Wadi Hadhramaut Travel Guide, Yemen
Updated June 2023, Wadi Hadhramaut Travel Guide, Yemen was originally published in June 2020
Hadhramaut is Yemen’s largest governorate, home to the massive Wadi Hadhramaut that is home to countless wadis extending off of it, the world’s finest honey, the first mud skyscrapers in Shibam, a historic Sufi center of learning… and that’s just scraping the surface.
The Hadhramaut is an alluring region of Yemen. I was captivated by the idea of exploring it for myself when I visited Yemen for the first time in 2014, but at that point in time, most destinations in South Yemen (confusingly the eastern half of the country) were a no-go thanks to AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula).
I finally was able to visit Hadhramaut and Al Mahrah in early 2020 as security in this part of the country has improved (though still not without risk). This isn’t to say it’s safe to waltz into Yemen right now- you’ll need the help of experienced fixers to help mitigate risks associated with traveling in Yemen.
In this guide, you’ll learn about several of the highlights the Wadi Hadhramaut has to offer the intrepid traveler. I have linked in more detailed articles I have written in each section for more information to some of these fascinating cities and towns.
Learn more about Yemen: The Yemen Travel Guide
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Destinations In Wadi Hadhramaut
Mukalla is the largest and capital city of the Hadhramaut Governorate, located right on the coast of Yemen. The city hasn’t fared well over the last few years, being ravaged by Cyclone Chapala in 2015, suffering drone and airstrikes carried out by the United States, and raids as well as a 9 month takeover by AQAP.
Unfortunately visiting Mukalla can be a bit dicey and fixers may try to avoid it unless you hit a pocket of relative calm. A nearby attraction worth seeing if you do make it to Al Mukalla is the gravity-defying Al Ghwayzi Fort.
Wadi Daw’an, in my opinion, is the crown jewel of the Hadhramaut region. The wadi runs north-south off of Wadi Hadhramaut and features precariously perched villages on cliff’s edges, seemingly popping out of every nook and cranny of the canyon.
Sif, near the entrance of the wadi, is the largest village of Wadi Daw’an, home to a palace and lively girls’ school and boys’ schools.
Haid al Jazil, an over 500-year-old village situated atop a massive boulder in the middle of Wadi Daw’an is a real show stopper worth journeying to the near end of Wadi Daw’an Layasar for.
On the other side of Wadi Daw’an’s fork in the south- Wadi Daw’an Layman is worthy of a visit for the views of the stunning villages that dot the canyon as you head south, of course with Husn Fort of Qarn Masjid near the start being a highlight.
Want to take a photographic and information trip to Wadi Doan? Check out my Wadi Doan post
Shibam has an impressive history dating back to the 4th century, despite most of the mudbrick skyscrapers that earned the city the nickname ‘the Manhattan of the desert‘ being built in the 16th century. Wandering down the narrow alleys between these impossibly high Hadhrami buildings was a highlight of finally getting to visit the city. Not to be missed is the Maghrib Call to Prayer at sunset from a nearby viewpoint.
Read about my experience visiting the ancient walled city of Shibam
Tarim was historically a Sufi center of learning and nicknamed ‘the place of miracles‘, attracting students and pilgrims alike for well over a millennia. Must-see sites for anyone who makes it to Tarim are the Tarim Souq and the gorgeous white Al Muhdhar Mosque. Dar Al Mustafa, an Islamic school has drawn in students from all over Yemen, as well as foreign nations.
Outside Tarim is the ancient necropolis of Aynat, worthy of a visit if you’ll be in Tarim.
See and read more about Tarim in my guide to Tarim, Yemen’s Sufi center
Seiyun serves as the main economic center of Wadi Hadhramaut, though there are few things of interest for most tourists that pass through. The Kathiri Palace, which was once the main draw for those visiting Seiyun is now being used as a Saudi military base, so visiting is unfortunately not possible.
Seiyun does have an international airport, though it can be difficult to get the clearance in order to deboard the once-a-week flight that stops en route between Cairo and Socotra. Getting on a flight in Seiyun either bound for Scootra or Cairo doesn’t pose any issues (but please note that visiting during the pandemic isn’t recommended).
Getting To The Hadhramaut
Traveling to the Hadhramaut is most commonly (for foreigners anyway) at the moment overland from the Yemen-Oman border at Surfeet. This journey starts from Salalah, Oman, and continues through Yemen’s Al Mahrah Governorate before arriving at the eastern fringes of the Hadhramaut. A definite highlight of my time traveling across the Al Mahrah region was camping under the stars with our Bedouin guides in the Yemeni Empty Quarter.
How To Get A Yemeni Visa
You can follow these steps here on getting a Yemeni visa. Getting a Yemeni visa is not a difficult process, but it does come with a few caveats. A guide will need to apply for a letter of approval for you from the Ministry of Tourism, in order to secure your visa. You will also need to travel with a guide/fixer as they will handle safety and avoiding problems in the country. You’ll also need numerous permits for the places you intend to visit that they will secure.
Safety In The Hadhramaut
Safety is not guaranteed. Yemen still is in the crisis of the ongoing Yemeni Civil War. Security in the Hadhramaut has improved substantially in the last few years, but there still are huge risks traveling in the Hadhramaut as well as the remainder of Yemen (bar Socotra).
Have Questions About Visiting Wadi Hadhramaut?
I arranged this unique addition to a trip into Mainland Yemen and on to Socotra with my guys over at Inertia Network. If you want to set up your own, contact me at adventuresoflilnicki @ gmail.com.