The Holy City
The holy city of Jerusalem is a full of history, unforgettable food, and some of the most significant religious sites in the world. The old city is a place of wonder for religious pilgrims as well as tourists and backpackers, with its unique mixture of bazaar, beauty, and religion; it is a city that overwhelms the senses.
Peace Wadi is located 500m from the King Hussein Bridge border crossing to the West Bank, about 50 kilometers from Jerusalem. At night, the lights of Jerusalem stop the mountains at the edge of the valley flicker just at the edge of the horizon. The prospect of crossing the border can be daunting, especially if like me you are journeying alone, but my experience of travelling to Jerusalem, staying overnight, and returning the next day was surprisingly uncomplicated.
Crossing the Border
I arrived at the King Hussein Bridge border crossing around 7:45AM, as the first bus leaves around 8AM. Inside the departure building (make sure you don’t wander into the arrivals by mistake as I did) you go behind the line of counters to the foreigners’ desk. I handed my passport in to the border officers and paid the 10 dinar exit fee. This process took a while, with a lot of waiting around, but eventually we were shepherded onto a tourist bus.
We were given our passports back on the bus and then waited for the bus to fill up with passengers. The bus ticket costs 7 dinars per passenger and 5 dinars for each large bag which has to be put in the bus’ hold; this is the only way across the bridge, foreigners are not allowed to travel in the large coaches which the locals use. This is a bit frustrating, as the locals’ coaches leave more frequently and presumably cost less money, but there isn’t much you can do about it.
Once the bus was full, we set off across the Jordan Valley, passing by an oddly striking barren landscape dotted with deserted shacks, barbed wire, and beautiful rock formations. The river itself is very small and crossing it feels rather anticlimactic.
On the other side, I queued at passport control, where an official scanned my passport and checked that I matched the photograph. Everybody joined a second queue for security; all bags had to be passed through an x-ray machine and everyone walked through a metal detector. After security, I was questioned at the next counter about my purpose for visiting, my personal background, and my plans for return. If you are staying overnight, have the name of your hotel handy. The visa is free and is a small slip of paper which is tucked into your passport. At no point do they make any marks in your passport – my passport looks exactly the same now as it did when I first entered Jordan, with no evidence of my having left.
To Jerusalem and Back
After exiting the building, I turned right and walked past a row of buses and around the corner, near to where the people departing for Jordan enter. Set in the wall is a small booth selling tickets for the minibus to Jerusalem, these cost 42 shekels but they will also accept 10 dinars (technically worth about 48/49 shekels). When the bus has 10 passengers it leaves. The journey to Jerusalem takes about 50 minutes and I would recommend sitting on the left-hand side of the bus for the nicest view over the city as you drive in.
Throughout the journey, the minibus stops at a couple of checkpoints which can be a little unnerving. Have your passport and visa slip ready for inspection; it is typical for armed border soldiers to board the minibus and check everyone’s passports.
The whole journey from Jordan can take between 3 and 5 hours, so you should arrive in the city some time between 11AM and 1PM.
The bus drops you close to Damascus Gate, a main entrance into the Old City; asking anyone for directions should be easy if you are a little disoriented but you cannot miss the imposing city wall! About 100m in from Damascus Gate is a currency exchange with great rates (though most of the places I saw were pretty good).
I stayed in the Hebron Youth Hostel – a simple but inexpensive and clean hostel very close to Damascus Gate with good wifi and free dinner for all guests at 6PM each night – and did a whistle-stop tour of the city’s main attractions. I would particularly recommend trying the Knafeh at Jaffar Sweets. Beware that entry into a lot of sites does require modest dress (covered shoulders and knees) and that entry to Temple Mount is particularly limited. If you aren’t a Muslim who wishes to pray, you might have to do some careful planning to make sure you are able to visit the area before leaving Jerusalem.
I got the same minibus back to the Allenby Bridge crossing (this is the Israeli name for what the Jordanians call the King Hussein Bridge). The first minibus is at 7:30AM and it leaves from a small minibus stand behind the Golden Walls Hotel – this is not the bus station opposite Damascus Gate, but about a 5 minute walk away. It costs 42 shekels again and is typically a little faster driving as the checkpoint checks are a little less rigorous for those heading out of the city. The last minibus leaves at 1PM, after this you will have to get a taxi which can cost anything between 200 and 400 shekels, try to negotiate a price beforehand, 200 is great if they’ll agree to it.
Back to Jordan
Firstly, make sure that you arrive at the crossing early enough, the Jordanian side closes at 1:30 on Friday and Saturday and the Israeli side closes at 1:30 on Jewish holidays.
At the Allenby Bridge crossing, I entered the departures building and went up to a counter on the right hand wall. An official checked my passport and visa, issuing a pink exit visa slip, and at the next counter I paid the 180 shekels exit fee, try to make sure you have this exact as if they’re busy they might not have change. You will get a payment slip with a bar-code on it. Go with your passport, visa, exit visa, and payment slip to the second row of counters – you present these 4 items to an official and then pass through a turntable to the car park.
You have to wait on the tourist bus, which pulls up directly in front of the doors on the left-hand exit of the building, I would recommend sitting in the shade and gathering as much patience as you can muster. It again costs 7 dinars per passenger and 5 per large item of luggage. The bus will stop halfway and everyone’s passports are collected by the driver.
At the King Hussein Bridge crossing, I passed my bag though the x-ray machine and then waited for my passport at the border control windows at the back of the building. The officials will check your passport and visa. This should not be a problem for anyone who has already come from Jordan but you cannot buy a Jordan Visa at the King Hussein Bridge, you must already have a valid visa. If you have any doubts, ask the border officials if you are fine to re-enter Jordan on your visa before you leave; as long as you have a valid visa it should be fine. From the border you can simply walk back to the farm, though you will greatly confuse and concern the numerous taxi drivers waiting to take people to Amman, who will likely assume you are lost and try to help.
My trip to Jerusalem was a wonderful contrast to the relaxing days on the farm and being so close to the border presents a great opportunity for a quick visit to the holy city.