Aqaba, Jordan

  • Visited August 2018

Just a short post for Aqaba as I only stayed two nights. Getting here from Wadi Musa was an experience. I took the public bus. I turned up to catch the bus at 8 am but was told the bus wouldn’t leave until the driver was happy he had enough people to make the journey worth it. Myself and another guy sat waiting on the bus for an hour before the driver got restless and wanted to go. He asked me how much I was willing to pay if we left immediately. I asked him how much it was. He said it was up to me. I said it was a public bus so I wanted to pay the price everyone usually pays. He said it was 7JD because I had a bag with me but he would have to wait for more passengers. If I was willing to pay 10JD he would leave immediately. You can’t make this stuff up! I agreed as I didn’t feel I had much choice. We set off. He stopped off at a hostel and picked up three backpackers – they were unwilling to pay 10JD so negotiated him back down to 7JD and we all paid 7JD.  Happy days for us; he, on the other hand, was in a grouchy mood, declaring our money would only cover fuel with no money for him. He picked up various other people along the way, chain smoked throughout the journey, and seemed to be in a much better mood by the time we arrived at Aqaba bus station. The drive from Wadi Musa to Aqaba is usually 1 hour 30 mins; from me getting on the bus to arriving in Aqaba it was three hours so if you decide to take the public bus option, don’t be in a hurry.

It was easy to get a taxi from Aqaba bus station to my hotel but not cheap. The ten minute taxi ride cost me 10JD. Mohammed, my taxi driver gave me his card and offered me the discount price of 15JD to take me to the border to cross over into Israel when I depart Aqaba. Apparently it usually costs 21JD for this 25 minute journey so I will be going with him.

My hotel was based in South Beach, a short drive away from Aqaba city centre. I can’t comment on the city itself because I literally parked myself by the hotel pools for two days topping up my tan. When you are travelling long-term like I am, sometimes you just need a few days just to do nothing and relax. From what I hear about the city though, I don’t feel as though I missed much. Arab Divers seems to be a decent dive centre if that’s what you are looking for, offering beginner dives to dives for the more experienced. There are many companies in the area offering diving and snorkelling trips but obviously at a high cost – this is Jordan after all. At my hotel the snorkelling day trip costs 50JD and I just wasn’t prepared to pay that after paying £25 for a fab all-inclusive snorkelling trip with lunch and alcohol in Turkey. I was content with free pool days and I am now a bronzed and very relaxed goddess as I type (well, certainly bronzed and relaxed ha ha).

Selection of pictures from my stay:

 

Wadi Musa (Petra), Jordan

  • Visited August 2018

The best way to get from Amman to Wadi Musa? Via the King’s Highway. The scenery on route is amazing and there are some interesting places to visit on the way. My hostel would have charged me 125JD to do this journey with a driver alone but I was lucky and found three other people from the hostel to share the ride with me, so it cost 30JD each. There are of course cheaper ways of getting from Amman to Wadi Musa – most people take the JETT bus that costs 10JD and leaves at 6.30 am every morning or you can take the public bus for 7JD but it is not as comfortable as the JETT bus and not much room for luggage – but we left at 8 am and had an enjoyable time seeing sites such as Karak Castle, Mujib Dam and Ash Shawbak Castle, before arriving in Wadi Musa. If you have the Jordan Pass, all the sites are free to visit but without the pass you would usually pay 1 – 2JD to enter. I didn’t have a pass but I just said I did at the sites, no one asked to check, and got to enter for free. Our driver Omar was great, very entertaining and knowledgeable and the other advantage of having a private driver instead of taking the bus is that you get dropped off directly at your hotel.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from travelling in Jordan during the Eid-al-Adha holiday but I can recommend it. Most of the sites I’ve visited have been fairly quiet and this is considered low season in terms of prices. I have found Jordan to be very expensive during this visit but I am told the prices go even higher soon in high season. The weather has been hot but not unmanageably so don’t be put off coming in summer.

Wadi Musa is a very relaxed town and a welcome relief after the mania of Amman. I felt very comfortable here and as the town caters to so many tourists, I found everyone to be very hospitable. Most people stay a night or two for Petra but I was glad I’d booked three nights as it gave me a chance to chill and enjoy Petra without rushing.

Petra is one of the new 7 Wonders of the World and it is truly spectacular. I have wanted to visit for a long time and it was everything I expected and more. It is not cheap to visit but it needs to be done at least once in a lifetime. It costs 50JD to enter for one day, 55JD for two days and 60JD for three days for visitors staying overnight in Jordan or you can enter with a Jordan Pass. Tickets can be bought from the visitor’s centre and you must have your passport with you to purchase the ticket. I bought my ticket the day before I wanted to visit to ensure I could go straight in when I was dropped off from my hotel. This worked out well because it meant The Siq and Treasury (Al-Khazneh) were not overcrowded and the light was perfect for photos. I got to the Treasury by 8.15 am and then walked straight to the Monastery (Ad-Dayr) which took me 1 hour 15 mins to reach, and again was not overcrowded. The Petra site is very big, with various trails and sites to see, but the majority of people visiting will just do the main trail which is easy to follow and runs from The Siq to The Monastery. The trail to The Monastery involves climbing around 850 steps and some may find it challenging but it’s not too difficult if you go early in the day before the heat of the sun kicks in and just go at your own pace. There are some shaded places you can stop for rest breaks but you will need a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water with you.

The main trail is well-signposted but you can pick up a map from the visitor’s centre when you buy your ticket or download the Petra app. Be warned, you will be pestered constantly for horse, donkey, camel rides and to buy souvenirs from the local sellers who pitch stalls throughout the site, including all the way up to The Monastery. For me, chatting to the locals is all part of the experience and I enjoyed several cups of tea on the way and down from The Monastery with local women. They are quite pushy about trying to sell you things though but the trick is to be polite but firm. Carriage and horse rides are included in the ticket price but you will be expected to give a tip – negotiate this up front if you want a ride. If you don’t want to be bothered by people trying to sell you things etc then just wear some headphones and they will leave you alone.

Food and beverages are over-priced at the site as you would expect but my hotel made a packed lunch for me and I took a couple of bottles of water along. If you don’t want to do that, you can buy refreshments from the few restaurants and stalls. After a day of hiking, the Cave Bar (the oldest bar in the world as it occupies a 2000-year old Nabataean rock tomb) just outside the entrance gate to Petra Park offers a two-for-one drinks happy hour between 3pm and 4pm if you fancy a cold beer like I did. It’s a cool place to check out anyway and is atmospheric for an evening meal. Al-Wadi Restaurant in Wadi Musa is a recommended choice for a tasty lunch or dinner – the chicken Maqluba was delicious and very filling.

I had a lovely day exploring the Petra site but the only aspects that spoilt the experience for me were the way animals are treated and the child sellers. Lazy tourists can pay to take a donkey ride up to The Monastery but it isn’t pleasant to see. The donkeys are hit to make them go and do not look well cared for. The hike up to The Monastery is really not that challenging if you do it early in the day so give the donkeys a break and don’t get a donkey ride up there. Also, don’t encourage child labour and buy any souvenirs or services (such as guiding you on a trail or a donkey ride) from a child at the site. My other recommendation is don’t bother doing the Petra By Night experience which is an extra 17JD on top of your day ticket. This involves seeing The Treasury lit by candlelight but I hear this is overpriced for what it is.

I didn’t do the expensive day trip/over night Bedouin camping experience in Wadi Rum either (most people go from Wadi Musa to Wadi Rum to visit/stay) but that was just due to personal choice – the pictures of Wadi Rum look amazing but having lived in Dubai for over ten years and camped in the desert many times, I decided not to bother. It does sound like a great experience though so if you’ve never driven or stayed in a desert before then do it.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

Amman, Jordan

  • Visited August 2018

Welcome to Jordan. You will hear this phrase uttered hundreds of times a day if you choose to visit, a stock phrase all taxi drivers and shop keepers have learned to welcome the throng of tourists who flock here for Petra, the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum. Be warned if you come – Jordon’s delights do not come cheap. The entry visa costs 40JD (you don’t need a return flight to enter – I just had to say where I was staying) and it is easy to burn through your holiday spending money here. Definitely buy the Jordan Pass. This costs between 70 – 90JD depending upon which package you choose and if you buy it online before you arrive, it includes the cost of the entry visa (you need to stay a minimum of 3 nights) and grants you free access to over 40 attractions in Jordan. As a one-day entry to Petra costs 50JD and the entry visa is 40JD, it is obviously well-worth it.

To be honest, the best reason to visit Amman is for the day trips. I didn’t much care for the city itself but I was fortunate to meet lovely people at the hostel I stayed at. On my first day in Amman I went on a Dead Sea day trip booked with my hostel. Myself and another girl paid 25JD each for a driver, Jameel, who was brilliant and very knowledgeable. Entrance fees to the various places we stopped at were not included in the price we paid. He took us to Amman Beach to swim in the Dead Sea. The entrance fee was 15JD which gave us access to the beach, two pools and showers and we enjoyed two and a half hours there. Floating in the Dead Sea is an amazing experience – just be prepared for the salt to get everywhere (eyes, mouth etc) and keep a bottle of water nearby as you swim. From there we drove to Mount Nebo (2JD entrance) with great views of the Holy Land and St George’s Mosaic Map Church (1JD entrance) and had a cheap/tasty lunch at Ayola Restaurant opposite St George’s Church in Madaba. The driver also kindly stopped off at places that offered stunning views throughout the journey. Though you pay a lot for the day trips, the drivers will also expect to be tipped.

On day two, a guy at my hostel asked if I’d like to split the cost of a driver to Jerash, the second most visited site in Jordan after Petra. Jerash is about an hour’s drive from Amman, the driver cost us 20JD each and we paid 10JD each entrance fee. A brochure is included in the price but you will have to ask for it. The Roman ruins at Jerash are fantastic and well worth a visit. It wasn’t very crowded when we went so we were able to enjoy roaming the site. Take a hat with you as there is very little shade.

As for Amman itself, main sights include the Citadel and the Amphitheatre. The Citadel closes at 7pm daily but the Amphitheatre is lit up at night and rooftop restaurants, such as the Amman Pasha Hotel Tourist Cafe, offer great views. Speaking of the Tourist Cafe, you have to check this place out. It has decent food, alcohol and a mini zoo! As you eat your meal on the terrace you will find rabbits, a duck and a chicken wandering around. The staff are very friendly here. Rainbow Street is an area full of restaurants and bars and I had a nice meal with hostel buddies at La Calle. There is also some interesting street art to be found dotted about which gives the city some character.

I’ve heard some horror stories relating to taxi drivers ripping tourists off but I avoided taking taxis altogether so can’t personally comment.

Note for Solo Females: Although I felt safe enough walking around with buddies from my hostel, I didn’t feel very comfortable when walking about alone, even in the day. Blondes definitely attract attention. Dress modestly (long trousers and t-shirts with short sleeves will be ok) and ignore the men calling out at you. I was actually called a bitch by one guy as I walked down the street minding my own business and he was pretty surprised when I responded with f**k you’ as I think he thought I hadn’t heard him or didn’t expect a response. The men here will either openly call out to you things like ‘hey baby, where you from’, particularly from passing cars or just stare or mutter things as you pass by. I didn’t feel unsafe but it wasn’t enjoyable and I won’t come back to Amman if I can avoid it….

Selection of pictures from my stay: