March 30, 2016: This was my last day in Jordan because next day early morning I would fly back from Amman to Amsterdam. I had a very good sleep in such a fancy hotel where I was couch-surfing in Petra. After a hot shower, I was all ready to explore Petra for the second time. Petra gates opens at 6 am in the morning and it was 8 am by then. I met Abdullah (my host) at the hotel reception and he offered the free buffet hotel breakfast to me. The breakfast was served at the top floor of the hotel overlooking Petra site. I was very happy and I had an amazing breakfast there. I quickly headed to the main gate of Petra with my 2 day ticket and passport and started exploring Petra the “touristy” way! The picture of the tickets hows my name on it and I still have the tickets as I kept it as a souvenir.
The sun was shining and there were not so many tourists as the tour buses start coming from 9 – 10 am. I took the advantage of less crowds and headed straight to the Treasury following the Siq. It was so so beautiful and the rock colors were very different from yesterday evening as the sun was shining bright today.
I reached the treasury and it was so beautiful with the early sun rays falling on it. I suggest you go early in the morning around 6-7am which I didn’t. Nevertheless, Treasury was amazing and I just couldn’t get over it. I also explored some more parts of the city like the amphitheater and caves and it was already afternoon by then.
I started heading back as I had decided on taking the last bus at 5 pm from Petra (Wadi Musa) to Amman. The bus was operated by JETT bus company and they charged me 9 JDs. Time schedules are here. Tickets can be booked online and also if you just call the bus company in Wadi Musa. My couchsurfing host took care of my tickets and I didn’t have to bother much about it. The owner of the bus company was his family and hence, I was assured a ticket. Meanwhile, after reaching the hotel to pick my bags, Abdullah had arranged a grand lunch for me and I was treated no less than a queen. He even dropped me to the bus station and waited till I was seated comfortably in the bus. The JETT buses are very comfortable and I would definitely suggest taking them if you are not renting a car. The journey from Wadi Musa to Amman takes around 4.5 hours.
I reached Amman at around 8:30 pm and Hassan (my couchsurfing host in Amman) waited to pick me up from the bus station. He had promised to show a bit around the city for 4 hours I had before heading to the airport. Hassan was a a young and bright engineering student who also spoke fluent German. He drove me to many beautiful places. We had good coffee, dinner and a sisha too in such less time. Amman was so different from the rest of Jordan. Hassan had warned me that Sishas are very strong in Jordan to which I didn’t listen! Soon after, it kicked in and I wish I had listened to him. Don’t do it before your flight if you are not used to such strong nicotine. 😛
The city traffic in Amman is crazy with so many cars around. After an eventful 4 hours in the city, Hassan was very kind to drive me at the airport around 1 am. I arrived at the airport much before my flight and headed back to Amsterdam with a stopover at Istanbul again meaning more kebabs :P. So this was how I had a wonderful time in Jordan and I would strongly encourage everyone to visit the country, experience the culture and enjoy the amazing food !
This is my guide to visit Jordan on a budget: blogpost
March 29, 2016: This section consists of three things – tickets to Petra, off the beaten path trails in Petra and how to be safe as a solo female traveler in the Petra site. By the way, if you are not couch-surfing in Petra, then Wadi Musa is the closest village where all the hotels and resorts are and is a good base point to explore Petra and little Petra!
Woke up early in the morning and my couch-surfing “bedouin” host offered to show me Petra in an off-the-beaten track way. For this, I had to first get the entrance fee tickets to Petra from the main entrance and this is something unusually expensive for tourists compared to the 1 JD that Jordanians pay! 50 JDs (around 71 USD) to enter Petra for one day. Its insanely expensive and I decided to buy the 2 days pass and it was 55 JDs (around 78 USD). There is also a 3 days entrance pass to Petra which comes for 60 JDs and it is advisable to buy it only if you want to see the site in very details. I covered most of it in my very first day (which again can be very tiring to some people) and the next day, I kept mostly to look at things I overlooked or didn’t give much time on my first day. Carry your passport when you go to buy the entrance tickets to Petra. Tickets are valid only for the days printed on them and there is actually no way of skipping it. Best part about a ticket to Petra is you get it with your name on it and says welcome to Petra and always icmluse cameras too. 🙂
Ibrahim drove me from the bedouin village to the Petra main entrance and also drove me back to the village where I picked up some food from the local grocery store. Food inside Petra is very very expensive and I highly advice you to get it before you enter the site because it is allowed to carry food and water.
Off the beaten path experience in Petra: Ibrahim and I entered from a backdoor entrance which is strictly only for bedouins and rangers working in Petra. After a little talk, the guards finally let me in with Ibrahim. Wow, that first sight was mind blowing specially because there was literally nobody except both of us in this whole site. Tourists enter Petra from the front entrance and they always go for the “Al Khazneh” (aka Treasure) first and then make their way to the famous monastery We took the opposite path and hence, the whole walk towards the monastery was just excellent.
The hike was easy, was very long. I had enough food and water on me to keep my energy levels high. We kept walking on this beautiful rock formations, met hers of sheep and goats and also explored some natural rock arch formations. Then we arrived at the Byzantine Church and Ibrahim told me about the incredible history behind it. Read more about it here. Ibrahim was also a trained and professional guide in Petra and hence he knew everything about the place. He also had many friends in the site who offered us free Jordanian tea and food and declining food offers are considered very impolite in Jordan and hence I would always end up having free meals :P.
Slowly, we made our way to the monastery which is a climb of around 300 steps. You have to understand that its not just about visiting Petra, but talking to the locals in between and having general conversations which makes this visit very authentic and enjoyable!
I met many Ibrahim’s friends on our way and they were all very curious about my origin and ask a lot of questions about India. I was so happy to see that people loved India so much and really knew about our history.
I think it took around 40 minutes to reach the monastery finally. You can do it in a donkey too (15-20 JDs for a round trip) , but I will advise doing it on foot. The first sight of the monastery was amazing and honestly, to me, it looked very much alike to the “Al Khazneh” pictures I had seen on the internet. But, they are totally different in reality. You can sit down here and sip a tea or coffee and eat something too if you would like to. I was always offered free food, so I am not sure of the exact prices, but they looked not so cheap!
I used an eco- toilet where they recycled the phosphorus (something to remind me that I still have a PhD to finish on this back in Amsterdam :P) and I happily used it and took a selfie with it too :P. I also changed my shirt here just to look different in my other pictures from here. Yes, I am a bit crazy and I love it :P. So, I went more up from the monastery with Ibrahim because his brother had a shop on the highest point of Petra. The views were stunning and not many people who make it to the monastery actually go here. I urge you to climb a bit more and you won’t regret it. After having tea at the highest point, I decided to head back to the monastery and climb down.
NOTE:It is very important that as a solo-female traveler, you draw your lines straight. Ibrahim wanted to go to little Petra from here and wanted to camp along with his friends there. I didn’t feel comfortable and politely refused the offer. Infact, I texted him a bit later that I will leave his house and find myself another couch-surfing host (there are plenty in Petra). I did it because I was not sure what his motives were and from all my solo travels, I always go with my instincts. My instinct said NO, and without a second thought, I declined the offer and left. This situations can be avoided by just acting reasonable and just saying NO. I find the word “NO” very powerful while traveling and honestly, after living in Netherlands for 2.5 years, I have adapted to the straight forwardness very well and I love it :). So, now I had to choose another couch-surfing host and luckily, I had many options to choose from for a new couch-surfing host for the second night. I just made a phone call to a new host from Petra itself. His name was Abdullah and after listening to my situation, he was very helpful and just offered to pick me up at the main entrance gate when I am done seeing Petra. Very convenient :).
Soon after Ibrahim left, I found myself a victim of all those hawkers on the way wanting to sell me stuff and it can get very very annoying at some point. Anyways, it was around 4:30 pm already and most of the visitors were leaving and hence I had to be quick. Even though I was fully equipped for the dawn as I had heard that Petra gets really dark in the night, I decided to slowly head back to the main entrance and leave Petra by 7 pm. You are very safe in Petra as rangers do rounds, but if you are in one of the caves with a bedouin (not uncommon), nobody can actually trace you. So, be careful if you are traveling by yourself. Try to leave the site just after the sunset.
After climbing down, I met a kid who offered me a donkey ride for a very little price (2 JDs) from Monastery to the Siq. I usually am against these rides, but seeing he was a kid and needed money, I agreed and actually ended up giving him 5 JDs. The distance is around 3 kms and I think the price was worth it. This was my first donkey ride and it was a bit scary in the beginning. :P. It took time for the donkey and me to get comfortable in each other’s company after which, it turned out to be a blast!
Finally after a thrilling donkey ride (sounds weird enough :P), I arrived at the “Al Khazneh” (Treasury) and it was so so amazing. I completely forgot all bad things that had happened a bit before. I just couldn’t get enough of it and with the sun going down, the colors were amazing. Wow! It usually gets very crowded as this is the most important attraction of Petra and I actually waited to get that perfect shot and I do take a lot of pride on it. As far as my picture with the “Al Khazneh” was concerned, I had asked 9 people to take a picture and each of them took atleast 5-6 pictures and after many attempts, I was finally satisfied :P. I usually always target young people to ask for a picture because they are much more open-minded, know how to use a good camera and doesn’t get irritated easily with my demands :P. I always return the favor with good pictures of them too. So, look for me when you are traveling if you want a give-and-take good pictures in your solo or couple trip :P.
It was so hard to leave this place because it was just way too pretty and I understood why it made to the 7 wonders of the world! But because it was getting dark and I had made up my mind to leave before 7 pm, I decided to leave after half an hour with a promise that I will be back to see it early in the morning the next day (thanks to my 2 day pass toPetra).
Do you remember Indiana Jones and the last Crusade? Remember how the caravans traveled between the big rock formations? Well, that is called the “Siq” and here I was entering the Siq. The Siq leads to the treasury from the main entrance gate. Because I did the other way round, I walked in the Siq while exiting Petra. Nevertheless, it was just way too amazing feeling. The mammoth rocks and their intriguing colors definitely made me feel like it was all worth this whole hassle of coming to Jordan! I loved it.
NOTE: Slowly, I made my way back after such an incredible experience. There were few tourists and I had my next bad (“uncomfortable” must be a better word) experience. The bedouins on the donkeys and camel would come to me while I kept walking in order to charm me with their black kohl eyes and big hair. Apparently, this is very common and they do it a lot in Petra to solo female tourists in order to make them fall in love. I found many blogs on this after returning back to Amsterdam and I actually met 4-5 bedouins who are listed by other female travelers in their blogs with similar accusations. Please please be careful because this a set-up and all they want from Western tourists is money to buy camels and donkeys and an EU passport. Read more here. There is a separate FB page on this and I strongly advise you to have a look as I find some couples being targeted too! Again I would like to emphasize that nobody will dare to do anything to you unless you let it happen. So, just say NO or call for a ranger/police. They will help you and I even spoke to fellow tourists and they asked me to join them and walk with them instead of walking alone!
Around 7:20 pm, I was out of Petra and it was a good time to be out in order to be safe. Here, Abdullah came to pick me up and to my surprise he turned out to be a big hotel owner in Wadi Musa (base point for tourists visiting Petra) and he offered me a “couch” which was actually a big double room in his big hotel just next to Petra entrance. He drove me to pick up my bags from Ibrahim’s place (my first couch-surfer in Petra) and suddenly, I found myself to be treated like a princess in a big hotel with free accommodation, amazing food, sisha, alcohol and transport (his BMW 😉 ).
After having a delicious meal, drinking best Jordanian white wine and puffing Sisha, I came back to my room and went straight to bed to have a sound sleep. Next day I had planned to visit Petra again early in the morning and head to Amman by the 4 pm bus.
March 28, 2016: After spending an amazing time in Wadi Rum, we started our drive towards Petra. It is important to know that there are two main highways in Jordan to travel called the King’s highway and Desert Highway. Desert highway is a two-way highway and is the main route which leads to Amman from Saudi Arabia and hence can be very busy at some points. But, it is the quickest way to travel (and not scenic at all with only deserts around and gets very boring after sometime to look at). King’s highway on the other hand is a real treat to the eyes and even though its very slow as its just an one-way traffic highway, you will definitely not regret taking it. It justifies its name very well.
From Wadi Rum to Petra, we first drove in the Desert highway for an hour and then took the King’s highway. It was very scenic and goes through the big mountains. We watched the sun go down on our drive towards Petra and it was spectacular!
The drive took us 3.5 hours in total from Wadi Rum to Petra and we didn’t have any layovers in between. The girls dropped me at the Wadi Musa village which is the closest village (base) for Petra and mostly all the hotels are here. I had to go further to the local Bedouin village of Petra to meet my couchsurfing host. Even though I was very tired, I decided to try my luck at hitch hiking! It wasn’t hard at all to get a ride! I just had to wait 5 minutes before a guy picked me up and agreed to drop me at the Bedouin village!
I met Ibrahim who was my couchsurfing host in the local Bedouin village at Petra. He was a bedouin himself! He also had 4 German couchsurfers already at his place and the evening turned out very good! I had initially planned to go to “Petra by the night” (it was a Monday), but the weather was too bad with strong and cold winds and hence I dropped the plan! “Petra by the night” is a show which is set up 3 days/week (Monday, Wednesday and Thursday) in which the main attractions of Petra (the Treasury and the Siq) are lit with candles accompanied by live Jordanian music and Jordanian tea. I have read mixed reviews about it and most of the people commented saying it was too touristic and expensive (17 JDs). On a second thought, I was getting enough local experiences already and hence didn’t much sense to do it on such a harsh weather (it might get canceled if the weather is too bad)! Ibrahim cooked us local Bedouin dish (Foul) with pita bread with some Bedouin tea. It was amazing!!
After dinner, Ibrahim played his local Bedouin instruement “lute” for us and also prepared sisha at his place for us! We smoked sisha at his place and I also learned how to play Lute (a bit ;)) from him. Sadly the German couchsurfers were leaving the next morning towards Wadi Rum, but on a good note, Ibrahim promised to take off from work the next day so that he can show me around Petra! I was very very excited about venturing Petra with a Bedouin! 😀
It was almost midnight by the time we finished our musical evening and honestly I was really tired, so were the others! Hence, I went to sleep with the constant excitement of seeing Petra the next day with a local Bedouin and most importantly hiking it off-the-beaten-track!
March 28, 2016: After sleeping under the milky way and blazing falling stars, I was sure to get the most peaceful sleep of my life and yes, I did! I slept like a baby for 9 hours at a stretch. The other girls were already up by that time and Metab had returned back from his village to cook us fresh Bedouin breakfast and tea. I walked to them and the air felt so fresh with sun shining bright in the blue sky. Metab was very kind and on my request, played his Bedouin lute again while I kept eating my breakfast. Heaven, isn’t it? 😉
After breakfast, we helped Metab pack the bedding back in the jeep again and finally we were ready for another adventurous ride in this amazing desert! We decided to spend the afternoon in Wadi Rum after which I had decided to make my way to Petra. There were no buses anymore from Wadi Rum to Petra after 6:30 am in the morning and I was very sure that I had to hitch-hike my way; but I was very very lucky when the Swedish girls assured me a ride in their car because they also planned to see Petra after this! Wow!!! I was on cloud 9 and all my worries of not reaching Petra on time was vanished! 😛
It was particularly a very windy day in Wadi Rum and we asked Metab to take us to canyons and gorges where we could hike more and so did he! We arrived at a huge canyon where Metab dropped us and said he would wait us on the other side of it. We were the only tourists in this whole Wadi Rum as I couldn’t find anyone as long as my eyes could see. The canyon hike was very very nice as we also teamed up more as a group helping each other climb and hike it.
I made a wrap around my head to save my hair from the dust and the heat and I strongly advise you to do the same :). I love how the head scarf looks in the pictures. After hiking in the canyon, Metab took us to a huge gorge where again we hiked for another 1.5 hours.
While hiking, we were invited by two Bedouins to join them for a Bedouin tea (Bedouin hospitality is well-known) and we had a short tea break.
After hiking for around4-5 hours, it was time for lunch after which we would head back to the Bedouin village in Wadi Rum from where we start driving towards Petra. Metab took us to his family tent (very authentic Bedouin tent of his parents) and asked us to rest while he got busy cooking us fresh Bedouin food! We were so tired already and rested on the mattresses he placed on the sand for us. The pictures below should help me explain how the tent looked like! It was made up of camel and goat skin (very very tough) and Metab told us that his other made it by herself and it was already 22 years old! Wow 🙂
After having delicious lunch, we headed back to the Bedouin village finally to pick up our bags and I had to say goodbye to Atallah too for arranging such an amazing trip! We hea
Finally around 4 pm, we set off for Petra in the rental car the girls had rented at Amman.
TIPS for Wadi Rum:
Sunscreen, scarf and jacket: No matter which time of the year you are in Wadi Rum, days get extremely hot, so please carry a sunscreen because there are no shops in Wadi Rum. Wrapping a scarf around your head os useful because its very dusty there. Finally, nights get extremely cold in the desert and you should have warm clothes to keep you warm.
Keep cash with you:There are no ATMs in Wadi Rum (even not in the Bedouin village outside the desert), so don’t forget your cash!
Water, water and water: Yes, very very important! Please make sure you carry lot of water. You get dehydrated very early for obvious reasons when in a desert!
March 27,2016: I was very excited about the whole jeep tour with 4 Swedish girls I had just met (who were so nomadic and hence so fun to be with) and our Bedouin jeep guide and driver Metab (very young and kind bedouin of 20 years old)! But hold on, did we just go inside the jeep and start driving? HELL NO! We put a mattress on the roof of the jeep and sat on it getting ready to venture Wadi Rum in the most adventurous way!
Jeep Ride in Wadi Rum:It was a terrific start to the trip and once we entered the desert, it left me spell bound! I cannot describe in words how amazing the colors were and I have not seen a landscape like that before. I can say closest I could relate it to was the Grand Canyon I have been in Arizona, but again, nowhere close to it after all.
Where was I? Was this really a part of our beautiful planet or am I transported to Mars? It was a very unique terrain with a lunar-like landscape that I haven’t encountered before and hence I still call my first foot-steps in Wadi Rum as my “Moon landing in Wadi Rum”! 😉
Metab was very flexible with us and was ready to drive us anywhere we wanted. Our first stop was a huge sand dune which we climbed (partially) and enjoyed terrific views! In the picture above is Mount Rum which is around 1700m tall and also known as “seven pillars of wisdom” by the locals due to its terrific shape! After taking a few photos, we started exploring more and I (obviously being the most petite traveler in the group :P) lied down on the mattress of our jeep to experience the winds and the sun on my face while looking at the blue sky with beautiful clouds up above me.
Usually the desert gets very hot during the day, but luckily we didn’t feel the heat much due to the rainfall last night in Wadi Rum. We rarely encountered any other tourist jeep in the desert apart and we were completely be cut-off the civilization. I watched the shadow of our jeep (carrying 5 nomadic girls on top) project upon the facades of the red mountains. It was beautiful and I totally love this picture (below)!
After this, we saw many natural rock bridges and stopped at the biggest arch (Jabal Umm Fruth) in Wadi Rum because the girls wanted to climb it! It was so so beautiful and a great experience for sure.
By this time, the sun was slowly going down and I could definitely start feeling the wind chill! Before climbing the jeep, I made sure to put on 2 sweaters on me (yes, deserts gets really cold in the nights) and Metab drove us to a gorge where we could see the lovely sunset! Sunset was breathtaking as I kept watching how the setting sun made a painter’s palate of the dramatic landscape.
Sleeping under the stars in Wadi Rum: After watching the sun go down, we started driving around to check for a spot where we could sleep in the night. We didn’t get tents or camps, but we decided to just lie over a mattress and enjoy the infinite tranquility that Wadi Rum had in offer under the dark blue sky filled with millions of stars! After searching for 30 minutes, we finally found a narrow gorge where Metab parked his car and we pulled off the mattresses and blankets to arrange for the night. Metab put on the camp fire to make the place warm and made us amazing herbal Jordanian tea. He then started cooking vegetarian dinner for us and meanwhile I put on all the (somewhat) warm clothes I had in my backpack to keep myself warm.
The desert looked majestic and when I looked up above in the sky, I could see thousands and thousands of stars! I had never seen something close to this in my life and being cut-off from the world with no phone connection made the experience more surreal! By this time, Metab finished cooking and dinner was ready. It was very dark in the desert and thankfully I had my headlight (thanks to a friend back in Amsterdam) to refrain myself from being blind. Metab started playing his “luke” (traditional Jordanian string instrument) and meanwhile we enjoyed the delicious meal he had cooked for us.
Shooting stars and the Milky way sighting in Wadi Rum: After we finished eating, Metab left us (5 girls) and went back to the Bedouin village. So here we were in a deserted land with just nobody around us! The feeling was terrific and you have to do it to know how exactly I felt in that moment. We all lied down trying to get sleep as we had a pretty tiring day. It was when I lied down, I started wondering how beautiful our planet Earth is and how we keep worrying about things which actually shouldn’t matter to us so much! I had sightings of the milky way above in the sky and counted 7 fallen stars before my eyes closed at some point and I fell asleep! I have two pictures of how the sky looked and trust me, its no where close to what I saw and experienced!
March 27, 2016: After spending a great (and relaxed) time in Aqaba, I was all packed for my next destination which was Wadi Rum. It wouldn’t be wrong to confess that Wadi Rum was the real reason that I always wanted to come to Jordan. Wadi Rum is really unmissable on any trip to Jordan. It is a big desert valley spreading 720 square kilometers on the South of Jordan and extends further to Saudi Arabia. Its often referred to as the Valley of the moon and have been successfully as the surface of Mars in big movies likeThe Red Planet, The Martian, Prometheus, The last days in MarsandTransformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
There is only one local bus (not the regular JETT bus) which goes from Aqaba to Wadi Rum very regularly as it shuttles locals between Aqaba and Wadi Rum mostly. The bus fare is 3 JD (they tricked me by charging me 5 JD as I was a foreigner!) and it leaves from the Aqaba local bus station (close to the police station) at 6:30am, 11am, 1pm and 5 pm. Make sure to be at the bus stop 30 minutes before or else you wont find a seat and sometimes, the bus will leave before time if it gets already filled. It is important to remember that there is also a JETT bus which is more expensive, but much more comfortable which is headed to Petra from Aqaba which takes you to Wadi Rum too. Check the bus website for the timing. Its the major bus company in Jordan and can be used to get from every major tourist attraction in Jordan, but Wadi Rum still being an off-the-beaten track attraction, the bus service is highly unreliable in this route! One more thing is, I call it unreliable as if there are not enough passengers (during off-season), the bus gets cancelled abruptly on the spot as the driver can decide whether its worth to do the trip or not with such less passengers. So, good luck!
I had a cultural shock when I entered this bus! It was filled with locals and women were sitting at the back of the bus (all men were in the front)! This was something strange to me as in my home-country, women would always get the better seats which are in the front rather than get dizzy at the back because of all the jerking when the bus is on the road. To my surprise, I found another backpack in the bus which meant there was someone else like me too! 😀 So this is how I met Garry (a guy from Singapore who was also backpacking in Jordan) and hence the boring bus ride of 2 hours became very interesting and entertaining. We shared many stories of our travels and turned out that last night it had just not rained in Aqaba, but also Wadi Rum which is why bedouins in the desert were very happy! The bus driver dropped us at the WadiRum’s visitor center for getting the tickets to get inside the Wadi Rum desert.
I had to wait for my Bedouin friend Atallah who had offered me a volunteering opportunity. Atallah was a very hospitable bedouin and he lives both at the village and in the desert with his parents. Because I was a volunteer, I could skip the 5 JD entree fee to Wadi Rum! He had asked me to help with his Wadi Rum tour website (he organizes Jeep tours, climbing, trekking and camel rides in Wadi Rum). Atallah picked me up in his jeep with his cousin and we headed towards the bedouin village where he had his house. It was lunch time by then and Atallah offered me a great meal before we headed to the desert. ! Atallah paired me up with 4 more Swedish girls for a 2 days 1 night tour in Wadi Rum and I felt so so safe with them as it was indeed a bit scary that I wanted to sleep in an unknown big desert all by myself. Thankfully, that was solved!
I also met a big German group at his place who had just returned from the desert after 2 days and were very excited! I got more and more excited about this whole sleeping under the stars thing. Atallah assured me that I will have the best time of my life in Wadi Rum. So, did I have a great time in Wadi Rum ? Follow my next post to know how was it.
Still wondering whether to visit or not? Well, the big blockbuster “the Martian” was shot entirely in Wadi Rum. Liked the moon landscape in the movie? Then Wadi Rum should definitely be in your bucket list!
March 26, 2016: After a good 7 hours of sound sleep, I woke up fresh and excited thinking about how diving would be in reality. I had always wanted to try diving, but never got my hands on it. Last time was back in Puerto Rico, where I had signed in for a dive, but because of hurricanes, it didn’t happen! But this time, I was so sure that I will finally do it (even though it can get very expensive to make it a hobby, but I really wanted to try it first).
Omar picked up his customers (around 10 Americans) who would be in his sailing boat with me and we started driving towards the South of Aqaba where he had parked his private boat. This was a private beach of a big resort (Tala Bay Beach club) and was far off from the city. Its important to mention that in Jordan, good beaches are always private which means they are owned by big hotels and resorts and are accessible only to their guests or if you are ready to shell out a lot of money to pay as a “day-charge” to use the facilities. I strongly recommend using private beaches as they are so much more safe, very less crowded (only tourists) and you can pull off in a bikini without getting any stares in almost all of them. In public beaches, it is impossible to swim as a girl, not because you are not allowed to, but because its very very crowded and women in water are always wearing their hijabs. Yes, really!!!
Just when we arrived in the private beach and started heading towards our boat, it started raining heavily :(. It never ever rains in Aqaba and Omar said they had such a weather after two years! Can you believe my bad luck? So obviously I knew luck was again not in my favor and diving was instantly cancelled because of strong winds meaning poor visibility. We started sailing soon and even though the weather was not promising, we were assured that we could still snorkel! I was so so relived and equally happy! I love snorkeling and took it up a couple of years back in Florida where I first snorkeled. I have been doing it since then and I love it! That’s one of the reasons I always look for island and tropical vacations (if not the Pina Coladas 😛 !).
After an introductory guide, we soon started our first snorkeling adventure. The coral reef we ventured first was called the Japanese garden and if only I could describe in words how beautiful the coral reef in the Red Sea is! I have snorkeled few times in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean sea before, but they were nowhere close to what I saw in the Red Sea! It was mesmerizing and breath-taking! I found myself in the middle of thousands (literally thousands) of colorful fishes and purple jelly fishes with beautiful corals beneath me. It was so so amazing and I felt like a free bird…I swam quite some far away from the others in the group (I am not the best swimmer, but I can handle swimming in rough waters pretty well) and found myself shouting with joy and happiness beneath the waters where nobody could hear me and I could actually tell myself BRAVO!
It was already lunch time after the first snorkeling (the boat would take us to three different locations in total). The food was authentic Jordanian (humus, pita bread, baba ganoush, salad) and grilled chicken was made right on the boat! Oh my god, I feel like going back in time and having it again 😛
After good food and a little bit of rest, we started moving again towards our next destinations. Those reefs were equally good and I wish I had my under-water camera (which I left in US last time I was there) and could take some snaps of how pretty everything was. Anyways, after 5-6 hours of sailing and snorkeling, we headed back to Aqaba. I was super tired, but I still had the energy to head to the downtown to grab some good food and a beer. I met more people in the restaurants and pubs and overall Aqaba was a great experience!
March 25, 2016: After being dropped safely in the city centre of Aqaba, I met my first couch-surfing (CS) host Omar who happened to be the best dive-master in Aqaba. Because he already had informed me earlier about his time shortage, I dropped my bags at his dive-center and then met up my second couch-surfing host Eiyad who promised to show me around. At first, Eiyad took me on a trip to the Red Sea on his cousin’s glass bottom boat. It was a very nice experience!
After the boat ride, we had Jordanian tea in the beach and because we both were very hungry, we headed to his house where he introduced me to his lovely family. His family was very conservative (South of Jordan is the most conservative part of Jordan), but very welcoming to me and wanted to know a lot about India and the Bollywood films !;) They also offered me to show how to wrap an Arab scarf and complimented me a lot. Meanwhile, Eiyad prepared BBQ chicken in Jordanian style and I ate together with his big family.
By this time, it was already evening and Eiyad took me to the local market to check out how Jordanians live normally. After an hour of exploring the local specialities, he dropped me back at the Aqaba beach where Omar (my CS host with whom I would stay in Aqaba) promised to pick me up after finishing work.
The Aqaba public beach was very very crowded and all Arab women were wearing hijabs. I found myself to be stared at by everyone around me. Thankfully, Omar arrived soon and took me to his place to drop the bags. He had a very cute dog (Sascha) at his place, a big apartment where I had a lot of privacy. After having dinner, we headed out to the city to enjoy the Aqaba nightlife!
To my surprise, Aqaba was fled with American tourists (most of them arrive on cruises and stay in big resorts for which Aqaba tops in Jordan), Buffalo Wings and McDonalds ! :P. Drinking amongst tourists was not uncommon (although not promoted) and you can easily get a couple of beers in the city centre till 2 in the night. Omar introduced me to his nice diving friends and it was a fun night meeting local Jordanians and listening to their stories. He promised to take me diving and snorkeling the next morning. 🙂
Amsterdam: On March 24th, with a camera, a book, a backpack paired with comfortable sneakers and without sleep for past 28 hours, I arrived at the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. I had booked myself a round trip to Amman with Turkish Airlines (345 € round trip) with 3 hours layover each way in Istanbul (the total flight time each way was around 11 hours). My flight from Amsterdam was a bit delayed and so I used that time to take a few selfies, start reading my book and like any other travel nomad I was exploiting the free WiFi in the airport to update my Spotify playlist and kept checking what is not to be missed in the places I have decided to go in Jordan!
Istanbul: I arrived in Istanbul very late (midnight), but still didn’t want to miss my favorite Turkish Kebabs and hence ordered myself a plate! I have been flying with Turkish Airlines few times now,and I definitely recommend this dish in the picture below.
Amman to Aqaba transit: Finally I arrived in Amman early morning at 4am and got my Visa on Arrival (read more about it here). After immigrations, I moved to the domestic terminal to check in my Royal Jordanian flight from Amman to Aqaba from where I would start my journey! My flight to Aqaba was a very short one (55 minutes) and came with a heavy price tag (55 €). Thankfully it was on time and not to my surprise, I was the only female traveller without a hijab! I had already read that South of Jordan is very conservative (may be due to its proximity to Saudi Arabia) and hence I had dressed myself accordingly with full sleeves and trousers.
After arriving at Aqaba, I collected my backpack and headed towards the airport exit. There was no public transportation available and I decided to try my luck at hitch-hiking. I was very lucky to be picked up by a group of photographers (open-minded young people speaking very good english) and they safely dropped me in the city centre where my couch-surfing host had asked me to wait.
It was March 2016 when I went on a solo backpacking trip to Jordan for 6 days. 6-10 days is good enough to visit most of the country.
Why Jordan? The first reaction (maybe, obvious as Jordan is still an off-the beaten track destination) I got from many friends and family was “why Jordan and why on earth would I want to go alone to an Arab country in the Middle East??!!” Well, I always wanted to see Petra and most importantly, I fell in love with the Wadi Rum desert the first time I saw pictures of it. I had put sleeping under the stars in Wadi Rum and walking around in Petra in my bucket list since 2014 and finally I had a chance to do it. But honestly, going out of your comfort zone, taking risks if necessary and living your dreams is the biggest gift you can give yourself! Additionally,Jordan has visa-on-arrival (including Indian passport holders, check on this website) for many countries and it just makes the experience much more hassle free!
Best time to visit:
Spring (March till May) is the best time to visit Jordan as temperatures are soothing and you will have a lovely time.
Summers (June-September)are very hot because it is in the middle east and temperatures can go up till 45 degrees. Good time to avoid!
Autumn (September 15 – November 15) can be good marked with rain showers in October. This is definitely the second best time to visit the country.
Winter (December- February)can be very harsh and the experience wont be same with such cold temperatures (specially in Petra and Wadi Rum). Temperatures can drop till – 6 degrees. Better to avoid for sure!
Languages spoken: While Arabic is the national language and Islam is the pre-dominant religion, most people in the cities and touristic sites speak English well and I did meet many Christians too who were natives of the country as well. Even though next to Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria in the Middle East, Jordan is very different and much more liberal and open-minded country unlike its neighbors.
Dress-code: You should be fine with loose trousers and shirts. Don’t put on flashy clothes as you will only draw unwanted attention. The main religion being Islam, you need to respect the culture and not show off much of your body. I have seen many female tourists wearing shorts in Petra which looked fine but they were all a part of organized group tours and not traveling by their own. When you travel by yourself, you instantly get more attention, and hence, I would advice to wear loose clothes. I always wore trousers and T-shirts. You can buy a head scarf anywhere in Jordan (around 3-4 JDs) and it is a nice experience to learn to put it on. Head scarf doesn’t just let you blend in and have a local feeling, but also saves from the heat and sand dust everywhere. FYI, it also gave me a chance to take numerous selfies (Girls, you know what I mean :P).
My itinerary: In Jordan I visited Amman, Aqaba, Petra and Wadi Rum.
Amman is the capital of Jordan.
Aqaba is in South Jordan and serves as a gateway to the Red Sea.
Petra is one of the 7 wonders of the world.
Wadi Rum is a desert which is also known as the “Valley of the Moon.
1 JD = 1.4 USD approximately and USD is accepted in many places except local shops. I would strongly advice using JDs as ATMs and money exchange shops (western union preferred) are not uncommon (except Wadi Rum). Jordan is definitely not a hard-core backpacking destination because it is an expensive place to visit and the visit to Petra itself takes 50 JDs (70 USD) for a day! Yes, it is expensive, but that doesn’t mean you cant count it on your backpacking country list. It is possible and I did it. Tickets from Amsterdam to Amman on a Turkish Airlines flight costed me 340 Euros when booked 3 months back. FYI, I saw round trip tickets from Amsterdam to Aqaba (another port of entry in Jordan) for 190 Euros recently. So keep an eye!
How to curb down your expenses in Jordan?
Get theJordan Pass: The first thing you should do after you make up your mind on Jordan is to get the Jordan Pass which might sound expensive in the beginning because it is 70 JD (99 USD), but it includes visits to Petra, Wadi Rum, Jerash, Roman Theatre in Amman and many many other sites). Most importantly, it includes your visa on arrival fee of 40 JDs (55 USD) too! So, what are you waiting for? Grab it and remember to order it online atleast 4 days before your visit to Jordan as you need to show the confirmation email at Amman airport to get your visa fee waived off!. It is still not very popular among tourists and I did know about it before my arrival to Jordan, but just didn’t know that I had to order and pay online for it 3 days in advance atleast! Stupidity!!! 🙁
Enter and leave at Aqaba airport: Yes, if you enter and leave at Aqaba airport, then you don’t need to pay the visa fee! How cool is that..You instantly save 40 JDs! wow 🙂
Couch-surfing and Hotels: I didn’t stay at any hotels in Jordan as I was always couch-surfing. Couch-surfing is a great option for backpackers as there are many options in big cities and many many people do it there including big groups and couples. So, try it. If you didn’t ever try couch-surfing, start with making an account and Jordan will not disappointment you. But hotels are not much expensive and will be around 20 USD at max for a budget double room all over the country. The next relatively big money you will probably spend is in Wadi Rum. I paid 40 JDs for a 1N 2D Wadi Rum tour including everything as I shared my trip with 4 other girls. This was relatively very cheap and it is hard to crack a deal like this, but not impossible!
Rent a car: Renting a car in Jordan is not expensive and gives you a lot of flexibility. Public transportation in Jordan is very cheap but not very reliable except in big cities. Major bus operating company is JETT bus. I used only public transportation while moving from big cities and it was very cheap.
Hitchhiking:If you are very adventurous, then hitchhiking can be a very good and safe option. I did it twice and it worked out very well. Getting a ride is very easy and people are always curious about you, your culture and mostly try to communicate with actions if they don’t speak English (here it works well if you learn a bit of local words in Arabic which I did and worked fine). Please note that putting your thumb to the car is considered prostitution in Jordan, so better check the rules first. Check out hitchwiki for best advises for hitchhiking rules in different countries and how to do it good. Taxis are also not very expensive if you are traveling within the city. But can get very expensive if you want to do long distances like reach Petra from Wadi Rum/Amman for example!
Volunteering in Jordan:Volunteering in Jordan for a week (2 days for me) is a good way of seeing the country at a very cheap price. Free food and accommodation are provided and you do very easy jobs like I helped a bedouin guy in Wadi Rum to build his website in English. On return, my entrance fee for Wadi Rum was waived, I got one grand meal for free and he teamed me up with 4 Swedish girls for the jeep tour in Wadi Rum for 2 days at a little price of 40 JDs. He also arranged for us to sleep under the stars by giving us a mattress and blankets (it was an amazing experience as we didn’t have any tent on us).
Food: Ok, couch-surfing has a lot of perks like I didn’t have to pay for own food anywhere and always my hosts would prepare local (vegetarian) food for me and often take me out and pay for my food! Did I say that Jordanian hospitality is well renowned in the world? :). But if you have to pay for yourself, I suggest avoiding touristic places and a bit outside the major touristic attractions and then the price reduces by half! Food isn’t super cheap, neither super expensive.
Skip Dead-sea: I know its not a very good suggestion, but definitely an economic one! I really wanted to float in the dead sea, but the price you pay for that is terrifying. There is a public beach, but if you are a female and want to really have a good experience, then you better not swim (with all your clothes on and people staring at you) in the public beach. You have to stay at a high-end resort in the Dead sea to access the private resort beaches and another option is to book a day access to the private beach from a resort, but still its very pricy. Prices to stay at one of the resorts start at 99 USD per night for a couple. It might not be very expensive for many people, but for a broke backpacker like me, it was! May be next time when I am traveling with my partner (ahem ahem 😉 ) or I am at Israel as the Israeli side of Dead sea is definitely much bigger and better.
Getting a local Jordan sim card: I wish I had stopped being lazy and got a local sim card which was just 4 JDs for 1 GB internet. Instead, I kept using my American number and which landed me with a huge bill. Don’t be so stupid like me. Really!
Overall experience: Did I have a good experience and will I recommend you to visit Jordan? Hell yes! Little did I know how amazing my trip would turn out to be. I met many Bedouins (cave dwellers in Jordan) and even couch-surfed at couple of them. I also met local Jordanians (both Christians and Muslims), enjoyed great food together, got blissed with beautiful landscapes, swam and snorkeled in the crystal clear Red Sea with thousands of fishes, ventured into the beautiful Wadi Rum desert where I slept under the falling stars, hiked in Petra with beoduins and also got a taste of Amman (the capital of Jordan). I made a point to only couch-surf and use public transport (well, I was brave enough to hitch-hike twice) in Jordan. Not to forget, that SISHA is a must-try in Jordan if you don’t mind smoking flavored nicotine! I am not a smoker, but it was a very nice experience! Overall I had an incredible time ! Happy reading :).