Arriving in Jordan was a bit of a shock.
Due to the upfront costs of things (Visa's, Petra and hotels), which were much more expensive than I'd hoped, I assumed that Jordan was just another oil rich Arab country, like the UAE or Saudi Arabia.
We arrived at Amman airport at midnight, so after getting our bags and the rental car, we didn't leave the airport till 2am. From the airport we drove to Madaba, one of the closest towns just to get some rest in a hotel. Now, no country probably looks its best at 2am but we were left wondering if we'd landed in the right country. The road conditions were beyond terrible, most of the houses were dilapidated, there were stray dogs chasing the car down the streets and there were a few bums shuffling about.
So it turns out Jordan is in fact quite a poor country, which made me wonder where all the money from tourism goes. The exchange rate for us was 1:1 which made the calculations very easy. Visas are £40, on arrival, which we got for the kids as they get free entrance to attractions, whereas we got Jordan passes
include the visa and entrance to many of the country's attractions. The pass is about £80 (with fees), which includes a 2 day visit to Petra. As a two day entrance ticket to Petra is £55 on its own you'll save money, even if that's all you did. Of course, there are all the other attractions that now no longer need an entrance ticket if you're a pass holder so they ended up being quite a bargain, probably the only bargain we found in our entire visit.
After a night in Madaba, we packed up our things and headed towards the Dead Sea. When planning this trip, the Dead Sea was high on the list of things to see, and naively I thought we could just go there, have a swim and continue on, but that's not the case. Due to the high salinity, you need to be able to wash the salt off afterwards with fresh water. After some research it appeared that there isn't any fresh water showers apart from at the organised beaches which you have to pay to visit. It was hard to pin down a price online but it looked to be around £20
each, and then you'd have to pay for any extras, like towels or dead sea mud. They also had some terrible reviews regarding cleanliness. I couldn't find a price for kids but even if they were free it was still £40 just to visit a beach.
With this in mind we decided to stump up the big money and stay one night in one of the luxury resorts which have their own private beaches, multitude of swimming pools, and of course really nice rooms. Probably only cost us a little more than staying locally in a hotel and visiting the public beach. Also the breakfast was amazing.
The Dead Sea was a great experience. It's very strange being so bouyant. Swimming on your front is virtually impossible as it's difficult to keep your face out of the water, which believe me, you don't want to put your face in the water.
When you first enter the water you soon notice any small cuts or abrasions you didn't realise were there as they sting like crazy and after a while it all starts to get a bit itchy. You certainly don't want to shave before getting in. If
you go deep enough and actually manage to get your legs down vertical you can 'tread water' without moving a muscle. You literally can't sink! Such an interesting and fun experience. It was also great covering ourselves with the Dead Sea mud, can't say I could feel any rejuvenating properties though.
After our VERY comfortable night at the Dead Sea resort. We jumped in the car and headed further south to Wadi Musa, the town that services Petra. As the boys weren't really sure what we were going to see in Petra, we decided to watch Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as there is a scene with the treasury in it. Needless to say, this got the boys very excited as they loved the movie. It also meant they were singing the theme song for the remainder of the trip.
The weather for our first day in Petra was perfect. The sky was clear, the sun was shining and it wasn't too hot. We dragged ourselves out of bed at 5am so we could get to the visitors centre for 6am when it opened. The car park wasn't open yet so we abandoned the car wherever we
could, this wasn’t a problem as road rules in Jordan are non existent.
We the went through the gate just before 6 with a couple of other people and started the trek to the entrance of the Siq, the giant buttcrack, as the kids so affectionately named it. the Siq is a very narrow canyon that leads into the city of Petra.
It's a fairly long walk though the Siq before you're greeted with the iconic view of the Treasury. This is the view that captures everyone's attention in every guidebook and photo of Petra. The joy of seeing it at this time was that we were with only a handful of other people. That early in the morning there are no touts, no people dressed up in silly costumes parading around for photos, no camels, donkey or horses carting tourists about and of course very few tourists at all. We shared the experience with about 8 people and a sleeping dog.
The treasury is an incredible sight and the best part, is that it's just the start. Beyond the treasury the city of Petra opens up with plenty more to explore. The kids had an absolute
blast running all over the place exploring all the carved monuments and caves, singing the Indiana theme song the whole time.
After exploring the Street of Facades and the Theatre, we made our way up to the Royal Tombs. Once at the end we had a decision to make, we had another day to explore Petra, so we knew we wanted to save the back half of Petra with the walk up to the Monastery for the following day, so what to do with the remainder of this one. We had a choice to do the walk up to the High Place of Sacrifice or the Al Khubtha trail. As we were at the Royal Tombs, which is the start of the Al Khubtha trail and the end of the trail gives incredible views of the Treasury from above we decided to do that one.
The start of the trail is an arduous climb all the way up. There are some well maintained stairs all the way so it wasn't a difficult climb, just exhausting. Of course, the kids just ran up them, reaching the top with apparently minimal effort. They weren't even sweating in the hot mid
morning sun either. What I would give for that energy, even just for a couple of hours.
As it was still pretty early, the trail was empty, and once at the top we were greeted with incredible views of the Street of Facades and the Theatre. Conveniently there was a Beduin tea shop set up to enjoy some refreshments. The young guy running the shop was lovely so it was nice to sit, chat, sip sage tea and enjoy the view for a while before continuing on...
From the tea tent the trail became less obvious, wasn't marked and was slightly downhill. I had read on the net that we should look for the red rocks as that's where the treasury is, so that's where we headed. Once at the end, we were greeted by the most incredible top down view of the treasury, with a very convenient tea tent to sit down and enjoy it from. It was a great trail and I recommend it if you want a view of the Treasury not normally seen.
After the trail, we headed back down through the city and back to the visitors centre as we were going
to see the remainder the following day. We ended up back at the Treasury for 1pm and the difference was astonishing. The sun was now shining on it which made it look stunning, but there was now a circus in front of it. Guys strolling around in Roman costumes, people riding camels, horses and carts rushing about and hordes of people. It was very different to how it had been 7 hours earlier. It made me glad that we'd made the effort to get out of bed, miss breakfast and head out so early.
We weren’t finished with Petra for the day though. After spending the rest of the afternoon at the hotel and eating dinner we headed back to the visitors centre to join the ‘Petra by Night’ tour. This involves walking though the Siq again in the dark with it beautifully lit by candles before reaching the Treasury also illuminated by the warm glow of hundreds of candles. This experience was indeed beautiful to look at in the beginning, but over time the area kept filling up with more and more people who wouldn’t shut up so it rapidly lost its charm. Sadly they don’t limit the
amount of tickets so it ended up being really packed with people. In the end we got fed up and left early, which had the benefit of us walking back though the beautifully lit Siq in relative peace and quiet as almost everyone was still at the Treasury.
the following day we decided to do the opposite and head to the back of Petra in the early afternoon. This way we would avoid the midday sun on our walk up to Ad Deir, (the Monastery). To save ourselves the walk all the way from the visitors centre to the start of the walk up to the Monastery we drove to Uum Sayhoun, a small village not far from Wadi Musa, the town that serves Petra. There is a rarely used access road that leads down into Petra from there which if you already have tickets (or a Jordan Pass) you can use. It's a easy walk down on a well maintained tarmac road, and it means the first part of the walk to the start of the Ad Deir trail is only about 2km as opposed to 4km. Every Km counts if you have little legs.
climb up to the Monastery was well marked and well trodden, with maintained steps all the way. It was exhausting and there were plenty of other people riding donkeys to the top. We vowed not to ride any of the animals before we’d even got here as we were warned that they weren’t very well treated. The previous day Nate witnessed one eat a plastic bag, so he was dead against riding one. In his mind, if people weren’t riding them, they’d be enjoying themselves out in a field somewhere eating grass like they’re supposed to. I doubt that would be the case but it’s hard to argue with that reasoning as I’m sure there are better ways to live than carrying lazy tourists up mountains all day in the desert heat.
Once at the top we were greeted with the beautiful sight of the Monastery, a sight to match that of the Treasury, it just requires a lot more effort to see it. After admiring the Monastery for a while we made our way back down the trail to explore the other areas of Petra nearby before saying goodbye to one of the New 7 Wonders and walking
the steep road back to the car.
Petra is simply incredible and everything I hoped it would be, I’m glad we decided to do it over two days as it meant we got to see most of it at a much more leasurely pace and could stop to enjoy the moment whenever we wanted. I’m also glad we started early on the first day, avoiding the crowds and seeing the Treasury in peace.
From Petra we drove south to Aqaba. We were staying on the southern beaches as our only plans were to snorkel while here. We’ve not been to the Red Sea before, the beaches weren't particularly clean but the water clarity was superb and the variety of life on the reef was incredible.
After Aqaba we headed over to Wadi Rum as we were staying in a Bedouin camp for a night. We checked in at the visitors centre, left the car and jumped in the back of pick up truck organised by the camp. We checked into the camp, and then jumped back into the pick up once again to explore Wadi Rum for a few hours and watch the sunset.
was beautiful and it’s easy to see why it has served as the backdrop for numerous films set on Mars. The boys especially loved standing in the back of the truck while we barreled around the desert at great speed. The camp also provided what was probably the only memorable meal we had while in Jordan, a traditional meal baked in the ground, absolutely delicious.
After Wadi Rum we drove all the way north to the capital Amman, which was a fairly non descript modern city so we spent a day slightly further north in the scorching sun exploring the Roman ruins at Jerash which were spectacular. After Jerash our time in Jordan came to an end.
We have mixed feelings about the country, its sights are superb and the landscape of Wadi Rum was spectacular, but we found the level of hospitality lacking. There were exceptions of course, but It seemed that the people were just trying to extract as much money from us as possible with the minimum amount of effort. Everything was really expensive and the food was also overpriced and non-memorable. I think this was further highlighted by the fact that we’d come from
Turkey which was the exact opposite, people couldn’t have been nicer and the food was incredible.
I’m glad we visited, Petra is a sight to behold, but I doubt we’ll be back.
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