Love affair with everywhere: Jordan

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Where I stayed
Marriott Amman Hotel
Read my review - 4/5 stars
Marriott Petra Hotel Wadi Musa
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of Jordan  , Illinois,
Sunday, September 23, 2012

Long before it was deemed a New 7 Wonders candidate, I dreamed of visiting Petra. I have no idea where this came from, and no, it was not watching Indiana Jones.

I was lucky enough to have a week in between two business trips so I could make this journey pretty easily, have a full week to explore and to be traveling with one of fave travel buddies, who just happens to also be one of my closest friends. We have opposite travel habits which is why our trips always work out so well--good balance! I am a notably terrible 'planner' because I genuinely believe that too much planning ruins the experience since things rarely ever happen as planned. Given that, for this trip, to 'plan,' all I figured out beforehand was what places we would visit and where we would sleep, but that was it.

Admittedly, before I realized all the amazing wonders Jordan has to offer I figured I would just tag a quick trip to Petra on to a visit to another country in the region (as so many do with either Egypt or Israel). I am not usually a traveler who likes to 'tag' anything on to another country as I don't believe in hopping around just to say I have been somewhere, but instead to choose one country (max 2) at a time and see and do as much as possible (and time permits), but I didn't know then I was making the same mistake so many tend to make, and that is to underestimate Jordan. And even if I did want to 'tag it on' to somewhere, that would be difficult since I have already been to Egypt multiple times and I have no intention of going back to Israel (at least not soon) given my last two experiences there.

I should mention that during the time I was there, tensions were rising and violence escalating in the much of the Middle East and North Africa. Against the wishes of my family, I continued on knowing that Jordan has remained calm and safe compared to its neighbors. In fact, Jordanians pride themselves and their country on their ability to maintain a stable and safe society while surrounded by so much turmoil. Upon arrival our driver greeted us with "Welcome to Jordan. You are safe now." and almost everyone we met during our 8 day trip was eager to welcome us to their country and assure us that we would be safe. We were.

While I am writing this I am thinking that this should in fact be a number of different entries as the country, while small, is unexpectedly different from the big city of Amman and the well preserved Roman ruins of Jerash in the north to the small port of Aqaba on the Red Sea (which Jordan shares with Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt) in the south to the vast expanse of desert of Wadi Rum to the wondrous ancient city carved in stone that is Petra to the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea on the western border. But, for now, here is our itinerary for the 8 day visit.


Day 1 Amman City (hotel taxi there and city taxi back for 7 JD each way from the Marriott)
The Citadel
Roman Amphitheatre embedded in the old city
Old City
Hail Restaurant and Cafe (close to the Amphitheater) for a break, shisha and to catch the sunset--look up and to the left and you will see The Citadel on the hill
overnight in Amman

Day 2 Umm Qais-->Ajlun-->Jerash (full day (8 hour) driver--90 JD)
Umm Qais-3 JD-at the northwest tip of Jordan where Jordan, Syria and Israel meet (you can see both countries from here). The view itself is worth it.
Ajlun-1 JD-not much to see here except a castle, so this was a quick stop on our way to Jerash
Jerash--8 JD-highly recommend. If I didn't know better, I might have actually thought we were in Rome.
Overnight in Amman

Day 3 (full day driver Amman to Petra 120 JD)
Amman--Mt. Nebo--Madaba--Karak--Petra via King's Highway

There are two major highways that go from Amman to Petra. The Desert Highway is a pretty straight shot, but the King's Highway is more scenic and you can stop at some other points of interest along the way. I recommend either taking it there or back and switching on the way back.

Mt. Nebo-1JD-historical Christian site. Don't need to spend too much time, but worth walking straight to the summit where you can look out on 'the holy land'. On a normal day you can see Jericho and the Jordan River Valley and on a clear day it is said that you can see all the way to Jerusalem. Also said to the burial place of Moses. Mt. Nebo is referenced in Deuteronomy in the Bible.

Madaba-2 JD-very quick stop at the Greek Orthodox church to see the 6th century map of the holy land in the regions' famous mosaics

Karak-famous for the crusader castle. We had already seen the castle in Ajlun and weren't really interested in going inside, so we stopped in town and wandered for a bit before heading on to Petra.

Petra-We arrived in time for Petra by night. Petra by night (12 JD) is a must if you can schedule your trip to be there by 8pm on a Monday, Wednesday or Thursday. You will need to buy your tickets by 5 pm at the visitor's center or if you can't be there by then, ask your driver to help you find somewhere to buy them. Anyway, back to the actual experience. If you have read any of my previous posts, you will know one of my favorite things to do is see sights by day and again by night. I thought this would be slightly cheesy, but wanted to see Petra by night regardless. The pathway through the Siq is lit up with 1800 candles leading to the Treasury where masses of candles are laid out in front of the Treasury. I really have no words to describe how incredible this experience was. I have had the fortune of seeing many beautiful, wonderfully awe-inspiring places in the last two decades, but few have left me speechless, and even fewer have literally taken my breath away. Petra by night and Petra by day did both, twice.

I mentioned above not just stopping in one place for the sole purpose of saying I have been there. To do that in some places may be ok, but Petra is NOT one of them. Please plan to spend at least a full day exploring, you will not be sorry. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a group of tourists emerge from Al Siq to see Al Khazneh (The Treasury), take some pictures only to turn around and leave! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!

Overnight--Petra Marriott. It is located 5 km from the entrance to Petra, but with easy access (5 JD taxi each way) and spectacular sunset views over the Petra mountains.

Day 4--full day Petra
For Petra, figure out how many days you will spend there before you buy a ticket. A one day pass is 50 JD, but if you are planning to do even 1.5 days or 2 days, buy a two-day pass for only 5JD more (55JD) or a 3 day for 60 JD.

Climbing, climbing and more climbing so be sure to wear comfortable shoes.

Entrance through Al Siq to the Treasury, we walked to the right and climbed up to the Sacrificial high place. Stunning views. Then instead of going down the same way, we took an alternate route (even more amazing) and basically no one else there so it was like we had the mountain to ourselves. Walked down and over to the foot of the mountain of the Monastery. The climb through the valley up to the monastery is 850 steps. If you want, you can take a donkey to the top and walk down. We chose to walk both ways. Don't forget to turn around on your way up to look down at the valley--the views really are amazing. Took a break for a bit in front of the Monastery then walked further up to the 'place where the world ends' and then back down and towards the Treasury (so we could see it again as the sun was setting) and back out through the Siq.

Day 5 Petra to Wadi Rum via taxi (45 JD)

We didn't plan anything here as everything can be organized at the Visitors Center (where everyone must start). A 5 hour tour (75JD per car, not per person) is more than sufficient.
Arranged full day jeep tour through the desert and an overnight stay in a Bedouin camp. Yes, I am serious, we slept in the desert. This is a pretty awesome experience, but you have to be a little more than trusting as you are quite literally in the middle of the desert with nowhere to go. There are hundreds of these types of camps throughout the desert, so if you know the name of one, just tell your driver that is where you want to go at the end of your jeep tour. We ended up at the Rum Stars Camp (25 JD/pp) with nine other travelers. The Bedouins made a lovely dinner in a sand oven followed by music and excellent conversation with fellow travelers by campfire. There is only power for two hours, so at 10 pm we had only the light on our phones to guide our path. I have never seen so many stars in my life, ever. I think that might have been the most beautiful night sky I have ever seen. Initially I wished I could find a way to capture it, but remembered what someone once told me about the night sky and how some things are not meant to be photographed. The absolute silence was daunting and overwhelming at first, especially for someone like me who has a hard time really relaxing and has too much going on in my head. I felt like I could hear all the chaos in my head.

Day 6 Wadi Rum--Aqaba--Dead Sea (100 JD)
Arranged for the driver (private car now, not hotel car so lower rate) to pick us up at the Visitors Center in the morning. From there we went further south to Aqaba, the port town on the Red Sea. As mentioned Jordan shares this sea with KSA, Egypt and Israel. You can see Eliat (Israel) right across the border. From Aqaba we drove along the Jordan-Israel border to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth.

Days 7 and 8 total relaxation

Night back to Amman for flight back to reality....

Other:
A visa is required for entry into Jordan. For US passport holders, you can buy it onsite at the port of entry for 20 JD.

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