Jordan

Pearl of the Middle East

Posted by James Anderton on February 1st, 2020


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For more detail on Jordan you can read a blog of my time there

I was looking forward to cycling in Jordan and it exceeded expectations. It's great when that happens. Jordan is arguably the jewel of the Middle East. It is a progressive and welcoming country, wholly free of the troubles that dog some of its neighbours, whilst maintaining an authentic Middle-Eastern feel. The cycling is varied and often spectacular. From rift valleys to high mountains to sprawling deserts Jordan has plenty to offer a cycle explorer. There is also a vast array of archeological sites to visit including one of the wonders of the world. Jordan is not a big country. It is about the same size as Austria but it packs a lot in. It took a little over a week to cycle down through but it was the highlight of my time in the Middle East.

Mountains of Jordan

View of the rift Valley from the mountains of Jordan south of Wudi Masa

I arrived from Israel at the Jordan river border crossing in the north west of the country. Initially progress was slow as everyone would flag me down to welcome me to the country and ask me where I was from. The people in Jordan were always incredibly friendly. I lost count of the number of phone numbers I acquired from people who insisted I take their number in case I needed anything. I would regularly be invited in for tea and had to turn down many offers simply to maintain some semblance of progress. The majority of the population lives in this corner of Jordan due to its fertile soils and relatively abundant rainfall. Here you will find the only forests in Jordan and there are a lot of excellent climbs up into the mountains. The hills are well populated and offer an interesting glimpse into everyday life in the country outside of the cities. Karak castle, built by the Crusaders, is well worth a visit or at least cycling near as you get some excellent views out over the countryside.

Cycling Jordan Petra Treasury

The most famous site in Jordan. The Treasury at Petra. Made famous (or more famous) by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. You can't go inside and look for the Holy Grail.

The most enjoyable cycling was heading south out of the sprawling capital of Amman. It is a few hours ride to the summit of Mount Nebo with incredible views of the rift valley and over into Palestine. There's a wonderful back road that descends all the way down to the Dead Sea. The lowest point on earth at -410m. The Dead Sea though is really a salt lake. It has a single source, the Jordan River, and is not connected to the ocean. It gets its name because of the high salinity which prevent fish and aquatic plants from living in it. The extremely high concentration of dissolved mineral salts in the water causes the water to be denser than that of plain fresh water. So you can literally just lie on your back and float without moving a muscle. Apparently people have been known to drown in the Dead Sea when lying face down because they can't turn their body over. I didn't try. The cycle along the Dead Sea is excellent and at the end of the sea/lake you can visit the official marker for the lowest point on earth. 20m up a slope. After cycling along the valley for a short while you can hang a left (Route 60) for a beautiful climb up into the mountains to an altiplano where you can cycle through a tunnel of wind turbines all the way to Petra. One of the seven wonders of the world. Billing somewhere as a wonder of the world can often lead to anti-climax but Petra does not disappoint. You could happily spend a couple of days wandering around the ancient city half hidden in the mountains. The cycling remains excellent all the way to Wadi Rum. Yet another must see in the south of Jordan. A beautiful valley cut into sandstone and granite rock. A magical place at sunrise and sunset where they filmed much of Lawrence of Arabia and the Martian. More for climbers than cyclists. I offroaded a few times to enjoy the serenity of the valley but spent a lot of time dragging my bike through sand.

Cycling Jordan Wasi Musa Petra

Wadi Musa. Petra is nestled in the mountains in the distance.

The only problem I encountered in Jordan was from wild dogs. This was different to your normal dog encounter that we cyclists get a lot of. Territorial dogs yapping at you as you go past is something you get everywhere. Jordan however has a problem with strays that come together in the deserted mountains to form a pack of wild and hungry dogs. I came across such a group half the way up the climb from the Dead Sea towards Petra. It was seriously unpleasant. The more dogs in a pack the more confident they are. There were about 50 of them. I approached them on a rare flat section and was able to speed through gesticulating wildly to keep them at bay but then the road turned uphill and I was surrounded. I was in a spot of bother. I had some stones handy, I chucked a couple, but they kept coming back. Fortunately I guy in a truck came downhill, saw my predicament, stopped in the middle of the road and started honking his horn. The dogs attention was diverted and I was able to inch away. A few followed but now that there was only a handful of them their aggression subsided. I would have liked to thank that truck driver but I never got the chance. It was the kind of road where a car would come along every minute or two but a couple of minutes is a long time when you’ve got a pack of wild dogs baying for your flesh. I would recommend having some kind of dog repellent device if in this part of Jordan.

Cycling Jordan Petra Monastery

The Monastery at Petra. It's a long hike to get there but well worth it.

Cycling Jordan Wadi Rum

Offroading into the desert near Wadi Rum

Roads:

Roads are excellent but there's plenty of opportunity to take tracks heading off into the desert. They are more sand roads than dirt roads so be prepared for a lot of pushing.

Security:

I only mention it because Jordan is in the heart of the Middle East so people might have preconceived notions about safety here. The whole of Jordan is a perfectly safe place to enjoy and explore.

Wild camping:

Easy. The desert is home to the nomadic Bedouin people. No strangers to camping. The idea of pitching up wherever you end up is ingrained in the culture. Everywhere in Jordan I found a very relaxed attitude to me pitching my tent for the evening. They only issue might be with wild dogs but they'll just bark outside your tent for a bit and then slope off. Finding water can be a little tricky. There were a lot of springs marked on my map but when I got there they were dry so don't rely on them. There are quite a few wells about especially in the mountains but you will need a bucket and some rope to get anything out of them. If there is a local nearby he/she will happily help you out. You can get screw top camping gas in Jordan. I found an excellent outdoor equipment shop on the outskirts of Amman. The owner is a cool guy with excellent taste in music. You can also sometimes find it in your standard kitchen appliance style shop. There's one 100m towards the sea from the place where you buy tickets for the boat to Nuweiba in Egypt.

Visa's:

You can get a visa on arrival into Jordan at all airports and all border crossings except the Allenby Bridge crossing from Palestine. If you cross here you would have to visit an embassy to get a visa in advance. I read online that the Visa is 40 JD ($50) but I only paid 10 JD. It would've been 30 JD if i was staying less than 3 days. You don't need anything to get the visa on arrival. Just the cash and your passport.

Border Crossings

I arrived from Israel at the Jordan river crossing in the north of the country. Painless although my only criticism of Jordanian people is that they are very bad at queuing. The immigration queue was a free for all where my in built English politeness was a definite hindrance.

I left on a boat from Aqaba to Nuweiba in Egypt. The ferry is expensive. $75 for a 2 hour trip. It runs every day. Leaving at 11pm and arriving at 1am. There's a ticket office in Aqaba here. It's cheaper to get to Egypt by nipping back into Israel. It's only 30km from the Jordan/Israel border to the Israel/Egypt border but you run the risk of getting an Israeli stamp in your passport and you have to pay $30 departure tax out of Israel.

Bicycle Shops:

I didn't need one but you can get quality parts in Amman. Bike Rush has a good reputation.

Tips:

If you plan on seeing a lot of the tourist sites then get what's known as a Jordan Pass. For 90 JD you get free pass into all the sites throughout the country and your visa is included in the price. If you are just going to visit Petra then don't bother but if you plan on taking in a few other attractions as well then it makes sense.

When to Go:

Anytime of the year is good for cycling but from December to February nights can drop below freezing up in the mountains. The majority of the rain falls in the mountains in the north west of the country. Especially in January. March to May is the best time to visit. Western Jordan has essentially a Mediterranean climate with a hot, dry summer, a cool, wet winter and two short transitional seasons. However, about 75% of the country can be described as having a desert climate with less than 200 mm of rain annually.

Costs:

Jordan isn't particularly cheap. I camped every night. Supermarket food (away from tourist areas) is reasonable though. Petra is expensive ($75) but worth it.

Food:

Street food is excellent. I enjoyed the shawarma wraps soaked in tahini sauce.

Cycling Jordan Shawarma Wrap

Electricity:

Side of the road:

Right.