Found some motivation to write again. This time, it’s about my 1-week trip to Israel and Jordan (December 2019).
We flew from Geneva to Tel Aviv on Tuesday, December 24th and arrived around noon time. Later in the day, we had a flight to catch from Tel Aviv to Eilat, but until then, we decided to leave the airport and explore for a few hours.
Leaving the airport, we located the luggage storage lockers and then bought train tickets to go into Tel Aviv city. I think we had just missed the train unfortunately, so we waited for the next one. The actual train ride itself is only about 20 minutes.
We got off at Tel Aviv Ha’Hagana train station and walked some distance to get into what we considered “the city.” The first stop was a market street near Jaffa. This is where we tried some yummy baked goods.
For lunch, we went to Azura Restaurant. I would highly recommend their food, which is great for all types of eaters. We were heavily stuffed after our meal, as you can probably imagine from the photo above.
After lunch, we made our way towards Carmel Market. The streets were busy with all sorts of activity. On Nahalat Binyamin Street, there was a makers market happening, with some of the most unique crafts I’ve ever seen being sold. Live music in the form of participant singing and clapping also echoed through the air. Around the corner, a tight alleyway of crowded shops sold everything you could think of.
We had a good time amusing ourselves briefly around Tel Aviv, but now it was time to head back to the airport. The walk back to the station was exhausting, and a little “less interesting” since we knew exactly what and where we needed to go. At least that can also be considered a positive, when trying to catch a flight!
Back at Tel Aviv airport, we grabbed our bags, and transferred over to the domestic transfers terminal. It was way too easy to get to our gate and onto the plane. I think we overestimated the time that we needed! The flight from Tel Aviv to Eilat is only about 1 hour long. We could have taken other means of transportation, but because we were short on time, this was the way.
Arriving at Eilat, you can feel that you’re out of place. There didn’t really seem to be any tourists. Also, I hadn’t figured out the logistics entirely, so we just went with the flow.
We were told that we needed to board bus #30. With our tickets in hand (purchased at the airport), we waited patiently for a bus to show up, and it did! Oh and it’s also first come first serve. So once the bus is full, it leaves and you need to wait for the next one. The bus was so full that people were standing in the middle of the isle.
Here’s a conversation that I overheard on the bus as it was getting more full (even though the driver kept letting more people on afterwards, too).
Girl: City center.
Driver: It’s better if you take the other bus.
Girl: But, I need this bus. Are you full?
Driver: What?!? Full?? — Yes… Full! Don’t worry, take the other bus, it’s better…
As the girl walks away, the driver completes his sentence “… for me.”
The bus ride was speedy and dropped us of nearly infront of our budget hotel, Rich Eilat Suites.
I knew nothing about Eilat before arriving and had no clue what to expect. Turns out, it’s a resort town! There were huge shopping malls, plazas, a marina, hotels, and a ton of night life entertainment. It was fun walking around at night in a vacation destination that wasn’t designed for outside tourists.
As a late night snack, we ate some wraps, onion rings, and got dessert from Yummy Yummy, A World of Taste. We thought about grabbing some drinks, but decided to call it a night.
The next morning, we grabbed some hotel breakfast before heading over to a neighboring hotel to meet up with our tour group.
I had booked the Petra and Wadi Rum 2-day tour from Abraham Tours (a hostel that provides local tours). Once everyone from our group had arrived, we were driven over to the Yitzhak Rabin Border Terminal.
It’s now time to cross over the border from Israel to Jordan! It was quite the process. Leaving Israel wasn’t so difficult though. We only needed to pay a fee, stand in some lines, and show our passports.
The process to enter into Jordan however, was a little more time consuming. We walked across the no man’s land gates between countries, then through the border’s duty free, and finally security check. After that, the last step involved a long hallway with some windows where you need to go through customs. It was fairly easy since we were in a tour group, but I did see some other individuals get rejected entry without understanding the reasons why.
Once officially in Jordan, we were met by our tour guide. We started the tour with some local attractions around Aqaba. Below on the left is the Late Roman Church, a mud building built around 300 AD. On the right is the gatehouse to al-‘Aqaba Castle.
Both sites that we saw were quite old, and I’d consider them to be bonus attractions. It was not what I was here to see, but I’m always opened to seeing more!
Lunch time, we shared a communal meal with our group. I hate picking seats at the table, because you know that you’ll likely end up conversing with whoever you sit with, haha. I survived.
Back in the bus we went! Before leaving Aqaba, we made a pitstop for whoever needed to exchange money or buy last minute snacks. Erick disappeared for a long time and I thought we lost him!!
On the road to Wadi Rum, we stopped by the Seven Pillars of Wisdom. As the name suggests, this magnificent cluster of mountains adds up to seven. It was a marvelous sight when viewed in contrast with the desert sand.
At the next stop, we got off the bus to transfer onto some off roading trucks. The truck beds were each converted into a seating area that comprised of 2 benches and usually an overhead cover. Each truck was able to seat up to 6 of us in the back. This was the trunk that I went on.
This was quite a fun experience, cruising through the desert and feeling the warm wind in your face. There was a Mad Max-like thrill to it all.
The off roading portion of the tour entailed taking the trucks to get to and back from the campsite. Along the way to the campsite, we stopped off at various sites. The first of which was this large mountain.
We were told to take off our shoes and experience the desert sand. Most of us also climbed up to the top of the mountain barefoot (roughly 10-15 minutes), where we took the the sights and of course took some selfies.
The second stop was at Khazali Canyon, a narrow red-rock fissure that has ancient inscriptions carved into the rock walls.
We were able to walk in between the narrow canyon, by carefully climbing across the rock ledges and hopping from one step to the next. It’s not the most accessible site for everyone to visit, but at least you can see mostly everything from just the canyon opening.
After the canyon, we were given the choice of either watching the sunset or to do a little rock climbing. Everyone ended up voting for the sunset, although I was secretly wishing to rock climb (but didn’t have a horribly strong preference either way).
We drove over to the “spot” for watching the sunset. I’m not sure what makes this spot better than other spots. It was quite cold and windy watching the sunset, and we had to kill at least an hour before it began to set. Erick and I played with the sand as we waited for time to pass.
Finally, we made our way to the Wadi Rum campsite, quite close to where we were sunset watching. I love how the tents look against the desert background. Some people had to share tents. Luckily, Erick and I got our own tent for ourselves.
Inside, the tent were two twin beds (kind of like a metal cott). We pushed our beds together in the middle, so it looked more like a queen sized bed. The tent is quite basic, with only a single light, the two beds, and some blanket/covers. But still, this was a level above the tent that we stayed at in the Moroccan desert.
The bathroom facilities were in another tent, and shared amongst all guests (men and women separated). Again, the bathrooms were way nicer than my previous desert tour camping experience.
There was also a couple of communal areas to hang out and keep warm. It was pretty cold outside, at least for my taste, so I preferred to huddle as close to the fire as possible. Before dinner, we were served some tea.
When dinner time came round, we all gathered to see what had been prepared. There was a large sand mound on the ground. One of the staff began to brush away the sand with a shovel, revealing a metal lid.
Upon removing the lid, we saw that there was a deep hole where food had been slow cooking in the ground. The big reveal was when the platter was lifted out of the hole, showing that there was not just one level, but three! I was mind blown actually, haha. We feasted this night.
For the remainder of the night, Erick and I shared an alcohol-free beer (there’s no alcohol at this campsite since the staff is Muslim). We also had hookah!
The next morning, we woke up to a beautiful new day in Wadi Rum. I love camping in the desert.
We were served another buffet style meal. I kept my breakfast simple.
Before departing, I shot a couple of photos of the entire campsite from up top a rocky platform. Not long after, we were called to the trucks to head out.
Back in our bus, we continued towards Petra.
On the way, we stopped by to check out an old abandoned train. The best part about the train was being able to climb around on it. This was our last stop before the long drive to Petra.
When we arrived at Petra, it was pouring rain. It’s a good thing that had packed waterproof shoes, pants, and jacket. We were lucky that Petra wasn’t closed either. Sometimes the rain can get so bad that they no longer allow guests to enter due to the risk of floods!
From the Petra visitor’s center, we had to walk a long ways. So long, that there are people offering horse and carriage rides. On our way, we saw many other sites, such as the Obelisk tomb.
Finally after walking through a long, long canyon, just through the cracks is the magnificent Petra. That feeling of when you first catch a glimpse of it is speechless excitement.
Petra was pretty up there in terms of spectacular sights. I watched a lot of Indiana Jones growing up, so you can only imagine my excitement (and the tune that was playing in my head).
My only disappointment was that you can’t actually go inside of Petra. I should have guessed, movie magic.
What I didn’t realize until arriving at Petra, was that the entire archaeological site is actually much larger than just the one iconic image. It’s actually comprised of a whole lot more — temples, tombs, churches, chapels… and that’s not it. There are still new discoveries being made!
After seeing Petra, we took a short hike up towards the Tomb of ‘Unayshu, and explored inside of various tombs. Then we looked at these rainbow stones and overlooked the Nabatean Theatre.
We had lunch at The Basin Restaurant, which served a buffet style meal. Then our tour group was free to wander around and explore on our own. Half of the group ran away to go on a vigorous hike, but Erick and I decided to keep it easy.
First we walked around the Great Temple, then we made our way over towards the Royal Tombs.
I can’t believe just how much history exists in one place. It’s amazing when you hear about all the histories of civilizations that had once occupied this very space over the past years. Seeing history come to life is priceless.
I’m so glad that we got the opportunity to go to Petra and see some of Jordan. Writing this post reminds me of how great of a trip this was. I’m looking forward to writing part 2!
Our tour concluded with us meeting back at the bus and returning back to the border to go to Israel. What I remembered most is that the Israeli passport control looked at my passport stamps and asked me why I traveled to Turkey. I told them that I just had a layover there, and they looked so happy by my answer.
We said our goodbyes to the group and went to look for the bus to take us back to the airport. I was a little worried that we were cutting it close and miss our flight. We waited in several different locations thinking it was a bus stop, but failed! The bus just kept passing us, lol. Eventually we found that we needed to walk all the way over to the main bus station (duh). Good news is, we made it to our flight in time. In fact, the flight was delayed. We ended up back in Tel Aviv at our hostel just past midnight, ready to sleep for just a few hours before the next days adventure.
See you again for part 2 on Israel!