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This report is written by Rosemary Royle, from Pembrokeshire and the trip was undertaken by myself and my husband Peter. This was a combined birdwatching and sight-seeing trip, with the balance well in favour of birdwatching! From reading the little information available it also seemed possible to hire a car and drive ourselves, which is the way we prefer to do things if possible. So how did it turn out? It was a good trip — the scenery, Petra, the Madaba mosaics, Ajloun and Wadi Rum were excellent, people were very friendly, food was good.
Birds were quite hard to find but we did get 22 lifers. It was good to be able to drive around on our own and stop when we liked — but see below for more comments on driving. In fact it was better weather in the UK for much of the time we were there. In retrospect we would change very little about this trip apart from to pack more warm clothes! Language — the guide books tell you that English is pretty widely spoken.
Money — at the time we visited, the Jordanian Dinar was worth about 95p which made conversion pretty easy.
You need some in any case for the visa, though there is an ATM which you can use next to the queue. It also was possible, on one visa desk, to use Visa for your visa, but it took ages and resulted in some fierce glances from the queue behind! Credit cards were only really useful in hotels. Everything else — restaurants, Petra entrance, Wadi Rum trips, fuel — required cash.
When we did use our credit card we got an excellent exchange rate — 1. Birding — if we had not been to Lesbos, Tunisia and Kazakhstan our lifers list for this trip would have been much longer as Jordan has a bird list which combines birds from North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean with floods of migrants on their way to Eastern Europe and Asia. We got the distinct impression that bird numbers were low — this could be due to a succession of dry years combined with obvious overexploitation of the desert areas by overgrazing.
The only common birds were the migrants — there was a Lesser Whitethroat in virtually every bush! There are some updates on his website but things are changing very fast and I hope this report will help in some areas.
There are a few trip reports on the web which were useful but they were often very short trips combined with Egypt or Israel. We did meet a few other birdwatchers — one British couple at Ajloun and a Swiss group of 4 at Azraq.
See below for much more birding information. RSCN — the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in Jordan is a truly excellent body which is definitely swimming against the stream - the idea of conservation and eco-tourism is still very strange to most people in the Middle East.
The website is at www. The RSCN runs a number of reserves, most of which have accommodation — we stayed mostly at these locations which we pre-booked from the UK using email and direct bank transfer.
However, the lodges when we arrived needed proof of payment which we did not have — luckily we had printed off the sequence of emails, including the email confirmation of the bank transfer from our bank First Direct. Dana — a large reserve in central Jordan encompassing terrain from mountain top to sea level. Ajloun Forest — this is in the north of the country in Mediterranean style countryside and protects evergreen oak forest.
We stayed in a cabin large but chilly and went on a guided walk which was excellent though expensive. The flowers were absolutely terrific. Shaumari Reserve, also close by, where much captive breeding of Oryx etc is carried out, was still closed when we were there.
Wadi Mujib — a huge wide wadi which narrows as it runs into the Dead Sea and is known for its canyoning trails. We stayed at the chalets as they are one of the few reasonably priced accommodation options in the vicinity of the Dead Sea. All these were booked in advance from the UK. Souvenirs The RSCN also runs a number of local craft and workshop initiatives in the areas near and in its reserves. The results of this are a number of tasteful and useful souvenirs and gifts which are available in the RSCN shops.
Such things as olive oil soaps, herbs, teas, trail bars, fabric bags, silver jewellery and painted ostrich eggs all make excellent gifts. In Madaba it is possible to buy really attractive rugs and kilims, and everywhere you can buy rather nice beads and necklaces.
Dates and sweet pastries are also an option and are available at the airport. The north has Mediterranean weather, with cool, wet winter weather, and sometimes snow. The south is basically dry desert. The highlands can be very cold at night even in summer, and cool during the day, whereas the lowlands are generally warm or hot. Weather in Spring can be very changeable - we experienced almost everything — sunny days but poor visibility at Madaba, cool and sunny ideal at Petra, cool, sunny and windy with thunderstorms at Wadi Rum, rain, low cloud, thunderstorms and temperatures barely into double figures at Dana, pleasant at Aqaba, and at last, almost hot in the Eastern Desert!
For some of the time we wished we had packed gloves! It was good that we had quite a relaxed itinerary so that the bad weather did not affect our bird-finding too much and we did, for example, have enough time for two cracks at Syrian Serin.
Food — was always appetising and often excellent. Chicken and rice were also staples. The puddings here was it really meant to be Bread Pudding??
Breakfast often included quite a range of jams fig, apricot and mulberry were good and syrups — we found that flat bread, curd cheese and jam made a good breakfast. Also usually present were some kind of eggs and maybe dates or halva. A big range was usually on offer in hotels — it is depressing to watch guests in a place like Jordan eating cornflakes and orange juice just as if they were at home.
We bought biscuits and figs for lunch some days and often took lunch boxes from our hotel or lodge. They were rather expensive 5 or 6JD and unexciting — often a very thick wrap made from Jordanian bread with a scant curd cheese filling which could be improved a lot by the insertion of a banana plus some fruit and a drink, but it did give lots of flexibility.
They usually needed to be ordered the day before. RSCN lunch boxes always included at Tasali bar — a trail bar made of figs, sesame etc made in one of their workshops — they were excellent. Sweet Greek-style pastries could be bought in shops in some places e. Madaba but they rarely appeared in hotels or restaurants.
Drink — Alcoholic drink was not much in evidence except for Mount Nebo wine we tried this once — OK but pricey and local beer Amstel and Philadephia which were fine. These were really only available in touristy hotels and restaurants. All RSCN accommodation discourages alcohol. Tea was very refreshing — best drunk with at least some sugar, and mint tea was even better.
The coffee was small and thick Turkish style and often flavoured with cardamom — I loved it. An English style coffee was always Nescafe. Coffees and teas were usually 1 JD. Travel to Jordan — we took one of the first EasyJet flights from Gatwick to Amman which were very reasonably priced compared with Royal Jordanian and arrived at a better time. We paid a bit extra for priority boarding which was well worth it. There is no in-flight entertainment and no reclining facilities on the seats — OK for the outgoing flight daytime but not so good on the return night time.
We had a very long wait in the queue for Visas — they did not seem to have enough staff available Hopefully this will soon be sorted. We went straight from the airport to Madaba, using a taxi organised by the Mariam Hotel in Madaba. Security The guide books say that Jordan is safe place and so it seemed. The general level of honesty can be gauged by the fact the shopkeepers and stall-holders just leave all their produce untended when they go off to the mosque, and the drinks shop next to our hotel in Aqaba left his stock out all night.
I am glad we knew this in advance as the taxi driver who picked us up from the airport stopped on the dual carriageway and beckoned to a suspicious looking character in a leather jacket who got into the front seat. We then set out into the countryside along dark roads …. Of course he was just giving a lift to a friend, something which happens all the time as car ownership levels are not high.
Usually a driver would ask you if it was OK. We were told that the police would never stop you in order to demand a handout, but they may well ask for a lift.
Weekends Friday afternoons and Saturdays are holidays and popular places could be very busy with picnickers who by the way leave a lot of litter. We tried to organise our itinerary so that we were well out in the country at these times, but in fact watching the Jordanians have a good time which seems to involve a big group of people having a barbeque with much tea and many cigarettes was quite interesting. Starting in Madaba — we had no intention of going into Amman and Madaba made an excellent base for the first few days.
Car Hire — we used the recommended Reliable Rentacar www. The car was delivered to the hotel in Madaba and at the end of the trip we dropped the car off at the airport.
Driving — sometimes I found it pretty terrifying as a passenger but my husband, who did the driving, says it was OK! Apart from in towns the traffic is not heavy and all the roads are surfaced so out of town is mostly easy. Traffic does not, on the whole travel fast.
However here are a few notes:. However, there is always one missing when you really need one so a good map is essential. A sense of direction helps too and if the sun is out you can tell if you are going roughly the right way. The road from Ar-Ramtha to Mafraq was ostensibly completely closed but there seemed to be no alternative route so we simply followed the locals, many of whom lived along the road so had no option but to find a way round. The basic idea is to use the bits of carriageway which are available and when they stop, simply improvise.
We travelled for about 20km like this on the way to Mafraq, sometimes with traffic going both ways on each of the two closed carriageways! They could be expected on the entrance and exit to any village and by bus shelters. Security on the whole seem quite relaxed. Also some of the small streets on the map in Lonely Planet seem to be no longer open. Wadi Rum — we booked our trip here in advance with Bedouin Roads see www.
We had plenty of chances to walk, and our guide, Zidane, knowing we were birdwatchers, did his best for us and eventually found us some Sand Partridges, which are apparently numerous later in the year they shoot them. We stayed in the Bedouin Roads campsite — which was unfortunately not close to a very large rock face which could have been a possible spot for owls.
Lunch spots were often in a remote place and we found some quite good birds during these periods. Apart from birds, the scenery and watching the Bedouin way of life were fascinating.