Jordan….No Map, No Guidebook

This past winter I traveled RTW to escape Portland’s gray and rain. I made stops in 8 countries and Jordan was one of my favorites.

After SE Asia I planned on going to Egypt but a conversation with another RTW traveler sent me to Bahrain instead. And, then I just decided I preferred a nice little country next, and that would be Jordan. Landing outside Amman, I bought my visa (10 JD or about $15 USD) and got directions to the Amman bus from the info desk. Because of the change of plans I arrived with no map, no guidebook. So this would be the final exam, can I make it in a foreign country on my own? I did.

Check out these tips for having an indie travel experience in Amman, Jordan.

Within an hour or so of arriving in Amman on the bus I was in a decent hotel for about $45 US. The taxi was about $8. These were of course inflated prices for the naïve traveler, but I was safely settled. The first evening I headed toward downtown Amman (by asking which way and using my compass.) Enroute I bought a SIM card for my cell phone. The clerk’s English was limited but another customer came in and helped me. Then another fellow came in wearing a grey robe and koofiah (middle eastern headdress for men.) They were all having a great conversation. Learning that I was an American the man in the grey robe said he was Iraqi and quite politely added that the US shouldn’t be in his country. Then I asked what kind of work he did (I’m a pretty curious guy) and he responded by offering his passport. I thought that was pretty open of him. (Would an American hand his passport to a stranger?) In it were not only his picture but pictures of his wife and four children. Middle Eastern families stick together.

“I don’t think I like it up here.” Petra
Downtown I found the Roman amphitheater and more, and bought a map of Amman and Jordan. The next day I took a cab (this time only 1.600 JD or about $2.40 for a longer ride) to the tourist office near circle 5. Very helpful people. Hand written–in English of course–answers to my questions and some new hotel suggestions. I was soon settled in the Blue Marine Hotel, near the Arab Investment Bank in Shmeisani neighborhood. Getting there by taxi was interesting though. The driver had to stop 3 times to ask directions! A single room with bath was 16 JD ($24) and it was my favorite stay.

Things to do: I wandered the downtown area day and night, looking at the shops, people and buildings. Amman is built among 7 jebels or hills which makes it interesting–and more challenging to navigate in. Outside Amman I made a car trip to Madaba, Mt. Nebo, the Dead Sea and Ajlun with its castle from 1100 AD or so. The Crusaders failed to conquer it but the Mongols did! Driving in Jordan is easy though navigating is difficult due to the differences in how they sign (or don’t sign) roads, etc. Some signs are in English but I still found it hard to find my way. But a road trip is always a fine thing and especially in Jordan. Somehow they avoided the Brits and drive on the right–and proper–side of the road.

Petra of course is the top sight and prepare to be amazed. The workmanship in this 2000-year-old city is awesome. You will of course be harangued: “You want to ride the camel? Only 5 JD. OK? For you only 4 JD. OK?” But the Bedouin are polite and will eventually leave you alone.

Then be sure to go to Wadi Ram.

Our guide at Wadi Ram
Our guide at Wadi Ram
Mine tour cost about $25 for several hours, touring by land cruiser and then overnight in a Bedouin tent. The scenery is spectacular and it was moving to be with these desert people. A special sight was the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, a rock feature that provided the title of Lawrence of Arabia’s book of that name. Dinner was rice with chicken and they gave us forks and plates. They of course used their fingers.

Getting around: There are buses from Amman to the major attractions. And sometimes you can find a van going where you want to go. To get back from Wadi Ram I caught one on the highway and paid 5 JD. Some cab drivers were real jerks and were creative about jacking up the fare. But then others were just fine. I think that’s the same in lots of countries. You can also rent a car in Jordan. For example, check out Monte Carlo Rent A Car in Amman, Jordan.

Safety: The Jordanian government is quite diligent about keeping it safe. I would consider Jordan to be one of the safest countries in the Middle East. The chance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time is probably the same in Jordan as in say France. Just go and tell your family and friends you’ll be ok.

Editor’s Note: At the time of this article publishing, there have been increased tensions in the Middle East, including fighting between nearby Israel and Lebanon. Please research the current political situation when planning a trip to the area.

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