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Our journey to Jordan began before we even entered. It was recommended to me that we purchase a Jordan Pass ahead of time, so I started to look into it. In the end, this was definitely the best decision, but I was a bit uncertain at first.
My uncertainty stemmed from the fact that the Jordan Pass only allows for a single entry into the country. We’d planned to leave Jordan after 3 days to visit Israel for Easter, and then returning again for a further week. I figured out which sites we wanted to visit, calculated the separate cost of the ones we would 100% visit, and decided that even if we had to purchase a second Visa into Jordan, we’d still come out ahead if we bought the Jordan Pass.
The glitch…According to the Visit Jordan website, we couldn’t obtain a new visa at the Wadi Araba border crossing (between Eilat and Aqaba), where we’d planned to re-enter the country. Nothing is ever simple!
When we arrived in Jordan, I explained this predicament to the customs officer. I asked if we could purchase a double-entry Visa rather than using the single-entry Visa associated with our Jordan Pass. He told me no! This wasn’t an acceptable answer for me, and I ended up talking to a few different people, including a man in a back office somewhere, who assured me of two things. One – there are no double entry Visas available for Jordan, the information on the Jordan website is outdated. Two – we could, indeed, get a new Visa at the Wadi Araba border crossing (again, the info on the Jordan website is outdated!!).
With our finger’s crossed, we accepted our Single-Entry Visa, and made our way to our Amman apartment.
What To Do During A Family Trip to Amman, Jordan
There’s a variety of things to do in Amman, and we wanted to make the most of our time. The first day however was a lazy day as we waited for our friends, Megan, Ethan & Alexis, to arrive from Canada. It was a good thing we took the time to relax, because the rest of our time in Jordan was jam packed! There’s just so much to do in this country, and we wanted to see as much as we could.
After letting our friends sleep in (a tiny little bit), we set out to exploring the city of Amman. On our agenda was the Amman Citadel and the Roman Theatre. The Citadel didn’t look very far away on the map, so we decided to start walking. We quickly learned that distances were incredibly deceiving in the city.
By the time we made it to the center of the city we were all tired. Looking up at the Citadel, towering overhead at the top of the hill, made everyone instantly hungry. We all needed a fortifying lunch to give us the energy to climb yet another hill!
Hashem Restaurant is a bit of an Amman celebrity, and lunch here didn’t disappoint. We had a table full of salads (hummus, tzatziki and tahini), french fries (which are delicious dipped in the salads), fresh falafel, and warm pita bread. Even the kids who didn’t like hummus in Canada, decided they liked it here! After washing it down with some sweet mint tea (or pop for those who didn’t want the tea) and we were ready to face the next hill.
As it turned out, the entrance to the Citadel was on the complete opposite side of the hill from the restaurant. We followed the signs, then walked beside the large stone wall until we finally found our way to the entrance. After all that I’m 100% certain it would’ve been easier to just take an Uber or taxi, but then we would’ve missed out on a great lunch!
The Amman Citadel
The Amman Citadel was fascinating to walk around and provided an incredible view over the city. All the kids enjoyed climbing on the big stones and posing from the top while giving me a mild heart-attack! We especially enjoyed the Jordan Archaeological Museum on site. Partly because it was cooler inside than outside, but also because it had an interesting collection of artifacts dating back thousands of years.
We started near the entrance and made our way around the displays. We talked about how the items were changing through time, and how the newer items differed from the older items. This led to a discussion about how the people lived, and how their lives changed throughout the millennia. Amman is one of the oldest, continually inhabited cities in the world. It was fun to have this discussion in a place where people have lived for thousands of years.
Once we’d had our fill of the Amman Citadel it was time to find the stairs and head towards the Roman Theatre before the sun set (and it closed!). Luckily, this was a quick walk DOWNhill. It felt like the first time we’d gone downhill all day!
The Roman Theatre
It was interesting to climb around, imagining it full of people with some kind of performance on the ground WAY below. The stairs were steep, but the kids didn’t seem to mind. They just enjoyed the ability to run free. After all the hills and stairs we’d already climbed that day, I couldn’t believe they wanted to climb MORE stairs at the theatre!
There was just enough time before it closed to quickly walk through the Jordan Museum of Popular Tradition and the Jordan Folklore Museum, flanking the entrance. I’m not sure these were must-sees, but the kids enjoyed looking at the displays, especially in the Folklore Museum.
By this point the sun was beginning to sink towards the horizon, and if we wanted to walk to dinner, we’d need to get a move on it! Having not learned earlier in the day to mistrust the perceived “nearness” of the destination in question, we started walking from the amphitheatre to Wild Jordan. According to google maps it was about a 15min walk and looked like a relatively straight shot. The “straight shot” was almost entirely up hill, with a few hundred stairs thrown in for good measure.
We stopped at the top of one of these sets of stairs to have a short break. While I was cursing myself for not grabbing a water-bottle from Randy (him & Ethan went on a detour and met us girls at dinner), a lovely lady brought us a couple glasses and some water. It was incredibly thoughtful, although it probably gives a good idea of how ragged we looked at that moment!! It’s these small gestures of kindness that make me fall in love with traveling all over again.
Dinner at Wild Jordan was delicious, with an absolutely incredible view over the city and the Citadel. The kids played games, lounged on bean bag chairs and watched tv while we enjoyed the view and waited for dinner. After dinner we caught an Uber back to our apartment. This time I was a bit smarter and decided it wasn’t worth walking!!
A Day Trip North of Amman
Jerash is a sprawling archaeological site a short drive. North of Amman. It was a must-do on our itinerary! We set out from Amman after an early breakfast and arrived in Jerash mid-morning. This was ideal as the sun was low in the sky and not yet too hot. The site is massive, and full of massive ruins I all stages of decay. While the adults enjoyed the history, the kids climbed on anything they were allowed to climb on. Alexis was fearless, and every time I looked, she was on top of something else. The girls wanted to follow her and kept wanting to go higher than I was comfortable with. A few times I let them push the limits, but my fear of heights ruled most decisions and they generally stayed close enough to the ground for me to not panic the entire visit!
After spending a few hours being amazed by the ruins at Jerash, we hopped across the street for an over-priced lunch at Lebanese House. The food was quite good, but it was definitely a tourist trap. The convenience, however, still made it worth it. That, and there was a small room with a few things for the kids to play on. Even though they were all too old for it, they still enjoyed themselves!
After lunch it was back in the car for the drive north to visit more ruins at Umm Qais. As we drove towards the Syrian border, the conversation in the car turned to the war in Syria and the refugee crisis. The girls had seen before and after pictures of Aleppo, and they talked about how pretty it used to be. They asked if we’d see bombs from the border, to which I quickly assured them we would not! (although I’ve talked to people who have been there in the evening and could see and hear the mortar fire in the distance).
At one point we passed by a refugee camp. It was a collection of tarps and not much else. This sparked further conversation about why people would choose to live that way rather than moving to one of the more established camps in Amman or elsewhere around the world. I didn’t have an answer, but I suggested that they might feel closer to home by staying near the border, maintaining hope that one day they’d be able to return.
As we approached Umm Qais we were momentarily distracted by the quiet ruins leading the way to the look-out over Syria and the Sea of Galilea. Some of the structures were incredibly well preserved, and I always appreciate a place more when there’s fewer people around. As we neared the look-out there were a few more people, but I wouldn’t necessarily consider it a popular spot!
The sun was starting to set as we stared out onto the Sea of Galilea and Southern Syria, and contemplated the horrors occurring not too far away. I gave thanks that myself and my children were born when and where we were. It’s nothing but the luck of the draw, and it’s good to be reminded of this every once in a while.
The view was so spectacular that we decided to linger a bit longer and enjoy dinner at the restaurant near the look-out. They were also kind enough to let Randy pull the car around so we didn’t have to walk back through the ruins in the dark! Plus, he was going to the car to get our jackets anyways, so it saved two trips for him. It was warm during the day, but as soon as the sun set the nights did get chilly in comparison.
A Day Trip South of Amman, Jordan
Al Qastal Desert Castle
After a day exploring North of Amman, it was time to see what lay South of the city. We wanted to visit one of the desert castles, but there are so many, it was hard to pick. We finally settled on one that was relatively close to the city, and in the general direction of Mount Nebo.
After the incredible ruins of Jerash the day before, we were all a bit underwhelmed by the desert castle. It seemed more like a pile of rubble the earth was trying to reclaim. There were a few rooms still standing, as well as some intricately carved rocks and columns. The kids absolutely loved being able to roam free here, and they had a blast climbing over everything and playing hide and seek.
The site wasn’t excavated, and it took a bit more imagination to envision what it might have looked like. However, the trade-off was that we were the only ones there. We could explore at our own pace, and not worry about the kids getting in anyone’s way. It was a stark contrast to Jerash, but it was an entirely different complex. I was glad we visited, even if we only needed to stay for an hour or so.
We stopped for lunch in Madaba, and likely could’ve spent a few hours wandering around the city, however we were all tired from the day before and wanted to get to Mount Nebo.
Mount Nebo is the place where Moses stood and looked upon the Promised Land. As we gazed out over the barren desert below, and onto the Dead Sea, we wondered what Moses would’ve though when he stood in that same place. THAT was the Promised Land?! He’d spent 40 years in the desert and the Promised Land just looked like more desert!
Turns out, the landscape in Jordan has changed over the past few thousand years. In Moses’ time the area below Mount Nebo was lush, green and fertile. Thank goodness for him!!
There’s a small Franciscan Basilica at the top of the mountain, with beautiful Byzantine mosaics on the floor dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries. We spent some time in the Basilica admiring the mosaics, and each silently contemplating the significance of the place.
Then it was time for a hot coffee from the small gift shop (it was COLD outside!) then back to Amman.
The Time We Ran Out Of Gas
On our way back from Mount Nebo we followed Google Maps down the back roads. I always prefer to drive on the back roads rather than the highway because it’s so much more relaxed and scenic. At this point we’d had our rental car for 3 days and driven about 300km with it. The gas gauge read ¼ of a tank, so we figured there was more than enough gas to get us back to Amman.
As we bumped along a dirt road the vehicle sputtered and slowed to a halt. Randy tried to turn the engine over, but it wouldn’t budge. We were out of gas! Thankfully, someone was looking out for us.
Up ahead, another vehicle was coming down the road. Randy flagged them down and explained our predicament. He said good-bye and drove off in the black SUV, leaving myself, Megan and 4 kids on the side of a dirt road, in the middle of nowhere, in Jordan! This was one of those times his “I-can’t-protect-my-family-right-now” instinct kicked in, and he apparently worried the entire way to & from getting gas.
Unfortunately for him, this wasn’t the only time this would happen in Jordan!
Since we had no idea how long Randy would be gone, we let the kids sing 99 bottles of beer on the wall. They’d been attempting to sing it every time we got in the car for the previous 2 days, and we kept telling them “no”. I guess we should’ve just let them get it out of their system, because they barely made it through 10 bottles before they got bored!! Luckily, it wasn’t long before the SUV was pulling up beside us. As Randy got out the kids re-started their rousing rendition of 99 bottles of beer on the wall (from 10), trying to make it seem like he’d been gone for SO long!
In reality, he was only gone for about 10 minutes. The lovely stranger who’d stopped for Randy owned a dairy farm just up the road. They pulled into the farm and he had someone grab him a small jerry-can of gas. They quickly returned, Randy put enough gas in the tank to get us to a gas station, and the man took his jerry-can back and carried on his way. I couldn’t believe how lucky we were!!
Running out of gas on the side of the road anywhere in the world isn’t ideal, but I guess if it had to happen this was the best-case scenario!
Crossing The Border To Israel
Getting from Amman to Jerusalem should’ve been a relatively straight-forward affair, or so I thought! Since there was 7 of us, I thought it would be easiest to book a private transfer. I found a company online (on the Israel Tourism site), booked via the webpage, and thought we were all set. Boy was I wrong!
We got up early, packed up our things, and sat outside waiting for the van to arrive. But, it never did. After about 15min I tried to call the company but no one answered. Then I sent an email. Still nothing. 30min later I tried to call again, and again. Still no answer! Once an hour had passed it was time to change plans.
The border situation with Israel and Jordan is complicated, to say the least. The shortest route between Amman and Jerusalem crosses through the West Bank. The Jordanian government recognizes the West Bank as part of Jordan, whereas the rest of the world recognizes it as part of Israel. I’d read that it was possible to cross into Israel via the King Hussein bridge, however all the reports said it was necessary to return via the same crossing. As we were planning to head down South, and wanted to cross at Eilat, I didn’t think this was an option for us. We decided to take the safe route and cross at the Jordan Valley crossing, just North of the West Bank.
Uber seemed to be our only option, and since there was 7 of us we wouldn’t all fit into one car. Randy & I both had local SIM cards, so we decided to split up. I took the girls with me, while Megan, Ethan & Alexis went with Randy.
My Uber came quickly, but Randy’s did not. The first one he called refused to take him to the North border, insisting instead that he go to the King Hussein crossing. Since I was already heading to the other border, this wasn’t an option. So, the Uber driver left, and Randy had to call another one! It was at least 20min later before they finally left and with each passing minute he started to worry more.
This was the other time Randy nearly had a panic attack!
Being a strong, independent, well-traveled female I had no qualms about jumping into an Uber on my own with my two sweet girls. Randy, however, felt differently! He worried right from the start and was tracking my iPhone the entire way. This got him into trouble, because eventually (for whatever reason) my phone dropped the connection and I stopped showing up on his map. That’s when he really started to worry.
Worst-case scenarios filled his mind. When they passed by the point where I’d fallen off the map, he searched the hillside for a car accident, worried we’d tumbled over the edge of the cliff. Luckily for him (and us!) there was no car accident, and we were patiently waiting at the border.
Next Stop: Jerusalem for Easter
What To Know before you go to Amman, Jordan
Where We Stayed in Amman
Arabian Suites Amman
This is a small apartment building with a handful of 1- and 2- bedroom apartments. It’s located in a quiet residential neighbourhood within walking distance to restaurants and shops. The owner is incredibly kind and full of great information about Amman. Find the latest prices right here.
Cost: 44 JD ($82.50 CAD)/night for a large 2-bedroom apartment
Where We Ate in Amman
Hashem Restaurant Down Town
This restaurant is an Amman staple, and a must-do if you’re in the city! It’s busy most of the day, but it’s large enough you shouldn’t have to wait too long for a table.
Cost: 8 JD ($16 CAD) for our family of 4
Wild Jordan Center
This center offers delicious food, an incredible view, and a socially responsible gift shop. A purchase here supports a good cause, whether you stop in for dinner or just a drink. The Hub is a great space to sit and work on your laptop, The Trail is ideal for a couple to grab dinner, and The Family Café is packed with stuff for the kids to do. It’s nice that the spaces are all a bit separate, as no one feels like a bother to anyone else.
Cost: 24.30 JD ($48.61 CAD) for 2 main meals, 2 appetizers & 2 drinks
If you’ve just arrived in the Middle East the you likely won’t have had your fill of local cuisine, but if you’ve been in the area for a while this Italian restaurant offers a pleasant change from the usual kebab and hummus.
Cost: 18 JD ($36 CAD) for pizza, spaghetti and 2 drinks
Where We Ate in Jerash
Located nice and close to the ruins, this restaurant is air conditioned and has a small play area (if you’re traveling with kids). The food is good, even if a little expensive, but the location makes it worth the stop.
Cost: 14.75 JD ($29.50 CAD) for our half of a large shared platter and 2 mint lemonades.
Where We Ate in Umm Qais
Umm Qais Resthouse
The restaurant at the View point offers a delicious meal at a fair price, and a phenomenal view over the Valley below.
Cost: 17 JD ($34 CAD) for lentil soup, tabbouleh, hummus, samosas and French fries.
Where We Ate In Madaba
The food here was reasonable, although it wasn’t the local restaurant we were hoping for. The service was mediocre, and the servers were not as attentive as many of the other places we’d visited in Jordan. It was a decently quick lunch stop, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to go back
Cost: 15 JD ($30 CAD) for Greek Salad, 2 Lentil Soup and a Sandwich.
What We Did In And Around Amman
Cost: Included in the Jordan Pass, 3 JD per person without Jordan Pass
Amman Roman Theatre
Cost: Included in the Jordan Pass, 2 JD per person without Jordan Pass
Jerash Archaeological Site
Cost: Included in the Jordan Pass, 10 JD per person without Jordan Pass
Umm Qays Archaeological Site
Cost: Included in the Jordan Pass, 5 JD per person without Jordan Pass
Al Qastal Desert Castle
Cost: 5 JOD ($10 CAD) per adult, kids 8 & under free
How We Got Around Amman, Jordan
In Amman we walked a LOT!! But, we also learned our lesson (kind of) and took an Uber a few times. For the day trips we rented a car through Enterprise. Driving in Jordan was incredibly easy, but to be prepared for your trip check out this guide to renting a car in Amman. The roads are in great shape, they drive on the right (like North America and Mainland Europe), and everything is well signed. I recommend downloading an offline version of Google Maps before you set out so you’ll always know where you are!
Rental Car Cost $273.78 for 3 days (for a large van that fit 7 people). We also spent $54 CAD on fuel.
What We Spent
Our Average per day in Amman and Northern Jordan was $166.32 CAD for our family of 4. I’ve taken into account the fact that we were traveling with another family, so things like our car rental & petrol were split in half to come up with this total.