Many of you have certainly heard about Petra, one of the seven World Wonders and famous UNESCO cultural heritage site. But is there anything else in Jordan that is worth to be seen?
Read my travel diary and find out some good reasons why you should definitely go.
what to know before you go.
ON THE MAP.
Despite its geographic position, bordered by Saudi Arabia to the south, Iraq to the north-east, Syria to the north, Israel and Palestine to the west, Jordan is a safe place to go, politically speaking. In fact, when the current monarch, Abdullah II ascended to the throne – in February 1999 after the death of his father Hussein – he re-affirmed Jordan’s commitment to the peace treaty with Israel and its relations with the United States.
Tourism is increasing year by year and everyone from the taxi driver to the bedouin, from the host of your hotel to the soldier asking for your passport, will greet you with a warm “Welcome to Jordan”.
The main language is Arabic, so don’t be surprised if there are still a lot of people who don’t speak English or French. You might get some communication problems in the remote parts of the country – i.e. with your camel guide in the desert – or with some taxi drivers in Amman, but be sure to have your google map ready to let them know where you need to go, and everything will be fine.
And if you take some time to interact with the locals, I’m pretty sure that before you leave you’ll have learned some very common Arabic words like “Yalla”, “Shukran” or “Insha’Allah”!
Yes, you need a Visa and a passport with a validity of at least six months in order to visit Jordan, but for many countries you don’t need to request your Visa prior to the departure ’cause it can be issued once you get to the airport.
One thing you should definitely do, especially if you plan to travel around the country and visit Petra, is to buy the Jordan Pass which waives you of tourist entry visa fees if purchased before arrival to Jordan and with a minimum stay of three nights (4 days). It includes many attractions (like Amman Citadel, castles etc.) and its price depends on the number of days you wish to spend exploring Petra – 1, 2 or 3 days visit. The Jordan Pass is valid for use within 12 months following the date of purchase, but it will automatically expire after 2 weeks of the first time it is scanned in the first touristic attraction.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY.
The official currency is the Jordanian Dinar (JOD), shortened into “JD” (don’t know why it reminds me of Zach Braff’s character in Scrubs), which equals 1.22€ / 1.41 US$. You can pay with cards (generally called “Visa”) almost everywhere, the only exception could be American Express, but I advise you to always have some cash (ATMs are widespread) for the small purchases and be sure to check if your hotel accepts payments by card – beware that sometimes commissions might be added to your transaction.
HOW TO GET AROUND.
The easiest way to visit Jordan is by renting a car. You can go anywhere from north to south in 4 hours, and you can enjoy a pretty nice landscape along the road, stopping whenever you want to take a picture or to grab a cup of coffee.
We rented our car directly from our hotel – they arranged everything for us – and it was even cheaper than renting it with one of the bigger companies like Hertz.
And it was super comfortable to have our car parked just outside the hotel and not having to go back to the airport only to get it.
The main roads are quite in good conditions, but watch out because there’s plenty of speed bumps, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Unexpectedly.
Oh, I forgot.. maybe a camel, a donkey or a goat might cross your way. On a highway. At high speed!
There are also many people hitch-hiking, especially on the road from Aqaba to Amman and in the rural areas you’ll see people selling any kind of goods. For security reasons, there are several police checkpoints where you may be asked to show your passport or to open the boot of your car.
HOT & COLD.
The weather and climate in Jordan can vary dramatically depending on location and altitude. In summer, especially in the deserts and Jordan valley, it is blisteringly hot while at other times of year the deserts can be freezing and snow is not unheard of. High Season usually goes from March to May, but October can be nice too.
TO GO OR NOT TO GO. THAT IS THE QUESTION.
Definitely YESSS! I totally loved it, and since I got back home I miss random people smiling at me and saying “Welcome to Jordan”.
Besides that, you can go from the mountain to the sea in a few hours, from the adventures and climbing in the Wadis to the relaxing beaches of the Dead Sea or the Red Sea. And then there’s Petra, but I’ll tell you more later..
NOT TO MISS.
the road trip.
We spent 10 days in Jordan and even if we changed our itinerary once we were there (we wanted to go back to Petra), I think our time was enough. Of course you can stay more, maybe relaxing on the beach, or exploring the east side of the country. If you have only a few days, I’d suggest you to choose Petra, even though you’ll miss some great spots. Don’t spend too much time in Amman, we stayed one day and a half and it was enough to see all the landmarks.
We spent the afternoon wandering around, getting some cash and trying to buy a brand new Jordanian sim card for GPS (there are two big providers, Orange and Zain.. and of course we chose the best one: Zain – Malik, always in my heart ahahah).
After a breakfast with eggs and olives, do like us and take a taxi to the old town. First stop: Amman’s Citadel (included in Jordan pass), a historical site known in as Jabal al-Qal’a, (جبل القلعة) and on one of the seven jabals (hills) that originally made up Amman.
From the Citadel, you can walk down to the Roman Theater (also included in JordanPass), which dates back to the Roman period when the city was known as Philadelphia, climb up to the top, sit there and chill for a while enjoying the view.
You will find many guides (fake or not) that will try to get your attention, by asking at first where you are from and then offering tours around the capital. I have to say, it’s quite easy to visit the city on your own, you don’t even have to stop the taxis, they will toot at you as soon as they see you. And they are very cheap (always check if the taximeter is on), but if you prefer the comforts of a guided tour keep in mind that you can haggle over the price ; )
If you’re hungry after all that walking, stop at Hashem Restaurant to taste their legendary falafel while enjoying the local atmosphere. It’s busy and hectic, and it can be a little confusing to figure out how to order (if you don’t speak Arabic), but that’s part of the character of the environment that makes it so fascinating. There’s no menu at Hashem Restaurant, but they serve a basic set of dishes that never changes (we got veggie falafel..yummy). After you find a table, you’ll immediately be delivered a plate of vegetables – onions, tomatoes, and mint. And you’ll also get a paper topped with bread and their famous creamy hummus. And to act like a local, break off little pieces of bread to scoop up all the different dips, ’cause there are no utensils served (although you can ask for them).
After lunch, head to the King Abdullah I Mosque, where also tourists are allowed to visit (note that men must have long trousers on and women must cover their heads, arms and legs. They’ll provide you with a black hooded gown free of charge if needed, which will make you feel part of the Twilight’s Volturi gang – No Cullens included in the price).
Beside the Mosque there’s also a shop where you can buy nice souvenirs – not cheap, btw – and drink a cup of tea if you have to wait before going in, ’cause you’re not allowed into the prayer halls at prayer times.
The rest of the day, you can explore Amman’s Souqs, with goods of any kind, but there’s another place where everyone goes and that’s Rainbow Street. In my opinion, it’s a bit overrated, but the crowded road is home to many bars and restaurants and it’s always full of people, especially at night.
JERASH – AJLOUN – UMM QAYS – BETHANY BEYOND THE JORDAN – SALT
JERASH (included in JordanPass): They call it “the Rome away from Rome”, and if you go there it’s easy to know why. The old town is basically an open air walk into what it used to be more than 6500 years ago. It takes up to 3 hours to see it properly, but it’s totally worth it.
AJLOUN CASTLE (included in JordanPass): The castle commands views of the Jordan Valley and three wadis leading into it and it’s been an important strategic link in the defensive chain against the Crusaders since it was built in 1188. The castle is a tough 3km uphill walk from the town centre, but there are minibuses going to the top, or if you go by car, there’s a small parking lot just outside the entrance.
UMM QAYS (included in JordanPass): Situated 110 km north of Amman on a broad promontory 378 meters above sea level with a magnificent view over the Yarmouk River, the Golan Heights, and Lake Tiberias, this town was known as Gadara, one of the most brilliant ancient Greco-Roman cities of the Decapolis. According to the Bible, this is the spot where Jesus cast out the Devil from two demoniacs into a herd of pigs. Unfortunately, the site is not very well kept and it cannot compare to the close Jerash, but it grants a spectacular view of three countries – Jordan, Syria, and Israel and the Palestinian Territories. On your way up there you’ll find several checkpoints, due to the proximity of the mentioned adjoining lands.
BETHANY BEYOND THE JORDAN: Driving from north towards the Dead Sea, you’ll see many signs indicating the “Baptism Site”(Al-Maghtas), which is believed to be the location where Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptist. This site is a Christian place of pilgrimage and you can be baptised in the Jordan if accompanied by a priest. There’s also a font accessible to all that is filled with water from the river (but note that, despite its holy status, the river itself is quite polluted) and this is the only place where civilians can currently touch the Jordan River in Jordan, as the remainder runs through a military no-man’s land. Across the river is the Israeli-run complex of Qasr Al Yahud in the Palestinian Territories, where you can often see large groups of religious tourists being baptised.
AL-SALT: We stayed in Salt half day and it was enough to enjoy some relaxing time surrounded by its splendid yellow sandstone buildings. It was nice chatting with the host of our hotel, learning something about the town, its history and even its football team.
WORTH THE TRIP ☆ DEAD SEA & WADI MUJIB
One thing you should definitely do in Jordan is “floating” in the Dead Sea. Yes, float, because it’s almost impossible to swim due to its hypersaline water (it’s the second saltiest lake in the world). The surface and shores of the Dead Sea are 423mt below sea level, making it also Earth’s lowest point. Unfortunately, there’s almost no shore, so if you plan to take a dip, it’s advisable to go into one of the private beaches or hotels you can find along the coast. The two most known clubs are “Oh Beach” and “Amman Beach“, where you can also enjoy some nice pools near the sea.
We went in august, when the weather was hot and humid, and it was weird to dive into the lake ’cause the water was really hot and sort of “oily”.. but it’s impossibile not to laugh when your bum wants to re-emerge!
Really close to the Dead Sea, there’s the Wadi Mujib Reserve, a mix of rugged, arid mountains and flowing rivers. Mujib is a very rough, warm area and the walk is called adventure walk because it contains swimming and hiking for long hours in addition to descending a 20m high waterfall. They are difficult yet fun trails and one has to have the ability to swim and have no fear of water and heights. It is tough, exciting, offering a chance to swim and bathe in the cool, clear waters of the Mujib and Malaqi rivers. The curious fact is that even in the driest season, you can still find a lot of water there! If you’re planning to do some adventurous canyons, be sure to go there after visiting the Dead Sea, or your little bruises will burn like hell!
Dean Burgen described Petra as “A rose-red city half as old as time”, but although much has been written about this UNESCO World Heritage site, nothing really prepares you for this amazing place. It has to be seen to be believed.
Petra has always been on my bucketlist, but it left me so speechless that I really can’t wait to go back again.
This world wonder is without a doubt Jordan’s most valuable treasure and greatest tourist attraction. It is a vast, unique city, carved into the sheer rock face by the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled here more than 2000 years ago, turning it into an important junction for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.
I suggest you to stay at least two or three days (included in your Jordan Pass plan) to really explore everything here.
The entrance to the city is through the Siq, a narrow gorge, over 1km in length, which is flanked on either side by soaring, 80m high cliffs. Just walking through the Siq is an experience in itself. The colours and formations of the rocks are dazzling. As you reach the end of the Siq you will catch your first glimpse of Al-Khazneh (the Treasury), a massive façade, carved out of the sheer, dusky pink rock-face and dwarfing everything around it. The Treasury is usually the most iconic and most photographed monument of Petra, but it is merely the first of the many wonders that make up this old city.
One of my favourite spots? the Monastery.
Maybe it’s because after climbing about 850 steps to reach the top, the effort made it the best monument of all to my eyes, but it’s really huge and it’s incredible to think how the Nabateans carved all this from the plain rock.
Just in front of the Monastery you can find a cave bar if you need water or food.
The best time to visit Petra, especially if you’re planning to take photographs, is either early in the morning (for the sunrise over the Treasury) or late afternoon (for the sunset at the Monastery) when the angled sun highlights and enhances the amazing red-rose colours of the rocks.
And if you’d like to experience something different, you can join the Petra by Night tour (mondays, tuesdays and thursdays, 17JOD) and walk through a candle-lit Siq up to the Treasury, for a brief music show under the stars.
Two things you should know before going to Petra: the first one is to wear comfortable shoes because there’s a lot to climb over there! And the second one is to beware of the Bedouins inside the old city, ’cause they will try to chat you up or ask for money for donkey rides.
☆ WADI RUM
If you think Jordan is only about Petra, well, you’re wrong. One of the best and most unexpected places we visited on this trip was definitely the desert of Wadi Rum. The also known “Valley of the Moon” is a mix of red sand and rocky mountains that can be explored with a local guide. We decided to spend two days and one night in a bedouin camp (thanks rumstars.com) and the experience was amazing. The first day we drove around in a 4×4 vehicle, together with a driver/guide, to explore some of the best-known sites – such as the Lawrence of Arabia “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” rock formation or the Jabal Umm Fruth Bridge, a natural rocky bridge you can climb to the top bare-handed.
We spent almost all day hiking and climbing, learning how to make a good (and sweet) bedouin tea in the middle of the desert and finally enjoying a martian sunset before heading back to our camp for the night.
After a dinner cooked in the hot sand, there was nothing better than enjoying the starry night surrounded by complete darkness. u n b e l i e v a b l e.
The next day, it was time for a camel ride for the last hours in this “vast, echoing and God-like…” UNESCO site.
AQABA – MADABA & MOUNT NEBO
AQABA: the Red Sea city of Aqaba was a good choice after the days spent in the desert. With its warm and crystal clear waters, it is a popular spot for divers looking for the stunning coral reefs. We spent the day at the Berenice Club (way better than the clubs on the Dead Sea) and despite the hot winds and high temperatures, it was nice to chill in the pools and at the beach there.
MADABA: the town of Madaba is best known for the fine Byzantine mosaics preserved in its churches and museums. In a few minutes you can also visit Mount Nebo – the peak where Moses looked over the Promised Land (destination of many Christian pilgrims).
Madaba was the last stop on our road trip across Jordan, and from there it took us only half an hour (18km) to be back to Queen Alia International Airport. And back home.
Goodbye Jordan, it’s been a pleasure.