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.