Trip Date – July 2015
| 🇯🇴| From a tourist standpoint, Jordan is the heartbeat of the Middle East. Although UAE and Qatar have evolved into the regions’ largest international hubs, Jordan has matured in a different way, maintaining a more traditional and authentic Middle Eastern feel. Bordering Israel, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, it lies in an area home to some of the most exciting and deeply-rooted culture on the planet.
While en route from Singapore back for a summer visit to the US, I managed to arrange a stop in Jordan. Geographically speaking, when traveling halfway around the world, the list of destinations that can potentially be lumped into a trip becomes pretty long. Through creative flight booking I’ve been fortunate to have had some success with this over the past few years. I arrived Amman on Oman Air via Muscat and, with only a couple days on the ground, was determined to maximize the time.
When planning a trip to Jordan, the first topic of discussion is almost always Petra. Visiting Jordan without seeing Petra would be like going to Paris and missing the Eiffel Tower. Unacceptable. Petra is an easy, three-hour drive straight south of Amman. The highway is in good shape and you may even see some camels along the way hanging out near the road.
The price of entry tickets varies quite a bit depending on your situation. Since I was a foreigner and staying inside of Jordan that night (ie: not on a day-trip from Israel), I paid 50 Dinar (about US$70) for a one-day ticket.
Beyond the entrance gate begins the Siq, a long and winding sandstone canyon. The rock walls are filled with unique and colorful patterns. Lining many of the lower sections are remains of an ancient waterway that were carved during the time of the Romans. In my opinion, the best way to explore the canyon is on foot, however, it is also possible to hire a horse and buggy (but be careful when negotiating prices – agree in advance to avoid being scammed).
At the end of the Siq lies the incredible Petra Treasury. I couldn’t tell you how long I spent just staring up at it and wondering how the hell this enormous structure was designed and sculpted 2,000 years ago. It’s as impressive of a sight as I’ve seen anywhere in the world. In the main corridor and in nearby alleys there are several shops to buy souvenirs. You can also take camel rides or arrange for them to be part of your photos. You can go on a number of different hikes/walks ranging in length from 10 minutes to eight hours. The entire grounds of Petra are huge and it could easily take two or three days to cover the majority of them.
Although Petra sets the Jordanian travel bar extremely high, other attractions more than hold their own. Closer to Amman is Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the location of Jesus’ Baptism and a handful of other sites. The exact place where the Baptism is believed to have occurred remains intact but has dried up and is now separated from the Jordan River. A short walk from there is John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church. The front doors are usually unlocked making it accessible to the public.
Continuing on to the river, you will come within a few feet of Israel. The day I visited, there were dozens of tourists on the Israeli side, presumably on a Holy Land tour, taking their turn in the water. It was much busier than our side. Of course, crossing the border through the river was a no no.
Only a few minutes’ drive from the Baptismal Site is the Dead Sea, another Jordanian staple. It is also home to the lowest point on Earth (on land) at 430 meters (1,412 feet) below sea level. When driving in, the views are fantastic. I pulled over to the side of the road to get a photo at the sea level line. As the sign indicates, the Dead Sea lies within a deep valley between Jerusalem and Amman. When nearing the bottom of the Jordan Rift, the change in altitude had been so drastic that the water bottle I had with me scrunched up due to the pressure change. This often happens on an airplane, but in a car?
The northeastern shore is where many of the resorts are located. Since I was staying at the Marriott in Amman, I was able to access their Dead Sea property for free. Non-guests are subject to a relatively high fee. I remember it being the equivalent of US$75 or so. Behind the pool area (and down a lot of steps) is a private beach. The water of the Dead Sea is 9.6 times salter than the Ocean, therefore, making it effortless for people to relax and float on the surface. It was a surreal feeling to carelessly fall backwards and not sink – sort of like a waterbed. I brought a small book with me and had some fun creating a very touristy picture.
With rich culture, friendly people and so much to see in one relatively small country, Jordan gets my highest recommendation. Also, Amman’s location and the growth of Royal Jordanian Airlines make it an ideal gateway to the rest of the region. One suggestion: If possible, I would try to avoid going in the heart of summer like I did. It was very hot, especially in the valley. Despite the temperature, several of the above highlights remain among my best travel memories. I hope you get the opportunity to visit.
Have you been to Jordan? Did you make it to Petra and the Dead Sea?