“If we are to prosper together in our increasingly small world, we must listen to and learn from each other’s stories.” Queen Noor of Jordan
We enjoyed a whistle stop five day tour of Jordan over the National Day holiday which was both an interesting and diverse trip. Jordan or the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan as it’s officially titled is a place of tolerance in a region filled with years of conflict, a country filled with so much history and culture that five days didn’t really do it justice.
We relaxed and floated at the Dead Sea for a couple of days at a luxurious hotel before our friends arrived and we headed off together on a mega sightseeing expedition. A visit to Jordan wouldn’t be complete without seeing the incredible archaeological site of Petra, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, a final two days were spent in the capital Amman and the surrounding area including a visit to the largest remaining worldwide ancient Roman ruins at Jeresh.
The Dead Sea
Our first port of call was the lowest place on earth (410m below sea level), the Dead Sea. Road infrastructure and development of this strip of the picturesque natural coastline has been undertaken to provide many five star accommodations for the steady flow of inquisitive visitors keen to try the Dead Sea experience.
So why do people flock to the Dead Sea? Quite simply to cover themselves in mud and float in the calm and buoyant salty water, it’s actually impossible to sink and really good fun. The mineral rich saline water is said to contain many health benefits, in fact twenty-one minerals to be precise, twelve of which are only found in the Dead Sea which is actually not a sea but a lake. There is something strangely therapeutic about covering yourself head-to-toe in mud and bobbing about in the warm sea.
Hotel: We stayed for two nights at The Kempinski Ishtar Dead Sea, a large resort hotel located right of the shore of the famous salt lake which affords visitors amazing scenic views of the West Bank. The hotel is set in vast manicured gardens with nine swimming pools including a stunning circular infinity pool (amazing at sunset), lagoons, waterfalls and pool bars. We were upgraded on arrival to a spacious Ishtar Suite which was traditionally decorated and offered a good vista across the resort and beyond.
Breakfast was served in the huge all-day dining Obelisk restaurant and although they serve bubbles to go with your eggs there is a real problem with flies and uncovered food. There’s a wide selection of international and local cuisine, the elevated restaurant has a huge terrace with amazing views out across the Dead Sea. We had dinner at the Ashur Pizza and Grill poolside restaurant that offered a good Italian dining experience with cocktails, fine wines and fabulous desserts. The Akkad Pool Grill was a perfect lunch spot that offered a varied range of salads, sandwiches, burgers etc.
Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea, Swaimeh, P.O. Box 941806 Dead Sea 11194 Jordan
Telephone: +962 5 356 8888
After leaving the Dead Sea on route to Petra we embarked on a historical road trip via well known landmarks and the King’s Highway. First stop was the nearby Baptism site Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John baptised Jesus in the River Jordan, the site marks the beginning of Christianity and it’s one of the three holiest Christian sites in the world. We stood in the River Jordan which is divided by a rope marking the border between Jordan and Israel and watched over by soldiers with machine guns.
Next stop was Mount Nebo where Prophet Moses died and is declared as the most revered holy site in Jordan. From the vantage point on top of the mountain you can see what Prophet Moses did before us, the panorama that includes the Jordan River Valley, the Dead Sea, Jericho and Jerusalem also known as the Holy or Promised Land. The fourth century Mount Nebo church was built to mark the site of Prophet Moses’ death and remains a place of pilgrimage for Christians today.
We stopped to break up our trip and eat in a local restaurant in Madaba, an ancient Jordanian market town. We visited the Greek Orthodox Church of St.George to see the 6th-century mosaic map of the Holy Land.
Petra or the ‘Rose City’ as it’s known because of its pink sandstone cliffs seeped in hundreds of years of history and archaeology. Accessed via a narrow valley Petra opens up to reveal an ancient Nabatean city carved directly into the rock with an abundance of tombs, temples and monuments. Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985 and was named as one of the New7Wonders of the World in 2007, it’s the jewel in Jordan’s tourist crown attracting hordes of sightseers every year and is by far the most-visited tourist attraction in the country.
You like me may of seen photos of Petra but nothing can compare you for the sheer size, colours and amazing architecture as you enter the city through the narrow gorge known as the Siq which is flanked by high cliffs. Just walking through the shadowy Siq is an experience in itself with the eery silence only interrupted by horses and carriages thundering past, the formations of the colourful rocks are incredible. At the end of the Siq you reach the forty metre high Treasury (Al-Khazneh) where everyone stops to gasp in wonder, grab photos and wander among the seated camels that linger there with their owners. As you wander on through the canyon there are many traders selling local wares and trinkets, some of the older ladies were quite aggressive in their sales techniques.
Besides your camera the main things you need are a good pair of walking shoes because believe me it’s a long walk and hike to the summit followed by what feels like an even longer walk back. A hat and additional layers are essential too in case the weather changes, plenty of water is a necessity and your sense of humour is always worth having for the ascent. We hired a local walking guide that enhanced both the enjoyment and educational factors of the experience, we also had our very own Indiana Jones complete with hat and gung-ho demeanor.
It’s a daunting climb from the canyon to the top of Petra where the Monastery (Ed-Deir) is located, a former Nabatean temple that is accessed via eight hundred or so uneven steps cut into the rock. You can hire a donkey and travel up and down precariously balanced on horseback but most people scale the ascent on foot dodging the copious amounts of donkey poo and stray dogs.
Much needed basic refreshments like hot tea and kit kats can be purchased in the cave cafe opposite the Monastery which is also home to various stray cats with loads of adorable kittens. Those with sufficient energy can continue the climb above the cafe for the best views across the valley beyond, those who are exhausted can rest on the low level seating or browse the trinkets on sale
Hotel – We stayed at the Petra Guest House Hotel (Crowne Plaza Resort Petra) which is just a short stroll from the entrance of the ancient city and the visitor centre where you buy your tickets and meet your local guide. The hotel’s location is unrivaled and it has an idyllic backdrop of the Petra Mountains but it’s very basic and the breakfast served in the ground floor restaurant was extremely poor which was not ideal for refuelling before a day trekking through the ancient site.
The saving grace of this hotel is The Cave Bar, the oldest bar in the world located inside a 2000-year-old Nabataean rock tomb. This late night dimly-lit by lantern bar attracts plenty of tourists and serves a basic bar type menu accompanied by drinks and shisha, it’s pricey for the region as it has a captive market but on the plus side they do serve cocktails. There’s a large outside terrace and lots of private niches in the bar itself that were apparently burial spots, definitely worth a visit if you are staying at Petra.
Petra Guest House Hotel, P.O.Box 30 Petra, Wadi Mousa, Jordan.
Telephone: +962 3 215 6266
The streets of the capital Amman are steep and busy, the December weather was wet and chilly in complete contrast to the sunny Dead Sea area. Amman itself is a small fairly modern city with lots of new developments blended with many ancient ruins and historical sites.
We explored further afield to the ancient Roman city of Jerash (sometimes referred to as the ‘Pompeli of Asia’) which is considered to be one of the world’s best preserved Roman cities outside of Italy. The once busy city is now a major tourist attraction where visitors flock to see the Roman architectural remains. The huge site, which is accessed via Hadrian’s Arch, is home to plazas, a large hippodrome (where chariot races would have taken place), temples, amphitheaters and an impressive colonnaded avenue, all the structures have been restored from beneath the sand and give you a real sense of life in Roman times.
It takes a good few hours to explore the site properly but it’s worth climbing to the highest points for the amazing vista of the ruins and the rolling green Jordanian farmland and countryside beyond.
We returned to Amman exploring the hilly city on foot and dined at two very different styles of local restaurants. On our first evening we dined at the high-end Sufra restaurant, a converted villa with a terrace garden in Rainbow Street that serves top-notch traditional Jordanian food in a quaint setting. It’s authentic Levantine cuisine especially its signature dishes are renowned, so good in fact that it’s a favourite haunt of the royal family. Rainbow Street itself is busy with many great cafes, rooftop restaurants, bars, local independent boutiques and upmarket souvenir shops.
Our lunch the next day was more low key in a back street alley venue called Hashem, a popular street food venue that certainly attracts a crowd for its famous vegetarian food especially known for its hummus and falafel. I would describe it as the Jordanian equivalent of a fast food joint, it’s busy and loud with cheap food. There is no menu, food and tea just appears for the number of guests at your table after attempts at broken Arabic and hand gestures. I would advise bringing your hand sanitiser and in my case my sense of humour, do not even think about needing the bathroom. I may have been the only vegetarian in the group but I was not a fan, however my three travelling companions tucked in and enjoyed all the local food and experience.
This part of our trip was too short to explore Amman and fully do it justice, we missed the many art galleries and museums, the Citadel, the Roman Theatre and the blue domed King Abdullah Mosque. We did however enjoy the essence of the city, the Jordanians are friendly people and the fresh regional food was certainly enjoyable.
Hotel – We stayed at The Boulevard Arjaan by Rotana which is located within a brand new modern lifestyle destination in the centre of Amman. We were upgraded to a massive premium one-bedroom suite in this contemporary five-star hotel and breakfasted at the in-house and very stylish Café Margaux, with its French inspired decor and menu. Tricky to find at first due to it being a new development with unfinished roads, it actually proved to be a good base from which to explore the city and beyond for the limited time we were in Amman.
Jordan is a must visit, a beautiful country teeming with ancient sites of ruined empires, a new wonder of the world and traditional bedouin hospitality. It offers travellers an abundance of world-class scenery filled with mountains, deserts and fertile lands. We travelled the short distance from the UAE to Jordan with Emirates Airlines from Dubai.
The Boulevard Arjaan by Rotana, The Boulevard, Rafiq Al Hariri Avenue, Abdali Area, P.O. Box 926495, Amman 11190. Jordan
Telephone: +962 6 520 4444
Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2015. All rights reserved. Two additionally photos used courtesy of www.guesthouse-petra.com/en/