How to Travel Well in Jordan
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Jordan is a country which prides itself on offering a warm welcome to travelers and hospitality is a large part of the culture. For most tourists, interactions with Jordanians will be part of commercial transactions, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be treated to freely offered coffee or juice, sharing of life stories and questions about your own life. It’s a big part of the experience and something to embrace and enjoy. We traveled as two women together and found this to be generally easy. Although there were times when men would make lewd comments, or inappropriate advances, these were isolated and no worse than what we experience back home.
Know before you go to Jordan
You can get Jordanian Dinar out of cash machines at Amman airport to pay for your visa on arrival. It’s easy to do and doesn’t take long.
If you are getting a taxi then make sure you understand how the currency works. The Jordanian Dinar is split into 1000 fils, not 100. Many taxi meters don’t display this clearly. For example, on one trip our meter looked like it read 26.70, but was actually JD2 and 670 fils – just under £3. When we handed JD30 – around £30 - to our driver we only got JD3.30 back. He was very effusive getting our luggage out and saying goodbye and we only realized our mistake when he had already left!
The airport express bus runs regularly and will drop you off at the bus station in central Amman for only JD3. A taxi will cost around JD15 for the same journey – perhaps worth it if you have lots of luggage.
For longer trips and sightseeing, hiring a car and driver is a common way for tourists to travel in Jordan. Not only is it easier and more comfortable than local buses, it’s also a great way to see places you might not get to if you were guiding yourself. Most hotels and hostels will be able to point you in the direction of reputable drivers. Make sure you negotiate fees in advance. Tipping isn’t expected but is always appreciated.
For men and women, it is sensible to dress modestly. Jordan is not a country with strict dress codes, but you may feel out of place if you wear strapless tops or short shorts. Religious sites will require everyone to cover shoulders and knees and sometimes heads as well.
Food and drink in Jordan
Jordan is a great place to eat well and cheaply. It is also somewhere that provides well for vegetarians and vegans. The main towns and cities will have lots of small restaurants serving a menu of classic Jordanian food, including delicious falafel, hummus and salads, that you will soon become familiar with. These mezze sections are often great value – we paid JD3 each for a huge meal and drinks at Hashim, near our hostel. It claims to be the oldest restaurant in Jordan, which is impossible to prove, but they certainly serve authentic, fresh, delicious Jordanian food. Check out this post for my overview of what else to eat in Jordan.
Alcohol is available in most hotels, but don’t expect to see it in many restaurants. Mint tea or Arabic coffee are good alternatives!
Eating and drinking (anything – not just alcohol) in public during daylight hours Ramadan is considered unmannerly, although there are always restaurants open during the day catering to tourists and non-Muslim locals.
Seeing the sites in Jordan
Our hostel recommended Jamil, a Palestinian grandfather of many, to be our driver. He drove us and another couple from the hostel to Jerash and then on to Ar-Rabad Castle in Ajlun. Jerash, which was known to the Romans as Gerasa, is a ruined Roman city to the north of Amman, was part of the Roman ‘Decapolis’, a group of the ten most important cities in the Middle East in the first centuries BC and AD. It is part of a huge landscape of ancient sites, with several that are very worth visiting.
At both sites we had to fend off groups of school children there on school trips. One photo with the little girls was great, a photo for everyone in an entire school year, less great… Children in Jordan are often extremely friendly and without any trace of shyness, but in our experience, they are harmless, if a bit insistent on interacting with you.
The following day we took another trip with Jamil, this time to Madaba to see the Byzantine mosaic. This incredible 6 th Century survival is made up of over 2 million pieces of stone, forming a map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. It really impresses on you just how ancient this area of the world is.Included in this day trip – and showing again how valuable it is to have a car and driver – was a visit to see the view from Mount Nebo, where the Bible tells us Moses had his first view of the Promised Land. Jamil then dropped us at the Movenpick Resort on the Dead Sea.
At the Dead Sea we took the water and mud-packed up. This resort is stylish and very large, a great place to relax, but not close enough to any of the cultural sites to be a good base for wider touring. The following day Jamil was back to drive us down to Petra, along the King’s Highway, a journey of 3.5 hours if you don’t stop along the way. We broke our journey to visit two in a series of 12th century Crusader castles which line this route. Impressive Karak Castle is one of the largest, and Shobak one of the most picturesque, sitting on a conical hillside. Interpretation at these sites is limited, but what there is has an English translation and gives a glimpse into this fascinating and turbulent period of Jordanian history. Jamil looked after us throughout, buying us water and fruit, insisting that we would overpay if we tried to buy it ourselves. He also told us many stories of his family, particularly his grandchildren and his life in Jordan since 1967.
Jordan has absorbed more Palestinian refugees than any other country, with 2.2m living there now. Since the Syrian civil war Jordan also has a significant population of Syrian refugees (over 1.4 million). The willingness to work to provide for refugees is a demonstration of a much more profound concept of welcome than tourists will ever see. The strain on the country’s resources has been a great one, including increased unemployment and increasing levels of national debt, but the government’s minister of planning and international cooperation, Dr Mary Kawar, reminds us that “Jordan is a hospitable country.” With so many international borders, Jordan’s cultural melting-pot is a sign of hope clothed in challenge.
Petra – sightseeing and shopping
There have been many posts written about Petra, but until you have been there it is impossible to really describe how awe-inspiring it is. Gazing out across the Treasury from the top of the cliff opposite, I had a great sense of achievement. The hike up had been hard, mainly as we had to guess the correct route across the rocky plateau at the top, but we had made it.
We saw traders all around Petra, with everything from large tents-shops through to individuals selling wares from scarves on the ground. We struck up a conversation with a Bedouin lady who employed a cunning tactic; catching us, hot and thirsty, on the walk back down from the Treasury, and offering us delicious lemon and mint juice. Maybe it was British politeness, or the relaxation of being on holiday, but it felt rude not to stop for a chat.
We spoke to her about where we were from, the UK and New Zealand, and she explained about her family. She told us about how hard life could be for a Bedouin woman. The women in these families take on the responsibility of running businesses, like her shop in Petra, and looking after the children and rest of the family. Women in Jordan are generally equal to men, but Bedouin communities have lower rates of female literacy and economic emancipation. This is changing, but slowly.
The traders of Petra are friendly, but they are also there to make the sale. I felt an obligation to buy something from this lady, to thank her for her hospitality and time. If you know you cannot, or do not want to buy anything then it is better to avoid getting into such situations, as it can quickly become awkward. I was happy to support her and picked a silver necklace (I was told real silver!) with turquoise stones. With the price starting at JD80 (equivalent to £80) I knew this was going to be hard work. Haggling is part of life in Jordan and tourists from places where it is uncommon are expected to be bad at it. Bear in mind that the trader won’t take less than the goods are worth, so stick your neck out! A few more offers and counteroffers and I was the proud owner of the necklace for c.£30. Far more than it was worth, but a reminder of a fun morning and a great local character.
A Warm Welcome to Jordan
Traveling in Jordan was a delight; easy, safe and reasonably priced. Most of the people we met wanted to talk, to share their lives, and to hear about ours – and often, to sell us something. Our trip was a chance to experience interactions with residents of a country very different to our own. From eating out, to travel, to buying those souvenirs, make sure you seek out the truly local, support sole traders, and make time to listen to the stories that they have to tell.
This was a guest post written by Katie from What’s Katie Doing?
Katie has an avid traveler since childhood. After numerous family holidays, she finally bit the bullet and took a year out to travel full time in 2013. 21 countries and 13 months later and she now fits travel alongside her gin and food passions and the day job. Having visited 61 countries to date, she now aims to visit somewhere new at least once a year and loves traveling to try the local food and gin! You can read more on her blog: https://whatskatiedoing.com/ or find her here: Tweet: @katiebhughes, Insta: @whatskatiedoing, Facebook: whatskatiedoing