading-houses can only be guessed at from ruins. The town has sunk almost completely into the sand, and only a few fishermen still work here. The well-preserved mosque stands apart in the sand. We drive on north to the holiday village of Al-Chocha, where we can swim in the evening and spend the night.

8. Day | Al-Chocha – Zabid - Wadi Surdud

After breakfast under palm-trees in the high-class holiday village of Al-Chocha, we continue through the Tihama, the 50km-wide coastal plain between the Red Sea and the hilly region of the "green Yemen". The villages here have round, thatched huts; the vegetation consists of holly and ground-covering plants which thrive on the dunes in the hot, humid climate.

In Zabid, we visit the site of one of the oldest and most important universities in Arabia, ancient mosques and an interesting museum of cultural history. To the north-west, the Tihama gradually gives way to mountainous country, and we drive through former orchards at an altitude half-way between mountains and plain. We pitch our tents in the Wadi Surdud, which runs between the plateau west of Sana'a and the Red Sea.

9. Day | Wadi Surdud – Mahwit – Kaukaban

We drive for a time along the track through the wadi, and walk on for a fair distance. On foot, we have direct contact with the landscape, plants and animals, mixed farming, wells and villages, and we can enter into conversation with the inhabitants. We end the day with a visit to the town of Mahwit, built against a cliff, and stroll through the steep lanes, staircases and arcades of the old town. On to Kaukaban, where we spend the night in a former palace, now a funduq (lodging-house).

10. Day | historic mountain villages

Kaukaban – Shibam – Thula - Kuhlan – Amran – Sana’a – Abreise
We spend the last day in beautiful mountain villages and towns to the north-west of Sana'a, and visit three Himyarite 7th/8th-century towns – Shibam/Kaukaban und Thula. Kaukaban lies on a rocky ridge high above Shibam, and offers a wide view over the fertile land. Thula, which flourished in the 15th century, is a fortified town high in the mountains built against a rock formation (remains of a Himyarite fort).

Rocks jut out from the alleys in the old town and between the 25 mosques, two of which are amongst the oldest in the whole country. On our way through the steep alleyways to the artisans' souq in the main square, we pass well-preserved town gates, a recently restored water reservoir and impressive stone façades. Many of the houses were originally Jewish, and bear the Star of David as well as round windows above the doors, giving the houses individual "faces". Shortly before Sana'a we make a brief stop in Amran, which has completely retained its town wall.

Transfer to Sana'a airport.