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Country Guide - Jordan

Winston's Hiccup

The strange kink in the eastern border between Jordan and Saudi Arabia is known as 'Winston's Hiccup', supposedly because Winston Churchill drew the boundary of Transjordan after a more than satisfactory lunch. The story, unfortunately, is a myth.

Bible stories, lost cities, Lawrence of Arabia - Jordan has romantic associations up to its eyeballs. It's a country that ought to be awash with tourists, but the Middle East's bad reputation has kept them away in droves. Don't be fooled: Jordan is, on the whole, peaceful.

More than that, it's one of the most welcoming, hospitable countries in the world. Where else could you leave your belongings on the street for hours at a time, and find them there when you get back? Where else do total strangers with nothing to sell invite you into their homes?

COUNTRY FACTFILE

 

  • Full Name

    Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

  • Capital City

    Amman

  • Currency

    Jordanian Dinar

  • Timezone(s)

    GMT +2

  • Daylight Saving

    Late March until Late October

  • Area

    89,206 km2

  • Population

    5,460,000

  • People

    98% Arab (60% Palestinian, many refugees), Circassians, Chechens, Armenians, Bedouins

  • Languages

    • Arabic (official)
    • English (other)
  • Plug Types

    • 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

    Voltage: 230V
    Frequency (Hz): 50Hz

 

 

Geography

Jordan is bounded to the north by Syria, to the northeast by Iraq, to the east and south by Saudi Arabia and to the west by Israel. It has three distinct geographic zones: the fertile Jordan Valley, which runs down the western side of the country; the East Bank plateau, where most of the main towns are; and the East Bank, a desert which stretches east into Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Jordan is a smallish country shaped like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. An apocryphal story holds that the lumpy eastern border was created by Winston Churchill after a very liquid lunch.

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.

Events

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.

Weather

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.

Activities

Exceptional rock climbing and hiking in the unique environs of Wadi Rum, camel trekking in the southern desert and the fantastic diving and snorkelling off the coast between Aqaba and the Saudi border are the hottest activities in Jordan. A soak in a thermal hot-water spring or a Turkish bath is another worthwhile endeavour.

Places of Interest

  • Qala'at ar-Rabad

    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.

  • Petra

    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.

  • Desert Castle Loop

    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.

  • 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.

Terrorism Warning

Travellers to Jordan should exercise caution in popular public sites and be informed at all times of the current political situation. Borders with Israel and Iraq are obvious potential trouble spots. Some travellers have been tempted to use Jordan as an easy route into Iraq - not a good idea.

Visas

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 1.5 JOD for every unregistered day. Avoid registering at Wadi Musa, which is notorious for its red tape. Note that visas of any sort are not available at King Hussein (Allenby) Bridge, so don't come this way unless you already have a visa. Multiple-entry visas are not issued on arrival anywhere, and must be obtained in advance. One quirk in the system is that if you arrive in Jordan on a single-entry visa via any border except King Hussein (Allenby) Bridge, you can then cross into Israel and the Palestinian Territories via the King Hussein Bridge crossing and then return to Jordan the same way without needing a multiple-entry visa or another single-entry visa. The cost for all nationalities is 10.00 JOD (single entry visa). Keep your passport on you whenever you're near the Israeli border, as there are lots of military checkpoints. Visitors arriving from Aquaba can request a free visa (Aquaba is a special economic zone). The ASEZ visa is valid for one month and there is no need to register with the police. ASEZ visa holders staying longer than one month can only extend the visa in Aquaba. If that sounds like too much of a hassle, you can always get a normal visa in Aquaba for the regular cost. ASEZ visa holders do not pay departure tax.

Further Reading

  • Kingdom of the Film Stars: Journey Into Jordan

    Annie Caulfield

    Tells the story of the author's relationship with a Bedouin man.

  • Treks and Climbs in Wadi Rum

    Tony Howard

    An excellent handbook of walks, climbs and car and camel treks.

  • A History of the Arab Peoples

    Albert Hourani

    Gives a feel for the evolution of Muslim Arab societies.

  • Seven Pillars of Wisdom

    TE Lawrence

    Lawrence of Arabia straight from the camel's mouth.

  • Freya Stark in the Levant

    Malise Ruthuen

    A selection of photos from this remarkable British travel writer of the early 20th century.

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