10 Things that Surprised Me about Jordan

Looking back, I had no idea what Jordan was going to be like before I boarded my flight. I had tried to google some of the places on our #GirlsGoneJordan itinerary, but in the end I traveled to the Middle East with little expectations, ready to be surprised.

And Jordan most certainly surprised me — especially when it comes to the ten points below. Just beware, the following list is a personal one — don’t expect verified facts only in here, but more personal tales of tea and toilets (not kidding):

1. Jordan Has Several Different Climate Zones

Obviously, when I was about to start packing, I had no I idea what to bring. I started looking up the weather in some of the cities we were going to visit and I was confused: How can it be 24 degrees in Amman, 17 in Madaba, and 38 in Aquaba on the exact same day? The country didn’t look that big on Google Maps!

I decided to pack as many layers as possible, but somehow expected to learn that the online weather service I used was just a little messed up.

Street in Jordan

On our second day though, we drove from Amman to Jerash in the north of Jordan. I watched the landscape change — from the dusty streets with little vegetation near Amman to lush green hills. The flora and fauna reminded me a lot of Croatia and other countries along the Mediterranean. We were told that it rains comparably often up there, especially in from November to March, and even snow is not too unusual.

Ajloun Castle, Jordan
The view from Ajlun castle in northern Jordan 

When we learned that Jordan has actually more than one climate zone, it all made sense: The Mediterranean climate is found up north and in the west of the country, the desert climate in central and eastern Jordan, and the equatorial climate down be the Red Sea.

I was so surprised that even though Jordan is not the biggest country, there is so much diversity in landscapes and natural surroundings. Can you even believe the following photos were all taken in the same country?

Wadi Musa, Jordan
Sunset over Wadi Musa 

Amman, Jordan
Jordan’s capital Amman

Dana Nature Reserve, Jordan
Dana Nature Reserve 

Wadi Rum, Jordan
Wadi Rum 

Tala Bay, Red Sea, Jordan
The Red Sea

Amma, Jordan
Sunset in Amman 

Mount Nebo, Jordan
Mount Nebo 

Jordan

2. The Ruins of Jerash are Better Than the Foro Romano

Don’t get me wrong, I love ruins. I strongly believe you can never see enough ancient ruins. But growing up in Europe ruined me a little for ruins: The field trips in school would always take me to the Roman ruins of Frankfurt, Cologne, or Treves (Germany has a surprising amount of Roman ruins even though they’re not in their best shape).

During my travels in Europe, I’ve climbed up the coliseum in Nîmes in Southern France, gazed at the temple of Évora in Central Portugal, and strolled past subtle Roman remains in Barcelona‘s Barrio Gótico. And I’ve visited Rome, of course.

Rome’s ruins are without question one of the most magnificent ancient sites in Europe. But the reality of visiting the ruins like the Foro Romano in Rome is: Waiting in line for the tickets, squeezing past hoards of tour groups, always having someone walk into your shot, speaker voices screaming at you an hour before the site closes at night.

Jerash, Jordan

Jerash, Jordan
That’s Hadrian’s triumphal arch on the left! 

What I did not expect in Jordan: I absolutely rediscovered my love for ruins far away from the Roman ruins I grew up amongst. Opposed to the ruins of Rome, the ruins in Jordan are not swamped by tourists with selfie sticks. They’re also not fenced or supervised by grumpy guards. They are just beautiful ruins surrounded by endless seas of wild flowers.

Evidence of settlement in this area go Jordan goes back to Bronze Age, and then Jerash actually became an important trade city in the time of the Roman Empire. Emperor Hadrian (the one with the wall in Scotland!) himself stopped by Jerash and a triumphal gate was built in his honor in the second century.

The grand Oval Forum was the most impressive part of the site for me though: It’s a huge place framed by Ionian columns offering a spectacular view of the once roofed main street, the Cardo Maximus, built in the early second century.

I doesn’t happen too often that I just freeze with my mouth open, unable to describe the effect that a place has on me, but the Oval Forum — and the entire archaeological site of Jerash — definitely left me speechless.

Jerash, Jordan

Jerash, Jordan
The main street known as Cardo Maximus 

Jerash, Jordan
The Oval Forum from above 

Jerash, Jordan

3. Jordan is the Switzerland of the Middle East

I didn’t worry about visiting Jordan for second. But my boyfriend and my parents had their doubts when I told them I was going to Jordan. Somehow, it’s hard to judge them for worrying about a girl visiting a country bordered by Syria, Iraq, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

But especially coming from Germany, where everyone and their mother vacations in Turkey which also shares a border with Syria, I found this confusing. I read quite a bit about safety in Jordan and not a single German institution warned people about going. So why all the preconceptions then?

I can’t help blaming the media: The only time Jordan appears in (German) news is in reports about war refugees from Syria, or that one time when a Jordanian pilot was killed in Syria a while back. All the news about Jordan that reach Europe are connected to war.

Amman, Jordan

I have to admit, I was expecting to sort of feel that Jordan is bordered by a country like Syria. But seriously: I felt nothing that gave me reason to think about a neighboring country at war being anywhere close. I expected to see military or police forces, but I didn’t notice a thing.

Of course, ministries had armed guards and every hotel has security service x-raying bags — but that’s nothing that that made me feel uneasy. The image that the media paints of this region of the world is really just completely wrong.

Amman, Jordan

Us girls where invited to chat with the minister of tourism in Amman one day, and he said how much tourism in Jordan is affected by the misconceptions spread by the media. Even if they don’t say anything about Jordan directly, the things that are said, or more accordingly, implied about the Middle East keep people from a country that is absolutely safe.

The minister of tourism said that he considers Jordan to be the “Switzerland of the Middle East” — and while traveling through the country the following days, these words echoed in my head. Because no one would ever keep you from going to Switzerland, right?

Wadi Musa, Jordan

I didn’t once encounter anything that made me feel unsafe. I honestly felt even safer than I ever did in Rome or Barcelona, because there were no stalking fake-beggars, no catcalling machos, or pickpocketing teenagers with fake petitions.

I’ve felt like a walking piece of meat on the streets in Spain sometimes, and I’ve had neck spasms from holding onto my purse in Rome so tightly — but in Jordan I experienced nothing concerning. Of course, my brighter hair (which isn’t even that blond) got a bit of attention, but people just looked (and some school girls made me pose for photos with them), because I just looked different, and I didn’t feel offended by it at all.

4. Dressing Conservatively is Not as Tough as I Thought

I’m definitely not the fashion blogger type, but I can’t deny that I spent a good amount of time thinking about what to wear in Jordan. Regarding the different range of activities and the different climate zones, I had no idea how to pack suitably for a conservative country with a Muslim majority — that has liberal beach resorts at the same time.

Granted, I’m not the kind of girl who would ever wear a bikini or short in public, and I own a lot of loose black clothes anyways (wearing black is like a good medievalist’s uniform), but I was still wondering if I could wear tights for example.

Jerash, Jordan
Most women I saw in Jordan wore a hijab, but sometimes you’d see women in burkas too

After a few days in Jordan, I learned that it is better to cover up legs and shoulders especially in the cities — but how you cover up is not really an issue: I wore black leggings and tight boleros over tops and I didn’t feel any kind of unusual attention coming from that.

Mount Nebo, Jordan

Dressing conservatively in Jordan was actually easier than I thought: I was glad that I had a good reason to bring so many scarfs, and I actually really enjoyed wearing those light printed hippie pants so much, that I’ll definitely bring them on future trips everywhere: Loose cloths are super comfortable, especially when it’s hot, but you don’t want to show as much skin. Lesson learned!

Travel outfit in Jordan

What I found most interesting was that dressing adequately in Jordan is not too much about other people as it is about how you feel: We saw a girl with super short jeans in Amman — apparently it can be done, but you won’t feel comfortable. If you walk past women in a hijab or a burka with your legs showing, you’re not offending them, you’re just making yourself feel horribly out of place.

5. The Vegetarian Food is the Best I’ve Ever Had

If you’re a long term reader, you know I’ve developed from a very picky eater to someone who actually cares about trying new foods over the last years. But being a vegetarian has always been an obstacle — more than once I’ve heard that I’m missing out on the real experience of a country’s cuisine by not eating meat.

And yes, I’ve missed out on Jamón Ibérico and Irish stews just like I haven’t eaten many of the most typical German dishes, because I stopped eating meat when I was 13. I usually compensate by eating all the pastries and hunting down great cheese abroad though, and I’ve learned to be okay with not sampling most countries’ signature dishes.

Vegetarian food in Jordan

Vegetarian food in Jordan

In Jordan however, I was in vegetarian food heaven! Of course, the main courses were often still meat dishes, but what blew me away in Jordan were the mezze dishes. For the mezze course (that could be called an appetizer course, but it’s really not just that) the pita bread that comes in all shapes and sizes, is dipped into different spreads like baba ghanoush, hummus, or labneh, the salty yogurt.

Making pita bread, Amman, Jordan
Making our own pita bread at Beit Sitti in Amman 

But the just bread and dip never were enough: There usually were pickled veggies (neon pink pickled cauliflower!), fried cheeses like halloumi (sinfully delicious!), falafel, and all of the olives. And there were always salads, too! Tabbouleh, one of my favorite dishes made out of parsley, tomatoes and bulgur; and fattoush, a mixed vegetable salad with fried bread in it. (Fried bread in a salad seriously blew my mind!)

Vegetarian food in Jordan

I often got a little veggie main course like grilled vegetables or an eggplant casserole when the girls were served their lamb or chicken, but I actually really never needed a main course after all the mezze! And I can assure you: If you ever had trouble traveling as a vegetarian, come to Jordan and you’ll be in heaven — I’ve never eaten so well aboard before!

6. The Toilets are Nicer Than the Ones in Western Europe

Okay, I’m a weirdo. But I always think about toilets before I hit the road. Blame a downright traumatizing outhouse experience on a campsite in the Ukraine back in the nineties, or my general weirdness, but I often research “toilets in country x” before I leave for a trip.

And it kind of annoys me that rarely any of the well-traveled bloggers write about toilets abroad albeit them being so crucial for human well-being. (Right?!) It makes toilet research kind of tricky and I wish more people wrote about it. Anyways, my comfort zone is very narrow when it comes to restrooms and I was quite nervous about what the toilets in Jordan were going to be like.

Toilet in Jordan

And fellow toilet weirdos (I seriously hope I’m not the only one!) and germaphobes: I can officially tell you that toilets in Jordan are absolutely acceptable. Actually, they are even way nicer than 80% of the toilets in France. And my Jordanian toilet study was rather empirical as I used the restrooms in gas stations and restaurants, at tourist sites and in hotels.

Toilet in Jordan
In a public rest stop toilet — this was about as dirty as it got though. 

The difference to European toilets are solely that there often is no toilet paper, but a pipe to rinse after using. If you’re coming to Jordan and are not too much into feeling a little wet (no pun intended), I recommend bringing a few tissues when using public bathrooms — but please, don’t flush them!

7. Camels are the Funniest Animals Ever

I’m not sure I had even seen a camel before coming to Jordan. But they definitely won me over quickly! I adored seeing camels everywhere in Jordan and I loved that they were just randomly standing on the side of the road sometimes. Granted, I was a little scared of riding them (they really are freakishly taller than horses!), but their funny faces definitely made up for a few scary moments “up there”.

Camels in Jordan

Also, how insanely cute are baby camels? Seriously, I can’t even look at these photos without aww-ing constantly. And those facial expressions? They make me smile every single time I go through my photos!

Camels in Jordan
How funny is this facial expression?!

Camels in Wadi Rum, Jordan
See the baby?!

Baby Camel in Jordan
I can’t even. 

8. I Loved the Bedouin Tea even More Than the Coffee

Wait what? I know. I’m just as surprised as you are. Drinking coffee in Jordan was a super interesting experience, but when it came to flavor I actually preferred the Bedouin tea that was served to us on so many different occasions.

Bedouin tea in Wadi Rum, Jordan
Bedouin tea in Wadi Rum

Especially during our time in Wadi Rum, we basically Bedouin-tent-hopped from one tea to another. The Bedouin culture is so welcoming (and probably also worried about your hydration in the desert) that you’ll always be offered a tea the second you enter one of their tents. The tea is hot and super sweet, but strangely really satisfying in the desert sun.

Tea in Dana Nature Reserve, Jordan

Bedouin tea in Dana Nature Reserve, Jordan
Tea with a spectacular sunset view in Dana Nature Reserve 

9. Floating in the Dead Sea is Not as Easy as You’d Think

I bet you’ve all seen those postcard shots from the Dead Sea where people are floating in the water, reading newspapers. The Dead Sea is actually a big lake and it would make sense that the water is flat and mirror-like. Spoiler alert: It is not. Or rather, the Dead Sea can have some crazy waves sometimes.

Dead Sea, Jordan
See those waves?

We spent our last day in Jordan on the Dead Sea so that afternoon was our only chance to have our obligatory Dead Sea floating experience. There was a red flag on the beach — the international sign to probably not go into the water — but we just had to.

At first, the common Dead Sea advice “do not get water in your face at any time” doesn’t sound too tricky. But when the waves start coming in combined with the salty water that is magically pushing you up and the ground that is full of sharp stones, it’s quite easy to forget that for an instance. And then you’re screwed.

I just had a tiny drop in my eye and got a little bit of water into my nose, but it already felt like having acid all over my face — which made balancing in the water even tougher.

In the end, three of the four of us had to be assisted by lifeguards to get out of the water, obviously laughing hysterically at the ridiculousness of the whole situation. This experience definitely made for a good story!

Dead Sea, Jordan
Jessica was brave enough to go back into the water for a photo to model how crazy the waves actually were. The best part was the lifeguard screaming “I don’t want to rescue you again!!”

10. Jordan is the Perfect Destination for a Girls’ Trip

Our trip was a little experiment: Can you plan a girls’ trip to a country that is usually not considered a girly destination?

I’ve never been on the kind of girls’ trip where you just get pedicures and lay by the pool for days, and I always would have considered that a bit too boring for me. But is it possible to visit an adventure destination like Jordan for a girls’ getaway?

#GirlsGoneJordan in Wadi Rum

#GirlsGoneJordan

All I can say is: Amanda, Ashley, Jessica and I loved our girly trip to Jordan more than words can express. We did adventurous things like climbing a mountain in the desert to see the sunset or jumping of a yacht on the Red Sea, but we also sipped cocktails on the beach and talked about boys by the pool in Aqaba, or relaxed in a spa jacuzzi with a view over the Dead Sea.

#GirlsGoneJordan by the Dead Sea

#GirlsGoneJordan in Wadi Rum

Jordan proved itself to be a perfect destination for girls’ getaway in our opinion: There are spas, pools, beach resorts, and cocktails for the classical girly things to enjoy abroad — but there are also endless possibilities for adventure activities like scuba diving, hiking, horse back riding, or taking a Lawrence of Arabia jeep tour through the desert.

Jordan has everything you need to relax and get a great tan, but at the same time it has so much natural beauty and so many architectural treasures that are just waiting to be explored. If you want a destination that combines all the girly amenities with cultural highlights and adventure, you couldn’t find a better country than Jordan for it!

#GirlsGoneJordan in Petra

#GirlsGoneJordan

What surprised you most about Jordan? 

 

Disclaimer: The #GirlsGoneJordan and I were guests of the Jordan Tourism Board, but all opinions are 100% my own. (I’m pretty sure they didn’t expect me to take photos of rest stops toilets, right?)

  • Lovely photos and really interesting points! I had the same reaction re: weather in Armenia – it was burning up in the capital and freezing further south! Truuuuust the weather apps!

    • JulikaSarah

      Thank you, Polly! Haha, true, I definitely learned my lesson when it comes to weather apps! 🙂

  • MissLilly

    love the photos and love this whole post. I have friends who have been in Jordan already, so I know it’s actually quite safe, but still in the back of my mind I still have some reserves, but from all the countries in the middle-east that’s the one I would love to visit

    • JulikaSarah

      Thanks so much! I can only talk about what I experienced, but I didn’t have any safety concerns for even a second in Jordan! It’s an amazing country and you should absolutely visit some day 🙂

  • Corinne Vail

    Great article! I, too loved and was surprised by Jordan, but I didn’t go on a girl’s only trip. I’m really glad you enjoyed it!

    • JulikaSarah

      Thank you, Corinne! So glad you enjoyed Jordan as much as I did!

  • Julie

    I’ve been drooling over all of the photos I’ve been seeing from this campaign. While I’ve always wanted to visit Israel, the tides are definitely turning more in Jordan’s favor 🙂 I know that I would love all of it but especially the food and being near the coast. What a gorgeous sunset pic too.

    P.S. I hear ya on the weather-I was also screwed with on my trip to Peru last year. Temperatures in the city of Cusco were not at all what they claimed to be 🙂

    • JulikaSarah

      Thanks so much for following along, Julie! We really appreciate it!
      We heard that tourism in Israel is suffering a lot right now, and because of that also less tourists come to Jordan since many people used to come to both countries on combined Middle East trips (with a focus on biblical sites for example). So, if I may speak for this entire region of the world: Go to both Israel and Jordan and I’m sure you’d have the best (and most delicious!) time! 🙂

  • This post just makes me instantly want to buy a ticket to Jordan. I’ve been following along with Girls Gone Jordan since you all left, and I am loving that the blog posts are starting to roll out. 🙂 Your pictures are beautiful. And my boyfriend would totally appreciate your toilet point. So you are definitely not the only one out there!!

    • JulikaSarah

      Perfect, Amanda, that’s what I was going for! 🙂 Thank you so much for following along — and for letting me know that I’m not the only toilet weirdo out there, phew! 🙂

  • Kristin

    I loved this post! All of it is so interesting! I am now completely smitten with Jordan and cannot wait to go someday!

    • JulikaSarah

      Thank you Kristin! I hope you get to go very soon!

  • Loved reading your non-clichéd, observant thoughts about Jordan. The country’s Roman ruins, fresh food, and diverse climates all sound attractive!

    • JulikaSarah

      Thanks so much, Trevor! Jordan is honestly one of the most attractive countries I’ve been to! 🙂

  • Jordan looks marvellous. You must have had a briliant time. I’ve been to Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey, but I’ve never been to Jordan. I’d love to though as countries to visit in the Middle East are limited at the moment…!
    I love your photos. I know that Petra has an ancient civilisation but I wasn’t expecting to see Roman ruins.And the food looks just amazing. And the camels. So sweet. And the…Someone get me a flight. I’ll meet you there LOL!

    • JulikaSarah

      Thanks, I really had the best time in Jordan! I couldn’t even decide if I liked the camels or the food better 🙂

  • Qamar

    Just love this blog, pictures , your words and everything =)
    Really appreciate it Julika.

    Come back again when you can 😀

  • Qamar Jamal al-Mimi

    Just love this blog, pictures , your words and everything =)
    Really appreciate it Julika.Back again when you can 😀

    • JulikaSarah

      Thanks so much for your kind words! I really hope to come back to Jordan very soon! 🙂

  • Omar Y. Lafi

    I am glad to hear this fair and beautiful article about my country.. I have many European friends due to nature of my work, and I will let them see your article 🙂 They already showed interest to visit Jordan, as I told them some points they didn’t knew before.
    Jordan looking forward for your next visit.

    Proud to be Jordanian .. 🙂

    • JulikaSarah

      Thank you so much for your kind words and sharing this blog post! I appreciate it! 🙂

  • Ruth G

    Lovely article. I went to Jordan as a solo female traveller in March 2015 and was delighted with how friendly the people were and I felt safe at all times. It’s a fascinating country and it’s a shame that so many tourists are staying away because of security fears. I even went into Jerusalem for a day trip and again felt totally safe as security is so tight. I would encourage people to visit Jordan – it is one of the safest, friendly, scenic and interesting places from the sunny deserts in the south, Petra, the stunning scenery and hiking of Dana to the more lush north.

    • JulikaSarah

      Thank you so much for this comment! Despite loving our girly travel group, we were all wondering what solo female travel is like in Jordan, and I’m so glad you had an amazing experience traveling there by yourself! I couldn’t agree more: Jordan is wonderful and we have to get the word out that it is absolutely safe to travel there as a woman!

  • Vera ImportantPerson

    Your article is so beautiful, it totally expresses everything I experienced as well! And I so much love your pictures, gorgeous!
    We were two girls travelling on our own for 2,5 weeks in Jordan. We also had a rental car and saw like this all the main spots in the country. I travel a lot, but was never a person, that comes home with a thousend new (Facebook) friends – but this time I made beginning of may 2015 in Jordan so many real friends, that I went back for another 10 days in October to visit all my new friends!! Everyone in my family and clique was surprised, because I hardly ever go back to a place I have already been to, and of course never in the same year! But I really found my absolutely favourit country in the world, which is highly underestimated!! People are so friendly, culture is not ruined because of millions of tourists (they don’t just invite you for tea to sell you something, but because they are really interested in your person and cultur) and the landscape is incredible! Please tell everyone to go to Jordan and experience it 🙂

  • freespeechfan

    Thank you so much for this great travelogue! I happen to be leaving for Jordan on Thursday with three other women, so we’ll be following in your footsteps. And two of us are vegetarian, so that’s a relief. 🙂