My mind kept thinking of that one building in Petra, you know the one. The red sculpted facade… which movie was it? Ah yes, Indiana Jones! Other than that and a vague idea of the desert in Southern Jordan, I did not know what to expect and the journey of discovery was eye-opening and heart-warming.
A country built on scarcity with none of the oil and gas of some of the neighboring countries and with limited water resources, it is mind boggling that so many civilizations have called Jordan their home and created some of the most impressive structures I have ever witnessed – from Romans, to Umayyads, to Nabateans to populations of the Bronze and Iron Age (in no particular order!). Shoutout to the Nabateans, creators of Petra, who for some reason, we don’t hear enough about…
The most recent Syrian war has resulted in reportedly more than a million refugees living in Jordan, approximately 10% of the total Jordanian population. In addition to the burden on resources of an enlarged population, some of the consequences of the Syrian conflict include increased defense spending as part of the protection of their northern border and a significant drop in tourism which can be felt throughout the country.
Our trip consisted of a whirlwind exploration of Amman, where we were moved everytime we heard the minarets make the calls to prayer. Whether religious or not, spirituality is tangible everywhere as you are reminded how we humans across time have refused to accept the material world as our only dimension and have looked for a higher power, spirit, force.
For the outsider, Amman feels tangibly multicultural – with a mosque standing across from a christian church and hijab-wearing women alongside short-sleeves and shorter skirts. We adopted what we came to call “modest-wear” which made us feel comfortable and respectful of our surroundings without attraction undue attention.
We rented a car and drove to all these sites which was very manageable, signs are in English and Arabic and no drive was longer than four hours. Roads were well kept and your fellow drivers were generally very respectful of traffic laws. Self-driving was the best option for us giving us more freedom to explore and play things by ear.
We met inspiring and inspired women in a small village of Iraq al Amir and resting in a cafe in Petra. We were welcomed a thousand times over. We were stopped at police checkpoints and quickly let go when they realized we were foreign women. We ate the freshest falafels and crispy knafeh. We learned how Brazilian soccer is loved around the world. We wished we spoke some arabic to meet our gracious hosts halfway. Shukraan Jordan, hope to return one day
Iraq Al Amir: About 30 minutes west of Amman, our main reason to visit was the Women’s cooperative which provides a creative outlet and economic support to women in the village. The ceramics are contemporary and would not be out of place in a West Elm catalogue. Our warm attendant was Haula, who showed us around the showroom and took a selfie with us “Yalla selfie!”. Please visit if you can
Mount Nebo: Follow in the steps of Moses and appreciate the view over the Dead Sea and Jerusalem from the peak of Mount Nebo. A carefully restored collection of Byzantine mosaics under the care of Franciscan priests is the highlight of the visit and well worth it
Dead Sea: Split between Israel and Jordan, you can visit it on both sides. This is the lowest place on earth at 408 meters and you feel the pressure in your ears as you descend the mountains onto the coast of the sea. A series of hotels offer day-passes to day trippers who want to use the facilites to swim in the sea and use the pool. I recommend you do this versus using the public beach as there are very limited facilities and no respite from the sun. If visiting during the warmer months, you will identify with the feeling of “poaching on a low simmer” as the water heats up considerably along with the air temperature. Evaporation and the demands of the potash industry mean the water levels are decreasing year on year unless a solution is found so visit soon if you can. Jordanian swear by the beautifying properties of the mud so slather yourself with the stuff and wait for 10 long minutes for maximum benefits. When in the water, the buoyancy will make you understand why they said that Jesus walked on water
Petra: This place needs no introduction. I was overwhelmed with emotion when I first caught a glimpse of the Treasury. It is a wonder to be standing in front of it after seeing it so many times in films and TV. I would recommend going early to avoid the heat and crowds and bring a picnic and enough water because options are either limited or incredibly overpriced. Petra is so much more than the Treasury though, the sheer scale and detail of the city’s construction is beyond what I could have ever imagined. Nabateans for the win!
Wadi Rum: This place is the closest to Mars that we will probably visit in our lifetime (unless Elon Musk proves me wrong!) Massive formations of iron-hewn rock, pink sand dunes, ancient inscriptions on rocks (check out the Khazali canyon and look for the woman giving birth close to the entrance), camel rides. Go here and marvel at this incredible world we live in
Hashem: Everybody seems to love Hashem (photos of the royal family eating there are proudly displayed at the cash register). A super casual, quick service restaurant where you order the usuals – falafels, hummus, baba ganoush and have it all served on a table that is expertly covered in a disposable plastic wrap. Try the hot spicy sauce. Delicious, cheap and cheerful option in Amman
Sufra Restaurant: On lively Rainbow street, Sufra is in a renovated traditional house with two inviting open-air areas with light furniture and moody lighting. We had the most delicious roasted eggplant salad (curiously translated as Ploughman’s salad). No alcohol served (as I discovered after my waiter gave me a funny look when I asked about wine!)
Habibah Sweets: We did not manage to head there given our limited time, but this place was recommended by everyone for arabic sweets especially Kanafeh/Knafeh, one of our most loved discoveries during this trip
Grand Hyatt: For those with Hyatt points, this is a great option in Amman. Top service and facilities. The pool has an incredible view of the King Abdullah mosque and the terrace bar is serene and stylish. Loved this place and would definitely stay there again
Petra Guest House: Do not even consider staying anywhere else. Basically at the entrance to the site, very friendly service and good facilities for a very manageable price (we paid about $100 a night). The Cave Bar next door is sculpted into the rock and the most pleasant terrace for a drink
Wadi Rum desert camps: I stayed in a Luxury Night Camp which had luxury facilities but less than luxurious service. I would recommend you stay overnight in the desert but do some more research for a better option
Jordan Pass: Proving that you will stay 4 nights in Jordan, the Jordan pass covers your visa entry, Petra entrance fee and entrance to other sights as the Citadel and the Amphitheater in Amman for JOD70. Good deal if your schedule allows for it