Portrayed at home as little more than a country of camels and deserts, Jordan is in fact a country of much more, boasting mountains, beaches, castles, and ancient churches, complete with well-mannered people and a rich culture. It is Safe, comfortable and welcoming.
With each of its borders surrounded by conflicts in Iraq and Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Jordan might not seem like the ideal travel destination, however this remarkable country is an oasis of stability and calm.
Steeped in heritage, the desert kingdom of Jordan’s significance partly comes from its location at the cross roads to the Christian, Jewish and Muslim Holy Land, with its place in biblical stories, its ancient lost cities, and of course, its link to Lawrence of Arabia, putting it at the very center of significant historical events.
The religious and spiritual context of Jordan may also interest and surprise you, regardless of whether you are religious yourself. The eastern banks of the Jordan River are home to more than 100 sites of biblical importance, from Abraham and Moses, to John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, with the founding fathers of the three monotheistic traditions all intimately tied to the Jordanian landscape.
As well as being home to some of the most important religious locations, Jordan is also home to one of the greatest wonders of the world – the lost city of Petra. Carved into the giant red mountains by the Nabataeans more than 2000 years ago, the vast tombs and ancient carvings of a long departed race are truly magnificent. In Nabataean times, Petra was an important junction for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked China, India and Southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.
Jordan’s heritage and religious history is truly fascinating, with many sites to visit across the country.
Bedouin tradition tends to value home cooking above eating out, meaning that most of Jordan’s restaurants and eateries have basic menus complete with simple dishes, however excellent restaurants do exist but will need to be sought out, unless of course, a diet of kebabs and falafel will fulfill you.
In higher-quality restaurants, the best way to eat is to order a variety of small starters known as ‘mezze’, followed by a selection of main meals to be shared by the whole group, or a single, large sharing dish. In larger restaurants, you will find that there could be up to 30 different mezze choices, ranging from simple hummus dishes to mini-mains of chicken liver or wings. Some of the most popular dishes are tabbouleh (a parsley salad), fattoush (Salad garnished with cruton-style pieces), warag aynab (vine leaves stuffed with rice, vegetables and meat), and spiced olives.
You may also find that most good restaurants will also serve Kibbeh – the national dish of Syria and Lebanon, which is a mixture of cracked wheat, grated onion and minced lamb pounded into a paste, shaped into ovals and deep-fried.
For vegetarian diners, mezze dishes are the best to concentrate on as most main courses are almost entirely meat based, with foods such as chicken, lamb and meaty stews widely on offer.
Jordan’s national delicacy is the traditional Bedouin feast dish known as ‘mansaf’ which comprises of slices of boiled lamb or mutton served on a bed of sticky rice, with pine nuts sprinkled on top, along with a creamy sauce of goats-milk yogurt on the side or poured over.
Although Jordan is an Islamic country and drinking alcohol is forbidden under Islam, alcohol is widely available if you know where to look. Market streets and regular eateries will not serve or sell any alcohol, however large hotels and upmarket restaurants will often have a small range on offer, as will the local supermarket and some smaller convenience stores.
However, drinking alcohol in public, or being drunk in public is not allowed and will really offend local people.
Public transport in Jordan is considered rather unreliable, with buses rarely sticking to timetables and only leaving when the bus become full – often meaning there can be rather long waits. Many of the best places to visit are totally inaccessible by public transport, the best and safest way to travel around Jordan tends to be by renting a car.
If you choose to rent a car it is often best to book before you arrive, to ensure you book a safe and fully insured vehicle, as most local rentals offer old cars without MOTs and insurance. One of the best firms is located in Abdoun, called ‘Reliable’, they offer affordable prices to hire a new or one-year old car with air conditioning and room for four people, this includes unlimted milage and full insurance cover. They offer a car drop of service, once you are finished you can drop it off for free at the airport or anywhere in Amman 24 hours a day. They also offer excellent customer service.
However, if you do decide to give the local public transport a try, here are a few things to take note of.
Local people know the bus system by word-of-mouth, no official information about routes, fares or times exist, you mostly have to turn up at the point of departure (which may not be advertised as such) and ask around. On popular city routes waiting times tend to shorter, however on longer and more isolated trips, where only one bus operates per day.
If you choose to take a taxi instead of the local bus, taxis tend to be yellow coloured with green panels on both front doors, with the drivers happy to take you anywhere if the price is right. Taxis tend to start off at good value, however the further you want to go, the more expensive the price becomes, and for example some journeys can cost twice as much as if you rented a car and drove there yourself.
When traveling Jordan, women should not sit in the front seat next to a male driver.