Jordan is easily accessed by land from Israel, thus it’s an opportunity to add some breathtaking trips when traveling to Israel, or for a short vacation for those like me who live in Israel.
We took a four-day trip to Jordan to visit Petra and Wadi Rum and combined it with a short pampering vacation in Al Manara Aqaba; we didn’t want to leave!
Our trip was run by Discover Jordan Tours and Yalla Yarden (the Israeli agent), which organize group and individual trips to Jordan. Their representative met us as soon as we got to Jordanian border control and escorted us into the country. Thereafter, a driver picked us up to start our trip. We stayed two nights at Al Manara Aqaba resort and one night in Wadi Rum.
Al Manara, Saraya, Aqaba, by Marriott
Al Manara is a luxury resort with outdoor pools, a spa, a fitness center, direct beach access and excellent restaurants. It combines modern luxury with authentic Jordanian décor – marble floors meet arched sculptural domes and Islamic furniture with ornamental details and a touch of red. The hotel is so beautiful we enjoyed walking around and looking at the meticulously cared-for premises.
All the rooms are spacious and elegant and most of them have a view of the sea or lagoon. There are nice suites, penthouses and villas. We were upgraded to a villa with a garden, plunge pool and direct beach access, which also had access to the infinity pool; it was awesome!
The food at Al Manara is superb! Meals are served at Taybe restaurant. Breakfast was wonderful with a buffet style of hot dishes such as Eggs Benedict, pancakes and waffles, and other dishes made to order. They serve French pastries with amazing fluffy croissants and other heavenly bakes. The food at the dinner buffet was excellent with a wide selection of dishes, including pasta and meat stations. Lunch was à la carte with awesome steaks! On the second night, we ate at the Kubba Levantin restaurant, which specializes in western Middle Eastern cuisine. The restaurant’s décor and ambience is an experience in and of itself.
There is so much to do in and out of Al Manara, such as swimming, sunbathing, diving, sailing and shopping. There is complimentary entry to the nearby Beach Club, accessed with the hotel’s free water taxi. We spent our time by the beach and around the villas’ swimming pool and also went to the Heavenly Spa by Westin, part of the hotel’s complex.
The spa has two areas, one for men and one for women. Each has a heated dipping pool, dry and wet sauna and jet shower. It is very high-class.
I took a Balinese massage, a holistic massage that combines gentle stretches, acupressure and reflexology. It was divine! At sunset, we did a self-driving off-road ATV adventure at Wadi Arava, which is a lot of fun and an opportunity to see dunes and desert scenery. The hotel is kids friendly. The hospitality at Al Manara is extraordinary; service is outstanding!
Wadi Rum is a sandstone and granite rock valley with extraordinary scenery. It became famous thanks to the book Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which Lawrence of Arabia wrote while in the area. He described Wadi Rum as “vast, echoing and God-like,” and it later was the site where the eponymous movie was filmed. There are plenty of things to do there such as jeep tours, hiking, trekking, climbing, camel rides and stargazing.
The best way to explore Wadi Rum is through a driving tour, sitting on the back of an open truck. While it sounded a bit adventurous for me, it turned out to be a perfect way to travel, getting a 360-degree view of this stunning area. The views are breathtaking and it is quite exciting to drive with the wind blowing in your hair. The tour stops in a number of places where we went down to see different spots, such as where Lawrence of Arabia lived, Anfishiyyeh inscriptions of camel caravans, rock bridges and canyons. Just make sure you take a jacket and scarf as it may get a bit windy during the drive.
Since it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Protected Area in 2011, no permanent settlements are allowed in the valley, and in order to spend the night there, the only option is camping or in our case – glamping (glamorous camping). There are many camps and with the valley often being called Valley of the Moon or Mars, there is a proliferation of “Martian” bubble-shaped tents. These tents have a transparent wall or even a full transparent dome, which enables visitors to see the stars at night.
We slept at SunCity Camp in a Martian dome tent. The tent is air-conditioned and has an en suite bathroom shower, a mini-bar and a coffee machine, and we even got bathrobes. Staying there was quite an enchanting experience. At night, small LED lights showed us the path to the camp lobby and dining room, where there are sitting areas and a bonfire in the evening. The stay at the camp is on a half-board basis. Dinner is served buffet-style in a large dining dome tent. Before dinner everyone gathers to see how they dig the traditional dish zarb out of the sand, which is cooked underground with charcoal. The food is varied and tasty.
The most known tourist attraction in Jordan is Petra, the Nabataean city known for its red rock-carved temples, tombs and gorges. Petra was a Nabataean caravan city from the first century BCE to CE, situated on an important crossroad of the Silk Road. The entrance to Petra is via a narrow siq (gorge) leading to the impressive “Treasury.” The Treasury is the most famous and impressive temple, as it is red, nearly 40 meters high and 25 meters wide and situated in a narrow gorge that really emphasizes its size. The legend says it had a treasure hidden inside, thus igniting the imagination.
There are two ways to visit Petra. The traditional way starts from the visitor’s center via the Siq Canyon and includes the Treasury, city center, the royal tombs and the theater. However, going up to Ad Deir (the Monastery) requires climbing around 900 stairs and it is very difficult.
We took the second way, via Petra’s back door. Not only is it shorter and easier, it is much less crowded! The driver left us at a place called Little Petra. There, we started a short hike via the mountains that took us to Ad Deir from the north. The trail is well-worth taking for itself; the walk is along the mountainside with the beautiful scenery of Wadi Arava on the side and there are many photo opportunities on the way.
After the hilly hike we reached a plateau and the Monastery became slowly exposed as we reached it. The façade is almost 50x50 meters – it is huge and impressive! There’s a coffee shop to get refreshments while sitting in front of the view of the Monastery.
From there, a steep path with 900 stairs goes down to the remains of the Nabataean city. The trail is beautiful and along the path there are bazaars to buy souvenirs, drinks and even ice cream. Everything here is brought up using donkeys! The Nabataean city is packed with archeological remains, temples, tombs (including the king’s tomb) and an ancient amphitheater.
The last stop in our journey was the Treasury. It is breathtaking! There are many stops on the way to have your photo taken. The locals will take you there and even take your photo for a few bucks. When we returned to the visitors center via the Siq Canyon, we turned back to see how the visitors who come from the Siq see the Treasury. It is very exciting to see the Treasury appear between the steep walls of the Siq – a real “wow” experience! There is a nightly show with lights at the Treasury three times a week. I heard it is amazing!
Al Manara, www.almanaraaqaba.com, Jordan, toll free: +962-3-2021010
Discover Jordan Tours, discoverjordan.com, [email protected], Jordan, +962-5-541-1550
Yalla Yarden, instagram: @yalla_yarden, Israel, phone: 050-570-0009
The writer was a guest of the local businesses mentioned in the article.