The public consumption of alcohol is punishable under Islamic law in Yemen. Homosexual acts are also prohibited and may be punishable by death.
While Yemen has often attracted negative media attention as a result of kidnappings of tourists and internal strife, this should not deter the careful traveller. Anyone entering the country is taking a small, but ever-present, risk and should try to keep up-to-date on the exact security situation of their intended destinations and be prepared to change plans if the situation mandates it.
However, in March 2009, two separate but linked terrorist attacks occurred. 5 South Korean tourists were killed and 3 were injured in a suicide bombing while visiting Old Walled City of Shibam on March 15th. On March 18th, another attack occurred, aimed at investigators and family relatives of the March 15th attack. However, no one was killed except the perpetrator. Similar to many attacks and incidents in the country recently, al-Qaeda called for these attacks to occur. As such, many embassies world wide are advising against travel to this country, especially since violence seems to be spreading to once-thought safer regions of the country.
In June 2009, 9 foreign aid workers - 7 Germans, 1 Briton and a Korean - were kidnapped in the Northern Saada region. 3 bodies were later recovered. The fate of the remaining hostages is currently unknown. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/h...)
On 31 January 2012, at least six aid workers of various nationalities were kidnapped from a tourist area west of Sanaâa. (http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/...)
Driving is on the right. While Yemeni drivers have something of a reputation for bad driving, the reality is slightly more nuanced. Risks are taken, particularly in Sana'a, which would not normally be taken in other places, but the locals expect this to happen and compensate accordingly.
For trips outside Sana'a, however, a 4-wheel-drive is almost mandatory as most roads away from the routes connecting main cities are not paved. Travelers should also give serious consideration to hiring a local driver/guide, as maps tend not to be as useful as they can be in other countries. A city limits border pass is required as these are well protected by the military. It is also worth noting that Yemen has one of the highest populations of armed civillians so take caution.
Tap water should be avoided. To stay safe, it is recommended to stick to the bottled variety.
Additionally, be aware that the country is exceptionally dusty. Travelers with breathing difficulties such as asthma may encounter problems in more remote destinations.
The dry air especially from September 'til April can be bothersome, causing cracked lips and sometimes nosebleeds. Always carry a Vaseline stick with you, available in most pharmacies in Yemen, and a packet of tissues.
Particularly when hiking, remember that much of the country is at altitude. Therefore, as well as taking the usual steps of drinking plenty of water and protection from the sun which can be very harsh in Yemen, be aware of any dizziness you may be experiencing due to rapid ascents. Many of the more popular hiking routes are covered in loose stones, so be careful of your footing. Some peak ascents can be at a near 70-80 degree angle, so any fall will be devastating. Be prepared with bandages and/or anti-bacterial creams just in case you get a cut, which is normal during hiking.
Polio and malaria are common to Yemen. Polio is present in some Red Sea coastal towns and malaria is also present in low-lying areas along the Red Sea.
Arabic is the official language. While many locals will at least attempt to communicate with non-Arabic speakers in other languages, any visitor will almost certainly need at least some Arabic, particularly if traveling to locations outside the capital. Even within Sana'a, the bilingual signs common throughout most of the Middle East are commonly absent, with Arabic script and numbers predominating. This said, Yemenis are very open for communication, and hand-waving, making noises and smiling can get you very far, even if not always where you wanted to get usually to a qat-chewing session.
Yemenis have a myriad of different accents, due to the historical inaccessibility of parts of the country. It is not unusual for a visitor to be told that his or her laborious attempts at speaking Arabic are in fact "Arabic" and not "Yemeni" or "Yemeni enough". The more vocal village children will almost certainly enjoy hearing a visitor's attempts at their language, and will show this appreciation either with peals of laughter or by asking questions about the visitor's homeland.
Three rules should always be followed in exploring Yemen:
1. This is a Muslim country. As such, be sensitive about where you point your camera. There are many great photo opportunities around every corner the question is usually what to leave out of each image, but when photographing people, always ask first. The Arabic phrase "mumkin akhud sura minak?" is very useful indeed. Don't ever, ever try to take pictures of women, even if you're a woman yourself. This is considered a great offense and can even result in more than a few harsh words. Also don't try to take pictures of anything that looks as if it could be of any strategic importance i.e. has at least one soldier or policeman guarding it. However, if you ask with good manners and the guards are in a good mood, you might be allowed and take a souvenir photo with a military holding a machine-gun!
2. Despite being close to the richer oil-producing countries, Yemen is one of the poorest states on earth. Living conditions for many locals are very tough. As a tourist, expect local merchants to demand higher prices from you. While being mindful of the poverty level in Yemen, tourists should resist sympathetic urges to pay the merchant's first price. Bargaining is a way of life in much of the world and is expected of all buyers.
3. If an area is off-limits, it is that way for a very good reason. Tempting as it may be to play the intrepid explorer, there is no reason to increase your risk of being kidnapped or worse unless you absolutely have to.
In addition, be prepared to be asked for pens qalam, galam for the local schools, and also sweets bonbon. In the former case, if you have one to spare you may wish to consider it. In the latter, resist the urge to give a handout as it will create an expectation for the next foreigner to arrive. It should go without saying that you shouldn't give money "fulus!" "bizniz!" to children. Donate to local charities instead.