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Basic Info

Name : The Hashemite Kingdom Of Jordan. Hashemite being the family name of the Jordanian Royals, a lineage that can be traced back to the great grandfather of the prophet Mohammed.

Jordan for short.

Population : 5.9 million (July 2006 Estimate)

Languages : Arabic (Jordanian Dialect). English also widely spoken

Race : 98% Arab (65% Palestinian Arab), Bedouin. Also some small communities of Chinese, Armenian, Chechens and Western ex-patriots. . Since the recent conflict in neighbouring Iraq, there is a growing population of Iraqi refugees.

Religion : Islam. 92% Sunni Muslims, 7% Christian , 1% other, including some small number of Shi’a Muslims

Government: Constitutional Monarchy. Chief of State, King Abdullah II since 7th February 1999. No elections, the King appoints the prime minister who in turn (and with a little more help from the King) appoints the cabinet.

VISAS AND IMMIGRATION

Jordanian immigration procedures are some of the most efficient (still not that efficient) and least painful in the region. The most commonly used borders by travellers are the land borders with Syria and Israel, and the sea border with Egypt.

Most European nationalities, U.S, Australian, and Canadian citizens can fill out a few forms and obtain a Jordanian visa on arrival for 10JDs (20$ dollars U.S; or free for South Africans – 2006). Much easier, and cheaper than doing it at your local Jordanian embassy.

There are no problems obtaining entry with an Israeli stamp in your passport. Despite still tenuous relations, the two “cousins” have officially been at peace since 1994 and there are open borders between them from Aqaba to Eilat in the south, and further north across the river Jordan in to the Palestinian Occupied Territories.

If you plan to visit Syria on the same passport then having an Israeli stamp will cause problems. You may hear tales of savvy travellers who outsmarted the Syrian authorities by having the Israeli officials stamp a separate removable piece of paper. If this did ever work, it doesn’t anymore and you will still be left with a Jordanian exit stamp in your passport.

With no evidence of where you went when you left Jordan, Syrian border officials will assume it was Israel and will tell you to “Emshi” (get lost) when you try to cross at the Ramtha/Da’ra border in the north of the country.

Another way into Syria is by rail, the Hejaz railway to be precise. Longer and considerably more arduous than the bus journey, it’s one of the most rewarding journeys you can do in the region. (See the Hejaz Railway section)

Regular ferries run between Aqaba and Nuweiba (about one hour north of Dahab) in Egypt. Although the crossing on the fast ferry only takes about 1.5 hours, the ‘faffing’ and bureaucracy on either side can add a few hours to your journey. Especially travelling from Egypt to Jordan, it can be very unorganised and slow. An alternative is to cross from Egypt by road via the south of Israel. Although you’ll have to undergo the aggressive Israeli border procedures it can still be faster than waiting in Egypt indefinitely for a ferry due in “just five minutes sir”.

WHEN TO TRAVEL IN JORDAN

Unless the idea of sweltering desert heat appeals to you it’s best to avoid the summer months in Jordan where temperatures have been recorded as high as 49 ° C. Winter is okay, but can be cool in the evenings, especially in Petra, or the Wadi Rum. By far the best time to visit is April and May, when the sun is shining but there is still a cool enough desert breeze to make things bearable.

It’s also worth checking that the dates of your trip don’t coincide with the holy month of Ramadan. The 9th month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is believed to be the month in which god began revealing the Holy Koran to the Prophet Mohammed. During this month all members of the Islamic faith are required to fast everyday between sunrise and sunset, and to abstain from drinking, smoking or any sexual behaviour. The very strict won’t even swallow their own saliva. After sunset they can take part once again in all three, at the same time if need be. The month is a time for inner reflection, closeness to god, and to remember the poor and the needy, “Ramadan Karim” being the appropriate greeting, meaning “have a generous Ramadan!”

However, as the end of the month approaches, the people can get decidedly less generous and more bad tempered as the lack of water in the summer heat starts to take its toll. It’s an interesting experience if you are there during Ramadan and you can expect to be invited to a few “Eftars” (The breakfast feast everyday at sunset). But be warned many sights close early, many restaurants don’t open at all (except for tourist ones), and a cold beer can be damn near impossible to find.

Tariq El Kashef

Tariq El Kashef is the author and editor of www.alternativeegypt.com – The Online Egypt Travel Guide