Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Jordan: The Perfect Introduction to the Middle East

29

Dear Readers,

I know that many of you long to see the world.  So you’ve traveled a bit in Europe.  You’ve done the resort vacation in Mexico.  Perhaps you’ve done a bit of Central America or even Asia.

And you’d like to try somewhere new– somewhere adventurous, and exciting, and DIFFERENT.

May I make a suggestion?  Go to Jordan.

But it’s in the Middle East!

Yes, it is.

But is it safe?!

Absolutely.

I can give you three reasons why Jordan is a great destination for first-timers in the Middle East:

Jordan is safe.

While the Middle East may conjure up images of war, Jordan is a very safe country — most consider it the safest country in the region by far — and has been a safe country for a very long time.  You certainly can’t say that about Syria or Lebanon, and even Egypt and Israel concern people and governments more than Jordan.  While Syria is a mess right now, this does not affect Jordan’s safety whatsoever.

Has Jordan had isolated violence and terrorism in the past?  Very, very little.  Just like the United States has.  Just like the United Kingdom has.  Violence and terrorism are so rare in Jordan that its safety is on par with countries of the Western world.

Jordan is well-suited for tourism.

Jordan is chock full of interesting places to see and adventures to explore, and you’ll see some of them further down.  But as far as infrastructure goes, Jordanians have been welcoming tourists for a long time.  English is widely spoken (as is French).  There are hotels at a variety of price ranges, and while I didn’t experience public transportation, I did enjoy exploring Jordan by car.

In short, Jordan is well-equipped for tourists and there are resources for you.

Jordan will welcome you.

Whatever negative images you may have about Middle Easterners will fly out the window as Jordanians welcome you with warm hospitality.  Jordanians are some of the most friendly people I’ve ever met, and I was welcomed into their hearts and homes more or less instantly.

I should mention that Western women are welcomed, even solo travelers, and as long as you respect the local culture and cover your limbs and cleavage, you’ll be fine.

Because of its safety, its tourism infrastructure, and its welcoming nature, Jordan is the perfect destination for first-time visitors to the Middle East.

Here are some of the activities you can do in Jordan:

Love to Cook?  Learn to Cook Like a Jordanian Grandmother!

At Beit Sitti in Amman, I took a cooking class unlike any other I’ve taken.  Rather than everyone having their own cooking station, we each pitched in with different tasks to make a communal meal.  “Beit Sitti” means “My Grandmother’s House,” and that aptly describes the atmosphere — we chatted, laughed, and feasted on SO much delicious food!  I still dream of the mouttabal (roasted eggplant dip).

Love Iconic Experiences?  Float in the Dead Sea!

Yes, floating in the Dead Sea is a lot of fun, and a sensation unlike anything you’ve felt before — but it’s also the key opportunity to get pictures of yourself to show off to your friends!

This is one thing in Jordan that you MUST do.  The Dead Sea is easy enough to get to — make sure you don’t miss floating!

Love Cultural Experiences?  Have Dinner with a Local Family!

One of my most special Jordan experiences was having dinner with a family in Ajloun.  Some families in this region have been launching homestay businesses.  I spent the evening eating a delicious meal and later was climbed on by two adorable, rambunctious children.

Love Indiana Jones?  Get Adventurous at Petra!

It won’t take long for the adventurous spirit to come over you — at Petra, covered with so many different ruins, mountains, and trails, you’ll become an explorer in no time.  I loved hiking to the Monastery (by riding a donkey, which WAS NOT easier than climbing!), and it was a blast climbing through the nooks and crannies of the different mountains and canyons.

Love to Relax in the Spa?  Soak in the Ma’in Hot Springs!

There is nothing like standing in a pool and letting a natural hot waterfall run over you.  The Ma’in Hot Springs and Six Senses Spa has plenty of these waterfalls, and it’s the perfect place to soak away the dirt of the desert.  If you love spas, split your time between here and the Dead Sea.

Love Beautiful Landscapes?  Camp in Wadi Rum!

I don’t think anywhere in the world has more magnificent colors than Wadi Rum, the epic desert in southern Jordan where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed.  Try to camp in the desert if you can — that will give you access to seeing the beautiful colors at every time of day, and they’re always changing dramatically.

Love History?  Explore Jerash!

Chances are that you haven’t heard about the city of Jerash.  But if you love your history and ruins, you can’t miss this place.  The ruins are spectacular.  The hilariously cheesy chariot show is worth seeing as well.

Love Tea?  Good — You’ll Drink a LOT of It.

The tea never stops flowing in Jordan.  You’ll be offered tea wherever you go, and  it’s served in tiny glasses with sugar and sometimes mint.  Get ready to drink a lot of it.  There were days when I had seven or eight glasses!

Love Cities?  Check out Rainbow Street in Amman!

The Old City of Amman was as traditional a Middle Eastern city as you could expect — but Rainbow Street could have fit seamlessly into Brooklyn or San Francisco!  Rather than bars, you’ll find a lot of teahouses and shisha cafes with character.

Conclusions About Jordan

I’d like once again to extend my thanks to the Jordan Tourism Board for hosting me in this beautiful country.  It’s a week that I’ll never forget.

For those of you who are skeptical about whether bloggers can be objective when given press trips, I understand your concerns, as some people are afraid to criticize anything they get for free.  I am not one of them.  Let me remind you that I had no qualms about eviscerating one press trip provider when it was warranted.

I bubble over with ebullient praise for Jordan because I love Jordan.  I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know.  It’s not nearly as visited as it should be and it has something for everyone, whether you’re here for the hiking or the spas, whether you’re here solo, with your partner, or with your family.

I hope that you consider it.

Comments

29 Responses to “Jordan: The Perfect Introduction to the Middle East”
  1. We are in Jordan right now and can echo this 100%…Kate isn’t blowing smoke….Jordan is an amazing place. Sadly they got an unfair shake of negative attention when the Arab Spring shook things up elsewhere in the region. Tourism is actually pretty slow here right now…so get your butts down here and check out this crazy little country with SO much to do!

  2. I completely agree with you — Jordan is the perfect place to get a taste of the Middle East. On the other hand, it’s also unlike any other place in the world. The great expanse of Wadi Rum, the ruins at Jerash, the old forts, the incredible beauty and history of Petra. On the subject of Petra — do people still live in the caves there? Years back I was in Petra on a magazine assignment to interview/photograph one of these families, which was fascinating, including spending time in the tiny one-room schoolhouse with a little girl. There was talk then of relocating these families. Do you know if it was ever done?

    • Sabina says:

      Jim, I just today returned from a week in Jordan. When I was in Petra I was invited by a Bedouin I met into his mother’s cave for tea. I’ll be writing a blog post about this shortly. His mother was named Basma (and is actually someone Kate met too, as she is pictured in the photo Kate uses to illustrate her tea drinking experiences in Jordan). The Bedouin man said he lived in a cave about 20 minutes away from his mother’s. I did go to his mother’s cave and had tea and smoked shisha with them. Later my guide and a Jordanian friend of mine who is also a guide told me that the people who did live in caves in Petra were, in fact, relocated and that the very, very few people who still live in these caves don’t live there full time. I can believe that Basma does indeed not live there full time as her one-room cave was almost completely barren, save for a very small pile of things inside the cave entrance. So the answer to your question is yes and no. People do still live in the caves but they also live elsewhere.

      • Thanks Sabina. When I was there years ago the Bedouins told me the people were going to be relocated from their caves. I was wondering if it happened. I still have the small gift the little girl gave me (I was there to photograph her and her family) after I had given her a few of the small cans the 35mm film came in, after I saw her looking at them as if they were of great value. The real Bedouin are wonderful people.

  3. John says:

    Great wrap up post. I’d say the Jordanian Tourism Board’s money was well spent – your accounts have given me that final push and now Jordan is OFFICIALLY on my list of places to visit in the next year. Thanks for your detailed accounts throughout your stay – it was a pleasure to follow.

  4. tunimaal says:

    Such a great article. You make us dream and you help that country by showing its great sides. Most of people may think it’s too dangerous but not at all…. I ill definitly go over there (and even to the other countries around)

  5. Donovan says:

    Great article.

    I agree – Jordan is probably the safest option for anyone wanting to visit the Mid East right now. Wonderful people too.

  6. Caitlin says:

    Are you counting Turkey? That’s in the Middle East too.

  7. Amanda says:

    Jordan has definitely been added to my list in the past year. I think it would be a great introduction to the Middle East, and really hope I get to visit someday!

  8. Leslie says:

    I’m considering Turkey for this year’s travel. But Jordan is nearer to Qatar where I am now. Bcoz of your blog, I’ll consider Jordan! Hope my jordanian friend would be there when I come! :)

  9. Loved all your Jordan posts and we totally wanna go now!!

  10. Nikki says:

    Thanks so much for your blog on this – I’ve been waiting to see your writeup! I’m going there in April and doing almost everything you wrote about (including camping in the desert!). Can’t wait!

  11. jenny@atasteoftravel says:

    I have been reading all your great posts on Jordan and would desperately love to go there. I was going to Jordan and Syria last year before all the trouble started but had not considered it again. Maybe now is the time to start planning Jordan again

  12. Alouise says:

    Great post. All those questions I kept going “yes I love that, and I love that and I love that” so Jordan is looks to be a great country for me to visit. It’s been on my travel wishlist since watching Indiana Jones as a kid.

  13. I’ve bee a jordan fan for so long, and you have been writing about it a lot and it itches me now to go! Its on top of my list, specially that it is only 10 hours away over land, visa on arrival for an Egyptian like me! I have to go!

  14. Cherina says:

    I’ve been really enjoying following your Jordan trip – it’s been somewhere I’ve longed to go to for a few years now. Seems I know a lot of people who have been there just recently. Thanks for the inspiration!!

  15. Alex says:

    “For those of you who are skeptical about whether bloggers can be objective when given press trips, I understand your concerns, as some people are afraid to criticize anything they get for free.”

    This is something I’ve struggled with since I’ve started accepting free tours etc. in exchange for blog coverage. Now Kate, I’m a huge fan, but you have to realize that there is a huge difference between saying something negative about a trip on which you were shipwrecked (!) and a saying something negative about a trip in which everything went as planned and the people were extremely friendly and sweet. I’m not saying that you aren’t being 100% truthful about your enthusiastic experience in Jordan, but you’ve got to admit the whole objectivity thing is a little more complex when there isn’t a disaster like a shipwreck involved.

    That aside, I loved reading about your trip and will certainly reference back if ever I am headed in that direction!

  16. Sabina says:

    Kate, this is a great post. I agree with everything. More importantly, that woman in the photo you use to illustrate the popularity of the tea drinking, I think I met her the day before yesterday!!!! She was living in a cave in Petra. Her (gorgeous) son Oudi put me on the back of a camel and took me up to her cave, where we had tea and she chain smoked cigarettes for an hour. Her name was Basma. Did the woman in the photo tell you she lives in a cave? Where exactly did you meet her? And did you meet her son Oudi? If so, I don’t think you would have wanted to leave Jordan, so good looking is he. I will send you a photo of her through Twitter so you can confirm if this is indeed the same woman.

  17. Ally says:

    WOW to the first photo!

  18. Lilian says:

    Wow, I really want to go to Jordan now. Kate I think you’re probably responsible for half my travel wish list!

  19. Ross says:

    Beautifully written post. You are dead right about Jordan being a perfect middle eastern country to visit. I think the same, for anybody who is a little apprehensive about Arab countries then it is the ideal spot. Very scenic and very welcoming. Wadi Rum at sunset was my favourite spot

  20. Kelly says:

    I was curious to see what you had to say about Jordan – and slightly disappointed. I travelled there solo, and as a woman alone, I had so many problems. :( Perhaps it’s because I took the “backpacker” approach, but I was often groped and harassed, and yes, I did cover up!

    My tour guide in Wadi Rum took me down a canyon, solo, and took his clothes off. I ran.

    I ended up skipping Amman and spending 14 hours in an airport because I was so upset over the incidents.

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  1. [...] say the perpetrators were under watch every step of their way. In fact, Jordan has remained relatively peaceful through years of violence in its neighboring countries—yet the country may suffer from [...]

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  3. [...] say the perpetrators were under watch every step of their way. In fact, Jordan has remained relatively peaceful through years of violence in its neighboring countries—yet the country may suffer from [...]

  4. [...] say the perpetrators were under watch every step of their way. In fact, Jordan has remained relatively peaceful through years of violence in its neighboring countries—yet the country may suffer from [...]

  5. [...] say the perpetrators were under watch every step of their way. In fact, Jordan has remained relatively peaceful through years of violence in its neighboring countries—yet the country may suffer from [...]

  6. [...] step of their way. In fact, Jordan has remained relatively peaceful through years of violence in its neighboring [...]

  7. […] It’s possible that when your parents hear about Bosnia or Kosovo, they’ve only thought of those countries in the context of war, violence, or ethnic cleansing, when in reality, the Balkans have been safe for travelers for more than a decade. Likewise, they may lump Jordan in with more troubled countries in the Middle East like Syria, when in reality Jordan is an extremely safe place to travel. […]



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