Survival guide to driving through Jordan
06.04.2012 - 19.04.2012 26 °C
It started something like this:
The Duke: ‘How about a short Easter break somewhere non-Eastery.’
Me: ‘Yup. Was thinking it would be good to get out. Anywhere in particular?’
The Duke: ‘How about Jordan’.
Me: ‘Great! Are two weeks short enough for a short Easter break?’
The Duke: ‘I was thinking more something like four days.'
Me: ‘Ok. How about two weeks?'
The Duke: ‘Two weeks is longer then I thought’.
Me: ‘Yes. I reckon it’s not going to be long enough. Maybe we could do three.’
The Duke: ‘Lets see when there are cheap flights.'
Me: ‘Good idea. Lets start with looking at couple of weeks and take it from there’.
And it continued in similar mode:
The Duke: ‘Most of the packages that cover all of the must-see places are quite pricey’.
Me: ‘Hmm. Lets get a car’.
The Duke: ‘I would be quite nervous about a non-organised roadtrip. No idea how easy it is to navigate around and what is the road safety like?’
Me: ‘I checked the forums and it’s not that unusual to drive around there. We should get a car’.
The Duke: ‘The package holidays are very good and they include a camel trip.’
Me: ‘Quite pricey though. We could organise the camel trip ourselves. And get a car’.
…. Hours later ….
The Duke: ‘OK. I booked a car’.
Me: ‘Great, because I booked us two days on camels in Wadi Rum’.
The fact that we are writing this post means that we successfully negotiated two weeks of driving around Jordan, often to places not even frequented by the locals with exclusively Arabic signposting, and made it back in similar state to when we left.
Our high level Jordan itinerary:
Day 1 – Amman
Day 2 – trip to the east via Muwaqqar, Qasr al-Kharana, Qusair Amra, Shaumari Reserve, Azraq and back to Amman
Day 3 – Jerash, Umm Qays and drive to Pella
Day 4 – Pella, Al Salt, Mount Nebo and Madaba
Day 5 – Mount Nebo, Madaba, Umm al-Rasas and drive down the King’s Highway to Petra
Day 6 – Petra
Day 7 – Petra
Day 8 – Wadi Rum
Day 9 – Wadi Rum and back up the north via Shawbak
Day 10 – Shawbak, Dana, Al-Karak and along the Dead Sea to Suwaima
Day 11 – Dead Sea luxury break
Day 12 – Dead Sea, Bethanien, Iraq al-Amir, Madaba and departure from Amman
Despite the Duke’s initial reservations and my indiscriminately blind enthusiasm for exploring anywhere new, it took us literally no time to fall in love with Jordan and its people. Being in charge of our own time, largely flexible in respect to our itinerary and always happy to go off the beaten track and mingle with locals, we can proudly say that we had the chance to experience the top and the bottom ends of Jordan travel and came out of it loving the lot.
This is not to say that everyone in Jordan is nice, the streets are always clean, camels always go where you tell them and Dead Sea mud protects you from sunburns. But it was precisely the all-roundedness of our experience and the genuinity with which the country opens itself up to others to explore it, which impressed us and even made the Duke to briefly contemplate shifting our flights by a couple of days (contemplating was as far as he got though).
To do the whole country and our experience justice, we will write a few posts over the next days to take you through our roadtrip. But before we start with it, I just wanted to outline a few brief travel tips and observations we made when there, which could help you with planning your own trip.
So here we go.
Some (less) obvious items to pack:
- Sun screen is a must
- Hat is a necessity but it can be quite windy so both, cap and wide-brim hat are useful
- Torch is good not only when staying in Bedouin camps but also on some of the sights such as Al-Karak or Shawbak ruins
- Good walking boots
- Layered, thin, but good-coverage clothes
- Scarves are useful to cover your head but also protect neck from burning or use as a belt
- Small back-pack to carry water, sunscreen etc. or pack into the desert
- Hydrating hair mask to fix the inevitable sun and sand damage
- A good Jordan roadmap
- ATM card to get local currency (all banks we tried in Amman, Salt and Madaba worked fine)
- Not needed are smartphone / blackberry – most of the time it didn’t connect
What to wear:
- Jordanian women are insanely fashionable and despite no-skin policy, their layering of ultra-modern garments is exquisite
- With the exception of Dead Sea resorts and perhaps Madaba, it is respectful and also practical to wear long sleeves and long skirts or trousers.
- For women, long but thin and loose shirts over tops are surprisingly cooling and can look very elegant with a belt.
- Cleavage is a no-go for women, shorts a no-go for men
- I found wide linen trousers and knee-length skirts over leggings very comfortable
- Nights can be quite cold so take fleece or cardigan
- Sandals are ok in most places but some sights need walking boots i.e. Pella, Petra, Shawbak
- For men, long trousers and shirts are the norm, although the young generation is more and more wearing T-shirts
- Hair does not need to be covered except at mosques
- Car hire is reasonably priced and petrol is very cheap
- Most western car hire companies offer good service and have an office at the Amman airport or the big hotels – booking in advance is a must
- Whilst some roads have impressive potholes, there is no need for 4x4 or a larger car – we ordered a mini version, got an economy upgrade and it was just fine and good value
- U-turn is a very popular way to change direction of driving and they even have special signs and lights for it.
- Signposting is generally in Arabic if available at all, so be prepared for impromptu detours before you find the right road. Having said that, most main sights are also in English when you are on the main roads.
- Traffic rules probably exist but from just looking around you could never tell – relax, beep the horn to let everyone know you are coming and keep checking mirrors. People are sociably pushy but polite rather then aggressive so we felt most of the time quite comfortable.
- Getting a sat-nav might be a good idea (we didn’t have one, so we saw more as a result), although the multiple-spellings of town names might prove to be a challenge
- Jordan is a small country so two weeks with own car are enough to see most of the major sights, but allow three weeks if you want more time in i.e. Wadi Rum or Dead Sea. We had to skip Aqaba because we ran out of time, however, it’s only a must for diving enthusiasts
- Police checks and manned speed-cameras are common – we were told that as long as you don’t go over 110km/h on the main road, you are fine. However, we stuck quite religiously to the speed limits to be on the safe side.
Where to stay:
- It seems to be much cheaper to not book in advance
- Big hotels might need pre-booking, but they have the disadvantage of charging additional taxes and charges on top of the advertised price so beware – it can prove very pricey indeed
- Most places with sights will have hotels with vacancies and they are generally clean, comfortable, with hot shower and possibility to eat local food – we found these to be excellent value for money i.e. Shawbak Montreal hotel, Pella Countryside Hotel, Madaba Mosaik City.
- Internet is available in pretty much all hotels we stayed, but more often then not for a small charge
What to eat:
- Local food is delicious and hummus and pita bread are the staple of every course
- Jordanians love their olive oil and put it into everything
- Try to find places where they serve the local Bedouin cousine and don’t be surprised when you get chips with everything
- Very sweet tea is the drink of choice and it is polite to accept when offered
- An alternative drink is Turkish coffee, which is served in small espresso caps, half full with coffee grains and half water
- Kebab and shawarma take-away booths are common everywhere – they are cheap and quite tasty
- Local markets sell fresh fruits and wide range of nuts, which we found especially useful as snacks during drives or hikes
- Bottled water is available everywhere and generally comes cheap. Tap water is not drinkable.
- All Jordanians know at least two phrases in English: ‘Where are you from’ and ‘Welcome to Jordan’ – in fact, they are so friendly that we suspected there must be some kind of mass-nation training they get
- Everyone tries to talk to you and offer their help, even though a small tip is generally expected in return for this
- Stall keepers, especially in touristy places, will offer their goods, but will most often not be rude or pushy when you refuse
- Even children are generally polite and friendly, asking your name and nationality, although there was a particular part of Petra slightly off the busy path where children aggressively demanded biscuits and anything that you might appear to have on you.
- Locals are always happy to help with directions, although noone seems to expect you to actually not have a driver or navigate using a map (both things seemed to puzzle everyone)
- Speaking some basic Arabic is greatly appreciated
- Petrol stations are always serviced, making filling-up easy
- In the context of the conflict around Jordan, Jordanians are very openly devoted to the monarchy and their king, as their see the link between him and the stability in the country
And on that note, I will leave you with the promise that our next post will kick off our road trip adventure through Jordan.