The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a relatively small country in the Middle East1. Jordan borders Iraq, Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestine National Authority and it contains scores of worthy attractions to draw even the most finicky of tourists. The country features bustling towns, sleepy little villages, seaside resorts, scuba diving, snorkelling, cultural locales, and religious sites. There are top of the range hotels, as well as small family-run, budget hotels and the occasional dive - there's something for every budget. With all Jordan has to offer, you would expect it to be overrun with tourists and for it suffer from the crass commercialism that seems to hit any country once the tourists arrive, but the good news remains that this has yet to happen.
Jordan still has that wonderful Middle East feel to it without nany of the problems of other Middle East countries. You can look vaguely in the direction of a shop without being pulled in. You can walk the streets without being harassed for money. Most tourists will find the Jordanians to be exceptionally friendly people.
If you are going to Jordan, then you must see Petra. Petra is an ancient city which once served as the centre of an Arab kingdom in Hellenistic and Roman times. The city was built near the Valley of Moses2 where Moses supposedly struck a rock and water gushed forth.
To see Petra properly, it's probably best not to take an organised trip. These trips tend to allow you only about three or four hours inside the site, and you need much more time than that. There are also many hotels near the entrance that are within easy walking distance.
Nothing you can say can actually describe Petra, as it is probably one of the most wonderful sights in the Middle East. Sadly, as with all such sites, the entrance fee can be a bit expensive. In 1999, the entrance fee was JD20, which is about UK£19 or US$28. To get the most out of Petra, you'll want to go in twice, hence two entrance fees. They do, however, have a special double entry ticket that is slightly cheaper.
If possible, try to make the hike to the sacrificial high place and the monastery. The hikes seem fairly easy when looking at them from the bottom, but don't be fooled. Anyone of reasonable condition will be able to do them, but you will feel it afterwards. Fortunately, both have plenty of rest places and a café at the top. The views at the top are spectacular, and the monastery is magnificent, almost as breathtaking as the treasury, at the end of the siq - the cleft in the rock.
The best time to visit the site is at 6am, when it first opens. At this time, the site is very quiet and empty, so you will have plenty of time to take your pictures without thousands of people milling about, and you can make the hikes before the Sun is at its strongest. Also, at first light, the buildings all glow pink, which earned Petra is nickname of The Rose City of the Desert
Have a good breakfast before entering the site, as you are not allowed to take your own food in, and their prices are very high for what you get.
While at Petra, be sure to take in the Donkey and Camel Hospital just inside the site, because they do wonderful work looking after the animals. Unlike the beach at Blackpool, and several other seaside resorts, these donkeys are well looked after and not overworked. The Bedouins are rewarded by the hospital for taking good care of the animals.
Wadi Rum right in the Syrian desert has the most breathtaking desert scenery. If you're expecting sweeping sand dunes as far as the eye can see, you'll be surprised. It is full of jebels - huge rock formations - which create stunning scenery.
The only way to get there is by four-wheel-drive or camel, and it's best to join a group or take a guide. It can be done in a day, but it is highly recommended that you spend at least one night there. Many groups, run by Bedouins, organise this and a chance to sleep in the desert, under the stars; this is an opportunity that should not be missed.
An important thing to note in the desert is the strength of the sun. The desert can be windy in the day, and feel quite cool. This is deceptive, so wear a hat, layer lots of sunscreen, and keep drinking. Secondly, never let the campsite or 4WD out of your site! There are no obvious features to get your bearing with, and it is very easy to get lost.
Amman is the capital of Jordan, and it will probably be your start and end point, as it houses Queen Alia airport, usually referred to as Amman International. There are many cities whose architecture, style, layout, or traffic network may win them awards; Amman isn't one of them. Amman can be lovable because of its inherent friendliness and hospitality, except that it can be rather busy and confusing to newcomers.
Amman is over 5000 years old, so it has plenty of history attached to it such as a Roman citadel and a Roman theatre3. If you take in the citadel, pay a visit to the National Archaeological Museum. Among the fine exhibits are both a copper and leather Dead Sea Scroll, and you are free to take pictures of them.
For cheap hotels, head for the downtown area. It may seem noisy, busy, and dirty but it's still a wonderful place. If you left all your stuff in the middle of the street, it would all still be there on your return. For dearer, but quieter accommodation, head for the outskirts.
The citadel at Jarash is nearly complete, and it covers an extensive area, so plan at least half a day for this. It has temples to the Greek god Zeus and goddess Diana (pronounced 'Deanna'), a Roman theatre, colonnaded street (still with chariot ruts), a forum, and a huge temple in the centre.
You will probably want to stay nearby, so you can retire afterwards or get an early start. However, your choice of hotels is limited to the only hotel, the Olive Tree Branch hotel, which is about 5km from the town of Jarash. From there, you'll probably need a taxi to get to the citadel, which will cost about JD25 (£24, $32) from Amman. However, the hotel is very pleasant and has stunning views.
The summit of Mount Nebo is famous for two things. The first is that this is the spot where Moses allegedly saw the promised lands and for the church which stands there. Inside, there is a collection of mosaics, still in remarkable condition. There is no charge for this, so it's worth seeing, although it will only take about 20 minutes.
Madaba is famous for its mosaic on the floor showing all the holy sites in the area. However, the mosaic is nearly all destroyed, and is really not worth a special trip, but if you are going past it, stop and take a look.
The desert castle at Karak is another wonderful sight, despite the fact the lower five floors are still entombed within the desert. This castle survived many sieges brought on because of its location and superb panoramic views. The castle was finally seized when a tunnel was dug underneath the castle, allowing troops to enter subterraneously.
If you are going anywhere near the Dead Sea, go for a swim. Due to the high salt content (35%), the Dead Sea is so called because nothing can survive there. Actually, bacteria have recently been found to be living there, but nothing else. Swimming is actually a near impossibility, as is drowning. Just lie back and let yourself float away.
There are several places along the Dead Sea which provide changing rooms and facilities. The showers are exceptionally busy and unbelievably dirty. The changing rooms are very often the same rooms that house the toilets, which means the rooms are sometimes flowing in human waste. After leaving the Dead Sea, take a shower using one of the outdoor ones, even if there's a long queue. You may feel fine when you come out, but very shortly, when the water dries, you will find yourself covered in a hardening, crystallizing salt that can even make walking difficult. Mud from the bottom of the dead sea, if spread all over your body and dried in the sun, is alleged to make you look ten years younger.
Aqaba, on the Red Sea, borders on Saudi Arabia to one side, Eilat in Israel on the other, and Egypt just over the waters. Aqaba is an excellent place for scuba diving or snorkeling, and equipment can be hired from several hotels, even if you are not staying there.
If you do partake in this, remember the rules regarding the reef. Touch nothing and take nothing (even if it is loose, on the surface). The reef is in great danger due to people touching it and taking parts of it, thereby leading to its destruction. The reef is a very delicate ecosystem which should be respected. Touching and taking from the reef is also highly illegal, and this law is upheld. Buying souvenirs made from reef is also illegal. The shops may claim they have a license, but they do not.
There are no specific health risks associated with Jordan, although Polio, Typhoid, and Hepatitis A precautions are recommended.
The only airports in Jordan are at Aqaba and Amman, so internal air travel is probably not much of an option. Jordan is very small, however, so this shouldn't be too much of a problem.
Jett buses run between Amman and Aqaba, the King Hussein Bridge, Petra, and Hammamat Ma'in. Private buses run from Amman to Aqaba and Irbid. Between the smaller towns, minibuses do run, however, these are generally expensive when compared to the buses and are not very reliable and tend to make detours if they feel like it.
Taxis are everywhere in the city centre and are available in larger towns, although you may have a problem in small towns and villages. To avoid being scammed, before setting off make sure your Taxi driver's meter is working. It will probably not start at zero though, more like 2JD which is the minimum fare. If it is much over this, then question with the driver before starting to avoid problems later on.
Visas and Entry
A visa is required for most countries to gain access. If you are flying in to Amman International/Queen Alia airport then you can buy a visa on arrival, which is cheaper than obtaining it in advance, although make sure you have some Jordanian currency as the first change point is passed the entry gate. Allow between JD20 (£19 or $27) and JD35 (£33 or $50), as the amount varies depending on your country of origin and whether you are a citizen or a national of that country. If ten or more people are in your group (departing and leaving at the same time) then you may be able to secure a group visa for free. Please note that a departure tax is payable when leaving, in 1999 this was priced at JD10 (£9.50 or $14.10).
If you are not arriving on foot, it would be advisable to obtain your visa in advance from the Embassy, as rules frequently change and many entry points cannot issue visas.