Egypt is a once-in-a-lifetime trip; and although people lump it in with the middle eastern countries, it’s actually in northern Africa. Which means it’s a long flight from the U.S. So, since you’re traveling that far, and since nearby Jordan is a spectacular country full of jaw-dropping sights, adding on this actual middle eastern country will make your trip finish BIG.
Few people are aware of what Jordan has to offer: magnificent ruins equivalent to those in Egypt (which are some of the world’s most extraordinary). Jordan just hasn’t done the best job marketing itself to Americans, and it’s a shame. My husband and I and about 25 others from our Brand g Egypt trip did the Jordan extension, and to a man we felt like it was an absolute home run.
What Sights Does Jordan Have to Offer?
If you take Brand g’s Jordan extension (it’s only available as an add-on to the Egypt trip), it ends in Petra, and Petra is an unmitigated WOW. Stunning, narrow canyons that loom over you, ancient buildings carved right into the mountainsides, camels everywhere, donkeys ferrying people up a steep mountainside to the monastery at the top…it’s truly remarkable.
Our fascinating guided walking tour lasted all morning (about four hours), and then after lunch, we had the afternoon as free time. Most of us spent the entire afternoon there as well (climbing to the monastery, riding camels, etc) and ended up logging eight or nine hours at this massive site. And we loved every minute, exhausting as it was. (Because we also did the monastery climb, we logged about 11 miles. Incidentally, if you have minor mobility issues, they will also take you to and from the front gates to the key site, the Treasury – pictured above – by golf cart.)
This site is as big a wow as anything in Egypt – which is saying something.
Coming off of our spectacular hotel in Amman (see below), the Movenpick in Petra was lovely, but not the same level of glamour – it was more 4-star than 5-star. But it’s the nicest hotel in Petra, and it is a lovely modern hotel. And most importantly, it’s right next to the gates to enter the site – so there’s no bus involved. You can walk from the hotel to the entrance gates in two minutes.
When we first entered this site of ruins, all we saw was a single large façade of arches, and I thought, (sad trumpet) “Wha whaaa…”
What we got was anything but, because from there it opens up to a massive site of Greco-Roman ruins.
Jerash – although it’s located in the middle of a modern city – is a large and impressively well-preserved set of ruins that define what was once a great Roman city. With Hadrian’s Arch, the Temple of Artemis, an amphitheatre, and a massive colonnade in which chariot races once ran, it has been nicknamed “the Pompeii of the East”. Once hidden under the shifting sands, excavations began in 1925 and continue to this day.
Those of the Christian faith will recognize this name, since the River Jordan flows through it. It’s the site where John the Baptist is believed to have baptized Jesus Christ. Here you can visit the baptismal site and touch the sacred waters of the River Jordan. For those not so religiously inclined, you can admire the fact that just across the river lies Israel. (You can photograph the Jordanian and Israeli flags together.) Just don’t try to swim across the river, which is perhaps only 100 feet wide at this juncture and in theory, easily swimmable. Israeli soldiers with big guns (and not necessarily the hot kind) are on the other side.
Above Bethany lies Mt. Nebo, with its breathtaking views of Israel; here you can see Jericho and, in the distance, Jerusalem. This is the spot where Moses is said to have seen the Promised Land, and it’s quite a chorus-of-angels moment as you take in the 270-degree views.
This expansive desert has stunning rock formations, orange-red sand, and is home to various luxury camps where you can spend the night stargazing. (A photographer friend from our group extended his stay to spend the night in one of the luxury glass bubble “tents”.)
Here, Brand g took us on a 4×4 ride through the desert (sitting on comfortable padded couches on the open-air backs of 4×4 trucks), which was Spec…tacular. Then we pulled into a tented camp for hot tea and biscuits. And finally, we had the chance to ride camels. The cool, gorgeous March day complimented this spot where we took about a thousand photos.
The Dead Sea
This was our final stop on Brand g’s Jordan extension, and it’s a beautiful setting. We stayed at the Kempinski Ishtar (the best hotel on the Dead Sea), a huge, 5-star resort with cool, contemporary rooms and 200-square-foot partially enclosed patios/balconies that just extend these very large rooms even further.
The sea was just a short walk (or golf cart ride) down the terraced resort, and there, you could apply that famous dead sea mud, and then float in the salt-laden waters. Fun fact: because of the high level of salt, almost nothing can survive in there, so for people who are squeamish about fish brushing up against them, you have no worries here. And of course, you can’t sink!
The Kempinski also just happens to be a fabulous resort to do some pool time or get spa treatments using the famous mud and waters of the Dead Sea.
We actually began our trip in Amman, and while the city itself doesn’t have much in the way of big sights, it’s a modern, sophisticated city, and it has some extraordinary hotels, most notably the one Brand g put us at, the Fairmont. I’ve stayed in other Fairmont properties that were certainly nice, but this one was drop dead gorgeous. One of the most beautifully detailed 5-star hotels my husband and I have stayed in (with service to match). We had a buffet welcome dinner there, in a private room, that was the most lavish spread we had on the entire trip. None of us wanted to leave this hotel. Tears were shed.
A Little More About Jordan Itself
Coming off of Egypt, Jordan felt very different. While it’s also heavily Muslim, it’s a much more progressive, first-world sort of country. The vendors here also weren’t nearly as aggressive as they are in Egypt. If you said no, they would leave you alone.
The weather here is also markedly different. Egypt and Jordan are both deserts (so no humidity), but Jordan is a good 20 degrees cooler. Where we had highs in the 70’s-mid 80’s in Egypt in March, with one day in the 90’s further south at Abu Simbel, the highs in Jordan were in the 50’s-60’s. If you go to both countries, be sure to bring clothes for two different temperature ranges. (It’s all about layers.)
Many people may have a perception – since it’s a middle east country – that perhaps it’s dangerous. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jordanians trumpet their country as having the most secure (i.e. heavily protected) borders on earth. As our wonderful tour guide said, “We’re an island…surrounded by sharks.” Even as a gay group, we never felt the least bit of threat from anyone. (And our married male tour guide, Sufyan – who has close gay friends – was fantastic with our group.)
Convinced yet? Friends of ours who were with us on the Egypt portion but did not do Jordan now say that they wish they had done it. Trust me on this – if it’s financially feasible, do it. You probably won’t come back to this corner of the world, and adding Jordan to your itinerary is an experience you will never forget.