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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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!)
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.
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.
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”.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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!
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?)