Most Inspirational Moment
Although we had visited Petra the previous day with our guide, on our second day in Petra we decided to get up early so we could enter the site for its 6.00am opening. There are inevitably lots of visitors at Petra, but there are far less people at this time of day and the temperature is much cooler. Sipping freshly brewed Arabic coffee (delicious!) at 7.00am in front of the Treasury before the crowds had gathered was so worth it! The light was magical. But there were other special moments too: exploring the unexpectedly large Jerash site with its huge array of columns; sitting on the sand exploring the night sky in Wadi Rum; sharing jokes with each other whilst riding our camels across the desert as well as floating in the Dead Sea.
Thoughts on Group Leader
The leader for most of our trip was Amer. He was friendly, helpful, and very experienced. Amer was hugely knowledgeable about all aspects of the region’s history, culture, and religion, and answered all the group’s questions in a comprehensive and often humorous way. He often took extra time to expand his answers so that we fully understood both the past and present political and religious complexities concerned: As a proud Jordanian his perspective on the topic of Palestine reflected his views. More generally, Amer took time to explain the plans/timings for each day. With such a busy schedule I think we all appreciated his organisational skills. On the coach he ensured there were plenty of regular breaks on the longer drives. He also handled check-in procedures at each hotel so generally all we needed to do was to collect our room key from him.
Advice for Potential Travellers
If you are worried about the visa / arrival process, for us this went very smoothly as the Exodus rep at the airport was extremely good. Be aware that on this itinerary, you will arrive at your first hotel in Amman around 2am after the visa procedure and transport from airport etc. You are then asked to be available for departure (after breakfast) at 8am the next day for a day trip to Jerash. Some may consider adding an extra night at the beginning to address this. The Day 3 itinerary which is the drive to Petra was very long but did contain several stops along the way. Departure was around 8am but arrival in Petra was not until around 7:30 so prepare for a long day. Try to get up for 6am when the site opens on your free day in Petra. There are far less people at this time of day, the temperature is much cooler and the light is magical. Bring beach shoes for Aqaba and the Dead Sea. We forgot ours, and whilst the pebbles and grit weren’t a problem the sand was burningly hot! If you can, bring a LARGE water bottle. This saves the chore of filling up every stop. Payment by card is simple in many locations, even to the craftspeople/store holders in the Siq at Petra! Even so, bring plenty of Jordanian Dinars for food/drink/snacks etc. Also, we had to hand over quite a bit of cash to our guide to support the tips strategy (see below) so make sure you bring enough to cover this aspect. We had a small pair of binoculars confiscated by security when we checked in at our hotel at the Dead Sea Resort. They were returned just before we left for the airport. Although the hotel is in Jordan, its proximity to Israel seems to make the staff nervous of such items, so beware. We recommend you either do not bring binoculars at all, or are prepared to do without them for this part of your stay. All the hotels were OK, but nothing special. This wasn’t really a ‘hotel holiday’. From our perspective, if the accommodation is clean with reliable plumbing and has reasonably comfortably beds that’s fine, and that was our experience. Hotel breakfast buffets were variable in range of options but there was something available for everyone. As a coeliac I was able to cope although I did bring enough gluten free rolls to last the full week. Eating out (or at the hotel) was simple and the places we visited offered many venues, but the food at each was pretty much the same everywhere: cold mezze followed by kebabs or lamb/chicken stews with vegetables.
We feel both the Little Petra and Bethany-on-the-Jordan “options” were in truth essential aspects of the trip and should be included within its basic itinerary and price. Indeed, had anyone chosen not to take these options (all our group selected them), it was unclear what their alternatives would have been, other than remaining at the hotel or on the bus for several hours. We were surprised and a bit uneasy about the tip strategy. On our first day on the bus, we were all asked to contribute JD23 and US$30 each to a ‘tip kitty’. Whilst we understand Jordan is a ‘tipping culture’, we have never been asked to ‘tip in advance’ on any previous trip. By our reckoning if all 20 travellers contributed as suggested, this would have created a kitty of nearly JD900. Our guide told us that these tips would be given to service providers en-route (hotels were mentioned…) but apart from our (excellent) driver who we know received JD200 at the end of the trip we have no idea how the rest of the large pool of tip money was actually distributed and generally, we didn’t notice anything particularly worthy of a large tip from any of the places or hotels we visited. We feel Exodus need to rethink this whole area, or at least provide a fuller explanation and detailed breakdown of where the money goes in the trip notes. Better still, Exodus could consider including all tips except those for the driver and guide in the base holiday price. For the driver and guide, we believe passing “driver” and “guide” envelopes round the bus at the end of the tour (perhaps with “suggested donations” for each) is a better solution. This would allow individuals to donate anonymously what they felt was appropriate for them, without the pressure of being asked to pay a specific amount before the services have even been supplied.