My partner and I recently had the opportunity to check off a few big bucket list items with our first-ever trip to the Middle East. Upon our return, I received a lot of questions with regard to what we did, how we travelled between the two countries if we felt safe, and more. This blog post will seek to answer these particular questions, providing insight on how we navigated this adventure and how you can prepare for your own.
How did we divide our time?
Day 1: Late arrival – Jerusalem, Israel
Day 2: Jerusalem, Israel
Day 3: Jerusalem, Israel
Day 4: Masada, Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, Dead Sea (Israel)
Day 5: Border-crossing from Israel to Jordan & Jerash, Jordan
Day 6: Petra, Jordan
Day 7: Wadi Run, Jordan & Border-crossing from Jordan to Israel
Day 8: Tel Aviv, Israel
Day 9: Tel Aviv, Israel & Departure
I personally felt there was much more to see in Israel than in Jordan. We did not want to rush to the destinations we visited in Israel however, and so with our 5 days in the country, decided to spend more time in fewer places. We do not regret how we divided our time in this respect, but will definitely be returning to Israel to explore other parts of it in the future. Although we were very happy with how we spent our three days in Jordan, we were not able to see everything we wanted to, including Amman and Aqaba.
Did we feel safe in Israel and Jordan?
The short answer here is yes! While I cannot comment on the safety of travelling alone in Israel, my partner and I never ran into any complications. We travelled through Israel on our own, with the exception of a day trip, and found it very safe and easy to navigate. Everyone was very friendly and very helpful whenever we needed assistance.
Tel Aviv itself has to be one of the most liberal, open-minded, and progressive cities we’ve been to and we felt very safe going out at night on our own to explore.
In Jordan, my partner and I also felt safe. This being said, we made the choice to travel through Jordan with a tour group. This is something I will expand on in the next section of this post.
Why did we take a tour through Jordan?
First, we had very limited time to make our way through Jordan. With only a few days permitted in our schedule, we did not have much flexibility should we get lost or run into complications and didn’t want to take the risk. We were also in a position where we would need to pass from Israel to Jordan, and back to Israel again. Due to the political climate of this area in the Middle East, crossing between these borders can be a complicated process. In fact, there is a border to cross when exiting Israel and another to cross when entering Jordan (and vice versa). By joining a tour, we were able to have this process handled by a local, Jordanian guide, who was experienced with the authorities and process.
It made what could have been a long, complex, and confusing process, very smooth and timely.
Given that we had limited time in Jordan, it was also critical to us that we learn the most we could in that short time. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and had even been selected previously by National Geographic to lead guests through Jordan in a documentary. He was incredibly open to our questions about history, politics, traditions, and more, making it easier to better understand the culture and how things have come to be in this area of the Middle East.
When it came to visiting Petra, it was helpful to have our accommodations sorted for us at the Bedouin Camp. We were also grateful to our guide for arriving onsite at Petra at 6 am to obtain our tickets for us, as there is a strict limit on the number of visitors who can enter the UNESCO World Heritage Site each day. These tickets do sell out. If you plan to visit the lost city on your own, be prepared to arrive early as to not miss your opportunity.
We travelled through Jordan with “Abraham Tours”, with pick-up and drop-off provided in Jerusalem. We booked this tour through our accommodations at “Abraham Hostel“, but you can book this tour without being a guest of the hotel/hostel. Although it would have been nice to have more control over the time spent in areas around Jordan, we were ultimately happy we made this choice.
How did we get around and travel between countries?
With getting around Israel, it is important to note when planning your travels that it may be difficult to access transportation, restaurants, and more during Shabbat.
Shabbat is the Jewish sabbath, which takes place from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. As observant Jews do not work during Shabbat, many places will be closed, especially in areas of the country like Jerusalem. There are shared taxis that are easy to locate and jump on. These taxis also make travel more affordable, especially when travelling from the airport to major cities and vice versa. Buses are also easy to navigate in major cities and can be a great way to get around. People were very friendly and eager to help us when we needed it.
As mentioned above, we opted to take a tour from Israel to Jordan which eased the process of crossing borders and getting around Jordan. I have spoken to people who rented cars throughout Jordan and had a positive experience, however, I cannot speak to this personally.
TOP 5 HIGHLIGHTS IN ISRAEL AND JORDAN
In no particular order…
Wandering the Old City in Jerusalem
While many people will recommend a day trip to Jerusalem, I would urge you to plan more time here! Broken down into four quarters: the Armenian Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter, and the Muslim Quarter, you could spend an entire day exploring the Old City alone. After visiting, I would say that Jerusalem has to be one of my favourite cities I’ve been to, filled with rich history and culture. There was so much to see and experience! A great way to learn about the history and understand how the Old City is broken down is to take a free walking tour.
Taking in Masada at sunrise
The history of Masada is an incredibly interesting one I highly recommend looking up. The ancient fortification was fortified between 37 and 31 BC and is well known for its siege by Roman troops from AD 73 to 74, at the end of the First Jewish-Roman War. The siege ended in a mass suicide of the 960 Sicarii rebels who were hiding there. Today, Masada is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an archeological site, and a symbol, with many military ceremonies, take place near the base of the embankment. The Snake Path, which we hiked, is a common path taken by locals and travellers alike to witness the sunrise from the top. There is also the option to take a cable car for about 75 NIS to the top of Masada, but not in time for sunrise.
Floating in the Dead Sea
This probably goes without saying, but experiencing zero gravity at -430 feet below sea level, the lowest point on earth is an experience you will not get anywhere else. As one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world, it exhibits a harsh environment in which plants and animals cannot survive, giving it the name of the “Dead Sea”. The Dead Sea mud is also rich in minerals like magnesium, bromide, and sodium which are believed to draw out toxins, exfoliate and expose fresh layers of skin, soothe stress, and help the body to heal and reduce swelling.
Sunset on the beach in Tel Aviv
The beaches of Tel Aviv were more beautiful than I could have anticipated. We enjoyed walking the boardwalk by the sea, grabbing a beer from a local corner store, and taking in the breathtaking views from our spot in the sand. It was truly the perfect ending to the day!
One of my biggest regrets with Tel Aviv was not taking more time to enjoy the beach, which will be on our list for next time.
Jaffa is the southern and oldest part of Tel Aviv. An ancient port city, this had to be one of my favourite areas we explored. Filled with rich history, it was fascinating to hear about its relation to many stories including being the location of the mythological story of Andromeda and Perseus.
In Greek mythology, when Andromeda was named more beautiful than the sea nymphs (Nereids), Poseidon was not happy! So, he threatened to send a flood and a sea monster to destroy the kingdom. To appease the sea god, Andromeda’s father chained her to a rock as a sacrifice to be consumed by the sea monster. However, she was saved by Perseus (the same guy who beheaded Medusa) and went on to be his wife. Jaffa is filled with winding cobblestone streets, artistic boutiques, and cozy cafes.
Visiting the ancient ruins of Jerash
One of the best examples outside Italy of a Roman provincial city, the ruins in Jerash are incredibly well preserved, having remained hidden until their discovery and gradual excavation over the last 70 years. Wandering around here was truly like stepping through history. We enjoyed experiencing the amphitheater, the Plaza, and the walkway to the city. It was clear to us why this place has earned the nickname “Pompeii of the East”!
Staying overnight at a Bedouin campsite
The Bedouins are nomadic peoples living in the desert, historically having inhabited North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, and the Levant. They have thrived in the desert for thousands of years, with their lifestyle being relatively well-preserved to this day. Staying at a Bedouin camp provided some insight into the culture of the Bedouin peoples. We ate traditional food, enjoyed shisha, and gathered around bonfires at night, accompanied by beautiful Bedouin music and dancing. We stayed at the “Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp” and very much enjoyed our stay.
Hiking through Petra to the Monastery
Petra itself was an incredible experience. Unlike other Seven Wonders, Petra isn’t a singular structure, but rather an entire lost city. Actually, the site itself was much bigger than I expected. With this, if you only have one day, you will not have enough time to see all major viewpoints and sites. With our time, we decided to make the hike from the Treasury to the Monastery. The Monastery is arguably the most impressive monument at Petra, and is located about an hour’s climb from the “city centre”. Though it was another 800 steps or so, I’d say it was completely worth it. With the added effort, there were way fewer crowds, offering us time to photograph, relax, and truly take in the wonder.
Wadi Rum Jeep Tour
The Wadi Rum desert is also known as the “Valley of the Moon”. Upon visiting, it’s easy to understand why! It has even been labelled by scientists as the closest landscape we have on this planet to Mars. Wadi Rum is also another UNESCO World Heritage Site. With such a unique landscape, it makes sense why it is such a popular filming location for Hollywood.
Some movies you might know of include ‘The Martian’, ‘Rogue One’, the remake of ‘Aladdin’, and the latest Star Wars film, ‘The Rise of Skywalker’. A Jeep tour was an amazing way to see the space while also providing an element of adventure. No need to worry about which tour company to go with though as all proceeds go back to support the local community!
Today, these tours are the main source of income for the Bedouins that still live there.
Riding Camels in the Wadi Rum desert
Riding camels in the desert is something I had always wanted to do. However, wanting to be responsible travellers, we wanted to make sure the experience was ethical. We spoke with our guide about the history and culture surrounding the use of camels in Jordan and through our research in advance were assured this was a good place to do it. In Wadi Rum, camels are considered to be the pride and joy of the Bedouin. All camels appeared to be strong, healthy and well taken care of. Our ride was approximately 30-40 mins long.
If you’re someone who likes to experience local nightlife when travelling, I recommend taking part in a pub crawl in Israel. We had a ton of fun exploring Jerusalem by night, experiencing all the unique places locals hang out and unwind. We also found some really cool and unique bars in Tel Aviv! Given we were on a tour through Jordan, we did not have much opportunity to explore and experience the local nightlife.
We had a fantastic experience travelling through Israel and Jordan. With so much history, culture, and beauty everywhere, there was never a dull moment. Our first time visiting the Middle East, we also felt these two countries were the perfect introduction to this part of the world. We’re already looking forward to returning so we can learn and experience even more.
From a couples’ perspective, we found the trip to offer plenty of adventure and still some time to enjoy romantic and quiet moments together. This being said, this trip is not very budget-friendly. If you’re looking to have optimal privacy, be prepared to spend a pretty penny on accommodations. It was not uncommon for couples and families of all ages to stay in dorm rooms of our hotel/hostel due to the steep prices in Israel.
I hope this blog provided you with some insight on how we navigated our time in Israel and Jordan, with some tips and ideas for planning your own adventure.
Until next time,