Little Petra, Jordan

Jordan Adventure: A Visit to Little Petra

After a disappointing stay in Aqaba, it was time to head to Wadi Musa, the town outside of the magical ancient city of Petra, where we would spend the next two nights. This was the part of the trip that I could hardly wait for as I knew that visiting Petra would be an unforgettable experience and I was right. Fortunately, we would have time to first visit Little Petra which would set the stage for our day and a half exploration of the fabled “Rose City” as Petra is called.

We left Aqaba shortly after breakfast, heading north towards Wadi Musa on the Desert Highway and then later on the famed King’s Highway. Once again, I was struck by how vast and barren the landscape was along the way. Over four-fifths of Jordan’s landscape is desert and for the next 125 kilometers, we only passed a couple of isolated roadside tourist stops.  Besides that, there was just sand and dust. It is hard to imagine the ancient caravans of traders and pilgrims on foot walking for days across this harsh land.

The King’s Highway is one of the Middle East’s most ancient routes, dating back to Biblical times. Covering 280 kilometers, the King’s Highway runs from Egypt across Sinai to the Gulf of Aqaba in Jordan and then north into Syria. This sacred route was mentioned in the Old Testament and is one of the world’s oldest continuously used communication and trade routes. The King’s Highway was used as a key trade route for the Nabateans who transported their spices to build their wealth and then after their collapse, the Romans used the route to build fortifications, followed by the Christian pilgrims and then the Muslims on the road to Mecca. For tourists, the King’s Highway leads through some of Jordan’s most magical sites passing through Crusader castles, Byzantine churches, sacred Biblical sites, stunning nature and more.

We arrived in Wadi Musa (“Valley of Moses”) around noon and delighted in a delicious lunch at the Alqantarah Restaurant, a lovely venue located only a short walk from the gates of Petra which serves authentic local Jordanian cuisine. All the ingredients are fresh and even the falafel is made directly on the spot while the meat is grilled right outside the front door on a barbeque. It was an oasis in the desert!

After lunch, we headed the short ten-minute drive to “Siq Al Barid”, the Arabic name for Little Petra which means Cold Canyon. Little Petra was built by the Nabateans and believed to serve as an agricultural hub, trading center and resupply post for the camel caravans that made their way to Petra. Scholars believe that Little Petra was most likely a suburb used primarily to house traders en route to Petra and was built around the same time as Petra during the height of Nabatean influence and power in the 1st century AD. Not much else is known about Little Petra however it definitely is an impressive place and worth a visit especially before seeing Petra. (If you went after Petra, you would probably be hugely disappointed!).

As you leave the parking lot and enter the 400-meter long Siq Al Barid, you are instantly transported into an entirely different world. The first thing you see is a large temple and four tricliniums (formal Roman dining rooms) that were all carved into the face of the rose-red sandstone by the Nabateans over 2,000 years ago. If you continue on another 50 meters, you will reach a building known as the “Painted House” which you can climb the rock steps up and take a peek at the frescos painted inside depicting vines, flowers and other natural things.

Little Petra, Jordan

Entering Little Petra

Little Petra

Little Petra

Little Petra

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Aqaba, Jordan

Jordan Adventure: From Wadi Rum to the Red Sea

After spending a beautiful morning watching the sunrise over Wadi Rum at our Bedouin Camp, it was time to continue our journey exploring Jordan.  A popular place to stop and spend a day or two after visiting Wadi Rum and before heading to Jordan’s crown jewel, Petra, is Aqaba. Located on the Red Sea, Aqaba is a relaxed seaside resort town that is known for some of the best snorkeling and diving in the Middle East.  With its 27 kilometers of prime coastline, Aqaba also has its share of lovely beach resorts for those who would like to spend a few days enjoying the beach and the Red Sea. With a dry, arid temperature rarely dipping below 70 degrees F.  Aqaba is a nice break between the sultry desert of Wadi Rum and the crowds of Petra. Best of all, the fish is caught daily and it is one of the only places in Jordan outside of Amman that you can somewhat easily get a cold mug of beer or a glass of wine with your meal. I was sold on the snorkeling and was really looking forward to our stay in Aqaba with visions of colorful fish and soothing, calm waters. Little did I know, this part of the trip would end up being a big disappointment.

Our group set off shortly after returning via camel to the entrance of Wadi Rum. While you would have thought a camel ride would be quite the adventure, it proved to be a darn right uncomfortable experience and I could hardly wait to get off the camel. The smooshy vinyl seat in our air-conditioned van sounded like heaven compared with the bumpy, miserable ride on a camel’s back. I even almost would have traded our cold, miserable ride on the back of an open-air pickup truck in the middle of a hailstorm the previous day to not be riding on a camel’s back. It is that bad.

Bedouin camp, Wadi Rum, Jordan

One thing that I truly like about traveling in Jordan is its compact size and ease of getting around to all the major sites. The Kingdom of Jordan is roughly the size of Portugal, making it easy to see a lot of cool places in a week. We never spent more than a few hours in the van, and all the roads we traveled on were paved and well-maintained.

From the gates of Wadi Rum, Aqaba is only a short, hour drive southwest. Aqaba began as an ancient trade route dating back as far as the 5th century BC and later became a popular gathering place for pilgrims making the trek to Mecca. Thanks to its prime location along the Red Sea, it developed into a laid-back beachside resort and world-renown diving destination. Unlike the other major cities in Jordan, there are not a lot of cultural attractions to see in Aqaba. Therefore, if you are not into relaxing on the beach or participating in water activities on the Red Sea, there really isn’t much reason to visit Aqaba.

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Bedouin Camp, Wadi Rum, Jordan

My Night at a Bedouin Camp in Wadi Rum

One of the highlights of my week in Jordan was spending the night at a Bedouin Camp in Wadi Rum. It is hard to put into words or capture on film, the expansive surreal beauty of Wadi Rum. Known as the “Dry Valley” Wadi Rum is roughly 720 square kilometers (278 square miles) of protected area in southern Jordan. It is known for its Bedouin culture and absolutely stunning landscape of massive sandstone mountains reaching up to 1500 meters (4,921 feet) high surrounded by canyons, gorges and narrow pathways to explore. The native people of Wadi Rum are the Bedouins who have lived in this harsh climate for thousands of years. The desert-dwelling Bedouin lived a nomadic life for centuries, moving their tents and herds of camels and goats across the vast arid desert in search of grazing land for their livestock. Today, most Bedouin have discontinued their nomadic life and live in villages. However, travelers have the opportunity to learn about their culture and life by spending a night or two at one of the many Bedouin campsites in Wadi Rum. By far, my stay at a Bedouin Camp was one of the most memorable experiences I had in Jordan.

Explore the wild, vast landscape of Wadi Rum where you will sleep under the stars at a Bedouin Camp in the heart of Lawrence of Arabia’s desert and enjoy a traditional Bedouin meal. Marvel at the rocks changing color as the sun sets and rises over the rugged sandstone and sit outside under the brilliance of the stars. Take in the stillness and solitude of one of the most surreal places on earth. Pinch yourself often that you are truly there. Riding a camel (as uncomfortable as it may be) goes without saying.

Bedouin Camp in Wadi Rum, Jordan

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Roman Theater in Amman

Arriving in Amman, Jordan: Jetlag, Culture Shock and Fascination

Walking through the hot, sultry streets of Al Balad in the heart of Amman, feels like an assault again the senses. The smell of a potpourri of spices tickled my nose while my eyes danced around the endless array of shops in every direction. Colorful handmade embroidered dresses called thobes dangled from the open storefront walls. Plastic China-made toys scrambled across the already congested sidewalk pavement. Giant fabric buckets of frankincense, dates, olives, and figs baked in the hot afternoon sun while cars sped by stopping abruptly if a pedestrian dared to cross the street in a city without any noticeable crosswalks. The sound of cars honking, the dance of Arabic words and the distant call to prayer by the Muezzin reminded me that I was in a place unlike anywhere I’d ever been before.  It was my first day in Jordan and I was struck with some serious culture shock.

I had arrived at the ultra-modern newly renovated Queen Alia International Airport only eight hours earlier after almost 24 hours of travel from my home in Minnesota to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. I recall landing at almost midnight in the blackness of the night wondering where on earth I was. I had never been to the Middle East before and the suspense would have to wait a few more hours until sunrise to see what it was all about.

I was met by a driver from my hotel and was instantly welcomed into the Jordanian culture of warmth and hospitality. Despite my fatigue, we talked the entire thirty-minute drive to the hotel and I received my first introduction to the welcoming, open culture of Jordan. I checked in at the Grand Palace Hotel close to one in the morning, fell into a deep, luxurious sleep and rose with a start by seven. It was my first day in Jordan and I didn’t want to waste a minute sleeping (even though my body would have preferred it).

By nine o’clock I was met at the hotel by my hired local driver and guide for the day, Mustafa. Although I could have done the tour of Amman by myself, I preferred to hire a local to bring me around and introduce me to Amman. As a middle-aged solo Western woman traveler, I felt more comfortable traveling with a guide, even though Jordan is an extremely safe country.  Whether or not it mattered was hard to say as a few other women in my group had done the exact same itinerary as me on their own without ever feeling uncomfortable. Since I tend to be directionally challenged at times and often get lost, it just felt more relaxed to have a local showing me the way.

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Highlights of an Extraordinary Week in the Magical Kingdom of Jordan

You’re going where”? I often got from confused friends and family when I told them I had booked a week-long adventure to Jordan this past October. “Do you mean Jordan, Minnesota or Jordan the country” was another bemused response to my statement. “I’m going to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan”, I proclaimed with excitement and pride at how adventurous those words sounded as they escaped my mouth. “You know, the royal kingdom located in the Middle East who became famous for its American-born Queen Noor, Lawrence of Arabia, Wadi Rum, and of course the ancient city of Petra which is now one of the 7 New Wonders of the World. That is the Jordan I’m visiting, and I’m going with an adventure travel company called Intrepid” I finished to either silence or awkward stares. “Is it safe” was another common question I received.

Telling my family and friends that I was going to Jordan was a huge awakening for me as I realized at that very moment how little people know about this mystical place, including myself. After a week’s adventure spent camping with the Bedouins in the desert of the Wadi Rum, exploring the incredible treasures of Petra, wandering through the ancient Roman ruins of Amman and Jerash, questioning my religion (or lack thereof) at Madaba and the Spring of Moses, and floating in the Dead Sea, I realized that there is so much more to Jordan than I ever dreamed of and wondered when I could ever get back to see more.

Jordan is simply extraordinary and trying to experience it all in a week’s time is truly difficult. However, if you plan your time wisely it can be done. It also helps to have an experienced, sustainable adventure travel company like Intrepid Travel plan it for you. Regardless of which way you choose to see Jordan, there are several “must-see and must-do” experiences that you need to add to your visit. Here is a list of my top highlights of what to do in one spellbinding week in Jordan.

My Bedouin Friend

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