‘You are safe and sound here, Jordan is a very peaceful county’ the gift shop owner said, as he handed over some change. Honestly, I hadn’t expected to find Jordan anything other than peaceful, but because of the conflict in neighbouring Syria, tourism in Middle East is in decline and visiting Jordan’s sights now is a solitary experience. But the silence and emptiness only add to the grandeur of the sights. And since our little one joined us for the first time on our travels we had to make sure the place was safe as well as beautiful.
Adventures in Amman
After a late-night arrival in Amman we decided to start sightseeing in Amman a bit late the next day. Amman is often a pit stop on the way to Petra, but there are enough old and new flavors to keep visitors satisfied for 1 or 2 days. Although many travellers transit right through Amman it is worth exploring the downtown markets, Roman Citadel and the Amphitheatre. Known as Philadelphia to the Romans, it languished until it became Jordan’s capital as recently as 1921. Originally built on seven hills, the metropolis sprawled in the 1920s and a tale of two cities began. The east is traditional and centred on Downtown while the west is more modern, complete with glass and steel buildings.
Owing to Sam’s extreme interest in cars we visited the Royal Automobile Museum first. Although not a very rewarding experience it was interesting to see all the cars owned by the different kings of Jordan over many generations. Next stop was the Amman citadel. In Amman, Citadel Hill, Jabal al-Qal’a, stands out because it’s located in what is now the heart of downtown, modern Amman. While the seven surrounding hillsides hold rectangles of housing jutting up from the terracotta earth, Citadel Hill is more than merely a spot for holding the city’s occupants. The tall white marble temple columns are visible throughout the rest of the city and serve as a reminder of the Jordan’s ancient history. The site is home to a series of historical buildings which dates back to the Bronze Age and has been rebuilt many times during the ages moving through the Iron Ages as well as the Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad periods. From top of the hill one can also get a good view of the Roman Amphitheatre.
Moving on we went to downtown area of Amman Wust Al Balad. Downtown Amman is a very vibrant area of the city which is lined with many local restaurants and shops and full of life. These shops range from selling local confectionary and fresh juices to the very traditional women’s clothing which is found in virtually every other shop. After feasting on local delicacies in a famous restaurant called ‘Hashem’ we decided to call it a day.
Wandering around Jerash, the Rome of Middle East
Being history buffs visiting Jerash was an obvious choice. Jerash – a huge Graeco-Roman settlement, with theatres, colonnades, a hippodrome, triumphal arches, squares and mosaics depicting scenes of daily life – all well-preserved after an earthquake in 749 AD buried the ruins in sand for centuries. It felt such a privilege to see this remarkable place so empty – so unlike the jostling experience of walking through the Forum in Rome. And although only 100 km away from the Syrian border it felt extremely safe there.
When the Romans conquered Syria in 64BC, Gerasa, as it was known then, became one of the ten great Decapolis cities belonging to the Greek-Roman federation. Great economic benefits were bought to the city mainly through trade with the Nabataeans from Petra and prosperity peaked in the third century. But the Persian invasion of 414AD, the Muslim invasion of 636AD and earthquakes of 749AD all together destroyed the city to a quarter of its size.
We entered through the main gate called the Hadrian’s Arch. Walking through the forum we strolled along the cardo maximus or colonnaded street which served as centres of local economy. Next we headed to the Roman market, or agora, where our guide pointed out where the butcher’s stand once stood. We also came across one of the more complete buildings called the Nymphaeum-the main fountain for the city which is dedicated to the water nymphs. Built between 150AD and 170AD, the Temple of Artemis this is one of the magnificent sights in Jerash. It is dedicated to Artemis, the goddess of hunting and fertility. Eleven of the original twelve Corinthian columns are still standing.
Jerash was an amazing experience, one not to be missed! Walking around the ruins you are treated to glimpses of life from over 2000 years ago which in itself is a thrilling experience!!
Jerash is open every day from 8am – 4pm in winter and until 5 pm in summer. The entrance fee is 10 JOD and if you buy the Jordan pass the entrance is included. It can be easily done as a day trip from Amman.
Since we had a bit of time left in hand we decided to visit the ruins of Ajloun Castle. The Castle, formally known as Qa’lat Ar-Rabad, is a very well preserved and great example of Medieval Islamic architecture. We strolled around the castle for an hour before leaving for Amman. Although nice getaway I thought it was bit boring as there is nothing inside the castle, no furniture, no signs explaining where you are or the purpose of the rooms… it could be made a bit more “exciting” I suppose.
Exploring the lost city of Petra
Reaching from Amman in the afternoon we went for Petra by night – an unmissable experience in Jordan. Petra at Night had seduced me the first time I read about it. The candles, the music, sounded like an amazing experience, although I wondered if the reality would live up to the hype.
We gathered inside the main entrance to Petra before being led into the darkness. Our feet crunched on the gravelly dusty path leading towards the Siq. Voices murmured, and orangey light flickered inside brown paper bags guiding a path towards the lost city of Petra. Seeing the path lit by endless golden bags of candles was so beautiful. Walking in the darkness was a bit of a challenge at times with a baby in the sling, as certain parts of the path were more rocky and uneven than others but take it slow and steady and you should be fine! Soon we were emerging from the rocky ravine to the open area housing the famous Treasury, (the massive monument carved into the sandstone rock, made famous from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). A sea of candles greeted us and we were invited to sit in rows on mats.
We sat on the mats as other people joined in, the sea of glowing lights spread out before us like a warm blanket. As soon as everybody settled, tea was handed out from a large round tray carefully carried through the rows of people. And then came the music. A man began playing a flute with a tin whistle-like sound, its lingering melody filling the night air.
For Sam as a photography addict, it was a nice change of pace to sit in the darkness and not be thinking of capturing the moment (although he did take photos in the beginning and end😊). While travelling travel, it can be easy to let the special moments pass by, and it is only in retrospect that those moments become important travel memories. But sitting in Petra at night lit only by candles, I was fully immersed in the moment, knowing that it was one that would stay with me.
After the final note stretched into the darkness, echoing off the pink rocks, a man stood amongst the candles and told us a little about the history of Petra and the Bedouin people, and about the meaning of the music we had just heard. Then, lights briefly lit up the Treasury’s facade, the perfect finale to a perfect experience.
Next day morning we started early as we had only 1 day to visit the whole of Petra site. As we walked through the meandering Siq the light sneaked through the cracks and slowly we finally reached ‘Al Khazaneh’ the Treasury, a sight never to be forgotten. If Petra by night was mesmerizing then Petra by day was truly enthralling.
Little is known about Petra Jordan and its history. It was built by the Nabataeans over 2000 years ago where it was an important stop on the Silk Route to China and India. It remained under Nabataean rule until 100 AD when the Romans invaded. It was some time during the 12th century that it was finally abandoned and left to the local people. Surprisingly, Petra was forgotten by the Western world for centuries. It wasn’t until 1812 that it was “rediscovered” by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. And then it became famous for the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Having spent quite some time at the Treasury we decided the to take the trail for Monastery. The Monastery (Ad-Dayr or Ad-Deir in Arabic) boasts a massive facade almost fifty metres square, carved from a chunk of mountain and nearly an hour’s hike from the Treasury. There are many trails in Petra but the one to the Monastery is one of the most difficult ones. You can either walk up or ride on the donkeys available for a charge. Once you reach up the top the view from the Monastery is remarkable.
Gazing towards the Horizon from the cliff I could almost imagine a camel caravan descending upon the city. Petra would be a welcoming sight after a long journey through the arid landscape and as I stood atop the mountain, I had visions of the generations who came before me.
After coming down from the Monastery we just wandered around the site and finally after one last photo at 6PM sadly it was time to leave ☹
- Tickets – 1 day = 50JD, 2 days = 55JD, 3 days = 60JD (As of April 2018). Passport is required to purchase tickets. If you buy the Jordan Pass entrance is included.
- Getting there – Wadi Musa, the main hub for Petra is a 4 hour drive from Amman, 2 hours from Aqaba and 1.5 hours from Wadi Rum. There are buses that run from Amman, Aqaba and Wadi Rum to Petra once daily.
- Private taxis are also an affordable option. You could also hire a car and drive yourself there, the roads are good and with English signposting.
- When to go– Avoid visited the site during summer (June – August) as it can get very hot.
Luxury Camping in Mars (Wadi Rum)
Vast, echoing and god-like” – TE Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia). Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk on Mars? Would you like to go but are unsure about the whole one-way ticket thing? Well, Wadi Rum comes pretty damn close and is somewhat more accessible. The Wadi Rum desert stretches 100km north to south with sands shifting in various shades of yellow, orange and red, and rugged sandstone hills jutting out of the desert. It is no surprise that it is the location of a number of well-known films, including Lawrence of Arabia and The Martian.
We spent 1 night in the Wadi Rum night luxury camp. After arriving at the camp in the afternoon we immediately set off for our 4×4 adventure in the desert with the baby strapped to my chest. During the day there are lots of activities which can be done in Wadi Rum. You can hike, scramble up the hills, rock climb, go on a jeep or camel tour or simply sit and enjoy the quietness of this place with a good book and copious amounts of Bedouin tea.
As it had been everywhere the landscape of Wadi Rum was astounding.
Our first stop was the famous ‘’Rock bridge’’. Before the next stop we came across some camels running in the desert where we had to stop and take some photos. Our next stop was It was now time to move onto our next stop, the Khazali Canyon. This is a small but fascinating canyon filled with Nabatean inscriptions dating back to the 4th century BC. One quick final stop at a sand dune and then we were on our way scrambling up some hills for the most amazing sunset, watching the sandstone glow all kinds of different colours.
Finally, back at the camp a delicious Bedouin meal welcomed us accompanied by shishas and a traditional Bedouin song. And finally at night you can sit outside the camp and look up into the sky to see the stars shine brightly and shoot across the dark, clear abyss.
- Wadi Rum can be visited on a day trip from Aqaba or Petra, but do yourself a favour and spend at least 2 days here. You will not regret it.
- When to go: Spring (March/April) or autumn (October/November). Summer can be excessively hot and the winters very cold.
- Getting there – Bus, taxi or hire car. You will get dropped off or need to park your car at the visitors centre and the owner of whichever camp you are staying at will come and pick you up form there.
Floating in Dead Sea
Floating in the Dead Sea is one of the most unique experiences one can have in Jordan. The Dead Sea, named because no life can survive in it, is 430 meters below sea level and the second saltiest body of water in the world. You can’t snorkel or dive in the Dead Sea (plus, there’s no marine life to be seen), nor should you submerge your head underwater. Because of the high rate of evaporation It’s estimated if this carries on at the same rate the Dead Sea could dry up completely by 2050. So we thought better get in there while we could.
Rather than doing a day trip from Amman we opted to stay here for 2 days at the Kempinski resort. We don’t normally stay at a 5 start resort but after a couple of days clambering over rocks and walking miles around Petra we figured we had earnt some luxury.
Finishing breakfast quickly we walked towards the beach. Obviously we had to take turns to go into the sea because we could not take our 10 month old into the sea. The minute I laid back into the water, I could not believe the feeling. I actually felt like I had water wings on my legs and shoulders allowing me to float with ease in the thick waters of the Dead Sea. Sam kicked himself for not bringing a newspaper down so that we could grab that ultra-cheesy tourist shot of us reading the newspaper in the water. But no matter, we still managed to be quite cheesy when it came to grabbing snapshots. We played around in the good old Dead Sea for quite a while until it began to sting our skin. The salt of the Dead Sea is strong and you must be careful not to submerge your face into the water. It will sting your eyes something fierce. If you have a cut of any kind, you will definitely feel it and will not last very long.
After our fun and frolicking, we hit the pool of the hotel for a little bit of pampering. We laid back on the lounge chairs and took in the views of the infinity pools, the muli-level pool, the wading pool and our pool. It was pretty cool being at the Dead Sea. Not only is it an awesome break in your Jordan Adventure to spend a day or two by the sea, it is a major historical destination. It was a refuge for King David, a health resort for Herod the Great and it was used in the mummification process for the ancient Egyptians. This sea has definitely seen its share of history.
And thus our holiday came to an end. Jordan is a progressive country, but it is still a conservative place by Western standards. If you are travelling with a baby (like usJ) with a bit of planning, Jordan is an easy country to travel in. We explored some of the most ancient territories on Earth and loved every second of it. The trip opened my eyes to parts of history that many wouldn’t even consider. My only regret is that we didn’t have more time to see the rest of the country.
Have you visited Jordan? Share your views with us…