Travel in Jordan
A land of age old civilisations, Biblical fable and majestic desert wilderness, Jordan is one of the Middle East's most popular tourism destinations today. Founded in the wake of the Great Arab Revolt a little over 100 years ago it is a modern nation on a truly ancient land and although more than half of its 11 million population traces its roots to the villages and towns of Palestine - from where many arrived as refugees following the creation of Israel in the mid 20th century - it remains a country with a rich, proud Bedouin heritage, markedly visible in the image it presents of itself to the wider world. From the Howaytat to the Bani Sakhar, Bani Atiya, Anaza and others, some of the biggest, best-known Bedouin tribes of the Arab World live across Jordan and although less than 10 per cent of their populations maintain the traditional mobile pastoral way of life, tribal heritage remains an important part of their identity and tribes have an ongoing influence at every level of Jordanian society. Jordan's Royal Family itself has tribal roots, belonging to a tribe called the Quraysh; within the Quraysh, they trace their descent to a clan known as the Bani Hashim, from which the Prophet Mohammed hailed himself. It is for this reason they are known in English as the Hashemites, with Jordan by extension the Hashemite Kingdom. Jordan's tribal makeup is a big part of what makes it both the traditional and culturally diverse modern nation it is and a hike along the Bedouin Trail represents one of the most illuminating ways in which its Bedouin side can be discovered. Jordan is one of the easiest places in the region to travel; it has a well-developed tourism industry, it feels safe and Jordanians are almost unfailingly welcoming, friendly and helpful to guests. The Bedouin Trail starts in Jordan, running from Petra to Aqaba via the deserts of Wadi Rum.
Getting to Jordan
Getting to Jordan is easy. Amman has an international airport served by direct routes from all over Europe, the Middle East and much of the wider world and it will be the main entry point for most visitors. Aqaba has a smaller airport handling domestic flights from Amman and a small number of international routes from the UK, Turkey and other parts of Europe, mostly in the high season months between October and April. Centred at the heart of the Middle East many overland routes run into Jordan too. Aqaba has border crossings with Saudi Arabia and Israel open 24/7 and daily ferry services connect it with Nuweiba and Taba in the Sinai across the Gulf of Aqaba. Most visitors will need a visa to enter Jordan although Aqaba can usually be entered visa-free.
Visas for Jordan
Visas are required by visitors of most nationalities to enter Jordan. Wherever you arrive in Jordan one month tourist visas will be available at immigration desks near passport control points, costing 40JOD. Aqaba is an exception: most visitors entering through Aqaba's land, sea or air borders - with the exception of its Wadi Araba border with Eilat in Israel - do not need visas if they will exit via Aqaba too. Visitors who purchase a 'Jordan Pass' before arrival do not need a visa either, wherever their arrival point, provided they will stay in Jordan over three nights. Available online before arrival, the Jordan Pass costs 70JOD and covers entry to Petra and 40 other attractions, making it a must-buy money-saver for anybody who will visit Petra, including all hikers on the Bedouin Trail.
Phone & internet
Getting connected is straightforward in Jordan. Good, solid WIFI is available in most accommodation and cafes and there is strong 4G mobile connectivity in all towns. Getting a Jordanian SIM card is best way to go, with Orange, Zein and Umniah the three main service providers. All offer different packages for internet and calls, most of which must be recharged when credit finishes or at the end of each month. SIMs can be purchased at official stores in Jordan's airports and small, independent mobile phone shops sell SIM cards in all big towns too. You must show your passport and visa when getting a SIM, so keep it handy. Coverage is limited in the desert, but Orange has the best reception across Wadi Rum and other wilderness areas of southern Jordan.
Comprehensive travel insurance is recommended for all hikers on the Bedouin Trail. In the event of emergency hospital treatment being required, medical bills can be extortionately high. The best option is to buy a specialist outdoors insurance policy covering at a minimum hiking, and scrambling and perhaps rock climbing, abseiling, 4x4 travel and camel riding too. Make sure it includes an air rescue component and generous medical allowances and read the small print carefully, to ensure activities are covered at altitudes up to 3000m. Hikers will reach a maximum altitude of 1854m on the Wadi Rum Trail in Jordan and anybody thru hiking the entire Bedouin Trail will go to a maximum altitude of 2642m on the top of Jebel Katherina, Egypt's highest summit.
Pharmacies are found all over big towns in Jordan and stock a wide range of medication, most of which can be purchased over the counter without a prescription. The Bedouin Trail runs into remote areas and hikers will remain far from medical facilities most of the time. The Queen Rania Hospital is the best-equipped medical facility at the northern end of the trail near Petra. At the other end of the route in Aqaba, the best hospitals are the Islamic Hospital and Prince Hashem Bin Abdullah Military Hospital. In between Petra and Aqaba, Wadi Rum Village has a small medical clinic open 24/7 for emergencies and for paid consultations every day except Fridays. This clinic also has a small pharmacy, with other ones found in the nearby village of Deesa.
As with any country, Jordan has its own norms and customs. Misunderstandings are tolerated amongst outsiders, but it is still good to know a few essential things before travelling. Religion is a sensitive topic and should never be joked about. Talk about it in the most respectful way. Women should cover their hair inside a mosque and everybody must remove shoes. When entering a home or a Bedouin tent remove shoes and stand up and shake hands to greet new arrivals who enter after you. Men and women generally exchange verbal greetings, with interactions between the two sexes restricted in Bedouin society. Use the right hand to eat; the left is considered unclean. When sitting, never allow your soles to face someone. Kneel or sit cross legged.
Jordan is a small country and travelling between its major tourism hubs is easy. JETT bus runs daily buses between Amman, Petra and most other towns, along with services between Aqaba, Wadi Rum and Petra. It is relatively cheap with regular buses between Amman and Aqaba costing 10JOD and first-class or so-called 'VIP' buses with big reclining chairs, back-of-the-seat TVs and WIFI 20JOD. Smaller minibuses cover routes across Jordan too but they are harder to find and use for non Arabic speakers and typically depart when full, meaning departure times will always vary. Taxis can be hired to go anywhere in Jordan with fares between Amman and Aqaba, Wadi Rum or Petra approximately 90JOD, Aqaba and Petra 45JOD and Aqaba and Wadi Rum 30JOD.
Renewing a visa
Visitors who want to extend a one month tourist visa in Jordan can do so for an extra two months free of charge. The best place to do this near Wadi Rum is a government office in Aqaba called the 'Markaz Amn el Medina'. If visas are not renewed a penalty of 1.5JOD per day overstayed will be charged on departure from Jordan. The process for renewing a tourist visa is straightforward and usually finished within a few hours. A paper application form is completed and a photocopy of your passport ID page and last entry visa to Jordan must be submitted. Visitors registering to renew their visa for the first time will usually be required to make a set of fingerprints at a nearby police station. Fingerprinting is a simple, routine process usually completed within half an hour.
Money & payment
Jordanian currency is the Jordanian dinar or JOD and each JOD is divided into 100 piastres or 'qirsh'. Wait until you arrive to exchange money. Exchange rates are better. Foreign exchange counters operate 24/7 at Jordan's borders. ATMs are widespread in big towns but most charge 4-7JOD per withdrawal and many travellers will have a daily cash withdrawal limit too. Credit and debit cards can be used widely in bigger towns in Jordan but rarely in remote destinations like Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum is primarily a cash economy and no ATMs are found in the village so withdraw everything needed plus a little extra before arriving. Tips or 'baksheesh' are not always expected but will be appreciated, including on hikes. When happy with a service, tip 10-15% of the total cost.
Vaccinations for Hepatitis A, Tetanus and Rabies are recommended for travel in Jordan. Check all of your vaccinations are up to date, getting any boosters that may be required. If you have not been vaccinated against Rabies be aware it is usually administered as a course of three injections over one month, setting enough time aside before travel. Even then be aware that it will not buy total immunity; it is a pre-exposure vaccine buying time to get to a hospital. Whilst vaccination is not compulsory hikers visiting remote areas should consider all, especially Rabies. Dogs can be aggressive near remote desert camps and several attacks have been reported by people walking Jordan's hiking trails in the last few years, with some requiring treatment in hospital.
Women travellers face extra pressures in many parts of the Middle East. Sexual harassment is common in urban areas across Egypt but it seems less of a problem in Jordan. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon and can come in many forms, from uncomfortable, lengthy stares to catcalls, declarations of love or surprise marriage proposals. Generally, it is best to dress conservatively, covering arms to the wrists and legs to the ankles. Some women say wearing a headscarf helps. Stories abound of women being hoodwinked into relationships - especially around Petra - so caution is advised in measuring the motives of any suitor. Most women in Wadi Rum have positive experiences and should not be unduly concerned about hiking with a male guide.
Safety & security
The Middle East is often represented as a place of danger and whilst parts of the region have seen serious unrest over the last decade Jordan has stayed almost entirely trouble-free. It has long been one of the region's safest, most stable countries and travellers in Jordan should not have any more concerns than they would moving around Europe or the USA. Hikers on the Bedouin Trail should consider themselves in one of the safest parts of all; alongside Jordan's security forces, Bedouin tribes watch and control their lands closely and add an extra level of intelligence and protection, considering it a duty to keep their guests safe. Street crime is extremely rare and it is generally much safer to walk around Jordanian towns than towns in the West.