Travel Articles

Driving in Jordan

Should I Rent a Car or Hire a Driver for my Jordan Tour?

While renting a car and driving yourself around Jordan may seem like a good idea, supposedly allowing you to maximise your time and be flexible in your visits, the challenges of driving in Jordan can negatively affect or even ruin your vacation. Driving in Jordan requires strong concentration and an awareness of your surroundings, as well as loads of patience and stress management skills. It is only a matter of minutes and, while you are comfortably driving to cross an intersection, that a pedestrian will casually jaywalk out of nowhere. Universal driving rules such as having to signal before changing lanes, or using the correct lane to overtake are very seldom respected and do not apply most of the time. The general rules are more of an abstract concept subjected to one’s confidence and assertiveness; it may seem to foreigners that there is this mysterious language that only Jordanians speak through secretive nods and eye contact.  Lanes (when they exist) are only paint on the street, and the sad fact is that no one takes them seriously. Foreign visitors are often unaware of these unwritten customs and are more likely to get into a car accident. Traffic accidents are a real health issue in Jordan and every year they are ranked among the four most common causes of death in the country. 

Adding to the general reckless driving there is the language barrier. While all signs on the main roads and tourist sites are written in both English and Arabic, the names of the secondary roads are not translated into English. Moreover, the actual names of the locations listed on official maps and google maps do not correspond to the names used in everyday language, therefore if you get lost, asking directions might be challenging. 

The road conditions are another problem. Over the past few years, the government has invested plenty of public funds in road construction and renovation, however, the general state of the roads remains poor. Most roads, including and especially highways, have plenty of potholes that can seriously damage your vehicle. This can be dangerous, especially during the winter season when the frequent storms can flood the road in a matter of minutes. Additionally, the harsh landscape, and steep and dangerous roads in some of the most important touristic sites, such as in the Dana Reserve, Ma’in and Wadi Rum desert, make driving challenging not only to outsiders but also for Jordanians not familiar to the area. Driving in these areas is highly inadvisable unless you are an experienced driver looking for some white-knuckle adventure. 

If you are not willing to go through the dangers and stress of driving in Jordan, hiring a driver is a safe and convenient option. Private tour operators offer competitive rates as compared to car rental companies. Hiring a private driver will cost you only a little bit more than renting a car and you will not have to worry about getting lost or keeping up with unknown driving conditions and customs. The drivers hired by private tour operators are usually among the most experienced and skilled drivers in Jordan. They have many years of experience driving tourists around Jordan and they know every little corner of the country, as well as secret places where to eat or enjoy an amazing panoramic view. Traveling with a real Jordanian by your side is also a great opportunity to get to know more about the heart-warming and welcoming Jordanian people and their culture.

 

A walk through Jerash

Upon visiting Jerash, you can easily see why it’s one of the country’s most popular spots to visit; vast green fields, 360-degree scenery, and scattered hilltop temples. The city is one of the oldest in the world, which is clear once you arrive – its ancient spirit lives on thanks to the fact that generations after Roman rule preserved its integrity and spirit, keeping it practically untouched for 6,500 years.

It all started, as most cities do, under the Roman rule. Once you get there, following a 40 minute drive from Amman, you can start exploring the ancient ruins and the nature-filled town. Take some pictures by the running stream and the poplar trees. And breathe in the freshest air that Jordan has to offer. Walk up to the tallest hill and marvel at the best preserved Roman history in existence. Perhaps the reason it was so well-kept is that most of the artifacts and treasures were hidden under mountains of sand for thousands of years before an expert came along and excavated them, restoring them to their full glory.

Discover and get to know the aged town through its colonnaded streets. Jagged pavements, and timeworn columns. It’s the most authentic experience you can have in a Jordanian municipality, where you can envision Roman activities taking place all around you.

Jerash’s set-up makes it easy to imagine a world where citizens visited the theatres by day and the plazas by night. You can create your own story when you come across tower ruins and inscriptions on walls: one where you’re an inhabitant of another world, enjoying the same architecture and walking the same streets as our predecessors.

As seen on screen

Wadi Rum is one of Jordan’s main tourist attractions and a favorite location for filmmakers. It was a filming location for many blockbusters which helped raise the international profile of the beautiful, mountainous desert region of Wadi Rum, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hers is a  lowdown on five decades of movies filmed on location in Jordan.

2000s

Wadi Rum’s labyrinth of valleys formed by steep red-colored rocks has been attracting film crews ever since Lawrence of Arabia. Its extraordinary landscape has even been used to represent planet Mars. In the last decade, it’s been the location for films including sci-fi blockbuster Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen, and Gerry, a cult movie directed by Gus Van Sant about two friends (Matt Damon and Casey Affleck) getting lost in the wilderness. In Prometheus, the 2012 prequel to the Alien series by director Ridley Scott, Wadi Rum makes a return to our screens. The sci-fi adventure is about a team of explorers discovering a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a journey to the darkest corners of the universe. As a cinematic credit to Wadi Rum’s movie heritage, there’s a scene in Prometheus where lead character David (Michael Fassbender) is watching Lawrence of Arabia!

1990s

Films shot in Jordan in the 1990s include Son of The Pink Panther. Italian star Roberto Benigni replaces Peter Sellers as the comic hero, playing Inspector Clouseau’s son on the trail of a kidnapped Middle Eastern princess. His farcical capers take him to Monte Carlo, Nice and also Jordan, with locations including the narrow back streets of Amman and Petra, the ancient rose-red city carved into Jordan’s desert rocks.

1980s

Not surprisingly, Petra, as one of the New Wonders of the World, figures prominently in several international movies. Jordan’s most popular tourist attraction is forever linked with Steven Spielberg’s 1989 movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, starring Harrison Ford as a 1930s adventurer archeologist. Petra is the perfect setting for a plot about Indiana’s search for the mysterious Holy Grail before the wicked Nazis find it first. The Grail could have no more fitting home than within this Lost City’s Treasury, carved out of the rocks of Jordan’s Edom Mountains over 2,000 years ago.

1970s

The special effects involving men fighting giant monsters in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger seem unsophisticated in today’s age of advanced computer-generated imagery. One scene of ships was actually filmed in a huge water tank in a studio. The live-action was, however, also filmed with a backdrop of real ancient castles, desert wildernesses and seascapes, located in Spain and Malta as well as Jordan. And yes, Petra’s beautiful Treasury is used yet again.

1960s

Back to where we started and the visual splendor of Lawrence of Arabia lies in the breathtaking deserts and cliffs of Wadi Rum. We also see the black basalt landscape of Jabal Tuwayq, near Jordan’s Saudi Arabian border, whereas the camel ride entrance of Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) used the mudflats of the lair. However, some scenes claiming to be Jordan were actually shot in Spain. The town of Aqaba, for example, was built at a beach near Almeria.

Feasting your way around Jordan

With 1,001 different delicacies to try when visiting Jordan, here is a look at the best venues to feast on regional delights.

Beginning on the southernmost tip of this small kingdom, the Syrian Palace Restaurant in Aqaba manages to concoct dishes that arc the very essence of Middle Eastern cuisine, generous, sumptuous and served with unwavering Jordanian hospitality. The setting is very seaside-inspired, with shells and aquariums everywhere you look. It would be slightly kitsch if it wasn’t done with such sincerity, the food itself will keep visitors coming back for more. For starters, the choice ranges from cold mezze such as traditional hummus and fiery Muhammara (a pepper dip made with ground walnuts) to hot appetizers including Kebab (Meat parcels made of bulgur wheat, onions and Iamb). There’s also a hearty lentil soup to warm you up on cooler seaside nights, and the fish dishes are particularly enticing, especially the fried calamari, and always have a plate of the Aleppo olives.

Heading up north, December is one of the busiest times for the town of Madaba, about 30km south-west of Amman. It attracts visitors from around the world who come to tour its Biblical sites, including the mosaic map of the Holy Land. Most visitors walk away with beautiful handicrafts made in the town, some of which are available at restaurant-cum-boutique Haret Jdoudna. Made up of a complex of small shops with tables set around an attractive courtyard, it’s an absolute must-visit. The restaurant is built on the site of an ancient house, with rooms and floors preserved in their original state and rich woven carpets covering the floors and walls, alongside portraits of the family who built the house. The food there is exquisite, with a vast array of comprising fresh bread, barbecued meats and traditional Jordanian dishes such as Kifta (meat tray in yogurt sauce) and Yalanji (stuffed vine leaves). After a warm mint tea, pop into the shops to buy some delicate pottery or a mosaic wall-hanging as a lovely souvenir.

Back in the capital, sample understated Levantine fare at B, a tiny gem of a bakery near the city center and key to street food culture. Its size means it’s very sparsely furnished, with only a few people able to eat sitting down, but its giant wood-fired oven produces such amazing treats that you’ll dig in without minding about being on your feet under the fresh winter sky. Lebanese bakes are the order of the day at B, such as traditional thin pastry smothered in (a mix of oregano, thyme and sesame) and akkawi cheese, a Middle Eastern staple. The highlight is lahmacun — flat bread topped with ground lamb, herbs and spices. There’s even a pastry version of knafeh — the classic Levant dessert made of syrup-soaked pastry and string cheese — that’ll satisfy any sweet tooth.

Also in Amman is the family-run Beit Sitti cooking school, where authentic Middle Eastern home cooking comes to life for locals and tourists. ‘What we want to do is transfer our passion for food to anyone interested in ‘real” Arabic cuisine,’ says Maria Haddad, who is one of the school’s founders. The concept has proved incredibly popular, with classes taking place throughout the year in different languages, including English, German and French. There are three lessons a day to cover each of the main meals, and the emphasis is on fresh produce, with guests starting off by doing their own shopping in Amman’s downtown market.

Beit Sitti also supports local women by using and selling their homemade spices, making it one of the most responsible ways to cat in Jordan. From Amman, it’s less than 100km south-west to the shores of the Dead Sea, one of Jordan’s most spectacular tourist destinations. This is the perfect time of year to visit and take an early-morning float in the highly salty waters to relax. You can indulge your taste buds at Movenpick Hotel’s smart Al-Saraya restaurant, which boasts a Mediterranean kitchen and live cooking station. The aubergine salad with grenadine sauce and beef pastrami makes for a delicious start to any meal. For those whose appetites have been whetted, the Oriental mixed grill is a feast of shish kebab, beef medallion and chicken, served with cucumber yogurt, and of course you should taste the traditional mansaf (lamb cooked with rice and fermented yogurt).

South of the Dead Sea, yet more culinary wonders can be found in Petra at The Rock Camp, amid the mountains of the nearby Beidha area. The local Nabataean architecture – named after the area’s ancient population – will tempt you on a voyage of discovery that will end with the camp’s unique dining experience under lamp-lit, hand-woven tents. There’s freshly baked Shraak bread and mezze, but the real treat is the traditional Zarb dinner composed of local meats, vegetables, and rice covered in herbs and spices, slow-cooked on large trays in an underground fire pit for hours before being ceremoniously dug out. Afterwards, relax with a cup of cardamom-spiced Bedouin coffee with traditional oud and music around the campfire – the ideal way to end a delicious adventure.

Jordan Pass

Jordan Pass is great for visitors to save time and money when traveling to nearly 40 of the country’s best-known sights. The new Jordan Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities’ scheme is the best way for visitors to maximize their Jordan experience during a visit to the Kingdom. Perks of the pass include skipping the ticketing Queues, and free entry into Jordan’s best destinations, including Petra. It also waives the tourist visa fees if the Jordan Pass is purchased before arrival to Jordan, and visitors are staying at least three nights.
The range of attractions available to pass-holders is vast and varied, from natural beauty to biblical history and medieval artistry. Explore the ancient city of Petra crammed with rock-hewn treasures and the poker-straight Roman columns crash. Umm al-Rasas, which dates back to 7th century BC has previous excavated Mosaics from two local churches. For unique natural beauty, Wadi Rum shows off the deep red sandstone mountains rising from the desert floor. In the heart of the capital is the Roman theatre Umayyad Palace complex at Amman’s hilltop citadel. This sightseeing package comes in three options, all of which include the visa waiver, downloadable digital brochures and free entry to the attractions. The variation in pricing depends on how many nights you wish to stay at Petra from a 1-day visit to 3 days). The pass costs between 70JD ($99) and /30 JD ($113).
It’s easy to use, once advance online payment has been made, the receipt and PDF of the pass will immediately be emailed. This can then be printed or downloaded onto a Smartphone and shown at each venue for instant entry.
The pass is seen as a way of further promoting the country’s wonders.
 Mr. Nayf H. Al Fayez, the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities explains “‘The importance of the Jordan Pass is to save tourists time, money, and stress during their visits around the country, giving them the ability to make the most out of their trips. Through this pass, we are reflecting the hospitality of the Jordanian people, a large characteristic of what makes Jordan such a unique destination”.

The Royal Botanic Garden of Jordan

Welcome to the Royal Botanic Garden of Jordan

For those who are curious to learn more about Jordan’s native flora, or fancy a quaint walk through nature, a visit to the Royal Botanic Garden of Jordan will not disappoint.

A mere 25 kilometres north of Amman in the lush area of Tal Al-Rumman, the garden site resides over the slopes overlooking King Talal dam. Known for its year-round perfect weather, the garden boasts a plethora of natural vegetation. Numerous kinds of plant species that are unique to the Kingdom have been carefully cultivated with the overall aim of promoting a homogenous and sustainable eco system. The location is comprised of a variety of soils, hills, valleys, and a freshwater stream. It is this wide-ranging setup that allows for endless possibilities of botanical display. The garden is not only aesthetically pleasing but it also acts as a research and study centre, which focuses on plant preservation.

Royal Botanic Garden of Jordan’s components:

Science and research: the aim of the garden is to become an internationally celebrated research centre focusing on plant conservation.
Education and community development: the findings and research of the facility are used as a necessary resource by interested audiences.
Sustainable living: leading by example, the garden utilizes best practices for eco living, informing visitors of the steps necessary to commit to a green lifestyle.

What to do

The area is full of picturesque scenery, and an early morning walk is highly recommended. Following your trek, make sure to head over to the main office to find out what activities are available. Afterwards be sure to visit Tal Al-Rumman restaurant, which is a mere few minutes away by car, and sample local delicacies prepared using fresh ingredients unique to the Jerash area.