After a couple of days soaking up the rich atmosphere of Sana’a, you will want to take some excursions into the areas surrounding Sana’a. This is best done through a local agency that will organize a vehicle and driver, usually a Toyota Land Cruiser, a guide, and any necessary permits. Again, like all of Yemen, I found the prices to be very reasonable, in the US$50-80 range depending on the destination. We chose two day trips, one to Wadi Dhahr and the northwest, and the second to Manakha, to the southwest. The ruins of Ma’rib are another good choice.
Wadi Dhahr is best visited on a Friday, when locals celebrate weddings with traditional dancing with drawn jambiyas and occasional gunfire at the overlook a short distance northwest of Sana’a. Some people prefer Thursday, when it is less crowded, but there is still some wedding dancing. Down in the valley below, is Yemen’s most iconic building, the Dar al-Hajar, or Rock House, an imposing tower house majestically situated on a tall outcropping of rock. The interior of the palace can be visited and on Fridays, traditional dancing also takes place here.
From Wadi Dhahr, our excursion continued farther to the west where we visited four small villages. At the first stop, the village of Shibam al-Mahwit (not to be confused with the more famous Shibam al-Hadramawt) we ate a traditional meal sitting on cushions on the floor around large round trays of food. We tore khubz, an Arabic-style flat bread and used it to eat a variety of dishes - potatoes, green beans, an egg dish, a meat dish, and a strange green dish only the Yemenis seem to like, called salata. There was also bint as-sahn, a pizza crust-type sweet bread with honey.
After walking around the village of Shibam, we drove up an excellent Chinese-built mountain road to Kawkaban, a fortified village situated 350m above Shibam, which had previously been reachable only by a steep and easily defended mountain track. From the top, we could see across the valley to Thula, a small village we used as the start of a short trek through ancient terraced fields. After two hours, we arrived at Hababa, with its medieval city gate and cistern, the last stop of our day trip.