Exploring Jordan With G Adventures And National Geographic Journeys: A Travel Agent Review
A few months ago, I was incredibly lucky to go on a special FAM trip with G Adventures to Jordan. I am still digesting how amazing this country is.
Even before the recent string of terrorist attacks plaguing the country, tourism has been in a downward spiral for the past couple of years. Jordan gets a bad reputation just because of it's geographic location and negative press in surrounding countries.
When in reality, the Jordan I experienced was safe. I will always remember how friendly and generous the locals are. It is easily one of the most hospitable places I've been so far in my travels spanning over 30 countries.
This was my first trip to the Middle East. I honestly had no idea what to expect. Jordan was eye-opening, mind-blowing and life-altering.
How I got there?
Booking direct flights from New York to Amman was the best choice I made and is highly recommended. Royal Jordanian is a decent airline that feeds you a lot, plus you get a lot of miles that you can use on American Airlines, British Airways and other oneworld airlines. I recommend signing up for their membership program, Royal Plus. In case you are wondering the flight time from New York to Amman is about 12 hours! I probably slept at least 8-9 hours each way. Being conked out always makes flights more pleasant!
Is a visa needed for US citizens?
Yes, you can obtain a single entry visa upon arrival at the airport for 40 JD. There are ATMs available just before the visa counter.
What was so great about Jordan?
Just check out the photography from my trip! All photos are original. Pictures do not to Jordan justice, you need to see this destination in person.
What was bad?
Nothing really to be honest! A few minor inconveniences, yes:
- I was really looking forward to the night walk the Bedouin guide. Not seeing the stars in Wadi Rum desert (due to the full moon) was a total disappointment. I guess it just wasn't mean to be...
- The sand flies are no joke and are just as bad as mosquitoes. Those poor, poor camels.
- Our super luxurious coach bus broken down for a hot minute, but our awesome driver was able to fix it and we were back on the road before I knew it.
- Besides the Wadi Rum camp, the hotels were not super wow in any way. The hotel in Amman was sort of drab and outdated; and the front desk service seemed a bit annoyed when helping guests. We were originally supposed to stay at Petra Moon Hotel per the itinerary, but for some reason (probably due to availability) our plans changed and we had to stay at Petra Seven Wonders Hotel. Petra Seven Wonders Hotel was a decent "standard" hotel but my roommate and I had issues with a dirty, foul smelling fridge and a non-functioning night lamp due to a missing a light bulb. While in Sweimeh (the Dead Sea area) we actually stayed in an international chain, The Ramada Resort Dead Sea which was a pretty nice hotel with lots of international guests checking in and out. However, the location was so-so. Since this hotel is not part of the "hotel district", there is nothing around the hotel to walk to... Next time, I would stay at a hotel closer in town. Plus even though they have private beach access, you need to either take a 2-minute ride on a hotel shuttle which comes every 10 or so minutes, or walk 12 minutes to the beach. Don't miss out on floating in the sea while watching the sunset set! If you are used to sometimes slumming it in guesthouses around the world like me, you will have no problem with the accommodations that G Adventures handpicks.
- Getting cleared to fly back to the US out of Amman airport was sort of traumatizing (lots of pat downs and luggage inspection). But security is security and that's understandable.
Who should go to Jordan?
In short, there is really something for everyone in Jordan.
- History buffs interested in ancient archaeological ruins: you can get your fill in Amman and Jerash (about a 1 hour drive from Amman). The expansive sites truly rival what you see in Athens, Turkey and elsewhere.
- Hikers: Petra is also home to several trails and viewpoints that will impress any hiker. Likewise, you can spend at least 2-3 days exploring the archaeological park. In one day, we hiked over 17 miles up and down hundreds of steps and in between prickly trees and sharp rocks.
- Foodies: Believe it or not, Jordan is a total foodie destination. If you've never had Jordanian food, it is very similar to Lebanese, Israeli or even cuisine found in the Mediterranean. Because who doesn't love hummus, baba ganoush, falafel, kofta, tabbouleh, shawarma, and gourmet deserts like baklava. That's only just a small percentage of what you can eat. When you feel like wetting your whistle, you can order a nice cold Philadelphia beer actually brewed in Jordan. And "when in Rome" you can end your evening with a relaxing shisha (hookah) and mint tea with entrancing Arabic music in the background. I can tell you the cafe culture and ambiance in Amman rivals any European city including Paris. On final note, a lot of meals are included in the tour so most of the time you don't have to worry about a la carte ordering.
- Travelers who have already been to or are interested in going to Egypt, Israel, The United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Morocco: Jordan is the perfect alternative and that next-level destination with lots of hidden gems
In the short 7-days of the tour, our group saw and did a lot. In total, we visited 6 places throughout the country including:
Amman - Looking back when I think of the capital, crazy taxi rides, street markets, the smell of shisha, and ancient sites come to mind.
Jerash - This place should seriously be a UNESCO World Heritage if only there were sufficient funding. Jerash is home to one of the best well preserved Roman sites outside of Italy. Only a small percentage of it has been dug up...
- Madaba - In this small town, you can see some of the finest mosaics in the world. Mount Nebo, the historic site where Moses supposedly died, is just a short drive away. If you are lucky, on a clear day you can see Israel and the Dead Sea from a distance.
- Petra - Oh Petra! This place is so much more than just the Treasury. That's why no matter how you visit Jordan (independently or on a tour), you have to discover more of the park. Go beyond that famous photo location to experience the heart and soul of the city. Get a glimpse of how it used to function and how it still does to this day. Petra has views that rival the likes of the Grand Canyon. Unforgettable views, well-preserved sandstone tombs and monuments, and much more. Thanks to our CEO's connections, we were able to meet the last living Bedouin man living inside Petra for tea and a quick chat. His "bachelor pad" with otherworldly views of cliffs, peaks and mountains was something out of a story book. I remember thinking to myself, "Imagine if this place was an Airbnb experience!". One day exploring Petra was not enough especially if you are a photographer. Another memorable highlight of my trip was Petra By Night. Even though it's like any other major tourist attraction in the world - super crowded; it was seriously one of the coolest things I've experienced. Walking along the narrow pathways lit by candelight until you get to the famous Treasure is forever engrained in my memory.
- Wadi Rum - Visiting Wadi Rum is also must for at least 1-2 nights if not longer. It's no wonder why famous movies like The Martian and Rogue One where filmed in this amazing desert. It's my favorite place in Jordan. It was pure magic watching the sunset after a day of exploring the various viewpoints and special locales. Camping in the desert is a real bucket list experience. Moreover, I have fond memories of riding a camel in the early morning and listening to a local Bedouin guide's fascinating stories by the fire at night.
- Bethany - What can I say... being just yards from Israel was fascinating. Seeing the supposed baptismal site of Jesus in person was just another hidden surprise of the trip.
- Dead Sea - Floating in the Dead Sea is like a tourist rite of passage in Jordan! It's true you can only stay in the water for 5-10 minutes before your skin starts tingling. On the last evening of the tour, we watched the sunset while floating in the sea and it was pure bliss.
Jordan might not be for you...
If you don't want to cover up (wear long sleeves and pants) in the desert heat. You can still relax and swim in hotel pool's and beaches in a bathing suit. Dressing conservatively so you don't stick out like a sore thumb is a small sacrifice in exchange for the amount of wonders you'll see during your trip.
If you want to drink alcohol all the time since it's pretty expensive and not always super accessible in Jordan. Yes, there are hotel bars and stores to buy beer and wine, but it's definitely a lot "drier". Just indulge in delicious drinks like mango and lemon-mint juice which are to die for!
Besides this trip being my first time to the Middle East (major bucket list accomplishment), it was also my first time going on a multi-day tour. Even though my group exclusively consisted of travel agents, I was able to get a feel of what G Adventures is all about.
Who should go on a G Adventures tour?:
Travelers who want cultural immersion... the good, the bad and ugly.
Travelers who don't mind being with large groups for extended periods of time. You don't get a lot of alone time.
- Solo travelers who want an adventure of a lifetime without worrying about safety, language barriers, etc.
- Travelers who appreciate having a go-person, which is a super helpful tour guide (or "CEO" in G Adventures lingo), throughout the entirety of the trip. Your CEO goes out of his or her way to make sure your trip without a hitch. I was lucky enough to have an awesome, dedicated CEO who knew the ins and outs about the country. His passion for his country was inspiring to me. The Jordanians know Jordan is a special place. Even though Jordan is economically a poor country, it is rich in warmth with people who want to enjoy life. I want to help travelers plan the coolest trips to Jordan!
- If you just want to travel! Not focus on worrying about getting from point a to point b, admission fees to museums and other sites, accommodation choices, which tour guide to book and so on. G Adventures already knows whats cool to do and see in Jordan or wherever else you want to visit. G Adventures offers experiences in 134 countries!
- If you are interested in sustainable tourism and the concept of "doing good while traveling". G Adventures founded Planeterra which helps changes the lives of locals around the world through various social enterprise initiatives.
Who shouldn't go on a G Adventures tour?:
- Luxury travelers used to five-star hotels... that's not what G Adventures is about.
- Travelers who only care about their own agenda. It's important to understand you are going to be with a small group of 10-15 or so people. You have to have a "tour mentality" at least for the duration of the trip. That's why it's a good idea to book a pre and / or post stay for an extra night or two to get some alone time. Certain times, I felt rushed when I wanted to stay longer at certain places and take more photos for example. It's wasn't a huge deal for me, but if you are guilty of that or taking a long time shopping or not being able to wake up in time to leave according to schedule, it may not be for you. Basically you need to be able to go with the flow, and most importantly be considerate of the other people traveling with you.
- If you don't enjoy long hours in buses, vans, etc. Usually a lot of ground transportation is involved, unless otherwise stated on the tour itinerary. The answer is dramamine. Lots of dramamine.
- If you have tons of food allergies and / or restrictions, or physical disabilities as most of the tours tend to be active (no matter the trip type). Then again, G Adventures tries to be extremely accommodating to travelers needs. It's just something to consider!
Why book a National Geographic Journey?
A National Geographic Journeys trip is for those who want their experience to be better than anyone else's. The insider access and connections that both G Adventures and National Geographic have goes a long way. In addition to seeing all of the places mentioned above, other activities included: a hands-on cooking lesson to learn how to make maklouba (Arabic Upside-Down Chicken & Rice) and a private lecture on Petra by an archaeologist.
Would I return to Jordan?
Yes! I would love to visit again independently and perhaps combine it with Israel or similar. One place that the tour didn't visit that I would love to visit is Aqaba. After getting a taste of what Jordan has to offer, I'm ready to explore elsewhere in the Middle East when before I really wasn't so eager.
Would I personally go on another G Adventures tour?
Yes because they offer so many different experiences. Who doesn't want to do an Antarctica expedition? For remote, off the beaten path destinations and / or places that don't have much infrastructure and easy transportation options for travelers... G Adventures is the way to go! The brand-new Jane Goodall Collection which focuses on wildlife experiences is also right up our alley. I would go as a solo traveler or even with another person. Then again, I wouldn't go on a G Adventures tour every time I travel abroad. It's for once-in-a-lifetime experiences!
All in all, G Adventures is the perfect tour experience for the adventurous traveler from millennial to baby boomer age. You can even bring older children and teens along which is very popular in places like South Africa. There is nothing like experiencing an exhilarating safari with loved ones!
Is it expensive to go to Jordan?
- Recently I've spotted cheap airfare to Amman from the US for around $700 round trip which is pretty cheap. Anything below that is a steal!
- If you are booking a G Adventures tour, the cost is from $1599 per person (depending on the departure date and itinerary).
- Otherwise expect to budget at least $100+ per night for hotels.
- Food and drinks are about the same price as in the US, however street food is cheaper (just be careful if you have a sensitive stomach).
- Tipping is important in Jordan!
- Bring spending money for souvenirs! There are so many cool things to buy like authentic scarves, jewelry, army knives, mosaics, Dead Sea products, etc.
- Overall, Expect to budget $2000 or more per person for a week long trip.
recommendations / notes for Jordan:
- Four Seasons, Intercontinental or Le Meridien in Amman
- W Amman Hotel is opening in November 2017!
- Movenpick Resort Petra in Wadi Musa
- Rahayeb Desert Camp in Wadi Rum
- Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea in Sweimeh (Dead Sea)
- National Geographic Journeys' 'Explore Jordan' Tour - After review, you might not think this specific G Adventures tour is for you. We can help you find the perfect itinerary that suits your needs. With so many trip types, destinations and itineraries... it just makes sense to use a travel agent (us!) who has experienced G Adventures first-hand with expert knowledge of their product!
- Book the Hot Air Balloon Ride Over Wadi Rum in advance
- Travel information from the US Department of State