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Travel to Jordan and Neighbourhood

What’s the best airline ?

I have to say that it is a long time since I have willingly flown another airline than Royal Jordanian. They aren’t perfect (come to that in a minute), but they keep pretty well to time, their flights usually leave and arrive at a reasonable hour so that I don’t have to make any special arrangements for getting to an airport for departure or away from it on arrival. They provide a hot meal (are you listening, Alitalia?), there are free cocktails and drinks.

On the other we can also suggest many nice connections of Turkish Airlines via layover in Istanbul. This will allow you to extend your visit around area with some Turkey tours in Istanbul and similar history in Cappadocia

How do I get from Amman airport to the town of Amman?

There are regular airport buses that leave from directly in front of the main exit from the airport and that take you to the Royal Jordanian offices. The time taken must be at least 40 minutes during the day, depending on the traffic something close to an hour isn’t impossible. These buses pass very close to the Wahedat bus station and if you ask nicely the driver will certainly let you get down there. (I remind you that this bus station is where buses leave for Petra/Wadi Mousa.) The buses leave the airport every hour on the hour from 6am until midnight, and similarly buses from the RJ offices to the airport leave every hour on the hour. The fare seems to vary between 1JD and 2JD – possibly more expensive at night? There are always taxis to be found near to the RJ offices, even in the middle of the night to take you to a hotel. don’t hesitate to take one, there is no problem with personal safety in Amman.

Do the airport buses run at night? Yes, they do, but they leave every two hours, at 1am, 3am and 5am. At 6am the normal timetable takes over.

Aren’t there any taxis at the airport? The airport taxis have recently been “tamed” and fixed prices are displayed, so that at least you know how much you are going to be charged for the principal destinations. These prices on the whole seem fair enough, it remains to be seen how many drivers will try to get a bit more. It is certainly reasonable enough to “round them up” a bit. Certainly in most cases it costs less than these prices to GO to the airport. While I am here, I will add that a hotel pick up from Madaba, which is much closer than Amman, is still allowed. The pick up charge from Madaba is 14JD.

Can’t I go directly from the airport to Petra?
After all, Amman is over 50kms to the north of the airport. Only by car, either a taxi, or a self driven hired car. See reply above about the charges of airport taxis.

If you are arriving at night, I urge you to think twice about heading straight to Petra. On the whole it is better to get what sleep you can to make the most of your time when you actually get there. This is the situation where sleeping a few hours in Madaba, and taking the bus on the Kings’ Highway makes sense. (See also the suggested itinerary for Jordan). You are not “wasting your time”, the Kings’ Highway is spectacular and a recognised tourist sight. You should arrive in Petra about 4pm and will be able to get an early night, to enable you to appreciate Petra far more the next day. The only time it is really worth considering going straightaway south is if you arrive at the airport after – say – 4am. In that case, at least Petra will be open when you get there, as will hotels, and people will be moving round. Any earlier and you will have to find somewhere to crash for a while first, you might as well crash for a bit longer in better conditions!

I won’t have any dinars with me when I arrive in Amman.How can I pay for my visa?
This isn’t a problem at all. There are banks there open 24 hours a day both before and after you pass through immigration. There are also ATM machines. I don’t know about the ATMs but certainly at the banks the exchange rate isn’t wonderful. Only change as much as you need to get to your first stop, say 30-50JD or so, or perhaps a bit more if you are planning on taking a taxi. You can draw out more from ATMs elsewhere the next day.

Just what facilities are there at the airport? Is it safe for a woman alone who is arriving in the middle of the night?

Amman airport isn’t really very “user friendly”. Apart from the shops which close at 6pm (18h) and a snack bar there isn’t very much at all. There are some basket chairs near to the snack bar (sorry, I don’t know if this closes at night, but I suspect it does) but no covered benches to sleep away a few hours while waiting for a connecting flight, and no comfortable lounge either. The airport is being done out, redecorated and I don’t know exactly what else, so something might appear in the next few months.

At the moment, as far as I know, there are no left luggage facilities at all there.

On the credit side, a woman alone needn’t worry at all about any harassment. The penalties for this are ferocious in Jordan and you are most unlikely to meet with any, most certainly not at the airport. You can also take a taxi or even the bus to Amman in the middle of the night with no worries about your safety. In fact, Amman is probably much safer than most European capitals as far as this is concerned. I am told that the authorities are “working on this” and perhaps you will get a pleasant surprise!

How can I get to Madaba from Petra, Wadi Rum or Aqaba? This is an annoying route, since there is no direct bus. The obvious and easiest way is to go to Amman and from there to Madaba. You can get a minibus from Petra or from Aqaba (from Wadi Rum, you have to go to via Aqaba) which brings you to the Wahedat bus station in Amman. The bus puts you down outside the bus station. Just walk up the hill to the right hand side of the bus station and anybody will direct you to the buses to Madaba. Once there, you will find that the bus station is outside the town, so either you get down in the middle of the street there, or you keep on to the end before looking for taxis to your hotel. There is no great difficulty in finding one. At this point,  I personally usually prefer to take a direct taxi, which costs about 12-15JD. This avoids all the hassle in finding the bus, getting myself and my luggage onto it and then finding a taxi to my hotel in Madaba.

Another and more complicated way is to get down from your minibus at the point where the road from Amman to Madaba crosses the Desert Highway. This is a little way after the airport, and there is no difficulty in stopping the bus by tapping on the window with a coin or the back of a ring. You can always speak to the driver ahead of time about this.

There are always official and unoffical “volunteer” taxis to take you to Madaba from this point on the Desert Highway. The usual charge is about 10JD which is too much, but you are not in a good bargaining position here! At least there is no problem at all about safety in this.

Another way, which you will probably like better, is to ask the bus driver to drop you off the Desert Highway on the flyover which crosses the Highway. Like this you are already on the road to Madaba. You will almost certainly need to cross the road in order to flag down a bus going west. There are plenty of them, it is unusual to wait more than 10 minutes or so. Again you might get offers from official or unofficial taxis, see the note above about prices – though here it is easier to bargain! The bus would probably charge about 1JD/person if you are willing to wait for it.

The bus driver from Petra or wherever is usually very cooperative about dropping you up the top, and may well offer without your actually asking him. I usually produce a dinar or two as a tip, so that he will keep on offering to the next people along

This doesn’t apply when you take one of the long distance buses, which are strictly non-stop and in addition do not have their terminus at the Wahedat. If you take one of these, then all the more reason to take a taxi directly from the terminus to the hotel.
What clothes should I bring with me to Jordan? Just how cold is the desert at night?

Well this does depend on the time of year. Briefly here is what I suggest, but all this isn’t meant to apply to long distance travellers, who have their own problems as far as clothing is concerned!

The summer is hot, of course, but you are still likely to need a sweater somewhere along the way. The desert might go down to 15°C even in August, and this is a bit on the chilly side for sitting and talking around the campfire. The winter is often cold with snow, but if you get good weather, you might find it warm! You just can’t win! In the winter, I advise you to dress in layers, a jacket over a pullover, over a sweatshirt, over a tee shirt: like this you can peel off as much as you want to. Remember that walking in the sun, and sitting in the shade are quite different, and don’t leave a pullover/sweater at the hotel just because the sun is shining and the sky is blue. You may well appreciate a pair of gloves for visiting Petra! Almost certainly the desert temperature will go down close to freezing point at night, quite probably beyond, possibly well beyond! A difference of 20 or even 25°C between daytime and nightime temperature is quite normal in Jordan.

You might well find a tracksuit useful, the jacket can be used separately, and could replace the sweatshirt/light sweater.

Keep the jeans for the winter, in the summer light chinos are better. On the whole I advise both men and women to leave any shorts at home, in the street they will not be appreciated by the locals. Loose clothing is cooler than tight, covering up against the sun is cooler than exposing a lot of flesh!

Except of course for the beach, and to a lesser extent for the main tourist sites (EXCLUDING Wadi Rum!), women will probably be happiest in calf length skirts or in loose trousers. Tee shirts are perfectly acceptable, tank or halter tops aren’t a good idea. The more you show, the more you are going to get looked over, and NOT in any nice way. Calf length skirts and loose trousers are the way to go. Somebody suggested full length Indian cotton skirts, they are fine – but they do absolutely need a full length petticoat underneath. I suppose it depends on who is carrying your luggage!

Beach clothes : I assume you will be using the private beaches, in which case you can bring ordinary bathing suits, or bikinis as you like. Monokinis for women aren’t recommended – see above about getting looked over!

Both men and women might like to remember that you will probably be sitting on the ground and/or boulders quite a lot, don’t bring any clothes that won’t do that without problem. In fact, dust coloured clothes might be preferable, but a bit dull, I agree. Remember too that you will probably be sleeping in your clothes in Wadi Rum, and who knows where else, if you decide to catch a nap midday….

Footware : I always suggest trekking sandals except in the dead of winter. They are more versatile than hiking boots, and stand up to harder going that the trainers or “boat shoes” that most people seem to wear. (If you haven’t been wearing sandals much lately, bring along some socks and carry a pair in your “day bag” in case of sunburn). They can be worn on the beach or in a boat, which can’t be said of hiking boots. In the desert I go on the principle that I am going to be getting sand in my shoes anyway, I might as well have an easy way of getting it out.
Is there somewhere I can leave my bags while I am moving around? Are there any left luggage lockers at the airport?

No, sorry there aren’t – or there weren’t any the last time I was there. However most hotels are willing to hold on to your luggage if you say you are coming back there again.

On the whole this is pretty safe in Jordan, but since your luggage is seldom directly under lock and key, it is better not to leave anything particularly valuable in it. As I say, 95 times out of a hundred no trouble at all about this. Your bags will be put in a cupboard or a storeroom not available to the general public, and will be there when you come back again. If for some reason, you really do want to leave something that you absolutely don’t want to risk losing, then hand it in to the management to be put in the hotel safe. I have never had the slightest problem in this.

A bit delicate saying this, but be more careful in Syria. People are even poorer than in Jordan right now, and the temptation can be very great indeed.
How can I visit the “Desert Castles”

You might like to look at the page in the Photo Gallery on the Desert Castles or at the map showing their locations.

What are generally called “The Desert Castles” (Qasr Al Kharaneh, Qasr Amra and Qasr Al Azraq among others) are to the east of Amman, and at the moment no public transport goes to any of them. It is necessary therefore either to take at least two days to visit them or to take a taxi/hired car. To be honest, these castles are not in my opinion, worth more than one day if that, there are many other more interesting minor sights in Jordan. But if you have plenty of time to spare, or if you have your heart set on them, then OK, why not?

From Amman, a taxi would cost approximately 100JD, to be split between the passengers. The best way of doing this is to ask a hotel to organise one for you: the hotels will find you drivers who actually KNOW THE WAYand who quite often speak English. Both these attributes are important! Unless you spend an inordinate time at any of them, a long half day is usually enough, you can be back in Amman by mid afternoon. There is a good brochure distributed by the Jordan Tourist Board describing the buildings, which you might find useful.

As usual, a taxi from Madaba will cost less than from Amman, although the distance is greater (what IS it with taxis in Madaba?) I understand that the going rate at the moment (May 2004) for a car from there is around 35JD for the day.

Some of these “castles” are locked and you will need to ask the caretaker to open for you. Remember that in that case he will expect a tip.

You should also bear in mind that you will probably need lunch somewhere along the way, it might be a good idea to ask for a packed lunch from your hotel, or at least stock up on picnic food. Don’t forget that whether you go from Amman or from Madaba, the driver will appreciate a tip, and would also undoubtedly accept an invitation to share your lunch – by Arab standards it would be very rude indeed not to invite him, just as it would be rude of him not to accept! If he has any food with him he will almost certainly add it to the common supply.
Is there any problem in Jordan about travelling with a girlfriend (boyfriend) ?

To put it shortly, “No”. There is no difficulty whatsoever about sharing a room with a member of the opposite sex PROVIDED that they are not nationals of the country where you are. This is heavily frowned on and may be drawn to police attention. But somebody coming from outside ? No problem whatsoever (even a Jordanian in Syria or a Syrian in Jordan would not be a problem!). Most certainly two tourists raise not the slightest eyebrow. There is no need to wear a fake wedding ring, no need to talk about “my wife”, no need for the slightest pretence. This is quite simply considered to be nobody’s business but your own. Equally there is no need to “prove” a marriage if it actually exists!

This holds good for the whole of the “touristic” Middle East.

Can I find vegetarian food easily? What about in Wadi Rum?

It is usual for a number of salad dishes to be offered as appetizers in restaurants; and in fact restaurants are more or less accustomed to vegetarians. It is always possible to get cheese, olives, yoghurt with or instead of meals.If you are fending for yourself, apart from the ever present filafel (very nourishing!) it is easy enough to buy the above in most food shops – after all they are the staple diet of many Arabs even today! You might like to bring along some salt for yourself, if you are going to be eating tomatoes and cucumbers a lot, if you like “hot” foods, then they are available also pickled as salads. In Wadi Rum, and provided you warn your guide in advance (be sure to specify if eggs are acceptable), you should have no great problem either. Things are pretty simple, even if you don’t.

The standard food cooked for tourists in Wadi Rum is “saniya” which is basically chicken, potatoes, onions and tomatoes, chopped and cooked together; in the desert this is usually done in by wrapping them all together in foil and putting it in the embers of the fire. It is very easy to keep out a few potatoes, onions and tomatoes and cook them separately for you, but be sure to ask in time. I like the potatoes and onions cooked like this anyway, dipped in yoghurt they are very good. In fact this is also something that the Bedouin might cook for themselves when they are alone, they will cut them up, add yoghurt and salt and scoop up the mixture with bread.

If you want to bring something “to be sure” then by all means do so. Don’t forget that to be polite you should offer it around, so bring enough….
What are the problems involved in travelling during Ramadan?

First let me correct a general misconception. Because “fasting” in Christianity usually denotes mourning, people tend to suppose the same thing with Ramadan. This is not at all the case.

For Moslems, “fasting” ie refraining from eating and drinking (and smoking!) between sunrise and sunset is something that they do voluntarily “for God”. They are pleased to do it, and if they give up after a few days, then there is (in theory) no shame for them. If they “succeed” they are happy, and sharing an endeavour always brings people together.

Ramadan is therefore usually a happy time; this is the time when their social life is at its busiest, when they invite friends and relatives for “iftar” (“breakfast”), and when they are most likely to frequent restaurants in the evenings. This is when they spend a lot of money, for food and clothes, as well as giving generously to the poor. You can compare it to Christmas, with a run-up lasting for four weeks.

However, for tourists, yes there are a few things to take into account. First of all, most of the smaller restaurants and coffee shops will be closed during the day. You are likely to be doing a fair bit of picnicking during this period, or of course, you do like the locals, and wait until things open after sunset! Unless you are a very tactless person, you will probably avoid eating and drinking too publicly in any case, it is neither polite nor kind.

Most office operate on reduced opening hours, this is not officially the case for banks and post offices, but try to avoid needing them in the afternoons. Transport : the same applies. At the best of times, buses are rarer during the afternoons in Jordan, if you need to travel later in the day, it is a good idea to check up ahead of time on the availability of that particular bus.

At sunset, just about everything shuts down for an hour or so while people pray and eat – be ready for this “dead” period, and in a big town beware of traffic as people rush to get home. After this, activities recommence, with shops and restaurants often open far later than usual. Since everybody eats “suhoom” during the night, as Ramadan continues people get shorter and shorter on sleep – this is not a good moment to try anybody’s patience! The most usual solution to this is a siesta at midday if they can, so be prepared to put up with this as well!

As said above, bars and liquor shops are closed during the day, and you cannot always count on their opening in the evenings either.

However, there are a number of sweets/dishes that are traditional during Ramadan, and since this is the period when a tourist is most likely to be invited to iftar, you are very likely to meet them! Take full advantage, they are very good!

Don’t be discouraged from travelling during this period – there are some inconveniences, but there are also good reasons to take full advantage of it. Again I compare Ramadan to Christmas, much the same arguments apply there too.

How does “sleeping on a roof” work?

Many of the cheaper hotels offer the possibility of roof sleeping. Ask about this when you arrive at a hotel. The “facilities” offered tend to vary a bit; before agreeing to a charge check if access to toilets and showers is included in the price or if a supplement is required for this! A typical charge is from 5JD to 10JD depending on the hotel, on the season and as I say, on what is offered.

Basically, what you get is a collection of mattresses spread on the roof, a pillow and a selection of blankets. You might or might not be offered more than one (have a quick look round and you can invariably spot the blanket storage place if you want another one!). There is usually, but not always, a tarpaulin or raffia mat to provide some shelter from the sun. Obviously there is not the slightest privacy, hence the importance of ready access to bathrooms.

How much you undress is entirely up to you. Most people sleep in sweats or shorts or just take off trousers (or whatever). A sarong can be useful for women here. Somebody once suggested bringing surgical greens, not a bad idea, they are light, wash very easily and are fairly cheap. But in that case, especially for women, you need a place in which to undress.

You should also be aware of the problem of safe keeping of luggage if you are planning on roof sleeping. Sorry, but this is YOUR problem, and I can’t help here! Just one word though : if you decide to hand anything to the hotel for safe keeping, then be sure to get an itemized receipt and not (for instance) “sealed envelope”.

Can I camp out in the wilds in Jordan? As a general rule, camping in the wild places in Jordan is only allowed in recognised camping areas. This is a rule that the police will enforce strictly if they find you, even if it is 3am. The problem here is to FIND the camping areas! They are seldom marked in any way, and there are usually no particular facilities there – nothing like the camping grounds in Europe. There is for instance, a “National Camping Ground” in Baïda near to Petra. It is perhaps 2 or 3 kms from the road, there is no signpost indicating it, and nothing but a spot of ground when you get there. It is some ten or twelve kms from Petra, and no public transport links them : at first sight, and even at second and third sight it’s not much good to an independent traveller! There are a number of camping sites attached to hotels, (I am thinking of the Alanbat Hotel, again close to Petra), but in the wilds – honestly no, not really recommended.

The big exception is Wadi Rum. Here you can camp just about anywhere you please – see the trekking and hiking sections on the Wadi Rum page and also the possibility of sleeping behind the Resthouse there in your own tent. This might change a bit under the proposed new rules for the Nature Reserve, but even then there will be a number of places where independent hikers/campers can sleep. There are a couple of permanent camps provided also.The same applies to other Nature Reserves such as Dana and Wadi Mujib. There are recognised camps where tents and bedding are supplied as are cooking facilities. You should be prepared to bring your food though or pay something close to restaurant prices for supper cooked for you.

Should I bring a sleeping bag? a tent?

Only if you are seriously thinking of camping out independently, otherwise a sleeping bag is more trouble than it’s worth. If you are going in for trekking or climbing or something, then you will be better to come equipped, otherwise no. Any “desert bivouacs” that are arranged for you will invariably include bedding.

You might however, like to bring with you a sleeping bag LINER. This is light, takes up little room and will protect you against dubious bedding if you are using cheap hotels. It can also be used alone in the summer or in Sinai, when a blanket is too warm, but you feel that you need some sort of covering at night.

Just occasionally, if you are travelling with an organised group of 10/15 people or more, the tour leader might ask you to bring a sleeping bag if you have one. Providing sleeping bags for so many people can strain the resources of many tour agencies or independent guides in Jordan. But unless you particularly want to use your own, only bring one if you are specifically asked.
For various reasons I am worried about toilets in the places we shall be visiting. Are there proper toilets in Petra, Dana and Wadi Rum?

Petra isn’t too bad. There are decent toilets at the Visitors’ Centre where you buy the tickets, there are more just below the Roman theatre and more again further on near to the Museum. They are a bit strung out, so make a maximum use of them, the rest of the main track is fairly public, and there is little chance of going behind a rock unless you are quite high up on the surrounding hills.

Dana : again there are toilets before you start down into the Nature Reserve, but when you are there, and with the exception of the official camping grounds, the only solution is a rock!

Wadi Rum : sorry, but the same applies. There are toilets at the Resthouse where you arrive, there are also showers to which you can have access for a small sum if you have been sleeping in the desert for a few days, but with the same exception of camping grounds, and sometimes, but not always, the “tourist camps” set up by several of the Wadi Rum guides, the rest of the time the solution is again a rock!

Please remember that while all wastes should be buried, in the dry conditions in Jordan toilet paper should be burned first – carry a cheap lighter with you if you don’t smoke. There is little rain to destroy the paper, and the wind can uncover it in a few hours/days/months or even years! NOT very nice!
Getting from Aqaba to Saudi Arabia (Tabuk)?

The white service taxis that run between Aqaba and Saudi cities (Tabuk being one of them) are gathering near the Aqaba Castle, which is located at the Great Flagpole of Aqaba.  You can just get there and negotiate with the drivers.

However, if you wish to pre-arrange your trip, I recommend you to contact my brother-in-law, Rajab, who also runs a service taxi between Aqaba and Saudi Arabia.