Everything You Need to Know to Plan Your Next Trip to… Jordan

Sharing its borders with some of the media-portrayed, “most violent” countries in the Middle East, Jordan is often mislabeled and pre-judged. As I shared the excitement of my first solo trip, I was regularly met with the question, “You’re going there by yourself?” Yes, I was, and after visiting I can tell you that I’ve never felt safer while traveling. Jordan is a beautiful country with something to satisfy every travel appetite and a must visit destination for travelers. Keep reading for tips on planning your next trip to Jordan.

Entry: You will need a visa to travel to Jordan, but it’s easy to get on arrival. To make things easier and more cost effective, I would recommend getting the Jordan pass prior to arrival. The most basic Jordan pass is 70 JOD. This waives your visa fee and allows one entry into Petra and free entry to over 50 sites throughout Jordan. Even if you only go to Petra, it basically pays for itself (Petra is pretty expensive-—see below for more detail). The best part I found about the Jordan pass is the separate line for Jordan pass holders at customs in Jordan. The line was MUCH shorter than the other lines. Overall customs in Jordan was such a breeze and probably one of the only countries I have traveled where I didn’t need to fill out a customs form upon entry.

Language: Jordan’s official language is Arabic. While many in the tourism industry have at least a basic understanding of English, it wasn’t perfect and a lot got lost in translation. Learn a few key Arabic phrases and you’ll be good to go!

Weather: Summers in Jordan can be unbearably hot. I, however, traveled to Jordan in November and found the fall temperatures to be quite cool. If you are traveling in the fall, expect to wear a jacket in the capital city of Amman and in Petra. The Dead Sea region and Aqaba will tend to be warmer with temperatures around 80°. Lastly, I almost cancelled my trip because of extreme flooding. With that said, it does rain so be sure to check the weather before you go.

Money: The Jordanian Dinar, often referred to as the JOD, is stronger than the U.S. Dollar so things proved quite expensive. If my memory serves me correctly, I got $700 USD changed over and only got a little more than $500 JOD in return. Everything in Jordan seems to be overpriced given the strength of the JOD.

Transportation: The biggest tip I will say as a solo traveler or really any traveler going somewhere like Jordan where cabs aren’t always plentiful outside of the capital is to plan for transportation ahead of time. Whether you rent a car (driving is on the left side of the car but can be a bit scary as few actually maintain their lane) or hire a driver (I can provide a fantastic recommendation, let me know). Your hotel can always call for a cab but a bit of advanced planning is helpful here.

While traveling, make sure you watch the road because your driver likely isn’t. Many of the roads I traveled in Jordan are one lane. I can’t tell you how nerve-racking it is for your driver to be looking at his phone and texting while passing a car with a truck coming head-on! I say this to say, texting and driving is a thing. Every single driver I had was distracted by the phone. Just be aware!

Wifi: I never had an issue with connectivity while in Jordan. All of my hotels had perfect internet speeds. Even better… many taxis have WiFi so while you are making the 3 hour trek from the airport in Amman to Petra you can surf the internet and communicate with friends and family.

PETRA

Entry: If you can remember nothing else from this post, remember this: get to Petra early, early, early! Petra opens at 6 a.m. and by 8 a.m., Petra is swarmed with tour buses of day trippers who have come in from Amman or Israel. All of Petra’s most famous sites will be flooded with people trying to get the perfect shot. Who wants to be around for that? Getting an early start allows you to feel like you have the entire lost city to yourself and you can take your time to soak it all in (and the sunrise reflecting perfectly off of each structure doesn’t hurt either).

Staying overnight in Petra is the best way to guarantee an early start. I stayed at the Movenpick Petra which is literally at the entrance to Petra. I kid you not, you can’t get any closer. The Visitor’s Center is the starting point for any visit. There you can grab a map in over 10 different languages and also arrange a guide. Since I had the Jordan pass I gained free entry into Petra and was able to get right in.

Guides: After entering Petra, you will be approached by many Bedouin men offering to serve as your guide. Go with your gut in selecting the right guide, but definitely get a guide. Guides at Petra (when not arranged at the Visitor’s Center) are about 40 JOD- 50 JOD plus an expected 15-20 JOD tip. Your Bedouin guide will know the terrain far better than you could ever figure out on a map alone. Remember, Petra is massive and with the poor signage, you are bound to get lost. My guide was FANTASTIC and I could not have seen Petra any other way (especially with just a day to cover it all). My guide explained everything, allowed me to stop when I got tired or wanted to enjoy the view, knew secret paths, served as my photog and literally took my hand and helped to guide me along the rocky, sandy terrain of Petra.

What to Wear: Given the sandy and rocky terrain, Petra can be quite hard to conquer if you aren’t properly dressed. First, wear solid hiking boots or sneakers with a good grip. Do not wear sandals. If nothing else you need a sturdy shoe that you don’t care about ruining with sand… or animal feces.

Dress in light layers and wear a hat and sunscreen no matter the weather. I went in the fall and thought that because the high for the day was about 59° F, the sun wouldn’t be too terrible. I could not have been more wrong. Obviously, the higher we got, the stronger the sun. The morning was quite cool so my jacket came in handy but by the end of the day I wanted to throw my jacket from the top of the High Place.

Animals: Remember that piece about animal feces? Yeah, it’s there. It’s everywhere. I’m sure my eyes were glued to the ground during the hike to avoid the piles of feces seemingly covering every square inch of land. If you are fearful of loose animals, I would caution you. Dogs and cats followed us hoping we would toss a scrap their way and even the angered, “Go away” that was shouted at them in Arabic failed to work. Goats and donkeys casually walked around as horses and camels were guided by their owners.

Note: Given the arduous hikes and the expansiveness of this world wonder, animals here are often used as tourist transportation. I chose not to incorporate animals as transportation in my visit to Petra given all that I’d read on animal mistreatment there. Do a bit of research before you go and make the right decision for yourself.

Views: Dating back to 4th or 5th B.C., walking through Petra feels like a journey into a land before time. Around every corner, Petra unveils a new wonder carved in pink sandstone and it has the uncanny ability to capture your spirit and never let go. From the weathered carvings of animals and people to the sandstone tombs naturally painted with hues of purple, tan and orange that would make the most beautiful of sunset envious, you are sure to be entranced.

To enter Petra, you will walk through a narrow, crack-liked passageway that could leave you staring up at the sky-high, vertical walls surrounding you for hours until you remember that the pièce de résistance has yet to be revealed… the Treasury. A perfectly preserved sandstone temple, the Treasury certainly leaves no question as to why it is the face of Petra.

After you leave the Treasury, you will revel in the beauty of endless tombs, a 4000 spectator theatre, a church and temples each one more jaw-dropping than the next. So many tourists miss out on the full splendor of Petra because they come to see the Treasury and then bounce. But Petra keeps a secret that you have to work pretty hard to get… the Monastery. This bigger cousin of the Treasury really makes you work hard and by hard I mean a roughly 800 jagged stair climb.

With each step I grew more weary but I knew I had a goal and had come too far to miss out on this view. Along the way to the Monastery, many Bedouin women welcome you to sit with them and enjoy conversation and tea. Their hospitality was refreshing and the tea is perfectly sweetened and will surely be the best cup you’ve ever tasted. After you make your way to the Monastery, it is all downhill from there… literally.

Before you leave Petra, make the roughly 30-45 minute hike to the High Place of Sacrifice. From there, you can look over and take in all of Petra. Sit on the edge and soak in the preciousness of the once in a lifetime moment that you are experiencing.

Getting out: From 6:00 a.m. to a little after noon, I had hiked for over 10 miles! I wanted to be airlifted out of there. The exhaustion could not be explained. After hiking all day I wanted nothing more than to pass out on my hotel bed. This is where a nearby hotel comes in handy.

If you don’t have a hotel in Petra, take the King’s Highway out. If you are paying for a cab, this route tends to be about 10 JOD more than the alternate but it is oh so worth it. The Highway offers the most spectacular views of tall, rocky cliffs and deep, sandy valleys. With each hairpin turn I held my breath but was mesmerized at how effortlessly beautiful the landscape was.

DEAD SEA

Getting in: On the way to the Dead Sea via the King’s Highway, you encounter some of the most breathtaking views imaginable with rocky, brown cliffs to one side and expansive cobalt blue sea views to the other. Stop at an overpass along the way and take in the tranquil waters and the salt formations that lie below.

Relax: So many people come to the Dead Sea for just a few hours. For centuries, the healing properties of the Dead Sea were coveted by all who were able to experience its splendor. Why rush the moment on a lackluster beach? Treat yourself! 5-star hotels at the Dead Sea are incredibly affordable and you can stay overnight, take your time, and enjoy a spa day complete with a Dead Sea salt scrub or a Dead Sea mud facial! The relaxation will be much needed after a strenuous hike at Petra.

What to know: As the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea is literally dead. There is no living plant or animal life and with such a high saline content, you are able to kick up your heels, let yourself go and float which makes a visit here such a bucket list experience.

As you prepare to immerse your body in the waters of the Dead Sea, here are a few things to remember:

  • You are not Michael Phelps. This is not the place to test out your breaststroke. The salt water will get in your eyes and sting like you’ve never experienced before. It is almost impossible to swim in the Dead Sea so just don’t take the chance.
  • Try not to shave several days before entering the Dead Sea. The small cuts from the razor will cause your skin to burn uncontrollably which doesn’t make for a pleasant experience. 
  • Take off all jewelry. I believe 24K gold is the only type of metal that will not tarnish (don’t quote me), but your best bet is to just remove it all. 
  • The salt is SHARP! It forms in crystals where the beach meets the Dead Sea and makes it so incredibly painful to actually walk into the Dead Sea. Throw on some water shoes and your feet will thank you. 
  • If you forget sunscreen, it won’t be the end of the world. Being at the lowest point on earth, the UV rays are at their weakest. 
  • If you plan to wear white… Don’t. The Dead Sea mud is impossible to get out even after a wash. No need to ruin your favorite bathing suit.

I still don’t know if the Dead Sea is the fountain of youth or the cure for eczema but one thing is for sure, your skin will be buttery soft and glowing after even just one dip. Here is the recipe for renewed and rejuvenated skin: Float in the Dead Sea for 10 minutes, apply mud on your skin for 15 minutes while baking in the sun, rinse off in the Dead Sea and then shower it all away. You will be the envy of all of your friends back home.

Getting out: The Dead Sea is perfectly located about an hour from the the city center of Amman and an hour from the airport (note the airport in Amman is about an hour away from the city center so the Dead Sea is equidistant). If you are flying into Amman you can hit up the Dead Sea on your way out and if you have an extra day, you can explore the city center of Amman. Either way, you can’t go wrong. 

AMMAN

Getting around: For the first time in Jordan, I was able to use Uber and it was so much cheaper than trying to arrange a car. Caveat: many Uber drivers don’t speak English well and the app may not always work to give them the destination. I had a driver pick me up, drive around the block, and take me right back to my hotel because he needed to translate where I was going. 

Taxis are plentiful on the street and they wait outside of the major tourist points in Amman so transportation will likely not be an issue. Also, it is very easy to negotiate a good daily rate for many taxi drivers. 

Views: I say this with almost every city I visit but the beauty of Amman truly can’t be captured in a photo. Amman, the capital city of Jordan, is a city built on seven hills which captures the essence of modernity combined with old-world charm.

The Amman Citadel (free entry if you have the Jordan Pass) sits atop the highest of the seven hills and offers breathtaking views of the entire city of Amman. If the Citadel could offer nothing more, the views alone are worth the visit but the Citadel is a wonderland that you could spend hours getting lost in. Like everything else in Jordan, the ruins of the Citadel feel as though you’ve stepped back into time.

After leaving the Citadel, spend some time exploring Amman by foot admiring all of the little shops and searching for the perfect meal (hint: kanafeh and falafel).

Getting out: While Uber is easy to get here, your driver is not allowed to go to the airport. You will most likely have to sit in the front seat and pretend you are a distant cousin.

There is an airport security checkpoint about a mile away from the airport that is very reminiscent of a toll booth. Here, security not only searches the interior of the car but also the trunk. If you are deemed suspicious (like I was, clearly), you get pulled to an empty, non-descript building with one x-ray machine and an ununiformed guard, whose English is limited, who will go through and scrutinize every single item in your bag. The entire situation can be extremely intimidating and imagine how difficult it can be playing charades to explain the facial roller and luggage straps that you’ve packed in your carry on. Your best bet here is to just make sure you save plenty of time in case you get pulled.

Jordan was truly a breath-taking experience from start to finish and it blew every expectation I had out of the water. I could not have imagined a better solo trip and I can’t wait to return.

xoxo,

Jordan 

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