I hadn’t planned to but the best decision I made when I arrived in Jordan was renting a car. Taxis are expensive and you just have so much more freedom with your own car. It made me realise how much I love a good road trip! I often find some of my most enjoyable moments when travelling is when I’m in a car, or a train, or a bus. There is something contemplative about passing through the various landscapes of this world we live in, musing as I look out of the window and watch the world go by.
Driving myself, brought a different kind of joy. I got the rental car and my next move was to make sure I could play my music (!) – that is definitely half the satisfaction of a good road trip, am I right? With Google maps and a local sim card, navigating your way around Jordan couldn’t be easier!
The following is a message from my friend Annie who had recently moved to Amman when I asked for driving tips.
‘Driving tips: just assume people won’t stay in lanes or use indicators. Lots of driving on the lane line as opposed to staying on either side of the line. Not uncommon to see cars parked in roads or backing up on highways. Lots of honking..:) Just see the flow like water in a stream, as in someone stops on the road, all the cars just flow around it. Have fun!’
In some ways, the lack of rules people follow on the road actually made it easier. It’s not that crazy, I didn’t for a moment feel anxious on the road, especially once you’re out of the city and onto the highways . The only thing I would forewarn people about is the road bumps, which seem to appear completely out of the blue, with no signs, in the middle of a highway! Apart from that – easy peezy!
I probably spent longer in Amman than one needs to, a day or two is plenty to explore the city. I visited The Citadel, which is a site that dates back to the Middle Bronze Age. The diverse range of previous inhabitants (Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, Umayyad and Ayyubid dynasties) makes for some very interesting architecture. You can wander around it in a couple of hours. It sits on the highest hill in Amman, so you get great views across the city from here. Below the hill you can see the Amphitheater and the hustle and bustle of downtown Amman. It’s pretty cool how you can see the modern city of Amman from this ancient site. Apparently there is also an archaeological museum up there, which I didn’t get to. I happened to have an evening free, so just popped over – luckily it was around sunset and I don’t think there is a better place to view the sunset from in Amman than from the Citadel. The colours of the sky there are something I’ve not seen before - there is a purple hue which is quite surreal and made it all very atmospheric up there!
Jerash is about an hour’s drive from Amman. It’s a very well maintained Roman city – I felt like I was on the set of Ben Hur or Gladiator. I really wanted to be dressed liked a beautiful Roman woman, draped in white robes, walking along a bustling market place with horse drawn carts. hehe. I don’t often have such visual fantasies when I’m roaming around some ruins, so they must’ve been pretty authentic! It’s a fairly large site, so allow yourself a good 3-4 hours or longer for a more leisurely stroll. There’s also a pretty nice little market area as you enter, with some very cool artwork.
Read Lonely Planet’s more detailed description of Jerash here.
Dana, Nature Reserve
I thoroughly enjoyed my 4 hour drive out of the city towards Dana! The closer I got to Dana the more amazing the views were. Driving down the highway, pretty much just me on the road, desert on either side, singing along to my music – it really doesn’t get much better than that! Then when I saw windmills appearing on either side of me in the desert, it suddenly felt really seriously sci -fi . What was it about this place! Everywhere I went felt like I was on the set of a movie! This time, something about the windmills really made me feel like Matt Damon in his buggy on Mars in the Martian. Does my singing have something to do with that too? I’m sure there is a scene where he’s driving along enjoying his music. I felt very cool indeed.
I spent a night in the Dana Nature reserve, I’d booked for two, but a day is plenty there. The landscape is beautiful and I enjoyed my 4 hour hike with a local guide and a lovely Italian couple I met there. We stopped for tea in the wilderness; it was very peaceful, with only the sound of the bells from the goats scurrying by. I have discovered how much I love hiking during my travels this year, it’s so nice to be outdoors and in nature. It’s really calming and it lifts my spirits.
I stayed at Wadi Dana Eco Camp, they were very hospitable and friendly. In fact, my booking had gone through when it shouldn’t have and they had closed for the winter the day before I arrived. They opened up shop just for me. They offered to take me to a different camp/hotel if I didn’t feel comfortable being the only guest there but I decided to stay, only slightly weary about being alone in this kind of lonely place in the middle of nowhere (!)
Wow. Petra. I really think it’s a must see, whether you’re interested in history, archaeology or just hiking beautiful trails. Luckily I arrived on an evening when there was the opportunity to see Petra by night. I’m so pleased my first experience of it was by night, its amazing at any time of day but to see it at night for the first time, I think, makes it that much more special. I don’t think the night experience would have been as special if I’d seen it by day first.
I cannot express the excitement of the candle lit walk through the Siq! I can only describe it as a childlike wonder when I first saw the treasury through the Siq walls. I was completely dumbstruck by it and just thought….how?!?! How was this magnificent city built 2,000 years ago? You are left in awe of it. The two and a bit kilometre walk from the entrance certainly helps build the anticipation and the beautiful candle-lit path that leads you through the Siq is very atmospheric.
Petra was not really what I expected. I had NO idea it was as vast as it is. I didn’t realise it was so scenic. I guess you see the famous Treasury and assume the whole place is like that, and on a smaller scale. It’s completely surreal being there. I think it’s one of the few places left on Earth that still feels like you’ve stepped back in time. From the Bedouins, to the animals, the fact that people are still living there! It’s all very authentic and real. I didn’t realise it was a place people still live and have homes until I bumped into a few children who negotiated how much it’d cost if I wanted to take photos of them. One dinar made them happy! They were on their way home, running up the hiking trail barefoot and asking for biscuits and crisps (I had no biscuits or crisps).
Night Photography in Petra
Having been swept off my feet by the amazing candle – lit walk through the Siq and seeing The Treasury, I set up my tripod for my first experience of night photography. Boy oh boy was it a blast! I felt like a giddy little kid waiting for 120 seconds to tick by and see the image appear on the screen. I think it’s what made Petra by night even more spectacular. When I take photos in the day, I never feel like what’s coming up on the screen is even better than what I’m seeing, in fact, it never really does the place justice. But somehow this long exposure captured the amazing deep red of the stone; it was so satisfying to see it come up on the screen so vividly. It also captures things the naked eye simply cannot see in the dark, or at least my naked eye, I don’t have the best night vision!
I mentioned feeling like Matt Damon form the Martian earlier on, when I saw this image appear on the screen it again looked to me like something on Mars or some other land of undiscovered beings. This time it looked a bit like something from the movie Prometheus (another Ridley Scott). Those red and orange hues, and the djinn blocks, really other-worldly!
My addiction for night photography was well and truly set in, I stopped every 5 feet on my way back out through the Siq, set up my tripod and revelled in that sweet feeling of ‘how’s it gonna look?’ and then, wow, better than I could have imagined!
Ah the joy of long exposures and the magic of the night sky! I repeat, something out of a sci - fi movie. The amazing thing is, there’s not even a massive need to post process the photos, which I would assume looking at these photos had I not taken them myself, when you see the image appear on the screen, it is this glorious.
I was able to do most of the trails in 2 days. I couldn’t return for a third day because there was a chance of rain and risk of flash floods, (keep an eye on the weather forecast and have some flexibility with where to travel and when during your time in Jordan) but I was glad for the day of rest, and it gave me a chance to process my photos.
Hiking around Petra is not easy, but well worth the magnificent landscape and scenic views. All but The Main Trail are pretty tough hiking trails. The trails aren’t necessarily well signposted, and it is fairly easy to go off track, but just keep asking people along the way if you are in fact going to where you think you’re headed!
There are options to take a donkey or a camel. “Taxi ride?” is what the Bedouins ask as they trot by on their donkeys. Precariously bounce about on a donkey, holding on for dear life going up and down these steeps stairs and along the edges of cliff tops you mean? Er…no thanks, I’ll walk!
You’ve got to watch your back walking around Petra. On more than one occasion I had to dive out of the way of a camel, a horse or a donkey! Especially when it gets close to closing time and the Bedouins have horse and camel races up and down the main trail – Yikes!
The High Place of Sacrifice
I found the most difficult trail both physically and to navigate was the one that leads to The High Place of Sacrifice (I took the long way round and came down through the shorter route via some steps). But it was well worth doing, a really stunning hiking trail and very quiet. Once you get off the Main Trail you are pretty much on your own. Just pace yourself, pack a light picnic and stop for a snack along the way. The hike there was more enjoyable for me than the actual High Place of Sacrifice. Lots of people opt to just take the stairs up and back down again but I think you’re missing out on a pretty magnificent scenic route if you do this. Taking the long route up does end up taking most of the day and I can’t imagine trying to do a second trail on the same day (!), but if time is short and you want to cover everything, then I guess you’ve got to! I’d leave one day for that trail and do the rest of the trails over the next day or two if you have the time.
Most people say this is the toughest trail – I personally found the previous trail much more difficult. This trail includes more stairs than you can imagine, and fairly steep in some places. When you’re about a third of the way up and start to ask people coming down if you’re nearly there they laugh and say…’not even close!’. However, you are surrounded by magnificent rocks, with amazing layers of colour in the strata that distract you along the way – immerse yourself in the beauty of it all and the hustle and bustle of the little markets along the way and you can ease the pain of climbing the steps! The view at the end is really very well worth it, similar to the Treasury – there’s a nice café/restaurant and one can easily relax up there and spend a good few hours before venturing back down again.
The view of the Treasury from above
Lots of stairs!! But such great views! The guides will offer an ‘Indiana Jones short cut!’ but I have heard this is incredibly precarious, and was cautioned by locals to avoid it! I really enjoyed this trail and the view from above is very cool!
I stayed at the Petra Bed and Breakfast, which I couldn’t recommend more. Super friendly host Patricia, who knows Jordan very well and is full of tips for Petra and other places around Jordan. She actually organises 3-4 day horse riding tours of Petra, which I would have loved to do! It’s not walking distance from Petra, so again, having the car was a blessing.
I think being there in the winter was probably ideal, I can’t imagine hiking these trails in the summer. It’s is a pretty strenuous trip and the heat would just be too much. It was perfect hiking weather for me.
Petra to Wadi Rum is only a couple of hours. The drive there is special – the sand begins to change colour to this Mars-like red, making me feel more and more like Matt Damon in the Martian, and then what do I find out when I arrive? Only that it was filmed there! I knew it! My Damon senses were totally tingling!
Wadi Rum is an amazing place, you really do feel like you’ve left Earth. It has incredible red sand and dramatic sandstone mountains. There are natural arches (Burdah Rock Bridge) and prehistoric inscriptions and carvings (Khazali Canyon). T.E Lawrence passed through during the Arab Revolt, and Lawrence of Arabia was also filmed there.
It’s a great place for a variety of outdoor activities; you can arrange hikes and or take Jeep tours. For a more authentic experience, camel and horse safari’s are also an option! It’s easy enough to go for a day trip from Petra, only an hour’s drive. There are plenty of accommodation options that suit all budgets; there are even luxury ‘glamping’ options with camps like the dome in The Martian!
The local guides tried their damndest to convince me to take a jeep ride by myself, but luckily I met a couple of lovely brothers from California who seemed to know what they were doing (one of them lived in Amman) and hopped on board a jeep ride with them. Ahh…open top jeep, wind in my…scarf, pretty awesome! Only thing that could’ve made it better was if I was driving – dammit, I should’ve tried my luck and asked! Next time!
I saw most of the well - known spots that day, so really it would have been enough but I had the extra day so I took another jeep tour the following morning and then I had to go talk to a man about a horse! I recently had fallen off mine when I was taking lessons and desperately wanted to get back to it. The people at the ranch were really nice and I explained I was super nervous because of the fall. He put me on his nicest, most gentle horse, but I am very disappointed to say the fear got the better of me and I had to get off. It would have been an absolute dream come true riding a horse through the desert, and I’d recommend it to anyone who is into horse riding. The ranch is opposite the train station just as you enter Wadi Rum.
I had hours of fun at the train station (which also featured in Lawrence of Arabia). It made for such good photography, an old steam train in the desert. Picture perfect when the camels wandered by! After I was done taking my travel shots I decided to have some fun myself and hop on! I think I was a cowboy in another life, riding the rails and herding cattle on my horse, hehe.
Excited by my night photography experience in Petra I was really looking forward to the crazy amount of stars I was going to see at night in Wadi Rum. But much to my dismay there was too much light pollution, even in the desert! I decided to go on an evening of star gazing, which I thought meant driving out somewhere further to get away from the light pollution. This was not the case, and while it was a very educational evening (it started with a lecture about the solar system) it wasn’t what I had in mind! I looked through the one telescope 15 of us shared a few times, but in the end decided it was much more rewarding to set my camera up on a 15 minute exposure and then just lie down, watch the night sky and ponder about how feeble we really are in this big wide universe.
I stayed at Bait Ali Lodge, which was more than comfortable and the owner was a really lovely woman. It was pretty cold in the evenings so I upgraded to a room with a heater! The picture below is a view from a climb up to the top of one of many mountains in Wadi Rum. I scrambled up and was facing the other way trying to catch the sunset while perched precariously at the top - not quite sure how I was going to get back down! I just missed the lovely pink glow on these mountains, but I do quite like this slightly moody, atmospheric dusky sunset. Much to my relief I discovered some stairs that lead straight back down to Bait Ali Lodge!
I’m not a massive beach person but it was definitely a nice, relaxing way to wind down and end the trip, which had been pretty active. And it was nice and warm! I wish I could say how beautiful the beach was, but sadly it is a bit of a mess. The sand is covered in cigarette butts and I saw more cans of coke and plastic bags than fish when I went snorkelling. A real shame. The dive centre I stayed at (Red Sea Dive Centre) had a pool and was in a nice quiet location, so it was lovely to just read and have a chat with fellow travelers too.
I made friends on the beach with a ‘snorkel guide’ who took me to the best snorkel spots. I’m a pretty good swimmer but I do freak-out in the open sea sometimes, so I was glad for the support, but there were some very awkward moments and I didn’t accept a second snorkel session with him! I stuck to the shallower parts and went alone. I did however accept an invitation to visit his home – I’m always interested to see real life when I’m travelling. How people live, and eat and their general day to day. It was a lovely experience.
The Jordanians are super friendly, while I was photographing one of the most dramatic sunsets I’d seen on my trip there, I met some guys who were going to spend the evening fishing and having a bbq, they invited me along, so I had my first fishing experience, which was fun!
I think it’s so important to spend some time with and get to know the locals while travelling, it can sometimes be a bit difficult to do, but the Jordanians definitely made it very easy!
All images on this blog were taken by me and are subject to copyright. To see more photographs of Jordan visit my photography page.