“Once a year, go somewhere you haven’t been before” – Dalai Lama

It was this very quote that persuaded me that I should visit Jordan. I’m so glad I did too.

After settling back into full time employment in London, I was looking for a short trip during Autumn to somewhere with warm weather and distinctly “different” from a large city. Having heard some friends that I met at the Elephant Nature Park last year, were returning for another week of volunteering, initially I was going to join. But then, a close friend said he was going to Jordan for 3 weeks.

“Jordan?”, I said. The fact it WASN’T even on my radar for somewhere to go was suddenly a good reason to consider it. Don’t forget the Dalai Lama’s wise words I thought.

5 more practical reasons to go Jordan cropped up:

  • It’s only a 5 hour flight from London – for a week trip, you don’t have to waste your holiday leave in the air.
  • Flights are a bargain at ~£200 return from London – Thanks to easyJet flying there. That price was even a couple of weeks before departure.
  • The country is ~90,000 km sq – to get from the northern tip of the country to the southern tip takes 5 hours by car on the main motorway, so you can be in any part of the country and be well within a day from your flight home. So a travel itinerary can be as fluid as you want.
  • Temperatures for travel are perfect that time of year – around 20 degrees celsius.
  • Tourism is at a low at the moment, with civil unrest in neighbouring countries – Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria, West Bank and shares the Red Sea with Egypt. It’s amazing how incorrect that perception is. Jordan felt one of the safest countries I have been.

One thing led to another, and four friends were mustered up for the trip. A great number for travelling at speed, because it meant we could travel by car (taxi) at the best rate possible. I pulled out the backpack from under the bed and ran through my trusty Packing List once again.

 

Day 0 (Sun)

With my flight arriving late Sunday evening in Amman city, it left only an evening to sample some of the Jordanian food in the evening.

Day 1 (Mon) – Mt. Nebo, Bethany, Dead Sea

For 80 JD, we hired a driver for the day to take us to Mt. Nebo, Bethany, Dead Sea (for sunset) and finally drop us off in Madaba town.

A truly historical view to be had. The site is mentioned in the Bible as the place where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land. Even without the historical significance, it’s a great view with a useful plaque.

Mt Nebo Promised Land

After Mt. Nebo, the second historic site was Bethany – the area to on the East Bank of the River Jordan. It felt strange to be on one side of a river, knowing that you couldn’t cross. Only feet away, you see people bathing themselves in the water, overseen by a well-equipped security guard.

Bethany Jordan River

Bethany River Border

The irony of taking a photograph of another traveller from the other side of the barbed wire fence…

Bethany Border Photographer

At the site, is a very pretty Greek Orthodox Church worth visiting too.

Bethany Greek Church

Bethany Greek Church Inside

The rest of day was spent at one of the Dead Sea resort beaches (in my case O Beach).

The Dead Sea needs no detailed introduction – simply the lowest elevation on Earth and 9 times saltier than the ocean. The health benefits of the altitude and the “mud” you can mask your body in are often talked about and very recommended.

Dead Sea Sunset Beach

Dead Sea Sunset Pool

I stayed for the sunset (views from the resort pools and the beach) and continued onto the small town called Madaba.

Day 2 (Tues) – Madaba, Wadi Mujib, Karak Castle

Madaba is one of those cute little towns you would never base a holiday around, but when you’re there, you’re very glad you visited. Home to the highest percentage of Christians in Jordan, the main attraction is a Mosaic Map inside the town church dating from the 6th century which became key in developing scholarly knowledge about the physical layout of Jerusalem after its destruction and rebuilding in 70 AD. It’s huge, made from tiny tiles and admirable how it was made at an age when you couldn’t exactly order a bag of “assorted mosaic tiles” to get you started…

Madaba Mosaic Map

Leaving Madaba around midday, another car was hired to drive south and finish up in the town of Petra. The first stop was Wadi Mujib (Jordan’s Grand Canyon). Views of winding rocks and waters.

Wadi Mujib View

The final stop of the day was Karak Castle. Used by various crusaders as a stronghold, it’s an imposing view. You’re free to walk through the tunnels and rooms. The shards of light coming through at various places create a spooky atmosphere.

Karak View

Karak Tunnel 2

The car dropped us off at Petra town. The idea wasn’t to see Petra just yet, but rather to act as a transport base to get to Wadi Rum the following day.

Day 3 (Wed) – Wadi Rum

The drop off was arranged by Cleopetra Hotel (our stay the previous night), leaving us at the Wadi Rum “entrance” where our host for the day threw us in the back of his 4×4 and drove into the desert. The idea is to see several sites in the desert, finishing up at a camp, where you would have dinner and sleep the night in tents. The whole trip, including overnight stay cost 60 JD.

Wadi Rum is the magic of Jordan. Breathtaking, peaceful and humbling.

It’s no wonder that Wadi Rum has been used in many film sets (Lawrence of Arabia, Transformers, Prometheus).

Wadi Rum Desert

Our tour guide and driver was a young bedouin man called Rashid. At 19, he modestly pointed out that he’d been driving for 12 years, explaining how when he first learned to drive, he would slide off the seat in order to push the clutch down to change gears. It was told as a matter of fact, rather than to boast.

At this point, it’s difficult not to insert 20 amazing photos of the journey. Desert trails, huge rocks, dunes, engravings on rocks. Photos don’t do the ambience of the desert justice.

Wadi Rum Desert

Wadi Rum TravelLads

As we drove, we passed others on camel back or on foot.

My favourite “traveller” I had the pleasure of meeting however, was this rather friendly pair of wild camels.

Wadi Rum Camel

Wadi Rum Camel Closeup

At one point in the journey, our driver suddenly began to speed. 5 minutes later we stopped at a camp where another young boy came out and together started fiddling with the car. All of a sudden, it became apparent, that the reason we sped the last 5 minutes was to get to this stop as quickly as possible as we had a burst tyre.

Wadi Rum Car Fix

There I was, watching a 19 year old and (what looked like) 12 year old using a jack to replace a tyre. They say that the bedouin people can look after themselves in the desert, but we often question how technology changes the habits of people. We claim they change and get lazy. They may have new technology (the car and tools) but the habit of survival never changed. There was something humbling about thanking a 12 year old for doing something you should be able to, but couldn’t do.

Wadi Rum Tents

The tents we finished in by the evening were incredibly equipped. Proper beds (2 to a tent), sheets, covers raised about the ground with a separate “bathroom” with running water. I’ve felt less equipped in Glastonbury festival than in these tents.

There is really no excuse for not staying the night in the desert

Wadi Rum Sunset

Watching the sun go down across the desert was beautiful. As it set, there was no other light pollution to hinder it. It was the first time since my time in China, that I felt the atmosphere of the area was was peaceful enough to meditate and train kung fu.

Day 4 (Thu) – Aqaba

After spending a day thrown around in the 4×4, some quiet beach time was on the agenda. Aqaba was only a couple of hours from Wadi Rum, so most of the day could be spent relaxing.

Aqaba Sunset

Aqaba is a beachside town, on the Red Sea. The north part includes the top hotels and 10km south along the beach includes the medium spec hotels/hostels catering for the dive scene there. I’m not a PADI certified diver, otherwise, I might have used the time to do some diving.

Across the Red Sea is Israel and further down the coast, Egypt.

Day 5 (Fri) – Aqaba to Petra

The morning was spent soaking in the sun in a hammock before travelling by car back to Petra. Getting to Petra early is a good idea, because the following (first) day is an early start and getting supplies from the local supermarket is well advised. Most of your time in Petra is on foot so a supply of snacks to keep you going is worth preparing.

This was one of the many useful tips from Mosleh, the owner of the family run Cleopetra Hotel. The facilities you get are basic compared to the 5 star I had just stayed in, but Mosleh’s help and advice was priceless. I would always give up luxury for learning from a local. He was a man that did everything he could purely for the pride of being a good person and attribute that can’t be faked. Interleaving his help with interesting stories, he:

  • Arranged (with transport to) the trip to Wadi Rum
  • Arranged transport from Wadi Rum to Aqaba (calling us at the tents that night through the coordinator, to check we still wanted the transport)
  • Early morning drop off at Petra (it’s otherwise a 15 min walk down the road)
  • Taxi rates we should pay to get back (drivers ask tourists to pay 10 JD, where you should pay 2 JD)
  • Phoned around trusted drivers that might be returning back to Amman on Sunday (for a cheap transport back)
  • Bought me local sweets from the bakery himself after the bakery quoted “tourist” prices

 

Day 6 (Sat) – Petra

Petra, the historical and archaeological city, at its height home to 30,000 people. Now, it’s a World Heritage Site.

How long would you typically spend in a great city on your travels? More than a day – likely. Why people only visit this site in an afternoon bemuses me. This is what most tour groups will do.

With 1 day tickets priced at 50 JD, 2 day 55 JD and 3 day 60 JD – there’s no reason not to immerse yourself in Petra for more than a day. Tour “day” groups coming from Egpyt get charged an eye-watering 90 JD.

Mosleh’s father dropped us off at the ticket office at the entrance of Petra just after 6am. Early, but I wanted to see Petra without the crowds.

Petra Entrance Delay

You can imagine the annoyance to find the man who ran the ticket office felt the need to have a lie in that very morning. Even the people who HAD tickets (from the day before) weren’t allowed in. By 7:15 there was a group of fairly tense visitors all wanting to be first to get their tickets with locals asking “favours” to get their clients in first.

As soon as they let people through to the long road that led to Petra, I did exactly what the guides said I shouldn’t do.

I ran.

I ran not because I wanted to miss the beauty of the Siq (see ahead), but because I didn’t want wrestle for space with the 50 other people who had been held back too. Sure enough, but the time I got to the Siq, we were all alone.

Petra Siq

We were the first people to walk through the mystical path. At that point I stopped. With the heart pumping, the silence and no-one else in sight – this probably the closest to how Johann Ludwig Burckhardt felt with the anticipation of what awaited him on the other side.

Petra Siq Treasury Peek

Seeing the Treasury peeking through the rocks is something special. As we entered, the Treasury was there, complete with camel ready for photographing…

Petra Treasury Camel

Petra is more than the Treasury though, it’s about the exploring a city that once was, where noblemen and kings had extravagant tombs built well before their death to be remembered. Those tombs are all shapes, sizes and colours. Some you can walk into, others are inaccessible. You’re bound to see camels, donkeys, children or all three at once moving up and down the paths.

Petra Tombs

Petra Royal Tomb

Petra Children Donkeys

Every good guide book will describe what to see in Petra. For me, though, the highlights were the solid walk to the High Place and the climb to the Monastery at the back of the city – equally as pretty as the Treasury and can be seen from high up in all its glory.

Petra Monastery

Secondly, sitting by cafe half-way down the path and watching the majestic camels running past. Truly beautiful animals so adapted to the environment. I had no idea running was so natural to them (just watch them run effortlessly on their toes).

Petra Camel Royal Tombs

Petra Camel

Lastly, watching the sun set on the Royal Tombs – giving a warm glow. It’s no wonder the most important tombs were situated there.

Petra Sunset Royal Tomb

Being first to the entrance but being the last to leave, was definitely a long day, but so worth it. When you walk back through the Siq, most people had left, so once again, you get to walk the winding path without interruption.

Day 7 (Sun) – Petra and Home

I spent the morning of the final day back in Petra again. Without needing an early start again, meant hitting the crowds on the way in, but peeling off and onto my own trail again. I spent the time exploring the Royal Tombs in detail.

Petra Boy Royal Tombs

I left Petra in the early afternoon to drive back to Amman airport and get my flight back to London.

 

If I had more time in Jordan…?

  • Ruins around Amman – North of the capital and accessible as a short day trip.
  • Little Petra – 5km up the road from Petra and home to more tombs.
  • Guided Walk in Wadi Rum – Whilst you see more of Wadi Rum by car, I was quite envious of seeing others taking to the desert by food. There’s something to be had wandering for hours in the open space.
  • Diving in the Red Sea – With time needed to re-acclimatise after a dive, you need to factor another 2-3 days if you want to do some diving in the trip.
  • Dana Bio Reserve – Difficult to get to, this reserve sounds like the type of place to spend a couple of days and get another form of survival experience.