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Travel Guide to Jordan

by Travelbag on 15 October 2019, 15:10PM

JordanIn a region marred by conflict, Jordan is something of a safe haven. And it’s a fascinating and beautiful one at that. A tiny country in the heart of the Middle East, Jordan’s packed full of historical and natural wonders. These range from biblical sites and megalithic monuments to vast desert landscapes. And the people are a hospitable bunch, too. If you visit Jordan, expect to receive many an invitation to sit and drink endless glasses of Arabic tea with them.

As people wake up to the fact that Jordan’s a rewarding and exciting travel destination, tourist numbers are slowly increasing. If you’re thinking about going, here are a handful of places that should absolutely be on your Jordan itinerary.

 

Petra

When you think of Jordan, you immediately think of Petra. This dramatic, rose-red city is undoubtedly the country’s star attraction. Half-hidden in a remote valley basin, it’s both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the new Wonders of the World. The Nabataeans built the elaborate buildings, carved directly into the sandstone cliffs, sometime around the 4th century BC. But Petra only became known in the West when the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt discovered it in 1812.

Entrance to Petra is via the Siq – a 1.2km-long canyon that snakes through 200 metre-high cliffs. Eventually, this narrow pathway opens up to reveal Petra’s most majestic site: the Treasury (al-Khazneh in Arabic). Adorned with Greek-style pillars, alcoves and plinths, this incredibly well-preserved building served as a tomb for the Nabataean King Aretas III. It derives its name from a misguided belief that an Egyptian pharaoh once hid his treasure in the facade’s urn while pursuing the Israelites. Continue further and you’ll soon encounter other attractions, including the Theatre and the Royal Tombs. The climb to the Monastery – Petra’s largest monument, carved from a mountain summit – is well worth the effort.

Petra has almost endless opportunities for exploration and deserves a longer visit. Spend a night in the nearby town of Wadi Musa and return again the following day. This will allow you time to walk the winding trail to the High Place of Sacrifice – a hilltop altar that offers spectacular views – and even visit Little Petra, 9 kilometres away. And for a unique and magical experience, don’t miss Petra by Night. Taking place every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, it’s an after-dark excursion into the ancient city. You’ll walk from the Visitor’s Centre to the Treasury, along the Siq, which is lit only by candlelight. More than 1,500 candles also illuminate the Treasury, where the real show takes place. A Bedouin musician plays the rababa, and then you’ll drink tea and listen to stories told by a local guide.

Petra

 

Amman

Known as Philadelphia in Hellenistic times, Amman is the capital of Jordan. In contrast to many other Middle Eastern capitals, it lacks a storied history and is actually a pretty modern city. It only became the capital in 1921, and is a mostly 20th century creation. The exception is the downtown area. Flanked by rolling hills, this part of the city is the oldest, and arguably most authentic, part of Amman. A hive of activity, it’s where you’ll find Roman ruins, colourful souqs, traditional coffeehouses and the Jordan Museum – where informative displays detail 1.5 million years of Jordan’s history. The Amman Citadel overlooks the old city. Sitting atop Jebel Al Qala’a – the highest hill in Amman – the Citadel has been occupied since the Bronze Age, and was rebuilt many times during the Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad periods. Its most iconic sights are the Temple of Hercules and the Umayyad Palace.

Amman

 

Wadi Rum

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Wadi Rum is the only one in Jordan that meets the criteria in terms of both natural and cultural excellence. Described by T. E. Lawrence as “vast, echoing and God-like”, its rolling dunes and towering sandstone arches make it one of the most spectacular environments in the Middle East. Narrow canyons and ravines bisect the landscape, and the mountains rising up from the desert floor make it a firm favourite with hikers and climbers.

The sunsets in Wadi Rum are some of the best you could ever hope to see. The sky changes from soft blue to vibrant orange, illuminating the rust-coloured rock formations and turning everything a burning red. And the stars here are even more spectacular. To experience this incredible place in its entirety, spend the night at a Wadi Rum Bedouin camp. Besides an exhilarating 4x4 tour or camel safari, you’ll enjoy authentic Jordanian cuisine, traditional music and dance and, of course, Bedouin hospitality.

Wadi Rum

 

Dead Sea

At 431 metres below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth. And it’s not actually a sea at all – it’s a really, really salty lake. Fed primarily by the Jordan River, it’s named because of this uniquely salty water, which kills virtually all marine life. Swimming in it – or attempting to – is an experience quite unlike any other. The extremely high concentration of salt means you become naturally buoyant in the water, so simply bob along.

It’s also the world’s largest open-air spa, with Dead Sea salt and minerals long heralded as having skin-friendly properties. Some people believe that taking a dip in the water, or slathering yourself in the mud, helps soothe skin conditions such as dryness and acne. By all means, give it a go – but be prepared for a few minutes of absolute agony if either one gets in your eye!

Dead Sea

 

Jerash

The ancient city of Jerash is the most impressive Roman site in Jordan. In fact, the ruins here are amongst the best-preserved Roman ruins anywhere outside Italy. Just north of Amman, Jerash was part of the ‘Decapolis’ – the 10 most important cities in the ancient Middle East. It’s also one of the region’s few easily-accessible Roman citadels.

Jerash’s history goes back more than 6,500 years. It began to grow from a small village to a thriving city during the 4th century BC, and in its heyday may have had a population close to 20,000. However, an earthquake hit the region in 749AD, devastating huge areas of the city. It wasn’t until 1806 that the German explorer Ulrich Jasper Seetzen discovered the ruins.

You’ll need at least half a day in Jerash to fully explore everything it has to offer. Once you walk through the imposing Hadrian’s Arch, you’ll discover the hippodrome, which would have hosted athletic competitions and chariot races. At the heart of the city is the forum. This immense, oval-shaped plaza surrounded by columns, served as a marketplace and was the main hub for social and political life. Other highlights include the Cardo Maximus – the colonnaded main street, still lined with the original paving stones; the Temples of Zeus and Artemis; the elegant nymphaeum; and the South Theatre, which can seat more than 3,000 spectators.

Jerash

 

Mount Nebo

Mount Nebo is steeped in religious significance. It’s the point from which Moses viewed the Promised Land that God had forbidden him to enter. In Christian and Jewish tradition, it’s also said to be where he died and was later buried. From the summit, there are panoramic views of the Jordan River Valley, the Dead Sea and the West Bank city of Jericho. And on a clear day you can even spot Jerusalem.

Atop Mount Nebo you’ll also find the Moses Memorial Church. This modest basilica houses some of the best-preserved mosaics in Jordan. Dating back to 530, they depict Byzantine pastimes such as hunting and wine-making.

Mount Nebo

 

Aqaba

Beaches probably aren’t the first thing that spring to mind when you think of Jordan. But that’s exactly what you’ll find in this sun-soaked city in the far south of the country. And with 17 miles of Red Sea coastline, there’s more to do than simply relax on the sand. Aqaba’s warm waters, clear visibility and unspoilt coral reefs make it an excellent spot for snorkelling and diving. There are actually more than 20 dive sites in the area, most of which sit inside the protected Aqaba Marine Park. Besides a huge diversity of marine life, it offers some of the best wreck-diving in the Red Sea, with popular sites including the Cedar Pride Wreck, Japanese Garden, Black Rock and Seven Sisters.

Aqaba 

Feeling inspired to visit Jordan? Check out our amazing tours. Or, if Jordan doesn’t appeal, discover some other great places to go in the Middle East.


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