Traveling without a plan can be exciting and adventurous. A spontaneous trip from Israel to Jordan with the uncertainty of how to cross began as a smaller issue compared to the tough time traveling there. The moment when you want nothing more than to just leave the country is a feeling I never had and it made us feel like being caged. This was a travel experience that was frightening at first but ended up with a different outcome. Here you can read how to travel to Jordan and avoid getting yourself in such a situation.
Crossing the border from Israel to Jordan
Since we were in Israel first, we had to cross the border to Jordan. This can be daunting, as nobody knows how it works. I wrote a detailed article with all the information you need to know about ‘How to get from Israel to Jordan crossing the border‘.
The taxi drivers
If you don’t have to cross the border from another country call yourself lucky. Even so, after the crossing it is when the hassle starts. Wherever I travel it is always the same situation at bus stations or airports the taxi drivers are all the same. They want to take advantage as much as possible; it actually doesn’t matter where in the world: USA, India, Peru, France, also in Germany… everyhwere. In Jordan it isn’t any different, but the local people are citizens of their culture and I had a lot of problems adjusting to this. Behind the South border when you crossed from Israel there is only one taxi rank and nothing else except a sign with prices to a few locations within Jordan.
A fun fact is that the taxi drivers have a very specific way of organising the vehicles. If you think you are smart and meet some other travellers with whom to share a taxi – forget about it. There was one guy – which I call the Babo – who allocated people to taxis according to a document given by the border officer that listed all the people travelling together on one paper (a document indicating the entry manifest at the South Wadi Araba crossing border). To my question about sharing, the guy very angrily said, “no we have a lot of drivers here that all want to earn money !” Wow, I absolutely couldn’t believe this and the guy kept storming to the next person !
You can try to negotiate the price with a taxi driver – but there is no way – because they first refer to the price list set by the government; second, they get really angry and third, it doesn’t get you anywhere. I tried and it took a lot of energy of me, so I recommend you save the hassle and your energy and just pay the money. It’s absolutely not worth starting something with them. (Note: that even if you don’t have the money in the local currency to pay right away, the taxi will stop at an ATM on the way; so no need to be worried about that).
We tried to work around the guy and price list at the border by taking the taxi to Aqaba first with the hope of getting a cheaper taxi rate to Petra with many more taxis around. Do you think it worked ?
Yes it worked and we got away with slightly cheaper, but the hassle was not even worth a 1,000 USD honestly. Let me briefly summarise: We took the taxi we were allocated from the border to Aqaba. The taxi driver tried within the 20-minute ride to get some info about where we were going, etc. – and to our surprise randomly even invited us to come for a traditional dish (Yusuf) in his house. We didn’t tell him much, but he gave us his whatsapp number in case we wanted him to drive us elsewhere. He dropped us and I asked some other taxis for their price to Petra, but they were all so expensive (ca. 55-64 USD one way).
Not knowing exactly how far Petra/Wadi Musa was, but knowing that a bus only goes once per day in the morning, with a hotel reservation for that night there, staying in Aqaba wasn’t an option. We went to a restaurant to have lunch, where people seemed nice and friendly and it also felt good to be off the street as people were harassing us a bit. Whilst having lunch I gave it another go with the waiter and asked how much it would cost approximately to get to Petra, but he had no clue. So, he asked a friend. Yes, classic right ? Another friend who would know and, wait for it… of course a taxi driver is. He calculated the price beforehand and it was cheaper than from the border – how great that it worked. We had dessert and then with perfect timing, the taxi came and we hopped in. I even bought him a bottle of water as it was really hot.
Not feeling safe
The taxi driver started driving and asked us again if we wanted to go to Wadi Rum for (ca. 50 USD) – the location half way to Petra. Wow, I said no as we had agreed to go to Petra. He called another man claiming to be the guy from the restaurant to whom I had spoken to. Knowing it wasn’t him as this man spoke much better English; I insisted he take us back. So, it was a big scam where they tried to get away with us paying an overpriced rate. He dropped us back at the restaurant and the situation was very tense. I messaged the taxi driver from before to ask for his price rate to Petra. Whilst waiting, the taxi driver came back inside looking pretty angry and wanted to hand over his phone. He seemed to make a fist with the other hand so I stood up and created a distance. Things seemed to escalate. I said I didn’t want to talk to any friends of his and said that we are fine – he just didn’t want to give up. Finally he left and so did we. We arranged a destination with the other taxi driver who took us for a cheaper rate and it felt quite good to be back in his taxi.
I was a little careful and took a photo of the taxi driver with the number plate and send it to some friends with my location. It was a 2.5 hour drive and the taxi driver even gave me an internet hotspot. We stopped on the way to watch the sunset, which was beautiful in the Jordanian desert. When he drove a little bit too fast, I told him to slow down and he did – you may remember my terrible car accident in the Atacama desert in Chile, which is why I’m always sensitive, as I think cars are everything but not safe. Whilst on our way, I kept tracking our location with maps. Almost before arriving in Petra; the taxi driver stopped for no reason and locked the doors from the inside. Suddenly another car stopped behind us in the middle of nowhere and I thought this is it. Our driver opened the window and introduced the guy to us and told us that he would take us to the hotel as he didn’t know the way – even though I was telling him I knew. I was nervous and very alert as we followed the guy the last two kilometres. We were almost there and our driver wanted to turn left when it was not necessary, and so I pushed him to go straight – the other guy we followed even went straight. What was happening here ? When we finally arrived, the other guy came towards us and introduced himself and said if we needed some help here to organise a tour we could contact him. This guy was probably nice, but the way he approached us was so weird and this kind of confrontation can be quite scary. It left us with the question did our driver lock the door in order for nothing to happen to us ? We will never know. It’s just what we believe, but the whole experience was strange.
Petra / Wadi Musa in Jordan
We got a very nice welcome in the hotel and we were more than happy to get to the room to rest from the tribulations of the day. Arriving in the room, we crashed and checked how we could quickly leave and go back to Israel. Such was our evening and we didn’t see any way of leaving as it was already midnight and we were in the middle of the country with no airports nearby and like mentioned before only one bus per day. We felt so caged like animals in a zoo – terrible feeling. The next morning, we checked out very early to head to the Petra lost city – 7 wonders of the world. It was awesome because we arrived around 7:30am, got our overpriced tickets (35 USD / person) and were one of the first to go in. Wandering around was fun and it seemed like a very long way until we got to the Treasury in Petra (Al-Khazneh) – quite exhausting in the heat. A donkey would not have been too bad of an idea – but they looked so sad.
Walking around the canyons was cool and a lot of fun. If you asked me if the experience was worth the price, I would probably say no because of the hassle of getting there and coming all the way from Israel. The price-value-ratio is just crazy compared to other activities in some countries, plus it just didn’t flash me that much. If I think about how many people hype this place up I have to disagree. But if you are around the area just do it.
If you happen to go, I totally recommend going early as it is not too hot and not crowded.
Place to stay: The Sella Hotel *sponsored* had very friendly hosts and is in a very good location with close proximity to the Petra ancient site.
Camel and Jeep Tour at Wadi Rum Desert
Since my girlfriend and I decided to stay in Jordan a second night, we continued with our plan to go to the desert and so we caught yet another taxi from the Petra ancient site to Wadi Rum. I did try to negotiate a price, as he wanted the same price we paid all the way from Aqaba. I think the taxi drivers really know that you have no other option and they always refer to the price list sign (yes, they also had one here). They don’t change their minds – absolutely, none of them !
The camel tour started… do you remember I said, oh the donkeys ? With the camel I felt so bad when I sat on top that we decided to change the tour to a Jeep. We had a private guide who took amazing care of us, showing us around the Wadi Rum Desert. The highlights of the tour were sandboarding down the Red sand dunes, the Little Bridge, Um Frouth Rock Bridge, the sunset at Um Sabatah and the traditional Bedouin barbecue.
For more information, please check the Wadi Rum – sleep under the stars website *partly sponsored*
Wherever we went, he always drove us to the very front – what a service. The same night, they prepared a typical Bedouin barbecue (Zarb) in the ground in a Bedouin camp, which was very interesting to see. As we were eating dinner (buffet style) they played some traditional music and were dancing. Our guide was the best as he danced and entertained everyone, at one moment even dragged me up to dance in the traditional style with him – of course I couldn’t say no.
Sleeping under the stars outside in the desert
After dinner we had a shower, which was quite a challenge as there was not much water. My girlfriend was a little more than nervous thinking about sleeping outside under the stars with all the insects, etc. While most people stayed in the Bedouin camp in tents, our guide (put name) took us to a private spot 20 minutes off the site. After setting us up for the night he left to where he was sleeping. It was just us in the middle of the desert on a mattress with a blanket. It was very romantic as we were able to see some stars.
The next morning, our guide picked us up and the tour was over after the breakfast buffet. This tour was amazing with the coolest guide; I definitely recommend it exactly the way we did, maybe rethink to not include the 20 minute camel ride.
From the office, we had booked a taxi but as the driver was late two local guys offered us a lift. They took us all the way back to the border – wow, nice guys; it made the whole experience so different compared to the beginning when we arrived. One of them was a TV presenter and the other has his own car wash in the north where they invited us to visit when we come back to Jordan.
From here we crossed the border back, which comes with challenges as you can read my in-depth article ‘How to get from Israel to Jordan crossing the border‘.
I TRAVEL FOREVER’s VIEW & RECOMMENDATION
It was a travel experience with ups and downs, with beautiful and scary experiences, with happy and sad moments but at the end it was a very important travel experience for us and a big challenge which taught us a life lesson. I think the trip was very interesting as it reflects how bad a start can be, which then turned around with a very happy ending. Some of you that have had a different experience in Jordan and may think what I wrote is not true, that is fine but I am telling a true story on how we honestly experienced it with our true feelings from the specific moment in time.
In order for you not to have the big hassle to ensure a smooth travel trip and great experience in Jordan. I would probably recommend to just book a guided tour that doesn’t involve any taxis, which is even possible from destinations in Israel. It probably costs a little bit extra but I think it’s only a 1/5 more of what you would pay DIY. I list some guided tour options within the article I wrote listed above.
An alternative option that some people mention is to arrange the taxi from the border to drive to Petra and back the same day, but that would be too rushed for me.
I have to say I find it very hard to believe how the infrastructure from the border or within the country cannot be organised in a better way. It’s money that should be invested in, to make the travel experience for people visiting a country as smooth as possible.