Amman, Jordan: Travel Report of an Expat
Three years ago, when my husband and I had decided to leave our Austrian lives behind and to emigrate, or as we had in mind, to dare to have an adventure, we were not quite sure what we would run into. Would we regret it?
In the year of our emigration (2014), the still ongoing tensions in the Middle East flooded the media with scary headlines. Today, I am glad to have moved at that time; now being able to share my own experiences with you. As you may imagine, we were not necessarily spoiled with too many visits from our family and friends. Nevertheless, some "courageous" ones took the risk to join us and departed deeply surprised how peaceful of an oasis Jordan actually is. In the capital Amman, and the rest of the country, there is no trace of scaremongering like in the West; a country absorbing the easy joys of every day’s life, which makes you feel welcome from the very first moment. This was my initial impression and I didn’t change this view until today.
In 2016, two years after we moved to Jordan, when I had already engaged with people and country, I had the idea to launch Sunglasses Suggested a Lifestyle Blog focusing on "Travel". Among other reasons, I did so to share my experiences with the undecided ones and to arouse enthusiasm for an Arabic adventure. To state what makes Jordan so overwhelming for me, I would firstly name the broad variety of world cultures and natural heritage and the people’s hospitality - melting those things under the unique but easy life perspective, away from comfort concerns and western strives for exactness.
What makes Jordan a place to visit?
Hospitality From the day of my arrival until now I am amazed by the honesty and friendliness of Jordanians. Even after three years, I am saluted with ‘Welcome to Jordan’ almost every day - a warm gesture. Hospitality is very important throughout the country and it is usually accompanied by a spontaneous invitation for a cup of tea with fresh mint. I remember a few times when I was walking in surrounding parks, which are usually also used as barbecue areas, when I was invited by foreign families to join to whatever they had on their grill, in a country where by far not everyone has a roof above at night. Moments that have certainly strengthened my bond with the country.
Security Due to current headlines, mostly from neighboring countries, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has been often seen as an unsafe destination. Certainly the main reason why tourism has declined strongly during the last years, and unfortunately at the expense of the country’s inhabitants. As a European, I commonly consider tourist masses, whether crowded Mediterranean beaches in summer, or streams of photographers in the fancy cities’ downtown districts, to bring up a certain stress rather than vacation relaxation. The first Jordan endeavors, with unusually scarce foreign faces to see, were a completely new travel experience. You just feel far away from any waiting times and convention. A real adventure. To go along with that - another experience was the many security controls throughout the country. Whether in the shopping center, hotel or at the numerous checkpoints along the main streets. At first an unfamiliar feeling, today, I see it as a positive security procedure, and I would like to mention the consistent friendliness of the border and security officers. Nice chatting at the checkpoints, ‘Where to go’ and partly entertaining reactions about the planned vacation - just a good feeling without a gruff official service manner.
As a woman Since the country is relatively tolerant, it is also so for a woman - except for few clothing regulations, which in my opinion, should be respected in general. It’s no problem to travel or visit e.g. restaurants alone. In terms of clothing, I do not wear those extremely short skirts or tank tops - but also, this may not even be a problem in certain restaurants and western residential areas of Amman, as well as in international hotels. For the countryside I would recommend a more conservative dress code.
Language Another positive side effect: in the entire country, whether in a taxi, restaurant or supermarket, Arabic and English are spoken (or at least understood). Jordanians are rather seeking for a chance to have a short English chat with tourists and they are often very interested in where you come from and how you like their country - positive feedback is often heartily thanked and responded with nice statements about your own country.
Places of Interest In addition to its most famous sight, the rocky city of Petra, the country has much to offer; to name just a few highlights, there is the most beautiful desert Wadi Rum, the unique Dead Sea with the lowest level on earth, the nature reserve Dana and the capital Amman, which stretches over 19 hills.
Top Attractions in Jordan For this point, I would like to provide a closer look to the sights of the country and start with my TOP FIVE, which every visitor should visit when in Jordan:
1. Wadi Rum The desert Wadi Rum is one of the most spectacular landscapes I have seen so far. It is made up of impressive rock formations formed by wind and weather, kilometers of sand roads and dunes, as well as white and red sand landscapes. During a visit, I recommend staying overnight in a Bedouin camp and to book a Jeep tour. The sunset and the traditional evening gatherings, the "Bedouin Lifestyle", should definitely be a priority of any trip. I always like remembering the days in the middle of the desert under starry skies, which couldn’t be more beautiful. For me, it's definitely an experience that I wouldn’t want to miss. Find here my personal story.
2. Petra ‘The rock city’ is probably the most famous landmark of the country. I have visited Petra three times and each time I was fascinated all over again. A city whose rocks reflect a thousand fold reds in the sunlight, horse-drawn carriages and camel caravans crossing the road, as well as the best but hardest part, the 800 steps to the monastery and a breathtaking viewpoint; an ideal place for a relaxed picnic. Here you can read my personal story about Petra.
3. Dead Sea The Dead Sea is a real wellness oasis. In addition to the virtue and healing effect of its water and the well-known Dead Sea Mud, you get the unique experience of being 400 meters below the usual sea level. It's a great place to just relax. Since I live in Jordan, it’s a must - at least once a year. The Dead Sea road along the seashore is perfect for a road trip. The winding street passes numerous Wadis (rocky gorges) and spectacular rock formations. Also the sunset over the Dead Sea becomes an unforgettable experience you shouldn’t miss. Here you can read about my muddy day at Dead Sea Jordan.
4. Red Sea Tala Bay-Aqaba, a rather modern harbor city with a small historical core right at the Red Sea, is probably the perfect place for short beach fun break. It hosts numerous modern hotels with beach bars and sandy coastline spots, as well as the possibility to practice various water sport activities such as jet skiing or scuba diving. Visit the port in Tala Bay and enjoy the sea and good food in a calm atmosphere away from the tourist crowd. For me it is always the perfect place for a long and relaxing weekend. (Blog post coming soon)
5. Amman The capital of Jordan; the city where I have lived for almost three years. Amman is probably not among the usual "must see" listed capitals of the world, and it is also a rather modern city with relatively few sights. But that's not what drives the Amman char. The town is built over 19 hills, which offers fantastic viewpoints throughout its location, an experience you shouldn’t miss during a holiday in Jordan. The city hosts numerous modern roof tops as well as many lively streets that let you feel the Arab lifestyle right away. Some important places in Amman would be Rainbow Street, Al-Weibdeh, the Amman Citadels, and for shopping and architecture lovers, the Taj Mall and the Abdali Mall. Find a short overview about Amman here.
Besides the TOP FIVE I would also like to mention some other places worth seeing when in Jordan...
Jerash: Greek-Roman ruins.
Wadi Mujib: Adventurous hike through water-filled rocky gorges.
Dana/Feynan: Jordan's largest nature reserve, beautiful hiking landscape, friendly small villages with local accommodation possibilities.
Madaba: Nice, small city, with strong Christian ties but also real Arabic flair. Perfect place to visit and buy handmade items such as carpets or mosaics in all forms. Find the story about a rug bought in Madaba here.
Baptism Site (of Jesus): Fascinating and unspoiled place with a rich historical and biblical background and the possibility to visit the Jordan River. For an wonderful digression, follow me down to the river - here.
Mount Nebo: Biblical place with a beautiful view over the country towards West Bank. Especially recommended in spring. For a view over the Promised Land click here.
Umm-Qais: Greek-Roman ruins town with a unique view to the Sea of alilee. Find my story here.
Hot Springs Ma'in: Hot springs in the middle of a Dead Sea Wadi. Fantastic waterfalls, SPA area, palm trees. Get a better idea of an oasis in the desert here.
Food Since food plays an important role in Jordan’s culture I would like to mention some traditional dishes...
The national dish is called Mansaf. A dish of lamb and rice, which the Jordanians are very proud of and which is served at every important occasion.
Other main dishes: Shawarma (Arabian kebab), Kusa Mahshi (rice stuffed zucchini) and my favorite - Kubba / Kibbe- meatballs made from bulgur filled with pine nuts – a must-try!
Desserts: Knafeh / Knefe (hot dessert from cheese and syrup), originally from Palestine, or Ma'amul (dry pastries from dates and nuts), definitely worth sinning for.
Traditional breakfast: Falafel (fried vegetable balls), Hummus (chickpea puree), Mutabbal (eggplant puree), Ful (hot bean sauce).
Drinks: Tea/Shay (black tea with a lot of sugar and fresh mint), Juice: In Jordan you get freshly squeezed juices at every corner, but you should at least try the Lemon Mint Juice.
My final impression is that Jordan is a well-hidden land in the Middle East, full of heritage and unique historic places, made for people seeking an adventure without the masses of tourists. I’m glad to stay in touch for deeper talks on that...
Cheers with sunbeams, Sabrina