A supercharged week seeing the highlights of Israel and Jordan

I say this trip is supercharged because it doesn’t leave much time for chilling out.  But, if you’re like most of us and only have a limited amount of vacation, then this is a fantastic weekend to weekend trip that takes in the world famous sites of Jerusalem, Petra and Wadi rum; while providing time for some fun experiences like floating in the Dead Sea, scuba diving in the Red Sea, driving through sparse deserts and a party in Tel Aviv

You’ll need energy for these 7 days, but you’ll be rewarded as, in my opinion, its one of the world’s best week long trips in the world

I was hesitating in going in winter as I’d seen low temperatures.  Don’t.  The winter helped with reduced crowds, not needing to book far ahead and not getting exhausted by the heat.  Perfect trip for a week-long winter break

4WDing around Wadi Rum and spending a night in a desert camp

No wonder they filmed The Martian, Star Wars, Dune and Prometheus here – Wadi Rum has an otherworldly feel to it and driving around in 4x4s with the wind in your face watching the sandstone cliffs and red desert pass you by really gives a sci-fi feeling of adventure.  Expect to find yourselves regularly stopping to gawp at the latest stunning vista throughout the day

I’m sure there is a bunch of things that can take multiple days up, but we had half a day plus staying over night in one of the Martian tent, and that felt like the right amount of time.  Especially as we had time for both the sunset and the stunning first light.  A must if in this part of the world

Exploring Petra in winter

We’ve all seen the famous Treasury building that sits within Petra – yes, the one from Indiana Jones – but the Treasury is only one small piece of a vast network of ancient buildings that sit within a labyrinth of dramatic red stone canyons, and all surrounded by equally dramatic mountains and deserts.  To combine a visit to one of the Wonders of the World with an exploration of the broader area makes this a truly unforgettable experience

I’ve written below some tips for how to get the most out of a visit to Petra, but my #1 tip is to get  local guide to walk with you from Little Petra through the back entrance of the mountains, via the Monastery, and to the main Treasury / Siq (the famous bit).  You won’t be disappointed as the views are world-class and the crowds less keen to stray so far from the Treasury.  We visited in winter, which naturally thinned the crowds, but the site is so vast that even in the busy periods you will be able to get away

Floating in the Dead Sea on the Jordan side

This is just one of those experiences that we’ve all heard about, but really needs to be experienced to be believed.  Surrounded by history with the likes of Jerusalem, the King’s Highway and crusader castles nearby, you are very likely not only in this part of the world for the Dead Sea, but, if you, be sure to give it a go as its heaps of fun.  Plus, has the added attraction of being the lowest point on earth (408 metres below sea level)

You’ll most realistically access it via one of the hotels / spa treatment areas because you’ll want access to running water, ease of walking into the sea, towels, access to mud etc.  The extra cost, either through a day pass or access via the hotel, is worth it

Crossing from Israel / Jerusalem to Jordan when needing a visa on arrival

  • There are three land border crossings between Israel and Jordan – one in the north (the Sheik Hussain Bridge crossing near Best Sha’an), one nearby Jerusalem (the King Hussain Bridge crossing) and one in the south (Wadi Araba crossing between Eilat and Aqaba)
  • Entering into Israel from any of these borders is super simple, although give yourself the extra time for the high levels of security
  • However, the problem is that Jordan do not grant visas on arrival at either the land crossing near Jerusalem (King Hussain Bridge) or the one in the south (Wadi Araba).  The only one you can get a visa on arrival at is the Sheik Hussain bridge, which means you have to do a bit of a detour if you’re trying to get from Jerusalem to Amman / Jordan King’s Highway / Petra / Wadi Rum etc
  • Fortunately, for many this detour isn’t too frustrating as you may be going that direction anyway to see the Roman Ruins of Jerash
  • Obviously if you have already arranged a Jordanian visa, then you can arrive via any of the land crossings
  • To get to the Sheik Hussein Bridge crossing from Jerusalem:
    • Get the 966 or 967 local bus from the Jerusalem Central Bus Station to Beit Sha’an.  They leave fairly regularly (like every 15mins or so), but have a look on google maps for all potential buses and timings – it was surprisingly accurate with timings.  Costs around 35 shekels and takes around 1.5 hours.  You can get the bus from some of the stops further north from the Central Bus Station (which we did), but you run the risk of not getting a seat – ours was full of Israeli military transiting so didn’t get a seat
    • From Beit Sha’an, there should be a taxi at the main stop (not a bus station, more just a stop).  40 shekels and around 10mins to the border with Jordan
    • If don’t fancy the bus, you can get a taxi from Jerusalem to the Sheik Hussain Bridge for around USD160.  Takes about an hour and a half
    • Give yourself around an hour to pass the border.  It should be straightforward but you need to get a bus to cross the 200m bridge and the Jordanian immigration is snail pace
    • As always in Israel, be aware of the sabbath (from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset) as no buses will be running then
  • There is very little on the Jordan side.  There is a foreign exchange counter but didn’t seem to be many local buses.  We arranged with one of the guys offerings tours in Jerusalem for a driver for USD180 for the day to take us from the border to Amman, via a day checking out Jerash, picking up food, stopping for photos etc.  Locals tell us can get it for USD150.  Well worth it considering the route to Jerash from the border will be quite indirect
  • Going to and fro between Jordan and Israel is fine re passport stamps etc.  The Israelis don’t stamp your passport, instead they give you a paper card which you must keep with you on your stay in Israel, which avoids any entry issues with places like Lebanon.  Jordan do stamp your passport, but Israel have no issues with this

Jerusalem for a day on the Sabbath

One of the most famous cities in the world and the spiritual centre for three of the world’s major religions, Jerusalem is steeped in history and has sites that attract hordes of tourists and worshippers alike

We went on the sabbath, which in Israel means many things are closed, and in winter, which means it’ll be around 10-12 Celsius / 50-54 Fahrenheit in the day, so it was probably a bit quieter than normal and I think that was a positive on the overall experience

I’ve read in books like the Lonely Planet that you need four days to experience Jerusalem.  I think that may be true if you are deeply religious or have a passion for the history of the area, but for those who just broadly want to check it out, and have the right level of energy, you can have a great experience with only one day

So, if only have one day, I have 2 suggestions.  Firstly, focus on the key sites of the old city, in particular the Western Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Temple on the Mount.  Secondly, don’t try to do more than that and, instead, get lost wandering through Jerusalem’s narrow streets and off the tourist trail.  You’ll notice subtle differences moving between quarters and stumble upon some of the lesser known sites.  Far more enjoyable that following a guided tour, and less tiring

A day stop over in Doha

Many people naturally fly through Doha as its the perfect connection point between Europe and the Asia Pacific, but its a shame that so few people actually leave the airport because Doha is a very decent one day stop over option.  It’s small enough and quiet enough for you to get around quite easily, in particular to and from the airport, and has 4 activities that are super close together and so very doable in a day

2 days of baths and the Bosphorus in Istanbul

The crossroads of Europe and Asia and the former capital of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, Istanbul is steeped in history and makes for a world-class destination city.  I only spent 3 days there, so won’t write a detailed review, but high level tips:

  • Hagia Sofia – the star attraction and will no doubt be on your list.  Be sure to not only see this incredible structure from the outside, but also to visit the extraordinarily beautiful interior
  • Definitely get a Hamam – these Turkish Baths, whilst a bit on the pricey side (around USD100 for the entrance and some treatments), are just the perfect way to relax after a day of seeing the sights and some have the most beautiful interiors
  • Best river views – try to find a spot that gives you both the views of the Golden Horn with its various bridges and the Suleyman Mosque.  Watching the sunset from one of the restaurants round there was one of our highlights of Istanbul
  • Take a boat – even if it is just a short one over the Golden Horn, its a great way to get views of the city
  • The Grand Bazar – worth a visit just for its sheer size and bustle
  • The airport – the lines for immigration can take hours, so be prepared.  You’ll have to pay for a visa sticker (45 euros, bit of a joke) which is quick, but then the immigration queue itself can be long

A day trip to Abu Dhabi from Dubai

Its only around a 1.5hour drive from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, so I’d suggest it is a must visit if staying longer than 2 days in Dubai.  The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, with its squinting bright white marble, beautiful interior and sheer scale is the obvious must visit spot, but also give yourself time for a drink in the luxurious pink Emirates Palace with its gorgeous terrace overlooking the sea

Seeing the spectacular sights of Dubai

Dubai gets a slightly bad reputation for being a bit fake, manufactured, crude etc.  The thing is, it is all of these things, yet it is exactly because it has gone so far toward the non-authentic end of the spectrum that makes it such a fascinating place to visit.  I’ve enjoyed Dubai each of the 3 times I’ve visited – loved the fountain performance of the world’s tallest building the Burj Khalifa, sitting on the beach by the world’s only 8 star hotel the Burj Al Arab drinking cocktails, seeing the giant aquarium in the world’s largest mall in the Mall of the World, taking a boat over to the Dubai Old Town and would have LOVED to experience the skiing!  But I’ve visited mainly for work or in a time before we had the simplicity of taking photos on the phone.  For these reasons, I don’t think I can really do the place anywhere near the justice it deserves by writing a full review, so haven’t shared photos and tips.  Instead, I’ve given it a score based on how I found it – can’t miss out on such an obvious global city stop in the ratings