JORDAN OUT OF DOORS
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Distances in kilometers
You will notice perhaps that I have everywhere given details of travel in local minibuses. The Jett buses, much touted in most guide books, are certainly more comfortable and have AC but they are far more expensive, very little faster and on the whole they are less useful. If you are interested anyway, the Jett office (for inside Jordan routes) in Amman is at King Hussein Street, a short distance away from the Abdali bus station. The phone number is 06.566.4146.
If you are travelling in a minibus, you might like to know that the recognised way to ask the driver to stop is to tap on the window with a coin, or a ring. He will stop immediately unless it's against traffic rules, so don't stop him a hundred meters short of where you want to get off.
There are no Jett buses to the Dead Sea, to Madaba, to Jerash or to Wadi Rum, but there is at last a service between Amman and Petra. You can find full details of this on the page on Petra. This service is useful because it means that a day visit is possible from Amman without your having to take a taxi to get back. Apart from that, the most useful one for tourists is the service Amman-Aqaba, on which there are five buses a day. You might like to use this one either at the beginning or the end of your trip to south Jordan. The fare is 8JD (local buses charge 5JD) and the buses arrive at and leave from the Jett office on the Corniche. The phone number for Jett in Aqaba is 03.201.5222. For all other places, the local minibuses are perfectly efficient, and are reasonably comfortable.
See the JETT website at http://www.jett.com.jo/english.htm
Trust International Transport also offer transport between Amman and Aqaba. I give the timetable (since I happen to have it) : the buses leave every day including Fridays at the following times from each town. Their offices in Amman are close to the big Safeway supermarket at Shmeisani at the 7th circle, phone 06.581.3427 and in Aqaba at An-Nahda Street phone 03.203.9480. On the whole the locals prefer these to the Jett services.
These long distance buses are point to point : they neither pick up nor put down between the official stopping places. Both services take the Dead Sea road between Aqaba and Amman, which you might find more interesting than the Desert Highway.
The minibuses, however, are rare everywhere in the afternoon, and are nonexistent in the evenings. They usually stop at midday on Fridays, and on the less popular routes might not run at all.
Service taxis are less used than they used to be, since the minibus network is pretty good. Basically, the principle is that everybody pays for his seat in a car - usually a large one. The amount asked varies according to distance, and also varies according to the number of people in the car - obviously! The usual routes that I know of : Amman-Petra, Amman-Aqaba or Aqaba-Petra seem to average out at about 6JD each. You can always bargain here as well if you have enough people to fill the car. Most service taxis can be found near to the bus station serving your destination.
When going to Syria, which is where I personally use the service taxis most, I like to pay for the two places in front, or if we are two, then for the three seats in the back. I am by no means the only person in Jordan preferring this solution. These cars go very fast and one is crushed in for several hours - the extra sum always seems very well spent. On this route as well, the usual charge is 11JD: 22JD really doesn't seem very much to pay between Amman and Damascus. Incidentally, the trip Amman-Damascus is unlikely to take more than 4 hours, border formalities included (see "the road to Damascus").
You can, of course, opt to pay for an extra seat in a service taxi inside Jordan as well.
An independent taxi driver whom I thoroughly recommend is Ali Salameen, phone +962.777.533.958, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Ali is based in Petra, but can and does drive all over Jordan, he speaks excellent English and is to be trusted in all circumstances.
If you want to do it the easy way and hire a chauffeur driven car, I recommend George Haddad who runs a service with several cars/minibuses of different sizes, all of them comfortable with AC and (usually) English speaking drivers. His e-mail is email@example.com and his mobile phone is +962.795.194.447. George is very much booked up during the high season, but you might get lucky out of it. He does ask me to point out that he is NOT a travel agency and cannot make any bookings of any sort for you.
And if you are travelling in a small party, Yussef Salamin owns a minibus seating 8 people and has a licence to drive tourists anywhere in Jordan. He speaks good English, knows the tourist sites and how to get to them and is very reliable. He is also a nice guy! His phone number is +962.795.596.288 and his fax is +922.214.171.12466. He has no email address. Charly at the Mariam Hotel in Madaba (see mariamhotel.com) could also put you in contact with a driver, but it would be for you to make the arrangements.
There is no particular difficulty in driving in Jordan if you "expect the unexpected" and try as far as possible to avoid driving in Amman, where frankly the drivers are crazy! All road signs except on very minor roads are in English as well as Arabic, and with the same exception the road surfaces are good.
Try not to hit any goats, camels, horses or any other livestock which you might meet on any road - including the main Desert Highway! If you kill anything, YOU are responsible, and it can run into serious money - an ordinary goat costs about 100JD. It is very likely that for some reason the particular goat you killed will turn out to be an unusually valuable animal....
If you can swing a car rental, then it is most certainly the best way to get around. Places like the Kings' Highway and Dana are difficult to reach by public transport, and even in Petra, where you are likely to be spending most of your time down in the site, a car is necessary if you want to visit places like Baïda (see the Petra pages). It is also very welcome at the end of the day to get you back to your hotel!
If you are a hiker or an out of doors person, then a car is pretty well essential. You can't get to places like the fantastic Wadi Mujib without one - see the Nature Reserve pages - and for anybody who enjoys walking in the countryside, a trip to Jordan would be incomplete without a visit to Mujib.
Petrol has been sharply increased in price lately. The Iraq war has put a stop to the cheap oil supplies enjoyed by Jordan and the price of just about every associated product has gone up steeply. The price is now (February 2008) 0.65JD per liter for the normal grade and more for super. That's an increase of over 100% just in the last year, and everybody is complaining. From April 2008 only unleaded petrol will be available which will cost 0.75JD per liter! You will certainly find taxi and bus prices more expensive than those given in guide books.
The cost of animal foodstuffs has also been increased by nearly 100pct which has resulted in the increase of all milk and dairy products. We don't know exactly when these increases will take effect, but be prepared for higher prices everywhere! This applies to hotels as well and in a big way; they are affected by just about every one of these price increases, from domestic gas to diesel oil used for central heating, including the most basic food served. Please do not suppose you are being cheated when you meet these increases! You are just adding insult to a very great feeling of injury.
There are a number of car rental agencies in Amman and also in Aqaba. I have a long list, but few of them have email addresses. I give below those that do, inevitably, most of them are big firms. However, I have had a several recommendations* for the "Reliable" and also for "Montecar". Jordan Tourist Board gives a fairly complete list of rental firms on its website. The usual price for a reasonably modern car with full insurance seems to be around 40 or 50JD/day.
Rental agencies prefer an international driving license, but are usually happy enough to accept your national one.
If you have hired a car in Amman and want to leave it in Aqaba or vice versa, there is no problem. The "drop off" charge is usually one day's rent. The same applies to leaving a car at the King Hussein Bridge going to Israel. Incidentally, you CANNOT take a rental car through any frontier in the Middle East.
This is the main north/south highway in Jordan. It was completed only a few years ago and bears the traffic not only from Aqaba to Ramtha (the main Syrian border crossing point), but from Yemen to Turkey and points north. However good the road is, be careful about speed traps, the police are very active here, and if you see oncoming traffic flashing their lights at you, then you are being advised to slow down immediately. Foreigners usually get off with a lecture, but by no means all traffic policemen speak English, so you might get away without even that. Be careful anyway, you might meet somebody in a bad temper, and 20JD is a minimum fine.
Do not confuse the Desert Highway with the Kings' Highway described in the "Sites of Jordan" page. This is a twisting mountainous road and it is impossible to make any speed on it.
As said higher up, most of the Desert Highway is unfenced and animals might be found at any point on it, with or without a guardian.
During the "Hadj" period, this highway becomes the main road towards Mecca, it carries an enormous amount of traffic and it is a good idea to avoid crossing into Syria around then. One year I cleverly avoided the "going to Mecca" rush, but completely forgot that pilgrims also came home again a few days later. Some day I will describe what it is like to be stuck at the Syrian border behind three thousand buses full of pilgrims, many of them bound for places like Turkistan!
While hitch hiking can be a great way to get around Jordan and to meet the people there, you should know that in many cases you are expected to pay something. The locals hitching invariably offer a few small coins, why shouldn't the foreigners do the same? This doesn't mean that your offer will be accepted. But it is very easy to take too much advantage of offered hospitality; if you get down from a ride and walk away with a "thanks awfully" it might well mean that the next foreigner the driver meets will not get a lift! ALWAYS, always at least offer to pay something.
If you stop at a coffee shop or something, invariably the driver will offer to meet the bill. This isn't fair and in general you should refuse to let him. If he appears to be a very rich man compared to you, he will probably insist, but I think you will agree that it is a normal thing for you to try to pay. This is of course, if we are talking about a glass of tea or coffee - I am not suggesting that you should treat him to a four course meal.
He may well do this discreetly, by paying when your back is turned. In this case, you can't do very much about it, except say a fervent Thank you!
I warn you also that Jordan motorists are formally forbidden to offer lifts to tourists, which is considered as taking business away from the professionals such as taxi and buses. If caught out, they are liable for a 20JD fine, which is why many drivers are reluctant to take tourists as passengers. Unfortunately there are many police checks along the roads, which is where a policeman can make himself unpleasant if he feels like it.
There is only one passenger train in Jordan: between Amman and Damascus, on the former Hijaz railway line. This line is notoriously slow, taking up to ten or twelve hours for a trip that a service taxi does in less than three hours on the road, so it is really interesting only for those looking for a "train experience". The trains only run two days a week. You can call the railway station in Amman for information phone 06.489.5413. Again see the "Road to Damascus" page. See also www.jhr.gov.jo for information on the Jordan Hejaz Railway.
You can find descriptions of the journey at http://www.arabicnews.com/ansub/Daily/Day/990615/1999061512.html and at http://www.odu.edu/ao/instadv/archive/vol28issue3/rail.htm
There is also a site giving details of how to get from London to Amman - by train ! http://freespace.virgin.net/markgideon.smith/Jordan.htm
You might notice another railway line marked on the map of Jordan, running right down to Aqaba, via Ma'an and Dissieh. This is the "phosphates line" to Aqaba port and doesn't take passengers. A pity, this, it runs through some spectacular country!
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