This 8-day Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories group tour is the ideal Holy Land trip for faithful travellers and also an incredible adventure for travellers who are here to explore this fascinating region.
Traversing the South African coast from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, this 7-day tour takes you along the famous 'Garden Route' mixing amazing wildlife, wine tastings and beautiful scenery along the way.
After selling Jordan tours for many years and having to cancel two previous trips, I finally made it to Jordan this year and it was definitely worth the wait!
I travelled with my partner to Israel at the end of June to spend a week travelling before crossing the border to join our 7th July Jordan Encounters tour. We arrived in Amman a couple of days before the rest of the group and we took this time to visit the Roman Ruins at Umm Qais and the incredible Ajloun Castle. Umm Qais was almost deserted when we arrived which allowed us to explore at our own pace and get some great photo’s. Whilst the ruins at Umm Qais haven’t been restored as well as Jerash, it’s still a great place to visit due to lower tourist numbers and also so you can appreciate the true might of the Roman Empire – Umm Qais is located at the top of large hill which offers amazing views to the surrounding valleys and over the border into Syria.
Not far from Umm Qais is the castle of Ajloun which I found breathtaking. The castle is huge and has been restored very well. Many of the rooms remain intact and there is also a small museum inside where you can see antiquities recovered from the site during restoration. If you have the time available I would definitely recommend taking an extra day in Amman to be able to visit Ajloun.
The city of Amman wasn’t like anything I was expecting, it was much larger and also probably less commercial that I expected. The hotel we normally use in Amman is located in the Sweifieh district which is probably one of the more modern parts of the city. There were plenty of restaurants, shops and also the ‘Queen Vic’ bar just a short distance away (a rarity in Amman!).
After meeting our fellow travellers and guide Mohammed on day one, we started our tour with a visit to the Citadel and Amphitheatre in Amman. Much of the Citadel has been destroyed but from the sections which remain intact or have been restored you get a good impression of how the site might once have been. The small onsite museum has some real treasures which are worth a viewing. We were told that the museum once housed some of the Dead Sea scrolls, so it was a shame we didn’t get to see those (though the ones we saw at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem more than made up for this!). For me, the highlight of the Citadel visit was the panoramic views in every direction which really demonstrated the true size of this seemingly never ending city!
After jumping back onto the bus for a short ride down the hill, we arrived at the Amphitheatre. Whilst the Amphitheatre isn’t the most impressive I’ve seen (for me Caesarea in Israel top’s it) it was still amazing to realise how this building has stood up to the test of time and how the modern city has been developed around it. We enjoyed trying out the ‘sweet spot’ on the centre of the stage where almost by magic your voice is amplified to double its volume simply by standing in this place.
In the afternoon we headed out of Amman to the Jerash, one of the former Decapolis cities of the Roman Empire.
Jerash is truly incredible and probably double the size I expected it to be. Even more amazing is that half of the city still remains buried and unexcavated due to lack of funds. I can only imagine how this place may be in the future when more excavations have taken place. We did a loop around the city, heading through the Forum and along the Cardo or Colonnaded Street, stopping to see where shops and houses may once have been located. We also took time to visit the Temple, 2 of the Theatres and Hadrian’s Arch before heading back to Amman for the night.
Leaving Amman behind, we headed south along the Desert Highway on day 3 to the Red Sea town of Aqaba where we stayed at a beautiful hotel in Tala Bay, a short distance from the centre of town. We also decided to take the optional Snorkelling Boat trip where we got to see some of the Red Sea’s beautiful under-water world.
We stayed in Aqaba for 1 night before driving into Wadi Rum – the highlight of the trip for me! Upon arriving at the visitors centre we had a tasty lunch included at the Rum Gate restaurant before boarding our Jeeps to begin the jeep safari. In total the Jeep Safari lasted around 3 to 4 hours with a number of stops to explore the canyons, climbs on the rocks and even climb up some massive sand dunes. Wadi Rum was all that I expected it to be and more and the landscapes here were nothing like I’ve experienced before. We actually didn’t pass by any other vehicles whilst in Wadi Rum which made the whole thing seem even more remote and isolated. Late in the afternoon we arrived at the camp. We had a private camp on this trip which was located in a perfect position, with beautiful red coloured mountains behind us, sand-dunes directly in front and an endless expanse of desert to both sides. The camp itself had around 20 tents, all equipped with proper beds and lockable doors for privacy, proper flushing male and female toilets, cold showers (it is the desert after all!!) and a central camp fire area with comfortable benches, tables and floor mats to lounge around on. After settling in we were served a huge selection of delicious local food. After the sun began to set the camp-fire was lit and we gathered around the fire to relax and some of us smoked Shisha. Once the sun had set we headed out of the camp with the local guide to look at the stars. Away from the city lights we saw an incredible lunar display which included lots of shooting stars and even satellites passing overhead. A few members of the group decided to sleep outside beside the fire, personally though, I preferred the comfort of my bed! After a cold (but refreshing) shower in the morning and breakfast we rejoined the jeeps to head back to the bus to continue our journey to Petra.
En-route to Petra we visited ‘Little Petra’ which gave us a teaser of what was to come at the main site. ‘Little Petra’ was great, obviously the site is much smaller than it’s more famous counterpart but we got the opportunity enter many of the carved ‘buildings’ here and climb through at chasm at the end of the site to a lookout point. Today we also visited Shobak Castle. Shobak was worthwhile visiting, however when compared to Ajloun the restoration isn’t as good. Much of the site remains in ruins, though we were the only tourist group here which made the visit feel a little more special.
Late in the afternoon we arrived in Petra. The main group stayed at a hotel in the town (which they loved) and my partner and I chose to stay next to the main entrance to Petra at the Petra Guest House, which was beautiful. The hotel is managed by Crowne Plaza and whilst it doesn’t have pool it was still lovely, especially the cave bar/restaurant at the front of the property. If you prefer to be close to shops and restaurants then a hotel in the centre of town is probably a better choice.
In the evening we re-joined some of the group to take the Petra by Candlelight option.
The walk from the Petra entrance to the Siq takes probably around 15 minutes and then the walk through the Siq around another 15 minutes. By Candlelight the whole place had a magical atmosphere. At the end of the Siq you are rewarded with the iconic view of the Treasury peeking out from behind the rocks. Visitors are seated on mats in front of the Treasury before being served Bedouin tea and being entertained by local musicians. The hypnotic music combined with the flickering of the candles against the red rocks made this a very special experience for me – something I’ll never forget and something I think everyone visiting the area should do.
The following morning we rejoined the group again for the main Petra tour. Once again we walked the path towards the treasury, stopping to view carved buildings and facade’s which weren’t visible by candlelight. Passing through the Siq we also made lots of stops where the water system, religious alters and other buildings were explained to us. Upon arriving at the Treasury it was startling to see how different it looked from the previous evening, almost like a different building altogether.
What I didn’t understand or appreciate about Petra before going there myself is the sheer size of the place. Almost ignorantly I had thought that Petra consisted of just the Treasury and few less important buildings, when in fact the place is basically a city… IT’S HUGE!!! We spent the whole day exploring the buildings, having guided tours around many of the more important structures and exploring further in our free-time. For most people 1-day will be enough here but to truly visit the whole site you’ll need 2 full days at least. I loved Petra and it did live up to my expectations, though for me personally, the number of horses, camels and donkeys which I saw being treated in a less than ideal manner actually marred the visit a little though it didn’t take away from how incredibly unique this place is.
After a final night at Petra we hopped back on the bus to travel along the Kings Highway back to Amman with a number of stops along the way. The first stop of the day was at the town of Madaba where we saw the famous Mosaic map of the Middle-East. Continuing on from Madaba we arrived at Mt Nebo, where Moses saw the Promised Land. Unfortunately the main church here is currently closed for refurbishment but the views towards the Dead Sea and into Israel make the visit still worthwhile doing.
The last stop of the day was the Dead Sea. We actually chose to leave the group upon arrival at the Dead Sea as we had made alternate arrangements to spoil ourselves with a night at the Kempinski Ishtar Resort which was probably one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed at. We were lucky to stay in a Jacuzzi Suite which had great views over the Dead Sea and whilst here we experienced the weightless feeling you get when floating in the waters of the Dead Sea. We also tried out the Dead Sea Mud (which smells pretty bad!!!). We only had 1 night at the Dead Sea but for a relaxing few days at the end of this tour this would make a great choice.
All in all we had a fabulous time in Jordan, the places visited exceeded my expectations and we wouldn’t hesitate to go back!