Jordan tours and Holidays: Aqaba or the Dead Sea?

Some Jordan tours include a stay at Aqaba and some include a stay at the Dead Sea. They are often confused, but are actually very different.

Aqaba is located on the Red Sea, and is a built up resort with many hotels. The primary activity is diving. If you wanted to incorporate Aqaba in your Jordan tour, then it is best to fit it in after the visit to Wadi Rum. Then afterwards head either back to the airport or to the Dead Sea.

There is no diving and no snorkelling at the Dead Sea. This is a much quieter, peaceful resort, with just a few high class hotels. On our Jordan tour we include two nights here but none at Aqaba.

The reason being that you can go diving anywhere, but the Dead Sea is unique: It is the lowest point on earth. You can experience floating (it is almost impossible to hold your feet down). You can get free mud treatments which give a fantastically smooth skin afterwards.

So if you’re not particularly in to diving, then I would suggest the Dead Sea. You can increase the number of nights there after your Jordan tour from 2 to as many as you wish.

But if you are a diver, then yes, spand a few days in Aqaba as well.

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Jordan Tours and Holidays: How long to spend at the Dead Sea?

At the end of a tour of Jordan it’s time for a couple of days relaxing by the Dead Sea. Standard Jordan tours give you 2 nights by the Dead Sea, but many customers ask about extending this, which is perfectly possible.
But how long for?

In terms of getting away from the hotel, you have pretty much seen everything in Jordan on the tour – perhaps apart from the Baptism site, a trip that is widely advertised by the Dead Sea hotels. So in practice you will be relaxing.

The standard extension to the Jordan tour is an extra 2 nights – that’s 4 in total. But of course there’s nothing wrong with making this a week, in which case your Jordan tour plus beach stay would be 12 nights in total.

The Dead Sea is inland of course, but there is a beach with sun loungers, so you can treat it like any othere beach extension. You can’t swim in the sea, but you can float, a bizarre experience.

You should also have a daily mud wrap – its free – you just cover yourself in the Dead Sea mud, stand in the sun for 20 minutes to let it dry, and then wash it off. You skin feels amazingly soft afterwards.

There are a handful of hotels, all next to each other, and that means plenty of dining options. So if you like your food then dinner will be a treat.

In conclusion, you don’t have to stick to the standard 2 nights on the tour, or even the 2 night extension. Why not make it a week by the Dead Sea as a relaxing finale to your Jordan tour?

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Tailor made Jordan Tours

I am often asked whether it is best to do a group tour of Jordan or to build a custom tailor made itinerary instead. There are advantages to both, and here are a few things to consider:

Reasons for booking Escorted Group Jordan Tours :
1. Everything is done for you, so you will never have to worry about getting to the airport or having enough time to visit a sight.
2. You will get to know other people on the tour – typically there are between 8 and 25 people on the Jordan tours, and you will soon find that some people that you get along with.
3. A group tour is generally cheaper than a private tour.

Reasons for doing a private Jordan tour
1. More flexibility on dates – you can travel on any day of the year, not just set dates.
2. More flexibility with the itinerary – if you’re not particularly interested in a place then you don’t have to go there. On a group tour, you more or less have to follow the schedule.
3. You are never waiting for anyone else – if there’s someone in the group who takes hours with photographs, holding everone else up it can be a nightmare. But on a private tour, there’s no-one else to worry about but yourselves.
4. You travel in a comfortable car rather than a coach.

So its a choice between the atmosphere of a group against the flexibility of a tailor made holiday. In practice, Jordan tours are quite similar – most go to the same places, for the same amount of time. There is a simple 7 night route that is fairly common, and so even with the added flexibility of a tailor made Jordan tour, it might not be that much different to a group Jordan tour in practice.

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A holiday with a difference

I recently visited Jordan and what struck me is just how many amazing things you can see in a short space of time. Most people book escorted Jordan tours but we paid a bit extra and got a private car and driver – it was a few hundred pounds more each but in the end I think well worth it for the flexibility to stay longer in places we really wanted to.

For me it is landscapes, culture and wildlife that interest me the most on holiday – Jordan  might not be big on wildlife but the scenery is awesome! On the journey down to Petra we saw a centuries old mosaic map, Mount Nebo – where Moses stood, and a 12th century crusader castle.

Petra itself was much bigger than I had imagined which is why the best Jordan tours allow 2 full days to visit. You can go again in the evening when the famous Siq walk is lit by hundreds of candles – its a very atmosphetric walk and definitely worth coming back for. Just beware though that it only takes place 2-3 times a week, so again the best Jordan tours will make sure you’re there for this.

I didn’t really know what to expect with the Dead Sea. It had a sandy beach with the usual sun beds and parasols. You can float just as in the pictures, although I cringingly couldn’t help getting a photograph of me floating reading a newspaper. It was fun to cover yourself in mud and let it dry – your skin really does feel amazing afterwards! And the views across the Dead Sea to bethlehem were stunning. Again the best Jordan tours allow a couple of days at the Dead Sea but we extended this by another couple of days – the cost was starting to hurt but it was again definitely worth it!

The other thing I would do is stay a night in a camp at Wadi Rum desert. Almost all Jordan tours visit the desert but you only get a morning or afternoon. Again we paid extra (as always!) and stayed the night. Although it’s a little touristsy (there was a pool, cafe etc) it was a great experience especially watching the sunset.

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Which Red Sea Holiday resort?

The biggest and best known Red Sea holiday resort is Sharm el Sheikh but before you book to stay here, its worth checking out what else is available.

First, the good bits about Sharm el Sheikh – if you want fantastic diving, entertainment, shops, cafes, bars, restaurants and entertainment options then this is the place for you. There is a huge range of accommodation including some of the most luxurious hotels in Egypt. My pick is the Hyatt Regency near Naama Bay.

One other thing to think about is board basis. Many hotels in Sharm el Sheikh operate as a bed & breakfast simply because there are so many cheap (and not so cheap) places to eat and drink. But there are all-inclusives too – my pick would probably be the Grand Hotel.

But what if you wanted a quieter, more peaceful resort. In this case you’ll love Taba Heights, a small resort about 4 hours north of Sharm that has a handful of quality hotels with a mountain backdrop. You can be sitting on the beach and be looking at 4 countries! Egypt obviously, plus Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia in the distance across the Red Sea. In fact it is the proximity to Jordan that is another advantage of Taba Heights – day trips to Petra are very popular and worth it!

My Pick of the hotels is the Hyatt Regency – beautiful design but for pure luxury the Hyatt Regency in Sharm is I think even higher standard.

Some of our customers say that Sharm is far too busy but Taba Heights just a little too quiet – so where now? Well how about El Gouna – its built on a series of lagoons, very much a man made resort, and has a little marina, a few shops, cafes and restaurants and a few bars. My pick here is the Sheraton Miramar hotel because of its standard and location, but bear in mind that if you’re comparing prices then I’m afriad Taba Heights is fantastic value for money and El Gouna does look expensive in comparison. So whatwe actually find is many customers have another look at Taba Heights.

Taba Heights is a lovely resort, it is quiet but you do have half a dozen hotels, beautiful scenery, good facilities, a little tourist village, golf course, watersports centre and good beaches.

Now to all-inclusive resorts. The one complaint most people have is that the hotel might advertise say 4 restaurants, but you are only entitled to dine in the main buffet restaurant as part of your all-inclusive package. This is fairly standard for most Red Sea holidays. BUT, if quality and variety of food is important to you, then I would recommend the Makadi Palace which is in Makadi Bay just south of Hurghada.

The key thing here is that you can (with a few minor restrictions) eat in any of the a-la-carte restaurants without having to make a reservation or pay a supplement. So for all-inclusive Red Sea holidays definitely look at this hotel.

Makadi Bay is like Taba in a way – it is quiet and peaceful, with a few high quality hotels, but particularly amazing for snorkelling.  You can’t really get to Petra from here but you are closer to Luxor. And again you can do all the desert activities like visiting a bedouin camp.

For more information please see our Red Sea Holidays website.

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How to book a hotel or quinta in Madeira?

As a travel agent I find many of our customers find out about Madeira either by seeing cheap deals advertised or by reading about some of the big hotels such as the fabulours and world famous Reid’s Palace.

But what fewer people realise is that there is another style of accommodation in Madeira that is quite unique -these are called quintas, and are old manor houses that have been transformed into boutique style hotels.

What makes them special is that they have a lot of character, and a high level of service. As opposed to the big rather more bland hotels. Plus, they often have excellent gardens, for which Madeira is known, and are always set in a good location.

I have been to many places in Madeira – both big hotels and quintas, and with one exception there really is no comparison. Probably my favourite has been Quinta Jardins Do Lago in Funchal, where most of them are, but what makes it special is the wonderful botanical gardens you can stroll through, and the lovely views over the town. You’ll even find Colombo who is a Giant Tortoise and who has lived in the grounds for many years.

Another favourite (because of the gardens) was Casa Velha do Palheiro, while at the budget end you have Quintinha De Sao Joao which is within walking distance of Funchal centre.

But actually my favourite hotel of all is not a quinta! It is Choupana Hills Resort & Spa high up in the hills above Funchal. The one downside is that it takes a good 15-20 minutes to get into Funchal by taxi, so if you want to eat in town every night then it adds a bit of time and cost to the evening. But inside, I love it! The main reason is the peace, tranquility and ambience, but the views too are amazing. During the day you have direct access to a levada walk (one of the things to do in Madeira) and there is a fine pool with the same stunning views. The rooms reminds me of being in a top class Asian hotel with their warm colours, and if you can afford it one even has a jacuzzi on the deck.

You can see details of these and other Madeira quintas on our website.

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How to book a Marrakech riad or hotel?

Here’s a question: If prices were equal, would you rather stay in a 5* hotel or a 4* hotel that has much more character?

I think if you are on a short romantic break then the answer is definitely the 4*hotel with character. There are a few places around the world where the accommodation is simply buzzing with character – and nowhere is better for this than Marrakech.

In Marrakech, you will find the big chain hotels but also riads – these are smaller, boutique style hotels, often where all the rooms are different. There is usually a small pool, courtyard, garden, and often a rooftop terrace. One of the amazing things is about the riads in Marrakech is their tranquility, even though they are usually in the heart of the medina you don’t hear a peep!

Such is the beauty of some of the riads and individual rooms that its worth going to Marrakech just to stay in one. As a travel agent, I get lots of requests and bookings for riads but there are several things to remember, especially if you want to keept the price down:

1. Remember it is ALWAYS cheaper to book EARLY – the airline we use the most is easyjet which currently has some fantasic prices for early next year. But check their website for next week, and you’ll see it isn’t much of a bargain.

2. If you are going in peak season or half term weeks, again you need to book EARLY to keep the price down – the earlier you book the cheaper it will be.

3. Most riads are full most of the time, so again please book EARLY. It is as frustrating for us as it is our customers when we are ringing round and just can’t get a suitable for 3-4 months away

4. LOCATION is key as always – the closer you are to the medina and Djemma el Fna, the better. Luckily, most riads (and all we sell) are in the heart of Marrakech.

5. STAY for 4-5 nights – this is the most popular duration and gives you a chance to head into the Atlas Mountains for a day.

6. DON’T spend too long looking at reviews! The fact is, we often get better feedback from riads right down the rankings than those near the top. Maybe expectation? It is interesting that whenever we get negative feedback about any hotel (in the world not just Marrakech) we check the reviews, and most of the time it is hard to see how we would have been put off booking it. Of course there are bad hotels in every city but any decent travel agent should be avoiding these!

7. Stay on a BED & BREAKFAST basis – although a couple of Marrakech riads offer half board, I think one of the great pleasures of the city is the eating – you can dine cheaply in Djemma el Fna, or pay much more in a quality restaurant. La Sultana is an amazing dining experience in an enchanting atmopsphere – but expect to pay £50 a head including a bottle of wine. In the square, you’ll get a good meal for just a few pounds.

I’ve touched a little on how long to stay in Marrakech for, and 4-5 days is about right, but what else is there to do. You’ll want a full day wandering round and soaking up the atmosphere, then another full day exploring the fabulous gardens (one of the best is Majorelle Gardens) and areas just outside the centre. Then a day in the Atlas Mountains passing through little traditional villages makes a great contrast. Then a last day doing things like horse and carriage rides, having a hamman (Turkish Bath) or massage, and buying souvenirs from the medina.

Which riad to choose? Depending on how early you book will depend on how much choice you have. At the top end are riads such as La Sultana and Villa Des Oranges, while at the budget end are Palais Sebban and Les Borjs de la Kasbah. And there are several riads in the mid price range – 4*+ / 5* quality such as Riad Blanc, Riad Bab Firdaus, Riad Kniza, Riad Si Said, Riad Tiwaline which are all very special and well located, so it comes down maybe to availability and if any have any special offers on.

You can see details for all on our Marrakech Riads site.

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