Last week I had a spontaneous and breathtaking adventure: Four days, three nights in the desert of Jordan. Spontaneous? Jordan? In a weekend-trip? Sounds a little intense for a European. Well, in case you missed it: I got lucky and get to spend my semester abroad in the amazing city of Tel Aviv. And as I have merely four months in “The Holy Land” – at least that’s what is scheduled – I obviously want to make the absolute most of it. Good enough my friends here feel the same way.
Spontaneous trip to Jordan
Living in Tel Aviv for five weeks on the day you might think I should’ve told you a little more about my adventures in this flourishing city. But you know how it is: you live somewhere, you get into a daily life, it all doesn’t feel as adventurous anymore. But oh believe me: it is! I found amazing friends and as after just two weeks of classes we got two weeks off for Pessach/Passover vacation, we decided to hit the road.
Preparing the trip
As we were planning the trip we asked around A LOT. All of our friends who have been here for a while traveled to Jordan already. We got tons of information – much of it contradictory. For example?
In Israel, we use New Israeli Shekel (1€ = 4 nis), in Jordan they have Jordan Dinars (1JD=0,75€). Be sure to bring enough cash, you hardly get to pay by card. Also, change it to JD on time!
2x 70/35 nis Tel Aviv and back by bus
108 nis Israel Exit Tax
55 JD Taxi to Petra
30 JD two nights at Valentine Inn
20 JD approximately or food per day
70 JD Jordan Pass (includes entry fee to Petra and Wadi Rum)
50/55 JD entrance fee Petra
5 JD entrance fee Wadi Rum
25 JD Oasis Beduin Camp (including tour, lunch, dinner, and breakfast)
Go long or go home?
Jordan at daytime is HOT! But it’s also a Muslim country. As we were three girls and no guys for most of the trip many told us not to show our legs or arms, bring long dresses and scarves. I can tell you now: it doesn’t matter. Wearing shorts, crop-tops, tanks or anything short won’t make the cat-calling any worse. And vice versa: bringing my fave hippie-dresses and light sweaters did not keep the guys in Wadi Rum or Petra from staring, making comments, gesturing. Still, I enjoyed wandering around feeling like a desert princess and my long skirts didn‘t keep me from climbing. So make sure you feel comfy and bring something you can definitely hike all the monumental canyons and dunes!
Two pairs of shoes: Hiking and Flip Flops
In Petra as well as Wadi Rum there are two things that you‘ll be doing most: hiking and walking. So bring good shoes! And as you don‘t want to get back in there after a long day on your feet, plus hostel floors are disgusting you‘ll thank me for the flops!
Cuddle up in these desert nights
Who‘d have thought that the desert of all places could bring you the coldest nights? Well, it‘s a fact so no matter how cute the guys in the hostel are, be sure to bring your fave sweats (I slept in my teeki yoga pants – the comfiest on earth) and a big fat hoodie (having a nice gentleman at hand lending you his might be a plus))!
Speaking of sleep…
If you, as we did, check your budget, you‘ll most probably sleep in hostels and camps. So if you tend to be a little yicked by bedsheets that probably don‘t get changed with every new guest: bring a light sleeping bag. Also useful if your hostel – like ours – is merciless overbooked and you have to sleep outside in the common-tent…
For my trip that lasted more or less five days I literally needed three things: toothpaste, sunscreen, and facial/body wash. If you feel like you don‘t want Instagram to see you without makeup, feel free to splurge. Otherwise, you may get jealous of the local guide‘s Jack-Sparrow-style eyeliner!
Let the adventure begin!
Day one: Tel Aviv to Eilat to Aqaba to Petra
The starting point was Tel Aviv. From here we needed to get to the most convenient border crossing, which (at our time) was Eilat / Aqaba. Check with your favorite search engine for the latest information.
Busses to Eilat leave the bus station every hour, cost 70 nis or 35 with student discount for Israeli students. We bought them right at the station which was good as we got the discount here! The seats in the bus are assigned, the drive is 5 to six hours with two pit-stops. As you approach Eilat be alert: there‘s a bus-stop called „Yitzhak Rabin Border Crossing“. It‘s WAAAY more convenient to hop off here then drive all the way to the central bus station, pay 6 nis for an extra bus to take you back. Just saying.
From the bus station, it‘s a 15-minute walk in the sun to the border crossing station. Here you show your passport a quadrillion times, pay Israel-exit-tax (108nis p.P.), fill out forms and show your passport again.
Good to know: You don‘t need a visa beforehand.
You get the visa at the border and it‘s free if you stay more than three nights (with a European passport).
DON‘T FORGET to change your money right at the border! You won‘t get a real chance to do that later.
Getting to Petra
Next stop: Petra. Arriving in Aqaba, standing on Jordanian soil for the first time, we where a little overwhelmed by the whole crossing, all the people, and the heat. So we got into a taxi to Petra for 55 JD. It was a fun ride with a fun driver, even though we feared for our lives several times! There probably would have been a bus, so be sure to always just ask around and: bargain!
Staying in Petra
There are to locations eligible for spending the night when visiting the monumental ancient city of Petra: Little Petra and Wadi Musa. We honestly just typed “Petra” on the Hostelworld website and decided to go with the Valentine Hostel (mostly because it’s a pink building with light blue balconies. I personally didn’t expect too much from the beginning and wasn’t disappointed: the 8-bedroom turned out to be 12 beds plus a mattress the first night. The second night about ten people slept in the common-tent due to heavy overbooking – which I actually thought was super fun. The bathrooms looked more like storage closets, one toilet not flushing. Yum! But for 6€ a night!? A definite plus was the delicious dinner: a colorful buffet of local salads and a nice barbecue for 10JD. Nothing to fear for all my vegan / vegetarian friends out there! The 3 JD for breakfast were well calculated: a cooked egg, some yogurt, pita, tomatoes, and cucumbers. The Hostel also offers a shuttle to and from Petra four times a day: 7 am, 8 am, 5 pm and 6 pm.
Day two: The experience of Petra
Petra, the historical and archaeological city in southern Jordan is believed to having been settled as early as 9,000 BC. It became the capital city of the Nabataean Kingdom in the 4th century BC. Due to it’s proximity to the trade routes the nomadic Arabs, known as Nabataeans, established Petra as a major regional trading hub. (Shout out to Wiki!) You most probably know Petra from Indiana Jones movies or travel-pics looking much like these ones:
Good to know for Petra
Entrance fee is 50JD for one day, 55JD for two days
Petra by night is an extra 17JD – not included in the Jordanpass – but really only worth it if you haven’t seen the monuments at daylight. They light up the city up to the treasury with candles. It takes place every Monday and Wednesday.
Please don’t pay for camel-/horseback- or donkey-rides and report any mistreatment of the poor animals
You probably won’t get around paying for at least one tour, as all the pathways that are slightly off the normal path are guarded by guides hungry for the extra cash who won’t let you wander off alone. Be sure to thoroughly bargain yet again!
Bring a hat, hiking/running shoes, enough sunscreen, water, and a picnic if you want to keep your cash together.
I would recommend starting early and making your way straight to the monastery, as it is a hell of a hike if you do it in the burning sun at noon, as we did. Personally, I also liked the monastery best, as it wasn’t as packed with tourists and tour guides/annoying cat-calling dudes.
Day three: The desert of Wadi Rum
Getting to Wadi Rum
A shuttle brought us and some other guests straight from the Hostel to Wadi Musa. After already sitting in the wrong bus due to the early time (and the whiskey the night before…) our bus came at 6.30, just ten minutes late. We paid 8 JD, no bargaining possible but the coordinator was nice enough to call our camp-owner to pick us up once we got to the town of Wadi Rum.
Also known as The Valley of the Moon, Wadi Rum is the largest valley in Jordan. Literally translating to “Sand Valley”, it is cut into the vibrant red and yellow sandstone and granite rock of southern Jordan. Since prehistoric times it has been inhabited by many human cultures, many of them leaving their marks in the form of rock paintings, graffiti, and temples that can still be awed at today. (more here)
The entrance fee to Wadi Rum is 5 JD, which is totally legit if you consider all the beauty you are about to enter!
A day in the desert
At the little town the owner of the Oasis Beduin Camp, Mohammed, picked us up. Mohammed is 27, the oldest son of his father’s second wife. As one of his 15 siblings, he was born and raised in the desert of Wadi Rum. Having traveled to Europe and Canada before he can’t imagine not living in the desert. Also, we asked him if he could imagine having more than one wife. His answer in a nutshell: it’s too expensive and exhausting. But if the time is right, one would be nice. He is a true gem of a person. After just a few minutes of talking, I felt how pure of a heart this young man had.
After our other friends who came straight from Aqaba arrived, we began our desert adventure with Mohammed’s cousin Achad. He was 17, the Toyota he drove probably twice his age. I loved it! Our first stop was a huge dune that we (tried) to conquer running barefoot. The warm sand was soft on our feet and ankles and made running close to impossible. It was wonderful! The next stop was a rocky area where we could just wander off and explore while Achad prepared lunch. Some of my friends are legit monkeys and ran of hiking, I wandered off a little, settled down and did a beautiful meditation that my friend Fynn once showed me (note to self: share meditation in another post).
After the delicious self-cooked meal, Achad continued taking us to the most impressive canyons, dunes, and rock formations. The unique structures in the rocks, formed over millions of years by the vibrant red sand, the beauty of the camels in the distance had us in awe. After a nice sunset, we finally got to see our camp. After initially planning on sleeping in a cave, Mohammed advised us to stick with the tents, as we had a cold night. Waiting for dinner we all sat around a nice fire and drank local tea in the main tent. Dinner was a buffet, as well as chicken, rice, and veggies from an underground barbecue.
The night sky before dinner had me starstruck! The crisp black sky showed a freckled sky as I hadn’t seen it in a way too long time! Unfortunately, we where two days after a full moon, so as soon as the bright crescent beauty had risen we could only see a fraction of the stars that had been there before. Still, we heated up a beautiful little bonfire, cuddled up and told ghost stories until there was no dry wood to be found near anymore.
As the camp as well was overbooked, four of us made our beds in the main tent. I didn’t bother, even though I wished I had brought a sleeping bag of my own. The great thing about sleeping closer to the outside than in a closed-up tent was, that I woke up at around 6 am before the sun had risen over the mountains of the desert. A friend and I decided to wander off into the desert and see if we could find the sun. The crisp morning air and the solitary width of the desert had me in shivers. Once the sun had peaked slowly, she rose fast and brought warmth to everything her rays touched. I caught myself just standing there, having the golden energy tickle my nose and fingers. It was magical!
Day four: Getting back home
After a nice breakfast of eggs, hummus, stew, and pita, Achad drove us back to the town. We said our goodbyes to the camp-staff and our friends and made our way to Aqaba. Luckily enough we met a lovely couple from Australia who took us to the border in their rental car. There was no extra fee at the border and we stood on Israeli soil again after just a handful of passport-showings. We walked back to the bus station, exhausted but happy. Here we found out that we had an hour-long wait ahead of us. Yaey. I did some yoga at the bus stop with my friend and some fun Chinese tourists joined in (about time I become a teacher, haha). After an hour the bus came – the driver smiling and waving at us, as he drove by! Wait, what? We couldn’t believe what had just happened. Still in shock but not willing to wait another hour for this experience to repeat itself we crossed the street and hitchhiked to the Central Bus Station of Eilat. I guess if we hadn’t had bought the tickets beforehand, we simply would’ve hitchhiked all the way back to Tel Aviv…
Time, like life itself, has no inherent meaning.
We give our own meaning to time as to life.
– Jonathan Lockwood Huie
This crazy trip was “only” three nights but I can wholeheartedly say that we made the most of every minute – including sleeping way less than we should have! I am more than grateful to the people who made this trip as unique as it was. Please leave a comment and feel free to ask whatever burns on your tongue. Hope my summary is helpful!
With tons of love, glitter, and dusty desert sand