What can I say? Jordan was on our around the world itinerary for the same reason many tourists have it on their list: Petra. And I can personally confirm that Petra absolutely deserves to be on the list of Wonders of the World. And for anyone who travels, it should be on the list. And at the same time, Jordan is so much more.
Jordan will expand your senses. Not in the way romantic-lit cobblestone streets or Dutch tulip fields will expand your senses. It’s much grittier than that. But, your senses will be expanded nonetheless.
I planned our Jordan itinerary in about an hour one evening from our South African hotel. Of course I knew I wanted to go to Petra, but what else could we experience in Jordan? I used several different resources— blogs and online searches of Rough Guide, Fodors and Lonely Planet. I then quickly cross-referenced and came up with our list things to see and do.
See the bottom of the blog for additional resources to help you plan your perfect trip to Jordan.
We arrived into Amman, Jordan after a hellaciously long travel day that took us from Zimbabwe to South Africa to Egypt and finally to Amman. We are not the type of travelers who are going to have that lengthy travel day and then go hit the sights. So we opted for the rest and relaxation of Ma'in Hot Springs Spa and Resort over the hustle of Amman. It's worth noting that people say great things about Amman and the north of Jordan. If you want more information, check out the resources at the bottom of the page. t's just not what we needed at that point in time.
From Amman, we drove south to Ma’in Hot Springs Hotel and Spa via Route 35. Tip: make sure you have a full tank of gas, food and water. We didn’t have either and the options for these provisions are scarce along this route. You may, however, find some local gas station attendants that will invite you to share a meal with them.
As you approach, Ma’in Hot Springs, make sure you stop to enjoy the scenery around you. The switchbacks down to the resort were like something out of a movie.
Our stay at Ma’in was exactly what these 2 weary travelers needed— a complete picture of pure relaxation. We immediately parked our rental car and indulged in the hot springs, thermal swimming pools, waterfalls, spa treatments, and great food and service from the on-site restaurants. We spent two nights at Ma’in and left feeling recharged and ready to experience the rest that Jordan has to offer.
Our next stops was at Feynan Ecolodge at Dana Biosphere. I learned from my research that the Bedouin people of Jordan are known for the incredible hospitality. Desert nomads for thousands of years, they move themselves and their tented camps from location to location depending on the season. Living in the desert can teach you a thing or two— perhaps most importantly, when you meet another traveler, offer him food and shelter. Over time, this basic generosity has created an entire group of people (approx. 1 million in Jordan alone) that are known for their incredible hospitality. It was this renowned hospitality that led me to book us for 2 nights at the Feynan Ecolodge. A gift to the bedouin people from USAID, the lodge provides numerous activities, all of which provide some form of income to the local bedouins. Guests can choose from sunrise and sunset hikes, both guided and self-guides hikes, and several local bedouin experiences. Anna and I did not go on as many hikes as we initially planned (choosing instead to sleep in from the sunrise hike) but still had a great experience at Feynan. Our favorite parts of the experience was seeing the lodge lit entirely by candlelight each night, and enjoying the rooftop star-gazing class. Seeing the stars on a clear night with zero light pollution is a memory I will not soon forget.
After our two days at Feynan, we continued south to Petra. Everything you have ever heard or read about Petra is true. It’s one of the truly special places in the world. This ancient city, built by the nomadic Nabataean people as early as 5th century B.C., was largely lost to the Western World until the early 1800's. We arrived to Petra on a Monday evening after stopping at Little Petra 8km north of Petra town. Little Petra is worth a stop coming from the north. It’s free, small, and interesting. We walked and climbed all the way to the back of Little Petra where we were treated to terrific sunset views of the mountains between Petra and Little Petra, and invited to enjoy some tea with some locals.
Our first glimpse of Petra was by candlelight— at Petra by Night. Only offered on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, we were thankful we arrived on a Thursday. When planning your trip, I recommend you time your arrival to one of these days. It’s hands-down the best way to set your eyes on Petra for the very first time.
The next two days we hiked all around Petra. A couple of warnings and tips for you— it’s massive. We hiked up and down and around for 6-7 hours per day, logging between 10 and 12 miles each day. If you are not into hiking, you should still visit as there are less strenuous ways to experience Petra. But I love to hike so we used this opportunity to fulfill on one of my passions. But do wear your most comfortable shoes, dress in layers and bring a scarf to keep the sun off your head/neck.
Petra can be a bit overwhelming when you are considering what to do and how to prioritize. Here is how I would prioritize, based on what we did. This is not necessarily the order in which we did things, rather it's based on what I would suggest based on what we learned along the way.
Our favorite hikes are, in this order:
1. Al-Khubtha Trail to the View on the Top of the Treasury. Follow the trail past the front of the Royal Tombs and climb the steps all the way to the top. When you get to the top, you’ll see a sign pointing you to the right for“Petra City View”. Take in the view but then head back to the left, down 5 steps just before a hut carved into the rock. Follow the trail slightly down into the valley to the left. You’ll come out of the valley on top of the Treasury for what I think is the most magical view in all of Petra. You’ll even see signs for “best view” along this route. Don’t miss! Do this in the morning of Day 1 when the Treasury is lit by the morning sun.
2. The monastery. There are a ton of steps but we challenged ourselves to make it to the top in less than 30 minutes. I’m happy to report we made it to the top in 26 minutes, 56 seconds. We considered not doing the monastery since we waited towards the end of our 2nd full day. And it was hands down one of the coolest parts of Petra so I would recommend you do that first! Enjoy the view of the monastery but also climb the small rocky outcrop just in front of the monastery for unparalleled views of the surrounding mountains. Don’t miss! Do this in the afternoon of Day 2 so you can enjoy the colors of the setting sun on the surrounding mountains.
3. Place of High Sacrifice. While this hike does not take you to a jaw-dropping destination like the first 2, the views along the hike are hard to beat. And from the Place of High Sacrifice, you will see unparalleled views of the Street of Facades. Do this on Day 2.
For more Petra tips, see the list at the bottom of the blog.
Petra lived up to every one of our expectations. We remain thankful that we built in the 2 days and 3 nights there. It gave us the opportunity to enjoy Petra by Night, and hike all of it. I can safely say we didn’t leave many stones unturned.
Another note about Petra. We did not stay at the Petra Marriott because we wanted to save some money— despite the Marriott being quite affordable for what you get. That was a mistake. Our hotel was a bust so on the 2nd night I booked the last room at the Marriott. The next day we were hoping they would have a cancellation but they did not. Nonetheless, the staff invited us to stay, use the spa facilities, and enjoy the hotel while they waited to confirm all the rooms. I’ve never had a nicer experience with hotel staff than at the Petra Marriott. I highly recommend this hotel. It’s where we will be staying when we return.
After our 3 nights in Petra, we again continued south to the village of Wadi Rum, and the Rum Desert. Prior to my research, I didn’t know much about Wadi Rum but it turned up repeatedly as one of the top things to do in Jordan. It’s a vast and varied desert landscape with endless stretched of white sand, red dunes, mountains shooting vertically from the desert floor. It looks like I would expect the surface of Mars to look. In fact, Rum is where the Mars scenes in the Hollywood film The Martian were filmed. At Wadi Rum, we stayed at Bedouin Lifestyle Camp. The camps in Rum are very basic— they really are camps so its important to set your expectations. Each canvas cabin has a bed and small, dim light. Showers are available with hot water, but it’s more of a trickle. And there is sand everywhere, including in the sheets. I chose to convince myself it was because we are in the desert, not because the sheets had not been changed from the previous guests.
We started our day at Rum on a short camel ride and then continued in the back of a Jeep (as they call it) with a private guide showing us all around Rum. It was a spectacular day, one that I will not forget. I took some of my favorite photographs in Rum.
I also flew Sheila the Drone across the Rum desert and got some good practice footage (unfortunately not much to publish).
But with all highs, there are also lows. Sheila suffered an unfortunate accident when I flew her into the side of a canyon wall. I can still hear the sound of Sheila hitting the wall and free-falling to the desert floor. Sheila will be on the mend for awhile and will hopefully be back in service before too long.
We only stayed at Bedouin Lifestyle Camp one night, and are sure glad we did. While certainly not luxurious, seeing the sunset across the desert landscape, enjoying local bedouin food and music and enjoying a view of endless stars as we settled into your cabin, confirmed that we had made the right choice. If you come to Wadi Rum, do stay a night in the desert. It’s unlike any experience you will likely have in your life.
All told we spent 9 nights in Jordan— 2 at Ma’in, 2 at Feynan, 3 in Petra and 1 in the Rum Desert. And I can honestly say that Jordan made quite an impression. The country is beautiful in sort of a non-classical way. It’s a desert after all, but the variations in colors and topography make it a sight to behold. The people are extremely friendly, welcoming, and they are proud of their country. There is a simplicity here that I have not experienced before, perhaps owing to the simplicity that Bedouin’s covet. In my travels, I find it refreshing to discover some of the happiest people are living with very little in material wealth.
I already know Petra is on your bucket list. Perhaps after reading this, you’ll move it up a notch or two. And don’t forget to see all of Jordan. Thanks for reading.
Resources and Tips:
Evening: Petra by Night on Monday, Wednesday or Thursday. http://www.fodors.com/world/africa-and-middle-east/jordan/petra
- Day 1 morning: start with the Al-Khubtha trail to the viewpoint over the top of the Treasury. You will be rewarded with the Treasury bathed in the morning sun.
- Day 1 afternoon: hike to the top of the Monastery. Don’t be alarmed when people tell you it’s “soooo many steps”. It is, and it can be done in less than an hour. And it’s worth it.
- Day 2: hike to the Place of High Sacrifice
- Wear comfortable shoes
- Bring a scarf (or buy a scarf) to tie around your head or your neck. You will want it to keep the sun off your neck. It gets very hot in summer so come during the cooler months if you can.
- I wore a long-sleeve workout shirt. It breathes, wicks moisture and keeps the sun off my arms
- Bring layers— can get cool in shade and as the sun sets
- Amman and side-trips: Fodor’s Amman Travel Guide; Fodor’s Side Trip from Amman Travel Guide
- Feynan Eco-Lodge— not cheap but al meals and most of the actives are included, so it balances out.
- Wadi Rum: http://www.fodors.com/world/africa-and-middle-east/jordan/wadi-rum
- General Jordan: http://hippie-inheels.com/perfect-10-day-jordan-itinerary-let-adventure-begin/
Our Jordan Itinerary:
- Ma’in Hot Springs - 2 nights at Ma’in Hot Springs Hotel & Spa. Relax, spa treatments & natural pool at spa, hot springs, which are very hot. Surrounding area is gorgeous but does not offer any formal hiking. We used this as a R&R stop.
- Dana Biosphere - 2 nights at Feynan Ecolodge. Relax, hiking, local Bedouin experiences. All meals and most experiences included in price, a few experiences are supplemental. Eco Lodge provides supplements local Bedouins. Very attentive staff. Fair amount of local hiking but we didn’t partake in much of it.
- Petra- could do Petra on a day trip if you are in a pinch, but we did (and recommend) 3 nights. Recommend Petra by Night first evening (Mon, Wed, Thu only), Al-Khubtha Trail to the viewpoint on the top of the Treasury (don’t miss), Monastery (don’t miss). Other great hike is to the Place of High Sacrifice which gives you great views all along the route. We did Petra by night on our first night and it’s a magical way to see Petra for the first time. The next day we hiked Place of High Sacrifice. Day 3 we hiked Al-Khubtha Trail and Monastery. If short on time, make sure to hike Al-Khubtha Trail and Monastery. For hotels, people say the Movenpick is great but we stayed at the Marriott and the service was impeccable.
- Wadi Rum - we stayed only 1 night at Bedouin Lifestyle Camp. They have canvas sides cabins but make no mistake, it’s rustic. You are in the dessert so expect some sand in your sheets. There are basic showers with hot water. The experience of being in the Rum desert and seeing the stars at night make the stay worthwhile. The local Bedouin staff are very hospitable and the price is hard to beat.