Have you ever looked at pictures of Petra, one of the Wonders of the World, and the beautiful sands of the desert in Wadi Rum where they filmed such movies as “The Martian” and ‘Lawrence of Arabia” and dreamed of visiting? Have you then told friends excitedly about said dreams … only to have people say “the middle east? Are you crazy? I would never go there. Haven’t you heard of all the violence?”
I’m not like other people. Those kinds of statements don’t deter me; they annoy me, but don’t deter me. In fact, they do the opposite. They make me want to go and prove that what I have researched and long to visit is in fact truly safe (why would I involuntarily put my family in danger?) and maybe even a life changing experience.
That’s why I would like to share with you my experience as a woman in her late 40’s who traveled with her husband, two teenagers, and another couple from Israel to Jordan in June 2019.
When I started my research on Jordan, I started my Pinterest board (as any good housewife does) and read many a blog. I remembered that my sister and another friend had visited Jordan within the past few years. I asked them both about their experiences, where they stayed, and so on. Between the two, we decided on a package deal that seemed would fit our personality and budget.
I emailed a gentleman by the name of Nasser at the Petra Gate Hotel. He answered promptly and told us what he could offer us. He gave us a set price for the following: transfer from Israel’s Wadi Araba Border crossing to his hotel, transfer from hotel to Petra, bagged lunch to go, guide for our tour (we pay the Petra entrance fee), dinner at the hotel, transfer the next day to Wadi Rum, small buffet breakfast, bagged lunch to go, (we pay entrance to Wadi Rum), guided Jeep tour, sleep in tents in the desert, dinner in the desert, transport out of Wadi Rum and back to the border. Did you get all that? Yup, it’s a lot. While I’m not usually a ‘package deal’ kind of girl, this time it interested me. Why?
Petra is at least a 2 hour drive from the southern Israeli border. The border crossing is just that, a border crossing. It’s not like crossing from Niagara Falls, Canada over to Niagara Falls, New York where there’s thousands of cars, buses, taxis, etc. There’s nothing there. Nothing. It’s not like you can get out and grab a bus. You must have prearranged travel. For me, having transportation handled is a huge headache saver. You never know when you’re going to get ripped off by people who can charge whatever they want because we don’t know what we’re doing or even worse, we LOOK like we don’t know what we’re doing.
So we booked it. Without the Petra and Wadi Rum entrance, the package deal cost us about $200 USD per person. Petra is a hefty ticket which sets you back about $70 USD per person and Wadi Rum entrance (without the tents or tours) is only $7 USD per person.
Things add up. So we went with the package deal.
Nasser only asked for our nationalities. No confirmation number. No deposit. Being a planner, I was a little stressed out over that. Would anybody show up at the border? Would 6 of us show up and nobody would be there? After all, I had not paid a dime.
Oh well, that’s how it worked. No deposit necessary. Let’s hope for the best.
We arrived in Tel Aviv, Israel on a Wednesday at about 6 PM. We took the fast train to our Airbnb in Jerusalem and met our friends. I was going to arrange for a shuttle that cost $25 USD per person to get from Jerusalem to Eilat (the town that’s attached to this border) but the website kept telling me I had to get to a certain hotel by 4 AM. I wasn’t sure where that was or how to get there and wasn’t comfortable making 6 of us walk with all our stuff around Jerusalem at 3:30 AM so I left it. By the time I tried to book the shuttle while in Jerusalem, it was sold out. Ug.
I emailed Nasser and told him we would NOT be at the border at 9 AM anymore but more like 11 AM. He assured me this was not a problem. He would tell the driver to come later. Seems easy enough. (Unfortunately, when things seem too easy I tend to worry more).
The next morning we arrived at Jerusalem’s central bus station which is right across the street from the central train station. VERY convenient. Why doesn’t every city do this? We walked in at 6:50 AM., got 6 tickets to Eilat, and hopped on the bus. We brought our own water and some snacks as we didn’t know if we would be stopping and it was a good 4 hour bus ride.
In hindsight, I wouldn’t recommend leaving the buying of the tickets that late because these buses do get sold out. We bought tickets on the Egged line which is very popular and common. The reason I couldn’t book online more than 2 weeks before is because they literally have buses going somewhere every minute, so you really don’t need to book that far ahead. Save yourself the worry of booking weeks and months in advance. But maybe, to be safe, give yourself a little more than 10 minutes. We got some of the last tickets on that bus.
The bus was comfy and had Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi booted me out every 10 minutes or so. But I only really needed it to stay in touch with family, so it was fine for me. The drive took us out of Jerusalem, along the Dead Sea, through the desert, past such tourist spots as En-Gedi, Qumran, and Masada. It stopped about two thirds of the way there for a bathroom and snack break. Yup, no bathrooms on the buses. Try not buy snacks here if you can, it’s expensive. As are most things in Israel. Better to grab your water and snacks before you leave.
We arrived in the town of Eilat just before 11 AM. The only way to get to the Jordan border is by taxi or to walk. If you’re a backpacker, go for it. It takes about 40 minutes. In addition, there is a stop right before the central bus station that will lead you into the border crossing. You can actually see the border and you can hop off there if you want. It’s a short hike in off the highway. We needed to get some cash so we went all the way into the town.
If I can stress anything to you about travel, it’s DO YOUR RESEARCH. Here’s why.
I love doing research. It’s a good thing because if I didn’t in this situation, we would have wasted time and money. I knew the basics of getting from the Eilat bus station to the border: that it would cost about $12 USD for a taxi and that was the only way besides walking. At the bus station, my husband asked 3 different workers about a bus to the border and they pointed him to a bus for 4 shekels. Much cheaper. I kept nattering ‘but is it the right border? Egypt is pretty close.” Sure enough, we ask the 4th person and the 4 shekels bus is to Taba, the border for Egypt. No, thanks, not today. We’re going to Jordan. Entirely different country.
People in the countries of Israel and Jordan are kind and helpful. (Like the time we were on a bus in Tel Aviv and had no cash and some man pushed us on and yelled at the bus driver that we were lost and he should let us on for free and then another lady yelled at the bus driver to go off his route to get us to where we want to go. That kind and helpful).
Six of us took two cabs. 40 NIS each which is about $12 USD per cab.
We reach the border. I had read so many blogs on this, even watched YouTube videos. Some people made it seem so easy, others not. One of our people had me stressing that we needed to get a visa to cross and we can’t buy it at the border (which I had researched and couldn’t find any proof of) so I was getting nervous.
One thing I have learned about living in another country for so many years is that patience goes a long way. When cultural difference and language divide us, show patience and kindness and it will help get you through.
First, we paid the fee. 100 NIS ($28 USD) to leave Israel. Then went to the Bio-metric machine to scan our passports and a piece of paper spewed out. If you don’t have a passport with a bio-metric symbol (our friend from Costa Rica didn’t), there is a person to help you personally. Then we had one last checkpoint before officially leaving Israel. We walked straight through the nice, cold, tiny, duty free shop and into Jordan.
Once at the Jordan border, we went to passport control. They wanted to know if we had a tour guide or not. It seems there is a different price whether you enter the country on your own or with a tour guide. We did have a guide arranged that was supposedly waiting outside for us. I showed the emails from the hotel and the gentlemen I had been communicating with. They asked if I could call. The call wouldn’t go through. They kept asking where he was, and I said he told us he would be outside, but they wouldn’t let me go outside to prove it. I guess they finally gave up because they just started processing our passports. It took a few minutes and a form and finally we were done. We walked through one last check point and into the parking lot where our tour guide was waving my name on a sign. We all breathed sighs of relief.
Off we went in 2 taxis to our hotel in Petra. We 3 girls hopped in one and the boys followed behind. About 20 minutes after chatting happily with out taxi driver, he pulls over and says okay you get out and get into the other car now. Not going to lie, we thought we were being kidnapped. What we didn’t know at the time is that there are different taxis for the city and suburbs of Aqaba than the ones that go further into the country. When the boys pulled up behind us, we were still a little scared so we went back to boys and girls taxis. Our cab driver had a new car with air conditioning and even Wi-Fi. He chatted happily all the way there. He told us what to eat, about his life and family. We stopped twice on the way. The first time was appreciated, a little bathroom and water break and our first Turkish coffee! (Yes, Turkish coffee is very popular even though it’s not Turkey). The second time was a great view …. And a shopping tourist trap. They had gorgeous things, don’t get me wrong, but you know it’s the kind of place where they can charge way more for things because there’s no competition. We were excited to get to Petra so we took a few pictures and asked to go.
Finally, we reach out hotel. As we were late, our bagged lunches were ready to go and off we went down the hill to Petra. We paid the fee, met our tour guide, and headed in about 3:30 PM. I was stressed out because I heard Petra closed at 6 PM. In reality, they ask you to leave just before sunset and they start setting up for the night show, which for us, was 7:30 PM. As we headed in, we saw many a tourist sunburned and sweating and looking a little miserable. Make sure if you’re doing Petra in the day you have a hat and lots of water. More water than you ever think you’ll need. They do sell water inside but of course it’ll cost you. Wear good closed shoes. I wore good walking sandals, but it is the desert and eventually the sand in my shoes was very annoying. We liked having the tour guide. He stopped at important spots and provided us with a lot of history and background which made our experience even better.
Petra really is more than the Treasury, which is the most photographed part of Petra. It’s a beautiful place full of history and views unlike any you’ve ever seen.
At the far end of Petra is the Monastery. Our guide ended the tour and our little group headed towards it. As we started walking up, someone said it’s 850 stairs to the Monastery. I kept thinking why are we doing this? We’re so hot and exhausted. Finally I broke the silence and said those words out loud. Our friends turned to me and said I thought it was yours. I said no, I thought it was yours. We all had a good laugh …. and then us girls decided to have a nap right here while the men took the trip up.
Not a shabby place to rest. But of course, their hike was worth it.
We were asked to leave as sunset approached and they were setting up their candles for the night show. I REALLY wanted to come back for the night show, but we were so exhausted from our long day of travel, so we returned to the hotel. Our dinner, which was included in our package, was ready on the rooftop at 9 PM. I wasn’t sure what to expect, since our bagged lunches were quite simple. This dinner was the opposite of that. It was a FEAST.
Not the greatest of pictures for a food blogger, I apologize. We were so hungry and so excited it was all I could do to keep the hands away from the food as I tried to get a decent picture before everything was devoured. The main dish was mansef, which is a traditional Jordanian meal consisting of lamb cooked in fermented dried yogurt and served with rice. The sides were tabbouleh, hummus, falafel (not pictured), baba ganoush, and of course the pita. We enjoyed the food, the view, and the company of good friends. The Muslim prayers echoing in the distance seemed to add flavor of the food and the experience.
If only I had a glass of wine. Don’t forget like I did: this is a Muslim country. The stores do not sell alcohol. I am told many restaurants do. We completely forgot this. I did read on another blog that a lady brought wine into the country which is acceptable and the hotel even cooled it for her. If I ever go back, I’ll be trying that.
We slept in our very basic rooms, enjoyed a simple breakfast the next day, and were off in our taxis to Wadi Rum by 9 AM. One of our taxi drivers was the same throughout the whole trip. Since we were relaxed again, off we went: girls in one taxi, boys in another. About 30 minutes into the drive, they pull over. We get the ‘kidnapped’ feeling again. We hear some yelling and 2 minutes later, our taxi driver runs back to our cab with a round loaf of bread the size of my head and a cup of tea for us all. The bread was so hot I could barely hold it. We think maybe he ran into his momma’s house and stole the bread for the family breakfast? Whatever happened, we LOVED that bread. We had some soft cheese in our lunch packets so we smeared it all over the piping hot bread and happily munched all the way to Wadi Rum.
Entering Wadi Rum, we paid the cheap entrance fee and inside were dropped off to our next tour guide. He piled all our suitcases in the front of the truck, and we all got in the back which had benches and a nice covering above us for shade. With that hot desert air blowing in our faces, we were taken from one spot to another, to ride camels, to climb rock formations, and to rest in tents with complimentary tea in each one. Many other people on other blogs thought this wasn’t adventurous enough for them. We were in Wadi Rum in June. The heat was INTENSE. There is no way we could have handled hiking in the desert in the day or even riding camels for too long in the sun. At another time of year, perhaps. But the Jeep tour was good enough for us. You are allowed to stay at the rest stops pretty much as long as you like. The drivers all gather in the tents to rest and visit as we were.
After a few hours, we were brought to our campsite. We did not choose one of the luxury campsites. We wanted a more authentic experience. Our tents held 2 people each. They were about a million degrees when we arrived at 4 PM. I wondered how on earth we would ever sleep in there, until I realized that the desert temperatures drop at night. We rested, enjoyed the desert, stayed in touch with our loved ones with fantastic Wi-Fi, had showers, and waited for dinner. Dinner was chicken and vegetables cooked in the ground. A big buffet was brought out about 8:30 PM with all the fixings and sauces. Again, it was fantastic. We later lay in the sand and saw more stars than we’ve ever seen with the human eyes (and I spent many years camping up in northern Ontario where there are no city lights for miles) and went to bed. The silence in the desert was beyond peaceful.
The next morning we were ushered out bright and early by 8 AM. The trucks took us back out to the entrance. Our camp was not very far from the entrance. You can also take camels back if you so choose. We had our drivers to meet and weren’t willing to wake up earlier, so the trucks it was for us.
Our taxi drivers took us back to the border. We tipped them nicely when we left. They were such a wonderful part of our experience. The border returning was a little easier as we knew what we were doing this time. Back through we went and back into Israel. Our only problem was it was Saturday, the sabbath day. So the town of Eilat was mostly closed, with maybe one or two convenience stores open. We could have gone down to the resorts on the Red Sea, but we had so much luggage and were so tired we decided to just stay put and save some money. We had to wait for 6 hours for the first bus back to Jerusalem. We weren’t the only ones, many also gathered and were sitting and waiting. After a busy two days, sleeping on the floor in a bus station for a few hours wasn’t the worst way to spend our time. I won’t share those pictures, they’re not so pretty.
All in all, our trip to Jordan was life changing. I have never seen a climate like that. I have never been so nervous to go to a country, and yet had such a wonderful experience with the people. They were overwhelmingly kind, hospitable, and helpful. We never felt unsafe (except for false thoughts of kidnapping). We are seasoned travelers and try to always be careful with our bags and never felt we were being targeted. The evening meal we had at Nasser’s hotel will go down as one of the most memorable of my life. Gaining a little understanding into how people thousands of years ago had to live and travel gave us an appreciation for our possessions and way of life.
Travel makes you richer, they say. In our case, on this trip, those words certainly came true.