Why I hiked the Jordan Trail (and failed)

Why I hiked the Jordan Trail (and failed)

Hiking the Jordan Trail quickly became a dream of mine, as soon as I found out about it.

I have always loved hiking. I enjoy the physical fatigue, the puffing, sweating, and even the cursing I go through until I reach the final point of the hike. I enjoy being close to my friends at times like this, and making new friends who are sharing the same experience as I am.

I like being close to nature; admiring the views along the way; stopping to catch my breath; having a packed lunch in the middle of nowhere and taking out a stove and making coffee. I appreciate the power naps in the shade under a tree, before I start walking again. The beer I sip once I make it back always tastes delicious; and the hot shower at the end of the day is pure bliss.

To me, all hikes are good – whether I get mountain views, sea views, or I walk through the forest or in the desert. But put an archeological site at the end of a strenuous hike, and my sense of achievement will be completely fulfilled. That’s why I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, in Peru and why I plan to hike to the Ciudad Perdida in Colombia. And that’s what drove me to hike the Jordan Trail.

To read more about the Inca Trail, check my post “Inca Trail dos and donts.”

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Taking in the gorgeous views on the Jordan Trail

The Jordan Trail

When researching about Jordan in preparation for a 5-weeks trip through the Middle East, I found out about the Jordan Trail. This is a hike that requires over 5 weeks of walking. It starts in the North of the country, in Um Qais, and goes all the way South, to the Red Sea, crossing places such as the tiny village of Dana and Dana Nature Reserve, and the more famous Petra and Wadi Rum.

Unfortunately, I had no time to properly study and plan the Jordan Trail, and I surely didn’t have the time to hike all of it. But the good news for me was that I could hike what would be the most exciting section: the 76 km walk from Dana to Petra, which takes 5 full days. I was hooked: there was no way in the world I’d miss on that.

It looked like I could walk parts of the trail by myself, and sleep in guest houses and lodges along the way. But for other bits a guide was required, as there is no real trail to follow, and the weather conditions may change suddenly causing flooding and requiring change of itineraries. I am adventurous, you see – but I have never taken a survival course. I’d have to look for a guided hiking expedition.

That’s how I came across the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) in Jordan, an NGO whose work strives to protect the local environment and to help the local communities. They were pretty much the only ones that offered a hiking expedition, which was what I needed, and needless to say as a responsible traveler and a former human rights lawyer, I did like their mission.

A bunch of emails later, it was settled: during my trip to Jordan, I would be walking the Jordan Trail from Dana to Petra. I was beyond excited for this, though I hardly knew what to expect. To be fair, there wasn’t much information online that I could read (and I didn’t dig enough looking for it). So I didn’t go in very well prepared.

Hiking the Jordan Trail was an overall great experience. I am happy to have done it and would recommend it to anyone who loves hiking. Unfortunately for me, an accident along the way cut my adventure short and I had to change my plans.

Hoping that other people who wish to hike the Jordan Trail from Dana to Petra don’t go through my same ordeal, I have decided to write about my experience and provide some useful tips.

Jordan Trail

The Jordan Trail is only for expert hikers and real adventure lovers

Hiking the Jordan Trail from Dana to Petra

Day 0 – from Amman to Dana

The starting point of my Jordan Trail was Dana, a small village at about 3 hours drive from Amman. Dana was founded in the 15th century and it is nowadays virtually abandoned. Only 3 families still live there, while the rest of its inhabitants have moved to the nearby Tafila.

I was one of the very few foreign visitors that day – the rest of the people I met were local students on a school trip, and a couple of families who gathered in the picnic area and whose kids were enthusiastic to meet me and made it a point to introduce me to their parents. It was a Friday, which is a day off in Jordan. It is safe to assume that there are even less people on a regular week day.

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Dana village is one of the wonderful sightings along the Jordan Trail

The sights

Dana is a lovely village, despite the fact that most of the buildings there have collapsed as a result of time and complete lack of maintenance. The only ongoing project to restore it to its original splendor is run by USAID.

It didn’t take me long to explore the village. After climbing some collapsed fences, I got to a viewpoint from where I could admire the valley. That’s Dana Nature Reserve. No more than 50 Bedouin families still live there: they can only herd their livestock in certain times of year, so that the vegetation in the area can recover.

I spotted a very steep dirt road that went along the edge of the mountain. It seemed to be the only way to the valley, and I followed it for a short while. By the look of it, that was the road I’d follow the day after, when I’d officially begin hiking.

I figured that, which such beautiful mountains and a valley below, sunset would be quite a show. I walked back to my hotel and sat on the terrace to admire the view: it was indeed breathtaking.

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Perks of the Jordan Trail: fabulous sunsets like the one I saw in Dana

Where to sleep and eat in Dana

There are three hotels in Dana. I stayed at Dana Guesthouse, which is run by the RSCN. It is a gorgeous structure, and all rooms have a balcony and views over the valley. It’s reviews are spot on. There are standard rooms, which are simple but cozy, with shared bathrooms; and superior rooms, which are incredibly large and comfortable, and have a private bathroom with a shower with a view.

I also ate all my meals at Dana Guesthouse. Dinner and breakfast are served buffet style and there is an incredibly wide selection of meat and vegetable dishes – so perfect even for vegetarians and vegans. Dana Guesthouse also provided my packed lunch for the day after.

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The only people I met on my hike from Dana to Feynan, along the Jordan Trail

Day 1 – from Dana to Feynan

My actual hike of the Jordan Trail started in Dana, from where I walked towards Feynan, along Dana Nature Reserve, considered to be one of Jordan’s hidden jem. This is the largest reserve in the country. The altitude here varies from the 1500 meters above sea level of Dana, where it actually gets quite chilly at night, to the 50 meters below sea level in Wadi Araba.

Dana Nature Reserve is home to some 600 species of plants, 180 species of birds and over 45 species of mammals. It is scattered with archaeological sites, such as the Copper Mines.

Feynan is a Bedouin village, with camps that get moved along the valley depending on the season, and no more than a handful of houses scattered around the school. It has a lovely, peaceful atmosphere and the surroundings are gorgeous.

The sights

The views along the walk from Dana to Feynan are stunning. Picture mountains all around, scattered with vegetation that is thicker in some areas, and sparser in others, when walking more into the desert. There are virtually no trees on the first part of the hike, but then more start appearing.

The silence is occasionally broken by the growling of a camel, by a donkey and by the bells of goats left free to herd.  Towards the end of the hike, there are a few Bedouin camps. Children run after the visitors, to welcome them: they are always keen to pose for pictures.

A short hike from Feynan village takes to a viewpoint from where to enjoy one of the most amazing sunsets one could imagine. The setting is gorgeous too: imagine a local bedouin guide preparing a fragrant mint tea, and sipping this while the sun sets.

And at night, if the sky is clear, since it is so dark it is possible to go star gazing.

The sunset from Feynan, along the Jordan Trail, was stunning

The sunset from Feynan, along the Jordan Trail, was stunning

What to expect

The walk from Dana to Feynan is around 14 km, that can be covered in roughly 4 to 5 hours. It took me 5, because I stopped a lot along the way to take photos, drink water, and I took a long break to eat my lunch.

The walk would qualify as easy, though to be fair it is not nearly as easy as it looks and by the end of the day most people wish they had worn thicker socks. For the first hour or so, it is a steep downhill following a dirt road, and it then becomes a bit more gentle. There is virtually no shade along the way (I managed to find a tree under which I had my lunch), so wearing a hat, sunblock and drinking lots of water is vital – the weather is very dry and the sun unforgiving.

I wasn’t lucky with wildlife spotting, but those who are may be able to see lots of lizards, some of them turning blue during mating season.

No person was in sight when I hiked: I met literally two shepherds right outside of Dana, and nobody else until I was getting close to Feynan and crossed a few Bedouin camps.

Where to sleep and eat in Feynan

The only accommodation option in Feynan is Feynan Ecolodge. This is run by the RSCN, and it lives up to its name: only solar power is used to warm the water used for the showers, and no electricity is available in the beautiful, stylish rooms – just in the showers and in the reception area. When it gets dark, candles are lit to illuminate the passageways, the rooms and the beautiful dining room.

Dinner is served buffet style, and it is only vegetarian – meat needs to be refrigerated and this would take too much electricity, which is against the sustainability mission of the ecolodge. No alcohol is served on the property, so don’t hope for a beer at the end of a day of hiking. But there is plenty of good cold water and delicious lemonade and ginger.

Feynan also provides packed lunches for those hiking.

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Worth the trip: Feynan Ecolodge is one of the places to visit in Jordan and a real jem along the Jordan Trail

Day 2 – from Feynan to Al Bustan

The little information I had managed to gather about the Jordan Trail did mention that the second day of hiking would be a tough one. I braced myself, not knowing what to expect. After having walked it, and perhaps as a result of the circumstances I went through, I can say that difficult won’t begin to explain it.

The manager of Feynan Ecolodge introduced me to my guide at 8:30 am. It didn’t take me long to realize that it was going to be a long day. I said hello to him and asked a few questions but he just muttered something in Arabic, to the manager – who when I protested reassured me that he was a very good guide. I pushed any negative thoughts to the back of my mind. But I wasn’t enthusiastic at the thought of having to spend 5 full days alone with a person I could not communicate with.

As the guide explained in Arabic, and the manager of Feynan translated into English, we’d be walking an alternative path as opposed to what had been planned for that day – the already difficult Wadi Al Nakheel Trail. The overcast sky promised rain, and he feared that the canyon would flood and we’d be stuck in the water with no way out. He knew alternative routes and we’d follow that.

“As long as you get me to Al Bustan,” I thought to myself. “In one piece,” I should have added, with hindsight.

We set to walk, and for the first hour or so things went very smooth – except for the fact that really, I could not communicate with my guide. Truth be told, aside from the fact that we could not communicate, he was nothing short of a gentleman, and he obviously knew the region inside out. I knew we wouldn’t get lost and I trusted him completely.

Walking started to be a bit harder as soon as we reached the river. There was no trail, so we kept jumping from one side to the other of the river. It was ok, if only a bit difficult.

Jordan Trail

The Jordan Trail became truly hard on my second day of hiking – there was no trail at all

At some point, it looked like if we cut through the bushes, we’d get to the river bank and walking would be easier. I followed my guide through the bushes. That’s when a thick, hard branch went right to my leg and I badly injured myself.

I blacked out. The pain was so sharp that I screamed, and had to lay down for a good ten minutes to catch my breath before I could start walking again. And even then, I could feel blood running down my leg. I had nothing to bandage my wound, or to medicate it. I had close to zero notion of first aid (now I do, thanks to this post by Bemused Backpacker). I made a mental note to write a recommendation to carry a first aid kit to anyone setting to hike the Jordan Trail.

I checked my cell phone for network, wanting to call for help, but we were in the middle of nowhere and there was none. We had been walking for 3 hours by then. I asked my guide how far it would be till we reached Al Bustan camp (or anywhere where there’d be some form of civilization) but I don’t think he understood me.

So I kept walking, not really knowing what to expect.

Between the pain in my leg, the fact that there was no path at all that we could follow (at some point we actually walked inside the creek), the steep ascent and the fact that I had nobody to talk to, if only to find a bit of comfort, I had a really hard time.

When I finally made it to Al Bustan camp, I was physically and morally exhausted, and completely disheartened. Besides, I needed to see a doctor. So, as soon as I managed to make myself understood by the rest of the people at the camp, I hopped on a car and was taken to the nearest clinic, in Shobak.

Against my request, the doctor decided that I didn’t need stitches (except later on the doctors I saw in Jerusalem did ask me why I hadn’t gotten any… so I figured I should have gotten stitches like I thought), but gave me a shot for tetanus, medicated my wound, put me on antibiotics and recommended that I take it easy.

Sadly, that was the end of my adventure on the Jordan Trail. I spent that night in Shobak, which by the way is one of the nicest places to visit in Jordan, and got some much needed rest at Montreal Hotel.

To read more about what to visit in Jordan, check my post “All the places to visit in Jordan.”

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Shobak represented the end of my Jordan Trail

After visiting Shobak and resting for a couple of days, I made my way to Petra, where I hiked the entire site.

To read more about Petra, check my post “11 things to know before visiting Petra.”

The sights

The views along the (alternative) Wadi Al Nakheel Trail are beautiful. The first part of the walk is pretty much in the desert, and nobody is in sight except the odd Bedouin and a herd of sheep. I think I met one along the way.

Eventually, the desert gives way to a creek that runs through a canyon, and the vegetation becomes a bit thicker: bushes, trees, palm trees and some very interesting rock formation.

Towards the end of the hike, there are some hot springs. They are incredibly difficult to reach, so hardly anybody goes. There were maybe two persons when I was there. By the time I made it there, I was so exhausted, so frustrated by the incident, and so worried about the wound in my leg that all I wanted to do was to keep on walking and reach a place where I’d be able to make a phone call and find a doctor as soon as possible.

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Dana Nature Reserve is a gorgeous place to visit along the Jordan Trail

What to expect

I can only speak for the alternative trail, and not for the Wadi Al Nakheel Trail I was meant to follow. I don’t hike every single day of my life, but hiking is quite a thing in Sardinia, where I am from, and I have done several hikes, a few multi-day ones, and some very technical ones, where the issue wasn’t the altitude or the actual drop (which I can actually endure), but the terrain. I am quite fit (I swim 4 times per week and I take every opportunity to exercise) and I don’t mind physical fatigue.

Having said so, I found this to be one of the most challenging hikes I have ever done. The lack of an actual trail, the constant change of terrain – from rocky, to sandy, to actually having to cross the river and walk inside a creek; the steep uphill and downhill: I won’t deny that it was hard.

Where to sleep and eat

There literally is nowhere in terms of accommodation and food along this portion of the Jordan Trail. I carried a packed lunch and lots of water (I recommend a minimum of two liters) with me from Feynan and I had planned to sleep in Al Bustan, a Bedouin style camp that was put up for the occasion.

I only spent enough time in Al Bustan to gather my thoughts, make a phone call and arranged to be taken to the nearest clinic.

I observed the setting and it looked quite simple: a large tent, with blankets and carpets being used as walls and thus creating 3 smaller “rooms;” each of them had a mattress on the floor and blankets for the night. There was nothing to actually close the tent so it would pretty much have been like sleeping in the open air. The camp had no facilities – no toilet and no sink.

A fire had been lit to boil water and cook the meals.

General tips for hiking the Jordan Trail

When to hike the Jordan Trail

With cold winters and incredibly hot summers, there is no doubt that the best time to hike the Jordan Trail – or at least the portions of it that I did – is in the spring time. I walked it at the beginning of April, and the days were dry, if only a bit overcast.

In terms of temperatures, they were pleasant during the day – although obviously, walking and working out, the body does feel warmer than it would otherwise. The temperatures dropped at night, especially in Dana which is at around 1500 meters above sea level, and in Shobak.

What to pack and what to wear for the Jordan Trail

Once again, I can only speak for those parts of the Jordan Trail I actually hiked, but the tips I am about to provide will generally be applicable to any multi-day hike.

The first recommendation I have for anyone hiking the Dana to Petra portion of the Jordan Trail is to pack as light as possible. Don’t carry any backpack over 30 liters, and even then make sure that the backpack – which has to fit nicely to the body – doesn’t weight more than 4 or 5 kgs, including the water for the hike.

Essential items for this portion of the Jordan Trail are: good hiking boots that hold the ankles properly; a good pair of hiking pants, and a pair of shorts, just in case the weather gets really hot. I find that Kuhl hiking pants and shorts are incredibly comfortable, performing and lightweight. I also recommend taking a couple of t-shirts.

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Dressing comfortably is key on the Jordan Trail

Kuhl cotton shirts are light, colorful and comfortable. I would take a thermal t-shirt too, which helps keep the body temperature even when sweaty. Hiking socks are necessary: with all the walking, keeping the feet comfortable and having that extra padding is important. Finally, a wind and rain proof jacket and a light sweater (it does get chilly at night) and a hat against the sun and heat are a must.

Other than the basic toothbrush and toothpaste, do make sure to carry some laundry soap which can be used to wash clothes (whenever water is available) and to shower; a good sunblock is fundamental unless planning to get sunburnt.

Also make sure to take prescription medicines as needed and, more importantly so, an emergency kit – I wish I had one after my accident. This should have: disinfectant spray, sterile gauzes, medical tape, antibiotic and / or antiseptic ointment and last but by all means not least some steri-strip.

To find out more about what’s in my backpack, read my post “My ultimate packing list.”

Final tips for hiking the Jordan Trail

Hiking the Jordan Trail isn’t a walk in the park. Whoever plans to walk it, needs to research as much as possible about it, and plan it carefully. It requires a good sense of adventure and an even better willingness to adapt to the sometimes harsh conditions and to the physical fatigue.

My recommendation is to also not do it alone. I don’t just mean to hire the services of a guide: that goes without saying, because some of the trails are virtually impossible to find, and there is no phone network and no way to talk to anybody if lost.

What I do mean, is to plan to hike the Jordan Trail in a small group of friends, for companionship, and to have someone to talk to and entertain each other, and to support one another during the hardest bits.

Have you hiked the Jordan Trail? What was your experience?

Legal Disclaimer: This article is written in partnership with The Jordan Tourism Board, of whom I was a guest. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.

 

 

 

All The Places To Visit In Jordan For The Ultimate Adventure

All The Places To Visit In Jordan For The Ultimate Adventure

I had wanted to visit Jordan and go to the most famous places to visit in Jordan for a long time. I even purchased flights to Amman at some point back in 2010, then a last minute job interview forced me to cancel my trip. My idea back then was to flash-pack through it. I intended to go to the most famous tourist sites, such as Petra and Wadi Rum. I hadn’t done much research about it and had little idea that Jordan tourism was so thriving.

When I was invited to go to Jerusalem again, I knew it was finally my chance to spend more time in the region and that it was time to properly visit Jordan. It was only once I was finally there that I realized that, although small, there are a lot of places to visit in Jordan. I spent 11 days in the country and I can hardly say I visited all of it: I feel like I barely scratched the surface. What I learned in my time there is that there are things to do in Jordan for all tastes, styles of travel and budgets.

To read more about Jerusalem, check my post “Traditional and alternative things to do in Jerusalem.”

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Exploring Wadi Rum desert is one of the best things to do in Jordan

There are more places to visit in Jordan than one may think

The curse of being a travel blogger is that I now travel so much that I hardly have time to properly inform myself about the destinations I am going to visit. Having said so, I did have a good idea about the places to visit in Jordan that I was keen to explore once there, and I gave myself enough time to allow some level of spontaneity, so that I could properly visit Jordan even beyond the biggest tourist attractions.

What I found is that there is a great range of things to do in Jordan: from visiting the most famous archeological sites to getting lost in tiny villages off the beaten path; from battling the traffic of Amman to enjoying the silence of Wadi Rum desert; from going on incredible hikes to diving in the Red Sea.

Those who intend to visit Jordan will discover a country that is incredibly beautiful; where the people are truly kind, friendly and generous; where the food is delicious; where the sunsets are out of this world; and which is incredibly safe even as for solo female travelers like myself – to the point that I don’t even get why people wonder if it is safe to visit Jordan.

Anyways, let me cut through the chase here and give my selection of what I think are the best places to visit in Jordan. I will also provide more information on Jordan tourism at the end of this post.

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Taking in the gorgeous views: one of the top things to do in Jordan

The top places to visit in Jordan

Aside from the world famous Petra, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Wadi Rum, there are many other places to visit in Jordan that are truly worth the time and effort to visit. My advice to all those who visit Jordan is to spend more than the typical 3 days flash-packing between Petra and Wadi Rum, and to give it enough time to travel slowly and enjoy all the fabulous things to do in Jordan. Having said so, here are the places to visit in Jordan that I truly recommend.

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Catching the sunset at the Citadel is one of the best things to do in Amman

Amman and things to do in Amman

Amman is on my list of top places to visit in Jordan. I am a fan of cities and city life, and I was glad I got to spend 4 nights there to explore it one bit at a time. In any case, I would say that 2 days are enough to visit Amman. There are plenty of things to do in Amman to keep visitors entertained.

Among the unmissable things to do in Amman (and in fact, one of the most interesting things to do in Jordan), there is getting deep into its Roman heritage. When in Amman, a visit to the Roman theater is a must. This was likely built in the 2nd century AD. As a lot of Roman theaters, it is cut into the side of a hill (which was once a necropolis) and it used to have a seating capacity of 6000 people (which gives a good idea of how big the city was at the time the theater was built).

The best view of the Roman theater is actually from the Citadel. Which brings me to say that one of the top things to do in Amman is visiting the Citadel. This is located on the highest hill in Amman, Jebel al-Qala’a, at around 850 meters above sea level. It is a beautiful archeological site, where the most impressive building is the Umayyad Palace, built around AD 720 by the Umayyad Arabs and subsequently destroyed by an earthquake in AD 749.

things to do in Amman

The Roman theatre of Amman is one of the unmissable places to visit in Jordan

I also enjoyed the view of the Roman Temple of Hercules with its remaining pillars (they can actually be seen from around town). Not far from it, there is a fantastic lookout with views of the modern city. One of the coolest things to do in Jordan is admiring the sunset, and sure enough among the top things to do in Amman there is enjoying the views of the city from the Citadel right during the call to prayer, at sunset. It was simply breathtaking.

The Jordanian capital has a truly artsy heart and one of the coolest things to do in Amman is enjoying is thriving art scene. This can be admired in the many beautiful murals spread around town, but it reaches its highest point at Darat al-Funun. This is located on the hillside to the north of downtown Amman, and it is a beautiful complex (which includes an art gallery) showcasing the best pieces of Jordan’s contemporary art. The view from there is splendid.

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I enjoyed walking around town to discover street art: one of the coolest things to do in Amman

One of the things to do in Amman that I enjoyed the most was walking around, taking in the crazy, busy city life. That’s how I discovered some lovely hidden corners; beautiful street art; local markets galore; and incredibly interesting social spaces such as Jadal for Knowledge and Culture, which is a great combination of a café, art gallery, and a place for education. It is located in a traditional house dating back to 1933 and recently renovated, on al Kalha Stairs that connect Downtown with Jabal L’Wiebdeh, an area that bursts with ambitious start-ups and creative initiatives.

It is the kind of place where there are regular art and language classes, making it a favorite of the expat community that enjoys hanging out there to learn Arabic or other languages (learning the local language is one of the coolest things to do in Jordan, though I admit I didn’t put too much effort in it and only learned the very basic). It is also possible to listen to and play music and practice yoga. And to top what already sounds interesting, it regularly works along NGOs for the integration of refugees.

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Enjoying the cultural scene of the city – one of the coolest things to do in Amman

Among the unique things to do in Amman, there’s visiting Duke’s Diwan. This is a historic townhouse which was built in 1924 and that has served as a post office, the seat of the Ministry of Finance, and a hotel. The house is owned by a local businessman who’s also the Duke of Mukhaybeh, who restored it to its original splendor, with period furnishing, and opened it to the public.

Duke’s Diwan was probably one of the highlights of my trip to Jordan. I was busy taking pictures of the beautiful interiors with my friend Fares, when at some point the Duke himself showed up and invited us to join him for tea and cake. He offered us the lovely mint tea that Jordanians love drinking, and a local sweet, and we had a nice chat about the current times and our political beliefs. It was one of the coolest things to do in Jordan, and I truly enjoyed it.

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Duke’s Diwan was a real find in Amman, and one of the nicest places to visit in Jordan

Where to stay, eat and drink in Amman

Staying in the downtown area is one of the best things to do in Amman, as it means easy access to attractions and restaurants. Beware that pretty much all hotels in Amman put the “boutique” label next to their name, whether they are really boutique hotels or not. In fact, none of them really is a boutique hotel.

Having said so, one of the things to do in Amman is staying in a good hotel. After having fled a hotel that did not meet my (already low) expectations, I spent most of my time at The Boutique Hotel (which isn’t really a boutique hotel, by the way). The rooms there are modest but comfortable, the showers are powerful and truly hot, the breakfast is good and the owner is a truly loving, welcoming guy who I truly enjoyed talking to. Another good place to stay is the Century Park Hotel.

Sure enough, I recommend as one of the most important things to do in Jordan to do some good research about the hotels, checking online reviews such as those on Trip Advisor, before making a booking. And if possible, actually visit the property before committing to a reservation because a lot of them don’t keep their promises.

One of the nicest things to do in Jordan is trying the delicious food. Amman is a great place to get a proper introduction to the local delicacies. While most people who visit Jordan head straight to Rainbow Street when in Amman, I recommend eating at Hashem Restaurant, considered a local legend. This small restaurant in the downtown area is open 24/7. I went in and asked for a menu and was almost laughed at by the kind waiter who attended me. There’s no menu here: all food is vegetarian, and each item costs 1 Jordanian Dinar (JD).

So, I did what probably is one of the top things to do in Amman: I ordered one of each and got stuffed on the best falafel I have ever had, hummus, baba ganouj, olives and pita. I ended up spending a whopping 4 JD, which is around $ 5.6 USD, including the bottled water and the mint tea that the waiter insisted I tried (ask for no sugar unless you like your tea to be extra sweet).

things to do in Amman

Eating hummus is one of the top things to do in Jordan

Al-Quds (know as Jerusalem Restaurant) is another decent place to eat in Amman. The food is good and the service efficient, though I found the waiters to be less than bothered to help me understand the menu, which was mostly in Arabic with really poor translation in English. Sure enough, one of the funniest things to do in Amman is reading the inventive English translations of the menus. I particularly loved “vegetable with meat problem” – whatever that was meant to be.

Although I do enjoy a drink every now and then, I wouldn’t say drinking is one of the things to do in Amman. There are bars and coffee shops, though there seems to be somewhat a divide between those that are mostly for men (where women are hardly seen, and if so they are usually accompanied by men) and those where women are welcome. Either way, those who visit Jordan will find that alcohol is incredibly expensive and bars are unbearably smokey, and they will be happy to do without.

Day trips from Amman

Although I really enjoyed the city, I found that one of the nicest things to do in Amman was to actually get out on a day trip. I thus took a day trip to Jerash, possibly one of the coolest places to visit in Jordan. This city is at about 1 hour drive north of Amman which has some of the best preserved Roman ruins in the Middle East. At its peak, Jerash had a population of around 20000 people.

The Dead Sea is considered one of the best places to visit in Jordan. Most people actually spend a few days in one of the all inclusive resorts, but it is actually possible to visit the Dead Sea on a day-trip from Amman, going to what is known locally as Amman Beach – a public beach run by the municipality of Amman and meant to give affordable access to the Dead Sea.

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The Dead Sea is one of the unmissable places to visit in Jordan

Swimming (or rather, floating) in the Dead Sea is one of the unmissable things to do in Jordan. It is possible to go to Amman Beach for the day via public transport from Mihajireen Bus Station. Or else, opt for a taxi or rent a car. Keep in mind that locals swim pretty much fully clothed, and while foreigners are free to wear swimsuits, it’s better to be modest.

Dana and Dana Nature Reserve

I visited Dana and Dana Nature Reserve as part of a multi-day hike (this is where a trail that leads all the way to Petra starts), and I was truly impressed. This is definitely one of the nicest places to visit in Jordan, at about 3 hours drive from Amman. I was there at the beginning of April and I’d say that spring is the best time to visit: winters are bitterly cold, and summers unbearably hot.

The village of Dana dates back to the 15th century and is entirely built in stone. The views of the valley below from Dana are simply spectacular, to the point that I’d dare say that one of the top things to do in Jordan is watching the sunset from Dana.

places to visit in Jordan

Those who visit Jordan shouldn’t skip Dana

The village is the perfect starting point for a number of hikes – hiking being one of the top things to do in Jordan. There are several trails. The Rummana Campground Trail goes along the canyon through some beautiful nature, with the chance to admire local wildlife. The Wadi Dana Trail starts in Dana and after a very steep descent it follows an easy path all the way to Feynan village. The walk lasts about 4 hours but it’s not advisable to walk back on the same day.

things to do in Jordan

Dana has retained its local character, making it one of the top places to visit in Jordan

Dana village is nowadays mostly abandoned. Only 3 families live there – the rest of the people have moved to the nearby Tafila. There aren’t that many foreign visitors in Dana – those who visit Jordan usually head to most known attractions. I think in my whole time there I met a total of 5! Most visitors are actually locals, who either go there for school trips or to spend the day with the family.

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Admiring the sunset in Dana: one of the best things to do in Jordan

I met one of these families while walking around the village. The children ran after me, insistently asking “What is your name?” and eventually introducing me to the entire (enlarged) family, who was having a picnic. I was welcomed among them and had to pose for pictures too. It was a fun experience and one of the most fun things to do in Jordan.

Dana village and Dana Reserve have been taken over by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) in 1993 in order to protect the wildlife of the reserve, promote ecotourism and help the local community. Supporting ecotourism is certainly something that those who visit Jordan should do. Currently, the only project to bring the village back to its old splendor is by USAID.

Where to stay and eat in Dana

Although small, Dana is one of the best places to visit in Jordan and as such there are 3 really good accommodation options. I stayed at Dana Guesthouse and loved it. All rooms have a balcony with a spectacular view of the valley. There’s the option of staying either in the plain (but pretty) basic rooms with shared bathroom, or in the superior ones where the bathroom has a gorgeous shower with a view.

Eating is one of the things to do in Jordan, and the manager at Dana Guesthouse made sure I enjoyed my food. I ate all my meals there – from the packed lunch, to the breakfast and dinner buffet. Dinner was actually very good, with a good selection of vegetarian and meat dishes. Keep in mind that no alcohol is served at the property.

Feynan

Feynan is in my list of unmissable places to visit in Jordan. The village is actually tiny: no more than a few bedouin families living in camps (they are the most welcoming I’ve met!), a couple of houses and a school. The setting is gorgeous. It is located in the Dana Nature Reserve, and although it can be reached on a 4×4, the best way to get there is on foot, on a hike that starts in Dana village.

places to visit in Jordan

Meeting the lovely locals is one of the things to do in Jordan

As I have already stressed, hiking is one of the top things to do in Jordan and Feynan is a great starting point for that. From the short and easy hike to a wonderful viewpoint for sunset; to the Copper Mine Tour; to the strenuous and completely (and literally!) off the beaten path Wadi Al Nakheel Trail, this really is hiking paradise and hiking maniacs who visit Jordan should not miss on it.

I hiked the Wadi Al Nakheel Trail in my attempt to walk all the way from Dana to Petra (more about this in another post I will be writing soon) and it was one of the toughest things to do in Jordan. It may well qualify as the hardest hike I have ever done in my life.

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Hiking is one of the top things to do in Jordan, but hiring a local guide is a must

Sure enough, one of the smartest things to do in Jordan is hiring a local guide during a hike. I couldn’t have done the Wadi Al Nakheel Trail without a guide, as there was no path to follow at all. As the guide believed that there may be a sudden change in weather (it was really cloudy that day) we followed a different route – walking along the river, inside the river, crossing the river and even walking through bushes. It was incredibly hard, but the views paid off.

Where to stay and eat in Feynan

The only accommodation and eating option in Feynan is Feynan Ecolodge (though the local bedouins are the most generous people I know and they even invited me for dinner!). I am hardly the person who travels for a hotel, but Feynan Ecolodge is truly worth the trip, and those who visit Jordan may as well make the effort to go there.

Feynan Ecolodge is one of the things that makes Feynan one of the top places to visit in Jordan. It is one of the few hotels I have been that lives up to its sustainable tourism reputation. Run by the RSCN, it only employs people (guides, cooks, receptionists etc) from the local communities. The atmosphere there is amazing – friendly, cozy, amicable.

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Worth the trip: Feynan Ecolodge is one of the places to visit in Jordan

The building is in adobe. Water is heated by solar panels, and there’s no electricity in the rooms (there’s a light only in the bathroom), as in the rest of the building. This (and wifi) is only available at the reception (which is where everyone charges their phones and cameras). When it gets dark, everything is illuminated by candles. As there’s no artificial lights around and there is a fabulous telescope, Feynan is among the top places to visit in Jordan to admire the starry sky.

If eating good local food is one of the top things to do in Jordan, Feynan Ecolodge communal buffet style dinner is a great why to try a lot of local specialties. Everything is vegetarian – the idea is that meat needs to be kept refrigerated and refrigerators consume too much electricity. Either way, the food is delicious!

Shobak Castle

Shobak Castle was a lovely surprise, and one of the most interesting places to visit in Jordan that I came across. Formerly called Mont Real, or Montreal (the Royal Mountain), the castle was build by the Crusader King Baldwin I in 1115 AD. After several attacks from Saladin, and an 18 months siege, the castle succumbed in 1189. In the 14th century it was occupied by the Mamaluks. It is currently undergoing restorations, and a team of Italian researchers is also further excavating the castle.

things to do in Jordan

Shobak Castle is one of the most interesting places to visit in Jordan

What makes Shobak Castle one of the coolest places to visit in Jordan isn’t just the building itself, whose sights from afar are stunning, but also the views from it. I could see a multitude of houses (currently abandoned) either built in local sandstone or actually carved in the rock.

Exploring castles is one of the most fun things to do in Jordan and Shobak surely obliged: the guide I hired for only a few Jordanian Dinars took me to a secret passageway that leads to a subterranean spring – sure enough, it is not for the claustrophobics as it is very dark, and tight inside.

Where to stay and eat in Shobak

Visiting castles is one of the nicest things to do in Jordan, but Shobak has shortages in terms of good accommodation. I stayed at Montreal Hotel, which was fairly comfortable (if not for the strange layout of the sheets on the bed!), which is also where I enjoyed my (super abundant) meals.

Petra (and Little Petra)

Many of those who visit Jordan head straight to Petra, which is the ultimate among the places to visit in Jordan. It is the main tourist spot in the country, and for a good reason. The site is simply stunning. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is incredibly spread, and I was glad I opted to spend 3 full nights to fully explore it and that I invested in a 2 days pass, paying 55 Jordanian Dinars (JD) which is around $ 78 USD. A one day pass is JD 50 ($ 70 USD).

Guides are available on the site, as in all of the best places to visit in Jordan. Free guided tours that follow the main trail depart every hour or so from the visitors centre, but the groups may be too large to fully enjoy the tour. Otherwise, it is possible to hire guides through the information office right by the ticket office.

Petra, Jordan

Petra is one of the places to visit in Jordan, though guides there are an expensive necessity

To be honest, guides are terribly expensive in Petra. I paid a whopping JD 80, which is around $ 120 USD, for a guide to take me to the view point of the Treasury on my second day. I understand that this is one of the best places to visit in Jordan and that the authorities may want to capitalize on that. Yet, I found it almost unreasonable. But if traveling in a group, prices can be shared. And if walking the most popular trails, all it takes it to wait around a bit until more people willing to share a guide show up.

In any case, taking a guided tour of Petra is one of the best things to do in Jordan. Lots of people opt to only visit on tours coming in from Amman, Aqaba, Wadi Rum or even Israel. It is a good solution for those that have limited time, but if time is not an issue, it is better to spend a couple of days and to explore it more in depth.

As Petra is one of the to places to visit in Jordan, it goes without saying that it is included in the list of attractions of the Jordan Pass, which is a rather convenient package that can be bought online and that gives access to a variety of sites (and through which it is possible to get a waiver for the visa fees, if staying more than 3 consecutive nights in the country).

For more information on how to make the most of Petra, read my post “11 things to know before visiting Petra, Jordan.”

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Not only Petra! Little Petra is one of the places to visit in Jordan

Not far from Petra, Siq Al-Barid, know colloquially as Little Petra, is a place that those who visit Jordan should not miss. It is thought to have been an agricultural centre and a re-supply centre for camels and caravans. There is no admission free, and there are so few tourists that it is really pleasant to explore.

Since hiking is one of the best things to do in Jordan, I highly recommend the hiking trail that connects Little Petra to the Monastery of Petra. Do keep in mind that it is better to hire a local guide, as the trail isn’t easy to find, and that a valid ticket to Petra is also needed.

Where to stay and eat in Petra

Wadi Musa is the main port of access to Petra, and it is where to find the best accommodation and eating options. All those who visit Jordan goes to Petra, so there are many places to stay in Wadi Musa for all budgets and tastes. I opted to stay at Sharah Mountains Hotel and truly enjoyed my stay. I had a clean, comfortable and quiet room (although the bathroom was a bit small), and the staff was incredibly kind and friendly.

As Petra is one of the top places to visit in Jordan, there are many good restaurants. The Red Cave is perhaps the most popular restaurant in town. There even are a couple of restaurants inside the archaeological site. I ate most of my meals at the hotel, and the food was incredibly fresh, tasty and always made to order.

Wadi Rum

I have always been fascinated with the desert, so it’s easy to see why I think that Wadi Rum is one of the coolest places to visit in Jordan. Made famous by TE Lawrence book Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Wadi Rum is quite simply a must for those who visit Jordan.

One of the highlights of Jordan Tourism, in proper desert fashion, Wadi Rum gets extremely cold in the winter, and unbearably hot in the summer. It was around 29 degrees Celsius when I visited, at the end of March. A strong wind started blowing in the early afternoon, and it gave it an incredibly mysterious aura.

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Without any doubt, Wadi Rum is one of the top places to visit in Jordan

The most beautiful sights of Wadi Rum are the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, named in honor of Lawrence’s book. This is a large rock formation that can be admired from the view point of the visitors centre. Hiking is one of the best things to do in Jordan, and needless to say it is also possible to hike the Seven Pillars. Other interesting sights include the rock inscriptions that date back to the Nabatean and Thamudic civilizations, Lawrence’s Spring, and the various siqs.

All the most fun things to do in Jordan can be enjoyed in Wadi Rum. Other than trekking, it is possible to take 4×4 tours like the one I booked through Get Your Guide; horse and camel rides, to go rock climbing, to go on a hot air balloon and, needless to say, sunrise and sunset watching. My recommendation is to do at least a 2 day guided tour to fully enjoy what Wadi Rum has to offer.

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Wadi Rum, Jordan – one of the nicest things to do in Jordan is enjoying the silence of the desert

To be fair though, what I enjoyed the most in Wadi Rum was the silence, the peaceful atmosphere, the sight of the camels and their occasional grunts breaking the silence, and the sweet tea that the bedouins offered. It’s a pity that I didn’t get to spend more time there – as one of the top places to visit in Jordan, Wadi Rum deserves to be properly explored.

Where to stay and eat in Wadi Rum

There are no real hotels in Wadi Rum, but as it is one of the most popular places to visit in Jordan, there is a wide range of bedouin camps that travelers can enjoy. In terms of restaurants, the best one is that of the visitors centre. It is generally possible to eat at the bedouin camps.

Aqaba

I used Aqaba as the starting point to visit Wadi Rum and didn’t really get to explore it. However, I can say it is one of the places to visit in Jordan as it provides access to the Red Sea, with some good beaches to relax and some incredible diving opportunities.

Where to stay and eat in Aqaba

As one of the most famous places to visit in Jordan, Aqaba has plenty of hotels for all budgets. I stayed at The Costa Marina Hotel and it was a good pick, although it was a bit far from the city centre. My room was large and comfortable, and the personnel was very kind. A good option to eat is Blue Bay, which mostly serves seafood.

places to visit in Jordan

Spring is the best time to visit Jordan

When to visit Jordan

I could say it’s always a good time to visit Jordan, but the truth is that it gets cold in the winter, and it is unbearably hot in the summer. The best time to visit is in the spring time, between March and May. I can confirm that: I went between the end of March and the beginning of April and the weather was always pleasant, never too hot, and the days were nice and sunny.

What to pack for a trip to Jordan

Jordan is a destination deserves to be hiked, and in any case I am a firm believer that when traveling it is important to be comfortable rather than fashionable. The good news is that comfortable clothes can also look really good. Having said so, I advise those to visit Jordan to dress conservatively and to make sure to wear layers, as it does get hot in the sun, but as soon as the wind starts blowing or the sun goes down, temperatures drop.

I found my Kuhl hiking pants and cotton t-shirts were perfect for the kind of activities I was doing. I carried a light sweater and wore a wind-proof jacket at night. I mostly wore hiking boots, as I walked a lot and the terrain was often uneven.

For more information on what is in my backpack and inspiration on what to carry to visit Jordan, read my post “My ultimate packing list.”

Crossing the border and getting a visa to visit Jordan

Those who get to Jordan by plane can get a visa on arrival upon landing: it costs JD 40. However, a lot of people who visit Jordan do so as part of a larger trip across the Middle East, often including Israel. In this case, there are two land borders where it is possible to get a visa on arrival: Wadi Araba, which is the border between Eilat and Aqaba, and Sheikh Hussein, which is located in the North of the Jordan. The King Hussein / Allenby Bridge (which is the closest to Amman and Jerusalem) requires a pre-arranged visa and it is factually only used by tourists who exit the country.

Visas for those who visit Jordan entering via a land border and spend a minimum of 3 consecutive nights there are free – the Jordanian Pass is normally considered proof of spending sufficient amount of time in the country. There is a JD 10 exit fee.

I also wholeheartedly recommend getting travel insurance to those who visit Jordan. I was certainly glad to have it when I injured myself while hiking and needed a doctor.

Currency in Jordan

The Jordanian Dinar (JD) is the official currency of Jordan. People who visit Jordan should be prepared to mostly pay in cash, though larger businesses also accept cards. All the best places to visit in Jordan have ATMs. At the time of writing, the exchange rate is 1.4 USD to a JD, and about 1.3 Euro to a JD.

Safety and scams in Jordan

Jordan is a safe country, and people are generally welcoming and helpful. The majority of people, at least in the places to visit in Jordan, speak some English – and if they don’t, they will in any case be kind and helpful. I had no issues whatsoever, even as a solo female traveler. Having said so, it is good to dress conservatively and to pay attention to some common scams.

I was fully prepared for scams and harassment after my experience in Cuba. Scams are common in all the best places to visit in Jordan, but they can be easily identified. The most typical scam in Amman, for example, is from taxi drivers, who regularly offer passengers to go to a different hotel or restaurant from the one they asked for. A polite and firm “no, thank you” works well in this case. Women who visit Jordan and travel alone should beware of Bdouls targeting women in Petra. Never accept an invitation for tea, coffee, dinner or to visit a cave or go off the beaten path.

things to do in Jordan

I wish that those who visit Jordan don’t take part in the exploitation of animals

Animals in tourist attractions 

The Jordan Tourism Board is making an effort to prevent the exploitation of animals in Petra, one of the top places to visit in Jordan. However, I saw lots of animals being pushed to their limits by their owners, and unaware (or simply uninterested) tourists gladly riding donkeys, mules and horse carriages despite the explicit request of the tourism board not to do so if able to walk.

When I visited Petra, I was regularly approached and asked whether I wanted to ride a horse, donkey, mule or camel and my answer was always the same: “no, thank you.” The following question was the typical: “Later, then?” and again I said no, and added that since I was able to walk, I’d never exploit an animal for my own enjoyment. I really hope that those among my readers that visit Jordan will never ride any of the animals in Petra.

To find out more about responsible tourism and animals, read my post “The use of animals in tourist attractions.”

Eating and drinking in Jordan

One of the best things to do in Jordan is eating. From mansaf, one of the most traditional dishes consisting of lamb and rice, to hummus and falafel, there is a wide range of choice and the good news is that there are plenty of vegetarian options. On a typical meal in Jordan (or at a buffet restaurant) there’s a really large selection of fresh delicious salads.

Those who visit Jordan generally enjoy drinking local tea and coffee. Jordanian tea is typically an infusion of black tea with added herbs – it can be sage, mint or others – for a truly fragrant taste. The typical coffee is a strong infusion of boiling water, coffee and a pinch of cardamom. Jordanians drink their tea and coffee super sweet: I always had to ask not to have sugar added, and my request often met a puzzled look.

Drinking alcohol is hardly one of the things to do in Jordan: alcohol is quite expensive in Jordan, as it is subject to heavy taxation, and the majority of locals don’t drink it anyways.

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So many places to visit in Jordan are dirty with garbage. Thankfully Dana Reserve isn’t one of them

Hygienic conditions and pollution in Jordan

After having been to India, nothing shocks me in terms of hygienic conditions and pollution. The hygienic conditions in Jordan are good: hotels are generally very clean, for example. I can’t fully say the same with regards to the open spaces. I saw a lot of garbage around, even in the nicest places to visit in Jordan, and it was a real shame. I hope the local authorities make more of an effort to keep the country clean and beautiful.

To read more about India, check my post “A selection of the best places to visit in India.”

Non-smokers like me who visit Jordan may well come to terms with the harsh reality that smoking is allowed pretty much anywhere in the country, and pretty much everyone smokes. Hotel rooms may be non-smoking, but with smokers happily enjoying their cigarettes in the lobby, even rooms will have somewhat of a stench. The same goes for restaurants, where people are legally allowed to smoke inside. I really hope the government implements some non-smoking policy in public places – it may well serve as a deterrent and force more people to stop smoking.

Have you ever been to Jordan? How was your experience in the country and what did you enjoy the most?

Legal Disclaimer: This article is written in partnership with The Jordan Tourism Board, of whom I was a guest. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.

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