Good morning from Aqaba, Jordan. Down at the south end of Jordan, Aqaba is a port town on the Red Sea. We are very close to Eilat, Israel and in fact directly across the bay is Israel. To the south about 26 kilometers is Saudi Arabia. This may be the closest we ever get to Saudi Arabia as they are not open to tourists… not at this point in time anyway. Maybe at some point in the future it will be but for now it remains closed. I am writing this post while still in Jordan because Aqaba gets to the low 40s every day. It is not so suitable for hanging outside during the middle of the day. I thought I would take some time in the air conditioning to do an update.
We flew into Amman, Jordan on August 5th from Krakow, Poland. I know it is a bit of jumping around as we are heading back to Europe after 19 days in Jordan. However, with Ryanair heavily discounted flights it is hard to say no. The one way flight here was about $110 CAD including the baggage charges. That would not even get us one way to Hay River from Fort Smith I think. The flight was about 3.5 hours. We arrived in Amman before noon.
A few pieces of advice if you are planning to travel to Jordan. 1. Firstly, I highly recommend it. It is a gorgeous country and people are extremely friendly. Some people might think it is unsafe or scary to come here. Don’t feel that way… we have felt extremely safe and welcomed. It is easy to travel here whether you like budget travel like us or a style of travel that is a little higher class. As budget travellers, people will help you plan your visit. You can do it cheaper than us too if you use local busses and only stay in dorm rooms. 2. So, my second piece of advice is to resist planning and booking it all out in advance. I am a planner and like to have it all sorted, but if you can wait and trust that it is possible, you can do it cheaper and might actually enjoy the flexibility you have allowed for your visit.
3. Thirdly (and these are not necessarily in order of priority), get a Jordan Pass. You can buy it online and there are three choices. The cheapest is 70 JD (Jordanian Dinar), then 75 JD, and 80 JD. They will include your admission to Petra for 1, 2 and 3 days based on which one you choose. When you arrive by plane in Amman (or other places), you need to purchase a Tourist Visa for 40 JD (at the moment this is a little less than $80 CAD). If you have your Jordan Pass before you arrive, it will cover the cost of your visa. So, make sure you get your Jordan Pass before you come to Jordan. Admission to Petra is 50 JD for one day, 55 JD for two days, and 59 JD for three days. We bought the Jordan Expert Pass (80 JD) which gave us admission to Petra for three days. So, between the Tourist Visa and the entrance to Petra we had already more than paid for the Jordan Pass. The Jordan Pass will also get you into most of the major sites in Jordan (ex. Citadel, Roman Theatre, Jerash, Kerak Castle, Wadi Rum, and much more). Some of these are only 2 JD and some as much as 7 JD. If you plan to get around and see as much as you can, get your Jordan Pass. We met a few people who didn’t have one and they regretted it. I made one mistake though when I got it because I didn’t know where we would go. For a few more JD, you can add on admission to the baptismal site. I wasn’t sure if we would be going so I added it and in the end we did not go.
4. Fourthly, prepaid sim cards here are quite reasonable. You can get them right at the airport when you arrive. There are three choices, Zain, Orange and Umniah. Umniah is supposedly the cheapest. We bought one from Umniah specially designed for tourists that was 20 JD (about $40 CAD). It included 26 GB of data, unlimited calling within Jordan, unlimited texting within Jordan, and some international calling. We think we could have picked a better plan for us, but there was a huge line at the Zain booth and no line at the Umniah booth. We have been happy with Umniah but as I said there may have been cheaper options. So far we have not tried to call Canada but maybe we will just to use up some of the international minutes. One of the reasons that I recommend getting a sim card for your phone here is that the wifi in many of the places we have stayed is not very fast, not reliable and often only in the common areas. With the data on the phone, we have turned our phone into a personal hotspot and can use it everywhere. The cell service is quite good everywhere we have been.
5. Fifthly, and still on the sim card, in Amman they have Uber and another service like Uber called Careem. We installed the app and set up an account with Careem before we got to Amman. In the airport in Amman, we just had to update our account with our new Jordanian phone number. We then called for a Careem car on the app to take us to our hostel. The cost from the airport to our hostel was 21 JD which may seem like a lot but it is about a 50 minute drive. The nice thing about Careem and Uber here is that you do not have to haggle with a taxi driver about the cost. The cost is what the app tells you it is. If you like your driver, you can always tip him after on the app. Sometimes getting a cab in a foreign country is stressful because you do not know if you will get screwed over by the driver. Using the app feels safer and less stressful. By the way, many of the Uber and Careem cars are just taxies who are getting business through the apps. And, they only work in Amman.
6. Sixthly, and still on the taxi/Uber/Careem topic. If you find a driver that you like, who has good English (or your language) skills, and is friendly and helpful, then ask him for his number. Many of them have cards and will give you a card. Lots of them use Whatsapp for communication. They may start pretty quickly to ask you if you want a car to go to Petra or to go to the Dead Sea. You may actually want this in a few days so ask how much. Barter with them when the time comes to go. You will notice that they will start very high and come down pretty quickly when you say you are thinking about taking a bus. The price of gas is pretty high in Jordan and so getting a car for the day is not super cheap. But, it can be very handy and easy. Jordanians expect you to barter, so paying the first price means you are overpaying.
7. We like staying in hostels because we get to meet other travellers who are often doing similar things as us. If you stay in hotels or AirBnBs, it is harder to meet people. The hostel we stayed at in Amman is called the Jordan Tower Hotel (it is more of a hostel than a hotel). It included breakfast in the mornings which consisted of your choice of scrambled eggs (and a hot dog/sausage kind of thing), vegetable omelette, or vegetarian option. All included coffee/tea, bread, yoghurt, jam, olives, tomatoes, and cucumbers. It was decent but was quite repetitive given that we stayed here for seven nights. Our room was quite basic but we had our own room and bathroom for about 28 JD per night. We had read about the Jordan Tower online before we came and I emailed with them multiple times before arriving. They had some very good suggestions for our itinerary and were helpful with making it happen. 7a. Consider contacting the hotel/hostel directly. They may have a much better price than booking online.
Soon after we arrived, the guy at the front desk asked us if we were interested in going to the Dead Sea the next day on a tour with two other people. We said we were not sure if we wanted to go right away. However, later that evening we decided to go. We had met two young Canadian girls from the Victoria area in the hostel. The tour cost 25 JD each and would leave at 8 am the next morning. Staying in a hostel was a great way to meet others and share the cost of the travel. 8. If you are travelling alone or just two of you, stay in a place that has common areas and get to meet others. You might be amazed how much you have in common and sharing experiences with them might make the time more memorable. You just might make friends for life.
The Jordan Tower Hotel is very close to the Roman Theater in downtown Amman. After getting into our room, we slept for a while. We had a very early rise in Krakow and a nap was needed to reboot the batteries. After we got up, we went wandering around a bit near our hostel. We went to the Roman Theater but did not go into it. We would save our admission with the Jordan Pass for another day. It did however give us the lay of the land near our hostel. I ended up getting a haircut at a shop near our place. It was much more than a haircut… it was like a spa treatment. For 5 JD, he cut my hair, threaded the loose hairs on my face, ears, etc., and waxed my ears and nose. Yanking the wax out of my nose made me tear up. For an extra 10 JD, he gave me a facial including a face massage, facial scrub, and a mint cream on my face that burned as he steamed my face. I suppose I have paid more than $30 CAD for just a haircut without all the extras. It was an experience.
The next morning our driver was there to pick us up for 8 am. We had breakfast at 7:30 and then we were off to the Dead Sea and more. From the hostel, the drive to the Dead Sea was about 45 minutes or so. 9. Warning that when you go to the Dead Sea, you are going to a resort of some sort and you will have to pay admission. It cost us an extra 15 JD each which we paid to the driver who paid for us. Inside, you have access to the beach on the Dead Sea plus a couple of pools, lounge chairs, showers, etc. We were here for about 2 hours. We started out by going into the Dead Sea. If you have never read much about the Dead Sea, the salt content is so high that you can almost float on top. If you have any open cuts they are likely to sting for the first couple of minutes before you get in. Ladies might not want to shave their legs for a couple of days before going in. Stay on your back to avoid getting salt in your eyes. I went under briefly and while I did not get salt in my eyes right away, the sweat dripped in my eyes and I could not open them for a while.
10. At the Dead Sea, plan your photos. You are going to want someone else to take photos of you in the Dead Sea. The popular picture is to take one of you reading a newspaper floating on the water. We did not have a newspaper but I took a fantastic picture of Nic that quickly became her new profile pic. We also took a couple of pictures for the Canadian girls and they took a couple of us. It was much hotter at the Dead Sea than it was in Amman. The Dead Sea is about 390m below Sea Level and so is always hotter. It was about 35 degrees Celsius when we were there.
After about a half hour in the Dead Sea, it is probably enough time. Your skin feels baby smooth but remember that it is covered in salt. If you have ever been in a mall and someone tries to sell you Dead Sea mud, this is where it comes from. 11. Dig around and see if you can find a spot with mud on the bottom (not sand). Take some handfuls of mud and spread it all over your skin. As you stand there let it dry on your skin. After a while, rinse it off. You will have rejuvenated your skin and exfoliated also.
I rinsed off with a shower and then got into one of the pools in a shaded area. Now the problem is having chlorine on your skin after all of the wonderful Dead Sea treatments. That said it did cool me off nicely. Nic joined me a little later and we decided that we would go back into the Dead Sea one more time after being in the pool. So, we did a short dip in the Dead Sea and then showered before it was time to leave. This put all the goodness back and got rid of the chlorine.
From the Dead Sea, we went to a place called Panorama for some amazing views. From about 360m below sea level, the driver took us up to an amazing overlook point that had great panoramic vistas of both Jordan and Palestine.
From here we went to Mount Nebo. At about 700m above sea level, Mount Nebo is the place mentioned in the Hebrew Bible at which Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land. On a very clear day, you can apparently see the River Jordan valley, Jericho in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Moses died nearby and may or may not have been buried here. The Ark of the Covenant may or may not have been buried on Mt. Nebo. Now, there is a memorial to Moses and the area is under the custody of the Franciscan monks. It costs 2 JD to enter the memorial site (not included in the Jordan Pass).
Finally, our tour took us to Madaba. We should have done more research before we went there. 12. Before you go on a tour, figure out where you are going and do some research before you go. The driver is not really a tour guide, just basically a driver. He told us to go into one church in Madaba unless we wanted to have some lunch. We were very hungry so we ate. We knew nothing about the church but as it turns out this has one of the most spectacular examples of mosaic floors. There were actually a couple of places in Madaba that our Jordan Pass could have gotten us into had we read before we went. In the end, we really did not see much in Madaba.
We returned to our hostel from the tour at about 4:30pm. We had made3 a reservation for dinner with a cooking class called Beit Sitti. There were 18 people there for the class including a bunch who were in the same tour group (Intrepid) as well as a group of Jordanian friends. It was really cool getting to meet them because they gave us a lot of insight into the people and the culture. We learned to make a few Jordanian dishes including one called Maqluba. In a large pot, you make almost like layers of vegetables, rice, and chicken. Once it is cooked, the final step is to flip the pot upside down on a tray. It looks like a mountain. As the oldest man there, I got to be the one who flipped the pot upside down. I think the real way to do this is to flip it all in one motion and place it on the table. For me, I flipped it on top of my head and then the teacher helped me get it onto the table. I was afraid to spill it on the floor. I did not thank goodness.
After we returned to our hostel, Nic met a couple from Germany that would end up being our buddies for several days. We went for dinner with them a few times in Amman. Emanuel and Hanna are from Wurzburg, Germany. They ended up doing the Dead Sea tour that we had done on a different day.
The next day, we hung around Amman and explored on our own. We tried to do a free walking tour at 11 am but as it turns out the time was at 10 am. They were ready to do one just for us but we said we would come back the next day. So, we went to the Roman Theatre and used our Jordan Pass for the first historical site. The Roman Theatre dates back to the 100s. We climbed up and down several times. There was a stone column that I wanted to sit on for a picture. As we were taking the picture, we heard a voice say, “How is your mom doing?” It was our financial advisor Kerry Auriat. Neither of us have ever met him in person but Nic was Facebook friends with him. Moire has been with him for more than 20 years. He recognized Nicola from her Facebook pictures. What a small world! Had we left two minutes earlier or two minutes later we would not have run into him.
After chatting for a few minutes, Nic and I explored the two small museums that were inside in the Roman Theatre. It was a nice way to get out of the heat of the sun. Finally we returned to our hostel for a bit of a nap.
As it turns out, Hanna and Emanuel found out that there is another free walking tour at 5pm each day. So, we decided to go with them. The tour starts from the Al Pasha Hotel (a few minutes walking from our place). Our guide was Muhammed. This is not a tour to the historical sites like the Roman Theatre or the Citadel. This is basically a walking tour through the downtown area including the markets. I would put Muhammed in his late 50s or early 60s. His whole life has basically been in this part of the city. He put a lot of history in context for us.
The population of Jordan is about 9.5 million and about 98% are Arabic. It is hard to know for sure, but we have heard that some 80% of Jordanians are Palestinian. Muhammed explained to us that if you were a Palestinian living in Jordan in 1948 (before the establishment of the Israeli state) then you and your descendants are considered Jordanian. However, if your family came to Jordan after 1949, then you are not Jordanian, you are Palestinian. Jordan hosts the most refugees per capita in the world with refugees from Palestine, Syria, Iraq, etc. Between 1921 and 1948, it was a British protectorate called the Emirate of Transjordan. Its history is long and complicated but it is now the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
On our 4th day in Amman, we walked up to the Citadel. From our hostel we could see the Citadel up above on a hill top. Amman was originally built on 7 hills but has expanded to 23 hills. The Citadel is right in the centre of downtown Amman. This ancient city area dates back as far as 1600 BC. It seemed to originally be called Rabbath-Ammon which is where the city of Amman gets its name. It was conquered and occupied over history by different groups in different eras such as the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Muslims. During the Greek rule, it was known as Philadelphia as a tribute to Ptolemy II Philadelphus. One of the major sites at the Citadel is Temple of Hercules which was built by the Romans.
Later that day, we went to the Jordan Museum. We thought admission was included in the Jordan Pass but it was not. It was still one of the must do’s in Amman. We spent a couple of hours wandering around the museum and seeing some of the archaeological finds from sites all over Jordan. It also included an exhibit about inventions created by Arabic people. The theme was even though it was called the dark ages, there are many creations by Arabic people that have affected the history of the world.
From here, we wandered our way to Rainbow Street. Again, Rainbow Street is one of the things to see in Amman. To be honest, I would not say it is all that worth it. Really, it is an area where you will see more tourists eating and shopping in an area designed for tourists.
The next day, Emanuel, Hanna, Nicola and I headed to Jerash and Ajloun. The hostel was willing to get us a driver for 15 JD each. However, we felt that we could take a bus there for much less. We called an Uber first thing in the morning which was about 5 JD to get us to the bus station. From the bus station it would be about 2 JD each for the bus to Jerash. Another 2 JD each to get to Ajloub and 2 more to get back from Ajloun. Finally, another 5 JD to get back to the hostel. The Uber driver talked us into 45 JD for the day and we relented.
Jerash is an ancient city about 48 km from Amman. Evidence of human life has been found here dating back to about 7500 BC. The ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa founded by Alexander the Great dating back to about 330 BC. It was conquered by the Romans in 63 BC. It was a thriving city until 749 when an earthquake destroyed large parts. In the 12th century it was deserted until the 16th century when it reappeared under Ottoman rule. It is sometimes referred to as the Pompeii of the Middle East because it is such a well preserved example of a Roman city.
The Ajloun Castle is only about 15 minutes from Jerash. It is a 12th century Muslim castle perched atop Mount Ajloun. It was built upon the ruins of a Christian monastery. From its vantage point, the castle appears to be guarding three wadis (valleys) which lead towards the Jordan Valley. These wadis formed the major communication routes between Jordan and Syria.
The next day was our last day in Amman and we hung out in Amman. We had been talking about doing a self-guided tour to see the different street art around the downtown area. We used an online Google map that someone had created and just wandered around finding different street art. It was hot so walking was a workout. We stopped on Rainbow Street for a bite to eat. As it turned down, this was the first day of Eid. Eid is the festival of breaking the fast which marks the end of Ramadan. Families give a sheep or goat to another less wealthy family for them to eat. The city was quiet and there were very few cars on the road.
We were leaving Amman for Petra. We had booked a tour with the hostel that went along the Kings Highway route to Petra. Along the way we visited Kerak Castle, Umm Al Rasas, Shobak Castle, Dana Reserve and then finally Petra. The guy at the hostel tried to get more money out of us in the morning because the other people backed out. When we said we would just take a local bus he agreed to the price he had quoted us. It was a fast tour with only about a half hour at each place. If we took longer we might not be able to get into some of the places because they would close. Our Jordan Pass got us into each of them. A highlight for me was getting a geocache at the Shobak Castle.
My description of our time in Petra might not be that long. The fact is we planned four nights in Wadi Musa with a visit to Petra each day for three days. We stayed at the Valentine Inn. The room itself was nothing special. The bathroom was tiny and even Nic had to sit sideways on the toilet with her legs out the door. We had a small fridge which was nice. We were able to freeze some bottles of water which were wonderful for our hot days at Petra. The best thing about the Valentine was the dinner. For 7 JD each, we had quite the buffet. We ate it every night except for one. They also had a shuttle at 7 am and 8 am to Petra and one back at 5 pm and 6 pm. We walked back from Petra one day and it was a long uphill walk in the killer heat of the day. The temperature was about 31 C each day but if felt hotter.
Our Jordan Pass allowed us admission each day for three days. As I mentioned before, one day admission to Petra is 50 JD (about $100 CAD) and three days is 59 JD. When you enter through the main gate there is about a 1 km walk until you get to the start of the Siq (a long canyon winding its way towards all of the most magnificent sites). The canyon through the Siq is another 1.2 km after which it opens up to the stunning view of the Treasury. When the Treasury was originally found in the 1800s, they thought it stored gold and so they shot at the building trying to reveal the gold. Actually, it was a burial site for a noble and there were no riches.
Petra is an ancient city built by the Nabotean Arabs. They were nomadic peoples but they had phenomenal engineering know how when it came to transporting and storing water. Petra is built into the sandstone cliffs and water problematic for sandstone. The channels, dams and cisterns they built were designed to keep the water away from the buildings they created.
The other spectacular site that you may have seen is the Monastery. To get to the Monastery, you have to walk past the Treasury, through the colonnaded streets and to the Basin. From there, it is a climb of 850 steps to the Monastery. It is actually bigger than the Treasury and from there you can climb further up for amazing panorama views of all of Petra.
There are different walking trails you can take to fully explore Petra. On the first day, we went all the way to the Monastery and beyond for the vista views. By the end of day 1, we had walked about 20 km. On the second day at Petra, we did a different walk to the High Place of Sacrifice. We met up with a couple of guys from Wadi Musa who ended up walking with us for a couple of hours. They gave us our own private tour which was pretty amazing. It was a lot of up and down. The start is past the Treasury and the end is near the Basin. About 16 km on day 2. On day 3, we hiked up past the Royal Tombs and around the back of them. The end point is perched high above the Treasury which is a very cool vantage point. You have to back track the whole way. Nicola made another couple of friends, this time from Aqaba. By the end of day three we had only walked about 14 km. I was too tired by this point and we took a taxi back to the Valentine.
The next morning, we joined with three others from the Valentine for a trip to Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum is a place where you spend a night in the desert at a Bedouin camp. We stayed at the Wadi Rum 7 Pillars Camp with Ghigo and Christina from Italy, Jana from Germany and Charles from Rimouski, Quebec. The first step is to get to Wadi Rum by car. Our vehicle was not big enough for the five of us and the driver. Nic sat on my lap for about half of the 1.5 hour drive and then we switched and Ghigo and Christina got cosy. Our Jordan Pass covered our fee for the Wadi Rum Nature Reserve. In Wadi Rum, we met the owner of our camp at his place. The next step was to go on a 4×4 ride through the desert for 4 hours. We stopped at several places along the way that gave us an opportunity to climb on rocks and take some cool photos.
After the 4×4 ride, we arrived at our camp for lunch. After lunch, we relaxed out of the sun. At sundown, we were driven to a point where we could watch the sunset. Dinner was followed by some laying out under the stars. It was a full moon which was pretty neat but not great for stars. The next morning we had breakfast and then headed back to Wadi Rum. By the way, in this desert you can see both red sand and white sand from different ancient seas. The red sand was used to film some scenes in the movie The Martian with Matt Damon. If you are a luxury traveller, you can stay in a bubble like they had in the movie.
Ghigo, Christina, Nic and I headed to Aqaba the next day. Aqaba is on the Red Sea and we came here only to snorkel. We are here for six days. We have gone out snorkelling first thing in the morning and just before sunset. There are many cool sites for snorkelling and diving that you can just walk in off the shore. Some of the fish we saw include scorpion fish, unicorn fish, clown fish, lion fish, and much much more. We saw a submerged tank (like a military tank) that was cleaned and sunk to create a new coral reef around. It is also a cool place for divers. We also saw a sunken airplane. It was a little spooky. The Japanese Garden is a beautiful coral reef pretty much right across from our place. We also found a wrecked ship a little down from our place called the Cedar Pride. Here is a Google map of dive sites from www.arabdivers.jo
We stayed at the Darna Divers’ Village which is right in the South Beach area. The best thing about this place is its location as you can just cross the road and be on the beach. The beach is not very clean. There are lots of cigarette butts and garbage. I am not sure we would want to lay on the beach in this 40+ C heat anyway. So, we cross right over it and get right in the water. There are a few hotels in this area and these are the only places to get food. Frankly I have found the food not so great and the prices pretty steep.