Most Incredible Places to Visit in Jordan
A small country in the Middle East, bordering Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Israel and Saudi Arabia, that I’d never even given a second thought to until this year. Jordan only popped up on my radar after seeing several photos of Petra and Wadi Rum, and after doing some research I decided to add it to my Europe trip. There were lots of mixed feelings from friends and family about visiting a country so close to Iraq and Syria, more particularly close to ISIS. Let me start this post by saying that I never once felt unsafe in the week that I was there, and its location should not put you off visiting. The security along the border is very strong and there are metal detectors at every hotel for extra safety. The hospitality of the locals goes above and beyond; we were welcomed and offered traditional Jordanian tea or coffee nearly everywhere we went. It’s absolutely amazing how many beautiful, historic sites are packed into one small country. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Jordan, but I had an incredible time and I can safely say it was the highlight of my trip.
I booked an 8-day group tour called Jordan Adventure with Topdeck (you can find the same tour here) so I didn’t need to worry about booking accommodation or transport. I highly recommend this particular tour as it covers all the major sites in the country, and the hotels were all comfortable and clean. I booked when the tour was on sale for around $1300 AUD, down from $1800. Our tour leader Ala’ was very knowledgeable and his recommendations were always fantastic. The tour started and ended in Amman, although due to exams and swapping tours last minute, I missed out on the first and last day there. There only ended up being four of us in the group – one Irish, one Irish-Syrian and one South African. We all got along incredibly well and having a small group made it a lot easier to get around. Visiting in July meant there weren’t as many tourists due to the extreme heat; around 35-40 degrees celsius every day, but it was a dry (not humid) heat. I found it manageable and preferred bearing the heat with the reward of less tourists around. Most tourists visit in the autumn or spring months.
Mount Nebo: The first stop on our tour. The ancient site looks out over the Jordan Valley, where you can see across to Israel and the Dead Sea. It also hosts the memorial site of Moses.
View of the Jordan Valley, Mount Nebo
Wadi Mujib: AKA the Grand Canyon of the Middle East. I had no concept of how big the Mujib valley is until I saw it! It is on a similar scale to the Grand Canyon and the views, so vast and so dry, were just surreal. I noticed that when we were driving through we saw barely any other cars, and we had the lookout point completely to ourselves. Our driver Abbat cut up some rock melon for us and insisted on getting selfies with us all. We met this man who lives right near the viewpoint and makes his own carpets to sell. Although it wasn’t included in our tour, there are places in the bottom of the canyon that you can go walking and swimming in through the narrows.
Local at Wadi Mujib
Little Petra: This is a good lead up to the real Petra, so I would recommend seeing this first so you aren’t disappointed. It is still an incredible site – an ancient city with stairs and doorways carved into the rock faces, although it is significantly smaller than the real Petra. We got our first real introduction to the Bedouin people here. Bedouin is the name given to Jordanians who live the tribal, nomadic lifestyle. You can recognise them solely by their dark eyeliner. This man worked in one of the souvenir tents in Little Petra, and walked around playing Arabic music on his flute. Listening to that music while exploring the ancient city really cemented into my mind where I was, and how lucky we were to be exploring this phenomenal place. We were also greeted by a cute young boy who sang to us while we walked around.
Bedouin local, Little Petra
View overlooking Little Petra
Petra: One of the new seven wonders of the world. I didn’t realise how enormous Petra really is, I thought we would run out of things to do spending a full day there, but the ancient city is extensive and there are many options for walks and things to see. Ala’ told us we should walk up to the monastery and to the viewpoint overlooking the Jordan Valley, labeled the ‘best view in Jordan’. The hike is quite steep and difficult in 38 degrees, but it did not disappoint. While up there we met a Bedouin man who lives in a tent perched on the mountaintop, where he sells souvenirs and tea to tourists. We chatted away while admiring the views around us, and got to play with his dog and cat called tequila and whiskey. I thought his views on life were so inspiring and admirable; it made me realise how much of an impact technology has had on our lives. Although technology has been useful to us in many ways, I feel that we need to constantly remind ourselves how important it is to enjoy the natural things and to take a break from the online world every once in a while.
“I am a cave boy, I was born here in one of the caves. I visited Napoli in Italy, my girlfriend was from there. The food is so good there, the pizza, the pasta. For me it’s like paradise, but there’s no life for me there, so I came back here. I don’t like the machine life, I like the free life here. People are good here, if you have a problem someone will help you always, if someone’s sick they’ll help you but there no, maybe someone will help maybe not. My parents want me to get married, but I haven’t found the most beautiful girl yet. For me it is life that is the most beautiful.”
We ended up tracking 22km for the day in Petra, and in 38 degrees we were absolutely exhausted by the end of it. Make sure you wear shoes you can walk a whole day in, preferably not sandals. A last minute decision led us to pay a guide to take us up to the very top view above the treasury, which gave incredible views looking down over the treasury. We paid 15 dinar (around 26 AUD) in total for 3 of us to go up. Again, this is something you can haggle – the starting price was 35. There are two different views looking down over the treasury – the one we went up, which took about 20 minutes but involved a lot of rock scrambling and climbing, hence requiring a guide, or there is a long route around to view from the other side, but this does not loop around and involves a lot of extra walking. Recommended if you are not confident scrambling up rock faces.
Our guide was really helpful in getting us up to the viewpoint, and even offered to go to a higher level to take photos of us like the one below. I probably wouldn’t recommend this if you are afraid of heights, as the edge of the cliff is very steep. Our guide must have been up there hundreds of times before as he was so comfortable standing right on the edge while the rest of us were having mini panic attacks watching him.
View over the Treasury, Petra
Entrance is 50 dinars so make the most of your time there. Petra by night is an additional event you can attend, where the walkway is lined with candles until you reach the treasury, and there are hundreds of candles laid out which you sit among. The locals told us that it’s better to see Petra by night before Petra during the day; if you see them the other way round then you may be disappointed with Petra by night.
The Treasury, Petra
Karak Castle: One of Jordan’s ancient castles. Worth seeing if you have time and love history, but if you are visiting Jordan for the scenic aspect and don’t have much time, you could skip this one.
Wadi Rum: Literally out of this world. Driving through this desert you feel like you’re on Mars. The landscapes are phenomenal and there is absolutely nothing like it. Several movies were shot in Wadi Rum including The Martian, Red Planet, Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars. We actually got to see a spot that had some fences left from where the directors of The Martian had zoned off so there would be no footprints for shooting the movie. The tour I did included a jeep ride around the desert, and an overnight stay in a traditional Bedouin camp, with dinner and sheesha out under the stars. If you book your own jeep tour and you visit in summer, I would suggest doing it as late as possible due to the heat. We went out in the Jeep at around 5 and while still warm it was perfect temperature and timing to watch the sunset. We saw another group who had gone out during the middle of the day and did not enjoy it as much. Keep your eyes peeled for the large caravans of camels roaming the desert.
Sunset at Wadi Rum
Bedouin Camp, Wadi Rum
Dinner was traditional Bedouin style and consisted of lamb shank and chicken cooked in a pot buried under the sand for a few hours. Overall it tasted phenomenal – I don’t think I’ve ever eaten lamb so tender in my life. The tents were outrageously warm still even as it got darker, so a lot of people slept out on the couches in the main area under the stars. We unfortunately did not get the air-conditioned tents as they were more expensive.
Aqaba and The Red Sea: Paradise. It’s the popular beach town for locals, where it’s common to stay at a resort with a pool and a private beach. We got a day pass for around 30 dinars to Berenice Beach Club, an amazing resort right on the beach, with a beautiful reef for snorkelling about 20 meters out. The day pass includes 5 hours to use the beach and pool as well as included lunch. Beware that some parts of the beach in Aqaba have sea urchins. After snorkelling we hung out by the pool where we ended up playing pool volleyball with some other tourists from parts of Jordan and the USA. For women, if you visit the small public section of the beach in Aqaba, make sure you wear more conservative swimwear. The private beaches and resorts are usually fine to wear bikinis.
Berenice Beach Club, Aqaba
There are some pretty cool markets in Aqaba, which are particularly busy at night, and many locals will do all their shopping in Aqaba, as there is no tax on anything. Alcohol is also much cheaper and more available. Check out the spice markets as they have some delicious spice mixtures which pair amazingly with bread and oil, and the Arabic coffee is a must for coffee lovers. For Aussies – I bought both coffee and spices from the markets and declared them when coming back into Australia, and after they checked them in customs I was OK to keep them.
Markets in Aqaba
Markets in Aqaba
The Dead Sea: Yes, this is the only sea in the world that you can float in. It’s also the lowest point in the world, so it’s below sea level. The floating sensation is actually quite crazy, it almost feels like you’re in space. It’s hard to not let your legs automatically float back up to the surface. It’s 14 time saltier than normal sea water, so any minor cuts you have will sting like crazy, and if you get any in your eyes you should rinse with normal water as soon as possible. The water and mud from the sea is known to be very good for your skin. We paid 3 dinar to lather ourselves in mud head to toe (including hair), which you leave on for 15 minutes before rinsing off. I was surprised at how soft my skin was afterwards!
The Dead Sea
Amman: We visited the Citadel on the last day, a site of roman remains which has great views over Amman. I didn’t retain much information about it as I was so exhausted from the past week, but I would love to stay in Amman longer next time.
- When it comes to bartering for things such as jewellery and material goods, a golden rule is to not pay more than 25% of the original price offered.
- If you plan on taking photos of locals, make sure you ask first – some would prefer you didn’t or may try and charge you for it.
- Stay hydrated especially in summer! Jordan is very dry and arid and it’s easy to get headaches from not drinking enough. Try and stock up on water from cheap supermarkets versus expensive water inside the tourist attractions.
- For women – cover up whenever you are in populated, non-touristy areas, out of respect for the Islamic women. Petra is touristy enough that you can get away with wearing less, but in Amman and Aqaba you should try to wear long pants or a skirt, with a thin scarf or material over your shoulders if you aren’t wearing a long sleeved top. Guys should not walk around shirtless at any time either.
- Data is really cheap and 3G can be found nearly anywhere, even in the desert. I paid 11 dinars for a prepaid sim card with Zain (the main phone carrier), which had 10GB of data.
- Double check whether you need a Visa to visit and if so, whether you need to buy it beforehand or on entry. For Australians, you buy the visa on entry for 40 Dinars (around 90 AUD).
- The local currency, Jordanian dinars (JOD), is very difficult to find at currency exchanges and they will probably need to order it in for you, so plan ahead for this. You can use USD in most places there as well, but I recommend getting money out from an ATM as soon as you can if you don’t go over with any JOD.