Jordan: Petra and Wadi Rum

Do you ever have one of those dreams where you show up for class and didn’t do your homework?  Going to Jordan for the first time was like that for us, only in a good way.  We were floored by how much we loved Jordan.  It is a breathtakingly beautiful country.  We were absolutely taken by surprise.  Candidly, we came to the region primarily to see Israel. Check out our trip report on Israel A visit to the Holy Land . Jordan was intended as a side trip for us. In the end, we fell in love with Jordan.  Let us tell you why. 

Getting there

The capital city of Amman has a major international airport and regular flights from Europe are easily found.  Our entry into Jordan was a little unique.  We came over at the border crossing at the port city of Aqaba.  A little about how to get into Jordan, before we tell you the wonders of Aqaba.

Getting in

We spend a great deal of our focus on our advance research about border crossings including what to expect and what is needed for entry. Mike loves checking countries off of his list! Our research on this crossing made us concerned.  You read rumors of not being able to enter and exit if you have ever set foot in Israel (flat out wrong!). We heard that you are not able to enter if you have the wrong stamp in your passport—also wrong! Crossing was very straight forward.  Really no reason for concern. Security is tight; no surprise there.  Take it step by step, and the entire process takes 45 minutes on a good day.  If you are traveling during a holiday, or during rush, it could take hours.

You will not be able to take your rental car from Israel into Jordan.  There is a massive dirt parking lot on the Israeli side where there are hundreds of cars parked.  No charge.  Don’t leave valuables, as it is not secure, but it is safe.  We crossed the border on foot and caught a taxi on the Jordan side.  You are going to need to heft your luggage the distance.  Make sure you are thoughtful about how much you pack.  Check the State Department of your respective country for any changes.

Aqaba

Perched on the north shore of the Red Sea, Aqaba is across the Israeli city of Eilat.  Aqaba is roughly twice the size of Eilat.  Both have a wide array of accommodations.  We elected to stay at the DoubleTree on the Jordanian side booked with points.  Our room overlooked the Red Sea and below are the sounds we captured in our first few mins in the room: a very moving rendition of the Islamic call to prayer over the Sea.  It really was at this moment that we realized that we were somewhere special.

The Call to Prayer over the Red Sea.

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There is actually plenty to do in Aqaba: great food, scuba diving in the marine park and visiting a historic fort.  The city is 6,000 years old!  Along the waterfront, there are a number of native cuisine restaurants and fish houses.  English is widely spoken in these tourist areas.  As we always recommend, it doesn’t hurt to know some words in the local language.

Our first full day in Jordan we enjoyed the massive breakfast spread at the DoubleTree. Before going any further into Jordan, make sure you exchange some of your cash for Jordan Dinars. Next, we picked up our rental car and headed north.  Roads are straight forward and in reasonable condition.  Yes, there are camels along the roads.  ….and yes we stopped to take a picture of every single one of them!  We travel with one of the mobile hotspots for Wifi and it worked like a charm, providing us with GPS on our iPhones.  Freeways in Jordan are well maintained.  There are plenty of petrol stations along major roads.

Wadi Rum

Our first destination was the desert of Wadi Rum.  Once only accessible by camel and Omar Sharif, today Wadi Rum is a major tourist destination.  Drive 15 miles north of Aqaba and turn right at the Wadi Rum sign.  Follow the signs further to Wadi Village.  In advance, book one of the many desert camps.  We elected to stay at Wadi Rum Night Luxury Camp http://www.wadirumnight.com/.  We highly recommend this camp, but having not stayed at others, it is hard to judge how it compares.  The food was really good, accommodations were clean, staff friendly, and the atmosphere out of this world. The setting was nothing short of magical.

When you arrive in a large parking lot in Wadi Village, attendants sort your luggage and direct you to your pickup by which camp you are staying.  You are limited to one bag, keep that in mind.  There are many, many camps and all of them depart from this location.  We were directed to our truck and off we went into the dusty desert.  Our journey in the back of the pick up took roughly and hour and was incredible.  The red desert is stunning.  Giant rocks spring out of the desert floor.  They look like sky scrappers! 

We arrived at the camp at the base of one of these red rock monoliths.  Check in and hydration was done efficiently.  Our tent had full facilities: shower, toilet and air conditioner! We didn’t elect for one of the igloo looking things as luxury tents were cheaper. The bed was comfy and there was power for electronics charging.  We did need an adapter.

A room with a view-Wadi Luxury Camp

We had arranged for two activities: a Jeep tour of the desert and camel riding.  Both are highly recommended.  The Jeep tour took us to Lawrence of Arabia and The Martian sites, as well as the famed Jordan Arch.  The entire desert is photogenic.  Spend the money and bring a solid camera.  Check out these pictures:

Once we ended our Jeep tour, we boarded our “Rolls of the Desert.” The camel ride was a fun activity.  We were led by a camel keeper and found the camels docile and offered a real perspective of desert life.  We highly recommend. 

In the evening, we dressed for dinner and there was a great array of fruits, breads, meats and other dishes.  They make fresh naan right there in front of you.  After dinner, the camp hosts a bonfire and pass around the hookah. Sitting around the fire, the cinnamon smell of the hookah looking at the bright stars, was a moment that we will never forget.

Petra

Our next stop on our Jordanian adventure was the ancient city of Petra.  The drive from Wadi Rum to Petra takes about an hour and a half.  Again, the roads are well marked and in good condition.  There are a number of western hotels in the Petra area including some upscale accommodations like Movenpick (yes, it serves the famous ice cream!).  We stayed at the Marriott up the hill.  It was a little drive down to the city, so we recommend you stay closer to the entrance to Petra.

Petra is a Unesco site and as such, the entry prices and crowds are more than you would expect.  We went through Petra in a day, and were left feeling like we should have planned for two days.  Once you pass through the gates, the hike begins. You head downhill through narrow canyon walls. There are hundreds of tourists making this trek along with horse drawn carriages. At one of the bends, you gain a partial glimpse of the Treasury. Yes-it is an Indiana Jones moment! The Petra Treasury is perhaps one of the most photographed structures in the world. It is even better in person. Don’t worry about being disappointed about the overplayed Instagramming, seeing it with your own eyes is powerful.

The Treasury is just the tip of the iceberg with Petra. There are hundreds of tombs, ruins and temples that are all along the path. One day is simply not enough to see everything as we found out belatedly. Wear some really good hiking shoes, and pack a lot of water. It can be dry, dusty and hot.

The Monastery

One of the hidden secrets of Petra is the Monastery. It is quite a hike, thus not for the faint in heart. Located at the very end of the city, begins the arduous hike up to the structure. It’s 54 flights of stairs to the top. It’s bigger than the Treasury and better preserved. We highly recommend it!

Petra at Night

One thing we were disappointed by was Petra by starlight. At the close of the day, you are asked to leave the park and pay to reenter. The hike back down the hill after a day a trekking was a little daunting. The path is lined by candle light which was really beautiful. When we arrived back down at the Treasury, there were hundreds of people. Many were attempting unsuccessfully to take pictures with flash of the dimly lit treasury. It was loud and annoying and not in worth the price. We left early.

Jordan was beautiful beyond our expectations. The place is definitely on our list to explore further. Please reach out to us on social media if we can help you in any way plan you trip to Jordan.

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