Duration: 15 days in Jordan, 2 overnight flights.
Time of year: Late April.
International Transport: Birmingham – Istanbul – Queen Alia International Airport.
Local Transport: Taxis, flexible pre-booked. (We got chatting to the Wadi Rum Bedouin guide who helped us with this)
Accommodation: Pre-booked ~3 star hotels in cities, pre-booked desert camping.
Rough cost: £2800 for two
At the time of visiting, Jordan was probably the safest country to visit in the middle east and it seems that the conflicts in surrounding countries have had the unfortunate consequence of driving tourism down. Often people travel to the Middle East to visit a number of countries, but with the uncertain state of neighbours it now seems that more people just visit a single country. We more than filled our two weeks in Jordan. The country is full of amazing UNESCO sites, boasts an extremely diverse range of attractions and still manages to fulfill the adventure element too. Your options are truly open with this country.
In our research leading up to the trip, we found that a typical ‘tour of Jordan’ starts in the north and works its way down the spine. This takes approximately 1-2 weeks in total, depending on how long you want to spend at the sites, scheduled tours and how you react to the heat. The Desert Highway provides a quick link back up to the airports in the north of the country from Wadi-Rum area.
Before we left, we spent a lot of time in conversation with Saleh, a guide in Wadi-Rum. He provided us with a lot of information and help, especially with the internal transport. We also got quotes from a few travel companies, with their suggested itineraries giving us a huge variety of sites and activities to choose from. These were all priced at somewhere around £2000-£2500 per person for approximately 2 weeks. By organising everything ourselves, our estimated trip spending was £1400 per person (based on 2 people).
We’d recommend spending about 2 weeks in the country in total if you want to see all the country has to offer. You could quite easily spend longer if you wanted to visited all the tourism sites. We’d also highly recommend purchasing the Jordan Pass before you go – an initiative set up by the Ministry of tourism and antiques that gives you free entry to around 40 sites across Jordan, for a heavily discounted cost. Starting at 70 Jd per person, there are 3 bands in 5 Jd increments, corresponding to 1, 2 or 3 days in Petra. All 3 passes include the free entry to the same sites, and all sites we visited accepted the paper QR code with no questions asked.
Day 1 – Jaresh
We started our trip with an overnight flight from Birmingham to Istanbul. It meant sleeping in Istanbul airport for a couple of hours, but this allowed us to make the most of our first day in Jordan. We landed in Queen Alia International Airport at 05:10am and were picked up by our driver – the one that we’d organised with Saleh. We were understandably tired and both got some sleep on the way to our first destination – Jaresh (also known as Jerash or Gerasa). Jaresh is located north of Amman, the country’s capital, and has been inhabited since the bronze age. Many of the attractions are within the Greco-Roman walls and easily visible without paying entry but we’d definitely recommend going in and seeing the structures up close.
Having landed so early in the morning, we got to Jaresh before the gates were open so we found a cafe for a drink. After about a 45 minute wait, we managed to purchase an entry ticket and made our way down to the Museum. There was quite a large number of guides on the gates here, looking to give us a ‘compulsory’ tour but we much preferred to take our time and get a sense of the place on our own. Our driver helped us with entry and loosely ‘guided’ us around the site.
The place was incredible. Having never been to a country like this, I (Andy) was really mesmerized by the scale and intricacy of the stone work. You are first welcomed by the 2nd century Hadrian’s Arch, where you can look right up to the Temple of Zeus, beyond the Hippodrome.
The Oval Plaza is another incredible structure, with the morning light strengthening the colour in the individual columns. From here we continued to walk up to the Northern Theatre. This walk really opened our eyes to the engineering feat that this archaeological site is – the shear number of identical stone columns, all topped with intricate designs and the stone roads laid with water passages underneath was just incredible. We passed the Temple of Artemis and the Church of SS Cosmas and Damian on our way back to Southern Theatre and the Temple of Zeus. There were some groups dancing in the Southern Theatre when we got there – we don’t think it was anything official but an audience was forming in the stands to cheer them on.
From Jaresh, we headed west to Ajloun Castle. The castle was impressive, a huge block structure on the hill providing some great views across Ajloun and its surroundings, but by this point we were quite tired and were looking forward to getting into Amman and finding our hotel.
We’d booked our hotel to be near the older parts of the city – we much prefer looking around the ancient buildings and churches to fighting our way through the modern city. Our original hotel – Jordan River Hotel – had cancelled our booking just a few days before we flew out, but they offered to pay for another hotel just down the road. It turned out this hotel – Amman Pasha – had a rooftop terrace with views out over the Roman Theatre below. We ate some food in the ‘restaurant’ downstairs/next door and then explored this section of the town at night. We arrived back at the entrance to our hotel where we then spent an hour or so chatting out on the street. A guy – presumably employed by the hotel – was giving out chai tea and starting conversations with people to lure them in. We spent a while talking with a mix of people, some working over in Jordan for short periods, others traveling like we were. It was really nice to communicate with total strangers, sharing experiences over endless cups of tea.
Day 2 – Amman, Mt Nebo
On our first morning waking up in Jordan, we had a leisurely start. We left our bags in the hotel and wandered off to visit some nearby sites – Roman Theatre in town and the Roman Citadel on the hill above our hotel. We decided to walk up to the Citadel, winding our way through small streets and narrow steps before finally reaching the entrance. Again, our Jordan Pass got us free entry and we spent an hour or two exploring the ruins and admiring the view over Amman from the top of the hill.
We headed back down and to the hotel where our driver collected us. We drove through the new parts of Amman town, stopping off for some lunch nearer the centre. Continuing south, we drove for approximately an hour to Mt Nebo – a ridgeline mentioned in the Bible as a place where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land. The views were stunning. We’d been fairly surprised at how green the northern parts of the country had been, but driving just an hour south had brought on a drastic change in scenery. A church is located on the high point of Mt Nebo, home to some excellent mosaics.
A short while later, we met back up with our driver and headed to Madaba where we’d stay for 2 nights in the Madaba Hotel. While the hotel wasn’t the best place we’ve stayed, we spent more time on the roof terrace or exploring the town than actually in our room. We visited a few local sites, but Madaba itself didn’t have a lot to offer.
Day 3 – Dead Sea
We’d told our driver our plans for the trip, so he knew where he was going to and from each day, and whether he’d have to get a friend to drive us for some of the southern sections. We struggled to find much information about public beaches on the Dead Sea but his experience, he knew the prices of all the major hotel ‘resorts’ along the coastline. We paid approximately 25 Jd each to get into the Dead Sea Spa Hotel complex, which included access to the beach, towels and lunch. There was even a guy ‘making’ mud taken off the beach – the stuff that people coat there faces/bodies in.
We made our way through the complex, passing swimming pools and deck chairs and made our way down to the beach. We walked down the path passed signs showing the levels of the sea over the years – it was shocking to see how quickly the Dead Sea is shrinking. Quite clearly the complex had been built on the shore line but now it was a good 100 m away and probably about 20 m lower. The beach area was fairly quiet and we easily had enough space to float around for a while, but not for too long – the salt causes irritation, and obviously stings any cuts you’ve got! We jumped out and coated ourselves in mud to get that photo (and the skin benefits of the salt and magnesium content)! We stood for a while, letting the mud dry and soaking in the scenery. Amazing salt structures and colours surrounded us. We ‘jumped’ in for another session of floating and to wash the mud off and realised we’d forgotten to bring a book or a newspaper for the iconic floating photo.
Having spent probably over an hour on the shore line, we headed back up to the deck chairs and sat in the sun, drying out before having some food. The restaurant was practically empty and service was fantastic. The buffet style cuisine included food from all over the world. We made the most of it, both in trying foods we hadn’t before and eating as much as we could!
Day 4 – Wadi Mujib – Dana
Day 4 took us down to Dana Biosphere via Wadi Mujib. We checked out of our hotel and drove down alongside the Dead Sea to a settlement of what seemed to be holiday chalets on a small outcrop. On the inland side of the road, a large canyon turned and twisted through the rock, leading you in. The Wadi Mujib activity centre offers canyoning experiences, with a few different route options. Two of the options are guided routes, the Ibex and Malaqi Trails, but one is a self guided route – the Siq trail. The Siq trail stops at a 20 m waterfall, where you turn around and float back down parts of the river. The other routes continue up the gorge, splitting further up to create an extension of the Siq trail in the canyon, or a round trip exiting the canyon and returning on a route to the north.
Over decades, probably even centuries, the water has carved some incredible shapes into the canyon walls. As we went further upstream the canyon got taller, narrower and darker but it was certainly one of the most spectacular natural structures we’ve seen. In some places there were ropes to help you across, or help you pull yourself up small waterfalls. No doubt about it, you’re going to get wet and probably quite tired! With a packed schedule for the rest of our trip, we were glad that we’d selected the shorter route. At the waterfall we turned around and got taken by the currents in some sections. The majority of the river, at the time we went (mid-April) was below our knees, but some sections were well over our heads! The waterfalls we’d climbed up on the way became slides for the journey back down. We probably spent about 2 hrs in the canyon – perhaps longer than the expected time but we enjoyed taking it all in. It is definitely on our list of top things we’ve done and we’d fully recommend it.
After sitting in the sun for a while, and changing out of the remaining wet gear, we continued south to Dana. The old village of Dana is very small, perched on the top of a valley looking down into the Dana Biosphere Reserve. The reserve is encompasses four different bio-geographical zones – mediterranean, Irano-Turanian, Saharo-Arabian and Sudanian providing home to hundreds of species and plants and animals, many of which are unfortunately listed as endangered species.
We stayed at Dana Tower Hotel, in a room looking out down the valley. And when I say room, I mean we slept in a small canvas covered shack on the roof of the conventional rooms.