They say 3 times is a charm and it took me 3 attempts, to finally travel to Jordan. Long a bucket list item, I finally booked a flight to Amman to make my travel dream come true.
I read about the history, the culture and thought I was well prepared to travel in Jordan. But here are some things I’d never expected about Jordan and that surprised me.
If you’re planning to travel to Jordan, this can help you be better prepared than I was!
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21 Things I didn’t Expect about Travel in Jordan
#1. The border with Israel
When I first told people I’d travel to Jordan, the first question they asked: is it safe to travel to Jordan? Rolling my eyes I usually answered that Jordan is the Switzerland of the Middle East and it is safe to travel to Jordan. What I didn’t expect was that the border with Israel and the Palestine territories was such a hot issue.
On a day trip by car from Amman to the north that I booked at Jordan Tower Hotel Amman, our guide drove us past the border along with the River Jordan. He took us to see the Golan Heights and showed us where the border runs. I never expected it to be a gated fence with barb wire, armed guards on patrol, and checkpoints every few kilometers. Growing up in the European Union where borders are more an imaginary line in people’s minds, I was surprised to see the Jordan-Israel border. I guess I was very naive to think the conflict was no issue in Jordan.
TIP: Only use the official border between Israel and Jordan. Don’t try to cross anywhere else or come too near to the border. It is not worth it.
#2. More women in vails than in Iran
I stayed in Amman for 4 days and walked the streets a number of times. What surprised me was to see so many women in vails. Last year, I traveled for 2 weeks in Iran and didn’t see any women with more than a headscarf. In Amman, I saw a few women dressed head to toe, included with covered faces, in a burka.
#3. I liked Jerash and Wadi Rum better than Petra
Petra is supposed to be the highlight of any trip to Jordan. With good reason, it is one of the modern-day world wonders and I was super excited to finally visit Petra and see it with my own eyes. After 2 exhausting days, climbing ruins and gathering sand in my shoes, I discovered I actually liked the roman ruins of Jerash and my visit to Wadi Rum desert better than my visit to Petra.
Maybe it was because I saw already so much of Petra or it was more exhausting than I expected, but looking back on my trip to Jordan, the highlight was not Petra, which surprised me.
#4. Jerash is not a Unesco World Heritage Site (yet)
I was absolutely amazed by this fact. The ancient Roman city of Jerash, which you can visit on a popular day trip from Amman is not on Unesco’s list. The amazing archaeological excavations, the significance in history, and the modern-day appeal did not give Jerash that extra push that is needed to get their claim of fame from Unesco. Ok, in all honesty, the site is on the tentative Unesco list since 2004 but hasn’t made it to the big list.
Jordan has 5 Unesco World Heritage listings but in my humble opinion, I hope Jerash will be added too to preserve and protect this ancient Roman city for future generations.
TIP: Visit Jerash! I absolutely loved it. It is a rare case to find such a well laid out and well preserved Roman city
#5. How Exhausting sightseeing can be when you travel in Jordan
Maybe the former point had everything to do with exhausting Petra was. I walked up and down the ruined site for 2 whole days and I could barely put one foot in front of the other at the end of it. After walking over 20 km, climbing several 100 meters on uneven stones, I came to the conclusion that Petra is best enjoyed when you’re fit.
Of course, you can take a horse ride or carriage ride down the Siq or ride a donkey in Petra to make things easier on you. But as I refused all animal transport, I had to walk and climb everywhere myself. Maybe I’m not fit enough, but it surprised me how physically challenging the sites in Jordan are. And not only Petra.
To enjoy Jordan the most, you need to walk, climb, scatter, walk some more and climb even more in Amman, Jerash, Ajlun, Kerak, Petra, and Wadi Rum.
TIP: Be prepared. Wear sturdy walking shoes, have a snack with you and it is also perfectly fine to say “no” when you don’t feel like climbing any rocks.
#6. How big Petra really is
What you see in the media and online of Petra is mostly the Treasury of Petra. Sometimes a picture of the Siq is included. What people don’t tell you about Petra until you get there, is how big this Unesco World Heritage site really is. And they haven’t even unearthed all of it. A lot still lies hidden underneath little Petra and the hills surrounding the area.
If you walk everything and want to climb to the high places and have time for selfies and dramatic Instagram pictures, you need at least 2 days but 3 days in Petra is even better. And good walking shoes.
TIP: If possible, use as many days as you can spare to see Petra. Hire a guide that will show you around the main sights in a couple of hours and use the rest of your time for pictures and roaming around on your own.
#7. How green the desert in Jordan can be
I have visited several deserts on my travels. Like the ones in Mongolia and Iran. But each and every time, I’m surprised how much green vegetation and life there is in the desert. How trees, scrubs, and small patches of grass can survive in such a big pit of sand.
The dry arid climate and lack of water seem the perfect combination to kill all life trying to live in the desert of Wadi Rum, but surprisingly, I saw a lot of green. Between the dirt roads, formed by the many 4×4 vehicles crossing the desert, you’ll find small patches of grass and tiny scrubs. In the cracks and crevices of many rocks, bigger scrubs and even trees grow! I was amazed!
#8. How barren the rest of the country is
Especially when you consider how barren the rest of the country is! Overlooking Amman from the Roman Ruins at the Citadel of Amman, I saw nothing but a sea of blocked limestone buildings, shoulder to shoulder, spanning across the hills. They left little to no room for anything green between them.
When I traveled across the King’s Highway from Amman to Petra, we saw nothing but sand surrounding the lone road we were traveling on. Nothing but dry, cracked earth. Dust fills the air and the strong winds make it impossible for plants to grow. I have to say, I traveled late October and November, so the rainy season still had to start and it was an extremely dry year on earth. But I remember looking out at the car window and thinking: wow this isn’t even the desert and it is sooo dry!
TIP: Always bring water with you when you travel in Jordan. Some lip balm, like this one, is very welcome to prevent dry lips.
#9. How a modern-day nomad lives
But once I got to the desert, I absolutely loved it. I spend a whole day in Wadi Rum and did several tours around the desert. I talked with the local nomads when this was possible and I was surprised how their lives are today. The young men that guide the tour groups around the desert are all equipped with several mobile phones, a 4×4 pick-up truck and all want to connect with you on Facebook and Instagram.
Most of them live with their family in a house in Wadi Rum village, just on the edge of the desert. They have a television and heater for the cold nights.
But they also wear traditional clothes, herd their camels and talk about their father who has more than 1 wife. I’m not sure what I expected of a modern-day Bedouin nomad in Wadi Rum, but I learned a lot about the stark contrast between traditional style living and the modern world.
TIP: See if you can sit in the front of the 4×4 with the drivers in Wadi Rum. They are quite chatty and love to share stories about their lives. Or join them for tea at any opportunity you find when you travel in Jordan.
#10. How tasty camel meat is
Nom nom nomm. A girl’s gotta eat. After filling my belly with more falafel and hummus a human can ever eat in a lifetime, it was time to expand my savory pallet for an evening. I tried the Camel Kebab. I learned that camel meat is the most expensive meat per kg in the world today. Sold for $85 dollars per couvert in one of New York’s finest restaurants, a camel kebab is a must-try in Jordan.
I was surprised you can eat it medium-rare, but the taste is very rich and savory. I half expected it to be chewy and maybe dry (because… well camels life in the desert and the desert is dry?) but it was pleasantly succulent and texturized. I can strongly recommend it when you’re a meat-eater.
TIP: Try camel meat when you travel in Jordan. Different restaurants offer different meals with camel meat. Try a stew, burger or the delicious camel kebab.
#11. How early it gets dark
I traveled to Jordan in early winter or late autumn as we might say. There was only have a one-hour time difference with my home country but I was baffled by the fact it was pitch dark at 4.45 pm. During my 10-day stay in Jordan, I never got used to it. Each time it took me by surprise and I was constantly thinking how much daylight time I had still left when I went out to explore for the day.
TIP: Keep an eye on the time. A lot of the sights in Jordan close at sunset so if you wish to visit the citadel of Amman, go there early afternoon as you might find the gates closed at 4 pm already.
#12. How Jordanian people do not like to get up early
It does get light really early in Jordan though! At 6.30am the sun stood in the sky bright and fierce. I half expected life to make a shift to early mornings and early nights, but to my surprise, the Jordanian people do not like to get up early.
One morning, I was walking the streets of Amman at 8 am and all the shops were closed and I was the only person walking around. Where was everybody? Turns out, not here. People do like to get out late. I found the streets filled with friends and family at 10 pm at night. Even families with small children went out to get mango juice from the local juice bar.
TIP: Use the early hours of the day for those amazing travel selfies without any other people in it. Petra for example already opens at 6 am!
#13. How haggling is still an art-form in Jordan
Walking around and visiting the bazaar and shops in Jordan was an attack on the senses. Sounds and smells sneak up on you and surprise you all the time. As I visited the bazaar, I quickly learned that haggling is still an art-form. Everywhere around me, I saw people buying stuff but not before a good round of haggling. As most of the items in stores in Europe have a fixed price tag, this is something to get used to when you travel to Jordan.
Expect to haggle over taxi rate, prices for tour guides and souvenirs, but also about a kilo of garlic at the souk!
TIP: Haggle away! Don’t be frustrated or impatient. When purchasing something in the souq, haggling is part of the process.
#14. How much tea a person can drink in 1 day
I like tea. And as I always sweeten my tea with honey or sugar, I really liked the tea in Jordan. Already sweetened most of the time, locals invite you to have tea with them. And I accepted the invitation more than once.
As I walked around Petra on my first day, local bedouin women kept inviting me to check out their stall of souvenirs. As I declined, they insisted that I’d sit and have tea with them. I think I drank over 2 liters of tea that day!
TIP: Say YES! when offered tea. It is a great opportunity to interact with locals and hear their stories.
#15. Hot water is never a given when you travel Jordan
After exploring all day in the warm and dry country of Jordan, nothing makes you feel like a human more than a warm shower. To rinse off the sand and sweat and to relax your aching muscles from walking all day. Unfortunately, warm water is never a given.
I spend 11 days in Jordan, and unfortunately, I only had hot water for 5 nights out of 11. Ok, I have to admit, I didn’t stay at very luxurious hotels (with one exception!) but I was very happy to finally get some hot water after 4 days of traveling. Sometimes it helps to take a shower at a different time, maybe you’re lucky.
TIP: Never pass up on an opportunity to use the hot water. When it’s there, wash your hair as you’ll never know when the next time will be.
#16. How hard it is to pay with plastic or get money from ATM’s
Jordan is not a cheap country for a tourist. I took some Euro’s with me to exchange and I figured I’d get the local currency, the Jordanian Dinar, from the ATM’s in town. I tried to get money in Amman and in Petra (Wadi Musa village) but none of the banks accepted my bank cards.
Although I tried 2 debit cards and both my credit cards, none worked. In the end, after trying several banks and getting quite desperate, I was without local currency (and yes, I had enough funds). As most of the hotels, restaurants, and tours don’t accept payment by card, cold hard cash is the way to go.
TIP: Bring enough currency (Euro, Dollar or GBP) to exchange as a back-up in case your bank card doesn’t work either.
#17. How cheap gas is for a country without oil reserves
Getting around Jordan is easiest by car. Either by a private driver or a driver for a group. You can also rent a car and move around the country yourself. As I love a good road trip, I always like to check fuel prices everywhere I go. In Jordan, the price for 1 liter of gas was less than 0.85 JD.
That is roughly 1 euro per liter or $3.50 for a gallon. As Jordan doesn’t have any oil reserves themselves, this is surprisingly cheap. I guess, having good relations with their oil-rich neighbors benefits the prices in Jordan.
TIP: Car rental is quite affordable in Jordan. I hired a driver and car for several day trips which were easily done via my hotel in Amman.
#18. How travel in Jordan is not done on a shoestring
Jordan is not a budget destination to travel to. But why is that actually? The falafel lunch I had, including a can of coke, was 2.5 JD (3 euro or 3$). I stayed at mid-range hotels where 1 room was 40$ per night. Not cheap but also not top end. But I also had dinner in a restaurant where my meal totaled up to 22JD (25 € or $- roughly). And a bus trip from Petra to Wadi Rum was 8 JD and 10 JD if you have a bag.
For a 2-hour bus ride, almost 12$ seems a lot. The prices to visit the local sites were 2 or 3 JD each, but with the Jordan Pass free. But entrance fees for Petra are exuberant high. Ranging from 90JD to 50 JD (depending on if you stay in Petra overnight or not) it can definitely pay off to purchase the Jordan Pass before you visit Jordan.
TIP: See if the Jordan pass is value for money for you. If you need a visa and want to visit Petra, the rest of the sights in Jordan are basically for free as almost all are included in the Jordan Pass.
#19. How convenient the Jordan Pass is for travel in Jordan
Most travelers to Jordan need to obtain a visa. Depending on what your nationality is, expect to pay around 40 JD. Add up a visit to Petra (50JD) and some other smaller sites around the country (say 3x 3JD), it definitely pays off to purchase the Jordan Pass.
The Jordan Pass waves your visa costs if you stay more than 3 days (or the visa fee is included in the Pass – it is just how you look at it). And you can visit all the local musea, historic sites and Petra for free. All you have to do is show your pass on your tablet or smartphone, or print it out and take it with you.
No waiting in line to buy tickets, just show the Jordan Pass and off you go! Read more about the Jordan Pass here.
#20. How the recycling movement has not reached Jordan yet
Straws, plastic bags, plastic bottles. You name it and you can find it in Jordan. And not in the restaurant or market, but on the floor, in the streets, in the desert and basically everywhere. We passed by whole patches of dry land with a fence around it, where plastic clung on everything it encountered.
I was shocked to see so much plastic whirling around in the wind, hanging in the small grasses and shrubs around the country. Jordan has a lot of problems so I don’t blame them that the plastic movement is not at the top of their priorities but it saddens me that such a beautiful country is deviled by so much waste plastic lying around everywhere.
#21. How many important Christian sites Jordan has
I’m not religious and all I know about the different religions in the world is because of books, movies, and stories, guides tell when I visit a place. So, before I traveled to Jordan, I didn’t know how many important Christian sites Jordan houses. I didn’t know Jesus has actually baptized in the Jordan River in modern-day Jordan.
I didn’t know that Mt. Nebo where Mozes first looked at the promised land was in Jordan. I was surprised to find so many Byzantine churches scattered across Jordan. But I also discovered it doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not, Christian or Muslim or atheist. I think Jordan has so many cultural and historic places to see, this can be interesting to everyone!
TIP: Read up on the history of Jordan, for example by flipping through the Jordan Lonely Planet Guidebook.
Are you ready to travel to Jordan? I hope the above-mentioned things I didn’t expect, help you plan your travel in Jordan. Bring enough cash to convert, engage with locals to learn more stories and find more surprises and enjoy all the natural and cultural beauty Jordan has to offer.
Have you traveled to Jordan already? What was the thing that surprised you the most? Let me know in the comment section below, I’d love to read it.