1. Hire a guide.
Tour guides in Jordan undergo fairly rigorous training and are tested on history, language fluency / communication, and general group management skills and personableness before being granted a license.
Bottom line: They know their shit.
This was my first experience being led around by a single guide for an entire trip. It seemed to really make sense in a country like Jordan, where there’s not much in the way of DIY public transport, or an established backpacker class to point the way. Without the insider info, you’ll miss a lot.
Hire a guide through a local (Jordanian) tour operator, and expect to pay $100-$150/day for the service, plus tip. Of course, not all guides have equal talents, and there’s always a chance you could land a lemon. Play it safe and go with the guide I had:
Ibrahim El-Wahsh, +962 7 95915879, Wahashi@yahoo.com (easiest to reach by phone)
Ibrahim knows every ticket taker, hotel bellboy, tourist police, Bedouin, and tour guide in the country (an exaggeration, but only slightly); he can rock a thawb and belly dance like a pro; he loves his shisha; he’s as comfortable in a 5-star hotel as a desert camp; and he’s genuinely concerned about the enjoyment and safety of everyone in his group.
If I were going back, I’d hire him in a second. If he wasn’t available, I’d consider postponing till he was.
2. Sleep top-shelf.
You can drop a lot on 4- and 5-star hotels, but there’s also a lot of variety on that top shelf. Here are a few I’d recommend as worth the splurge:
- Four Seasons Amman: A sweet place to begin and/or end a trip to Jordan. It’s done up as nicely as any other Four Seasons you’ve been in, there’s a super-swank outdoor/indoor pool and patio, and the staff is on point. You’re already splurging, so definitely go for the ~$16US breakfast buffet, which includes every known dish made from chickpea or eggplant. From $200US+
- Feynan Ecolodge: I’m not going to rehash what I wrote in 7 things I didn’t expect to find in Jordan — suffice it to say this is my top pick of the seven places I stayed…by far. $95-$165US, breakfast included.
- Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea: There’s a cluster of five or so luxury complexes on the northeast shore of the sea, with more on the way. The Mövenpick is like its own village, with multiple pools, shopping/dining/drinking areas, and golf carts to get around. Tip: A sunset lemon-mint shisha session at the Beach Lounge — make it happen. Starting ~$400US and going way up. (For celebrity-class splurgers, there’s a Kempinski next door.)
3. Go all out in Wadi Rum.
With one night in Wadi Rum, I stayed up late to lie on the sand and look at the stars and got up pre-sunrise to scramble around on the sandstone tower next to camp, but it wasn’t enough. There are more things to do here besides the requisite Bedouin jeep tour, camel ride, and stay at Captain’s Desert Camp.
If I’d had time, I would’ve gone for a multi-day hike or hooked up with a climbing guide for the day. Apparently, people have only recently started to put up routes here, so there’s an ‘undiscovered’ vibe.
To continue the splurge, I’d probably sign up for the 1-hour dawn balloon ride ($180/person, cash only) over the valley.
All of this can be arranged at the visitor center, where you buy your 2JD/$2 ticket to enter the park.
4. Eat over the Dead Sea.
Something about dinner at the Dead Sea Panorama Complex stood out for me. Probably the experience of watching the sun set over Israel (the towers of Jerusalem are visible if you squint just right) and melt into the strangely gelatinous water.
The main building of the site houses a museum, but it’s the adjacent restaurant I’m talking about. While the food was upscale and tasty and all that, it’s really all about the view.
Get there a solid hour, hour+ before sunset to have time to walk out onto the clifftops just beyond the outdoor dining area. Look down to the Dead Sea shore, 500 feet below sea level. [Note: My tour and most of my travel expenses were arranged and paid for by the Jordan Tourism Board.]