There are some things a first time visitor to a special place
must see. Likewise there are certain things that are important
to know when venturing into a strange environment. Go with an
open mind and avoid stereotypes. You will have a much more
enjoyable time and learn more about the culture.
For my first visit to
Jordan, here are my lists of the most important “Must See” and
“Must Know” places and things.
What you must know
I was surprised to find English so
commonly spoken. Had I rented a car and traveled on my own, I
would have been very comfortable driving and visiting
attractions, shops and lodgings as most signs are in both
languages. All of the people I met whether with the group or
alone were friendly and welcoming.
One incident brings that into
focus clearly. I had brought a power adaptor and charger but it
went bad. I needed a replacement. This was in Petra where we
were staying at a Movenpick Hotel just across the street from
the site. The street was lined with small shops much like large
flea market stalls. I walked into any that looked like they
might sell an adaptor/charger. The first three I visited, the
owners were friendly but did not have any. One told me where I
could get one in town and offered to call a cab for me. Finally
in the fourth, the owner led me to where he had several adaptors
plugged in and offered to charge my devices while I shopped or
went back to the hotel. I explained that I really needed to buy
a charger. He agreed to sell me his charger at seven dinars
($10) and I was very happy. I would have paid at least that had
I ventured into town to buy one. I wondered how many American
shopkeepers would have been so accommodating to a strange
tourist who probably would never be around to visit their shop
When I told friends and family I was
going to Jordan, most replied with “Aren’t you afraid?” and
“Isn’t it dangerous there?”
After seeing the security and walking the streets of the
cities and towns, sometimes alone, I can answer truthfully, “I
felt safer there then a in many American cities I have visited.
The level of security at all hotels is similar to our
courthouse security. When we entered, we put all of our luggage
and handbags on am x-ray screener each time we entered a hotel.
The attendants were always courteous and polite but I am sure
they were vigilant for any signs of danger.
As our bus made its way across the country, which is about
the size of Indiana, there were several points where we stopped
and our guide and driver were checked by security. Our guide,
Mohammed, told us this is normal and often he welcomed it as it
helped get us to places he was taking us by a more direct route.
He did tell us we were not allowed to take pictures at these
points or of any policemen.
As you probably surmised from my
misadventure with my adaptor, the electric voltage is different
in Jordan than in the U.S. We operate on a 120 volt system so
our chargers and small appliances are set for that. In Jordan,
220 voltage in the norm. If you ever crossed a small appliance
with your 220 AC or electric stove4 or dryer, you know what
happens. POW! The appliance is burned out and will not work.
Many of the hotels in Jordan recognize this and have special 120
plugs but for those that don’t, buy a good charger and adaptor
for charging your cell phones and tablets there. Otherwise you
will be in the same situation I was and my kindly shop owner may
not have replaced his charger so he can sell it to you.
Speaking of buying things, the local
markets, called souks, are where you get the best bargains.
Aqaba is a duty free
zone, which means shopping in Aqaba at any of the shops is
cheaper than the rest of the country. The souk there seems to
have everything, clothing, jewelry, Dead Sea products, produce,
spices and anything you might imagine.
We visited the
stall of a spice merchant who gave us a taste of almost all of
his products and then served us tea. They are open late at night
too. The spice merchant said he would be open until 11pm.
One thing not commonly available, at
least in public rest rooms, is toilet paper, I got in the habit
of putting a few tissue in my pocket each day. In some there are attendants who will hand you a few
sheets but in many of the restrooms there is no attendant or
paper. Almost all
of the rest rooms have a type of shower spray attached to the
toilet as a sort of portable bidet. I leave it to your
imagination as to how to use the sprayer. The image below is not
in a hotel but a public toilet.
One of the most important things to
remember is you are in the desert. You must drink water
frequently to avoid dehydration.
A visit to Jordan reminded me of how
wasteful most of us are about energy.
Here you see a lot more
solar panels than back home. Also, in the hotels I stayed at all
had the lights set so you had to insert you room card to have
them on. That way the hotel insures that when you leave the
room, energy is not being wasted by lights left on.
Another fact of the conservatives is the
lack of ice. It is a bit of culture shock to find no ice bucket
in your room and an ice machine on every floor. They are not on
any floor here.
Even in nice restaurants, ice is not commonly served. If you get
a soft drink, specify “with ice.” I thought I would have iced
tea one night. Apparently it is not common here even though the
delicious Bedouin tea would make a great sweet tea to please any
Southerner. I finally gave up after waiting about 15 minutes and
being told it would have to be ordered special from the bar
downstairs. I just switched to a Coke Cola with ice which I got
in just a few minutes. Should have just ordered a glass of ice
and a cup of tea and made my own.
Another beverage common here but viewed differently in
some parts of Jordan is wine. Some of us like to have their glass
of wine with dinner. In Amman and bigger cities, most
restaurants will have it. In fact there is even a great winery
in Jordan, St. Georges, but
when you travel to the southern part of Jordan, alcohol is less
available so it you go there bring you own bottle.
A minor thing that may be hard to get
use to is no clock radio in your hotel room. I quit wearing a
watch back when cell phones became common. Waking up at night, I
am used to looking at the clock radio to see if it is almost
time to get up. If you need that reassurance, buy a cheap
luminous dial watch or portable clock for your bedside so you
won’t have to turn you phone on to see the time.
As you ride out of big cities like Amman
into the desert, you begin to see simple black cloth tents and
families going about everyday life in what looks like homeless
camps to us. These people are not homeless, they are the
Bedouins. As our guide pointed out they are not poor either. He
reminded us that each sheep is worth at least 140 JD (about
($200.) most of these tents are surrounded by hundreds of sheep.
Do the math.
Naturally you want to take photos of
local people to remember you trip. However out of respect for
local customs, always ask before you take pictures of women.
As I will talk about later, Jordan’s
deserts are fabulous, particularly Wadi Rum but do not venture
into this roadlesss area without a guide.
Clothing is something people traveling
to Jordan always are concerned about. As long as you dress
conservatively, there is on one to tell you women must cover
their hair or anything like that. Clothing that is appropriate
anywhere else is fine here. It is a good idea to pack clothing
that will have multiple uses. My favorite garment was my cargo
pants because of all the pockets so I could carry back up camera
batteries and media cards. Also a good place to carry your cell
phone. The photo opportunities are a once-in-a-lifetime so I
suggest a real camera as well as the cell phone. You will want
some of these photos to be print quality.
One point, if you plan to visit the Dead Sea, some type
of water shoes are needed. The beach is filled with small
pebbles and the sea itself has rocks and sharp objects. Flip
flops will not stay on in the water, you need something that
grips the foot.
Things you must see in
There are so many fantastic things to see and do I am not
going to try to rank them in any order. All are experiences you
will never forget. I’m just going to give you the highlights,
Later there will be lots more about these places.
Roman Ruins at Jarash
step back to a city built in
331 BC by
Alexander the Great or one of his generals. The Romans conquered
the Greeks and rebuilt the city to their own specifications.
Hadrian’s Arch was built in 129 BC in honor of the
popular emperor’s visit. But even earlier than the city’s
founding you see traces of what was once a Neolithic city.
Mohammed, our guide, showed us a structure where we could
see a difference in the stone work. The latest, top part of the
wall was large stones, Roman construction, below was a section
of smaller cut stone, the Greek style. Beneath that was an even
different style of stone dated back to an earlier Arab people
who had begun the original wall.
There is so much to see
here: the Hippodrome, Temple of Artemis and Zeus, a mosaic still
visible in the ruins of a Byzantine church, Nymphaeum,
Colonnaded streets and all so well-preserved you can see detail
in the stonework and imagine the uses of the structures.
The citadel is the site of
ancient city of Rabbath-Ammon. It towers on the highest hill
over modern Amman and was occupied since the Bronze Age, around
720 AD. It’s not as extensive as Jerash but still
fascinating. It shows a different cultural influence although
there is a lot of Rome there also. The two highlights are the
Temple of Hercules and the Ummayad Palace.
There is a
bit of controversy about the Temple of Hercules. No inscription
or stature was found originally so it was a guess as to which
god the temple honored. After it was decided to name it for
Hercules, several fingers of a carved stone hand was uncovered.
Some say the hand appears feminine. Whoever the hand represented
was probably the temple’s patron. It’s displayed in front of the
National Archaeological Museum so you can decide what you think;
male or female god?
Cistern shows the knowledge these people had of construction. It
is an enormous circular holding pit built of stone with steps
leading down to the bottom. It supplied water to the palace and
the adjourning homes. The palace was home to the governor of
Amman. It only lasted a few years and was destroyed by an
earthquake in 749 AD and never fully rebuilt. The dome was
cleverly reconstructed making it look pre-earthquake.
St George’s Church is a Greek
Orthodox Church in Madaba. It
might not be worth driving the 30 miles southwest from Amman
except for one thing, its mosaic map of the Biblical world as it
was known by the Byzantines. You have to see the detail of this
mosaic to realize the craftsmanship to assemble it.
inhabitants were removing old stones to build modern structures
in 1864 when they found it. Originally
the complete map had 157 Greek captions of major biblical sites
across the Middle East and dates back to 560 AD making it the
oldest map of the Holy Land. Archeologists estimate that it once
contained more than 2 million pieces. Sadly when new churches
were constructed over the old ruins, much was lost and today
only about a third of the map remains. It is still a treasure
that has been vital for scholars trying to reconstruct the
original layout of Jerusalem prior to its destruction in 70 AD.
have been excavated in Madaba giving it the name “City of
One of the most unforgettable passages in
the Old Testament is Deuteronomy 34:1 where Moses went to the
top of Mount Nebo and viewed the Promised Land. Religious or
otherwise, it is a thrill to stand in that spot and look over
the same scene Moses saw. You have to squint and use your
imagination a bit to blot out the modern world but it’s a place
you need to visit in Jordan.
There are several mosaics
here also. One is called the Old Baptistery mosaic from 531 AD
which was preserved when another was laid over it just a few
decades later in 597 AD. The older mosaic was undiscovered for
1,400 years and uncovered in 1976.
A museum and several sculptures onsite give more definition
to the site.
It was time to get into the ecology of
this country. That’s what Feynan Eco Lodge. a part of The Royal
Society for the Conservation of Nature, does in spades. Set in
the middle of the harsh beauty of Wadi Dana. You reach it by
four wheel drive or hiking in only. And once there you immerse
yourself in a solar powered sustainable lifestyle. It’s rated as
one of the top 25 ecolodges in the world by National Geographic
Traveler. I’m just giving you a taste as there is much (more
While at the lodge, one of the opportunities is the
Bedouin Experience. This is your chance to learn the culture of
the Bedouin people as a guest in their home. This is something
you cannot get from a book or film. (more
Wadi Rum is known as the Valley of the Moon for landscape so
strange it might well be on some unknown satellite.
We ventured out into it
in rugged four-wheel drive pickups with Bedouin guides who were
born to this landscape. Once off the road, we faced unending
sand punctuated by strangely eroded mountains that seemed older
Lawrence of Arabia called it “Vast, echoing
and Godlike.” We spent
the four hours in this time-eroded paradise. It is so untouched
by 21th century life, until you see another tiny pickup weaving
its trail through unmarked sand, you feel as if you moved back
in time. This land has not changed much since Biblical times.
We found ancient “signposts” carved into the rock written
in Aramaic, the language of Christ. It was directions to
Nabataeans and Greek caravans that are indecipherable to present
day desert trekkers. We discovered carved rock bridges over only
air, ruins of a stone house where Lawrence sheltered and plotted
the attack on Aqaba and a Bedouin tent filled with souvenirs and
a cat where we were welcomed with sweet Bedouin tea.
We spent the night sleeping in black goat hair Bedouin tents
sheltered by a circle of mountains from the cold that descends
on the desert like a blanket once the sun sets.
When morning arrived. I sipped a cup of Bedouin tea.
Others enjoyed the
strong coffee and mounted our camels for the ride back to the
main camp and breakfast. They kneel while you mount and if smart
grip both of the wooden horns mounted in front and back of the
saddles. Mine almost unseated me when he (or she) rose hind feet
first tossing me forward. Then he rose on the front legs tossing
me back into position.
I can only say a
camel ride through the desert is vital to understanding the
culture. It is something I am glad I did but do not care to
repeat too often. We rode for 45 minutes. Long enough to become
more accustomed to the gait and to realize I did not want to do
this all day long as Bedouins do.
you leave the dessert to travel to Aqaba, you are seeing
Jordan’s other extreme. It’s Jordan’s only entrance to the Red
Sea and its only viable port. For the visitor, it’s a beach
paradise where you can rent a yacht and venture out to dive,
snorkel or swim the turquoise water.
Seafood is plentiful and fresh here. We dined on a trout
our captain caught as we cruised still in sight of Jordan and
viewing the shores of Israel and Egypt on our opposite side.
You can’t drown in the Dead Sea. You can’t
swim in it either. I tried to turn face downward and swim but no
luck. The weight of
your posterior keeps you floating on your back. Trying to stand
is a struggle. I kicked very hard to get my feet down below
water level and force them to the bottom to stand. (more
salted like a herring, I came back to shore and smeared myself
with the black mud from the sea bottom. Attendants will bring it
to you on the beach or you can struggle back up the steps top
where a central supply is kept. After letting it dry in the sun
for about 20 minutes, I hobbled back into the sea. I had not
known to bring water shoes with me and the beach and sea bottom
is covered with stones. I washed as much as possible off without
getting the water in my eyes. That’s a big no-no as it is so
salty it could damage the eye if not washout with fresh water at
once. Then up the steps to the shower and rinsed off the remains
suddenly I felt 10 years younger. (You can choose to believe
that or not.)
“I'm only going over home. I know dark
clouds will gather 'round me, I know my way is rough and steep;
And beautiful fields lie just before me…” How often had I sung
those words without giving thought to the actual river? Here
standing on the shores of the Jordan River I understood those
words have a real meaning as well as a metaphorical one. We
drove through arid desert land; the lowest spot on earth on one
side and rugged eroded mountains on the other side of the
highway. You can look at it as a religious experience or an
archeological site. You don’t have to be a religious fanatic to
appreciate this site.
As we drove to the site, our guide
explained that 2,000 years ago the river was much wider than it
is today. Excavation on the site is recent, 1996, because of the
war between Jordan and Israel. We entered the site and parked.
When we walked back to the site of an ancient church, our guide
explained some unusual facts about this church. “There were a
couple of churches with a unique design was built in the late
fifth century by the Romans. The question was why people would
back in the fifth century build a church in the middle of
nowhere. The church we found had a unique design. There was a
back door behind the altar where you step out where the river
was then. This church is considered to be the actual site of
Jesus Christ’s baptism.”
The pool of
water behind the church is several yards back from the river’s
edge today. We gazed in wonder at the small pool. Then we walked
out the river. It was narrow. We could see the Israeli side. We
put our feet into that water. On the Israeli side there was a
baptism in progress. Naturally, I had to fill a small bottle
from the baptismal fount placed on the pavilion so I could bring
a little bit of the Jordan River home with me.
beautiful churches of varying denominations set back a short
distance from the actual river site. One being built by the
Roman Catholic Church, with a gold domed roofline, promises to be a
beauty worthy of the site.
of Wadi Mujib is another of the protected reserves in Jordan. It
is located in the mountains just east of the Dead Sea. We drove
by on the highway and got a brief look. Enough to know it is a
place you want to visit. The landscape is so mountainous on the
east and the water of the Dead Sea way down on the west. The
canyon just cuts sharply through the mountains. Where we parked
on the seaside, we could see a strange pillow like stone column.
Our guide told us that legends say this is Lot’s wife. He also
said that archeological records of Sodom and Gomorra’s actual
locations would make that improbable but the column does look
like a pillar of salt so maybe…
For the more adventurous, the canyon is a famous hiking area
filled with wildlife. There is a station in the reserve that is
working to breed and return to the wild the native Nubian ibex,
a large mountain goat with curved horns, which is threatened in
the wild due to hunting.
Walking between the narrow walls of the Siq, I
knew soon I would reach the Treasury but when our guide led us
over and had us look at a shape in canyon wall then told us to
turn, I was not prepared for the sight that was framed by the
canyon walls. The rose red beauty took my breath away.
The Treasury is the most magnificent and best preserved of the
buildings thanks to its surrounding mountain walls. When you
gaze at it you understand why Petra is often called The Rose Red
City. The stone has a pinkish cast that makes it even more
The Urn Tomb, perched high on the
mountainside, is one of the Royal Tombs. Some archeologists
believe this is the tomb of Nabataean King Malchus II who died
in 70 AD. Others think it is the tomb of King Aretas IV. No
matter who is the resident, the structure is magnificent not
only for its elaborate design but its sheer size.
has over 800 monuments, spread out over 102 square miles.
And this is only what is already excavated. Our guide told us
there is so much more that is still buried and will one day
reveal more mysteries. The scale of the buildings is immense.
It feels like a city built for giants.
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