What you’d rather the postcard told you, as well as “wish you were here.”
Famed for its iconic Petra Archaeologic Park - instantly recognisable because of Indiana Jones. But whips and hi-jinks aside, Jordan is a beautiful Middle Eastern kingdom with many a drawcard.
When to go
While the weather may be a bit warm for some, there are advantages in visiting the Middle East in the “low season”. In June/July, with temperatures in the mid-30s, and Europeans basking in their own place in the sun, the traditional tourist hot spot of Petra in Jordan has a decidedly relaxed feel about it.
You can actually get a photo of the famed Treasury without hordes of tourists in the frame (but more about that later).
What to see in the capital city of Amman
I started my July journey in Jordan’s capital, Amman, which is a good base to fly in and out of but offers little by the way of charm or tourist attractions.
The Citadel, on the highest of the hills the city is built on (think Rome), is a very, very small version of the Acropolis. Pedestrian steps from there take you down to an amphitheatre and further down to a customary souk (covered market) and the main street (for what it’s worth).
The first thing to strike you about Jordan is the traffic, bumper to bumper almost constantly. It appears that three rows of vehicles are trying to fit into one lane. “Merging” is the concept, although the result is generally gridlock involving a lot of tooting, arm waving and (I imagine) a bit of colourful language (my Arabic isn’t that sharp).
However, out of Amman, the central highway which runs roughly north to south to the coastal port/resort of Aqaba works pretty well. In three hours you are at Petra, famed for its elaborate ancient architecture chiselled out of pink-hued cliffs.
What to do in Petra
Unless you are history buff, don’t bother with a guide. Pay your JD50 (NZ$105) and grab the map/info pamphlet from the ticket office.
The site is also well signposted with information boards. On my first night I did Petra by Night, a candlelit procession to the Treasury for 18JD (NZ$38). Silence is only broken by a haunting flute, echoing off the panoramic cliffs which are lit up in spectacular fashion to bring the evening event to a close.
No trip to Petra is complete without at least a day trip to the desert region of Wadi Rum. Those with deeper pockets than I can stay at luxury camps overnight. I paid about NZ$400 for a driver who was fantastic. Our “day trip” started at 2.30pm and ended 12 hours later. The genuine warmth and hospitality of the Jordanians is something to experience. The trip also included a three-hour drive from Petra to Wadi Rum, plus a Ute ride into the desert and dinner at one of the ritzy camps.
Once-in-a lifetime Petra
A stroke of luck saw my visit coincide with a rare lunar eclipse. My driver had phoned around to find the best place to view this and also established that an astronomer from Aman would be on hand to answer any questions.
To stand in the middle of a desert in the Middle East viewing the eclipse via a powerful telescope was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Where to stay in Petra
In Petra I stayed at the iconic Petra Guest House Hotel, the closest accommodation to the historic site and cut into the towering cliffs. Its Cave Bar (for obvious reasons) is also a bit of a landmark.
I returned to Amman for my onward flight via the King’s Highway, which runs parallel to the Desert Road. This included stops at the fairly ordinary Karak Castle and the market town of Madaba, famous for its mosaics including a remarkable map of the Holy Lands on the floor of St George’s Church. You can also take in nearby Mount Nebo, where Moses is said to have seen the promised land (on a clear day you can see the edge of the Dead Sea).
Back in Amman for an evening, I had time to reflect on seeing one of the Wonders of the World at Petra and a very special night under the stars at Wadi Rum.