Dear readers of Ramallah Baby,
This is London calling, or to be precise, London Baby! As the probably one and only official sister-blog of Ramallah Baby (www.thatslondonbaby.com), today, I will transform to Jordan Baby and write a little guest blog on Palestine’s neighbouring country, Jordan. I had the pleasure to visit Jordan this March and fell immediately in love with it.
The reason is very simple. Even though divided by a well-guarded border, which makes going in-and-out a bit of a pain, it’s not far at all (and certainly worth it) to visit the neighbouring places when in Ramallah or Palestine. You might ask “why should I go, isn’t it more of the same (great nature, biblical / religious places/ cities) that I can do and see in Palestine?”. Fair enough – when looking at the Ramallah Baby website, much of it seems similar to the things we did in Jordan, but then going to new places, you can deepen and enrich your experience of the region and you can learn more about culture and people. So let’s get started!
We had the pleasure of driving across Jordan for 2 weeks. Before our trip, people asked us “how on earth can you spend 2 weeks in Jordan, we visited for 2 days and pretty much seen it all”? Well, I can only answer “how did you do that”?! because we found so many great places to visit and could have easily stayed there longer. You might not have this time at your hands, but I give you a quick rundown of what there is to see, and then you can decide yourself how much you want to do – luckily the distances are not so large and when you rent a car, you are super flexible in your trip planning.
Below you’ll find some general tips and then a “places to go list”. Don’t be put off, it’s a long list. But just take a map of Jordan, look how much time you have, what appeals to you and what you feel like doing. Rather than saying “you have to see this / that” – the good news is in Jordan its hard to find a place that is not nice in some way. So even when you have a plan and feel like deviating – just do it. Our trip went much slower for exactly that reason but we had a fabulous time.
Let me know if you have any questions, you can always contact me via the contact form on London Baby – www.thatslondonbaby.com :)
Planning / Renting a car
Jordan is not very large (about 5-6 hours drive from North to South). Also, at the moment, Jordan as a tourist destination is not so busy given the geo-political situation that scares tourists away. For Jordan, that has built a flourishing tourist industry, this is a mild disaster and we felt very sorry about this fact because we were treated so well wherever we went.
What this means for you: go to Jordan (from Ramallah or fly in), rent a car and just hit the road – you’ll find accommodation as you go along (we usually booked an evening in advance via the standard booking websites or even just walked into hotels recommended in the travel guides). This way, you are very flexible in your planning.
Before you go, and especially if you visit Petra, get a Jordan Pass (www.jordanpass.jo ). It costs between 70JD and 80JD. It includes the visa fee (Jordan operates an arrival visa costing JD40), which saves you time at the airport. But the pass also includes entry to over 60 attractions in Jordan, INCLUDING Petra. Petra alone costs JD50 for one day (55/60 JD for 2 or 3 days). So if you just go to Petra, then buying the pass is already worth the money (the difference between 70 and 80 JD is how many days Petra is included!).
For the rental car, I would advise renting in advance with one of the larger agencies – but check where the pickup point is and be flexible. We rented a car with Avis but when we came to the hotel to pick up the car, the Avis agency had moved three years ago to another hotel and nobody in Avis international knew :) . We rented the smallest car that was offered (~40£ a day), but when we came we got a good medium sized car (they don’t even seem to have those small cars, so if you want to take the risk I believe you can save money by renting the lowest category and hoping for the upgrade…but at your own risk). Last but not least, should you be given the choice, take the oldest and most bumpy looking car you can get, to be on the safe side. Locals might use your car to have a picnic or hangout session when you park it and nobody seems to be aware that in other nations, scratches or bumps in the car could be an issue :)
The condition of the roads is OK, traffic in Amman is totally crazy (so if you don’t want to deal with it, rent the car at the airport and just hit the road from there). The highways are easiest to drive, the other main roads can take longer and sometimes the directions are not so good so it’s helpful if you can read Arabic. Again, with a bit of open mind and flexibility you’ll get where you need to even if it takes a bit longer. You are on vacation after all.
Places to go
The capital and starting point for many (especially when arriving internationally). I can’t compare Amman to other cities in the region but it certainly does not have a “wow” factor. Yes, it has a market and some Roman remains (theatre, Citadel etc.) but compared to other historical places in Jordan, this is merely a warm up. Why stay anyway in Amman? Just to go with the flow, to hang out with the locals and experience what “normal life” in Middle Eastern Cities mean.
Walk around in the old town (picture courtesy of Lonely Planet, sorry for the bad quality), visit the “Rainbow Street” in Jebel Amman for a dinner or drink.
Two places we can very much recommend is the Wild Jordan Café, the headquarters of the Royal Jordan Society for Conservation of Nature. Its 5 min walk from Rainbow street in Othman Bin Affan Street. Its mega eco friendly in a brand new building, and also houses a shop of the Society with good souvenirs (not cheap but socially and sustainably produced around Jordan) as well as the Tourist desk where you can book tours and accommodation from Wild Jordan. Mind you, those accommodations are not cheap according to local standards, but they are in stunning locations, newly built and with good service (www.wildjordan.com). Oh yes, and the food is very hipster but very yummy as well.
The other place to recommend for food is an Amman Institution, called “Hashem” – it’s an open air café in Downtown (just ask for Hashem and people will point it out). No menu, just falafel and Hummus and all of this, they’ll load the table and it will cost around JD5 per person. Its busy with locals and tourists, if all tables are taken, just wait, turnaround is quick.
A visit to the bathhouse is nice to be scrubbed top to bottom. There are several ones, I went to a great one called Al Pasha Bath. It cost 25JD for all the works, and kept me soaking and scrubbing for 3 hours. Mind you though, strictly gender separated and one part of the day (morning/afternoon) is for women, the rest for men, so you can’t go together!
Last but not least- getting around in Amman is best on Foot, at least in downtown where traffic is stuck. It’s very hilly so you might want to take a taxi sometimes. Drivers will always give you some random fares, so make sure you insist on the meter. If they refuse, settle for 3JD or less.
We stayed in the Hawa Guest House (www.hawaguesthouse.com)
North of Amman
Most people head straight south after Amman, to the Dead sea or to Petra or the Wadis (Wadi Rum/ Wadi Mujib). If you are a fan of the Romans, do head North first to Jerash, about 1.5-2 hours by Car. Its one of the largest Roman Ruin Cities Existing – certainly to the scale of Forum Romanum.
I spare you historical details, but it’s enough to occupy you for several hours. After that, you can go back to Amman or head further north to Azraq (with a large castle, we did not visit) or Ajloun (another castle and a natural reserve). We stayed in the Wild Jordan Accommodation in Ajlou. It was nice and the nature was great but it was a pain to find and nature wise, you can also find good stuff further south.
Picture: Jerash and Ajloun Natural Reserve
Dead Sea and around
A main tourist point and highlight of many trips is a few nights in a dead Sea resort.
About an hour from Amman by Car starts the Dead Sea, and on the North end, there are about 5-6 Luxury resorts (Marriott, Movenpick, Kempinski etc.). You’ll realise that they have nothing in common with any real life (even the staff is mostly Asian) in Jordan, but it’s nice to be pampered and enjoying the Sun and Dead Sea. Best book in advance. Mind you you’ll have to eat everything in Hotel, outside the hotel walls there is no infrastructure whatsoever. Outside Food / Drinks is strictly prohibited, but we smuggled some stuff in and raided the breakfast buffet so we were a bit independent of the hotel food :)
Floating in the Dead sea is an awesome experience but make sure you have no cuts / open wounds (even if you think you have none, you’ll immediately find out as any little scratch burns!). Also, DO NOT get the water in your eyes and DO NOT swallow it. Trust me. You don’t want it. I thought “can’t be so bad”…it’s worse :)
You can also use your stay in those resorts as the base to discover areas around the dead Sea, e.g. The baptism Site of Jesus (careful, you need to take an organised tour of more than 1 hour, so check when they run; we ended up driving to the place just to figure we would have to wait for the next tour so we skipped it), Wadi Mujib (where you can do great Hiking Tours, mind you often with a guide….when we came, it was still “too wet” so most of the trails were closed) but we heard it’s a genuine highlight of Jordan and naturewise I believe it. Also drive into the mountains, to Madaba, Mount Nebo or Ma’in Hotsprings – just the scenic road is worth the trip alone.
We did 2 nights in the resort at the end of our trip, but enjoyed it fully and did not leave. On the way South though, we skipped the resorts and spent a night in Madaba instead, about 45 min drive uphill from the Dead Sea. The panorama Road was amazing.
On the way, we stopped in Ma’in hot springs, a small mountain resort with a 5 star SPA. If you don’t want to stay in the SPA, you can pay 15JD P P entry to the city to visit the Public Bathhouse (not recommended, looks like a tiger cage bath in a zoo from the 1960s), or – the true draw here- in the springs raining down from a giant waterfall. Careful of burning your feet though!
Madaba must be the world capital of Mosaics. It’s a very laid back town and Mosaics on every corner and in every church. Sounds boring but its quite amazing and the atmosphere was so friendly. Its also a town with a strong Christian community and heritage with many old Churches (with Mosaics) – and its good to see that there, the religions live together peacefully and respecting each other. Definitely recommended. Also, just driving there and around and back (there is another monster large Mosaic in Um-ar Rassas about 40 min drive from there) you see a lot of nice countryside. (the Round Mosaic picture is from Madaba- they spray the mosaic for you so the colours are coming out; the second one is in Um-ar Rassas- the decorative middle part is framed by small images of 12 large cities in Middle east, e.g. Jerusalem or Jericho)
Petra- where to start. The reason why most Tourists visit Jordan. World Heritage Site, Lost city rediscovered, architectural wonders, great nature, tombs, Hiking, Bedouins…Petra has it all. This old Nabatean City (never heard of the Nabateans? To be fair, me neither, but they were contemporaries of the Romans and similar advanced in their culture! For the rest, ask the internet…) lied sleeping, only known to local Beduins until it was “discovered” in 1812. Its hidden in the mountains and you need to pass a narrow Siq (small footpath in between meters of high stones) for half an hour before you get to the town. Or you hike via the “backdoor” across the mountains (you’ll need a guide).
Petra is large and if you want to explore it decently, plan at least 2 days. Decently this means you are not running from the world famous treasury (picture above) along the street of Tombs to hitch a Donkey to the Monastery and run back (as many many tourist groups do). It means you take some time to scramble, hike, up and down and visit lesser known tombs, the high place of sacrifice, get a tour with a Bedouin guide, and just explore. The city is built for exploration, and climbing up (as hard as it is!) give you literally new perspectives. You can do most of it self guided but hiring a guide might give you some insights. There are official guides and Bedouins hanging around, hoping to make some money. We hired 2 bedouins and they took us to “Little Petra” through narrow mountain paths with breathtaking views. This hike will take you out of Petra, so if you are short on time, don’t do it. If you have time, love spectacular scenery and have no fear of heights and narrow paths, it’s highly recommended! Be aware that the Bedouin Guides will offer you tea, dinner etc. – all as a “sell on”. If you don’t want it be clear. The lines between genuine hospitality and trying to make some extra money are thin. We had half a clan waiting to have dinner with / on us :) See picture below. But it was a great experience and we got ourselves home with no dinner and all was good. Be prepared to spend a bit more, incl. the ever-present tips.
Mind you, it’s a lot of walking and there is no shadow (we were in March and it was already hot, so be aware in the hot months). Take good, sturdy hiking shoes and water (you can buy but it’s expensive). Take some food. Be prepared for local Bedouins to offer you donkey or horse rides all the time or sell you souvenirs. Yes it can be a hassle but it’s their livelihood so be friendly and you’ll be rewarded with nice banter and chat. If you think of hiring a guide or Donkey, negotiate hard. Don’t expect it to be cheap. A donkey to the monastery (saving you 850 steps in stone and a 40 min tough hike) costs about 15JD. And it’s not a comfy ride but certainly an adventure.
You can also do “petra by night” tours (not included in the Jordan pass) which run Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. It’s super busy but to see the treasury lit up by 1000s of candles is breathtaking.
Also, try to be early in the morning, as the treasury will be sunlit and most photogenic. Light changes during the day really make a difference in all areas of Petra!
Accommodation is plentiful, Petra Guest house is next to the entrance, Movenpick hotel as well. If you are with the car, make sure there is parking space. We stayed in the Marriott 6km uphill, which was a treat to soak in the spa after a long day, but it was not too authentic….:)
Pictures below: from the hike to little Petra and tea with the Bedouins.
Wadi Rum – The Desert of “Lawrence to Arabia”
Wow, this post is already so much longer than thought. You see, it’s so great in Jordan.
But one highlight is left – this is a visit to Wadi Rum, or a quintessential Hollywood Desert. Home of the Bedouins, the opportunity for great trips with Open Back Jeeps and Camels, and – if you have the time- a night in a Beduin camp under the stars.
I won’t write much, look at the pictures, google more pictures – the natural beauty is breathtaking.
You cannot drive wity your car (unless you have a 4WD and good sense of orientation) but you leave the car in the village and hire a driver plus Jeep (80JD per Jeep per day). The tour will lead you to the highlights and you’ll have time to get out, explore and hike. If you booked a night in a camp (they are all quite similar), you host will meet you in the village and you’ll be taken to the camp and you can do a tour the same or next day.
We stayed with Mehedi of “Beduin Directions” – their camp is deep inside the Wadi Rum and the guides were very knowledable and we even had lunch at their own families during the tour, giving a glimpse into “real” Bedouin life (the camps are for tourists). http://wadirumjeeptours.com/
Two more things- off the beaten track but worth if you have special interests
Congrats for making it so far. The highlights are done, but I wanted to highlight two more “special interest” destinations.
Diving in the Red Sea
Jordan has access to a tiny Northern part of the Red Sea. The city of Aqaba is Jordan’s chill out city. It’s large, nothing special to see. BUT- drive 20 min out the city and you’ll find a prime destination for Scuba Diving. Lots of Diving bases with Simple accommodation are happy to take you, no matter what level and let you dive / snorkel your heart out with very cheap prices (I paid 50JD for 2 scuba dives including one-on one guide to dive with me and full equipment). Snorkeling is 5JD for Equipment and a bit more for a guide. I don’t have pictures as it was underwater, but it’s amazing for both Snorkeling and diving. Lots of corals, helped by a wreck that was purpose sunk in the 1980s for divers to explore, as well as an old tank.
We stayed in Bedouin Garden Village, a small hotel with Diving Base and Chillout Space :) – the only picture I can provide here :)
WARNING- if you head to Wadi Rum / Petra after, plan time for decompression as the height difference is substantial!
Hiking in Dana
Another one of the natural reserves, Dana is a small village that has been built in its original style, mainly by a US AID project (the rest of the village is still in rubble, but nobody wants to continue re-building unless another Project comes along….). Dana sits on top of the hill and there are many hiking paths and trails into the “Wadi Dana” You can either stay in Dana (we stayed in a small hotel run by a cooperative , called “Dana Hotel”, but there is also another one of the Wild Jordan fancy guest houses)
Or, you do the hardcore trail (I heard 6 hours down down down) to the bottom of Wadi Dana and then reward yourself with a stay in “Feynan Ecolodge”. Run in Cooperation with Wild Jordan by a private party, this is a luxury Eco-hotel with lots of educational activities. It’s not cheap but we heard nothing but praises about it (we didn’t stay there). The Ecolodge can’t be reached by car, so it’s either foot or you have to arrange a special pickup via the Ecolodge.
If you like hiking and scrambling you’ll be in heaven. Dana is btw half way between Petra and the Dead sea but it’s a bit of a drive through mountain streets to get there.