Welcome to Travel Planning 101. Find country specific information about where you are going and what to do to prepare to get there!
- Travel highlights of the country.
- Fun facts and background information.
- History notes, facts on currency, health, holidays and transportation.
- Pre-departure tips, when to go, and visa information.
- Information on weather and electricity plugs.
- Suggestions on things to do if you have extra time to explore on your own.
Places To See
Petra is the sort of place that usually exists only in the imagination. This unique ancient city was hewn from a towering rock wall; few of the imposing facades of its great buildings are freestanding. Make sure you take as much film as you can carry because every nook and cranny is a Kodak moment.
It's hard to overrate Petra. There's no other sight in Jordan, or perhaps the whole Middle East, as compelling - the locals know it, and they'll charge you accordingly. Once the capital of the Nabateaeans, a 3rd century BC Arab dynasty, Petra was forgotten for 1000 years and only rediscovered in 1812. It raised its public profile with an appearance in the movie Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade. Since its discovery and up until the 1980s, it was home to a number of Bedouin families who have since been relocated, an arrangement they are less than happy with. Don't expect a serene and contemplative visit: up to 3000 people come here every day.
You really need to spend a couple of days here to get the feel of the place, which means paying the entry fee more than once. Set in a deep canyon and only accessible through a narrow winding cleft (or siq) in the rock, Petra is carved from sandstone that takes on deep rusty hues interlaced with bands of grey and yellow. The most famous ruin is the Khazneh, or treasury, whose beautifully carved facade is the first thing you'll see when you enter from the siq. The monastery is equally imposing, and if you climb to the top you'll get stunning views. Other ruins include an 8000-seat amphitheatre and the Temple of the Winged Lions, still in the process of excavation.
The ancient Crusader stronghold of Karak (or Kerak) lies within the walls of the old city and is one of the highlights of Jordan. The fortified castle dominates the town and was a place of legend in the battles between the Crusaders or Franks and the Islamic armies. Often ignored by travellers heading for Petra, Karak Castle is well worth the effort.
Throughout the castle are informative display boards with detailed descriptions of the history and function of each structure. It's worth bringing a torch (flashlight) to explore the darker regions, and some doorways are quite low so watch your head. Reconstruction and excavation work within the castle is ongoing.
Ar-Rabad Castle, built atop Mt 'Auf, is a fine example of Islamic military architecture. The castle was built by one of Saladin's generals and nephews in 1184-8, and was enlarged in 1214. The castle commands views of the Jordan Valley and three wadis leading into it - the Kufranjah, Rajeb and Al-Yabes.
Amman Citadel (Jebel al-Qala'a)
The area known as the Citadel sits on the highest hill in Amman, Jebel al-Qala'a (about 850m (2788ft) above sea level) and is the site of ancient Rabbath-Ammon. Artefacts dating from the Bronze Age show that the hill may have been a fortress for thousands of years. The Citadel ticket office is on the road leading up to the Citadel's entrance.
Ruins at Jerash
The ruins at Jerash (known in Roman times as Gerasa) are one of Jordan's major attractions and still have the power to evoke the ghosts of Rome. It's one of the best examples in the Middle East of a Roman provincial city, and is remarkably well preserved.
In its heyday, Jerash (known in Roman times as Gerasa) had a population of 15,000 to 20,000 inhabitants and, although it wasn't on any major trade route, its citizens prospered from the good agricultural land that surrounded it. The ancient walled city that survives today was the administrative, commercial, civic and religious centre of Jerash. The bulk of the inhabitants lived on the eastern side of Wadi Jerash (now the modern town of Jerash) and the two centres were linked by causeways and processional paths. As you wander Jerash try to imagine life 2000 years ago: the centre bustling with shops and merchants, lined with cooling water fountains and dramatic painted façades. Picture today's empty niches filled with painted statues; buildings still clad in marble façades and decorated with carved peacocks and shell motifs; and churches topped with Tuscan-style terracotta tiled roofs. For a visual reconstruction of Jerash's finest buildings, check out the drawings at the visitor centre.
Not surprisingly, Jordanian holidays and festivals are mostly Islamic. The big one is Ramadan, a month where everyone fasts between sunup and sunset to conform to the fourth pillar of Islam. If you're in Jordan at this time, be sensitive to the fact that most of the people around you are fasting. Ramadan ends with a huge feast, Eid al-Fitr, where everyone prays together, visits friends, gives presents and lives it up. Eid al-Adah, held around February (though the month changes almost every year), is the other big feast of the year, and marks the time when Muslims should make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Non-religious holidays include Independence Day on 25 May.
When to go?
The best time to visit Jordan is in spring or autumn, when you can dodge the baking sun of summer and the freezing winds of winter. Although winter can be bitterly cold in most of the country, the Red Sea area and Aqaba are still very pleasant. If you're planning to travel through the rest of the Middle East, try heading north into Turkey around spring, or south into Egypt by autumn.
The tourist authorities usually plan festivals (such as the Jerash Festival) for the summer period.
The month of Ramadan is a time when visitors should not eat, drink or smoke in public during the day so it's a tricky time to visit. Eid al-Fitr, the great celebration at the end of Ramadan, is a fun time to visit but it's best to bunker down for a few days because public transport is heavily booked and hotel rooms are sometimes hard to find, especially in Aqaba.
Note also that most of the excellent ecotourism projects operated in Jordan's Dana, Wadi Mujib and Ajlun nature reserves only operate between April and October.
Travel Visa Overview
All foreigners need a visa to enter Jordan. You can get a single-entry visa at the airport or at most border crossings when you arrive, or from consulates in your country. Visas are valid for three months from the date you enter the country but you must register at a police station within one month of arrival. Don't forget to register or you'll be liable to pay a fine of
European plug with two circular metal pins
British-style plug with two flat blades and one flat grounding blade
South African/Indian-style plug with two circular metal pins above a large circular grounding pin
Several different viruses cause hepatitis; they differ in the way that they are transmitted. The symptoms in all forms of the illness include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, feelings of weakness and aches and pains, followed by loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-coloured faeces, jaundiced (yellow) skin and yellowing of the whites of the eyes. Hepatitis A is transmitted by contaminated food and drinking water. Seek medical advice, but there is not much you can do apart from resting, drinking lots of fluids, eating lightly and avoiding fatty foods. Hepatitis E is transmitted in the same way as hepatitis A; it can be particularly serious in pregnant women.
Hepatitis B is the most common hepatitis in Jordan and is spread through contact with infected blood, blood products or body fluids, for example through sexual contact, unsterilised needles (and shaving equipment) and blood transfusions, or contact with blood via small breaks in the skin. The symptoms of hepatitis B may be more severe than type A and the disease can lead to long-term problems such as chronic liver damage, liver cancer or a long-term carrier state. Hepatitis C and D are spread in the same way as hepatitis B and can also lead to long-term complications.
There are vaccines against hepatitis A and B, but there are currently no vaccines against the other types. Following the basic rules about food and water (hepatitis A and E) and avoiding risk situations (hepatitis B, C and D) are important preventative measures.
Vaccination against typhoid is recommended if you're travelling for more than a couple of weeks in Jordan.
Also known as enteric fever, Typhoid is transmitted via food and water, and symptomless carriers, especially when they're working as food handlers, are an important source of infection. Typhoid is caused by a type of salmonella bacteria, Salmonella typhi. Paratyphoid is a similar but milder disease. The symptoms are variable, but you almost always get a fever and headache to start with, which initially feels very similar to flu, with aches and pains, loss of appetite and general malaise. Typhoid may be confused with malaria. The fever gradually rises during a week. Characteristically your pulse is relatively slow for someone with a fever. Other symptoms you may have are constipation or diarrhoea and stomach pains. You may feel worse in the second week, with a constant fever and sometimes a red skin rash. Other symptoms you may have are severe headache, sore throat and jaundice. Serious complications occur in about one in 10 cases, including, most commonly, damage to the gut wall with subsequent leakage of the gut contents into the abdominal cavity. Seek medical help for any fever (38C and higher) that does not improve after 48 hours. Typhoid is a serious disease and is not something you should consider self-treating. Re-hydration therapy is important if diarrhoea has been a feature of the illness, but antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment.
Jordan's climate varies dramatically from one end of the country to the other. The Jordan Valley can be incredibly hot in summer, around 40°C (104°F), while Amman and Petra occasionally get snow in winter. The Plateau area is usually warm and dry, fluctuating between the low 20°Cs (low 70°Fs) and high 30°Cs (high 90°Fs), while the desert suffers extremes of temperature - baking dry heat interspersed with freezing winds from central Asia.
History and Culture
Despite the region's rich tradition of music, literature and arts, the comparatively modern nation of Jordan could not boast much in the way of a distinctive arts and literature until the 1980s. Jordan's emergence as a centre of contemporary arts was recognised by UNESCO, which chose Amman as its Arab Cultural Capital for 2002.
Pre-20th Centure History
The area where Jordan is located is home to one of the oldest civilisations in the world - archaeological finds from the west bank of the Jordan River have been dated at around 9000 BC. From 3000 BC the area was inhabited by the Canaanites and Amorites, and after them the armies of Sargon, king of Sumer and Akkad. Around 1800 BC Abraham led a group of nomads from Mesopotamia and settled in the mountains of Canaan (which roughly corresponds to present-day Israel). By 1023 BC the Israelites had formed a kingdom, led by Saul and then David, who captured Jerusalem and made it his capital. The unstoppable Roman Empire took Israel in 63 BC and placed it under the control of a series of consuls, including Herod the Great and Pontius Pilate. It was at this time that Jesus was believed to have lived and preached in the area. The increasing insanity of the Empire under Caligula prompted a series of Jewish uprisings, which lasted for years but were finally crushed when Jerusalem was razed and the province of Palestine decreed. This defeat marked the end of the Jewish state and the beginning of the Diaspora, the scattering of the Jewish people.
In 331 AD Emperor Constantine became a Christian and gave his official stamp of approval to the previously illegal religion. Suddenly everyone wanted to know about the Holy Land, and a rash of buildings, including the churches of the Holy Sepulchre and the Nativity, sprang up all over Palestine to mark sites of religious importance. But Christianity's hold over the country was not to last long - in 638 AD Jerusalem fell to Caliph Omar and was declared a Holy City of Islam, on the grounds that the Prophet Mohammed had ascended to heaven from atop the Temple Mount. Christians around the world raised their hackles at this desecration, and by 1099 they'd scrounged together a crusading army and occupied Jerusalem, murdering everyone they could get their hands on and beginning nearly 100 years of Christian rule. But by 1187 the Muslims again had the upper hand - after decades of Christian/Muslim scuffling, the Islamic Mamluks knocked over the last Crusader stronghold in 1291.
The next 500 years were some of the quietest Palestine has seen. Empires rose and fell, and control of the country changed hands with monotonous regularity, eventually coming to rest in the hands of the Ottoman Empire. Much of desert Jordan sidestepped all this change and remained a Bedouin stronghold.
When the Ottoman Empire collapsed after WWI, Britain took control of Palestine and created the state of Transjordan, under the rule of King Abdullah.
In 1948 Israeli Arabs and Jews went to war with one another. While everyone was distracted, Transjordan snapped up the West Bank and part of Jerusalem, then renamed itself Jordan. In 1953 King Hussein took the throne and Jordan entered a boom period, with a rise in tourism and plenty of aid flowing in from the USA. The Six Day War of 1967 put paid to Jordan's burgeoning tourist industry when Israel retook the West Bank and half of that huge drawcard, Jerusalem. In six days Jordan lost its money spinner and its agricultural land, and replaced them with a few thousand refugees as Palestinians streamed in from the Occupied Territories. By the 1970s, the PLO component of the refugee population was threatening King Hussein's power, and a bloody internal war began, ending when most of the radicals moved to Lebanon.
In 1994 Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty, agreeing to drop economic barriers and cooperate on security and water. This raised concerns among Palestinians that they would be eased out of the region, as Israel and Jordan divided the spoils between themselves. At the same time, Jordan was increasing its links with Yasser Arafat's Palestine National Authority and working toward agreements with them. In recent years Jordan has also restored relations - cut during the 1991 Gulf War - with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. King Hussein had begun moving the country towards democracy; the Islamic Action Front (with its links to the Muslim Brotherhood and fairly fundamentalist policies) has been the most successful party so far, but his death in February 1999 has left the future uncertain. King Hussein had named his eldest son, King Abdullah II, successor to the throne just weeks before dying, although the Constitution stipulates that both parents of the king must be Arab and Muslim by birth (Abdullah's mother was a British citizen who embraced Islam prior to marrying King Hussein).
King Abdullah, the sort of monarch who enjoys dressing up as a taxi driver and talking with his subjects incognito, has the growing support of the international community as well as most Jordanians, including the large and influential Palestinian community. Under his reign, Jordan has moved closer to Israel with a 2002 deal to pipe water from the Red Sea to the shrinking Dead Sea at a cost of
The first independent elections in 2003 saw a majority of seats go to independent royalist candidates. There were signs, however, that Jordan's 'each-way bet' foreign policy was under pressure. In October 2002 a senior US diplomat was assassinated in Amman, and the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad was bombed in August 2003, killing 11 people. This was followed by the worst attack in Jordan's recent history - a triple bomb blast that killed 60 people in Amman. Despite these pressures to succumb to violence, Jordan continues to act in a moderating role between its troubled neighbours, particularly Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Responding to the threat of terror on its own soil, Jordanian officials claim to have provided information to the United States that led to the June 2006 assassination of Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
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