Jordan //

Travel essentials

Addresses

Notwithstanding the efforts of cartographers and government officials, Jordan doesn’t use street addresses: nameplates you see on street corners are largely ignored by locals, who navigate either in relation to prominent landmarks or by asking passers-by. Mail is delivered only to PO boxes at post offices. If you’re trying to find a specific address, it’s a good idea to phone in advance to get detailed directions.

Costs

Though sometimes surprisingly expensive, Jordan is generally pretty good value. It’s possible to see the sights, eat adequately, sleep in basic comfort and get around on public transport for roughly £65/US$100 a day for two. If you like things more comfortable – staying in good mid-range hotels, eating well, perhaps renting a car to see some out-of-the-way places – reckon on nearer £100/US$150 a day for two. To travel independently while hiring drivers and guides, staying in five-star hotels and generally living the high life, a realistic minimum is £250/US$350 a day for two. All these figures – which are rounded and approximate – exclude the cost of getting into Petra, which at £100/US$150 for a two-day ticket for two people, could bust your budget.

Jordan has a government sales tax, which applies at different rates, depending on the goods/services involved, up to about 14 percent: bear in mind that, in many situations, the price you see (or are told) doesn’t include this tax, which is only added on when you come to pay. In Aqaba, sales tax is lower than the rest of Jordan. In addition, hotels and restaurants above a certain quality threshold automatically add a ten percent service charge to all bills. They are legally obliged to state these charges somewhere, although it can be as surreptitious as a tiny line on the bottom of a menu.

Crime and personal safety

The sense of honour and hospitality to guests embedded deep within Arab culture, coupled with a respect for others, means that you’re extremely unlikely to become a victim of crime while in Jordan. Along with the ordinary police, Jordan maintains a force of English-speaking tourist police, identifiable by their armbands with English lettering. Posted at all tourist sites nationwide, they can deal with requests, complaints or problems of harassment. Any representation by a foreigner, whether to the tourist police or the ordinary local police, will generally have you ushered into the presence of senior officers, sat down and plied with coffee, with your complaint taken in the utmost seriousness. The nationwide police emergency number is t 911. Dial t 199 for an ambulance. Otherwise you’re only likely to tangle with the police if they catch you speeding.

Terrorism and civil disorder in Jordan are extremely rare. All big hotels have barriers keeping vehicles clear of the entrance, and airport-style security for everyone entering the building (including compulsory baggage X-ray and body search). Armed police patrol all major tourist sites. At the time of writing neighbouring countries’ revolutionary upheavals have not spilled over into Jordan; the short, noisy demonstrations which do occur – notably at the Husseini Mosque in Downtown Amman after Friday prayers – invariably pass off without incident. Regardless of the impression you might get from the nightly news, you’d be in no more danger travelling round Jordan than you would be in your home country.

Note that it is illegal to insult the king or the royal family, possess drugs or pornography, preach Christianity in public or encourage people to convert to any religion other than Islam.

Customs and duty-free

You’re permitted to buy 200 cigarettes, one litre of spirits and two litres of wine duty-free on arrival in Jordan. All borders and airports have duty-free shops open long hours, but if you forget to buy your allowance of alcohol, cigarettes, perfume or electronic goods when you arrive, you can go to the Duty-Free Shop on Tunis Street near 5th Circle in Amman (t 06 567 8147, w jdfshops.com) within 14 days, where the whole range is available. Bring your passport.

The area around Aqaba is a Special Economic Zone, with lower taxes and its own customs rules: on all roads into the city, you’ll have to pass through a customs station. On departing the zone, you may be subject to checks: personal items, up to 200 cigarettes and one litre of alcohol that you bought in the zone are exempt from duty.

Departing Jordan, duty-free shops at the airports (w worlddutyfreegroup.com) and the land borders stock familiar ranges.

Electricity

The supply in Jordan is 220V AC, 50Hz – the same as in Europe. Most new buildings and big hotels have British-style square three-pin sockets. Older buildings tend to have two-pin sockets for European-style thick-pronged, round plugs.

Entry requirements

All visitors to Jordan must hold passports valid for at least six months beyond the proposed date of entry to the country. On arrival at all airports, as well as at all land and sea borders – apart from the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge – most nationalities are routinely issued with a single-entry visa. If you arrive at Aqaba, it’s free; if you arrive anywhere else, it costs JD20 (payable in cash dinars only). Multiple-entry visas are available only from Jordanian embassies and consulates for JD60 or the local equivalent.

Note that citizens of certain developing countries cannot obtain a visa on arrival and must instead apply at the nearest Jordanian embassy at least three months prior to travel. A full list of these is at w visitjordan.com.

For groups of five or more people, whose journey has been arranged by an approved tour operator and who plan to stay in Jordan for at least two nights, visa fees are waived.

Both single- and multiple-entry visas are valid for a stay of thirty days. If you’re planning to stay longer than that, you must register with the police in the last couple of days before the thirty-day period is up – a simple, free, five-minute procedure which grants a three-month extension.

If you plan to enter Jordan for the first time via the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge, you must already hold a visa – they are not issued at the bridge. If you left Jordan via this bridge and are returning the same way, you don’t need to buy another visa as long as your current one is still within its thirty-day validity.

Always carry your passport on your person: you’ll need it to check into hotels and to ease your way through any checkpoints.

Visas at Aqaba
If you enter Jordan at Aqaba – which stands at the centre of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone (ASEZ) – you are granted a free 30-day visa on arrival at Aqaba’s airport, seaport or the land crossings from Israel (Eilat) or Saudi Arabia (Durra). You are then at liberty to travel around Jordan as you like.

Staying more than a month involves extending an ASEZ visa, which can be done only at the offices of ASEZA (Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority) in Aqaba itself.

If you arrive in Jordan elsewhere – other than the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge – and you let the passport officials know that you intend to go directly to Aqaba, you are in theory entitled to get a free ASEZ visa rather than paying for a standard visa. In these cases, though, you must register at the ASEZA offices in Aqaba within 48 hours of your arrival in Jordan: if you miss this deadline, you become liable for the cost of the visa plus a fine.

Insurance

It’s essential to take out a good travel insurance policy to cover against theft, loss of property and illness or injury. Before paying for a new policy, however, it’s worth checking whether you are already covered: home insurance may cover your possessions when overseas, many private medical schemes include cover when abroad and premium bank accounts or credit cards often have travel insurance included. After exhausting these possibilities, contact a specialist travel insurance firm. Rough Guides offers tailor-made travel insurance through WorldNomads – more info at w roughguides.com/shop.

Mail

Airmail letters and postcards can take a week or two to Western Europe, up to a month to North America or Australasia. Asking someone to write the destination country in Arabic can help avoid things going astray. It’s safest to ignore the street postboxes and instead send your mail from larger post offices, all of which have a box for airmail (barid jowwy). Stamps (tawabe’a) cost pennies, but parcels are expensive (JD10–15 for 1kg). International courier firms are well represented in Amman and Aqaba.

Maps

For all general purposes, the maps in this book should be adequate. Many international map publishers cover Jordan, but few offer close detail and most omit newer roads and mark villages or archeological sites inaccurately. The GeoProjects 1:730,000 map (third edition or later) leaves out some detail but is probably the best available outside Jordan. Other maps, including city maps and plans for Petra and other sites, are available at hotel bookstalls in Jordan, many produced by the Royal Jordanian Geographic Centre (w rjgc.gov.jo).

The coverage of Jordan on Google Maps is disappointing, showing main roads only and virtually no detail – and beware that Google Earth’s satellite imagery of Jordan is several years out of date. Let’s hope both have updated by the time you read this.

For a spectacular annotated satellite overview of Jordan’s archeological sites, go to w megajordan.org.

Money

The Jordanian unit of currency is the dinar, abbreviated to JD (or sometimes JOD). Most people refer to the dinar as a “jaydee” or a “lira”. There are two subdivisions: one dinar comprises either 1000 fils or 100 piastres (qirsh). Locals always think in piastres; they only refer to fils when talking to foreigners. A hotel, restaurant or shop bill will show either “14.65” or “14.650”, both of which mean 14 dinars and 65 piastres (that is, 650 fils). In this book, we are sticking to two decimal places only.

Banknotes are JD50, JD20, JD10, JD5 and JD1, all with Arabic on one side and English on the other. For coins, there’s a gold, seven-sided half-dinar coin inset with a circular silver bit in the middle; a smaller quarter-dinar coin, also gold and seven-sided but without the silver inset; and silver coins of ten piastres and five piastres. All coins state their value on them somewhere in tiny English lettering.

In verbal exchanges, you’ll find that people quite often leave the denomination off the end of prices. If they say something costs “ashreen” (twenty), it’s up to you to decide whether they mean 20 fils (a throwaway amount), 20 piastres (ie 200 fils; the price of a street snack or a short bus ride), or 20 JDs (the cost of a room in a small hotel). Nicknames also pop up: 10 piastres is a barizeh and 5 piastres is a shilin.

Changing and carrying money
Few banks in the West keep Jordanian dinars on hand, but you should be able to order them with a few days’ notice. It’s a good idea to bring JD50 or so with you in cash, to cover visa and transport costs on arrival.

Most hotels and shops above the cheapest level accept credit and debit cards, but Jordan is a cash society: just about everywhere the preferred method of payment is local banknotes. You can’t pay in dollars, euros or other currencies.

Security-wise, Jordan is safer than anywhere in the West: you can carry wads of cash around in your pocket without concern. You’re more likely to be invited for tea than mugged.

For changing money (cash or traveller’s cheques, in all major currencies), every town has a welter of banks, with identical exchange rates, and there are also plenty of independent change offices. Cash machines (ATMs) are widespread, always with an English option. You can generally withdraw a maximum of around JD250 a day, depending on your card provider, but watch for hidden fees and commission charges: it’s worth checking your terms and conditions before you leave home – and switching to a card tailored for holiday use if you can. There’s no black market in currency exchange.

Opening hours and public holidays

Jordan’s working week runs from Sunday to Thursday. Public sector office hours are 8am to 3pm; private sector businesses tend to follow a split pattern, perhaps 8.30am–1pm and 3.30–6.30pm. The weekend is officially Friday, though banks, government departments and many businesses also close on Saturdays.

Although Muslims pray together in the mosque on a Friday, the concept of a “sabbath” or “day of rest” does not translate: downtown shops and markets are generally open seven days a week, roughly 8 or 9am to 8 or 9pm. More upmarket shops tend to open 9 or 9.30am to 6 or 7pm, perhaps closing for two or three hours at lunchtime. Almost everywhere shuts for a couple of hours around Friday midday prayers. All transport services operate seven days a week, though frequency is reduced on Fridays.

During Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, everything changes. Shops and offices open from 9am to 2 or 3pm (closed Fri), while street markets operate every day until about an hour before sunset. Banks and government departments may only be open for two or three hours in the morning. Some shops might reopen for a couple of hours after dark.

Fixed public holidays
Jordan’s secular national holidays tend to be low-key affairs; banks, businesses and government offices are closed, but shops might open as normal. Even though Jordan’s Christians are mostly Orthodox and follow the Julian calendar, which varies from the Gregorian calendar used in the West by a couple of weeks, everyone has agreed to celebrate Christmas Day together as a national holiday on December 25 (Muslim shops and businesses don’t close).

Public holidays
Jan 1
New Year’s Day
May 1
Labour Day
May 25
Independence Day
Dec 25
Christmas Day

Islamic holidays and Ramadan
Islamic religious holidays, based on the Hijra calendar, are marked by widespread public observance. All shops and offices are closed and non-essential services are liable to be suspended. The following dates are approximate, since each holiday is announced only when the new moon has been seen clearly by an authorized cleric from Jordan’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs. Quoted dates could vary by a couple of days. The start of the holy month of Ramadan is also included here; Ramadan is not a holiday, but since it comprises 30 days of restricted business hours, its first day is a useful date to know.

Islamic holidays
Mawlid an-Nabawi
Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. 24 Jan 2013; 13 Jan 2014; 3 Jan 2015; 23 Dec 2015.
Eid al-Isra wal-Miraj
Night Journey to Heaven. 5 June 2013; 25 May 2014; 15 May 2015; 3 May 2016.
Ramadan
Begins 9 July 2013; 28 June 2014; 18 June 2015; 6 June 2016.
Eid al-Fitr
3 days. Begins 8 Aug 2013; 28 July 2014; 17 July 2015; 5 July 2016.
Eid al-Adha
4 days. Begins 15 Oct 2013; 4 Oct 2014; 23 Sept 2015; 11 Sept 2016.
1st of Muharram
Islamic New Year. 5 Nov 2013; 25 Oct 2014; 14 Oct 2015; 2 Oct 2016.

 

Phones

Landline numbers are nine digits long – seven digits prefixed by a two-digit area code: 02 covers northern Jordan, 03 southern Jordan, 05 the Jordan Valley and central and eastern districts, and 06 the Amman area.

Mobile phone numbers are ten digits long – seven digits prefixed by a three-digit code (currently 077, 078 or 079).

Most Jordanians have given up on landlines and instead rely on mobile phones – many people have two, on different networks. To follow suit you can walk into any phone or electronics shop (there are dozens in every town), buy a local SIM card, plug it into your handset and be up and running with a Jordanian number in minutes, for JD10 or less. Topping up with scratch-cards (buyable everywhere) is straightforward. Calling and texting off a local number is very inexpensive – much cheaper than roaming from your home network. Basic handsets can be purchased for perhaps JD20–30.

Smoking

Smoking is banned in public places, including airports, museums and on public transport. However, enforcement is minimal and in effect it’s impossible to escape cigarette smoke anywhere in the country (see Fuming).

Time

Jordan is usually two hours ahead of London, seven hours ahead of New York and eight hours behind Sydney. Daylight Saving Time operates from the last Friday in March to the last Friday in October. For full details, check w timeanddate.com.

Tipping

In a good restaurant, even when a service charge is included, it’s customary to round the bill up slightly as well. Low-budget local diners don’t expect tips and will never press you for anything. In most everyday situations a quarter-dinar tip (ie JD0.25) is a perfectly satisfactory indication of your appreciation for a service, such as a hotel porter loading your bags onto a bus or taxi. Taxi-drivers deserve ten percent of the meter charge; if a driver has spent half a day shuttling you from place to place, JD5 is in order. An appropriate tip for a bellboy in a four- or five-star hotel who brings your bags up to your room would be half a dinar (JD0.50) – or JD1 if you’re feeling generous. Guidance on tipping specialist guides is given in Adventure tours and trekking.

Tourist information

The Jordan Tourism Board (JTB), part affiliated to the Ministry of Tourism and part private, publicizes the country’s tourist assets abroad. In most countries, the account for handling promotion of Jordan is awarded to a local PR company, so contact details can, and do, change.

Jordan Tourism Board

Online
w visitjordan.com.
Canada
t 514 750 9715.
Jordan
t 06 567 8444.
UK
t 020 7223 1878.
US
t 1 877 733 5673 or t 703 243 7404.

Useful websites

w visitjordan.com
Jordan’s official tourism portal.
w kingabdullah.jo
Detailed features on history, the royal family, politics and tourism.
w jordantimes.com
Leading English-language newspaper.
w petrapark.com
Official website for Petra Archeological Park.
w rscn.org.jo
Excellent information on Jordan’s nature reserves.
w jordanjubilee.com
Knowledgeable and entertaining travel site.
w nomadstravel.co.uk
For climbing and trekking enthusiasts.
w fieldguidetojordan.com
Superb nature resource: download app or buy book.
w jmd.gov.jo
Weather forecasts and climate data.
w quitealone.com
Middle East travel blog.

Travellers with disabilities

Jordan makes few provisions for its own citizens who have limited mobility, and this is reflected in the negligible facilities for tourists. The best option is to plump for an organized tour – sightseeing is liable to be complicated enough that leaving the practical details to the professionals will take a weight off your mind. Throughout the country pavements are either narrow and broken or missing altogether, kerbs are high, stairs are ubiquitous and wheelchair access to hotels, restaurants and public buildings is pretty much nonexistent. Hotel staff and tourism officials, although universally helpful, are generally poorly informed about the needs and capabilities of tourists with limited mobility. Travelling with an able-bodied helper and being able to pay for things like a rental car (or a car plus driver) and good hotels will make things easier.

All Jordan’s ancient sites are accessible only by crossing rough and stony ground. Scrambling around at Jerash or Karak is hard enough for those with full mobility; for those without, a visit represents a major effort of energy and organization. Petra has better access: with advance planning, you could arrange to rent a horse-drawn cart to take you from the ticket gate into the ancient city, from where – with written permission obtained ahead of time from the tourist police – you could be picked up in a car and driven back to your hotel.