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Travel reward credit cards open up all kinds of amazing travel opportunities you would not normally have. Visiting Jordan was one such experience for us.
I’ve had the pleasure of making two recent trips to Jordan, in September 2017 and April 2018. The first trip was a long weekend getaway with my wife. The second was a business trip that only allowed for short 24 hour trips to the cultural and tourist destinations. Both trips really showcased the beauty, friendliness, and hospitality of the Jordanian people, culture, and sites.
Sometimes we don’t have all the time in the world to see a fascinating travel destination. But that’s okay, because Petra has been there for a few thousand years and hopefully will still be for a few more! If you only have 24-72 hours to spend in Jordan, do not worry, you can still have an amazing experience in a short amount of time.
Getting into Jordan
Both times we flew into Amman’s international airport: Queen Alia International Airport (QAIA ICAO: OJAI IATA: AMM). Queen Alia is a safe, clean, and modern airport. It’s serviced by many airlines with excellent safety and service records. Immigration is benign although I recommend buying a Jordan Explorer pass on Jordan Pass for 75 JD.
That gives you a visitors visa (40 JD value) and a 2 day Petra pass (55 JD value) and speeds you through immigration. If you have an Official US Passport (red cover) you can enter the country for free at the Diplomatic immigration line. Very friendly staff and saves you the 40 JD visitors visa. If you don’t have a red US passport or buy the Jordan Pass in advance a visitors visa is available for immediate purchase for 40 JD.
Once you’re through immigration, collect your bag and pass through customs. If you arranged for a driver, they will meet you here.
Where to Stay Near Petra
Even though Petra is one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, the area is still quite isolated and not very developed. There are not many chain hotels in the area. You can not camp or sleep overnight in Petra itself.
You can stay in the Petra Marriott Hotel but it is about a 10 minute drive to the visitor’s center. The Mӧvenpick Resort Petra is located right outside the gates of the Petra Visitor’s Center, but I recommend you try something a little bit different.
I recommend you stay with some Bedouin locals at the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp. (If you sign up for Booking.com through my link, you'll receive $20 off your first booking and I'll get $20 too. Thanks!)
The camp is an amazing experience. Trust me, you will not regret it. Just look at their great reviews on Booking.com, TripAdvisor, and Google Maps.
I’ve stayed there twice and the owners are the most hospitable and welcoming group I have ever encountered. Jaffar, one of the 8 brothers, picked us up from the airport the first time we landed in Jordan and remained our steadfast companion throughout our time in Jordan.
I stayed at the camp once with my wife and once with three friends. Both times we had a great experience. It’s not quite glamping and not quite camping either. You have a separate men’s and women’s bathroom with toilets, hot showers, and sinks.
The rooms are tents with either double beds, two twin beds, or a family tent that sleeps 2 adults and 3 kids. Breakfast is free and dinner 10JD and both are served in the newly constructed (early 2018) restaurant.
There’s no beer, wine, or alcohol served at the camp. Cold 1.5 liter bottles of water, soda, and juice are available for a small purchase. If you ask they will allow you to bring a small amount of alcohol to share with your friends. Be discrete and respectful though. Don’t ruin a good thing. Do make sure you try the “Bedouin whiskey,” a sweet mint tea that they make all night on the campfire. They always ensure your glass is full.
How to Get into Petra the Back Way
There is a Petra Visitor’s Center where all the tour groups disgorge their legions of tourists. Skip that, it sucks. Instead, hire a guide from the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp to take you the “back way” into Petra.
Petra is pretty much one main trail from the Visitor's Center, through the Siq, to the Treasury, the Street of Facades, the Roman Theater, the Great Temple, and then up to the Monastery. Since I recommend doing it the back way, you will do all this in reverse. There are also some side trails that I recommend.
The back way into Petra is a 10 minute drive from the Bedouin Camp to the lone guard shack sitting in the desert. From there you’ll hike for about an hour until you get to the start of your Petra adventure. The back way allows you to just hike one direction through Petra, rather than making a round-trip that requires backtracking. The back way is definitely the best way to go.
The guide for the back way hike will cost about 15 JD per person. It’s well worth the cost when you arrive at the Monastery without another soul in site. When you do start to see people later in Petra, they'll be hot and out of breath because they've had to walk 5 miles to just get to where you are.
The hike itself is a wonderful break, with beautiful rock formations reminiscent of Arizona, stunning views of Palestine and Israel, and the silence and peace that comes from just walking with a small group through no man’s land.
I suggest you leave the camp for the hike at or before 8am. It’s about a 3 mile hike that takes 50-70 minutes depending on your speed. Our guide was Ajmin and he was great.
Tip: Bring some water but also bring some small JOD bills so you can buy cold water as you go. There are lots of merchants in Petra selling water, juice, ice cream, and other snacks and cold beverages.
Hiking Petra in a Day
Once you see the Monastery, grab a mint and lemon juice to quench your thirst. There is a little cafe overlooking the Monastery. From there, it’s 800 steps down to the main area of Petra. Ignore the Bedouin gypsies selling you junk on the side of the trail. If you want to buy something, make sure you don't pay the first price they quote.
The Lion Triclinium is an interesting and quick side hike on the way down from the Monastery.
Once you reach the Crowne Plaza supported restaurant called “Basin,” you are about a quarter of the way through your journey. Grab a Petra beer or water if you want, then use the public restroom on the other side of the restaurant. After that it should take an hour or so to explore the Great Roman Temple and the main Roman street.
As you work your way towards the Roman Tombs (pictured above), you'll pass a few merchants and shops selling water. This is a good time to buy a half liter because you've got a 45-60 minute hike up the backside of the Roman Tombs to reach the Treasury overlook point.
Explore the Roman Tombs for as long as you want, then keep heading past them on the Al Khubtha trail. It is mostly carved steps up the mountain until you reach a ruin at the top of the hill after passing the Bedouin camp that advertised “NO Wi-fi…we talk :)”
After you reach this ruin, follow the signs for the “best view” down the hill to the left. There are plenty of cairns (little pile of rocks built by intrepid explorers before you) to guide your way to the overlook. Once you reach the overlook, have some mint tea with the Bedouins and get those Instragram perfect pics. You'll feel like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Head back down the way you came up (takes about 30 minutes) or pay about 15 JD for a Bedouin to get you down to the Treasury the fast way (about 15 minutes). I haven't taken the shortcut way down yet, so I can't recommend it.
After you get back to the Roman Tombs and back on the main drag, hang a left and head to the Roman Theater, which will be on your right. Then, head into the cool shade of the Street of Facades. If you are feeling exceptionally adventurous, take a right before the Street of Facades and hike up to the High Place of Sacrifice.
It takes about an hour to get up there and it's quite strenuous. It was definitely the hardest hike we did in Petra. Honestly I can't recommend the view (it's better on the Al Khubtha Trail overlooking the Treasury), but you will feel accomplished when you reach the top.
Backtrack down the High Place of Sacrifice hike if you did that or just continue strolling down the Street of Facades if you didn't take the detour. This is where you start to see tons of tourists and it was actually the worst part for me.
After the Street you will arrive at the Treasury which you already got the best view of from above earlier. Snap some pics of the Treasury and then head down the Siq, which is a long narrow canyon that used to be the only entrance into the ancient city of Petra. Make sure you turn around to see the great “reveal” of the Treasury as you walk down the Siq. Again, just like Dr. Indiana Jones.
After the Siq it's pretty much an hour long hike to the end of the Petra experience and the Petra Visitor's Center. Depending on how long you spent in the park this can be the hottest time of the day, the most crowded, and the merchants seem to become even more aggressive in their marketing. Just drink water, put on a hat, and put your head down and hike to the end of the trail.
The Petra Visitor's Center is a nice bit of development with some shops and restaurants. It's a good place to rest for just a moment but I recommend you keep walking out the main gate and across the street.
After your long day of hiking walk across the street from the Petra Visitor’s Center into the Movenpick Resort Hotel. It's about 50 meters from the entrance to the Visitor's Center, you can't miss it. Wash off in the bathroom to the right side of the central courtyard with the fountain.
After getting the dust off your face, get to the buffet for 25 JOD (includes 1 alcoholic drink) or order a la carte. The burger and fries were delicious after hiking all day and the beer went down quick after working up quite a thirst. Have an ice cream sundae, too; you earned it!
To get back to the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp, call your contact at the camp and they will come pick you up within a few minutes at the bus station. It's at the top of the hill to the right when you come out of the Movenpick, about 100 meters up the hill.
There's some shops here as well so you can grab a water while you wait for your ride. It's only about a 10 minute drive from the Wadi Musa bus station back to the camp.
Map of Petra
Map of Treasury Overlook Trail in Petra
If you want the cool overhead shot of the Treasury in Petra, you need to either have a guide take you from the Treasury up the left side (when facing the Treasury) or you can find a view from the right side of the Siq by following the Al Khubtha Trail (green in the image above).
What to Wear in Petra
Shorts are not really a thing in Arab culture. That being said, it's a tourist spot so you will see people dressed in all sorts of ways. I recommend light hiking pants for the guys with either hiking shoes or boots. The terrain is not super strenuous but it is dusty and rocky.
For a top check the weather but usually a wick-away material like Under Armour is nice when it's hot out or whatever you normally hike in. A hat or Bedouin head covering is definitely recommended because the sun is hot, even if the temperature isn't.
For the ladies my wife thinks you have to make a decision between cute or comfortable.
We were in Petra for two days so she did a day of each. Day 1 she wore athletic attire. This allowed her to go exploring. The capri pants allowed her to climb over rocks while keeping her dignity and protecting her from scrapes. The moisture-wicking and open back were a god-send as it was hot!
Day 2 she wore a black sleeveless midi. (she wanted to wear a red dress but it didn't arrive in time). She used a thin pashmina to cover from the sun and spent a lot of the time with it wrapped around her head as well. While her photos were “cuter” this day, the exploring wasn't as easy.
Regardless of what you wear a good hat and good shoes are essential.
In terms of “dressing conservatively because you're in a Muslim country” as long as you aren't wearing booty shorts and a crop top you're going to be fine. My wife also checks the location tag on Instagram if shes unsure what the dress requirements are. This allows her to see what other people are actually wearing and serves as a good guide.
What to Bring
- Mobile phone with camera or camera
- Bottle of Water
- Backpack to carry hiking supplies, water, and trinkets you buy along the way
What Not to Bring
- Bulky DSLR cameras, unless you are a really good photographer
- A bad attitude about the aggressive merchants. Just tell them no thank you if you are not interested and don't pay them any more attention. They'll catch the hint that you are not interested eventually.
Cell Phones, Wi-Fi, and Data in Jordan
When you pass through Queen Alia airport immigration on your left side there is a Starbucks and about 10 meters pass there is an Orange mobile phone shop. You can grab a SIM card with lots of data for 30 days for pretty cheap. Last time I got 80 GB of data for 30 days for $60. Perhaps you don’t need so many GB as I only used 15 GB in 30 days, even after streaming many HD movies!
The guys at the Orange store will install it for you and set it all up for you in about 5 minutes. I recommend you grab a SIM card, perhaps without so much data as I bought. If you have Google Fi, which I highly recommend, you may not need a local sim card, depending on how long you are in Jordan. When I just went for the long weekend, I didn’t bother with a local sim card and just relied on my Google Fi data, which was cheap, easy, and plentiful.
Driving in Jordan
The first visit I did not drive and thought the roads looked insane to drive on. We had drivers everywhere we went and we were happy with that.
The second time I did drive around Amman, from Amman to Petra and back, and to the Dead Sea and back from Amman. I realized that perhaps some of my fear of driving was due to the drivers I had previously ridden with!
Jordan definitely has a more aggressive driving style than America, but as long as you act like you’re the most important person on the road, pass trucks quickly, and never give way, you’ll do fine. Just go with the flow and don’t drive distracted and you will have fun.
Is Jordan Safe?
Yes, Jordan is safe. The biggest threat is probably driving. Keep your seat belt on and if you are driving slow down and drive very defensively. Check travel warnings on the State department website before you go and do a quick Google search for recent traveler experiences. Jordan makes a lot of money from it's cultural attractions, so there is always a strong military and police presence at most of the tourist sites.
Keep your head on a swivel, maintain your situational awareness, and don't make yourself an easy target. Like most places, if you stay to areas with women, kids, and tourists you should be fine. Trust your instincts and if you don't like a situation, get out of it and report it to a police officer or at your hotel.
Negotiating in Jordan
Nearly every price is negotiable in Jordan. For instance, a cool Bedouin scarf to keep your head from sunburning might be quoted at 7 JD at first. After 10 minutes of back and forth, I paid 4JD and got a cold water as a bonus.
I’m not sure if I got a good deal, but I was happy paying about $5 for the scarf and the Bedu was happy to make a sale. They won’t sell you anything if their losing money, so don’t feel bad or like you are ripping them off. Any price a salesperson starts with you can counter with 10% and expect to pay 25-50% as a fair deal. Again, if you think you are getting ripped off, just walk away. There’s a hundred other merchants selling the exact same stuff.
Dead Sea Resorts
After 1 or 2 days of hiking Petra, head up to Wadi Mujib to cool off in the fast running stream that is Jordan’s Antelope Canyon. It's about a 45-60 minute hike up a fast flowing but shallow creek running through a beautiful narrow canyon.
Wadi Mujib was our favorite activity we did in Jordan. Wear swim trunks and clothes/shoes you can get wet in. You will be fully submerged at some point.
Along the way to the end of the canyon you will be challenged to climb a few boulders and waterfalls. It is challenging but definitely doable for anyone with a moderate level of athletic ability!
After you get a little wet, check into the Marriott Dead Sea Resort and Spa. Make sure you have Marriott Gold Elite status or higher with your American Express Platinum card to get free buffet brunch and day spa access.
Also, check to see if you can cash in some Marriott points for this vacation. It was only 30,000 points for me to reserve 1 night at the resort. They even upgraded us, probably because the resort was pretty empty and we had Gold status.
Make sure you head down to the Dead Sea at some point during your stay. Cover yourself in some mud and let it dry. Slowly sink into the Dead Sea, careful not to let your head go underwater. Nothing above your neck should touch the water. Trust me, it will sting. Any cuts you got while scrambling around Wadi Mujib will also sting, so maybe do that adventure after floating in the Dead Sea.
After getting muddy and salty in the Dead Sea, head to the Spa for a very relaxing sauna, hot tub, and pool experience or get a drink at one of the many outdoor pools. The food at the Italian restaurant at the Marriott Resort was good but a bit pricey. The buffet in the morning was average but free for Marriott Gold Elite.
Visiting Amman, Jordan
The first time I visited Jordan we spent no time in Amman. The second time I was there on business and that business took me into Amman frequently. It is certainly a city of contrasts, with some areas very similar to Europe cities and other areas very Middle Eastern.
I stayed at the Sheraton Amman Al Nabil, an SPG property. It has one of the most extensive hotel gyms I have seen, which was great to use while living there for two weeks on business. I definitely recommend the Sheraton if you're going to be staying in Amman on business or if you're looking to cash in some SPG points in Amman.
For food in Amman the the steak at EVOO at the Sheraton was excellent. Steak night is every Wednesday night. For 31 JD you get access to the appetizer buffet with real pork prosciutto, a steak cooked to order with a sauce, and a dessert of your choice. Beverages are not included and it was 6 JOD for a large San Pellegrino so watch that.
We also tried the steak at that Lucca Steak House. Very nice, but again watch the budget. USD$80 for a steak, side, dessert, and a beer. The dessert was great though, baklava with ice cream. Check out the rib-eye below:
Where Else to Go in Jordan
Some of the places I didn’t get to visit were Aqaba which I hear has excellent resorts and diving. Wadi Rum is also high on my list of places to visit in the future. Carakale Brewery would also be amazing to visit. It's the only microbrewery in Jordan. I did get to drink a few of their brews including the Pale Ale and Blonde and both were great (the Pale Ale was superior).
They are also building some sort of eco-dome looking thing at the top of the hill behind the Mars Camp and Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp. Not sure when that opens but looks like it will have great views.
I hope this was helpful for your journey to Jordan. Please leave a comment if you have any other questions about traveling to and visiting Jordan! It's a great country full of wonderful, friendly people who want to show you their culture and history.
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