An April 2002 trip
to Jordan by DrMaximus
Quote: An overland trip from the north in Umm Qais, down the King's Highway to the south in Aqaba. Discover this amazing biblical land!
You will need ample sun protection and a good wide hat to avoid getting sun burned. Good slippers are indispensable for trips to the desert, so is a light scarf to protect from blowing sand, and light breathable shirts and shorts.
Public transportation is at the most, unreliable and uncomfortable, save the overland express between Amman and Aqaba in the south.
Visitors are invited for a welcome tea in the evening, either in the common hall with the television (blaring Arabic news round the clock), or on the breezy rooftop terrace with fantastic, uninhibited views to the Golan Heights. The night views are especially spectacular, with the million tiny lights flickering far away. A good manual camera with tripod and 15 seconds exposure will do the trick. There are numerous tourist brochures on the reception desk, including the best Holy Land map of Jordan printed by the Tourism Ministry. This map is very detailed and is a must-have for tourists and pilgrims alike.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 7, 2002
Hotel | "Amman - Grand Palace Hotel"
Unfortunately, service is hardly of three star quality. The management is sour and unyielding, and full of internal conflicts. As I arrived at about 2am and did not need a bed since we were to leave early the next morning after breakfast, my travel companions asked if I could share the room without asking for an extra third bed. The evening receptionist said that it was absolutely alright and that we did not have to pay anything. Of course, the next morning we were shown a bill with an extra JD10,000 charge – for having shared the room, even though permission was prior sought and received. They blamed the receptionist for having erred, and then blamed us for not having asked for a third bed. We asked for a receipt for the extra charges and received a handwritten bill on one of those generic receipts, which we rejected. The manager then went backdoors and came back after ten minutes of hushed discussion, a mean and dissatisfied expression on his face. He then grudgingly printed out an official hotel receipt on which was unsatisfactorily printed "Room Charges JD9,700 plus taxes". We were less than happy with the charge description but decided to let it go. It was fairly obvious that they had intended to pocket the extra "charges".
Magens Point Resort
6200 Magens Bay Road
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands 00802
Hotel | "Aqaba - Al Shula Hotel"
Our room was fairly clean, though not exceptionally well furnished. It felt more like a double room with the third bed thrown in, leaving little space to walk about. The air-conditioning was functioning, at least, but we left the balcony doors open to allow in fresh sea breezes. The evening view was exceptional as the glowing orange sun retreated behind the irregular peaks of the mountain chain, its golden rays shimmering on the water surface. The silhouette of the city’s largest mosque makes this a truly Middle Eastern experience.
Having just enjoyed the wonderful breakfast spread a day before at the Grand Palace in Amman, breakfast at Al-Shula was utterly disappointing. Stale pita bread, jam and a plate of cucumbers and tomatoes. More stale bread and slow service. The bill stipulated JD2 for each breakfast portion, so it appears that it could have been avoided, but I am not sure. In any case, express some disinterest in the hotel room before agreeing to stay a night and you should enjoy a better offer. We shaved JD4 off the rate for a triple room, but our circumstances could have been exceptional as war was being waged just across the gulf at that time.
The hotel can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
Massanutten Resort: Eagle Trace
Hotel | "Aqaba - Al Zaitouna Hotel"
The hotel is reachable via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Al Zaitouna Hotel
The management at the Dweik 2 is far warmer and much more amiable than that two doors away, and they try their best to accommodate all guest requests, including my request to have breakfast at 530am instead of at 7am. Half the rooms have unparalleled views of the Gulf and of Eilat, and the balconies are lovingly furnished with carved white marble. I enjoyed many evenings sitting in the open, warm breezes caressing my ears as I sat and chatted with my companion, enjoying the Middle Eastern night life with a bird’s eye view. If you get a room without a view, the hotel has an open air rooftop terrace which affords this similar wonderful view. In all, my favourite accommodation choice in Aqaba.
The hotel can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
Hotel | "Aqaba - Al Jaber Hotel"
The bakery next door is perhaps the best attraction as it boasts of no less than a hundred different types of Middle Eastern and local sweets. Thought that a baklava is just layers and layers of crumbling pastry filled to the brim with chopped pistachios and honey? Here, you will be proven wrong while your sweet tooth will be taken for a ride!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on June 7, 2002
Kinstom Manor at Foxwood
Westminster, South Carolina
Hotel | "Dead Sea Guest House"
If you stay here, your only dinner option would be at their restaurant. Expect to pay a lot for that as well, of course. We paid JD6 per person for a full Jordanian dinner – lamb, beef and chicken kebabs, rice, pita and the usual assortment of dips. Although dinner was great, we were more than disturbed by a waiter who appeared to be overly proud of his command of the English language and who as a result got over friendly and never ceased talking even while we ate.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on August 18, 2002
Hotel | "Le Meridien"
For business travellers, the newly opened Royal Convention Centre would be a very convenient site to host your meetings. We had use of it for a day and the reception was extremely well-catered for.
We were not too happy with the smoke-stenched room which we had been initially allocated, but a quick call to the lobby corrected that and we had profuse apologies right up to the next morning.
If you are in Amman and feel like splurging a little, Le Meridien would be the way to go.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 16, 2004
Le Meridien Amman
Queen Noor Street, Shmeisani
Amman, Jordan 11195
+962 (6) 569 6511
All waiters here are super friendly and aim to please. It’s a little pity that the restaurant manager, Osama Suliman, was rather pretentious and tried to retain our change for his own pocket. Always ask for a paper receipt detailing the full order, and cover up your feet – the hordes of mosquitoes are sure to have you for dinner too!
Captain’s, furnished appropriately like a ship, is located at Al Nahda Street in the hotel area, between Aquamarina II city hotel and the Golden Tulip. It really is centrally located and less than five minutes’ walk from most hotels in the city.
The restaurant can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our excursion to Qusayr Amra – 30 kilometres south east of Amman and a good 45-70 minutes drive into the desert, was highly anticipated. By the time we arrived it was near dusk and the desert was at its most charming. The gentle cool breeze was blowing and the sun was an orange glow of gentle warmth. But I was thoroughly set aback by the extreme beauty of this desert castle. The interior was so finely decorated with an endless canopy of art with colours so fresh and well preserved, considering its old age, that it felt like a step back in time. I was quiet for most of the exploration, but only because I was left so speechless. Perhaps the most interesting art of them all would be that of the zodiac, found on the ceiling of the oval shaped private chamber. The resident guide, who collects JD1 from all visitors who are invited to sign in the guest book, also showed us some very well preserved mosaic flooring (which are out of bounds). I found it a huge blessing to be able to visit the Qusayr Amra, and to have the privilege of having my name written in that book.
The Qusayr Amra is the furthest out castle on the desert castles route, and all along the route are several other castles to visit, including Qasr al-Kharaneh and Qasr al-Mushatta. It’s best to drive the whole loop Amman-Amra-Amman, and visit all six castles along the way. Further east of Amra is the famed Shaumari Wildlife Reserve and the Azraq Oasi
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on August 18, 2002
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 18, 2002
If, like me, you arrive at the Dead Sea after a few days of scorching sun in the desert, you will appreciate the coolness of the water, but definitely not its salinity. Because the salt bit so badly into my sun burnt skin that my skin started to swell and peel. If you never knew that you had any minute open wounds on your body, you will find that out through the hard way in the Dead Sea! Back at the reception I met this Italian guest who looked like he really needed a break – his skin was so swollen and red that it was white and crusty, he didn’t have the happiest look in the world either. Later I found out from the receptionist that that guest had eczema, and the condition was obviously not well received in the water. I guess they didn’t call the Dead Sea that for no reason.
Dead Sea mud baths can be had by the beach for about JD2. You enter a hut, and slap on the mud, then get out into the sun to bake yourself silly. After 10 minutes, it seems not any longer than that, you get into the water and wash yourself.
You definitely need a torch here, and you must go on to the next entry to read why!
Walk down the stairs – don’t go alone – it’s really very eerie inside and completely pitch dark. I can promise you that the excitement and anticipation of what was further inside and below was building up increasingly as I walked down with my companion. We promised ourselves to not go deeper than 10 minutes inside the tunnel in case the lights went out and we would find ourselves in some very hot soup. So ten minutes it was, and by then we had only covered two flights, with numerous more to go as far as the light could search out. It was even more exciting than Petra was! I grabbed out my camera and attempted so shots while my companion kept the light shining to get the proper exposure. At the end of it all, we pat ourselves on the back for an exploration well done. I wished I could have gone further down, but maybe next time. This time I wasn’t prepared – neither physically nor mentally.
Outside, we met a local guarding the site and he told us that the stairs actually were an escape route out of the castle. It runs all the way down into the hill and out of it of the back, passing first through a reservoir which till this day survives inside the hill, and which was used in the past as a means of survival in times of war and escape. Just to get down, it seems, takes about 50 minutes. So, if you intend to go there, be prepared – in every sense.
There are ample photo locations en-route to satisfy even the most ambitious and relentless photographer, but the best panoramic view can be had – where else – but at the designated tour bus stop area. Impossible to miss, the location was full of click-happy tourists and local guides speaking a plethora of foreign languages including French, German, Italian and Korean!! There are also two souvenir stores, a café, restrooms and numerous makeshift souvenir tables. One interesting find is an open air carpet and tapestry shop that openly displays all its wares. If you cannot find something which tickles your wallet, it at least makes a wonderful foreground to your Wadi al-Mujib photo memories! Don’t come here expecting the heavens and you won’t be disappointed. It’s really just almost more of what scenery you should be already used too, especially if you have already enjoyed Wadi Rum – just perhaps with a fancy name.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 20, 2002
The mosaic-makers used different-sized letters in red, black and white to indicate biblical territories (red) or the relative importance of towns. There are 157 captions, written in Greek, and most of the cities have been identified. They include important cities like Jerusalem, Neapolis and Gaza, as well as towns like Kerak and Jericho. Symbols are also used – two towers with a gate indicates a town, while a church denotes a holy place. Other symbols include palm trees at Jericho, and the bushes and fords along the Jordan River (notice the ferries at the fords!). The central focus of the Madaba map is the walled city of Jerusalem, depicted in exquisite detail. Notice first the city walls, with their towers and gates. The colonnaded main street runs from a plaza with a central column, and two other streets can be seen, together with the city’s principal buildings.
Entrance is JD2,500
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on June 20, 2002
Attraction | "Umm Qais & her Museum"
Umm Qais Museum
Umm Qais is such a small city that every site worth visiting is within comfortable walking distance. I had just an evening and morning in this small place (before heading back south), so I visited just the Museum in the morning. It contains numerous artifacts and mosaics from the area, and is open from 8am to 5pm and to 4pm in the winter. Admission is no longer free, costing JD1. At the entrance to the Western Theatre of the Museum stands the white, headless marble statue of a goddess.
To purchase your museum ticket, you have to walk about 200m around a quarter of the waist of the hill on which the museum sits. At first, walking up along a straight path it would seem that the most obvious route to take is straight on up. But no, when you squeeze yourself past the road barrier, a uniformed guard will stop you, and speaking little or no English at all, ask you to go get your ticket. Then he points absent-mindedly towards a certain direction and basically shoos you away. And goes back to his sleep on his brown cardboard box cover. The guards at the ticket booth are more friendly and helpful, and would even offer assistance if necessary. The museum, and the whole city for the matter, rarely sees visitors and I had the pleasure of the whole place to myself. Wandering around the huge compound is a must-do because one discovers little quiet corners teeming with colourful wild flowers in fierce wild blossoming. Be sure to bring along a good camera and lots of film; from the museum one gets also an unparalleled view of the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee, as well as a panorama of just about the whole city of Umm Qais.
Once past the headless statue of the goddess, you will come across a visitor room, or should I say, a guard rest house. Try to be friendly and inquisitive. If you are fortunate as I was, some guard will walk ahead of you and open a secret annex in which are some pretty fascinating and very well-maintained statues. No photography is allowed inside, with flash or without, but the guard left me alone and I stole some photography! In all, the Museum is a nice morning excursion, great on a cool, clear and cloudless day. And for just JD1, it’s a real bargain.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 7, 2002
I personally would not recommend Pella, not especially after having visited the long list of other archaeological sites scattered all over this fascinating country. Our driver stopped us at the guest house where we were told that the site is currently closed to visitors. But if you do get there, be sure to enjoy some cold fresh juices, and chill out on one of the comfy seats at the guest house which overlooks the entire site.
The surrounding areas are covered with endless neat rows of pine trees and olive groves. If driving, stopovers are readily available as the path that leads to the fort is wide and shady. While not exceedingly huge, the fort is definitely worth a visit for the fascinating views that it affords. The green rolling hills surrounding the area are inspiring and very visually exhilarating.
Regular minibuses connect Jerash and Ajlun for 300 fils, taking 30 minutes. Direct buses from Amman take 90 minutes and cost 450 fils. The last minibus that returns to Jerash leaves Ajlun at 5pm. If you miss it, be prepared to pay much for a stay at the Ar-Rabad or Ajlun Hotels, which are found along the road up to the fort. Singles and doubles start from JD24 and JD32.
Attraction | "Jerash Ruins"
The first, most obvious relic is the triumphal arch which towers above you. Immediately behind the arch is the hippodrome which once seated up to 15,000 spectators. Cross the gate and immediately to the left is the ruined Temple of Zeus. Most unusual is the oval-shaped forum which closely follows. Do not miss the two theatres, although if time is short visit the second theatre, which although is smaller, is the more spectacular of the two, and closer to the exit. Inside the second theatre, right at the middle is a spot which is covered by a fairly rounded stone block of a somewhat different colour. Stand directly on top of it and speak… your words will be magically magnified… so much for ancient technological wonders! All around the base of the theatre are also little gorges which appear like holes on the walls. Whisper into one of these holes and your friend listening into the hole on the opposite side of the wall will hear you.
Immediately after the forum is the roman colonnaded street which stretches for more than 600m, flanked on both sides by tall, imposing columns. The original stones still pave the street and clearly seen are the ruts which are the result of thousands of chariots plying the street over the years. Moving on, the incredible Temple of Artemis rests untouched by time and well-preserved as the most imposing building on the site. The site opens at 730am and closes at about 7pm. Admission is JD5, half that for students possessing the ISIC.
At the Roman bath fountain, I met a policeman with whom I chatted with for a bit, then he asked me if I had a painkiller for his headache. I did not, but offered instead some water which he politely declined. Later, he brought me all around the site, including the two theatres and a church at a secluded corner of the area. Most visitors give it a miss due to its awkward location, but the huge mosaic flooring is worth a visit. It’s gates are, however, locked in a bid to preserve the beauty of the flooring.
To get to Jerash, catch a service taxi or minibus from the Abdali bus station. It is possible to connect to Mafraq, Irbid and Ajlun from Jerash on minibuses. At about 7pm, all public transport stops, but a taxi ride back to Amman will set you back about JD7.
Roman Ruins at Jerash (Gerasa)
If you ever go to Wadi Rum, Hasan Qutaish is the only choice worth considering. I met fellow backpackers who followed other services and were sorely disappointed… small jeeps packed with up to eight people, petite unappetising dinners and uninterested guides. As a bonus, our dinner of BBQ chicken and a seemingly endless spread of salads, potatoes, rice and more salads, was nothing less than exquisite. We also enjoyed a sunset seated at the top of a sand dune.
To get to the Wadi Rum Desert Service, walk along Ragadan Street. At the middle, at the corner of Al-Shami restaurant close to the Al-Shula Hotel, a lane turns off to the left. Walk another 50m to get there, you won’t miss the huge signs and attractive photos on the glass wall.
To get to Syria from Irbid, grab a service taxi which travels all the way to Damascus, or you can take one only as far as the border and then take another to get into Der’a in Syria. The trip to Damascus should take between three and four hours depending on immigration formalities, and will cost between JD4 and JD6.
There are about five functional immigration booths, but be sure to join either one of the two that issues visas. These are located at the far end, and you are sure to notice the bright pink notices screaming "Visas". A tourist visa will set you back JD10. Only accepted form of payment is cash in Dinars. There are two foreign exchange booths available just where you join the queue, but the rates are understandably exorbitant, I got 25JD for 50 Euros.
To get into town, either catch a taxi like I did, and cough out JD15 for the 25 minutes ride. Or you can catch a bus to get to the central bus station, then hope that your hotel is close by. It seems that most flights, if not all, getting into Amman from Europe arrive past midnight, en-route to Asia. Struggling with baggage in the middle of the night in a strange country was not my idea of a vacation, and I can only wish the bold amongst us the best of luck!
It was spring, almost summer, when I got into the Middle East. Lots of sunshine, cloudless skies, warm breezes, right? Wrong. My first morning was wet, cold and grey. A low pressure system had hit the entire region bringing along with it a foreseeable extended rainy period. By noon, I was on the local intercity bus headed for Aqaba, the most southerly point in Jordan, a busy port by the Gulf of Aqaba, and the furthest possible escapade from the wet weather. To get your bus ticket (JD4,500), grab a cab (500 fils) and ask for the JETT office. The journey takes 5 hours and the bus leaves at about midday, arriving in the early evening. It’s advisable to make prior reservations because the bus does fill up. Snacks are sold on board by a lady who walks around hourly to take orders; you pay towards the end of the ride. The bus route snakes south from Amman along the Dead Sea coast down towards Wadi Araba, so do grab a seat by the window and have your camera always ready within easy reach.
Day Two Dead Sea Resort – Mount Nebo – Mukawir – Wadi al-Mujib – Madaba – Jerash – Irbid – Umm Qais (Overnight)
Day Three Umm Qais – Pella – Ajlun – Qusayr Amra – Queen Alia Airport – Aqaba
Our itinerary was completely all-encompassing, and best of all, by having our driver with us all the time we could decide how much or how little we wanted to spend at each site. Rates must be negotiated in advance, bearing in mind the driver’s meals and lodging, and petrol and car rental. We offered him JD150,000 (JD50,000 per person) for three days and two nights – the entire route on our terms. Included in the sum was also the driver’s accommodation and meals, which means we paid nothing more apart from tips. Do not compromise on this sum because we have heard of American travellers paying up to JD150,000 for one full day alone, which is beyond absurdity. Our figure was very well-researched and adequately reasonable.
Abas from Hadel Taxi can be reached at 077488169. He can get slightly annoyed if made to go way out to arrive at some odd destination, but be firm. If possible, describe in full the entire itinerary prior to departure, but making clear that whatever it is, the travelling will all be on your terms and not his. Do not give in to the scam that driving along the more picturesque King’s Highway will incur an additional JD3,000. It’s pure nonsense. Also, three days two nights means just that – three full days. Do not give in to any excuses that the third day includes time for him to drive back to Aqaba from the north (4 hours, 2 and a half if he flies along, which he did).
In the morning between 9am and noon is the best time to be at the consular services, as I was told. My visa application was processed and approved immediately as there was nobody else at all on that morning. Tourism was at one of its lowest levels in years due to the regional conflict. The fee is JD12,000 and one passport photo is required. Note that if you are only going to spend time in the Sinai Peninsula, you do not need a visa to enter Egypt. But in any case, it’s worth the tiny effort to obtain a visa in case you change your mind – it’s in any case a wonderful souvenir! I was extra friendly to the immigration officer and he ended up giving me a cool visa with two beautiful Egyptian stamps on it. "Special for you only!" he said, with a proud glee on his face.
The best location for these boats is 200m north along the beach from the Movenpick Hotel. You will see many locals holding on to towels and beach mats, follow them down the narrow path (flanked by tall wooden planks) which is adjacent to the main road. It at first does not seem like a probable road which leads to any beach at all, but deceptively is. At the end of this road by the beach is a café where the owners will haunt you to buy drinks or get on a boat. Avoid the first, and haggle for the second. Be reminded that this is the only stretch of beach which is free for the public. All other hotel-owned stretches charge from JD2,000 for use of their private (cleaner and quieter) beaches.
The fast craft leaves Aqaba at between midday and 1pm. You should arrive at least 90 minutes prior to the departure to secure tickets. The Terminal does have huge signs indicating where to purchase your fasts craft tickets from, but through experience I know that they often go unnoticed! The booth is on the second floor of the Terminal and you can pay in either USD or JD. When you purchase your ticket, they will issue you a receipt. With that receipt, you must proceed to one of the four bank booths directly opposite, to pay the fare in cash. There are at least four bank branches, so take your pick – the fare remains the same whichever you choose! Make sure they initial on your receipt for payment received. Then, you will see a table where pink immigration forms are available. Fill out one of these and join the line to clear customs. I joined one of the three long lines, but before long, seeing that I was a fairly ‘exotic looking’ tourist, one of the police guys came and motioned me to go to the head of the queue. The rest in line, mostly of Middle Eastern origin, were visually unhappy, but I am not about to complain! With the receipt paid, and customs cleared, turn back to the ticket booth and exchange all these documents for your boat ticket. You will be told to leave the building and wait at an open-air shed along with numerous other locals. A bus, which probably should have been scrapped a decade ago, will arrive about 30 minutes prior to departure to ferry passengers to the embarkation point. Just squeeze your way up the buses… they get impossibly crowded and we all know that queues do not work in this region. The buses will return to ferry more passengers. If possible, do not leave your luggage with the loaders. Bring them along with you as you board the craft, and leave them by the side. They are safer this way, and far more convenient.
Snacks are available on board, as is a foreign exchange booth offering terrible rates. Wait till you get to Nuweiba where there are several booths around the bus terminal providing better rates. Be sure to use the bathroom on the fast craft before disembarking because the facilities at Nuweiba port are revolting. Immigration clearance and customs inspection at Nuweiba is also absurd, so expect long lines. Leave your civility behind. Try to be first off board and first in line. For further information, proceed to the Egypt journal.
The best way to discover the beauty and artistry of the Madaba mosaics is on foot. Madaba today is a bustling market town and the mosaics sites are in a relatively compact area in the centre of the city. Depending on your pace, it will take between 1.5 and 2.5 hours to complete a walking tour. The work of mosaic excavation and conservation is ongoing, and some sites may therefore not be open to the public from time to time. Sidewalks may be obstructed in places. Many mosaics are located in churches which are still in use, so Sunday is generally not the best day to visit Madaba.