Is it safe to travel to Jordan?

Jordan

Dec 09

It’s a common question. Is it safe to travel to Jordan?

“People want to talk to me a lot,” he said, as blue and yellow danced across the coffee from the stained glass windows overhead.

“Because I’m a Christian,” he went on, “and am interested in political science.

“And because I live in Madaba, Jordan – and because that’s in the Middle East.”

Christianity in Madaba Jordan

Elias joined us as we finished our lunch, bringing a pistachio sprinkled dessert called layali libnan or Lebanese Nights. A woman brought rosewater syrup and cardamom scented coffee and joined her husband; the owners of this restaurant spending time with their guests.

This was the last supper in Jordan, or at least it felt that way (technically, it was the penultimate meal but that lacks a certain poetry, don’t you think?)

Recommended reading: The Madaba Mosaics Jordan; Making the Broken Beautiful Again

Is it safe to travel to Jordan?

Three years had passed since I first set foot in Jordan – and a lot had happened in that time. Most notably, perhaps for me, setting foot was harder than before, thanks to an operation or two that still had me hobbling.

Most notably for the rest of the world, was the prominence and presence of ISIS. There with every headline, on every station, and seeping into every mention from our media on stories about the Middle East.

And Jordan had been affected. Not by ISIS directly, there’s been no violence, no notable unrest, the group’s movements stay miles from Amman behind the borders of Syria and Iraq.

The problem is, or seems to be, that tourists have trouble understanding that there’s more than one country within “the Middle East.”

Travel in Jordan

“The thing is,” Elias continued at Hikayet Sitti, “there isn’t very much to say. We’re Christians, we live here. It’s peaceful, everything’s fine.”

Back in Amman, beneath flowing locks and contagious good humour, Maria tells me much the same thing. Instead of Christianity, she’s talking about travel as a woman.

“Oh come on!” she says, rolling her eyes and brandishing a knife when I ask about safety here (it’s at this stage I ought to point out she’s a chef.)

Reunited at Beit Sitti after three years

Reunited at Beit Sitti after three years

Maria, who I met last time, moves at about twice my speed and speaks at about thrice my volume despite being half my size. Last time, we sliced and spliced indoors, this time we join a group of around twenty Jordanian women (with a few men late and lurking in the shadows.) Our driver and guide, Basil and Hatem, however, don’t appear to be so shy. They roll up their sleeves and critique my technique for knife meets onion before taking over and doing a better job of it themselves.

This evening, scented by blossom and lemon and lime and backlit by views of the citadel, marked the start of my time in Jordan. There followed spice markets and Roman remains, biblical landmarks, camels in Aqaba, wilderness in the dessert, walking through Petra, driving through Wadi Rum, dining with Bedouin and floating in the Dead Sea. And much, much more besides.

Why I’m Starting With Madaba

But I’m starting at the end.

I’m starting in Madaba, in part because of my talk with Elias and his wife over fresh bread and hummus (in Jordan, there is plenty of hummus.)

But also because of Madaba itself and the secrets it stores beneath dusty, gilt- edged lamps and candle-lit crypts: its mosaics and the story that reaches from the past to the present. 

 

Abigail King Madaba Mosaic

Madaba simply asks that you pay her a visit. That you sift through her broken pieces, work well with others, and create something beautiful for all the world to see.

It’s a sentiment smothered in schmaltz…until I remember the headlines elsewhere in the region and I long for the idea to spread.

 

 

Myths about travel to Jordan

Myth – You can’t get in if you’re Jewish or have been to Israel

Reality – Jordan is at peace with Israel and thousands cross the border in both directions each day to go to work. There are no travel restrictions in place against Jews.

Myth – women are veiled

Reality – women dress more conservatively than in the UK or US, but no more so really than in Italy or Spain. Check out this post for a good guide as to what to wear as a woman while travelling in Jordan.

Myth – Jordan is in flames as ISIS takes control

Reality – Jordan is a peaceful, stable country. There are policies and practices it follows that I, personally, do not agree with but I could say that about almost any country (Guantanamo anyone?)

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Disclosure – I travelled to Jordan as part of iAmbassador’s #GoJordan project in partnership with Visit Jordan. As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like and think what I like. As ever, as always, otherwise there’s just no point.

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About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.

  • De'Jav says:

    Look like an amazing place with lots of history and culture. Still untapped by the traveling community as well.

    • Abi King says:

      Ah, the whole region has so much history and culture. And there’s so much more to the place than “we” tend to see in the UK. Watch this blog!

  • Great piece and very well-written! We enjoyed our trip to Jordan and we loved being able to walk across from Israel, so we can confirm that the myth is untrue about not being able to go to Jordan after visiting Israel. How could there be a border crossing with Israel after all. Oh and Mindy is Jewish, so there goes that myth too. :)
    And even if the women WERE all veiled, so what? Can’t imagine why that would stop anyone from going there. We ran into many women on our travels there and some were veiled, some weren’t, just like most countries in the world.
    Very interesting about the Christianity there. We spoke with a Christian in Palestine when we visited Bethlehem, who stated that he and his Muslim neighbors got along fine and even referred to them as brothers. Interesting visit! :)

    • Abi King says:

      I can’t tell you how glad I am to read your comment! I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve met who have been afraid to visit because of some of these myths! I found it quite sad to return and see how hard the country has been hit by all this misinformation. Do you have stories from your Israel to Jordan crossing? I’d love to share them. Thanks!

      • Abi King says:

        Oh, and you’re completely right about the “so what” aspect with regards to what women wear. Again, I’ve just heard some people say that they don’t want to go at all because they don’t want to have to wear a veil…Terrible reason for not going – particularly because it isn’t true!

  • I went to Madaba when I was in Jordan about 15 years ago. Beautiful place. Beautiful country.

  • I don’t have much of a desire to explore the Middle East so I’m always happy to read your accounts of it (armchair travel at its best) =)

    • Abi King says:

      Haha! Fair enough. I find it such a beautiful and fascinating region, so I’m still tempted to coax you from that armchair every now and then!

  • Katrina says:

    Funny that you think Italians dress more conservatively than Brits. I lived in Naples for a few years and, gosh, you never saw so much skin!

    • Abi King says:

      Well, Naples maybe…but nowhere else I’ve been in Italy could compare to Manchester on a Friday night!

  • Angie Away says:

    Great piece, as always, Abi! I loved Jordan, too, and will share this post with anyone concerned about Middle East travel. Always felt pretty safe when I was in Jordan!

    • Abi King says:

      Thanks Angie. It’s a shame some people stay away for all the wrong reasons…

  • Jeff Klassy says:

    Wow. Do you like stalkers? I just read something I’ve been telling every friend and family member back in the states. I was just in Madaba this past September. My well educated brother scolded me for going to a extremely dangerous country WRONG. The flight from Chicago to my layover in Frankfurt, my seat initially was next to this “know it all” woman that said she’s been to Amman and there’s no way she would go now. I moved my seat before we took off and told her “no time for love Dr. Jones!” By day 3 in Madaba, I couldn’t walk around that city without running into someone I had interaction with and they always smiled with excitement, then proceeded to ask how I was doing. I was given free turkish coffee by one shop owner and one tourism policeman. 3 times I asked a random shop person where something was, they always walked me through the city to what I was looking for. Day 2, I was already crying. After receiving such amazing hospitality from many Jordanians I just felt it was such an injustice on how the majority of the people I know, know absolutely nothing about that country and especially the kind friendly and extremely hospitable people that live there. When I heard “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd blaring over a speaker in this little coffee shop, that broke me. When I left I wiped my eyes away and walk away with this great amount of compassion for the people of Jordan. Im so glad I read this amazing blog. The first one I’ve ever read and agreed with 100%. Shukran.

    • Abi King says:

      Stalkers?! Er, not so much, no…!

      Other than that, lovely to hear about your good experiences in the country. Shukran.

  • Leah says:

    I’m very intrigued by Jordan and the rest of the Middle East. I’ve only been to Israel so far but I thought it was a really beautiful region and so vastly different to what I’m used to. It’s a shame there’s still so much misunderstanding floating about. Thanks for shedding some light on those rumors!

    • Abi King says:

      I would love to visit Israel too. I’ve quite a soft spot for the Middle East after living there as a child. So much beauty and hospitality. So many misunderstandings…I hope you get to go to Jordan soon Leah.

      • Hi Abi,

        How are you?

        I want to apologize in advance for posting this quite unusual and long comment here. It was meant to be posted in a different place (as a continuation to some comments from May 2014 related to your 4-January-2013 post “Twelve Things Travel Taught Me in 2012”). Unfortunately, I haven’t found any way which enables me to post there: it seems that now the comments are closed for that post. Thanks for the patience.

        In this comment I want to clarify a certain thing which wasn’t well explained in the May 2014 comments. I claimed there that Israel is safer than the majority of countries on Earth, including various places located in the western world. However, one can claim against me that this is incorrect: for instance, in July-August 2014, just two months after my comments, Israel was involved in a war and in particular was attacked (from Gaza) by thousands of rockets and mortar shells.

        Well, while indeed the risk of both wars and terror activity in Israel is not very low, the number of actual people who have been killed or injured in recent years (since the end of 2006) is low, and this includes the 2014 war: despite the thousands of rockets and mortar shells which were launched against Israel during the 50 days of war, only 6 civilians were killed inside Israel from direct hit. All of them were staying in the vicinity of the border with Gaza when that happened. The number of soldiers that were killed in this war is higher (about 70 soldiers). However, they were in the (obviously dangerous) battlefield inside the Gaza Strip or right near the border. The number of casualties from terror/war activities was definitely higher in previous years, especially in 2002 (about 452 people), but gradually it decreased and has became very low (not far from zero) since the end of 2006.

        A further analysis shows that the majority of people who have been killed or injured since 2006 due to terror were in certain regions, mainly the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the border with Gaza (and even this border is much safer since the end of August 2014). In addition, in recent years only very few soldiers were killed or injured right near the border with Lebanon and only one civilian was killed right near (a few meters) the border with Syria after staying near the border fence for quite some time. (The problem in the border with Syria is of a different type: since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, there were cases of shootings which leaked from the civil war there. However, these shootings have been very sporadic and most of them have occurred very close to the border.)

        The reason for the above rather low numbers is that over the years Israel has invested a lot of efforts in order to protect the people who live or stay there. This can be understood also from the perspective of the theory of evolution: the hostile environment in which Israel has been located since her birth (and even before) has forced her to develop various protection mechanisms in order to survive. As implied from the above mentioned information, one can see that these mechanisms, while not perfect, do work rather effectively.

        Among the places I recommended in the May 2014 comments, only Jerusalem and the Golan Height are relevant here. Usually West Jerusalem is safe but East Jerusalem is less safer. Since there are a few attractions in East Jerusalem (e.g., the Western Wall), it is recommended to check the possibility to go there: usually they are peaceful, but sometimes there are general alerts due to some tensions, hence it is recommended to be careful and ask the locals and/or check the media to make sure that the situation is peaceful. Regarding the Golan Heights, most parts are safe at least, say, 700 meters from the border, and there are many very interesting places in the region. On the other hand, some caution is needed sometimes due to other issues, e.g., the existence of cliffs and a possible strong and cold European winter with a lot of snow. In general, when one makes a standard preparation (not specific to Israel) and follows standard touristic paths in the region, the chance of getting hurt is very low.

        I hope that the above clarifies my claim regarding the safety inside Israel, at least from the perspective of terror/wars. I want to say a few words about two additional risks that should be taken into account: crime and accidents. As the Foreign travel advice section in the GOV.UK website shows, crime in Israel is rather low and most visits are trouble-free. It is worthwhile to compare this situation with the situation in other western countries. For example, the United States suffers from heavy crime based on drugs, street violence, gun crimes such as the ones done by the mad people who enter into public places (e.g., schools) and shoot indiscriminately, etc. (This last issue is interesting in comparison to Israel also because in Israel there are a lot of people, mainly soldiers and cops, who carry guns/arms on a daily basis; despite this, I simply don’t recall even one event of mad soldiers entering some place and shoot indiscriminately innocent people; the only analogous cases I recall are clear terror events which stem from political reasons; even these cases have been rare and have done mainly by suicide or professional terrorists.)

        As for car accidents, comparing to most of the world Israel is in a good place and the situation is even better than France, Spain, Germany, the United States, Italy, and Australia. Indeed, according to the Annual Report of the (British) department of transport [“Reported Road Casualties, Great Britain: 2013”, page 238], the number of casualties per million people due to car accidents in Israel was on the level of Denmark and Switzerland and only slightly above Great Britain and Sweden, the countries which had the lowest numbers in that year.

        To conclude, being careful and applying safety measures are always recommended, in Israel and elsewhere. However, objective analysis shows that the situation in Israel is definitely better than most of the world when safety is considered, including, in particular, most places in which you personally have been. You very correctly said in your comment above that there are so many misunderstanding regarding the Middle East. As far a I understand, the way in which Israel is perceived in the international media and other places is a clear example of this claim, in various aspects. I hope that sooner than later you will decide to visit Israel. In such a case I hope that you will also consider the possibility to meet. Such a possibility seems very interesting, once I finish my postdoc research (math, in Brazil) and go back to Israel at the end of January 2016.

        Best
        Daniel

        P.S. I didn’t provide any link in this comment because I recall events in the past where the automatic spam filter of the blog put my comments in the spam container. Nevertheless, in my next comment I plan to provide some links for the sake of completeness. Thanks for understanding.

      • APPENDIX 2: the link to your post “Twelve Things Travel Taught Me in 2012” which contains (in the comment section) my May 2014 comments mentioned above

        https://www.insidethetravellab.com/twelve-things-travel-taught-me-in-2012/

      • APPENDIX 1 AGAIN:

        Well, it seems that APPENDIX 1 was swallowed by the automatic filter. Perhaps it contained too many links. Since I believe that there was something valuable in that appendix, I will describe its contents now and try to post the links separately in the following comments.

        The first link was to the UK.GOV website (Foreign travel advice).

        The second was to the Reported Road Casualties Great Britain: 2013.

        Links 3-6 were to the song “Israel” of the Bee Gees (1971). I provided four links to this song (on YouTube) because they illustrate in a quite interesting way the claim about the wrong way in which Israel is perceived in many places around the world. While all of these videos contain the same song, I believe that each of them deserve to be viewed for the following reasons. First, the total investment of time is pretty short: about 15 minutes (in total, for all four videos). Second, they contain a lot of pictures from Israel (places, people, etc.). Third, the song of the Bee Gees is of high quality and it is not boring to hear it a few times.

        The four videos are:
        A. Bee Gees Israel; uploaded by: Jurjen Bus, Jul 15, 2013.

        B. BEE GEE SINGING “ISRAEL”; uploaded by: andystearsangel, Apr 17, 2010.

        C. ISRAEL – BEE GEES; uploaded by parisienacafe, May 25, 2012.

        D. Bee Gees – Israel; uploaded by: ♥♫♥ We Love The Bee Gees ♥♫♥, Nov 14, 2008 (there is something strange in 2:31-2:44: the pictures appearing there are not from Israel).

        In the next comment I will post the words of the song and in the comments coming later I will post the above mentioned links. Enjoy!

      • The song “Israel”, by the Bee Gees, 1971:

        You’ve had your troubles,
        Israel, I’ve seen them all,
        but you put the writing on the wall,
        Israel, Israel, yeah.

        You know I’ve seen you fall so many times.
        I’ve cried for you and that’s a crime.

        Israel, Israel,
        let me,
        Israel,
        where there’s sand,
        where there’s beautiful sand, yeah.

        Israel,
        you know you got a kind of feeling
        that’s just grand.

        Take me into your arms,
        let me be with you,
        Israel, Israel, Israel.

        I like the smiles up on your people’s faces.
        They make you feel warm embraces.
        And I want that kind of smile,
        that kind of smile.

        Israel, you make the whole world think about you.
        And if they don’t, they’ll find a reason
        to shout about
        Israel, Israel.

        You’re the only one,
        Israel, Israel.

        Israel,
        tell me all about it.
        Tell me all about it.
        Israel,
        tell me all about it.

        Oh Israel, take me into your arms
        and make me feel your goodness.
        Be with me Israel.
        Hey hey hey hey.

        Israel
        Oh oh oh
        Israel
        Oh oh oh
        Israel
        Oh Take me into your arms.
        Let me hold hold you to myself.
        Oh I want to Israel.

        Israel
        Oh
        Israel
        Oh
        Israel
        Oh take me back into into your arms.
        Israel Israel Israel Israel.
        Ah
        Israel, Israel.
        I wanna hear about.

      • Eventually, an attempt to post the links:

        1. Foreign travel advice:
        https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

      • Bee Gees Israel; uploaded by: Jurjen Bus, Jul 15, 2013.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oU33ir31yVU

      • B. BEE GEE[s] SINGING “ISRAEL”; uploaded by: andystearsangel, Apr 17, 2010.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOoqVjoxr04

      • C. ISRAEL – BEE GEES; uploaded by parisienacafe, May 25, 2012.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jD3oC0E7cUM

      • D. Bee Gees – Israel; uploaded by: ♥♫♥ We Love The Bee Gees ♥♫♥, Nov 14, 2008 (there is something strange in 2:31-2:44: the pictures appearing there are not from Israel).

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuKqTuX_UAY

  • Andrea says:

    I love this post! I lived in Amman for 10 weeks during a summer in college so Jordan has a very special place in my heart. I’m ashamed to say I forgot about Madaba! I visited, but I was sick that day so I wasn’t completely focused, but your picture of the map jarred my memory. Such a cool experience.

    • Abi King says:

      Hah! Well, I’m glad to help out :-) Amman looks like a great place to spend 10 weeks in. You’re right, I think anywhere you spend time in when you’re college age really does take up a special place in your heart. Or anywhere you live.

  • Rachelle says:

    Such a beautiful post, Abi! You’ve captured the feeling of Jordan perfectly.

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