Jordan: So Much to See
Updated: Apr 20, 2020
We organized a two week trip to Jordan, Israel and Palestine. It took quite a while to figure out the best way to visit these countries. Most people would feel safer with an organized tour, but we decided to book ourselves and rent a car when available. Peru and Machu Picchu required some logistics, but nothing compare to Jordan, Israel and Palestine. I had tried, for example, to find a driver to pick us up at the Allenby Bridge (border between Jordan and Israel) for a reasonable price. The distance is only forty five minutes from the border to Jerusalem, but it never happened.
We flew with Austrian Airlines (a United Airline partner) between Newark, Vienna and Amman. A few weeks before our departure, Austrian Airlines cancelled one of our flights, so we had to leave a day earlier and re-book all of our hotels and cars reservations for the entire trip. That was very inconvenient. Austrian Airlines was very difficult to deal with and they did nothing to help us.
We arrived in Amman on a Thursday afternoon. The airport is very modern and it did not take long to go through customs. We picked up our rental car in no time and drove to our hotel, the Sheraton Amman. It's a beautiful property, with a very large pool and a spa. The first night we had dinner at their main restaurant. They had a wonderful buffet that they serve every night during Ramadan. Yes, our trip coincided with the celebration of Ramadan. We knew it when we were planning it, but we still did not modify our dates. All the historical venues were opened and we never had a problem getting food and water during the day.
On Friday we visited the city of Amman. We stopped at the Citadel and at the Roman Amphitheater. We drove around the city to see their most famous mosques. It was very busy. Friday is like our Sunday, so people go to the mosques and most of the stores are closed. We drove outside the city through the desert to Qasr Amra, the best-known of the desert castles located in eastern Jordan. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site That evening we ate at a very good Chinese restaurant named Ren Chai. It has a very classy terrace, excellent food and it is only a few minutes by car from the Sheraton.
The next day we first visited Jerash, one of the best preserved Greco-Roman cities. It is located thirty miles north of Amman. It's definitely worth the trip. They have a well preserved forum, an Hadrian’s Arch and the Corinthian columns of the Temple of Artemis. Afterwards we drove to the Ajloun Castle, a 12th-century Muslim castle situated in northwestern Jordan. That evening we had dinner in Amman at a very good Italian restaurant named Spago. It is not related to the Spago restaurants owned by Wolfgang Puck.
On Sunday we left Amman for Petra. It takes between three and four hours depending the road you choose. We stopped at Mount Nebo, which is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as the place where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land. The view from the summit provides a panorama of the land and, to the north, a more limited one of the valley of the River Jordan. On a clear day you can also see the cities of Jerusalem and Jericho. Our second stop was Madaba, an ancient town known for its 6th-century mosaic map of the Holy Land in the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George. We visited the church and drove in the direction of Petra. A few minutes before the city we stopped at the Montreal Crusader castle built in 1115.
By the end of the afternoon we checked-in at the Petra Marriott Hotel for a couple of nights. It's a very nice property located above the city. It has a nice pool and a great view of the mountains.
On Monday morning we woke up very early and met our guide at the Petra visitor center. We learned that it takes more than half a day to visit the site and that it is much faster to use donkeys to tour the different areas. We were the first people there at around 6:00 am walking through the Siq, which ends up at the Treasury, one of Petra most famous monuments. Being by ourselves with our guide in front of the Treasury made for the most amazing photos. We continued our visit by stopping at the Theater, the Church and the Royal Tombs. Our last site was the Monastery, which required a steep and long (not very safe) climb. We were happy to have our donkeys by that time. The monument and the locations are breathtaking. We decided to walk down instead of riding the donkeys (just trying to stay alive). We went back to the hotel for a swim and rest before dinner. We had purchased tickets for the Petra by Night Show, so we went back to the visitor center and lined up before they opened the doors. The night show takes place at the Treasury, so you have to walk back through the Siq. It takes about thirty minutes at night. There are no lights, so you have to use your phone to see the rocky path. I would not recommend that for people with mobility issues. We finally arrived at the Treasury and stayed in the back. They have candles, they offer tea and they perform a very basic show. For us it was definitely not worth the trouble...and you have to walk back in the dark for thirty more minutes.
We left Petra on Tuesday morning for the Dead Sea. On the way, we first visited the Kerak castle. a large Crusader castle located in al-Karak. It is one of the largest crusader castles in the region. Afterwards we drove down from the city to the Dead Sea. Our next stop was the Baptism Site “Bethany beyond the Jordan”, located a few miles north of the Dead Sea on the Jordanian side. It is considered by the majority of the Christian Churches to be the location where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. You have to park your car, take a bus and join an organized tour for the visit. Afterwards, we drove to our hotel. We stayed for one night at the Marriott Resort & Spa, a wonderful hotel located on the shores of the Dead Sea. We quickly checked-in, changed to bathing suits and went for a "swim" in the Dead Sea. That was a very unique and strange experience. You really float, but you cannot stay in the water for too long because of the high salinity of the water. We stayed at the resort for dinner and ate at Terrazzo, their Italian restaurant. This resort was beautiful and we could definitely have stayed there a couple more days to relax.
Wednesday was adventure day and our last day in Jordan. We had to return the car on the Jordan side at the King Hussein Bridge. The same bridge is named Allenby Bridge on the Israeli side. It was not too difficult to return the car. The Hertz manager was kind enough to drive us closer to the border, so we didn't have to walk a few hundred yards with our suitcases under the heat. We entered the Jordanian custom office, filled in some forms and waited for the bus. It took almost an hour. That was the end of that part of our trip. Go to the "Israel and The Holy City" blog to read the second part of our trip.