Jordan | March 2018

Highlights

Dead Sea Marriott | Dead Sea sunsets | The Siq & Treasury at Petra | Petra by Night | Wadi Rum | Spectacular scenic drives

This was probably my biggest solo adventure to date. Before I EVENTUALLY took the plunge and booked my flights, I had spent a lot of time contemplating this trip…..repeatedly thinking is it safe? Should I go alone? Should I go at all? And honestly, in the few days leading up to this trip, I felt incredibly nervous about going. I was nervous not only about the fact that I was going by myself, but that I had also decided to road trip the entire length of the country in a hire car.

But…..Jordan has been firmly at the top of my Bucketlist for a long time! After spending hours pouring over numerous Travel Blogs and taking reassurance from other female solo travellers who had themselves visited the country, I decided in the end to just go for it.

I was in desperate need of an adventure (and some sunshine) after a bleak few weeks at work which had seen some challenging times due to the ridiculous weather we had been experiencing. So, after weeks of researching and preparation, I finally found myself excitedly sitting at Heathrow Terminal 2 ready to go.

Both British Airways and Royal Jordanian Airlines fly direct from London to Queen Alia International Airport in the country’s capital of Amman. However, as peak tourist season was fast approaching these flights were expensive, so I instead opted to transit through Istanbul with Turkish Airlines for almost half the cost (www.turkishairlines.com). Initially feeling a little dubious about choosing this airline, I was in fact met with a pleasant surprise as it is by far one of the best flights I have ever taken. And I have taken a lot of flights!

Having previously traveled to Istanbul with British Airways I had been horrified to discover the extreme prices they charge for checked luggage and as this long 3 1/2 hour flight is deemed as ‘short haul’ they now charge for all food and drink on-board. So imagine my joy to find that Turkish Airlines include 30kg of checked baggage as standard, an excellent variety of complimentary food and drinks and one of the best personal touch screen inflight entertainment systems in the industry. I certainly felt very smug with my flight choices as I settled down in my seat to watch ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ with my glass of Sauvignon. My next stop was a quick layover in Istanbul before proceeding on to Amman.

Note that a 30 day tourist visa is available for all United Kingdom citizens on arrival into Queen Alia International Airport for 40JD. Be sure to have your passport and the correct cash amount ready for a smooth and quick transition through the immigration hall.

Prior to starting this trip I had spent a lot of time focusing on how I was going to navigate the country. Public transport links appeared to be sparse and due to lengthy drive times between popular attractions, taxi fares would have been extremely expensive. So, unless you are booked on to an organised coach tour, which I always avoid as they can be crowded and restrictive, hiring a car and self-driving definitely seemed like the easiest and most cost efficient way of seeing this beautiful country. This option also allowed me the freedom to explore at my own pace on an itinerary that I had decided.

Fortunately for me, Enjoy Car Hire were on hand to assist me with this. In exchange for providing them with a Jordan Travel Blog for their website they hooked me up with Arman Cars on my arrival. I was thrilled to get the opportunity to have a piece of my work published and so I jumped at the chance. I was met in the airport terminal by Suhail who led me to my more than comfortable hire car and made sure I had everything I needed for my journey. I have said in my previous blogs that I am by no means a nervous driver due to the fact that I drive ambulances for a living but somehow the nerves and reality about actually having to drive to my first destination were really setting in. Suhail firmly reassured me that it would be an easy drive and that I would not encounter any problems. His calming and relaxed manner instantly put me at ease. It was very early in the morning and the city was still sleeping in a blanket of darkness, something I was grateful for as I commenced my first solo drive in this foreign land.

After an hour and half of uneventful driving and a couple of wrong turns, I finally pulled into the opulent driveway of the Dead Sea Marriott Hotel and Spa (www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/qmdjv-dead-sea-marriott-resort-and-spa/). I was feeling a heady mixture of relief from successfully completing the journey and amazement at this grand looking building that stood towering in front of me giving off the aura of some kind of royal palace. I also began to feel very proud of myself for driving 60km in the dark, on the wrong side of the road, in an automatic and all by myself !!! Drive number 1 had been successfully completed.

The Dead Sea

I had arrived at my first destination just as the sun was begin to peek over from the nearby mountains and look down on to the Dead Sea. I was promptly met at the lobby entrance and welcomed to the hotel by Alaa and Tariq. These two charming gentlemen seemed genuinely pleased that I had chosen to call their work place ‘home’ for the next couple of days.

After a few hours of much needed sleep I excitedly woke, grabbed my bikini and headed out to the beach. The Dead Sea, with it’s borders of Israel, the West Bank and Jordan, is a salt lake whose banks are more than 400m below sea level and is famed for being the lowest accessible point on Earth. On the Jordanian side, the hyper saline waters hug the jagged mountains of the Jordan Rift Valley and the most northern east corner is lined with luxury resorts and spas including the one I stayed at.

As I wandered through the lush green hotel gardens nothing could prepare me for my first proper glimpse of the vast and intense body of polished bright blue water that stood shimmering before me. The contrasting shades of the blue cloudless sky and perfectly still water were neatly broken up by the white chalky banks of the West Bank and Jerusalem sitting hazily in the distance.

As I descended down the ever winding steps from the hotel complex to the beach the water appeared to change colour right before my eyes taking a more emerald green appearance once up close to the shore line.

The ritual of smothering your body with the thick, gloopy mud before bathing in the ridiculously buoyant waters is carried out by everyone who visits this truly unique place.

I opted to spend a couple of days here to unwind and restore my energy after a few busy weeks of work. I aimlessly passed the days basking in the sun alternating between the salty sea and crisp infinity pool in order to cool down. Not to mention indulging in a cocktail or two. Just when I thought these lazy days couldn’t get any better, witnessing day transition to night simply took my breathe away as the heady array of colours changing from yellow to pink to purple to red lit up the sky above Israel on the opposite shores. This postcard perfect scene was completed with belly dancing girls straight from the streets of Aladdin’s Agra and sweet smelling shisha pipes.

After one final early breakfast it was time to set off for the long drive along the Jordan Valley Highway and Kings Highway to the much anticipated Petra. Drive number 2 consisted of 200km of winding and snaky roads through some of the most spectacular scenery encompassing the salt formations situated along the length of the Dead Sea to the vast rock expanses found in the Dana Biosphere Nature Reserve. Again this journey was relatively easy and the only attention I attracted was from bewildered villagers who must have found a female traveller driving alone an unusual sight.

Wadi Musa & Petra

After numerous stops for photographs I finally arrived at the Petra Marriott (www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/mpqmc-petra-marriott-hotel/?scid=bb1a189a-fec3-4d19-a255-54ba596febe2) just before sunset. This hotel proved to be a little more dated than the opulent surroundings I had just left but the service from the staff was still second to none. Perched high on the side of a mountain it towered majestically over the village of Wadi Musa in the valley below, appearing to almost stand guard in order to protect the treasures found there. As the sun began to set, I stood looking down on the mountains below and the moment was made even more perfect by a passing villager riding his stallion completely unaware that my camera was fixed on him.

The next morning I awoke before the sun had surfaced as I wanted to arrive at Petra for when it opened at 6am in order to avoid the crowds (www.visitpetra.jo). It’s worth noting that you receive a 15% discount on admission with any Turkish Airlines ticket so entry was just 40JD. No trip to Jordan is complete without visiting Petra, one of the 7 new Wonders of the World. After passing through the entrance gates and meandering through the surrounding high walled canyons, I finally entered the Siq, Petra’s awe inspiring entrance. The sudden, amazing reveal of the Treasury is enough in itself to justify a visit to this famous site and I was not disappointed. This is the iconic photo opportunity that I had been waiting for.

Stepping out into the area before the Treasury felt like stepping into a Indiana Jones film set. Camels lazily basked in the early morning sun while local guides eagerly touted for my business. I was certainly the early bird catching the worm in this instance as there was but a handful of other people around. But this was only the beginning of an ancient city built into the famous red rock and there was still much to be discovered.

I only had one full day in Petra. There was so much I that I wanted to see that I ended up walking almost 12km, racing around in the heat in order to pack everything in. At times I felt overwhelmed and stupefied by the quantity of beautiful tombs and facades that popped up around every corner. Photographs do no justice at all to the splendour of the site, the monumental architectural talent of the Nabateans (the nomadic people who built Petra) and the mesmerising way that the sunlight changes the colour of the rock as the day progresses. This vast settlement is truly extraordinary.

Be sure to make time to visit the secret Monastery as this completely dwarfs the Treasury by comparison and is often missed by tourists due to the long ascent to reach it.

I completed my Petra experience by heading to the Petra by Night show which runs every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Costing 17JD this event is a magical way to see the famous rock city. This incomparable experience starts by walking the entire length of the Siq with only starlight for guidance before entering the Treasury, lit by 1,500 candles. As I took my seat I was handed some sweet tea before a nearby flute player hushed the crowd to silence before commencing his haunting tune. This whole experience made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Being on a such a high after this thrilling experience, I was not ready to return to the hotel so I made my way to the nearby Cave Bar. Found within the Petra Guest House it is situated right next to the entry gates to Petra and should not be missed. As the name suggests it is indeed a bar in a cave. Benches lined the cosy little nooks and crannies and I took this moment to reflect back on an incredible day but it was not long before my eyes were feeling heavy and my head was ready to hit the pillow.

Wadi Rum

Leaving Petra, I began the 100km drive south to Wadi Rum. As I made my way through the terracotta parched desert I began to think I had transported directly to Mars. Fondly nicknamed the ‘Rose Desert,’ long corridors of soft red sand weaved its way between stony canyons, ravines and naturally made rock bridges. Many movie location scouts have used the stunning backdrops found here for high profile films such as Star Wars and The Martian. The pinky-red hue of this desert is what gives it an almost other worldly feel and the only traffic you have to worry about is stray camels.

As I pulled in to the long dusty driveway of the Sun City Camp (www.suncitycamp.com) I was immediately greeted by Hassan. Offering me the biggest of smiles and the warmest of handshakes, he quickly arranged some refreshments while he completed the check in process and helped me plan my time in the camp. Bedouin style tents are available for authentic desert living but I opted for one of the Martian domes for a real ‘Life on Mars’ experience. I was unsure what to expect but as I was led through the camp the domes jumped into view and I was delighted with my choice of accommodation.

After a few hours spent settling in to my room, enjoying the novelty of the ‘dome’ and admiring the ridiculous view, I decided to take a sunset camel ride for 15JD. I met up with my local Bedouin guide Ali and my new camel pals and after mounting the taller than expected animal, we trotted off into the horizon as the sun began to dip. Once described as ‘vast, echoing and God like’ by TE Lawrence, the gigantic rocks looked like melted wax candles emerging on the skyline and as the light shifted alien looking shadows appeared to dance around me. I soon developed a fondness for the adorable but slightly dumb looking camels and as we returned to the camp I helped Ali put the loveable creatures to bed.

The next morning I met up again with Ali to embark on a 4hr jeep safari costing 60JD to fully explore the protected conservation area of the Rum desert.

As we headed out further in to the desert I noted the desolation and the absolute silence. You could literally hear a pin drop. Ali graciously took me to all the main points of interest and it wasn’t long before we stopped at a traditional Bedouin camp for some much needed tea.

Here we chatted about his life living in the desert and my life back in the United Kingdom. As it was just myself in the jeep, Ali took this opportunity to let me drive. I think that trying to describe the fact that I drive ambulances got slightly lost in transition and he actually thought I was some kind of racing driver. But, not being one to refuse a challenge I climbed into the drivers seat of the 4×4 and we excitedly set off to the next location. Things were going well until I got us stuck on a sand dune and Ali could not hide his amusement!

The day had been incredible and was finished off with a delicious lamb BBQ and a night of star gazing in the immaculately clear skies.

After another early morning start I began the last 70km drive to the quaint sea side town of Aqaba.

I had successfully driven the length of the country from North to South and as I handed my hire car back I felt extremely proud of this accomplishment. Driving here was surprisingly easy. Signposting for all major tourist attractions are in English and the roads are in good condition. Driving is on the left and the fuel is cheap. Two major highways link the cities of Amman in the north and Aqaba in the South. Avoid the monotonous and busy Desert Highway, which can often be slow moving due to large vehicles blocking the lanes and instead opt for the more scenic Jordan Valley Highway and Kings Highway. As you move south from Amman along the Dead Sea and on to Petra (approximately 250km), really take your time to enjoy this drive as it offers some seriously breath-taking views.

Police check points are dotted intermittently along the way. Make sure you have your passport, driving licence, car rental agreement and vehicle registration card (found in the glove compartment of all hire cars) ready to present if asked, though in most cases the friendly officers are more interested in chatting to you about where you are from and where you are going. They are always on hand to help and offer directions if needed.

Jordan has by far exceeded all of my expectations. I knew this trip was going to be EPIC but I was not fully prepared for the awe of seeing iconic sights such as the Dead Sea and Petra in person. Any photos I had previously seen do not do these wonders of the world the justice they deserve. The country is beyond beautiful.

Aside from the long list of World Heritage sites found here, the jaw dropping scenery that has inspired many Hollywood movies and the vibrant and colourful culture and cuisine, the warmth and hospitality of the country’s people is amongst the most welcoming in the world. From the moment you step foot on the ground you will instantly feel like you are amongst friends.

This trip to Jordan initially seemed like a daunting prospect due to its close geographical proximity to several unstable regions. But any fears I had about female solo travel to this destination were instantly settled. From the moment I arrived I was overwhelmed by the kindness of the Jordanian people. Similarly to my experiences in Istanbul, I was saddened to hear that tourism had been on the decline but the Jordan Tourism Board has recently launched several high profile campaigns, such as the opening of the Jordan Trail, a stunning 650km hike spanning the length of the country, in order to try and rectify this. Nestled discreetly in between the borders of countries such Israel, Syria, Iraq and Egypt, Jordan is an amazingly beautiful and safe haven in the heart of the Middle East.

There is so much more to this country than I had first thought. Beyond the famous World Heritage Sites and inspiring desert landscapes that I ticked off during this trip there is still so much more to discover. Exploring the ancient cities of Jerash, Madaba and Ma’an with their rich history, canyoning amongst the magnificent hidden gorges of Wadi Mujib where you can conquer waterfalls before leaping into cooling plunge pools and aimlessly wondering the narrow streets of Amman are all firmly on the list for my next trip to this spectacular and wonderfully friendly place.

The sights, smells, tastes and colours found here have all been mesmerising. Jordan is the perfect introduction to the Middle East and has been absolute dream!

S x

🇯🇴 To find out more information on visiting this beautiful country please head over to the Jordan Tourism Board

🚙 For a car hire quote visit Enjoy Car Hire who will provide you with a friendly, professional and efficient service. Don’t forget to also take a read of the Jordan Travel Blog that I provided for them.

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