I stared up at the majestic rock carvings of the Treasury. If these stones could talk, I wondered, what would they tell us about history? What would they tell us about our own humanity? The building seemed to quietly watch the chaos in front of it, as if it knew how insignificant our presence was within the vast span of history.
I met my travel buddy for the first time in the taxi to the airport. She was a colleague from Ireland, and we had both expressed interest in traveling to Jordan in a Facebook group where crew from our airline shared travel plans and tips. To my relief, she was a great travel buddy – laid back, friendly and down-to-earth.
We landed in Amman around 10am and didn’t wait too long getting through immigration. The entry visa for Jordan cost about $50 USD for each of us. Once we were through customs, we headed down to the Starbucks on the main floor of the airport to meet our guide, a local man named Alaa Ahmad who provided private tours to airline crew. From the airport, it took about an hour and a half to get to the Dead Sea Spa Hotel, where our tour guide had secured us beach access and lunch.
One thing that I hadn’t realized was how fast the Dead Sea is shrinking. Signposts along the pathway to the beach showed us where the shores had been over the past 20 years. And the water level still goes down over a meter every year, with experts predicting that it could be gone by the year 2050. If you want to see it, see it soon.
The shore is also the lowest accessible point of dry land on earth, measured at around 420m below sea level. The water was surprisingly still and the whole place had an almost eerie sense of calm, making it easy to forget about the political unrest on the shores directly across the water from us in Israel and Palestine.
The mud from the shores of the Dead Sea is known for its rich mineral content and therapeutic properties, so of course there were buckets of it for visitors to slather on their skin. We covered ourselves in the thick gooey mud and awkwardly made our way into the salty water. Staying afloat in the Dead Sea was easy, but keeping our balance while getting in and out of the water was really difficult. I floated for a while, enjoying the tranquility of the area as the water washed the mud off my skin. Not all of it came off though, even after a bit of scrubbing, and my skin remained slightly stained for another day or two.
Eventually we got back into the car and continued up the winding highway into the mountains. Since our time in Jordan was fairly short, our plan was to spend the first night in the town of Petra, and visit the ancient site the following day.
I’m not sure how long we drove, but the sun was starting to set when we pulled in front of a tiny building on the edge of the mountain. Beside the building was a sort of patio – a few tables & chairs on the edge of the cliff that gave an amazing view all the way to Israel. Our guide purchased us each a cold can of coke and while we gazed out at the breathtaking scenery around us, one of the locals jumped down to a ledge below where we were sitting and started to play a song on his flute.
When we finally got to Petra, our tour guide checked us into the La Maison Hotel, which was about a 5-minute walk from the Petra visitor’s center. The hotel wasn’t fancy, but it was close to where we wanted to go, and a fairly comfortable (and affordable) place to spend one night before heading off to explore one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
I woke up early on my second day in Jordan with a sore throat and visibly swollen tonsils. After a quick Google search, I discovered there was a hospital about a 15-minute drive away, so I arranged a taxi through the hotel concierge. We were planning to spend the morning at the ancient city of Petra before driving to a camp in Wadi Rum, so I figured if I hurried I could grab some antibiotics and be back before breakfast was finished.
It was a beautiful drive, first through the colourful backstreets of Petra, then up into the mountains. When we got to the hospital, the taxi driver insisted on coming in with me. He told me the doctor would speak some English, but the reception staff would not. He was right.
I was led to a private area where I waited on a cot in the smallest, most humble hospital room I had ever seen. The bedsheets didn’t look very clean and I was thankful I wasn’t there for something more serious. The doctor came in after a few minutes and I painfully explained what was wrong. He told me to open my mouth and I did; he then stuck in a tongue depressor and his iPhone flashlight. “Ahh,” he said, and left the room without another word. My driver came in a moment later, holding my prescription. “Infected throat,” he told me. It was the first — and hopefully last — time I’ve ever received a medical diagnosis from a taxi driver.
After a quick stop at a pharmacy back in town, I asked the driver to drop me off back at my hotel so I could grab some breakfast with my travel buddy before heading down to the ancient site. It wasn’t the most ideal day to hike through the desert but we were scheduled to leave for Wadi Rum that afternoon, and I knew I’d be more likely to regret bumming around the hotel, instead of visiting the one spot that had inspired me to come to Jordan in the first place.
At breakfast we met up again with our tour guide, and he introduced us to three other travelers who had hired his colleague to take them around Jordan. They were planning to visit Petra as well, so we decided to all walk down together.
It cost us around 50 JOD to get into the historical site. Beyond the Petra Visitor’s Center are numerous vendors selling local souvenirs. We stopped at one and bought some traditional headscarves to help shield us from the heat; the vendor showed us how to wrap and tie them, something I unfortunately haven’t been able to replicate since.
We then started down the Bab as-Siq (“Gate of the Siq”), which is about a half-mile-long pathway that takes visitors to the Siq, a narrow gorge that leads the way into the ancient city. Walking from the Visitor’s Center to the Siq took around 15-20 minutes but can be quite hot as there is no shade along the way. There are horses, donkeys and carriages that can take you along this path (for a generous tip), though we didn’t do this as we weren’t sure how well the animals were treated.
Walking through the Siq is beautiful. The rock walls soar up on both sides to heights of up to 150 meters, and at times we had to hug the walls of the narrow pathway to avoid being hit by oncoming carriages. After walking for about 30 minutes, we finally caught a glimpse of the Treasury, peeking through the walls of the gorge like a golden mirage.
Though the area around it was packed with tourists and vendors, the Treasury was still impossibly beautiful. I stared up at the majestic rock carvings. If these stones could talk, I wondered, what would they tell us about history? What would they tell us about our own humanity? The building seemed to quietly watch the chaos in front of it, as if it knew how insignificant our presence was within the vast span of history. I wish I had a photo that would properly do it justice, but it really is a place you have to see in person to experience its full beauty. The Petra Archaeological Park also offers evening candlelight tours to the Treasury, which I hope to experience on a future visit.
Once we got past the Treasury, everything else seemed to be a bit underwhelming, especially with all the vendors selling trinkets and advertising wifi hotspots. We were glad to see a stand selling fresh juice though, so we sat down and enjoyed some refreshing pomegranate juice served by a guy who looked like an Arabic Jack Sparrow.
Since our time in Petra was limited and the rest of the group wanted to hike to the end, I let them go on and conserved my energy for a bit before continuing on alone. The short break also allowed me a chance to soak in the beauty of the place beyond the striking walls of the Siq and dazzling beauty of the Treasury. I marveled at the ruins of Petra’s 8,000-seat Nabatean theater and the ancient tombs which, although beautifully carved out of the cliffs, could almost be missed at first glance.
Unfortunately I didn’t make it much further than this; the heat and fever were getting the better of me, and I knew that every meter I walked, I would have to walk again to go back. Walking through the Siq was still beautiful the second time around and there were areas along the winding path where I seemed to be completely alone. The hard part was walking back along the Bab as-Siq under the direct sunlight, and I had to rest again at the Petra Visitors Center with a cold aloe juice before heading back up the road to my hotel.
Our guide had arranged for us to stay at Sun City, a bedouin-style camp in Wadi Rum, for our final night, so when my travel buddy was back from Petra, we packed up and got into the car for the 1.5-hour drive. I didn’t exactly know what to expect – my previous experience of camping was a simple nylon tent that you had to prepare yourself upon arrival, and for the price we were paying I didn’t imagine this to be much more glamorous than that.
We arrived at our camp in late afternoon, and from the first moment I glimpsed the tall red cliffs I was awestruck at the scope of Wadi Rum’s beauty. It was like stepping onto another world – it was of little wonder that the landscape had once left Lawrence of Arabia speechless. The desert was beautiful for its emptiness, and we stood together on the red sand for some time, gazing out at the cliffs in the distance.
Our tent was simple, but nicer than I had expected. My travel companion went to the dining area to socialize and I lay down in a hopeless attempt to rest from my fever. I had only been asleep for an hour when she returned and persuaded me to join the rest of the camp for dinner. A traditional Bedouin-style feast known as zarb had been cooking for several hours in an underground pit, and our hosts were about to uncover it.
Zarb is a delicious part of Jordanian culture. It consists of meats such as lamb or chicken and a variety of vegetables being placed onto a 2- or 3-tier rack which is then placed over coals in an earth oven. It’s covered and left to cook for around 2-3 hours. Watching them pull it out of the ground was fascinating. As we watched, it began to lightly rain, which I imagined must be refreshing for the chefs who stood surrounded by hot clouds of steam.
Once the racks of food had been pulled up, we made our way over to the dining tent, where everything was laid out buffet-style. My appetite returned with full force as soon as I saw and smelled the food, and I was glad it did – the meat was so tender and the vegetables were full of flavour. I highly recommend that every visitor to the Wadi Rum area experience a traditional zarb, even if you don’t stay at a camp (many organized tours will include it as part of their itinerary).
The dining tents were completely open on one side, and as we ate the small drops of rain turned into a downpour and thunder began to boom, echoing through the desert. Flashes of lightning lit up the dark sky; for only a second we could see the cliffs silhouetted against the brilliant streaks of light and then they were gone.
We watched the storm, half hypnotized by its power, but also partly stuck under the shelter of the dining tent until it subsided. I was about to head back to my tent when music started to play, and my guide pulled us outside to where a circle had formed; our hosts had started a Jordanian folk dance and we were encouraged to join in. We did, reluctantly at first, and soon we were stumbling through the steps of a Dabke with the rest of the group, laughing at our clumsy attempt at the traditional dance.
I fell asleep that night listening to heavy drops of rain hitting the roof of the tent and reflecting on the past couple of days. We would leave in the morning to head back to Amman airport, and even though I would have loved more time to explore Jordan, the short trip had still been worth it.
Are you planning a trip to Jordan?
Before stepping onto the plane for your journey, make sure to read my tips on how to stay hydrated on long flights. It’s so important to take care of yourself, and this guide will give you valuable advice on how to stay hydrated from the inside out.
I’ve also written a guide on how to stay safe and healthy in your hotel when traveling solo. It details some of the questions you should ask before booking and a few things you should check when you check into your room.
I’ve created a printable travel planner that will help make trip planning a breeze. This 7-page PDF has spots to fill in hotel and flight details, emergency info, must-do activities and more. It is available as an instant digital download in the Onwards + Upwards shop.