As a child, I can’t tell you how many times we watched and rewatched the Indiana Jones movies. Indy’s adventures to remote locations and hidden ruins seemed so far removed from any similar landscapes that my young mind could associate with having grown up in rural Michigan. Needless to say, when I realized that Petra was the filming location of the iconic temple with the remarkable architecture in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade this travel destination was immediately added to my bucket list. When I received an email from The Points Guy last summer alerting me to $500 round trip tickets to Amman from Detroit I couldn’t book my tickets fast enough after getting over the shock at such a great deal. After booking, followed the questions that likely should have been addressed first.
- Is Jordan safe?
- Is mid-February an OK time to visit with regard to weather?
- What will our itinerary look like? Do we stay in Jordan or fit in a quick trip to another country while we are in the region?
- Do we need a tour guide or drive ourselves?
- Do we need visas in Jordan?
You’ll find the answer to these questions and more below.
To address safety in Jordan. Yes Jordan is safe despite being surrounded by countries that have mostly all encountered various levels of turmoil in the recent past. There are increased advisories for traveling to the Syrian or Iraqi borders, but you can read more here regarding those warnings at the US Department of State. At every hotel there was high security in place, as well as key tourist attractions such as Petra. These felt more preventative than reactionary, making us feel save overall. In addition there were also many military checkpoints along the highways where paperwork and IDs were checked. The Jordanian people in general, including the police and military we encountered were incredibly friendly and always quick with a smile. It should noted though that before traveling anywhere you should check the most recent travel advisories as situations are ever evolving.
Weather in February: Due to the extreme warm temperatures in Jordan, it is routinely suggested that the best time of the year to visit is March to May and September to November. As such, these are the most popular tourist seasons where you would encounter large crowds at the key sites. Late February was just on the shoulder of the peak season, so we encountered minimal crowds throughout our time in Jordan. As a result though, we visited at the end of winter so we were met with the chilly weather, especially in Amman, Petra, and Wadi Rum. The weather was warmer around the Dead Sea and even more so at the Red Sea. It was chilly going for a dip in the Dead Sea but not unbearable and fairly comfortable in the Red Sea, especially with a wet suit.
Overall Itinerary: In four days we easily fit in the Dead Sea, Petra, Wadi Rum and snorkeling in the Red Sea. In Jordan we did not use a tour guide but drove ourselves everywhere with no issues. After our Jordan leg of the trip we decided to fly to Cairo for two days to fit in the Giza Pyramids before heading back to Michigan. I fully acknowledge this packed schedule isn’t for everyone and travel preferences vary significantly. And that’s OK. We love filling our schedules to the max and we had a blast while managing to see so much over a short few days. Especially in Jordan we were only traveling an hour or two at most each day, except for the drive back to Amman, allowing for leisurely mornings and relaxed evenings. A far cry from our nonstop Peru itinerary. Unfortunately, we did not have time to explore Jerash or Amman in Jordan, which we’d heard fantastic recommendations regarding. Next time!
Driving Ourselves or Tour Guide?
Initially I was dead set on a tour guide. My brother and his wife, Kara, who came with Luke and I to Peru just over a year ago, were going to join us again for this new adventure. During the logistics planing stage, Samuel had been reading about tourists driving themselves around Jordan, allowing them to create their own timelines/itinerary. I was highly skeptical but after reading many successful accounts of how easy tourists found the process I reluctantly acquiesced. The following links are accounts from fellow bloggers of their driving itineraries.
While actually driving in Jordan, we were stopped by various police checkpoints but most of them didn’t even check our passports. After seeing we were Americans they waved us through, telling us to have a good day. The few times they asked to see our passports the exchange involved answering a few questions about where we were headed and what we had done so far in their country.
One word of warning if you’re driving yourself is to beware of speed bumps! These little traps were often unmarked and along the highway leading to several jolts that left me temporarily worried about our rental car. No wonder our little Toyota’s shocks were so worn out.
Yes you need a visa to enter Jordan. Visas cost 40 JOD per person for one entry and you need to pay cash.
If you have the Jordan Pass then your visa is included in your ticket. When your flight gets in
The Jordan Pass combines the tourist visa with they entry fees for over 40 tourist sites throughout Jordan. There are three levels of the pass to buy depending upon how long you want to stay in Petra (1, 2, or 3 days). After buying your pass, you will receive an email with PDFs of your tickets.
Jordan Wanderer (1 Day in Petra): 70 JOD
Jordan Explorer (2 Days in Petra): 75 JOD
Joran Expert (3 Days in Petra): 80 JOD
Our personal experience involved a bit of confusion in the airport as we got in line with the rest of the tourists buying their visas. We had already bought our pass online, so really the only benefit from us standing in a 40 minute line was that we got a visa stamp in our passport.
After flying into Queen Alia International Airport we navigated our way through the various security check points before getting to our rental car. See details regarding getting your visa above. Excited about getting on the road, we left the airport rental car area, immediately merging with other airport traffic before encountering an unmanned toll booth at the airport’s exit. Having not received any instructions about this hurdle from the rental car agency, we sat stumped because there wasn’t a pay option, instead it was requesting a nonexistent ticket. Just as we were starting to get flustered upon watching the traffic back up behind us the gate mercifully opened without any prompting and we were on our way.
At this point it was mid afternoon and our destination involved a smooth hour and a half drive to the Dead Sea Marriott. We accidentally got off the main road at some point and the GPS eventually took us down a winding, weaving single lane road through the mountains leading to the Dead Sea.
Due to our trip coinciding with Jordan’s off season we stayed in four or five star resorts throughout this entire trip for a fraction of their usual prices. This cost saving is deceptive though as when traveling with Samuel and Kara we usually split a room, however the majority of hotels we encountered in Jordan did not allow four individuals to a room.
An unfortunate consequence of also traveling during the winter is the early sunset that had to be factored significantly into our itinerary. In this case though, just as we arrived at the resort, the sun had dipped behind the horizon preventing us from visiting the Dead Sea on night one.
Once we were settled in our rooms we set off to explore this massive resort and find someplace to have dinner. After much debate, we ended up getting Italian at Il Terrazzo Restaurant, and the food did not disappointed in the least. Had the sun been up, you could tell the views would have been spectacular of the Dead Sea from the patio of this restaurant.
Upon satisfying our borderline hangry needs, we continued exploring to see if we could get to the shoreline of the Dead Sea. As the beach access closes at sunset and the long path down to the rocky shore lacking illumination, we ventured down to a pavilion where we could hear the waves crashing. From here you could see the lights of Eilat, Israel just across the water.
The next morning we got up with the sunrise for breakfast before retracing our path last night for a morning dip in the Dead Sea. Keep in mind, this is before 7AM in February. The outside temperatures were still in the mid 60s, which is a far cry from the close to freezing temperatures we left in Michigan but it was still cold nonetheless. The Dead Sea as a whole was one of the most unique experiences I’ve had with the water taking on almost slimy feel where upon moving your hands just under the surface you could see the supersaturated nature of this salty body of water. I’d always been a bit skeptical regarding how much one might actually float in the Dead Sea. Walking into the water, you only get about knee deep before it’s easier to just sit down in the water instead of trying to take another step. Floating far surpassed any of my expectations as you had to work to stand back up again and the whole time you were in the water was felt effortless. The water actually decently warm except for random currents of bitter cold that would catch you off guard. Kara and I applied the mud that is rumored to have therapeutic properties. Sure we felt rather silly slathering it all over but the exfoliation from the mud left our skin feeling silky smooth. Eventually, the cold patches sunk too deep so we relented after a half hour or so and made our way to the hot tub to warm up in the sun.
We didn’t soak in the hot tub for too long due to it was still before 8 AM and secondly we had a big day ahead of us! We had a three hour drive to arguable the most anticipated stop on our road trip, Petra! We took the Dead Sea Highway the majority of the way to Petra, which allowed us to drive along the length of well known salty body of water. The Dead Sea is shrinking, dropping by three feet almost every year. While we didn’t necessarily see that evidence at the Marriott, the receding levels were quite apparent as we drove south. This stretch of highway as a whole was very desolate, so in the future if you ever decide to follow this itinerary, make sure you have a full tank of gas before you depart the resort area of the Dead Sea, and for that matter make sure you go to the bathroom too.
If you’re planning on staying around Petra, the gateway city is Wadi Musa, where there are lots of options for hotels. After much research, we ended up staying in Petra Moon Hotel based on the fantastic reviews and reasonable price. The real decision maker though was the close proximity to the entrance of Petra that you could see down the hill outside the hotel lobby. That being said, I’m not going to lie, I was a bit caught off guard when there was a city, not to mention our hotel just outside the entrance to the path to Petra.
Arriving at Petra Moon Hotel at mid afternoon we were an hour early before our check in, but we only had two and a half hours or so before sunset, which signaled the closing of the site for the day. Having arrived in Wadi Musa, quite hungry but I was so excited to finally see Petra that I persuaded everyone to forgo lunch, allowing the hotel to store our luggage, and adventure in to see one of the World Wonders. Yes, yes. I realize this breaking a cardinal rule of traveling, “Keeping everyone full=Happy!,” but it was totally worth it! Petra was stunning! That first view of the imposing facade carved from a solid cliff face was like living through a dream.
First though, actually getting through the park entrance proved to have a few more steps than initially anticipated. You pass through a security checkpoint entering the park where they have a visitor center and various restaurants/souvenir shops. These seemed like a formality because we didn’t actually pass our bags through the scanner and there are various paths where you can bypass this hoop. Months ago, we had bought our two day Petra tickets by purchasing the Two Day Petra Jordan Pass (See above for more details). Initially we thought the eticket we had printed off would be sufficient to get through the second more formal entrance. Instead, we were stopped and told to trek back up the hill to be given two supplemental tickets from the Visitor Center when they verified our Jordan Pass. Again, all an easy process but not clearly explained in any of the Jordan Pass information. Finally past the second gate, we were on our way toward Petra, but immediately started getting constantly hounded to take donkey rides to and from the ruin. Donkey rides going one way are included in your Jordan Pass ticket, however a tip is expected. Also, for extra you can hire a donkey and cart instead of riding on a donkey if that is more your preference. As a hiker these carts zoomed back and forth at often reckless speeds through the slot canyon, significantly breaking up the ambiance of the walk and adding a real element of danger due to the high speeds. This behavior of driving the animals too fast through crowed areas was a constant theme throughout Petra as the drivers or handlers were anxious to pick up their next passenger and subsequent tip. It’s not included in your ticket, but if you negotiate and fora tip you can also take donkey rides to other sites within expansive Petra. We enjoy walking so we didn’t partake in the included ride either day we were at Petra and it must be emphasized donkey or no, expect a large amount of walking while exploring this impressive sprawling site.
As we started our hike, the city life seemed like another world as we moved further along the mile long path to the Treasury. The initial stretch was mostly open ground, however soon transitions into the Siq, which entails just over a half mile of slot canyons. It was in that first, open part of the hike we saw our first tombs with the Obelisk Tomb being highlight. Near this tomb are also strange massive cut blocks called the Djinn Blocks that are of a mysterious purpose. You can see the Obelisk Tomb in the photo just below. Also note the carriages and donkeys in the background of the photos.
The Siq is a 0.6 mile slot canyon leading up to the iconic Treasury that can be first sighted through break the narrow walls. In the slot canyon itself you can see aqueducts along the walls where the builders of Petra had directed water flow into the city. Every step you take closer to the heart of Petra seems like you’re exponentially further from the modern hustle and bustle of Wadi Musa. Especially the first time you’re traversing the Siq, it is unknown which bend will yield the first views of the Treasury so every corner approached contains it’s own measure of mounting anticipation. With each relative disappointment, the excitement only grows at the prospect that the next bend might yield the long waited views.
It was on this walk that we witnessed our first prejudice toward Asians as a result of the burgeoning Covid-19 threat. Just as we were walking past a group of Japanese tourists taking a group photo, we simultaneously passed a European couple and their young son. As the couple approached the Japanese tourists they very obviously both covered their mouths with their scarves/masks. This action shocked the four of us and became a discussion point the rest of our hike. Keep in mind, this was on February 16th. It wasn’t until three weeks later that everything escalated to panic levels for the United States and Michigan. While this was the first instance of prejudice we witness, it definitely wasn’t the last of our trip.
When the famous facade was finally first glimpsed, it went without explaining why Petra is considered a world wonder. A pleasant surprise, due to us arriving toward the end of the day was that we were treated to views of the Treasury with minimal crowds. The area around the Treasury can typically be quite packed, as we found out the next day, making our first look quite special.
After soaking in the Treasury, we started taking in the immediate surroundings only to have our eyes light upon hikers walking high above us on a narrow path along the cliff face. If you search photos of the Treasury on Instagram, this birds eye view is quite popular so we set out to see if we could find the hike entrance. Following other tourists we eventually found the path by turning right after exiting the Siq and walking straight until you encounter steps and a well trod path. There are no indicators or guard rails so be careful and mindful of your fellow hikers. This section of Petra was a bit more crowded than we might have preferred due to its proximity at certain points to the edge, so we didn’t venture to the very top but the loft views we did see were phenomenal.
After exiting the hike, we continued our strategy of mindlessly following the crowd as we entered another narrow pass. There are limited signs throughout Petra and the visitors center had been out of maps, so we ended up following the crowds with the blind faith they knew where they were going more than we did. Not the best plan, but it worked well under these circumstances. This narrow path had tombs lining one side but in front of the tombs lined table after table of cheap looking trinkets and scarves. Every table throughout the ruins basically sold the same touristy items. The presence of likely hundreds of tables and tents, especially since the majority of them are selling the exact same thing was a major distraction to the experience as a whole. Yes we loved the architecture and the history of Petra, but due to the remote and peaceful atmosphere surrounding Machu Picchu we hold that site more dear.
One repeated warning I’d read regarding Petra was the potential scam surrounding the Bedouin men, also called Jack Sparrows, working in and around this touristy area. This fraud involves a romantically based manipulation with the men offering solo female travelers private tours, and eventually to sleep in a cave for the night. Then playing on emotions, the demands roll in for money. If you Google it, you’ll find romantic stories and sad, scary tales. I realize this is a very brief and abbreviated version of this scam. I’ll link more details below, but I thought I’d be remise to not to at least address this potential danger. While we didn’t experience anything regarding the aforementioned scam, but we did have our own colorful interactions with various of the enterprising merchants you’ll find described below.
The narrow path we were walking eventually opened up into the Street of Facades, which contains rows of the extraordinarily carved tombs. We meandered along this path before stopping at the Roman Amphitheater.
Again almost the entire path was lined with tables of the same souvenirs. The Royal Tombs stand in prominence, up a steep hill overlooking the valley. This is the first and really only tombs we encountered that you could walk in and explore. Many of the other tombs or even side rooms of the Royal Tombs contained blankets, tea sets, or other indicators that people were living there despite the that living inside the tombs was supposed to be prohibited. Easily my favorite part of the Royal Tombs was the colorful ceilings and walls that were found in the Urn Tomb as you can see below.
As we left the Royal Tombs the path between tables grew quite narrow so we were all walking in single file line, with Luke, myself and Kara leading Samuel who took up the rear. A Bedouin man setup in one of the souvenir tents asked Samuel if he needed help controlling his wife. Samuel laughed and said something along the lines of good luck with that. The man responded with a completely straight face that Samuel should come back later without her and he had a knife give Samuel a great deal on to keep her in line. And on that note, we hurried along.
It was getting close to sunset, so we decided to head back since we had a long walk ahead of us and we had skipped lunch. Upon reaching the Treasury, the facade was covered in shadows but the area was even more empty than when we’d first walked in. Also proving to be a novel experience, we were alone for the most of our walk back through the Siq, which was a special and relaxing way to end our first day in Petra.
Absolutely famished, we headed back to Petra Moon Hotel where we were able to officially checkin to our room, with our luggage having already been delivered. Heading immediately out to find food, the first four places we stopped were closed until around seven for dinner. As we were approximately an hour and a half from that time frame, we kept wandering until we found The Cave Bar, which is built out of an old tomb and touted to be the oldest continually operating bar in the world. The doors were kept open in this small, cute little restaurant, so it grew quite cold, especially as a storm blew in. Regardless, we were quite content with the eccentric ambiance, our full bellies and a drink to cap off a more than memorable first day in Jordan that started off with a dip in the Dead Sea and included exploring in Petra.
Day two in Jordan had only one set itinerary item in which we wanted to get to our camp in Wadi Rum before nightfall. With only a two hour drive to our camp we had all morning to explore Petra. The archeological site opened at 6 AM, so we had plenty of time allotted for a solid second day of exploring the ruins. This time entering the park went smoother because there were even few people around than the night before. Plus we’d already procured the needed Jordan Pass verification and tickets. The hike we had in mind was a strenuous 850 stair step climb to the Monastery. The whole hike was 1.6 miles from the Treasury to the Monastery, and keep in mind, this doesn’t include the 2 km hike to even get to the Treasury. We set a brisk pace because we knew we would be cutting it close to our hotel checkout time. The second time walking up to the Treasury was just as captivating on day two, but we didn’t linger long as we had so much more to explore.
Once past the Tombs we started seeing new sites we didn’t get a chance to explore the previous night as we advanced down the Colonnaded Street. Along the way, we explored the Great Temple, which is largest free standing ruin in Petra. Climbing up the old steps of this structure provided a commanding view of the valley around. While we were sitting, taking in the view a fragile old woman came up to ask if we wanted to see her authentic ancient coins to buy. Two things here. First, based on finding other warnings online, I’d read that anything ‘old’ you see for sale in Petra is almost assuredly a cheap import. Secondly, by law, Jordan has strict antiquities laws regarding antiquities leaving the country.
The Great Temple
After politely declining and continuing up the Colonnaded Street we were drawn to the next freestanding ruin in our path, Qasr al-Bint that still somehow has an intact arch. Aiding this structure in surviving hundreds of years of earthquakes is the distinctive architecture design of alternating stone and wood. If you look closely along the wall of this structure you can the layers of wood in this structure that is thought to have been the main temple. Remarkably this structure was built likely between 100 BC to 100 CE although this is still debated. Just think about how old the wood must be that is still holding the walls high.
After Qasr al-Bint, the path we’ve been following basically ends in a t-juction, with a sign at the end directing you to various locations throughout Petra. The arrow directing to the Monastery was totally scratched off! We hypothesize that this vandalism was deliberate to encourage visitors to engage with the many, many locals waiting to give tours because at this point we were being asked every few minutes if we would like to hire a donkey to take us to the Monastery. Of course this is pure speculation. Pulling out Lonely Planet’s Jordan edition we flipped to the Petra section to see if we could garner some insight into making an educated decision as to which direction to head. Finding a reference to a restaurant, we spotted one off to our right and headed in that direction. As it was still so early in the morning, the Basin Restaurant was closed but there was a well worn path behind the building. There were no signs and the path was not super defined, but it fit description, plus we spied some hikers well ahead of us. Using the age old wisdom of blindly following people hoping they know more than you do we decided to adventure on ahead.
The path to the Monastery was by no means easy but it was definitely not the hardest hike we’ve ever completed. The path involved over 850 stair steps, several switch backs and breathtaking views as you climb high above the valley. Shortly after starting the hike, you can’t see the individual tombs, but they’ve been replaced by an equally impressive expanse. Needless to say, we took many, many mini breaks throughout our hike to the Monastery. We also encountered quite a few donkeys carrying passengers, which honestly seemed quite unsafe for the both the riders and the animals, especially with the rocks slick from the rain the night before. The animal minder would walk next to the animals, at some points manually pushing the donkeys up a particularly steep step. From a hiking standpoint, we would have to get way out of the way of the four legged traffic, which offered its own measure of uncertainty as we tried to anticipate the side of the narrow, tight path the animal would choose to tread. Not to mention, hop scotching over mud pie surprises that lay scattered along the path that women were actively cleaning up all along our walk. Almost the entire walk up to the Monastery was lined with the tables and tents that were prevalent in the main sections of Petra. These tents were sometimes perched precariously and rather uncomfortably on the edge of a steep cliff as you can see in some of the photos below. We were passing through at such an early hour, you could still see people sleeping in the tents or starting small fires with twigs to cook their bread and warm up tea. It wasn’t until near the top that we started getting asked to buy their wares that were exactly the same items we’d seen on repeat throughout Petra. We did find some of our most aggressive or creative sales pitches on these narrow paths as you were forced to traverse back by the same tents to leave the Monastery. Since the most memorable interactions happened on our hike back down I’ll wait to retell these stories until after I talk about our time in the Monastery.
Just as I’d started to give up that we’d ever reached the Monastery we rounded a corner and the massive tomb appeared just off to our right. I’d assumed, based on popular photos from the site that we’d approach at a distance, but instead you are deposited from the path basically right in front of the ruin. Facing the Monastery there was a small tea shop and seats where a smattering of other hikers were enjoying soaking in the Monastery. While you can’t go into the ruin you can walk right up to the entrance. We quickly took the obligatory photos before heading toward the tea shop to get out of the way of other travelers and get a quick respite before our hike back down. It was so enjoyable to watch other hikers emerging from the path to find themselves at their long awaited destination.
Far too soon it was time to head back down the path, where eager Bedouin were waiting to try to secure our purchases. Due to there being one main path up and down from the Monastery there creates the opportunity for direct sales pitches. On our way up the path, one young girl had asked us where we were from, when we responded Michigan, she yelled Go Packers! We are actually Lions fans with Green Bay a major rival, so on the grand scale of things she was so very close. On our way back down the path, she was waiting for us with a Green Bay stocking cap on. Another convincing pitch that ended in a curse started with a different a young girl physically blocking our way near the top of the path and aggressively grabbing our hands to make us pinky promise to buy something from her on our way back down. With Covid-19 concerns in the back of our minds we were not that happy with the forced contact. On our way back down we anticipated the upcoming interactions so we made a game plan as to how to passively bypass this rather forcefully attentive saleswoman. Alas, our game plan fell apart as she singled out Samuel and Kara. As Samuel was trying to disengage himself from the targeted approach, three women eventually emerged from the tent, yelling about how he was breaking his promise. It was all fun and games until it wasn’t. He kept sidling away and out of range when the instigator shouted that Samuel wouldn’t leave Jordan alive. This stopped us all in our tracks, but the girl wouldn’t take back her curse, whereupon she continuing to shout about broken promises. Needless to say, we hurried on down the path, stunned at how that interaction had spiraled so badly.
Our hike up took approximately 45 minutes with being quite liberal with taking many breaks. The return trip took just over 20 minutes. I was again thankful for the time of year we visited Petra, as we’d encountered minimal crowds. It would have not been nearly as enjoyable during this hike had there been many other people to jostle around, especially on some of the narrow passes. That being said, the extra bodies might have taken away some of the targeted attention from the Bedouins plying their wares.
As we were on our way out of Petra, we hurriedly took in the sites one last time, especially lingering around the Treasury as we were already late to check out of our hotel. Due to the timings of our previous two visits to the Treasury, (just before closing the previous day and just at opening the next morning) we had been able to experience this wonder with just a handful of other people. Leaving the Treasury for the last time around 11 am, we witnessed the area packed with the throngs of official tours hustling and bustling around each other. These last cherished glimpses of the renowned ruin serve to emphasis how special our previous two visits had been when we had the Treasury all to ourselves.
After checking out of our hotel we wandered down the street to the elegant Movenpick Resort where we had a delicious lunch in their opulent, ornate Al Maqa’ad Bar. We were all a bit wilted from our busy morning but soon perked up and were excited for our two hour drive to Wadi Rum. Accommodation wise, I was arguably the most excited for our upcoming stay at Memories Aicha Luxury Camp but had so many lingering logistical questions that hadn’t been answered as thoroughly as I might have wanted due to a combination of issues ranging from website construction, resort construction, and seemingly vague email responses. In hindsight, not knowing quite everything helped the magic unfold to our absolute favorite aspect of our trip and favorite hotel stay ever.
During the planning stage of our trip, I have to admit that I became very overwhelmed trying to research Wadi Rum camps that range from rustic (~$10/night) to luxury (<$350/night). The most important advice I found after extensive research was to make sure that you are selecting a camp inside the official protected area. I can’t emphasis this enough! That being said, attempting to find a map of the Wadi Rum Protected Area borders with the camp locations is so much more difficult than it should be. Before finding the suggestion regarding camp location, I was dead set on either the Sun City Camp or the Wadi Rum UFO Luxotel. Both camps were expensive but photos that fellow bloggers took from these camps were so unique that of course they were high on my short list. Alas, upon looking closer at a map, the camps were not only outside the preserve, but also right along the highway. After a few more days of looking up the various camps I settled on Memories Aicha Luxury Camp because despite the higher price tag (200 JOD), the prospect of sleeping in a clear glass bubble under the stars in a desert was quite alluring. The price also included dinner, breakfast, and a stargazing tour.
At the time I was initially inquiring about availability, the camp offered white plastic tents with a clear plastic window facing out into the desert. Confusion ensued when on Instagram, elegant glass bubbles started showing up in images for the camp. Needless to say this quandary only served to deepen when Booking.com still had the old tents and the official website for the camp being under construction. After several back and forth emails, the mystery was solved with Memories Aicha Luxury Camp recently upgrading their plastic domes to luxury glass bubbles.
Another crucial detail to looking into when determining which camp you’ll stay in Wadi Rum is how much available tours are and what they sites they entail. For example SunCity had everything as an added extra. Memories Aicha offered jeep tours from a local guide that could be booked we arrived. There were two options for Jeep tours with a three hour (60 JOD per family) or five hour (100 JOD per family). A stargazing tour was another experience we were interested in and conveniently was included in our stay at Memories Aicha.
When arriving in Wadi Rum Protected Area you have to stop at the Visitor Center to pay the park entrance of JOD 5.00 per person. Thankfully our Jordan Pass included this fee but we still had to have our passes stamped and we had to sign into the protected area. In reality this was a bit of mass confusion but we just jumped through the murky hoops. The first guard checking passes directed us to park and walk to building where our Jordan Passes were stamped, then this second guard directed us to a second building where a third guard took information pertaining to what camp we were staying at and who would be picking us up. We then headed back to our car to continue to drive to the Wadi Rum village where we would meet our driver. Of note, it was before the visitor center that we spotted the camps along the highway that were on the outskirts of the Protected Area, i.e., SunCity Camp, Wadi Rum UFO Luxotel, etc.
The biggest concern we had, post booking, regarded general logistics of how we were going to get to the camp if it was a 15 minute drive into the sandy desert and where we would park our car. The camp had sent us an address to plug into our GPS to meet our driver in the village of Wadi Rum, which all turned out to be so easy and straight forward once we’d arrived. We had Verizon cell service in the village to in case we would have had to call our driver.
We drove another 7 km through remote desert before reaching the Wadi Rum village. The address provided by camp led right to a public parking lot that was quite easy to identify due to the amount of trucks congregated with various camp logos along their sides. It was there that we met Ayman who was going to drive us, to the camp in the back of his open pickup with built in benches and be our tour guide the next morning. Our rental was a four wheel drive vehicle so Ayman recommended we follow him in the pickup and that way we could park our vehicle at the camp instead. Slightly nervous about driving in the sand, we followed but hadn’t realized how bad the shocks were in our rental with the car vibrating and shaking the whole drive. Fifteen minutes later we excitedly spotted the camp; an isolated oasis along the desolate landscape. The photos here and on other social media platforms fall far short of capturing how beautiful this camp truly is. As our luggage was unloaded, we confirmed with Ayman the time for our tour the next morning before heading to get our first up close glimpse inside the striking domes. The luxurious inside of the glass bubbles contrasted sharply with the desert that we were surrounded by. We had no cell phone service, no TVs, and no wifi available, which was refreshing change and ultimately added to the relaxing isolated feel of Wadi Rum.
Dinner and breakfast were complimentary, so soon after we had enjoyed a quiet moment taking in the extraordinary sunset we headed to dinner in their ornate restaurant built into a cliff face. The food was a wide ranging buffet that was delicious, especially after a long day that had us starting out hiking around Petra.
It was at dinner the manager of the camp introduced himself and informed us that there was a complimentary stargazing tour at 8PM depending upon the clouds that were potentially going to roll in. Thankfully the clouds cooperated and soon we were on a 15 minute walk outside of camp. Floor length, heavy coats had been provided to keep us warm against the chilly desert night air. Between the heavy coats and the flickering lights resembling torches they had given us for the hike, the whole experience had an air of surreal and we positively loved it. Our guide, Patrick was fantastic, regaling us with a flowing story of the stars from mythology, and physics to the applications of the Zodiac symbols. After his 40ish minute talk Patrick, who is also a professional photographer took various pictures of everyone who went on the tour. It was a bit of a challenge as you had to stay perfectly still for around twenty seconds due to the long exposure. The whole tour took about two hours but I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars, not to mention how bright they were. Far too soon we were heading back to camp where we were eager to return to the warmth of our rooms. At ten the lights surrounding the outside the isolated domes were turned off, allowing us to fall asleep under the stars.
The next morning we wolfed down breakfast before excitedly getting ready for our tour. We did have to checkout of our room prior to our tour, but we were able to leave our car at the camp as that’s where we were getting picked up and dropped off by Ayman.
We were decided on the three hour tour mainly riding in the back of a pickup for five hours sounded rather miserable. Ayman really pushed the five hour tour because of the quantity/quality of what we would be seeing otherwise. Going with his recommendation turned out to be the right call because we absolutely fell in love with Wadi Rum and this desert ranks as one of our favorite places we’ve ever been. Plus, the pickup ride was surprisingly quite comfortable and broken up often by stopping and exploring the many different sights Wadi Rum has to offer. Wadi Rum’s distinctive red sand and landscape should be familiar from various movies such as The Martian, The Red Planet, Prometheus, Lawrence of Arabia, Rogue One, Aladdin, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
There was sand everywhere, obviously as we were in the middle of a desert, but the first stop on our trip was a massive sand dune that afforded expansive views of the surrounding otherworldly landscape. This distinct red sand was seriously the softest sand I’ve ever walked in. I positively refuse to tell you how many breaks I had to take to get to the top of this dune though. Nope. Not going to even give you a range (shhh…>5).
At each stop of the tour there was a Bedouin tent set up where locals are quick with a smile and an offer of tea. We enjoyed tea at this first stop and the last one but I would have been filled to bursting had we partaken of tea at every stop. Honestly, before this trip I could have counted the times I’d drank of tea on one hand, but this tea was quite delicious. While enjoying this first sip of tea for the day, I was chatting with the local Bedouin man as he proudly told me how Dwayne Johnson and Anne Hathaway had been in his tent while filming a new movie, enjoying his tea.
Our next stop was the narrow Khazali Canyon, which contains easily identifiable petroglyphs along with Thamudic, Nabatean, and Islamic inscriptions. Probably the most interesting petroglyph, in my unprofessional opinion, was a pair of feet. This narrow passage had a stream of water flowing through it, but Ayman told us that just a week earlier into the wet season that we would hardly have been able get into the canyon at all. His family has a dozen sheep and three camels that they bring to this little oasis during the wet season for water. As the path was still wet and filled with deep pools. When crossing one of the pools, Ayman kindly built us a little rock bridge to get across, braving the cold water to get the rocks stable enough for us to cross. We couldn’t get much further before we were stymied and had to turn back but the canyon experience was well worth being at the top of anyone’s must see list in Wadi Rum.
After exiting Khazali Canyon we climbed back in the truck to head to our next remarkable Wadi Rum landmark, the Little Bridge. Hiking to the top of this arch wasn’t strenuous, and once at the top Ayman situated us just right to get the perfect photo. He also staged a jumping photo that might be the best I’ve ever taken part in!
Um Frouth Rock Bridge
First driving up to this impressive arch it didn’t even occur to me that we could, let alone would want to climb to the top. So when we got out of the vehicle and Ayman showed us the foot holds to climb up my palms started sweating! We ended up climbing it and honestly it wasn’t as bad as it appeared from a far. Plus the top afforded even more spectacular landscape views of the desert, that is, when I could look up from where I was stepping.
Abu Khashaba Canyon
Abu Khashaba Canyon amounted to a beautiful, breathtaking (literally breathtaking as you walking up and down hill in sand for 45 minutes) hike through a canyon shaped like an hour glass so it grows quite narrow for a bit of the hike. What made this stretch so special was the fact that Ayman dropped us off at one end of the canyon and picked us up on the opposite end, which afforded us significant time to do some exploring on our own without any direction. We passed maybe one other couple walking the opposite way the whole time we were in the canyon. Again, this lone hike only added to the already memorable experiences of the day.
Honestly, there isn’t much to this site, and they can’t even guarantee it was actually inhabited by TE Lawrence. What was entertaining though was hiking to the top of the surrounding rock formation to again get another expansive view of the landscape.
The last landmark stop on our Wadi Rum Tour was the Mushroom Rock. As with the other stops, this one served to provide us with a yet another new, astonishing view of the distinctive landscape. No wonder movies have Wadi Rum as a popular go to location for their Mars based films. It was at Mushroom Rock that we enjoyed our last cup of tea and were treated to a captivating song by one of the Bedouin men. You can see the video below. Ayman made one last stop on our way back to the camp to show us how a local plant called anabasis articulate (Jointed anabis) can be used to make soap due to its ability to create foam. Kara and I gave it a try and our hands were left soft and smelling quite nice the rest of the day.
Our five hour tour flew by! Riding in the back of the pickup truck was comfortable and such a fun way to experience Wadi Rum. It helped that we had the sweetest tour guide who was eager to answer any questions or point out key features of the Wadi Rum desert. Honestly, approaching this leg of the trip, I had relatively mediocre expectations for Wadi Rum, because it was overshadowed by the other key stops on our trip such as Petra or the Pyramids. As a result of underestimating the magic that this area holds, the hospitality of the Bedouin people, and the one of a kind lodging, Wadi Rum will forever hold a special place in our hearts and is one of our favorite places we’ve ever visited.
Ayman made one last stop on our way back to the camp to show us how a local plant called anabasis articulate (Jointed anabis) can be used to make soap due to its ability to create foam. Kara and I gave it a try and our hands were left soft and smelling quite nice.
Our five plus hour tour flew by! Riding in the back of the pickup truck was comfortable and such a fun way to experience Wadi Rum. It helped that we had the sweetest tour guide who was eager to answer any questions or point out key features of the landscapes. Honestly, coming into this trip, I had relatively mediocre expectations for Wadi Rum because as a desert, in my mind it was overshadowed by the other key stops on our trip such as Petra or the Pyramids. It was likely a result of underestimating the magic that this area holds, the hospitality of the Bedouin people, and the one of a kind lodging we stay in that Wadi Rum will forever hold a special place in our hearts and was one of our favorite places we’ve ever visited.
Tala Bay – Red Sea
Leaving isolated Wadi Rum we were reunited once again with the world as we once again had cell service. Our destination was the city of Aqaba, specifically Tala Bay, which is right on the Red Sea. Our drive from Wadi Rum to Aqaba was only an hour and a half so we got to our hotel, the Movenpick Tala Bay Resort around 2 PM where we had an afternoon to relax by the pool and enjoy all the delicious food. February along the Red Sea is warm but not really bathing suit season. That being said, having spent all winter in Michigan the weather felt lovely. We had a really wonderful day where we enjoyed a few drinks on the patio while playing countless games of euchre.
The next morning we got up early for breakfast, eager to get out to the dive shop associated with the Resort. It was going to be a rainy day off and on, but we were desperately hoping to go snorkeling in the Red Sea, which is touted to have some of the most visually beautiful snorkeling spots in the world. The ___ dive shop has three basic snorkeling tours. There’s an all day package, half a day, and an hour excursion. We had wanted to do the half a day tour but due to it being the off season and the poor weather there were not enough other tourists signed up so we settled for the hour excursion. Wet suits, masks, flippers, and snorkels were all provided and the excursion guide took us by speed boat to a few different locations. Samuel and Kara are much more experienced snorkelers (remember their Australian adventure) than Luke and I so we just followed them around the famous Japanese Gardens. My snorkel was leaking, which provided some difficulties but in general it was a pretty special experience. The second spot our guide took us was a key diving location where the Jordanian government sunk a tank and a large plane. It was rather eerie to see the large plane slowly emerge from the blue gloom as you got closer. Then you noticed small bubbles emerging from around the plane and eventually several divers bobbing around the outside came into view. The water in general was comfortable, especially with the wet suit, and while we were out snorkeling the rain even stopped and the sun briefly emerged.
Far too soon it was time to get back in the car for our longest drive yet back to Amman where we were flying out for a two day trip to Egypt to see the pyramids. Jordan had initially drew my attention due to Petra, however this wonderful country proved to contain so much more than was expected. In four days we swam in the Dead Sea, marveled at Petra, explored the desert and slept under the stars in Wadi Rum, before ending our trip by snorkeling in the Red Sea. Yes four days is far too short to see everything Jordan has to offer. Key sites that we will be eventually coming back to explore are Amman, Wadi Mujib, Kerak Castle, Jerash, Bethany Beyond Jordan, and many other sites. Jordan is so very rich with diverse landscapes and stunning ruins, but these perks are only accented by the Jordanians’ overwhelming hospitality that we experienced throughout our trip. Everyone was quick to help or offer a smile, making us feel right at home in each stage of this memorable adventure. Well except for the mountain top curse, but we will chalk that up to an abnormality. Overall, Jordan should be on every traveler’s bucket list, and not only for the world wonder that is at its heart, but for all the other amazing sites it has to offer.