Difference between revisions of "Jordan"
Revision as of 18:10, 6 May 2012
Jordan (الأردنّ al-Urdunn)  is a country in the Middle East. Almost completely land-locked (save for a small outlet on the Red Sea in the Gulf of Aqaba and a frontage on the Dead Sea), Jordan is bordered by Israel and the West Bank (Palestinian Territories) to the west, by Syria to the north, by Iraq to the east and by Saudi Arabia to the south.
For most of its history since independence from British administration in 1946, Jordan was ruled by King Hussein (1953-99). A pragmatic ruler, he successfully navigated competing pressures from the major powers (US, USSR, and UK), various Arab states, Israel, and a large internal Palestinian population, through several wars and coup attempts. In 1989 he resumed parliamentary elections and gradually permitted political liberalization; in 1994 a formal peace treaty was signed with Israel. King Abdullah II - the eldest son of King Hussein and Princess Muna - assumed the throne following his father's death in February 1999. Since then, he has consolidated his power and established his domestic priorities, including an aggressive economic reform program. Jordan acceded to the World Trade Organization in January 2000, and signed free trade agreements with the United States in 2000, and with the European Free Trade Association in 2001. There is no hostility between Muslims and Christians, and Jordan is one of the most modern and liberal nations in the region.
Jordan can be divided into four regions:
Visitors to Jordan from non-Arab countries will need a visa, easily obtainable on arrival at most border points. One key exception is the crossing from the West Bank at the King Hussein ("Allenby") Bridge. Visas are available at all other land crossings into Jordan, including the two crossings from Israel at Eilat/Aqaba and the Sheik Hussein Bridge near Irbid. Previously notoriously complex (and expensive), visa prices have finally been standardized for non-Arabs at JD 10 for single entry, JD 20 for multiple entry, though you can receive a free, one month, ASEZA visa if you arrive in Aqaba with no visa. If you receive an ASEZA visa, you will still theoretically have to pay the visa fee if you leave the Aqaba economic zone, paid either with your departure tax, or on reentry to the Aqaba zone.
Jordan's national airline is Royal Jordanian Airlines . In addition, Jordan is served by a number of foreign carriers including BMI, Air France, airBaltic, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, Egypt Air, Emirates, Alitalia and Delta Airlines. Low-cost airline Air Arabia  flies between Jordan and destinations all over the Middle East. UK based airline easyJet  has announced plans to fly three times a week from London Gatwick to Amman from March 2011, cutting the cost of getting to the Middle East from the UK substantially.
Queen Alia International Airport is the country's main airport. It is 35km south of Amman (on the main route to Aqaba). You should allow 45 minutes to reach the airport from the downtown Amman, approximately 30 minutes from West Amman. Transport into Amman is provided by the Royal Jordanian bus service to the city terminal near the 7th circle, or by taxi (around 20 JD, meant to be fixed).
In addition to Queen Alia, Jordan has two other international airports:
The last functioning part of the famous Hejaz Railway, twice-weekly trains used to arrive from Damascus (Syria) at Amman's Mahatta junction just north-east of the downtown area, close to Marka Airport. However, services have been suspended since mid-2006 due to damage to the tracks, and it's unclear when they will resume. Even when they were running, trains took a very leisurely 9 hours (considerably slower than driving), and provided a very low standard of comfort. There are no other passenger trains in Jordan.
You can cross into Jordan by car from Israel, but the border formalities are time-consuming and expensive as Jordanian insurance is required and you will even have to change your license plates. The only available crossings are at Aqaba (if coming from Eilat) and at the Sheikh Hussein Bridge for those coming from Northern Israel. Note that the Allenby/King Hussein crossing does not allow private vehicles of any kind.
Long distance taxis operate the route from Damascus to Amman.
The drive between Amman and Syria is not as you might be used to in the USA or Europe, and the standard of driving and vehicle maintenance in both countries is poor (but generally worse in Syria). Don't be afraid to ask your driver to slow down and take extra care when overtaking. It's worth hiring a taxi just for yourself or your party and paying a little extra money to ensure the driver isn't tempted to race the journey to make more money. If you mind smoking, before hiring a driver make sure your that your driver does or would not smoke.
This trip should take around 3.5 hours.
It is theoretically possible to enter Jordan from Iraq depending on your nationality. Flights from and into Iraq involve a high speed high altitude cork-screwing dive down to the capital Baghdad, to reduce the likelihood of missile or rocket damage. Given the ever present threat from insurgents and the ongoing military operations in Iraq, it is strongly recommended that you do not attempt this journey from Baghdad or anywhere else in the country.
From Saudi Arabia
Entry from Saudi Arabia is by bus. Jordan-bound buses can be taken from almost any point in Saudi Arabia or the Gulf. Most of these are used by Arabs. The border crossing, called Al-Haditha on the Saudi side, and Al-Omari on the Jordanian side, has been recently rebuilt. Waiting time at customs and passport control is not too long by Middle Eastern standards, but allow for up to 5 hours on the Saudi side. As the crossing is the middle of the desert, be absolutely sure that all paper work is in order before attempting the journey, otherwise you might be lost in a maze of Arab bureaucracy. The trip from the border to Amman is 3 hours and up to 20 hours to the either Dammam, Riyadh or Jeddah on the Saudi side. The trip can be uncomfortable but is cheap.
Jordan can be entered at the port of Aqaba via the Egyptian port of Nuweiba. There are two services, ferry and speedboat. Expect to pay around $30 for the ferry or around $60 for the speedboat (both one way) if you are a non-Egyptian national (Egyptians are not required to pay the prices inflated by the authorities). The slow ferry might take up to 8 hours, and can be a nightmare in bad weather. The speedboat consistently makes the crossing in about an hour, though boarding and disembarking delays can add many hours, especially since there are no fixed hours for departures. You cannot buy the ticket in advance and the ticket office does not know the time of departure. You can lose an entire afternoon or even a day waiting for the boat to leave. UPDATE: prices have increased. The speedboat is now $70 and the ferry is $60 (+$10 or 50 EGP departure tax from Egypt).
The JETT bus company has services connecting Amman to Aqaba, the King Hussein Bridge (to cross into Israel), and Hammamat Ma'in. Private buses (mainly operated by the Hijazi company) run from Amman to Irbid and Aqaba. Minibus services connect smaller towns on a much more irregular service basis - usually they leave once they're full.
The Abdali transport station near Downtown Amman served as a bus/taxi hub to locations throughout Jordan, but many of it's services (especially microbus and service taxi) have been relocated to the new Northern bus station (also called Tarbarboor, or Tareq). Here you can find buses into Israel and a 1.5JD bus to Queen Alia airport.
By service taxi
Service taxis (servees) cover much the same routes as buses. Service taxis are definitely more expensive than minibuses, but a lot faster and more convenient.
Service taxis only leave when full so there is no set timetable. You may also be approached by private cars operating as service taxis. If you use one of these, it is important to agree the price in advance
Service taxis are generally white or creme in colour. They can sometimes be persuaded to deviate from their standard route if they are not already carrying passengers. It is quite likely that you would be asked to wait for a yellow taxi though.
By regular taxi
Regular taxis are abundant in most cities. They are bright yellow (Similar to New York yellow-cabs) and are generally in good condition. A 10km trip should cost around 2 JDs.
All yellow taxis should be metered, however most drivers outside Amman do not use them therefore you should agree on a price before departing. If you do get picked up by an unmetered taxi, make sure you agree on the price before driving away. If you do not agree on a price you will most likely pay double the going rate. Using the meter is almost always cheaper than negotiating a price so it is best to insist that the driver uses it before you depart. Keep your luggage with you - it's not uncommon for unmetered taxis to charge a ridiculous rate ( 30 JDs for a 10 minute ride ) and then refuse to open the trunk to give you your bags back until you pay up.
Day rates for taxis can be negotiated. These are usually through specific taxi drivers that have offered the service to friends or colleagues before. If you are staying at a hotel, the reception desk should be able to find you a reliable driver. It is also quite common in quiet times to be approached (politely) by taxi drivers on the street looking for business. There are plenty of good English speakers so it pays to wait until you find one you like.
A full day taxi fare should cost around 20-25 JD. An afternoon taxi fare would be around 15 JD. For this price the taxi driver will drop you off at local shopping areas and wait for you to return. You can then go to the next shopping location. You can leave your recently purchased items in the vehicle as the driver will remain in the taxi at all times, but it is not recommended to do so.
If you are planning a trip outside of Amman, the day rates will increase to offset the fuel costs. For day trips within 1-3 hours of Amman, a taxi is by far the easiest method of transport. A trip to Petra in a taxi would cost approximately 75 JD for 3 people. This would get you there and back with about 6 hours to look around and see the sights.
When negotiating taxi rates, ask if the agreed-on rate is the total or the cost per person. Often taxi drivers will quote a low rate and then when it comes time to pay will tell you that the rate is "per person."
If traveling a long way try to use buses or coaches rather then taxis. Some taxi drivers are not averse to driving people into the middle of the desert and threatening to leave you there unless you give them all your money. This is very unlikely if you stick to recommended drivers however. Jordan is generally very protective of its tourists and while overcharging is common (if not agreed in advance), threats and cheating are rare.
Jordan's highways are generally in very good shape, but the same cannot be said about its drivers or it vehicles. Many trucks and buses drive with worn or defective tires and brakes and in the southern and more rural parts of the country there is the tendency for some people to drive at night without headlights (in the belief that they can see better and that this is therefore safer!). Avoid driving outside the capital, Amman, after dark.
Renting a car should be inexpensive and not too time-consuming. Fuel prices are all fixed by the state-owned company, so don't bother looking for cheaper gas stations. Expect to pay around JD 0.55 per liter, although prices may change in time.
The main route is the Desert Highway, which connects Aqaba, Ma'an, Amman and continues all the way to Damascus in neighboring Syria. Radar speed traps are plentiful and well positioned to catch drivers who do not heed the frequently changing speed limits. Traffic Police are stationed regularly at turns and curves, well hidden, with speed guns. If you are even 10% over the speed limit, you shall be stopped and made to pay a steep fine. Better to drive within limits.
One particular stretch, where the road rapidly descends from the highlands of Amman to the valley that leads into Aqaba through a series of steep hairpin curves, is infamous for the number of badly maintained oil trucks that lose their brakes and careen off the road into the ravine, plowing through all in their path. This stretch of the road has been made into a dual carriageway and is now a little safer - however exercise caution on this stretch of the road.
The other route of interest to travellers is the King's Highway, a meandering track to the west of the Desert Highway that starts south of Amman and links Kerak, Madaba, Wadi Mujib and Petra before joining the Desert Highway south of Ma'an.
Much of Jordan's more dramatic scenery requires 4x4 vehicles with drivers or guides familiar with the territory. Most people visiting Jordan opt for organised tours, although it is possible to use local guides from the various visitors' centers at Jordan's eco-nature reserves. These include Wadi Rum, the Dana Reserve and Iben Hamam. The majority of tourists crossing into Jordan from Israel are on one-day Petra tours or in organised tour groups. They make up a significant percent of the daily visitors in Petra and Jordan's natural attractions.
The national language of Jordan is Arabic. Most Jordanians speak English, especially in urban area such as Amman. French and German are the second and third most popular languages after English. You might encounter some Cauacasian and Armenian languages because of the vast number of Caucasian immigrants that arrived during the early 1900s.
The currency is the Jordanian dinar (JD), divided into 1000 fils and 100 piastres (or qirsh). Coins come in denominations of ½ (no longer used), 1, 2½ (no longer used), 5, and 10 piastres and ¼, ½. Banknotes are found in 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 dinar denominations. The currency rate is effectively fixed at 0.71 JD per US dollar (or 1.41 dollars per dinar), an unnaturally high rate that makes Jordan poorer value than it would otherwise be. Most upper scale restaurants and shops at shopping malls also accept US dollars.
Many places have limited change so it is important to keep a quantity of 1 and 5 dinar notes. As bank machines give 20 and 50 dinar notes for large transactions, this can be difficult.
Cards are accepted in a limited (and seemingly random) way. Most hotels and hostels take cards, Petra entry fees (50 dinar and more) MUST be paid in cash, even though it is a major tourist centre.
A subsistence budget would be around JD 15 per day, but this means you'll be eating falafel every day. JD 25 will allow slightly better accommodations, basic restaurant meals and even the occasional beer.
Prices have risen rapidly (as of 2011) so it is best to check accommodation prices on-line (most Jordan hostels and hotels have web sales)
If you prefer to eat what the locals eat, it should only cost 1-2 JOD for which you can buy a falafel sandwich with any can of soda pop (most common is Coke, Sprite and Fanta). If you want to buy a chicken sandwich it will cost (50-80 qirsh).
To try real Jordanian food don't stay at 5/4/3/2/1 star hotels all the time; eating there is expensive for an average Jordanian. Unless the meal came with the hotel accommodation, don't eat from there. It may look like the people inside can afford the meal and make it look and sound like this is an average way to eat.
So this is what you do. You are already paying a lot for a couple of days in the hotel which is an average $50 USD. Anyone from Amman will tell you it's a lot and it is not worth the money, except those in the expensive area (i.e. hotel, airport, Amman hotel). But you will not be able to communicate with them as well as when you came out of the airport to meet the taxi man. Go to the city and find what the people are buying and you will save a lot in your trip. If not and you want to save the trip of seeing the country's true people then stay where you are and enjoy whatever the travel leader wants you to see, feel, and do.
Non-Jordanians can refund the VAT in the airport when they are returning home. The VAT amount must be more than JD50 and you can't refund VAT on the following items: Food, Hotel expenses, Gold, Mobile phones.
Jordanian cuisine is quite similar to fare served elsewhere in the region. The daily staple being khobez, a large, flat bread sold in bakeries across the country for a few hundred fils. Delicious when freshly baked.
For breakfast, the traditional breakfast is usually fried eggs, labaneh, cheese, zaatar and olive oil along with bread and a cup of tea. Falafel and hummus are eaten on the weekends by some and more often by others. There's no convention for when you should or should not eat any type of food. It's up to you. This is the most popular breakfast. Manousheh and pastries come in as the second most popular breakfast item. All of the hotels offer American breakfast.
The national dish of Jordan is the mansaf, prepared with jameed, a sun-dried yogurt. Grumpygourmet.com describes the mansaf as "an enormous platter layered with crêpe-like traditional "shraak" bread, mounds of glistening rice and chunks of lamb that have been cooked in a unique sauce made from reconstituted jameed and spices, sprinkled with golden pine nuts." In actuality more people use fried almonds instead of pine nuts because of the cheaper price tag. While mansaf is the national dish, most people in urban areas eat it on special occasions and not every day. Other popular dishes include Maklouba, stuffed vegetables, freekeh.
The most popular place to eat cheap Mansaf is the Jerusalem restaurant in downtown Amman.
Levantine-style mezza are served in "Lebanese-style" -which is typical to Jordaian style- restaurants around the country, and you can easily find international fast food chains including McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Burger King. In addition to chains well-known in Europe and North America, there are some local businesses such as:
As for foreign style restaurants, there is no shortage of them. The best ones are usually found in 5 star hotels, but the price tag is high. Italian restaurants and pizza places are somewhat abundant in Amman, Madaba, and Aqaba, but are very hard to find in other cities.
More and more cafes now serve food. There is an abundance of Middle Eastern-style cafes serving Argeelleh in addition to the full complement of Western and Middle Eastern coffee drinks. There is also a good number of Western-style cafes which usually serve Western-style desserts, salads and sandwiches.
Amman has an abundance of 5 and 4 star hotels. In addition there is good number of 3 star hotels and there are plenty of 2 star and 1 star hotels in downtown Amman which are very cheap, and there are plenty of tourists, especially those that are passing by stay in these hotels. Be advised that there are two scales of rating the hotels in Jordan. There are the standard, Western-style 5-star hotels such as the Sheraton, Crowne Plaza, etc, and then there are the local 5-star establishments. The local establishments that are considered '5-star' in Jordan would be more like 3-star hotels in the West. That being said, a traveller will pay top dollar for a Western brand-name 5-star hotel in Amman or Petra and less for the local 5-star hotel.
Furthermore, for longer stays it is possible to get furnished apartments from around 200-600JDs a month.
For long stays, it is possible to take Arabic courses at the University of Jordan as well as other private educational centers in Amman and occasionally the British Council runs courses in Arabic for foreigners.
Amman starting cost for apartments is $500USD - $2,000USD/$350JD - $1,400JD monthly and they prefer you pay up front and commit for at least a half year stay. The cost of the restaurants around there are average priced.
Alternative is Zarqa Private University. It is 35 minute drive exactly east of Amman and can save you a fortune due to the fact the city Zarqa cost 1/3 less to stay in the apartments. The fact is that you only spend 90-120JD monthly and get same or even better looking apartments with more room than Amman. The Zarqa Private University bus comes all the time at main street and takes you to a bus station within 3 minutes and from there the bus picks-up everyone (5-10 min) then heads to the University.
The Zarqa Private University has a more open space than Amman. Its Arabic courses are very good due to the fact that the communication teacher only speaks arabic and the other teacher teaches the rules and pronounciation in english. The complete Arabic learning course is 10 months. There are 3 levels. -1st level cost $500JD for the first 4 months. -(3 weeks break during summer). -2nd level cost $300JD for next 2 months. -3rd level cost $500JD for the last 4 months
All courses have 4 hours a day with each hour containing a different subject. 1st class - learning to interact (teacher can't speak English or very little) 2nd class - Get to know the words (teacher speaks in arabic with english for words that students forgot to study or that is new). 3rd class - learning the rules (teachers covers the grammar in Arabic & English) 4th class - Writing, reading and speaking the letters clear and sharp.
Work opportunities for the casual foreign visitor are somewhat limited in Jordan. The majority of foreigners working in Jordan are on contract work with foreign multinationals and development organisations (Amman is the 'gateway to Iraq' and a key base for the continuing efforts to rebuild its neighbour).
There is the possibility of picking up casual English teaching work if you hunt around hard for opportunities.
Fluent Arabic speakers might have more success, though the process of obtaining a work permit is not particularly straightforward. Engage a knowledgeable local to assist you.
- The electricity supply in Jordan is 230V/50Hz. But several types of plugs/outlets are in common use. I.e. European with round pins, British standard, Indian and combination outlets that can take multiple types.
Jordan is very safe. There is virtually no unsafe part of Jordan except at the Iraqi border. Although the rural parts of Jordan have limited infrastructures, the fellahin (or village people) will be happy to assist you.
Jordan is one of the most liberal nations in the region. Women may wear regular clothing without harassment in any part of Jordan. Western fashions are popular among young Jordanian women. However, modest clothing should be worn in religious and old historical sites. Keep in mind Jordan is a Muslim nation and western norms may not be accepted even by Jordan's western educated elite, such as public displays of affection. Jordan is not a place where homosexuality is taken as lightly as in the West, although is not illegal as is the case in most other Arab nations. Adultery, including consensual sex between unmarried couples, is illegal and can be punished by a maximum of a 3 year jail term.
As in all urban areas in the world, Jordan's cities have some health concerns but also keep in mind that Jordan is a center for medical treatment in the Middle East and its world-class hospitals are respected in every part of the world. Just remember to have caution with buying food from vendors, the vendors aren't trying to hurt you but the food might be unclean. Hospitals in Jordan, especially Amman, are abundant. Jordan is a hub for medical tourism.
Also, the biggest risk to your health in Jordan is being involved in a road traffic accident.
Jordan is a very hospitable country to tourists and foreigners will be happy to help you if asked. Jordanians in turn will respect you and your culture if you respect theirs. Respect Islam, the dominant religion, and the King of Jordan.
Wear modest clothing to important religious sites. Respect the Jordanian monarchy which has strong backing by the people. The Jordanian monarchy is very pro-Western and very open to reform, as are the Jordanian people.
Standing in Lines : Jordanians have a notable issue with standing in line-ups for service. Often those near the rear of a line will try to sidle forwards and pass those in front of them. The line members being passed, rather than object to this tactic, will often instead start to employ this same trick themselves, on the line members in front of them. The end result is often a raucous crowd jostling for service at the kiosk in question.
No one, including the person manning the kiosk, is happy when this situation develops, and often tensions in the jostling crowd seem high enough that violent disagreements feel moments away. However, there is no violence and the sense is that Jordanians recognise common distinct limits as to what was reasonable in line jostling.
Nonetheless, due to this common Jordanian phenomenon, several strategies are suggested.
Note also that during Ramadan, and particularly on the Eid al-Fitr holiday, schedules will change. Many restaurants, particularly those outside Amman, are closed during the daylight hours of Ramadan, only opening at sunset. This does not affect major restaurants near tourist destinations, however. Also, during Eid al-Fitr it is impossible to get a servees (minibus) in the late afternoon or evening in many parts of the country. Plan in advance if you are taking a servees to an outlying area; you may need to get a taxi back. However, JETT and Trust International Transport usually add more buses to their schedules during this time period, especially those going from Amman to Aqaba.
Most of country has mobile coverage. There are three mobile operators:
Card-based temporary numbers can be purchased at the airport or any mobile shop for 5 JD. These numbers can be subsequently recharged with a prepaid card starting at only one JD. Temporary "throw away" phones can be bought at many mobile phone shops across the country for around 20-30 JD, but a Jordanian must buy the phone before possession can be transferred to you.