When you visit Israel and squeeze in as many of those must-see sites you can into your precious few days here, don’t forget to add a quick stopover in Jordan to your trip! The amazing Lost City of Petra is a relatively quick hop over the border, and combined with the stunning desert of Wadi Rum, and the ancient Roman ruins of Jerash, you won’t be sorry you added a tour to Jordan to your Israel vacation/trip!
After many years dreaming of visiting Petra myself, I recently joined a 3-day tour to Jordan with Abraham Tours, taking my 11-year-old son along for the once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’ve summed up the tour below with plenty of pictures, just to entice you over too!
It’s an early start if you want to catch a tour to Jordan!
The tours run by Abraham Tours actually run from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (there are 2-day and 3-day options from both cities), so set that alarm clock early, baby (we’re talking 6 am departure)! We joined the tour at Beit Shean (if you are staying in the north of Israel this is an alternative pickup point, which saves you from trekking down to Tel Aviv/Jerusalem), before heading to the Sheikh Hussein border crossing down the road.
This is probably the easiest crossing to do, with visas available for most nationalities and which can be obtained easily at the border; prior permits are not needed except for restricted nationalities (see more details here, or check with the guys at Abraham Tours, they’re extremely knowledgeable about these border crossings). By the way, if you have dual citizenship that includes an Israeli passport as well as a foreign passport, this is also easily doable, just make sure you get BOTH passports stamped on the Israeli side, before moving to the Jordanian side of the border.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, the border crossing was a piece of cake, and the transfer from Israeli mini-bus to Jordanian guide and driver as smooth as a bar of Cadbury’s Galaxy…
Once snugly settled in our Jordanian minibus (by the way, we were a mix of English, Germans, Dutch, Polish, French-Canadians, and Swiss), our guide Emad explained a little about the day ahead, while providing some great initial insights into the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. We stopped for some tea at his hilltop abode, a great place overlooking some magnificent views, before continuing on to Jerash.
What can I say about Jerash, other than WOW…
This ancient Roman city is one of the biggest and best-preserved set of Greco-Roman ruins in the world, and it’s pretty darned impressive! From the hugely imposing 2nd-century Hadrian’s Arch, which is your main entry point to the site (see below), to the temple of Zeus and ancient Roman theater (expect to see bagpipe-playing Jordanian soldiers wowing the crowds), there’s an over-abundance of ancient sites within this old walled city! I was just amazed that some of the pillars and buildings were still standing in all their glory, despite two earthquakes and plenty of wars in the region!
You could probably spend all day at Jerash, marveling at all that history, but when you’ve only got 3 days to see the best of Jordan, it’s time to move on! After a quick and very decent lunch in a local restaurant (note that on this tour all the meals are included – if you want a beer or additional drinks, you have to pay more), we were back in our minibus and on our way to the capital of Jordan, Amman.
Amman is around 50km south of Jerash, so we were there in an hour or so. The drive through rush-hour downtown traffic made it a little longer, but it was great to see the streets of Amman in action!
We made it to The Citadel, one of the seven ancient hills that originally made up the city of Amman (which now encompasses 19 hills, which includes a population of some 4 million!). As the sun was descending, and a few clouds still lingered in the sky, the weather was perfect for taking in some of the stunning views of the city (it was also late March, probably the best time of year to visit Jordan). And after a quick visit to the museum at The Citadel and the Umayyad Palace, we were soon on our way again – including a quick pit stop in downtown Amman for some local Knaifeh (a Middle Eastern delicacy, also found in the Arab cities of Israel).
Next destination, and where we were going to sleep for the next 2 nights – Petra!
After around 3 hours drive, we finally made it to the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp, just outside Petra, at around 9 pm. With lights strewn across the pitch-black mountains which sit alongside the camp – which got a “Wowwww” from all the minibus – this was an enchanting start! After checking into our 2 man Bedouin tent with very comfy beds, it was time for a late dinner, some sweet tea, and some touristy conversation in the main Bedouin tent…
One word of warning for you taking a tour to Jordan at this time of year – sites in the desert get bloody FREEZING at night, so bring some warm clothes!
When you’ve got The Lost City of Petra on your agenda, it’s not hard to wake up bright and early!
After a quick and tasty breakfast in the morning desert sun, we were soon headed to the main site of Petra (a quick 10 minute drive from our camp). Once in – and after receiving plenty of warnings about the leech-like operators trying to get you to take a carriage ride or ride horseback – we trekked down towards The Siq, the amazing narrow rocky mountain path that leads to The Treasury. Stunning scenery, simply one of those places you have to see in the flesh and forget about everything you ever saw on YouTube…
When you finally wind your way through The Siq, the path suddenly opens up into a wide open space and there before you is one of the true wonders of the world – The Treasury! Take a moment to let the awe sink in. And then take another moment. And then sit down and soak in the feeling. Don’t forget to pull your camera out and take some shots, because who knows when you’ll be back at this wonder!
And yes, don’t forget, Petra is where this happened…
From The Treasury you can choose to continue on through the park to other sites like The Monastery. Or, if you have a sick kid burning up with a fever, you could head back to the camp! At this point, we have to give a big thanks to the driver of our minibus, who took us to find a local pharmacy, and then transported us back to the camp.
At times like these, not understanding a word of Arabic, it was reassuring to have someone help us out. So if you were wondering if it was worth taking an organized group tour – and frankly I hate being part of a group – yes, a group tour to Jordan is an awesome way to see the Kingdom, especially when life pops up its ugly head at the most inconvenient time! You can, of course, arrange to visit Jordan all on your own, and you may well save some money doing it. But sometimes it ain’t a bad thing to let someone else take responsibility for all the hassle, especially when you know you’re getting a good deal anyway.
The others in our group continued on, but upon their return to the camp later in the afternoon, I was a little happier to hear that we’d seen probably the best Petra had to offer, meaning The Treasury was probably the most beautiful and inspiring part of Petra. My son had a chance to rest and eat and consume some medicine, and was soon back on his feet and raring to go.
And go we did (almost all of the minibus), back to the town center of Petra, and more specifically, to the Cave Bar, a great little touristy bar serving some local beer, and a tasty hot chocolate that had my son drooling. After that, it was back to the camp for dinner, some more sweet tea, and some Bedouin drumming to get us in the groove for a good night’s sleep. Before dropping off, I have to mention the camp hosts here, who I thought were terrific; they also worried about my son and how he was feeling, and constantly offered to make some special herb tea for him. Bless ’em!
With a 2-3 hour drive down to Wadi Rum on the schedule, we had to eat breakfast early and set off fairly sharpish (around 7:45). The drive itself was fairly uneventful, apart from a great pitstop along the way, where we snapped up some souvenirs, topped up our water supply, and took some glorious shots of some amazing desert valleys.
Upon arriving at Wadi Rum, we were greeted by what looked like a scene from Mad Max. Scores of old Toyota pickups were strewn across the desert landscape before us in what made for a very photogenic scene. And before long, it was us piled into the back of 3 of those pickups, roaring through the amazing desert vistas!
Familiar with the deserts of Israel, I wasn’t expecting to be wowed quite as much as I was with Wadi Rum! It’s also easy to see why so many films are made here (including the Oscar-winning Lawrence of Arabia, Red Planet, The Martian, and Transformers) – the landscape is out of this world!
One of our first stops was at a giant sand dune, which had my son racing up it like a pro – obviously, the fever had passed and he was right as rain again! From the top of the dune, there were some majestic views to take in, while my son was more interested in running and rolling back down again!
From there, we continued on through the desert, having to stop for a pack of wild camels that crossed our path. Another moment to truly savor!
We then headed to the spot where Lawrence of Arabia set up camp, a heck of an impressive spot! Of course, there’s now the obligatory Bedouin camp there, selling bits and pieces and serving up some sweet tea! After that we headed to our final point where we settled in for lunch, topped off with a legendary Jordanian dessert known as Um Ali (a sweet, milky, bready pudding kind of dish – very tasty!).
Once we’d stuffed ourselves silly, it was time to head back to the border with Israel, the most painful part of the trip – a SIX-hour drive! But coupled with our guide Emad’s efforts to get us all singing some Arabic songs, the drive went fairly quickly.
It wasn’t long before the twinkling lights of Israel could be seen from beyond the waters of the Dead Sea (on the Jordanian side of the sea), and we were soon crossing the border at the Allenby crossing. This time the crossing was probably even smoother than the crossing at Beit Shean/Sheikh Hussein, and any worries I had about the two passports I was carrying, were completely out of place. The Allenby crossing also seemed a lot newer and organized (at least on the Israeli side), and it wasn’t long before my son and I were on a bus home heading northwards.
The other members of our minibus continued on to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv with a bus supplied by Abraham Tours, just in case you were wondering.
This was an awesome trip, one that I’ll never forget! It was actually harder than I imagined, largely due to the distances we covered over the 3 days, and also having to worry about my kid. But I can highly recommend it, and if you’re looking for an excellent tour, head straight to Abraham Tours. They were very professional, answered all the questions I had (pre-tour), and seem to have teamed up with some excellent people in Jordan.
If you’re on the fence about a trip to Jordan (what, after reading the above???), get off the fence and BOOK THAT TOUR!