Steve & Judy Pardoe's Jordan Logistics Page

Jordan: logistics and travel itinerary (February 2001)

Please note: the following information is given in good faith but without responsibility. Circumstances change, particularly in this volatile part of the world, and you would be well advised to check up to date conditions and arrangements before travelling. There are links at the bottom of this page to sites which may be better maintained.

Getting to Jordan was easy. We found convenient and comfortable flights from Manchester to Amman, via Paris with Air France, through a bucket shop. One can also fly to Eilat and enter Jordan overland from Israel, but this isn't recommended while the troubles continue, and in any case the Jordanians would much rather you visited them directly.

The Queen Alia airport is quite a long way south of Amman, but there's a regular shuttle bus to Abdali [bus] Station, which picks up right outside the arrivals hall, and costs only 1.5 JD (Jordanian Dinar, pronounced "jaydee". At the time of writing, early 2001, 1 JD is worth almost exactly one pound sterling. It's divided variously into 1000 fils or 100 piastres). Ignore the touts who will tell you it's not coming, in the hope that you'll take an expensive taxi instead. Indeed, as we waited for the 04:00 bus back to the airport from Abdali at the end of our trip, not only did the taxi drivers gang up and lie to us that the bus wouldn't come until 06:00, they even blocked its path when it did arrive (almost on time) and persuaded the driver to tell us he wasn't going until 06:00. It took a bit of a threat from us to persuade the driver to take us, which he eventually did, without good grace.

This highlights a characteristic of Jordanians which we found hard to cope with. They have a reputation for hospitality and scrupulous honesty towards strangers, and (we gather) wouldn't dream of stealing your money or possessions. However, they will cheerfully tell the most outrageous lies to get money out of you face to face. This can make it difficult to distinguish between a genuine offer of help, and an attempt to rip you off, and after a while you can easily become rather cynical, which is a shame.

Having got that out of the way, the vast majority of Jordanians we met were extremely friendly and kind. We found that they could be generous to a fault, and often went out of their way to offer advice. On telling them that we were English, the response would invariably be a huge smile and a hearty "welcome to Jordan!" and we felt they meant it, tourism being as depressed as it is. Having even a few words of Arabic is a boon, as the locals are delighted by even the most inept attempts at conversation, and will smile broadly and congratulate you far beyond what you deserve!

A word about alcohol: Jordan, like most Islamic countries, is notionally "dry", though it's possible to buy and consume alcohol in some private establishments, including the Resthouse. Drinking it in public is taboo. We happily deferred to local custom, and didn't drink alcohol at all during our stay. They don't do drugs, either, so in addition to the prospect of visiting a very unpleasant prison, you'll risk seriously upsetting your hosts if you decide to use any. There are further taboos on public displays of affection, too (even a husband and wife holding hands in the street get funny looks), and being overtly gay is a no-no (though you see plenty of men holding hands, just as friends). Worth remembering.

Our itinerary, which we worked out for ourselves, turned out to be pretty standard among people we met on tour. We based ourselves in Amman at the Remal Hotel, simply because it's an easy walk from the Abdali bus station, and was in both the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet. It's not a great hotel, but did the job. Mr Safwat manages the place, and helped us before we arrived by e-mailing a suggested car tour and other info. He introduced us to a driver, Khamis, who was charming and helpful, and took us wherever we wanted, for 50 JD for the first day and 45 JD for the second, including petrol and so on. This was a lot more expensive than public transport, but enabled us to cover in a couple of days what would otherwise have taken a week.

We drove to Jerash, a superbly preserved Roman city a little NW of Amman, and we had a couple of hours wandering around the ruins, some of which have been reconstructed, in glorious sunshine. Then we went on to Umm Qais, where it rained, and we were shamelessly overcharged by the official guide. There are supposed to be superb views of the Golan Heights and the Jordan valley, but it was too murky to see much. After Umm Qais we drove down the Jordan, past the Israeli check points on the opposite bank, and through a couple of Jordanian ones. This had been the scene of a massacre of Israeli schoolgirls by a berserk Jordanian soldier, and it's still very tense. Following the Jordan through lush, sub-tropical farmland and very rural villages we eventually arrived at the Dead Sea, where Khamis parked and suggested we all had a bathe. He seemed very keen to see Judy in a swimsuit, and even more so to give her a mud massage, which she declined as tactfully as she could. We had a quick dip in the salty and famously buoyant water before an armed soldier came along and apparently indicated that we shouldn't be swimming there on the Sabbath. There was a hot spring nearby, which formed a filthy waterfall, and we washed the worst of the salt off here before getting back in the car and driving to Amman.

Next day, we drove south to Mount Nebo, the point from which Moses saw the Promised Land. It's still a terrific viewpoint, looking way out over Israel and the Dead Sea, and is crowned by a small church, which the Pope visited. The church contains some interesting mosaics.

Nearby is the town of Madaba and the church of St George, the floor of which has a huge mosaic map of the Levant. Only part of it is visible, but that includes the most interesting parts, in particular a remarkably detailed plan of Jerusalem. We bought a carpet here, which Khamis kindly took back to our hotel for us to collect a week later, at the end of our holiday.

After Madaba we went to Karak (or Kerak), a town dominated by a remarkable Crusader castle. We had a buffet lunch at the Resthouse nearby, and then spent a fascinating hour or so wandering through the many passages and along the ramparts of the castle. The scale and enterprise of the structure are amazing, but I wished we'd remembered the head-torches we'd left at the hotel.

Then it was south along the King's Highway, via the spectacular canyon of Wadi Mujib, to Wadi Musa, the gateway to Petra. The King's Highway largely follows the crests of the hills running north-south along the east side of the Jordan valley, the northern extremity of the Great Rift Valley which stretches all the way to central Africa. These hills are high enough to catch snow in the winter, and Khamis was delighted to find a patch of it by a roundabout, and insisted on stopping the car so that we could all make snowballs and take a photo.

Khamis delivered us to Wadi Musa in the evening, and suggested the Peace Way Hotel, no doubt not purely out of altruism, but it was reasonable enough and served excellent breakfasts. The name of the village means Valley of Moses, and there's still a spring which is alleged to be that which flowed when Moses struck the rock to quench the thirst of his people. God actually asked him merely to talk to the rock, and punished Moses's impetuosity by denying him entry to the Promised Land.

Whatever the provenance of the water, Wadi Musa is a sensationally scruffy town, which would be unremarkable were it not the only practical gateway to one of the most popular tourist attractions in the entire Middle East. No effort seems to have been made to direct any of the vast inflow of tourist currency into tidying up the town. The main street it filthy and unmade in places, and the cheap hotels, cafes and shops lining it are mostly disgraceful. As you walk down towards the gate closing off the entrance to Petra itself, things get a bit more upmarket, ending with the undeniably beautiful and luxurious Movenpick Hotel, right at the gate. You can get superb Swiss ice-cream there for 1 JD a scoop, a lovely if rather extravagant pick-me-up after a dusty day in Petra.

Entry to Petra is expensive (jaw-droppingly so, as the Rough Guide put it). One day costs 20 JD, but the next few days cost only a further 5 JD each, so it's well worth taking two days or more to see the place at a sensible pace. There's a lot more to see than the obvious Siq and Treasury.

We got up early and, after buying our tickets, walked down the gravel track for a kilometre or so to the Siq entrance. The track passes several Nabatean tombs and carvings and the walk is quite pleasant, so it makes sense to decline the offers of a horse-back ride. You can't ride through the Siq anyway, unless you take a buggy. Once at the Siq the path narrows, and after a while the sides of the canyon are almost out of sight above you. The gash twists and turns, the colours of the walls changing with the light, and if you can, it's well worth hanging back to get a section to yourself for a while so you can appreciate the scale and the stillness as you reach the bottom of the Siq, and the famous Treasury bursts into view. However many documentary films and posters you've seen beforehand, nothing can prepare you for this sight. The Treasury is simply gigantic, and the colour of its solid stone is exquisite. Camels are strategically placed by the local Bedu to make those photos extra-special, in exchange for modest baksheesh.

Moving on from the Treasury, the path continues to fall gently, past more tombs and then opening out as it reaches the Theatre. The Romans enlarged the original Nabatean structure, but it must have been pretty awesome even before that, its row upon row of semicircular benches carved out of the solid, living rock, which here is blood-red. There are staircases and entrance tunnels, stages and backdrops, all hewn from the solid. There is no stone-on-stone construction anywhere.

Opposite the theatre is the Eastern Wall, where some of the most spectacular tombs are to be found. It's easy to walk up to these,and many can be entered. I paced out one of them, and its interior, a vast rectilinear space chiselled out of the cliff, measured about 20 by 18 metres on the floor and I guess about ten metres in height. That's some 3,600 cubic metres of rock, tens of thousands of tonnes of it, which had to be cut out by hand, taken out through the decorated doorways, and carted away. The inside walls of the tomb are unerringly straight, and finished with delicate and absolutely flawless chiselled grooves. One can only gasp and wonder.

Further down still, the path passes a former fountain called the Nymphanaeum, and then straightens into a paved section lined with the remains of shops. The pavement ends at a partially reconstructed archway, beyond which there is the museum, a couple of cafes and some siqs, which lead out of the main part of Petra to other villages (if you walk far enough).

Way above the main part of Petra there are a number of "high places" which are well worth a hike. The most popular are the High Place of Sacrifice, and the Monastery. Both are well described in the Rough Guide, and we visited them on separate days. If you decide to visit either of them, don't forget to carry plenty of water, and protect yourself from the sun.

Moving on from Petra to Wadi Rum wasn't as easy as expected, as the 06:30 bus, on which we'd booked seats through our hotel, didn't run. At first we thought this was another ploy by the taxi drivers, but it turned out to be true, so we were obliged to accept their offer of a ride for 20 JD. We arrived at Rum Village in nice time for morning coffee, and paid in advance 3 JD per night per person for one of the re-erected tents behind the Resthouse. This is the only place to stay in Rum, unless you bring your own tent. The set ones are just adequate, barely two metres square and made of ancient canvas, but they keep most of the sand out, and rain is unlikely to be a problem. They come with a thin mattress and even thinner blanket, so if you have a sleeping bag it will be helpful. We were pretty cold by the middle of the night, though it may be better later in the season.

Now you can return to the main page, to read about what we did in Rum.

After three amazing days in Rum, we caught the early morning bus to Aqaba, and checked into the Shweiki (or Al-Shwaki) Hotel, which we'd found through the Rough Guide and booked ahead. It's in Hammamar Street, convenient for the bus station, and just a short walk from the sea front. We had a huge, modern en-suite room, and we reckoned that the bed was so big we could easily have pitched our Wadi Rum tent on it! This was a welcome taste of luxury after the relatively spartan accommodation we'd had earlier in the trip. There were plenty of restaurants and shops nearby, and an ATM, so we found it easy to eat out, though more expensive than further north. The old fort on the newly enhanced promenade is worth a visit, and there's a public beach nearby, which is adequate rather than pretty. You are sure to get hassled every few seconds by people wanting to offer you a taxi ride or a trip in a glass-bottomed boat. The way to deal with this is just to smile sweetly and wave them away: they soon get the message, and are generally very good-natured about it.

Soon after we arrived in Aqaba, Ata rang us in our room, and arranged for his son to take us to a local diving school for some snorkelling. We had really intended to go to the Royal Jordanian, but out of politeness to Ata we enrolled for a session with the local outfit. They took us to a rather fly-blown public beach, where we changed on the sand, and waded out into the very shallow sea, trying to avoid the sea urchins. The coral was only just below the surface, and the sea was quite choppy, so it was very difficult to swim out to see the fish without scraping your knees on the razor-sharp coral. When you did find a deeper section, it was magic, with lots of brightly coloured fish and other weird creatures within easy reach. There was a strong cross-current, so we found it quite tiring to maintain position relative to the shore and the coral, but it was an interesting experience. Thus enthused, we went to the Royal Jordanian next day: although it was too rough to snorkel, we spent a happy afternoon on the beach, sheltering as best we could from the wind, catching some rays, and swimming in the chilly, unheated but immaculately clean pool. From what we could see of its facilities, the RJ is definitely the place to go.

There's no doubt about it that the best way to get back north to Amman is by the excellent express coach, which leaves its depot (not terribly easy to spot, unless the bus is in) near the seafront, and takes you right to Amman's Abdali (bus) Station. It's essential to book in advance (another opportunity to savour the Arabic concept of queuing) and you have to check your luggage in, rather like air travel. Once you and your cases are aboard (and it's worth checking that the bags do get on, and stay on, the bus) the ride is a delight, fast and very comfortable, with (non-alcoholic) drinks served all the way. The route takes the old road which skirts the Dead Sea, and the views are terrific. We'd arranged for our room to be ready at Mr Safwat's Remal Hotel, which made it an easy and hassle-free end to our wonderful trip to Jordan. Until the morning, and the trouble with the bus, but, hey, that's travelling for you.

Apart from the Rough Guide, an excellent reference for walking in Jordan is "Walks, Treks, Caves, Climbs & Canyons" by Di Taylor and Tony Howard (Cicerone Press). It has a very useful section on Wadi Rum.

Here are some external links (new window): Wadi Rum Mountain Guides Ruth Caswell's updated site with loads of excellent links and data
Kate Ness's Wadi Rum Forum

Now you can return to the main page, to read about what we did in Wadi Rum.

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