Jordan

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Introduction to Jordan

Bible stories, lost cities, Lawrence of Arabia - Jordan has romantic associations up to its eyeballs. It's a country that ought to be awash with tourists, but the Middle East's bad reputation has kept them away in droves. Don't be fooled: Jordan is, on the whole, peaceful.

More than that, it's one of the most welcoming, hospitable countries in the world. Where else could you leave your belongings on the street for hours at a time, and find them there when you get back? Where else do total strangers with nothing to sell invite you into their homes?

Jordan isn't just a friendly cup of tea with the locals, though. It's also home to two of the most spectacular sights in the Middle East. Petra, the ancient city of the Nabateans, may be overrun with snap-happy day-trippers, but that doesn't change the fact that it's one of the world's most atmospheric ruins. For a slightly more contemplative experience, the startling desert scenery of Wadi Rum enraptured Lawrence of Arabia and has caused more than one traveller to don a kaffiyeh and gaze defiantly into the middle distance.

Full country name: Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Area: 89,206 sq km

Population: 5.46 million

Capital City: Amman

People: 98% Arab (60% Palestinian, many refugees), Circassians, Chechens, Armenians, Bedouins

Language: Arabic, English

Religion: 92% Sunni Muslim, 4% Shiite Muslim, 4% Christian

GDP: US$15.5 billion

GDP per capita: US$3,500

Annual Growth: 5%

Inflation: 4%

Major Industries: Minerals, petroleum refining, tourism and agriculture

Major Trading Partners: India, Saudi Arabia, UAE, European Union, United States, Iraq

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Traveler Facts

Visas: All foreigners need a visa to enter Jordan. You can get one at the border or airport when you arrive, or from consulates in your country. Visas are valid for two weeks from entry, but can be easily extended for up to three months. The cost for all nationalities is 10.00 (single entry visa) and 5.00 on departure. Keep your passport on you whenever you're near the Israeli border, as there are lots of military checkpoints.

Health risks: hepatitis (Several different viruses cause hepatitis; they differ in the way that they are transmitted. The symptoms in all forms of the illness include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, feelings of weakness and aches and pains, followed by loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-coloured faeces, jaundiced (yellow) skin and yellowing of the whites of the eyes. Hepatitis A is transmitted by contaminated food and drinking water. Seek medical advice, but there is not much you can do apart from resting, drinking lots of fluids, eating lightly and avoiding fatty foods. Hepatitis E is transmitted in the same way as hepatitis A; it can be particularly serious in pregnant women. Hepatitis B is the most common hepatitis in Jordan and is spread through contact with infected blood, blood products or body fluids, for example through sexual contact, unsterilised needles (and shaving equipment) and blood transfusions, or contact with blood via small breaks in the skin. The symptoms of hepatitis B may be more severe than type A and the disease can lead to long-term problems such as chronic liver damage, liver cancer or a long-term carrier state. Hepatitis C and D are spread in the same way as hepatitis B and can also lead to long-term complications. There are vaccines against hepatitis A and B, but there are currently no vaccines against the other types. Following the basic rules about food and water (hepatitis A and E) and avoiding risk situations (hepatitis B, C and D) are important preventative measures), typhoid (Vaccination against typhoid is recommended if you’re travelling for more than a couple of weeks in Jordan. Also known as enteric fever, Typhoid is transmitted via food and water, and symptomless carriers, especially when they're working as food handlers, are an important source of infection. Typhoid is caused by a type of salmonella bacteria, Salmonella typhi. Paratyphoid is a similar but milder disease. The symptoms are variable, but you almost always get a fever and headache to start with, which initially feels very similar to flu, with aches and pains, loss of appetite and general malaise. Typhoid may be confused with malaria. The fever gradually rises during a week. Characteristically your pulse is relatively slow for someone with a fever. Other symptoms you may have are constipation or diarrhoea and stomach pains. You may feel worse in the second week, with a constant fever and sometimes a red skin rash. Other symptoms you may have are severe headache, sore throat and jaundice. Serious complications occur in about one in 10 cases, including, most commonly, damage to the gut wall with subsequent leakage of the gut contents into the abdominal cavity. Seek medical help for any fever (38?C and higher) that does not improve after 48 hours. Typhoid is a serious disease and is not something you should consider self-treating. Re-hydration therapy is important if diarrhoea has been a feature of the illness, but antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment)

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +2

Dialling Code: 962

Electricity: 230V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

Not surprisingly, Jordanian holidays and festivals are mostly Islamic. The big one is Ramadan, a month where everyone fasts between sunup and sunset to conform to the fourth pillar of Islam. If you're in Jordan at this time, be sensitive to the fact that most of the people around you are fasting. Ramadan ends with a huge feast, Eid al-Fitr, where everyone prays together, visits friends, gives presents and lives it up. Eid al-Adah, held around February (though the month changes almost every year), is the other big feast of the year, and marks the time when Muslims should make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Non-religious holidays include Independence Day on 25 May.

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Best time to Visit

The best time to visit Jordan is in spring or autumn, when you can dodge the baking sun of summer and the freezing winds of winter. Although winter can be bitterly cold in most of the country, the Red Sea area and Aqaba are still very pleasant. If you're planning to travel through the rest of the Middle East, try heading north into Turkey around spring, or south into Egypt by autumn.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Jordanian Dinar

Meals

Budget: JD1-3

Mid-range: JD3-5

High: JD5-10

Deluxe: JD10+

Lodging

Budget: JD5-10

Mid-range: JD10-30

High: JD30-50

Deluxe: JD50+

Jordan is at the top end of the Middle Eastern range - cheaper than Israel, but more expensive than Egypt. Although you could conceivably get by on $15 a day, you'll be living on felafel and slumming it in some pretty dodgy dives. If you want the odd beer, soft drink or restaurant meal, and if you'd like a hot shower occasionally, plan for about $20 a day. If you want a little more luxury - a couple of restaurant meals a day, a room with its own bathroom, a fair bit of travel and entry to at least one sight a day - budget around $50.

You shouldn't have a problem changing any hard currency in Jordan. Most banks will change travellers' cheques, and the British Bank of the Middle East takes Eurocheques. Everywhere will charge you about JD5 to change cheques. Amex are the most widely accepted. If you find you can get a good rate outside the country, buy up, as you can import as much Jordanian currency as you want.

Higher end restaurants will expect a tip of 10%, but most other places don't go in for tipping. Bargaining, particularly for souvenirs, is essential, but you are unlikely to get shopkeepers to stray far from their original price.

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Attractions

Amman

Amman, Jordan's capital, will certainly never win any prizes as the most interesting city in the world and, in fact, has only a few attractions. It's a busy, chaotic jumble of traffic and poor planning, but all roads lead to Amman, so you're bound to wind up here sooner or later.

If Roman ruins aren't your cup of tea, you'll find little to excite you in Amman. Give the Folklore Museum and the Traditional Jewels & Costumes Museum, both in the Roman theatre, a try. To the north of the city you'll find the Monument to the Unknown Soldier, which includes a small museum on Jordan's military history.

Jerash

The ruins at Jerash are one of Jordan's major attractions and have the advantage of being very accessible and compact. Jerash is also one of the best examples in the Middle East of a Roman provincial city, and is remarkably well preserved. The huge Oval Plaza or Forum is one of the most distinctive images of Jerash.

Whet your appetite with Amman's ruins, then head 50km (31mi) north to Jerash, a beautifully preserved Roman city. The area has probably been inhabited since Neolithic times, and at one time was part of Emperor Pompey's Decapolis, a commercial league of ten cities throughout the Middle East. Jerash reached its peak at the beginning of the 3rd century, but went into a decline after a series of Christian and Muslim invasions, followed by earthquakes in 747. Although excavations began in the 1920s, it's estimated that only 10% of the city has been uncovered. The entrance to Jerash was once a Triumphal Arch, but the main entrance now is the South Gate. Inside the city wall you will see a Temple of Zeus and a Forum, unusually oval-shaped. Behind the Temple is the South Theatre, built in the 1st century, which once held 5000 spectators and, running up to the north, a 600m/1968ft-long colonnaded street. The biggest building on the site is the Temple of Artemis, right in the centre.

Madaba

This easy-going little town south of Amman is best known for its beautiful Byzantine-era mosaics, including the 'Madaba map', a 6th-century mosaic map of Palestine. Made of two million pieces, the Madaba map shows the Nile, the Dead Sea and Jerusalem, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

You can see this mosaic, possibly Madaba's most interesting, in the Greek Orthodox St George's Church. Most of Madaba is now a carefully restored Archaeological Park, including the 7th-century churches of the Virgin and the Prophet Elias, and the older Hippolytus Hall.

Petra

Petra is the sort of place that usually exists only in the imagination and is one place where seeing is indeed believing. The unique city was hewn from a towering rock wall; few of the imposing facades of its great buildings are freestanding. Make sure you take as much film as you can carry because every nook and cranny is a Kodak moment.

It's hard to overrate Petra. There's no other sight in Jordan, or perhaps the whole Middle East, as compelling - the locals know it, and they'll charge you accordingly. Once the capital of the Nabateaeans, a 3rd century BC Arab dynasty, Petra was forgotten for 1000 years and only rediscovered in 1812. It raised its public profile with an appearance in the movie Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade. Since its discovery and up until the 1980s, it was home to a number of Bedouin families who have since been relocated, an arrangement they are less than happy with. Don't expect a serene and contemplative visit: up to 3000 people come here every day.

You really need to spend a couple of days here to get the feel of the place, which means paying the entry fee more than once. Set in a deep canyon and only accessible through a narrow winding cleft (or siq) in the rock, Petra is carved from sandstone that takes on deep rusty hues interlaced with bands of grey and yellow. The most famous ruin is the Khazneh, or treasury, whose beautifully carved facade is the first thing you'll see when you enter from the siq. The monastery is equally imposing, and if you climb to the top you'll get stunning views. Other ruins include an 8000-seat amphitheatre and the Temple of the Winged Lions, still in the process of excavation.

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Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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