Where’s Wallis? On a jaunt around Jordan

Where we stayed:

⁃ Dead Sea Spa Hotel, US$90/night

Esperanza Petra, US$50/night

⁃ Wadi Rum Bedouin Camp US$70/night

Wadi Rum Bedouin Camp

What we did:

⁃ Jerash Roman Ruins, $FREE with Jordan Pass

⁃ Dead Sea floating @ Dead Sea Spa Hotel

⁃ Wadi Mujib Canyon, $FREE

⁃ Kerak Castle, free with Jordan Pass

⁃ Petra, free with Jordan Pass

⁃ Wadi Rum half day 4WD tour and overnight Bedouin camp, US$70pp

Our chosen route. 4 nights, 5 days

Car Hire: Dollar Rental Car, Queen Alia International Airport, US$200 for automatic with a/c, 5 days, 2 drivers

Visa: Free visa on arrival with Jordan Pass, otherwise $US56

Jordan Pass: US$99 – $113 depending on #days entry to Petra. See website for details.

Phone: ‘Tourist SIM’ package at airport, ~US$20 for 20GB data, local texts and minutes with Umniah mobile, decent coverage throughout Jordan. Used phone for navigation in car no GPS needed.

The Monastery – Petra

We almost didn’t make it into Jordan… after the short flight from Dubai to Amman with Royal Jordanian (an excellent flying experience!) we landed in Jordan and sped through passport control with our Jordan Passes.

Baggage collection didn’t go as smoothly. Our luggage allowance was 23kg each, and we had about 25kg between us, across 3 bags. Our downfall was bag numbers – I still do not understand why airlines limit the number of bags, did they have a bad experience with someone bringing their baggage allowance spread across 100 bumbags?

The check-in assistant for Royal Jordanian at the desk in Dubai had been kind and just let it go. This was the first in a pattern of nonchalance that continued throughout Jordan, always appreciated when travelling rather than the sticklers for rules you sometimes encounter.

So when only 2 of the 3 bags arrived on the carousel we worried that some jobsworth had intercepted them. When it was clear the final bag was not coming Ben approached a guard to ask what we should do next.

They showed us to a room at the back of the baggage hall marked “Security” and told me to wait outside. I hoped I would see him again.

He emerged a few minutes later, bag in hand and not looking too traumatised (or walking strangely…) he’d gone inside and been quizzed on the “telescope” he had packed. He expressed genuine confusion. There was some back-and-forth and it transpired this was about the binoculars (!!) he’d decided were critical to our Middle East sightseeing. Luckily they must have concluded he didn’t look too spy-like and we were away.

Once through customs it was easy to pick up a cheap SIM card, withdraw some cash, and collect our rental car from Dollar.

How to get around Jordan? I can definitely recommend hiring your own car and doing a self-drive trip. It is pretty small, and outside of Amman and the Desert Highway the roads are relatively quiet. Granted there wasn’t a lane marking in the entire country, but it all seemed to flow safely enough.

Except this… we had to drive the wrong way against 3 lanes of traffic due to this…

Now we’re not really ‘tour’ people, nothing against it and totally understand reasons why people might prefer a tour, it’s just I’ve always tended to plan my own trips and feel you can generally do it much cheaper that way.

That was definitely the case with Jordan. Initially I wasn’t sure about safety to self-drive, so I got a quote for pretty much the same itinerary we ended up doing and it was USD$2000 for the two of us for accommodation and transport.

Booking similar hotels directly and hiring a car cost ~USD$500 total, so adding in fuel it doesn’t even come close to the tour price. Granted in a tour you will (hopefully) get additional information about the country and its history and culture, but we made sure to read up and watch some documentaries in advance.

Day 1: Airport – Jerash – Dead Sea

The impressive Roman ruins at Jerash (“The City of Columns”) were about an hour’s drive from the airport. Of course, we arrived at around midday, when the sun was strong and the temperature was in the high 30s… not the best time for sightseeing!

The gateway to Jerash – the Arch of Hadrian built to celebrate a visit to Jerash by Emperor Hadrian

It was also Ramadan whilst we were in Jordan, and given this was our first excursion of the trip we weren’t sure how strict it would be, so we didn’t take any water in with us in case we were tempted to drink it and offend people who were fasting.

That turned out to be pretty unfounded throughout both Jordan and Lebanon, as all of the tourist attractions were still widely selling drinks and snacks, with many people eating and drinking soft drinks in public. There wasn’t really any alcohol on sale in Jordan except in the Dead Sea resorts, but some enforced sobriety wasn’t such a bad thing.

We spent a couple of hours walking around the impressive site – considered some of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world outside of Italy.

One half of the oval Forum
The Colonnaded Street

We could see smoke from what looked like a grass-fire in the distance, and as the smoke got ever closer and we got ever sweatier from the sun we decided it was time to retreat to the car.

Now thank GOODNESS I has realised that the original rental car they tried to ship us off in didn’t have any A/C. I raised it and the guy sheepishly immediately said they would swap it… nice try!! It would have been a far less pleasant roadtrip experience otherwise, we could barely touch the steering wheel when we got back in as it was.

Next we were off to the Dead Sea where we were spending our first night. This drive took a couple of hours and we had the option of driving up to Mt Nebo. This holds religious significance as it is the supposed burial place of Moses. On clear days you can see over the Dead Sea to Jerusalem, however it was a pretty hazy day and we were happy to drive past the base of the Mount rather than head up.

Jordanian countryside views on the drive

We also drove past the Baptism Site on the Jordan River where it’s believed that Jesus was Baptised by John the Baptist. A friend of mine recently went to on a trip to Israel and you can visit this site from the West Bank side of the river too.

But we pushed onwards, to the Dead Sea! The Dead Sea is just fascinating, sitting 430m below sea level, and bordering both Jordan and Israel. It’s narrow, you can see Israel from the Jordanian shore. It’s only fed by the Jordan river and has no water outlets.

Dead Sea ‘coastline’ views from the Jordan Valley Highway. You can see the salt deposits along the shore. Israeli side in the background.

It is one of the most salty bodies of water in the world (about 1/3 salt…try mixing that up in a cup!) meaning you are super FLOATY in it!

Sunset floats in the Dead Sea. My type of swimming.

I think there are a couple of public beaches but we stayed at the Dead Sea Spa Hotel which meant we had a ‘private beach’ from the hotel. In saying this, you definitely don’t go to the Dead Sea for the beaches…..

Excited for his first Dead Sea dip… yes this is the ‘beach’

The beach at our hotel had showers to rinse off after, which were definitely needed especially if you got some water in your eyes. Yeeouwch. Also to rinse off the therapeutic mud which you could cover yourself in before going for a swim.

Do you even mud though?

Day 2: Dead Sea – Wadi Mujib – Kerak – Petra

The next day we continued the road trip down towards Petra. The drive was only a couple of hours but we allowed most of the day to meander and stop as we pleased along the way…

Stop 1: Wadi Mujib Canyon

Wadi al Mujib canyon cuts some 70km across Jordan and is 1km deep in places. We only stopped off at the gorge mouth which is accessible from the Jordan Valley Highway by the Dead Sea, but as you can see from the little life-jacketed people in this photo, you can go on canyoning expeditions deep into the canyon. There are various trails that can be done both alone and with guides, and if we’d had longer I would definitely have been keen to have a splash.

Only about 10m away from where the previous photo was taken, the river through the canyon drying up on approach to the Dead Sea

Something else I was sad to miss were the Ma’in hot springs, inland from the Dead Sea – a collection of picturesque hot springs and waterfalls.

Stop 2: Kerak Castle

Kerak Castle is a crusader castle, built in the 1140s and sitting at the highest point in the surrounds. Like many things in this region it changed hands multiple times over the years before eventually falling into ruin.

Al Kerak Castle

 

The landscape got more barren as we headed south. Some cool viewpoints on the Kings Highway.

 

Some people had a less successful drive than us… scrambled or omelette?

 

Also quite a lot of this…

 

A camel pal as we got closer to Petra

On the drive down we passed through Dana, which is the gateway to the Dana Biosphere Reserve – Jordan’s largest Nature Reserve with rare plant and animal species, including wolves! I’ve heard this eco-lodge is excellent.

Again, somewhere I’d like to spend some more time exploring if/when back in Jordan. You’re probably getting the picture that there’s a lot more to Jordan than just Petra!

Looking down into Dana Biosphere from the Kings Highway

Petra is accessed via the town of Wadi Musa, where we arrived in the late afternoon. I have written a separate post all about our day in Petra as there’s just too much to include here.

View from our hotel in Wadi Musa – lunar!

Day 3: Petra and more Petra

First sneak peak of the Treasury through the Siq entrance passage

We spent 2 nights in Wadi Musa and one full day exploring Petra.

Day 4: Petra – Wadi Rum

We’d met an Australian couple called Shakira and Basanth at Petra who were also travelling to Wadi Rum the next day and coincidentally were staying in the same Bedouin camp as us. They were planning to get a taxi over to Wadi Rum village where our camp were meeting us with 4WD, so we offered them a lift.

Shakira and I in our Wadi Rum ride – only natural A/C here!

 

‘Free range’ camels…

Our first stop was at ‘Lawrence’s Spring’ (named after T.E. Lawrence – Lawrence of Arabia protagonist) when a caravan of unmanned camels appeared from a distance, made their way over for a drink, and then slunk back into the desert together.

Wadi Rum
Looking like we’ve been drinking rum!

 

Basanth on top of one of the the natural rock arch

 

Ladies of the desert

 

Wadi Rum Bedouin tents – ventilated by the breeze

 

Little desert rock piles…

 

Sun set panoramic views across the emptiness – you can see why they use this place for films like star wars and the martian

 

Main dining tent at camp

After a big afternoon of driving around Wadi Rum and climbing up various rock formations, we were happy to get back to camp for a shower, relax and an amazing dinner in traditional Bedouin style. They cooked the chicken and vegetables underground for 2 hours, which Ben likened to the Maori Hangi (pron. ‘Hungi’) cooking technique.

The food throughout Jordan was just incredible: healthy, nutritious and delicious. I ate my body weight in flatbreads, hummus, baba ghanoush and the national dish of Mansaf.

We had a wonderful sleep in the peaceful desert, and the next day slowly made our way back up the least picturesque of the roads we’d driven in Jordan (the Desert Highway – a trucking highway between the capital Amman and the Port town of Aqaba) to the airport.

We flew to Beirut that night, again with Royal Jordanian, a short distance of 100km which took about 2 hours as RJ won’t fly over either Israel or Syria, meaning we had to fly all the way back down over Jordan, wave to our tents from last night in Wadi Rum, fly under Israel, and back up over the Med!

As you can probably tell, I loved Jordan, and would recommend it to anyone! It felt super safe, super easy to travel in and I’ve come away with an even bigger list of places to go to there!

Xx

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