What to See and Do in Jordan!

Traveling alone as a woman in Jordan was one of the best experiences I have had traveling overseas. I had a lot of time to roam the country in all directions! There is so much to see and do in Jordan that I quite literally ran out of time. I am sharing my itinerary here with some tips for each place on what to see and do in Jordan!

What to See and Do in Jordan! Jerash City

After exploring the hotel area the first day, I spent the second by heading off to  off to Jerash City, driven by a young man that works for a travel agent. He was kind, lighthearted and wonderful to talk with.

What a wonderfully archaeologically rich site. The architecture reflects the Mediterranean basin and the traditions of the Arab Orient. The modern city of Jerash (which has a wonderful cafe to enjoy before trekking into the ruins) is just to the east of the ruins.

The day that I visited, it was easily over 120° outside. I wore a headscarf to keep myself cool, which seems contradictory – but works! After exploring much of the ancient city and taking photos of the Syrian-Jordanian border, I suggested we leave (it was too hot to hang out there any longer! (Not before I tried to convince him to let us cross the border at least once. He refused and said it was far too dangerous).  I was eager to get back into the air conditioned car.

An important side note. On the drive back from Jerash City, I saw a young child, about 2 years old with her head out of the window of a car. The car was driving quite fast and the child looked happy; the parents looked afraid through their open windows.  I asked the young driver about them. He said they were probably fleeing Syria just minutes before. All throughout Jordan, at most traffic lights, you will find Syrian’s (over 1 million have fled into Jordan) begging for any work they can get. There is some animosity between the Jordanian’s who are also looking for work and the perception that the Syrian’s are taking those jobs. The whole issue reminded me a lot of the Mexican immigration issue in the US.

The Roman Amphitheater in Downtown Amman

From there, we headed off to the Coliseum – the Roman Amphitheater in Amman. Despite the heat, I insisted that we climb together to the top.

From there you can see Rainbow Street in the distance and many other parts of the city. The Amphitheater was a fun climb and even better at the top. I ran into a group of Egyptian men who wanted to snap a photo. Somewhere out there on Internetland is a photo of 15 Egyptian men with this random blonde girl in the middle. It was quite entertaining!

We headed off to find a place to eat, found a lovely café and then continued our journey exploring the city. In late evening, he dropped me back off at my hotel and we exchanged contact information on WhatsApp. As I’ve mentioned before, Whatsapp is the crucial text messaging tool in any foreign country I have traveled to.

Confusing Cultural Issue?

I enjoyed dinner with my local friend the next day and learned that he was not happy the driver was friendly. Apparently this is a faux pas in the country and was alarming to him for some reason. I need to make it very clear that at no point was the young man disrespectful, alarming or inconsiderate. He showed me pictures of his two young children and talked about his wife. He was a lovely gentleman. I’m not sure what the issue was, but my friend insisted it was not acceptable.  Trusting him, he called the travel agency and requested a different driver. (To this day I’m confused as to why this happened)

Speaking of culture. Perhaps my best experience in Jordan was with my friend doing a local Eid tradition. We got a goat, went to his house and retired it (the humane way, with a knife to the artery) and then split the meat. 1/3 to family, 1/3 to those in need and 1/3 to friends. Don’t be afraid to ask locals to join in their festivities.

What to See and Do in Jordan: The Dead Sea, of Course!

The next day, a different driver took me down to the Dead Sea to continue the adventures of what to see and do in Jordan. The Dead Sea is a 45 minute beautiful drive. Your ears will pop rapidly as you reach the lowest point on Earth.  You will pass by sights to stop and see, such as Mount Nebo and the Baptism Sight of Jesus. You can stop to explore them all if you wish. No living organism survives in the Sea and it’s 8.6 times saltier than any ocean. A strong health research center due to the low content of pollen or allergens, reduced UV light and high atmospheric pressure.

Dead Sea in Jordan

I had taken several things with me so I could stay the night at the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea.  The room was so-so but the grounds were beautiful. I was put into a room with two twin beds (although a king room was reserved) because I was checking in as an unmarried woman. Be prepared to show a marriage certificate at some hotels in the Middle East if you are married and checking in with a significant other. Also, be prepared to be disallowed a single room if you’re not married! This may not happen to you but it has happened to several of my friends.

https://www.kempinski.com/en/dead-sea/hotel-ishtar/

I quickly put on a swimsuit, and headed down the long trek to the water. Along the way, there were a couple of pools with women in burkini’s smoking argileh. There were many other European or western women in bikinis. This was a melting pot of diversity, and nothing that felt concerning at all.

Many people were putting mud on themselves or having the hotel staff do it. Dead Sea mud is said to have healing properties and contains minerals only found in the Dead Sea. You can easily see Israel from your room or from the water and the view at nighttime was romantic and beautiful.

I laid on a chaise for a bit and then headed down to the water. About halfway down, I slipped and fell pretty hard from the minerals that have built up along the sea. It’s a phenomenal site, and the most gorgeous water I have ever seen in my life. Lots of different colored minerals and salts form on the rocks.

When I got to the shore (which is more like a small landing with rocks), I slipped off my shoes and fell once again. Tip: I made the mistake of shaving my legs an hour earlier and boy was that no bueno! The salinity of the water is so high that it was instant burn and red bumps! It took quite some time to adjust enough to be able to get all the way in the water.

Another word of caution: many people try to swim like normal in the Sea. You simply cannot – and worse – could be flipped onto your stomach where you cannot pull yourself back up. Only lay on your back! Please research this separately because it’s important. I didn’t stay in long; I wasn’t a big fan of the stinging legs. But the beauty here was out of this world.

Now What? What to See and Do in Jordan!

I hung out on and off with my friend for the next half a day and then headed back to Amman and the Four Seasons – my home away from home.

By this point my friend was headed back to the United States and I was left to explore the rest of the country. Most of my adventures were solo, with the exception of a spot  in the new downtown to get tea and argileh, Jafra.

Madaba, Wadi Rum, Petra and Aqaba!

A day later, another new (much older LOL) driver came to pick me up. We were off and running for a couple of nights to drive through Madaba, Wadi Rum, to explore Petra and end up at Aqaba.  I left most of my belongings in my room in Amman. All of these areas are in relatively close proximity to one another (within 4-5 hours), so it makes sense to leave and get to this region and then explore. There’s actually an airport in Aqaba if you want to fly in there. You’ll miss seeing the camels and The Bedouins.

Bedouins in Jordan

Madaba

Madaba was one of my favorite cities! Mosaics, churches and mosques line the streets and street food is spectacular here. One of the things I enjoyed most was going to Nebo’s Pearls. I picked up some incredibly beautiful hand made and designed mosaic pieces that were created by disabled women. The store ships them to the United States free of duty tax.

Nebo's Pearl

This is a Tree of Life table I had made and sent to my home in the United States


A few words of caution and advice here. While purchases from this store are duty and tax free based on an arrangement between the Jordanian and American governments, some states will tax you. If you live in a state that wants their hands on everything you have, be prepared to pay sales tax. California sent me a bill for 10% of my overseas purchase based on what was reported to customs. It ended up being quite a hefty bill. Also, be aware that drivers take you to these stores to get kickbacks. If you want to skip the shops you have to tell them. This is true for most countries and it is definitely true for Jordan.

In Madaba, the two gentlemen I worked with the most were a Muslim man and a Catholic man. They joked with one another, showed me some of their more unique pieces downstairs and invited me to chat. They were both very kind. We talked a lot about the Security situation and politics, and how both have impacted foreign travel. They shared how their own livelihoods have been devastated by issues in the surrounding countries even though Jordan has remained safe. I promised them to get the story out and tried my best with an article in the Jordanian Times and by creating Facebook Groups for travel tips to Jordan.

Petra

After Madaba, we headed off on the Kings Highway over some of the most beautiful mountains. We saw old castles and headed the rest of the way to Petra.

By the time we got in, it was too late to do much that evening. I settled into my hotel, the Movenpick. Again with the twin beds (LOL)! The hotel was okay, nothing fantastic, certainly not 5 star. It is considered the best in Petra though. (I really needed to find a soft pillow. Trying to communicate this to a housekeeping person who didn’t want to come into a female’s room was a little tricky, but we managed to get the communication across!)

I got comfortable, got my computer online (very slow Internet connection, so heads up on this one!) and to tried to get my iPad to connect to their television so I could watch something other than Jordanian news. No such luck!

I read some magazines and wandered around in some shops downstairs. One of the shopkeepers I purchased from charged to my room for convenience at my request. About 2 AM, I heard a knock on the door and a couple of men (they were quite flirty) were knocking on my door. I just ignored them and called the front desk and they went away. I’m not sure if they got my room number from the front desk or off of my room charge, but I have to assume the latter. This was probably the most stressful security-related part of my trip, but I’ve had much worse happen traveling in the United States.

Tip: I think the take away here is to pay cash and be friendly, but not too friendly.

Exploring Petra on Horseback

About 10 AM the next morning after breakfast, I walked across the street to the opening of Petra. I paid a small fee and then was asked by dozens of horse owners if I wanted them to guide me on horseback. What I really wanted was a map and a horse to roam alone! The tourism industry is so decimated due to the surrounding area issues that I was able to pay about $80 US to have a guide stay far away, take photos if I asked, and leave me and the horse to our peaceful adventure.  We started climbing our way through very rugged terrain and rocks.

Petra on Horseback

The heat of the day was very hot; my phone said 125°. I was feeling pretty bad for the horse. I saw some beautiful rock formations, and found various spots to see the Bedouin in the hills and found spots to look down on the ancient city.

Petra

Petra

After a couple of hours of exhausting walks and hikes, the horse new his way back on his own (and was eager to get there). I met up with the guide an hour or so later and we walked the horse back to the entrance. It would have been wonderful to see Petra by night, but timing did not allow for it.

Petra on Horseback

Rock formations in Petra

I walked back to the hotel, got my things and called the driver who met me out front. We were off to Aqaba!

Wadi Rum

We made the trek for about five hours over hills and through small shops to Wadi Rum.

Kings Highway Dead Sea Travels

On future trips, I plan to go camping here. There are some amazing, well furnished places – but no Internet or cell service. Darn!

What to See and Do in Jordan: Aqaba

We ended up at my second favorite spot in Jordan – Aqaba!  The Kempinski Red Sea Hotel here was lovely.  I was able to enjoy a king size bed! Yay!  I quick made some new friends out on the water from lots of different countries. The service was fantastic and there is some wonderful local shopping.

Aqaba is on the Red Sea and you can see Egypt and Saudi Arabia from the water. The Sea was very warm and the people once again were fabulous to chat with and get to know. I was invited to a local’s party that evening, but didn’t partake. This was partly out of exhaustion and partly because I would be the only female.

I headed back to my room in the evening and had a wonderful night’s sleep in a glorious hotel. The next morning we headed back to Amman; my time in Aqaba was far too short. The photo below is the sunsetting in Aqaba from my hotel balcony.

Sunset in Aqaba

Making Some Local Friends

Before making it back to my hotel, the wonderful older driver asked if I would like to meet his daughters and his wife in their home. Of course I said yes! It was an honor to me.

We got to his home and there was a separate seating area for guests. I learned later that guests do not leave the seating area unless they are family or very well known by the family. His daughters came out and were giggling and saying hello.

He shared that it is difficult to send two daughters to school but they needed to earn a college education.  One was going to Saudi Arabia and one was going to continue her education in Jordan. They were both teenagers and lovely young ladies. His wife was incredibly attentive. When I was alternating between chatting and eating, she peeled my fruits and dates! She was very gracious.

She left the room and her husband and I talked about all sorts of things, politics, travel, and what they thought of our president (at the time our President was Mr. Obama). We chatted about how to bring tourism back to Jordan.  A side note or possibly tip: I shared this story (which I considered to be wonderfully touching) with my Jordanian friend after I returned to America. This was perhaps the most enraged I’ve heard him on the phone. He was appalled that the driver would do this.  I’m not sure what the local custom is here that is was “broken” or if it’s my friends issue, but I just want to bring it up in case others run into it.

Back to the Four Seasons

When I got back to my room at the Four Seasons (which I should say was incredibly inexpensive given the quality of the hotel and the free upgrade!), I made sure to enter all of the new contacts and friends I had made into WhatsApp.

Heading Home to the States

The next morning, I had to make my way back to the airport and off to JFK. The only mildly weird time for me was the random hotel room knocking incident. Other than that, I felt incredibly safe. At every military checkpoint I had to hand over my passport to the guards, so be sure to keep it on you. As tourists we are taught not to carry our passports with us in case our bags are stolen. In this case, you will need it for checkpoints and to check into hotels.

Check out my post on getting in and out of the country, and the trip before this in Dubai! Overall I highly recommend Jordan as part of any Middle Eastern adventure. The food, the people, the culture, the opportunity to learn the language are worth it. I walked away with a far better understanding of the people, what matters to them and how supportive they are of our Country.

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