Kiki Paris on her recent visit to Jordan
Let’s address the elephant in the room. Is Jordan safe everyone wanted to know before I left and then seemed dubious when I assured them yes.
Jordan is “Switzerland of the Middle East”. As one of a few Middle Eastern countries with a peace treaty with Israel and a strong relationship with the US, you will find Jordan to be safe for Jewish, Christian and other Muslim travelers. In fact Jordan has become the vacation mecca for moneyed Saudis, Iraqis and Lebanese since Syria and Egypt have experienced their internal strife. With an overall 97.9% literacy rate and a 97.4% literacy rate for women, Jordan is an educated, progressive country.
Predominantly a Sunni Muslim country, about 7% of the population is Christian with Greek Orthodox the largest, then Catholics followed by Protestants. Muslims and Christians have lived peacefully together for hundreds of years here. Some cities and towns are predominantly one or the other but the larger cities are peacefully inhabited by both. You will see people in restaurants wearing large cross necklaces, head scarves and burqas – mostly by visiting Saudis and Iraqis as only a small minority of Jordanian women fully veil themselves. You will also see incredibly stylish Jordanian women in haute couture, killer jewelry and high heels along with young women in tight jeans and head scarves. Interesting people watching for sure!
I must admit, I am fascinated with conservative dress and the wearing of burkas that have a mesh opening for the eyes and the niqab which is the veil that covers the face except for the eyes. At the Amman airport immigrations I watched closely to see if the fully veiled women would have to expose their faces and to my relief, they did. The hijab is the head scarf that you can see in bright colors, leopard prints and other patterns. Nothing fascinated me as much as the burkini however! I so wanted to chat with the women wearing full head and body coverings in the pool but didn’t for fear of offending them. If I could have snuck a photo I would have done that too. So surreal to see them in the water along with women in western bikinis, but that is exactly what you will see. My guide was not with me at the pool but I surmised the burkini-wearing women might have been tourists from more conservative Muslim countries.
Interestingly enough you will see plenty of men wearing the Arab head scarf, but the keffiyeh does not denote one’s religion – both Christian and Muslim men wear them – even men who dress in western style wear them along with robes for traditional gatherings. My driver, Husam, is a Muslim while my guide, Omar is a Catholic. They educated me on all things Arab and answered all my questions about religion, customs and of course had a few questions for me about American idiosyncrasies. For instance, Arabs do not consider Iranians Arab – they’re Persian. Turks are not Arab either. And then there are the Levant Arabs, the Gulf Arabs, the Mesopotamia Arabs…quite confusing and rich with history that we just do not learn in our educational system.
Jordanians love Americans! I was asked almost every day where I was from and would I have my photo taken with them…it was rather amusing. People always said “I love America / Americans” or “good people”. One man told me he served as a translator for the military in Iraq and how proud he was and what an honor it was to serve with them. I felt it only proper to thank him his service to our troops.
The food in Jordan was very Mediterranean to me. As a lacto vegetarian, I ate very well and enjoyed healthy, delicious food. Out of my 19 meals there I managed to consume hummus at 17 of them, by choice, – who ever has hummus for breakfast? Why not! Plenty of lentils, salads, zucchini, olives, halloumi cheese, goat cheese, multiple kinds of hummus, olive oils, freshly baked pita breads….. (Of course all the hotels serve American breakfast food and plenty of meat.) My client slightly chastised me for expressing my surprise at the incredibly good Jordanian wine…too many Biblical wine references for me to think grapes can’t be grown there! St. George is a local vineyard that produces some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon that I’ve ever had. Unfortunately I have not been able to find it in the states. Every place you go, you will find too much food! It is a sign of the Jordanian hospitality that you are well fed and never leave hungry.
For a history buff or the religious, Jordan is a treasure. Without naming every fort, ruin, mosaic, rock pile that is said to be Lot’s wife, baptismal site, or mountain top associated with Moses that I saw, please know there are thousands of historic and religious sites that are sure to thrill.
Jerash was one of my favorite ruins and is the largest Roman site outside of Italy. Spend a couple of hours walking through the city that once must have been quite impressive. Modern Jerash is built overlooking these amazing structures and when I asked if that was a more expensive, desirable real estate location the answer was no.
Petra, built by the Nabateans, was the highlight of the trip for me. Walking the As-Siq, the main entrance to Petra, with the cliff walls hovering overhead made me wonder if in a previous life I had walked that very road (now paved) as part of my Silk Road trading days? When you get that first peek of the Treasury, it’s just breathtaking! It’s simply magnificent like all early monuments that were so artistically built without modern day machines and equipment. There are camels, horses, carriages, on the As-Siq and into Petra along with vendors selling tourist tchotchkes. At first it all seems too commercial until you remember it was the trade route and must have been a very similar hodge-podge of peddlers, traders and hustlers back in the day. There are many incredible ruins at this UNESCO World Heritage site, caves, the Urn Tomb, and colonnade ruins past the Treasury and more. Most people do not hike up to the Monastery, but it is well worth the extra time and effort – 800 stairs, or so they claim. This royal tomb is slightly wider but not as high as the Treasury and without the Hellenic architectural embellishment. On your way back out past the Treasury you will come upon the thousands of other tourists from the cruise ships. Petra is best seen without the hordes so start early. Be sure and make a quick visit to Little Petra too, maybe start there the day before.
Wadi Rum, the famed desert area of the Bedouins, is stunning in a desert way. Here you can camp at one of the Bedouin camp sites, hike, climb rock walls and sand dunes, take camel treks or go for a jeep adventure. Please know that’s what they’re called, but are instead 4×4 trucks where you sit on benches in the open back….still fun, but not Jeeps. There are places to see rock art – there are 25,000 petroglyphs here, or you can stop in and have tea with a Bedouin family. I did not have time to camp out but did check out 2 different tented camps, both nice but one a little more rustic than the other. Almost all the tents are en-suite, which was a nice surprise. I had dinner at one of the camps and can say I was quite surprised at the vegetarian feast they served me while Omar and Husam ate meat.
We left Aqaba to drive 4 hours to the Dead Sea. Jordan is a beautiful country with mountains, desert, ocean and rivers. Wait 15 minutes and you will be in a different ecosystem. Amman is built on multiple hills and is quite a beautiful city with modern buildings and historic sections that give it a certain charm.
Along the way we stopped to marvel at the Dead Sea’s cliffs and turquoise waters. Swimming in the Dead Sea was quite the experience and of course you float exactly like all the photos you’ve seen and heard about. It was quite strange to squat down in sea water about knee deep and float away! Not particularly fond of mud baths, but nevertheless smeared mud all over my exposed skin as that is a Dead Sea thing to do. I had lunch at the Movenpik Resort, did a site inspection and spent a couple of hours at their beach and their spa pools – delightful!
Experiencing Jordan was my first trip to the Middle East – eye opening, different, educational, historical and I want to go back. The people are friendly, welcoming and truly gracious hosts. I walked the streets of Madaba with Omar and had lunch at his parents’ home where they welcomed and fed me like a queen. HIs sister has a serious handicap and it was touching to see how devoted his parents are to her full-time care. Being the curious person I am, I asked if I could look around and insisted on helping bring lunch out so I could inspect the kitchen! Not so different from how we live but with rooms divided off like Americans used to build. Like most Jordanian sons, Omar’s house is built upon his father’s house. He told me driving through Jordan one can tell how many sons are in the family by looking to see if it’s a two, three or the rare four story house.
I loved the Amman downtown outdoor market where Jordanians actually go to food shop. Omar and I ambled our way through with me discovering new foods: green almonds, which are bitter, and green chick peas still in the pod – who knew?? He popped one open for me and it was good – very different from the dried chick peas we eat here. If I had access to them I’d probably put them on salads or snack on them like edamame. They also roast watermelon seeds with spices which I also tried – had a popcorn taste but quite different crunch. We munched our way through the market but none of the vendors seemed to mind and were quite friendly inviting me to try new things and chatting about America.
Unfortunately the national parks were only partially open as it was not quite time for Spring. I did go into Dana Biosphere Reserve, which is the largest in Jordan. It was stunningly beautiful and has an interesting assortment of wildlife that can be seen while hiking and camping. I looked at a very rustic camp and a guest house and would plan my trip to do an all day hike from one end to the other with a few days stay at one end with a nicer lodge.
Another thing I must do on my next trip is go canyoning in the Al Mujib Natural Reserve near the Dead Sea area. That had not yet opened either and there was construction work going on at the trailhead. Omar asked if he could show me the area so we climbed up over a closed fence so that I could look at the river. Made me laugh as no construction site in the States would let you do that but glad I got to see this beautiful canyon and river. Think I would do the day long river canyon from here to the MA’IN springs where the geothermal waterfalls are. There is a stunning spa and lodge at the springs that would be worth a day or two to destress and chill.
Our client, Nebo Tours, is owned by a Jordanian family that has been in the hotel and hospitality business for generations. The family, a large tribe as you often find in Jordan, has both Christian and Muslim cousins working in the various businesses and they are extremely proud to be Jordanian and show you their country. It truly was like traveling with family and getting to see the insider Jordan. I felt absolutely safe at all times. You would never know much of the Middle East is in turmoil while in Jordan. There is security at every major hotel in Amman, Aqaba and at the Dead Sea but otherwise there isn’t much to remind you the surrounding countries are not so peaceful. You will see Israeli border guards in full gear at the River Jordan baptism site as Israel is 2 meters across the river; the Jordanian guard was in uniform but not carrying weapons. Nebo Tours is committed to the safety, comfort and the delight of its guests and they certainly have an incredible country and history to share with the world. The vehicles are new, nicely maintained and have wi-fi access. My driver and guide are both wonderful, knowledgable, friendly and attuned to traveler needs. They have the expertise and the operational personnel to tailor trips to every interest and need.
There are over 2,000+ historical and Biblical sites throughout the country that combined with the many active things to do, Jordan becomes a stand alone destination that is sure to be an amazing and enriching experience. We are busy putting together recommendations for more active trips throughout Jordan so that you can hike, canyon, dive, horseback ride, bike or motorcycle your way through the country. In fact, King Abdullah II is a member of the Harley Davidson club and has an amazing antique car museum in Amman.
There are 4 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Jordan: Petra, Um er-Rasas (mosaic church floors), Wadi Rum, a UNESCO mixed natural and cultural site, along with Quseir Amra, which I did not see.
- Amman – Regency Palace. Beautiful, modern lobby with nice chandeliers and charming old world cafe. Rooms are quite spacious, good wi-fi, comfortable, flat screen tv’s, but with dated bathrooms. Buffet meals quite good, gym, swimming pool, attached restaurant and bar. It’s a 5* there, nice 4* for North American market. This property is owned by the owner of Nebo.
- Site Inspections: Marriott, Hyatt and Four Seasons are all 5*+ in Aman and quite nice. Thought the Marriott and Hyatt were nicer with better design there than you find in the States.
- Dead Sea: Both Movenpik and Kempenski properties here are lovely, 5*+ luxury.
- Aqaba: Kempenski, a 5*+, was my favorite property here.
- Petra: Movenpik would be a 5* property with great location close to the Petra entrance while the Petra Guest House was a little closer with a fabulous outdoor space.
- MA’IN Springs: Evason is a luxury spa retreat with beautiful pools, waterfalls, well designed restaurants, and stunning views