A few weeks ago I was lucky to cross another country off my bucket list. Jordan has been top of my must-visit places list for a while now. I had high expectations and let me tell you – it did not disappoint.
If I had to describe Jordan in three words, they would be: adventurous, exciting and welcoming. After spending 13 days there I can say it’s easily one of the best places i’ve ever been. Nothing can prepare you for your first glimpse of The Treasury at Petra or the sensation of floating in the Dead Sea. Jordan is an incredibly welcoming country and everyone I met from the moment I arrived was so friendly and helpful, so I was thrilled to be invited by PADI and Aqaba Tourism and collaborate on something really cool.
We landed at Amman’s Queen Alia airport and started the 4 hour drive to our first destination..Aqaba. Situated on the southernmost point of Jordan on the Red Sea, Aqaba is Jordan’s only seaside resort and is home to some amazing dive locations (my favourite being a sunken ship called the Cedar Pride)
We spent 6 glorious days in Aqaba enjoying the laid back atmosphere and learning how to scuba dive with Deep Blue dive Center. I became a PADI certified Open Water Diver which was an unforgettable experience for me as the underwater world there is incredible.
The city is bustling with shops, restaurants and bars and together with Aqaba’s warm weather, had a really nice holiday feel to it. There are several large luxury hotels just outside the centre, we stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel which has an amazing pool and it’s own private beach. Not only is the diving world class and the weather great, Aqaba is also not far away from Wadi Rum and Petra making it a great place to visit.
I really enjoyed my time there, but after completing my diving course and watching a C-130 Hercules plane being scuttled off the coast for a future dive site, it was time for us to pack our bags and head on to the next part of our adventure…
Wadi Rum is only an hour away from Aqaba so the journey was a short one. When we arrived we swapped vehicles and spent the day bouncing around in the back of an old Toyota 4×4 pickup truck with the wind blowing our red and white keffiyeh scarfs out behind us.
Wadi Rum, which in 2011 was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, covers 720 square kilometers of dramatic desert wilderness. Also known as The Valley of the Moon due to it’s barren and moonscape-like landscape of uniquely shaped granite and sandstone mountains that rise out of the red sand valleys.
We stopped off to drink sweet tea in Bedouin tents made of goat hair, see natural bridges formed by the rocks, take photos in the same spots they filmed movies such as ‘The Martian‘ and to marvel at the ruins of Lawrence of Arabia’s house.
As the sun started to sink lower in the sky, we went on a sunset camel ride (or in my case a camel walk…)
…and then we enjoyed the final moments of this gorgeous desert sunset together. 😀
We were spending the night at the Rahayeb desert camp. To be honest, it was more glam-ping than camping as our tent was large, had a big double bed and a bathroom inside with hot running water. We ate a feast of Zarb round a campfire under a sky full of stars and it couldn’t have been a more perfect way to end an amazing day in the desert. Zarb is a Bedouin style BBQ of meat, potatoes and all kinds of vegetables which is cooked underground in a cylindrical metal cage.
Ours contained layers of chicken, lamb and potatoes which they heaved out of the hole filling the air with the most delicious scent before the food was even visible. We ate it accompanied with pita bread, hummus and salads.
We were driven 30 minutes to a site where they rolled out the balloon and set it all up. It was a really unique feeling to float 4,000 feet in the air over the vast lunar-like landscape of Wadi Rum at sunrise. It was such a peaceful morning and I would definitely recommend this magical experience as an alternative way to enjoy the desert and to see Wadi Rum from a totally different perspective.
No trip to Jordan is complete without a trip to the the ancient Nabataean city of Petra and this was the part I was most excited about. It doesn’t matter how many times I have seen photos, watched it in movies or been told about it – nothing prepares you for the emotion of walking the 1km through the siq and then catching the first glimpse of the Treasury in person.
The Treasury (Al Khazna) is almost 40 meters high and I think my jaw dropped when I first laid eyes on it. Petra, also known as Red Rose City due to the colour of the stone out of which it is cut, is one of the seven wonders of the world and is famous for its rock carved architecture and water conduit system.
We spent two days at Petra and the whole time I felt like I’d stepped inside an Indiana Jones movie, exploring rock tombs and temples, hiking above the Treasury and enjoying cups of sweet tea whilst a local Bedouin played us music on his flute.
Giving the Treasury a run for its money, the second most well-known and impressive monument of Petra is the Monastery. There are far fewer visitors there than at the Treasury which probably has something to do with the 800+ steps up a mountain you have to climb to reach it.
We sat in the cafe opposite sipping fresh pomegranate juice just staring in awe at how beautifully they had carved this ginormous monument into the mountain side. Built in the 3rd century BC as a Nabataean tomb with a facade that is almost fifty metres square, the Monastery really showed the grand scale of these structures. The best time to visit the Monastery is in the afternoon as the sun is fully shining on the Monastery and the hike up there will be mostly in the shade.
After an amazing first day in Petra we drove to a nearby area where my guide had kindly asked his cousin to bring along his horse so I could go riding. Arabian horses are my favourite so I was very grateful for this opportunity. Falcon was an absolute beauty and we galloped over the fields near Petra as the sun was setting, before returning to the hotel to rest before Petra by Night…is this even real life?
Every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday there’s a late night show at Petra called ‘Petra By Night’. With 1500 candles lighting the route along The Siq to The Treasury, it’s an unmissable event.
Walking the 1 km through the narrow gorge of the Siq in complete silence with nothing but the flickering of the candles against the rocks and the stars overhead is an experience. Once you arrive at the Treasury you will be greeted by what seems like hundreds of candles, it really is a sight to behold.
The final leg of the journey was spent at the Dead Sea, which is 420 meters below sea level and the lowest point on Earth. With a salinity level of around 34%, the water is about 10 times as salty as the ocean and as someone who loves any type of body of water, I couldn’t wait to get in! When we arrived that afternoon it was really windy and we were told that the beach was closed and that we couldn’t swim. As we only had one night there before flying home, I was really disappointed…I didn’t want to leave Jordan without experiencing this. Just when I was in the midst of my sulk, a miracle happened – the weather completely changed and the Dead Sea (which is technically a lake) was calm again. Hurrah!
The sunset was gorgeous, especially against the white crystallised salt formations that looked like snow. I covered myself in dead sea mud (which is mineral-rich and renowned for its healing properties) grabbed a magazine for the obligatory “Dead Sea shot” and jumped in. Swimming is pretty much impossible and it was a weird sensation to just float and not be able to sink.
Our guide, Ma’moun Mousa Al-Farajat, is a Bedouin and he helped us so much with everything. He grew up near Petra so he knew all the best places to go and where to take photos. So I want to say a BIG thank you to him! Nothing was too much trouble and our experience of Jordan was made even better thanks to his enthusiasm and positivity. Ma’moun even kindly invited us to his house one night where we ate a delicious dinner of ‘mansaf’ which was a memorable evening for me. When we were in Wadi Rum, we had learned about the tradition of drinking Bedouin coffee and how you have to shake the cup afterwards when you’re done… and we got to do that at his house!
So that was our journey in Jordan…From diving shipwrecks in the red sea to soaring over the desert sky at sunrise in a hot air balloon. From sleeping under the stars at a Bedouin camp to climbing rock tombs in an ancient city. From standing infront of a 2000 year old candle-lit Treasury to galloping on an Arabian horse. From becoming a certified scuba-diver to floating in the Dead Sea at sunset….
Jordan has been an amazing adventure and I already can’t wait to come back soon.