Your guide to the Hashemite Kingdom of Arabia; Jordan
Updated: Aug 24, 2020
When someone say's 'Jordan' the first thing you think of is Petra, but the country has SOOO much more to offer than this famous hidden gem. From canyons to the desert, the ruins of the Decapolis to the Dead Sea, Jordan provides much to explore!
Jordan has been on my overflowing bucket list for so long that the feeling of ticking this off my list cannot be described. The trip itself almost didn't happen for me, as I had an unplanned hospital admission just weeks before I was due to fly out. I did however, get the all clear to travel 2 days before (yep cutting it so fine), so it saved the heartache and tears of cancellation. Fitness levels were far from 100% but this was not going to be a showstopper.
I had actually started to write this blog soon after coming back, but was very sick again just weeks later. Then as we entered 2020 and the world began to lock down, I thought to put this on hold. It does however feel right to post this now, a year since my travel and as borders are slowly opening again. Can I entice anyone to think about heading to this place with many treasures? Let's see...
I travelled to Jordan with my sister and her other half. We had booked a tour with Jasmine Travels here in the UK months in advance, they seemed reasonable as our tour was inclusive of all costs aside from tips, personal expenses and any meals not stated. However, we faced a few issues while out there so not a company I would use again or recommend, highly unprofessional once they had been paid, we departed and hiccups arose. They were partnered with a local company called Why Jordan Tours, while admin staff here were rude when things went wrong, our driver - Mohammed (Mo) was the most AMAZING guy. He went the extra mile, whether it was just recommending food and where to eat, stopping to get cold water or a bite, finding a loo etc. nothing was too much for him. He helped to ensure the issues didn't dampen our travel, and made the best of every situation. The guy was a gem and we were tremendously grateful for what he did. I'd specifically look to find him again if we were to go back.
I had pulled the itinerary for this trip together myself after a lot of research. Our trip started in Amman, allowing a few days here to see the city, and travel further north towards Irbid, where the Roman Decapolis would have been, before heading south. As with my other blogs I have my itinerary below with recommendations for those of you planning a trip, and my photo album for some travel inspo. If you are looking for something shorter hopefully my itinerary will help decide yours. For those who've been, did I miss anything? Drop a comment and be sure to let me know.
Days 1 & 2: Amman
Many miss actually taking the time out to see Amman. Instead of using this place as a pit-stop, take 2 days to actually explore it, we had our first 2 and final 1 night here.
We stayed in Downtown Amman, and honestly the location was perfect. We were walking distance for food, the market, shops for gifts/souvenirs and personal shopping (check the tips for this bit). It's also very convenient to get a taxi to get to the Roman Theatre and Amman Citadel - where you will also find the Temple of Hercules. We covered both the Roman Theatre and Citadel on the first day. Rainbow Street was also on our list so we decided to split the day to be able to have lunch here. There are plenty of places to choose from then hit the shops if you like - or opt for chill out with a shisha pipe. You can find a pipe in almost all restaurants at a very reasonable cost, between 3.5 - 6 JOD.
Being in Downtown Amman, we were walking distance from the Grand Husseini Mosque, so we decided to venture out on foot to see it. The shops are also open till very late so you have a chance to look around before or after dinner. King Abdullah's Mosque is also within 5 minutes of driving time from the area, but we decided to visit here en route back from another trip. This gave us a second day to explore Amman on foot, find what we wanted to buy, try local delicacies and simply relax.
Hotel: We stayed at Art Hotel Downtown, the rate came with breakfast, we however opted to eat out and would recommend that too, there is not much on offer. The rooms were clean, good shower with the basics - even a fridge to keep your water cold.
Day 3: Umm Qais & Jerash
Using Amman as our base, we headed north to the two archaeological sites starting with Umm Qais, also known locally as Gadara. As you arrive and park up here, it will feel like there is nothing much to see here but you would be very wrong! From the car park you pass old Ottoman cottages while making your way to the site, which itself is large and well positioned to give a view from Israel and the Palestine to Syria. To see the ruins of Umm Qais the path is pretty easy to follow, make sure you don't miss the amphitheatre, we almost walked straight past it as we saw parts boarded up. It was nothing 'wow' but to go all the way out here and miss it would feel like FOMO - or maybe its just me?! I would recommend making a short stop at the viewpoint. Not only is the view amazing, but you actually get a clear view of the Sea of Galilee from here, the location and height is well positioned near the borders. Its also quite possible that like me, it will be the closest you get to Syria.
After speeding our way around here we were to head for Ajloun Castle, but traffic in Irbid was a nightmare and caused a huge delay, so we had to change plans and went directly to Jerash. We were fine with this as it meant we could take time out for a proper lunch and take our time at the site. We had lunch in Jerash at Artemis Restaurant, food was buffet but a nice selection. You could even see the Arch of Hadrian from the outside seating area.
Arriving at the ruins Jerash, Mo took us to the 'South gate', this is where the entrance was. He then directed us towards the ruin and let us know he will be waiting outside the final gate - Arch of Hadrian - which we could see in the distance to the opposite side of where we were about to start walking! At this point I realised how big Jerash is. They say you can normally walk around it in 2 hours, we gave ourselves 3 - we take too many photo's, plus I was still recovering from illness. As part of our tour we had a guide included here. I think this was a nice to have, not essential, but he did explain what some of the now ruins used to be.
While walking around Jerash, where some of the ruins still have stairs to go up them, the views are different - especially as you walk through the site after the Oval Plaza. If you look at the cobbled street you will notice that the wheel marks from the horse carriages can still be seen. This was pointed out to us.
The path is literally a big circle, some people walk back through the cobbled path once they reach the Temple of Artemis. I would say don't! Walk back at higher ground towards the Temple of Zeus and the Southern Theatre. Not only is this quicker as the terrain is better, but the elevated viewpoint over Jerash, something you will completely miss going back the way you came - and most do this. There is also a loo - which you might need by now if water consumption has been huge, it's just near the Southern Theatre.
Once you reach the Temple of Zeus, there is a path to come back down to the cobbled street level towards the Oval Plaza. From here it really is a straight path towards the Arch of Hadrian. You will pass the hippodrome and a church, there is also a shop/restaurant if you need a pit-stop to refuel or the loo.
By the time we finished here we saw a great sunset too, we couldn't have asked for a better end to the day. Both archaeological sites were great but Jerash was truly amazing. Needless to say I was shattered by this point, but our overnight was back in Amman before departure the next morning so we were not too far away. By now we had also found a favourite place to eat, conveniently placed across the road from the hotel so a quick refresher and we could go for dinner an unwind. Its actually just called 'Cafe Shop & Restaurant', you'll know its the right one if you see stairs with colourful flower pots and bike wheels on the ceiling. The food tasted so good and was extremely well priced for the large portions that we got.
Day 4: Madaba, Mount Nebo & Kerak Castle
We said farewell to Amman as we headed for Madaba, we would return here for one final night before flying back to London.
The drive to Madaba was not far, but as we started early there was no time for breakfast. Mo stopped where we could grab a few things to eat on the way, we also picked up items that we could keep in our backpacks. I'd definitely recommend grabbing bits like juices, soft drinks and snacks, these were very handy when we were in Petra, its cheaper than buying it there.
Madaba is famous for its mosaic's and St George's Greek Orthodox Church. It is here, preserved in the floor of the Basilica, that you will find the mosaic Map of Madaba. Discovered in 1896 and dating back to the 6th Century, providing important details of landmarks dating back to this era.
After Madaba we headed for Mt. Nebo - may also be referred to as Siyagha. It is said that this is where Moses was to have seen the Promised Land as he lived his final days here. It is also believed to be his burial site, but with the exact location unknown the subject is heavily debated. At the top of the hill, Mt. Nebo's location provides panoramic views from the Dead Sea and Jerusalem to the Israeli/Palestine territories. There is also a small Byzantine Monastery built in the 6th Century dedicated to Moses. While the building itself has deteriorated and another built over to protect it, some mosaics can still be seen. The surrounding area has been maintained really well, its clean, has pretty flowers and plenty of olive trees.
It was onward to Kerak Castle from here. This is a large crusaders castle built on a cliff top, it does have 7 stories and would have looked quite good back in its heyday, but it has not been well maintained. Anyone like me who has a balance issue - watch where you put your foot as you walk around the outside! Inside the castle you get a feel for the eerie battles that will have taken place here in its history. We didn't stay too long, as it was hard to navigate the outside (where possible), it is badly dilapidated. We saw as much as we could before leaving. Worth a quick stop if en route, I personally don't think its worth going out especially to see. As with other places perched at high elevation, this does offer great views once you've climbed it.
The day wrapped up driving to Petra - home for the next 3 days. Famished, we got a bite to eat and called it an early night as we would tackle Petra the next day.
Hotel: We stayed at La Maison hotel, a few minutes walk from the visitor centre which is where you enter Petra. Loved the hotel, staff were amazing as was their food, and thinking back we should have done 2 nights here instead of the one. Great place to stay.
Days 5 & 6: Petra & Little Petra
I could not contain my excitement waking up to this day. 2 weeks ago I was in hospital and it didn't seem possible that I would be here. Now I was standing outside the entrance getting a headscarf tied by the shop vendor. Surreal to say the least.
I knew this day had a lot of walking ahead, mentally I was prepared and I was hoping that the smaller walks over the last few days, like Jerash had helped to build the stamina and strength needed to get me through the day physically. We had decided to do the 'main trail', highlighted in red on the map, which ends at the Basin, but also take a slight detour to see the Royal Tombs. This was a round trip of 8km/5m (not including the Royal tombs). We had a guide for a few hours of this tour, something we found useful. The explanation of history, origins and even the betyl carvings that you see as you walk through the Siq adds so much more to the whole experience. Some may not want this, if you've done your research and just want to hike, simply start early, grab a map and follow the hike trails. I will update this blog to link to my Petra hike for fuller details when complete, but hopefully this snapshot provides some insight to the day. The tips section below also provides details on entrance fees, as there are several options.
The hike itself was not difficult, the terrain is pretty flat, only the surface changes between the dusty and sandy areas and cobbled. Getting to higher ground like the Royal Tombs you will need to climb a little, be prepared to get dusty! When you look at the map it will indicate the difficulty of each trail.
As you start your hike, have your cameras ready from the entrance as you will see a few things before you reach the Siq entrance. The sheer size of the walls surrounding you in the Siq will make you feel so small and insignificant but bring total amazement at the same time. Every turn looks different, yet the same, until you reach end and catch the first glimpse of the Treasury (Al Khazna). Nothing I say, can explain the feeling of seeing this facade; almost 40 metres in height. By the time we reached here there was already a small crowd. You will find a number of people will actually turn back after here, so if you want less of a crowd you can also take more pictures on your way out as they'll have almost gone.
The Treasury is by far the most crowded location, that said we still saw a large number of people as we walked though the Street of Facades, Royal Tombs and through the Colonnaded Street.
By the time we reached the Basin we had some 40° beating over us, were parched and hungry. We found there are 2 places you can get food to eat here but buffet style. Not only would this have been too much with the hiking, but we'd bought ours with us. There was also what you could call a tuck shop type small vendor that was selling cold drinks and snack food. Your hotel may also provide a lunch bag, you can ask them the day before and they'll have this ready for you. Over lunch my sister and brother-in-law decided they wanted to tackle the Monastery (Ad-Deir) with the route from the Basin. We had been getting mixed feedback on the backdoor hiking route, which was an option for tomorrow after Little Petra, but we had plenty of time left today so thought to do it. However, at this point I honestly had started to feel weak so opted out. While I rested a little and re-hydrated, these two climbed Ad-Deir and came back before we headed back to the hotel.
From the hotel we headed for our Camp - Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp, we are to be for 2 nights. Dinner is included here along with breakfast, and as with most places we stayed it was buffet style.
Little Petra, also known as Siq al-Barid, is reachable very quickly from the camp. It is far less busy here, we saw a handful of people here and we did not start early. It is also considerably smaller than the main site and you don't need much time to get around it.
After finishing at Little Petra we headed back to the Visitor Centre, we had 2 day passes so could re-enter and finish what we wanted to see. We also wanted to walk around the town itself and visit the museum. It was safe to say I was feeling it a little today so was achy. Early evening perched ourselves at a restaurant called 'The Cave Bar', its just near the entrance of Petra, this allowed easy access to Petra by night. For this you need a separate ticket and they only let you enter after the site has been closed and set up. They open again around 7.30-8pm. The experience is walking the trail in the dark, guided only by the lamps they have put. At the Treasury there is a short light show. People do push and rush about so care needs to be taken if you opt to do this.
Camp: Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp, it is recommended we had no problems here. Just be sure to know that loo/showers are in a communal area, not in your tent. The camp fire area is really nice, be sure to try the complimentary tea they serve here. I didn't taste anything like that anywhere else and was gutted I didn't buy any - something I did not find anywhere else.
Day 7: Wadi Rum
From today the trekking and fast paced side of the holiday was to reduce, as we started to move into what I called the 'relaxing phase'. The first half of today was a safari jeep with a BBQ lunch in the desert, before we had the rest of the day to ourselves at the camp.
The jeep safari was 4 hrs, and was a great way to see key highlights of the wadi. We ticked off the Lawrence's Spring, Mushroom Rock, Little Bridge, Lawrence House's and Kazali Canyon. We did drive past the Seven Pillars of Wisdom but it wasn't pointed out at the time so no photos unfortunately. Bummer. You will see this as you enter Wadi Rum, its near the visitor centre so ask to stop.
Wadi Rum is really big so don't expect to see it all in a few hours, you need more than a day for that. During our trip we had a few stops where the local vendors gave Bedouin tea (we left a small tip), you also have the option to climb Lawrence's Spring, there is spring water still there. No, I didn't climb it, don't be daft. Of course my brother-in-law did though.
With the sandy red's, martian landscape and rock structures, the place really does feel like you're on another planet. It is no wonder that it has been used in films to appear as 'Mars', it really does look like the red planet.
We spent the evening in the cafe area of the camp, built on the rock's edge, with ice-cream, mint tea and of course a pipe. Wadi Rum is hyped for star gazing, so we stayed awake to watch the night skies for some time, but not as late as we would have liked. We had an early night as we had to wake up at the crack of dawn for our hot air balloon ride. This is a little expensive but if you'r not scared and have time, I say do it - and make sure it has been booked ahead of time. You don't want to face the mess our tour company put us in despite booking months ahead, and it almost didn't happen. Having done a previous hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia, I can honestly say both experiences were different. You appreciate the landscape in such a different way from above and in the open.
Camp: We had only the 1 night at Memories Aicha Luxury Camp, but really I wish we were here longer. We loved the place and did not have enough time to enjoy it. Great food, hospitality, and the executive tent we had was more than we could have asked for. We did not book the bubble, and if I ever went back I would opt for the same tent we had this time. This camp is very different from Petra, each had their own bathrooms and loo's, did feel more luxurious.
Days 8 & 9: Aqaba & Eilat
After our balloon ride we were heading for Aqaba, where our first day would be a day trip to Eilat and we'd cross the Jordan/Israeli border. The process was actually pretty smooth as was all arranged for. You do have to pay fee's to cross the border, ours was said to be covered but as we crossed back at the end of the day we had to pay. This was a little irritating, as we were told it was all included so ended up paying by card and that had a charge too. Had we known in advance we'd have had NIS in cash to cover. This was one of the several issues the tour company literally ignored once we were back and questioned. I have covered the fee details in my tips below.
Once in Eilat, we were a little unlucky that the weather was really windy, although very hot. This meant the under water boat ride we'd hoped to do couldn't go ahead. We ended up spending more time at the Underwater Observatory instead, before heading to Dolphin Reef for lunch and spending the afternoon there. The day trip was to also include bird watching, but again due to an issue with the arrangements this didn't happen. After a relaxing day out we headed back across the border and to our hotel.
While being in Aqaba we wanted to enjoy the Red Sea and see the coral. We asked the locals about the best beach, and everyone said to pay for entrance to a hotel that manages one, not to visit the local one's (Mo and the local driver here also recommended the same). Their reasoning was that people tend to stare and we'd be uncomfortable with it. We took this advice and booked a space on the local coach with our reception for Berenice Beach. It was the best decision we could have made. The cost was 10 JOD pp to enter, and you are given a beach towel so you don't need to bring one.
Berenice beach is a lovely sand beach with plenty of sun beds, serves food in the outdoor restaurant and of course can get your drinks in a few places dotted around. The waters are so clear you can see the fish and coral from above, and if you head into the water you don't need to go far before you can see it. Take an underwater cam if you have one.
We stayed here till sunset before heading back to freshen up and find a spot for dinner. We decided to head into Downtown Aqaba to find a restaurant. The walk was a killer as you could feel the sea breeze - but it was hot air, and the restaurants all seemed to have fans rather than AC's so we cooked a bit. The sea food here was really good though and very fresh, something I would recommend to try. On the walk around Aqaba we did feel quite intimidated, you could feel eyes on you. This was the first time we'd experienced this but we now knew what the locals meant. Generally people across Jordan are extremely friendly and welcoming, the locals were very nice to us where we went.
Hotel: City Tower Aqaba. You could call the hotel coastal as its across a main road and near a local beach and park. The hotel is nice, as are the staff and you get a wide selection of food. I'd recommend it as its a straight short walk to Downtown Aqaba from here.
Day 10: Dead Sea & Wadi Mujib
We've bid farewell to the Red Sea area and were headed for the Dead Sea -the lowest place on earth, 434m below sea level. However, before we get there we had a short stop at Wadi Mujib where we could hike the Siq Trail. Now, I had decided before departing the UK that I would opt out of this, but these guys could carry on. My reason being you need to be able to climb over large slippery rocks in the water and wade through the stream which would be at least waist height. While I have no fear of water and can swim, my fitness to do such a hike was just not there, coupled with slippery surfaces would mean I will break bones. Again. But as we had paid as part of the tour, I was allowed to go in to the entrance point and take some photos while my brother-in-law wandered off for the hike with Mo.
Once they were back and sort of dry, we were ready to slap on some mud and float at the Dead sea. I have no pictures once the mud was on, was not risking the phone or camera! When you do go to the Dead Sea, do read the information they have there, it's not only interesting to know why you float, but also how harmful and deadly if you swallowed that water! It's called the Dead Sea for a reason, nothing can survive in it due to the high levels of salt. The salinity is at around 34%, when you compare that to normal sea water levels of 3.5% its a huge difference! It's because of the salt levels you actually are not able to swim here either.
We spent just enough time here before heading back to the hotel, we wanted to relax at the pool bar - the bar was actually part in the pool so you could keep cool which drinking. It was a nice end to the day, and a great continuation of relaxation therapy.
Hotel: Ramada Resort Dead Sea. Now while the hotel itself is nice and we loved the pool bar. The location is awful and so far away from the actual Dead Sea bustle that I wouldn't recommend it, nor would I go back given the choice. If its suggested by a tour company to you, I would strongly suggest to look at the location before making a decision, don't go by the name and make the mistake we did.
Day 11: Amman
We only had the one night at the Dead Sea, so after check out it was back to Amman for our final night, we stayed at the same hotel. We had nothing planned today apart from shopping - everything we had earmarked and now knew was better priced. And literally to eat the local food we had fallen in love with. If you decide to buy baklava or even want to try locally, the best we ate was at Jabri, most certainly on my hit-list for when I next visit.
We of course had to end the night with a pot of mint tea and shisha to round off the holiday on the best possible note. Amman is a lovely place and we're actually planning a long weekend back here! As with all my blogs I have snapshots from the travels, be sure to take a look, the blog doesn't scratch the surface.
Tips and general info:
Currency: Jordanian Dinar (JOD)
If you travel to Israel currency is New Israeli Shekel (NIS).
Local Languages: Arabic, but most speak and understand English.
Religion: Muslim with a Christian minority.
Travel visa: Costs 50 JOD and is valid for 30 days upon arrival. For British citizens you can apply online in advance or these can be arranged on arrival, having them already provides a quicker immigration process. There is also the option of the Jordan Pass which is worth considering. If you are in Jordan less than 3 nights the fee is waived.
Jordan Pass: If you are arriving into Amman and will be travelling around this is worth investing in. It should be noted you need to register for the pass before you arrive into Jordan. The pass includes your visa (50 JOD), entry into Petra (see costs below) and single entrance to over 30 of the sites including Jerash, Amman Citadel, Ajloun Castle and Wadi Rum to name a few. If you are doing these you will already be saving money. The pass is available in 3 tiers if you like, the only difference between them is how many consecutive days you can have in Petra.
Jordan Pass Wanderer: 70 JOD - 1 day in Petra
Jordan Pass Explorer: 75 JOD - 2 consecutive days in Petra
Jordan Pass Expert: 80 JOD - 3 consecutive days in Petra
Petra entrance costs: 1 day 50 JOD, 2 days 55 JOD, 3 days 60 JOD - these would need to be consecutive days. If you are a day traveller crossing the border then the cost is 90 JOD.
Petra by night: This runs 3 days a week and is an additional cost of 17 JOD to any ticket you have purchased, including the Jordan Pass.
Other site entrance fees vary between 2 - 12 JOD, if you do not purchase the Jordan Pass you buy at each site. Costs to the reserves or trails like Wadi Mujib are more and vary up to 44 JOD excluding taxes.
Hot air balloon: We flew with Rum Balloon, if you want to make a direct booking you can do so from their Facebook page. I also have the contact details of the captain that flew us on the day. Please contact me if you want these.
Money: Always carry a bit of cash as many of the smaller shops or tents within Petra or street vendors do not all take card.
Border crossings: The cost to go between Israel and Jordan varies in cost with their entry and exit fees, depending on which border crossing you use. Check this before you travel, I have found this site particularly useful to understand these. It also provides opening times and links to the official websites for any unplanned changes like Covid, forms, visa's that you might want to arrange ahead of time.
Dress code: Dress appropriately when vising mosques - avoid sleeveless and remove shoes. Also ensure you are carrying a scarf to cover your head.
Headscarf: If you are planning a full trip around Jordan it is worth buying a headscarf in Amman itself. These in the markets will cost you around 1-2 JOD at most. As you get closer to Petra and Wadi Rum where you will really need these while hiking, they will quadruple in price and your haggling skills will not help. If you're questioning do you really need them? Well personally, yes I found they took the heat out of the sun beating you overhead. Or bring a hat if that's preferred.
Shopping: For products that have 'Dead Sea' minerals/salts, Amman was the cheapest and you will find that 90% of the products are the same across Jordan but extremely varied in price. Aqaba was far more costly and purchasing at the Dead Sea itself was pretty extortionate. We purchased only what we didn't see in Amman but really wanted.
It seems an obvious one, but always carry water, it gets very hot especially in the summer months. We went in August and its one of the hottest months there. Best time to travel if you want it cooler is Spring or Autumn.
The sand in the desert and beaches gets very hot, and it burns. We were wearing neoprene socks/hiking trainers but you could still feel the heat of the sand through it! Still a good investment if you are to do water trails and for the beaches.
If you are not travelling with a tour group and are doing this yourself, I find booking.com the best way to manage the accommodation. All above listed places are on here, and it provides an easy to follow timeline with the app and you don't need papers at check-in.