Amongst the vast desert of Wadi Rum, with its long red sandscapes and imposing stone mountains, it’s easy to feel insignificant.
This natural wonder in Jordan is one of the country’s highlights but it is so large, so textured, that you’ll likely see nobody else while you’re here.
Bumping along in open-top trucks, riding the waves of sand dunes, I am not completely alone. I am with my small tour group from G Adventures. But even as a collective we seem as small as a speck of sand in comparison to the desert around us.
I couldn’t have asked for a better group to share this incredible experience in Jordan 🇯🇴. My @gadventures tour has come to an end – after a week of ancient cities, stunning landscapes, biblical sites and a couple of seas! It’s strange how fast it goes and how quickly you make new friends. If you’ve been on a trip like this yourself, you’ll know what I mean. I would highly recommend visiting Jordan. If you’re interested, there’s some more info in my bio. #GWanderers
But if Wadi Rum makes me feel small, then our experience later in the evening makes me feel a thousands times more miniscule.
Out in the desert still, we are camping for the night at a Bedouin camp. After the sun has gone down and we have eaten our dinner of meat cooked buried in the sand, we sit around the campfire.
Looking up to the sky, it is brighter than I have seen in a long time. The light of the stars – thousands and thousands of them – like pinpricks in the dark cloak around the mountain we are camped next to.
I am tiny… but not alone. Because, don’t forget, I am here with a group, warm around a fire.
Why an organised group tour?
I am not normally the kind of traveller who does organised tours – at least, not ones that go for more than a day or so. The idea of being shepherded around tourist sites by a guide carrying a flag or umbrella sends a shiver down my spine.
But a trip with G Adventures is different. There’s a degree of independence, of exploration rather than explanation. You can make choices about some of the things you do, but you always have the support of the group and the leader.
And it’s the group itself that is one of the more unexpected benefits for me of an organised tour like this.
Whether you normally travel alone, as a couple, or with friends and family, finding yourself with a dozen other like-minded people to share a meal with and chat to on a bus journey makes the trip much more enjoyable.
It’s probably safe to say that we all become friends. Enough, at least, for most of the group to be gently teasing me about my surname by the end of the tour (OK, I get it, ‘Turtle’ is a bit weird). They even get the captain of a boat to join in when we go out snorkelling in the Red Sea one day, when he says we may see turtles.
But all of this is one of the reasons I was delighted to become one of the new Wanderers for G Adventures. The role means that I will join a few trips each year, see new destinations and meet new people, and then share my experiences with you.
This is my first trip – the Highlights of Jordan – and it turns out to be a perfect choice for the way I like to travel. Plus it takes me to grand ancient cities, intense natural wonders, and iconic historical and biblical sites.
I think group tours like the ones G Adventures offers make a lot of sense when the logistics would be quite hard to organise yourself. It was very helpful when I did the Lares trek to Machu Picchu a few years ago, and it is just as useful in Jordan.
Jordan has some incredible places to visit but they are quite far apart. Public transport is not convenient and driving yourself is not advised. Throw in a country where English is not the first language, and having someone else organise all the practicalities for you is a big help.
Is Jordan safe to travel?
The other reason why Jordan makes great sense for an organised tour is for safety.
As I was preparing to go, a lot of people would ask, “is Jordan safe to travel?”. In fact, they often didn’t pose it as a question, as such – more like a statement questioning my sanity.
It may seem like a reasonable question if you haven’t done any research. It’s true, Jordan is in an unstable region – sharing a border with Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq.
There’s a lot of conflict around Jordan but, as it turns out, none that touches it directly. Jordan is actually one of the safest countries I have experienced in my travels.
Not just because it is relatively politically neutral, keeping itself out of most troubles in the Middle East. But also because the local people are generally so friendly that you know you won’t have any problems with them.
For example, I find myself with an addiction to the Turkish-style coffee they drink in Jordan (it has a wonderful cardamom taste and I highly recommend it). I would constantly be wandering off on my own to get a cup of it and every time I found myself chatting away to the guy making it (often making myself late to meet the others – sorry!) Much friendlier than anywhere I have ever lived.
I love the Turkish coffee that you get in Jordan. Not only is it full of caffeine (#buzzing) but it tastes like cardamom. This guy at a small stall in Aqaba makes his coffee using heated sand. The deeper you put the pot in the sand, the faster it boils. He’ll do this several times at different temperatures for the perfect brew. It’s all part of the experience of my @gadventures tour in Jordan 🇯🇴. Check out my bio for the link to more info. #gwanderers
Having said all of that, though, there is a level of comfort that comes from having a local guide with you in a Middle Eastern country. It is a different culture to the one I was brought up in and I find it nice to be able to ask advice about certain things. I also know that if something was to somehow go wrong, I would have the assistance I needed.
The highlights of Jordan
Just a couple of days into the week-long tour, I realise I am seeing everything through a filter of orange or red.
Jordan is so bright and so vibrant that the colours seem to have seeped into my eyes. But most of them come from the spectrum of the earth – from the stones used to build magnificent cities, the mountains in which tombs were carved, the sand along the coastlines, and the dunes of the desert.
As we travel the country, we see these all for ourselves, learning about their places in the deep story of Jordan and the wider region.
There’s Wadi Rum, which I mentioned earlier – a real highlight. The incredible desert has rock formations scattered throughout it, creating a maze of corridors that have been used by trading caravans for thousands of years.
And, of course, there’s the ancient city of Petra, a site that exceeded my expectations in every possible way. It’s no exaggeration to say that the collection of tombs and temples amongst the rocks and canyons is one of the most amazing places I have ever visited.
Wadi Rum and Petra are two of the most famous sites in Jordan and I’ll be writing more about both of them soon.
But I was also introduced to other sites in Jordan that should be just as famous, because they are incredible in their own special ways.
There’s the ancient Roman city of Jerash, with theatres, temples, fora and boulevards. It sprawls out further than you imagine and is one of the largest and best-preserved Roman sites outside Italy.
In al-Karak, we visit Kerak Castle, an enormous castle built on the top of a hill by Christian crusaders in the 12th century.
We spend an afternoon on the shore of the Dead Sea, floating in the water buoyed by the high salt levels, and relaxing in the heat of the sun.
In the Red Sea, our group takes a boat from Aqaba along the coast to go snorkelling at reefs and dive sites, passing a point in the water where you can see four countries at once.
There’s also a stop at Mt Nebo, an important pilgrimage site where it’s said that Moses sat and surveyed the ‘Promised Land’ before he died.
And, continuing the biblical history, Jordan is also home to the place on the Jordan River where Jesus is said to have been baptised by John the Baptist, an area where people still come for the important ritual.
I’ll also be writing much more in the coming weeks about many of these sites and how you can best experience them on a trip to Jordan. I discovered so much about this part of the world and I am looking forward to sharing it.
A story of millennia
In Jordan, the history runs deep and strong. It was the stage for thousands of years of humanity’s story. Empires rose and fell; traders met at crossroads on the edge of the Cradle of Civilisation; and it had a starring role in the birth of more than one of the world’s major religions.
It may be a relatively small country but Jordan has a lot to inspire.
Looking back at the end of this tour, I wonder how we managed to fit so much into just one week. I also wonder how the time passed so quickly.
The answer to the second question I know has a lot to do with the people I shared the journey with. The other people in my group. Jordan may have provided the stage and the story but it was my new friends who were the best characters.