Jordan has been on my list for a while because… Petra and the Dead Sea. But this last minute trip showed me just how diverse the history, landscape, and significance of this country really is. I was surprised to find forests and mountains, and I wasn’t expecting some of the most impressive Roman ruins I’ve seen in my travels and medieval castles. This is all in addition to the biblical sights and ancient ruins I was looking forward to. I’ve also been shocked by how many people in my own travel industry that have never heard of the ancient Nabataean city of Petra. It’s one of the new wonders of the world after all. Sooo, here’s a little info on what we saw on our 7 days in Jordan and how we did it.
First off, this trip was planned the week before we went, soo it was booked through a travel agent and we had a driver for the duration of the trip. It was a game changer. We set the pick up time, made changes for the little stuff, and he showed us some cool roadside stops and spots we never would have found on our own. If this is of interest to you, Ekab was our driver and he does private tours either through travel companies or direct. His number to WhatsApp him is +962 7 7539 9205 and I can vouch for his sunny demeanor and knowledge after many years in the industry. He told us when we should hire guides for stops or when it wasn’t necessary and a lot of helpful advice.
Moving on, this was our itinerary and route.
-Amman for 2n (drive to Petra -3 hours)
-Petra for 2n (drive to Wadi Rum -1 hr 45)
-Wadi rum for 2n (drive to Dead Sea- 4 uneventful hours with minimal break spots)
-Dead Sea for 1n (drive to the AMM airport -45 min)
Amman was definitely our least favorite, but necessary to recoup after a 12 hour flight from Chicago (Royal Jordanian goes direct from ORD & JFK). Downtown felt like any busy city center, but we really didn’t do anything other than wander around for dinner one night so I can’t say much about Amman. One appeal is that there are Roman ruins and a theater right smack in the middle of downtown. The same stone has been used for thousands of years, and the Roman columns blend in effortlessly with the backdrop of homes and buildings covering all of the hillsides.
The Citadel downtown was pretty cool and definitely should be visited if you have time in Amman, Hercules knuckles being the spotlight (photo), as it’s thought to be one of the largest roman statues ever made (but all you get is the knuckles). As we were roaming the little museum on site I noticed most of the relics and items were from Jerash, and that was exactly where we were headed next.
As I mentioned, there was no time for planning for the trip so I didn’t take the usual effort to scope out places and read up before going. So Jerash realllly pleasantly surprised me. The column lined roads were still so intact it was easy to picture where a chariot could have road down the straight lane lined with cheering people, or that’s where my head goes at least. The 2 theaters provided great acoustics for a couple of performers and a stage for our little local friend who wanted to show off his flipping (cart-wheels). The temple of Artemis and water fountain and system for drinking water all still quite intact.
I’ve seen a lot of Roman ruins around the world, but this was one of the easiest to imagine coming to life. You could see the city. I had a huge smile on my face the entire time, and we were there for hours walking the entire thing.
Next up, the Kings Highway to Petra.
Personally, when I think of Jordan and I think Petra, the desert, the Holy Land, and the lowest point on earth. I did NOT think mountains, valleys, and castles. The drive from Amman to Petra on the Kings Highway has it all. There is a faster option we were told, but if you’re planning the trip and want some lovely stops on the way to Petra, make sure you take the slow route and the Kings Highway. Mount Nebo, where Moses climbed to see the view of the Holy Land was obviously significant to visit for this reason, but it is also the site of a monastery and church ruins containing some beautiful mosaics. Next the 12th century Karak castle, where I found out how big of a nerd my boyfriend is. He provided me with more information about the crusaders battles and what took place than the castle museum did, (which I loveee). Honestly speaking tho, I can’t repeat much because jet lag had kicked in hard by the time we reached Karak AND I needed to be fed, so I basically just zombie wandered behind him as we explored every nook and cranny of that castle. They let you roam freely, down the dark castle hallways, storage rooms, climbing stuff… whatever. He was like a kid in a candy shop.
We continued the beautiful switchback drive, I took a nap, we saw another castle atop a hill, and then arrived in Petra. It was Valentine’s Day, and one of the only things I knew I wanted to do on the trip was to see Petra by candlelight, an event that happens 3 nights a week. To my excitement I realized it fell on our arrival night which also happened to be Valentine’s Day. The stars and almost full moon aligned :). Walking along the Siq entrance by candlelight was a little eerie having not seen it during the daylight yet, but then the Treasury comes into view and nature is mixed with mans creation in such a majestic imposing way. I recommend doing the candlelight night before seeing everything by daylight for this first impression moment, as it was really something. That’s the good part. The bad is that we found the show was very mehhh… local Bedouin music is played for a few minutes then a storyteller comes forward but we could only catch every 3rd word or so and had a hard time with the ‘show’. The tea served was a nice touch to the cold evening, and I was perfectly satisfied sitting on my carpet staring the the monstrous facade that’s been looking back at people for over 2 thousand years.
So this will be the bulk of this post because 1. It was truly impressive and 2. I read a book about the local Bedouin people, the descendants of the Nabataeans, before the trip and will have plenty to say about them as well as the history of Petra.
First I’ll say that in terms of location of a major kingdom, the Nabataeans nailed it. Petra became the capital of their nomadic people around 4000 BC. This city carved into the gorge and cliff sides is in a completely hidden maze if you were to look for it from the surrounding hillsides. It’s a camouflaged capital. The entrance is so thin that the view of the sky wavers in and out as you walk through the Siq. This thin entryway almost a mile long is a treat in itself, but it also means that the city is basically impossible to attack or penetrate. The strategic location along the Silk Road is where the importance and the wealth of the kingdom came from, as it was a trading stop between the east and west. Petra hit it’s peak and heyday with an estimated 30,000 people in it 2000 years ago. It became part of the Roman Empire in 200AD, and then after an earthquake in mid 300s and shifting trade routes, Petra began its decline. In the 700s it’s was deserted by all but a small tribe of Bedouin who lived in the caves. It was hidden from the world until 1812 when a Swiss explorer went in search of a ‘lost city’.
To imagine his face as he walked through the gorge, much like many he’d been through before i’m sure, and then the 100 feet high Treasury facade suddenly appeared around a small bend. I suppose it’s unique factor partially comes from the fact that it wasn’t built, it was carved. We are used to impressive structures being added to or stacked on nature, but the Nabataeans went the other way. And did so beautifully.
While we were there we knew we wanted to hike up to the high viewpoint of the treasury, and planned to hire a guide to take us up. Well Alaa saw horses and that decided that, so we rode a lovely back route to the top. One that we never would have found without a guide (he negotiated down a lot, and got the horses/tour for 40 dinars for both -around $55). Once we reached where we would need to start the short hike in, there was a local Bedouin cave and I got all giddy when they invited us in for tea.
I had read Married to a Bedouin, a true story of a New Zealand woman who married a local Bedouin after meeting him while being a tourist at Petra in the 70s. She moved into his cave, and in the book explained the customs of the locals and just documented their entire life together. So I was pumped when our host said oh yes I lived in the cave next to Margaret and Mohamed. He named their kids off and talked a bit more about it before directing our attention to the ‘local made jewelry’… which appeared to be similar to any China $1 jewelry, but I can’t be sure.
I found the kohl eye-lined Bedouin fascinating. I mean the concept of a group of people being nomadic and living off the land in a cave as a home IN MY LIFETIME is so interesting. Alaa can attest that reading the book before going added a lot of tidbits to the experience of Petra. He may not have asked for all the stories and explanations but I couldn’t help myself. When Petra became a World Heritage Site in 1985 they began moving the Bedouin to a settlement with small homes and electricity, like it or not. I read (& sort of confirmed by Margaret’s old neighbor) that during the pandemic a lot of the Bedouin had moved back into caves (illegally) because of the lack of income from the tourists. And boy do they hustle the tourists. A donkey or camel ride is constantly offered, kids are at your side with postcard books around every corner, I watched a guy scale cliff side rocks like a mountain goat to take tourist photo for 1 dinar (+ a cup of coffee). And I respect the hustle. It’s their ancestral land after all, and frankly the little girl who hustled Alaa out of quite a bit of money also offered to take photos of us and they were really fantastic.
The one negative experience of Petra for me was the hike to the Monastery. The 850 steps weren’t bad, but the tents set up all along the way and the hassling to buy stuff annoyed me. The trail up had such beautiful views and would have been a great way to immerse in the sandstone landscape and walk where their ancestors had walked for thousands of years… but every 20 feet someone comes close or even in your way and you hear, ‘what’s your name, where are you from?’ ‘Do you want to take a look’ ‘everything’s $1’ ‘promise you’ll come back to me to buy later’. And then you do have to come back later, because that’s the way down, and you hear it all over again.
I think it’s funny that the Monastery is named that simply because the inner room had a cross on the wall from later inhabitants, and the Treasury is called that because the urn at the top of facade is rumored to have Nabataean treasures inside (the bullet holes trying to crack it open seem to prove otherwise). Our driver, Ekab, made the comment that every time he walks up and sees the giant buildings it makes him wonder about aliens doing it, and honestly… I get it. The city is still a mystery, and I love a good history mystery. 🙂
I’ll conclude Petra now, but I will say that we saw the entire thing in 1 day, including goofing off for a while wandering around ‘house shopping’ for a cave, and with the exception of part of the Royal tombs we didn’t get to, so it’s definitely possible. We walked 13 miles, not including the horse ride, so if you want to get every corner then you may want to stretch it to 2 days. I read up before and have researched more after, but having a guide and learning along the way would have been nice. I *believe* it was $100 and that’s a set price tho.
Wadi Rum desert
By the time you leave Wadi Rum desert you will one hundred percent know that The Martian with Matt Damon was filmed there. I’ve never understood the appeal of visiting movie sites while traveling, but you can definitely do that in Wadi Rum (in a jeep or by camel). I suppose I should mention Indiana Jones (I don’t know which one, I’ve never seen any of them) was filmed at Petra in case you think that’s cool.
For meee, the appeal of Wadi Rum was the dramatic landscape (yes I’m sure I have that in common with the producer), and the Bubble Luxotel. It was the first hotel I clicked on when I casually searched when we had tossed out the idea of Jordan. Once I shared it with Alaa it was a done deal, we basically planned the trip around staying there.
We booked 2 nights, and it was nice to have a rest after that long Petra day. The hammock, hot tub, and hiking around the ‘camp’ kept us plenty occupied on the bonus day and the breakfast and dinner buffet were both pretty good. I think i’ll save my words and just let the photos and videos do the explaining of why we loved our stay here.
The Dead Sea
From Wadi rum to the Dead Sea, (or where we stayed at the north tip of it), was around 4 hours. This is your warning, there were not many places to stop during those 4 hours due to the road basically running parallel to the Israel border. So do not pick this day to try to hydrate.
K. Soo the older you get, the more difficult it is to experience new feelings and simply do new things, right? Floating on top of the sea was just that, a new feeling and fresh experience. I’ve actually floated inside a volcano full of volcanic mud before (outside of Cartagena, Colombia), but even that was different. You were rolling around trying to balance the same way, but it was confined. When you’re floating in the Dead Sea looking off in the distance across the smooth water surface it just feels like you could float right on over to Israel or lean back and relax for hours. Riding down the road next to it you see the white crusted edge contrasting with the water. The sea is shrinking a meter every year, and has been since the 90’s and it’s pretty obvious. The biggest surprise to me about getting in was the consistency of the water. You can see through it to the rocky sea floor, but there’s a thick oily residue that’s left on your skin, and you can see swirl marks as you move through it.
When you slightly lean back your feet simply pop on up in front of you, finding your equilibrium is a challenge until you stop moving around and relax. You really just have to do it for yourself and enjoy it. We laughed at each other and enjoyed the feeling for a while. I covered myself in the mud the next morning even though it was a drizzly cold day, because yolo. I think my skin felt softer, I will say it did regardless since I had already purchased big bottles of facial mud masks at a souvenir stop.
That wonderful experience and morning rounded off our 7 very diverse days in Jordan. We did the easy 45 min drive to the airport the next day, and flew to Dubai that evening.