Jordan is one of the most scenic, welcoming, and tourist-friendly countries I’ve visited — truly a highlight of the Middle East! It boasts ancient ruins, delicious food, rich sweets, and stunning landscapes — not to mention the Dead Sea. Anyone thinking of visiting the Middle East should put Jordan high on their list!
I usually travelled there by plane, but there are also land connections to neighboring countries, making it easily accessible. It is relatively compact and easy to travel around, either via a rental car or by public transportation.
Jordan’s capital of Amman is a large and lively city– worth exploring on its own and a good hub for day trips further afield. Hotels are plentiful and accommodating for every budget. Taxis are ubiquitous and cheap, as well.
On the nearby Jabal al-Qala’a hilltop are several Roman Ruins, including tall pillars from the Temple of Hercules, a Byzantine Church, as well as the ruins of an 8th Century Umayyad Palace and mosque. This hilltop also hosts the Jordan Archeological Museum. Finally, near the Amphitheater is a Jordanian folklore and ethnographic museum, well worth a visit.
Some of my best memories of Amman are enjoying the vibrant bustle of the old city. The Jara Souq has several souvenir vendors, whereas other markets– like the the Albokharyeh Bazar — have food, spices, oils, perfumes, and other goods for sale. Nearby the souqs is the ornate Grand Husseini Mosque — built by King Abdullah I on the site of a mosque built by Omar bin al-Khattab in appx the year 640.
The scents loom in the air and the environment is inviting. I always enjoyed getting some freshly-ground Arabic coffee (with cardamom) as a souvenir to bring back home. There are plenty of juice stands squeezing fresh and delicious OJ, pomegranate juice, or mint lemonade.
Every time I’ve visited Amman, I would first visit Hashem Restaurant — an institution of the Old City with some truly delicious falafel! For dessert, I would stop at Habibeh sweet shop around the corner for some heavenly baklava or kunafeh (a soft white cheese with shredded wheat and syrup on top). For a good shwarma place, check out Reem — on the Second Circle — they have huge shanks of fresh meat, constantly cranking out delicious wraps!
For a memorable, upscale dining experience, check out Fakhreldin Restaurant, a traditional Levant house with outstanding food. I always loved eating in broad, scenic outdoor garden patio. A classic Jordanian dish is Mensaf — a lamb stew on rice with plenty of spices, pine nuts, and yogurt (or goat’s milk). When I was there (appx 10 years ago), Books@Cafe was a popular spot to grab a coffee. There are two of them now, so that’s probably a sign that it’s still popular.
Finally, for a traditional Hammam experience in Amman, I’ve had friends recommend Al Pasha — although I never made it there myself.
To the west of the city center is the King Abdullah I Mosque — a massive, blue domed mosque with a decorative interior.
To get to other cities, I would go to the Abdali station and either wander through the parking lot and find a minibus heading my direction, or (if pressed for time) would find a cab driver and negotiate a price for a ride to my destination. It appears that the Abdali station closed a while back, but the nearby Jett station offers buses to Petra and Aqaba. To get to Jerash, there’s a bus terminal at Tabrbor.
Perhaps the most famous location in Jordan is Petra, the well-preserved desert ruins of a 2,000 year old Nabatean city carved into the surrounding stones. It really is a spectacular sight– and one you definitely won’t want to miss on a trip to Jordan! It’s easy enough to visit — either via bus from Amman (as mentioned above), by negotiating a rate with a taxi driver, or arranging a trip from your hotel. It’s about a three hour drive from Amman, and a short hike from the visitors center through a wadi (canyon) until you arrive at the Treasury — a stunning building, which was featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Be sure to explore the entire area, as the ruins are extensive! There are plenty of tombs and palaces, as well as fountains and a theater. (I missed the Byzantine Church, which is apparently in the area– and features some well-preserved mosaics!)
There are a few people offering to sell trinkets in the area, but both times I visited, it was a pretty relaxed environment. I’d say it’s best to go in the morning when crowds aren’t too big, or at “golden hour” when the sun hits the rocks and makes them glow.
Most people will combine a trip to Petra with a tour of the Wadi Rum region, further south. I didn’t make it when I was there, but I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about it– so I’d recommend adding it to a travel list! It appears to have beautiful desert landscapes, and plenty of tour companies offer camping treks in the region. (I’ve heard it’s worth doing as least one overnight)
North of Petra is the small town of Kerak, famous for its massive Crusader castle that dates back to 1132. Although it was well-fortified (and defensible, given its prominent hilltop location), the Crusaders surrendered it to Saladin’s forces in 1188, following a year-long siege.
I highly recommend visiting this castle, and stopping into the nearby town of Kerak, which has a small central market area with a few good restaurants.
Dead Sea / River Jordan
Another highlight of Jordan is the Dead Sea — which features its briny, intensely salty water. On the northern end of the sea, it’s possible to park on the road in the nearby town and wander to the Dead Sea Beach, or you can stay at a resort such as the Marriott, Movenpick, or Kempenski. I took a day pass at the Movenpick, which offered access to the beach, with chairs, towels, and mud pits filled with the sea’s famed therapeutic black mud.
I also wrote about this in the Israel page, but a few key highlights:
–Make sure not to have any open cuts (or shave just before going in), and the water will burn!
–Many people cover themselves in the black mud and let it dry, and then wash it off — as it is supposed to have therapeutic qualities. (In fact, you may see people filling up Tupperware containers with the mud and bringing it home as a souvenir : )
–The water is so salty that you’ll automatically float on top the surface of the “water”. No need to know how to swim! Enjoy!
I would try to book a taxi, rent a car, or arrange a transfer from your hotel to get to the Dead Sea. I tried taking public buses once and ended up spending several hours wandering around small villages such as Salt, trying to figure out how to transfer onto (yet another) bus to get to the Dead Sea. I finally made it, but it wasn’t worth the time. Better to go direct!
Jordan River: Another highlight nearby is the River Jordan, which is admittedly quite small these days. Still, it is famous for having the baptism spot of Jesus Christ — and there are several churches and ruins near the river itself.
You’ll need a car (or a driver) to get to the riverside, and note that the other side of the river is the West Bank, so you’ll see plenty of border patrols in the area.
Madaba / Mount Nebo
The area also has viewing platforms offering a great vantage point over the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea. The surrounding area also features the ruins of Moses’ Spring, and mosaics at a church dedicated to Lot and Procopius.
The nearby city of Madaba is a small, lively town — and a jumping off point before visiting Mount Nebo. (You can also take a bus from Amman to Madaba, and catch a taxi to Mount Nebo, as it will be far cheaper than taking a taxi from Amman to Mt. Nebo).
Finally, in northern Jordan I recommend visiting Jerash — which has some spectacular Greco-Roman ruins! Walking down the large cobblestone, column-lined streets, you can still see the track marks where the chariots wore through the stone.
Highlights of the ruins include Hadrian’s Arch (dating to 129 AD), and an oval plaza, with columns still standing, circling the entire arena. (I’m told Jordan organizes chariot races here — and events in the nearby theater — in the summertime, which would be awesome to see if the timing was right — so be sure to ask around if you’re thinking of visiting in the summertime). The ruins around the North Tetrapylon and the Temple of Artemis are also quite well preserved.
In the town of Jerash itself, I went to a fabulous sweets shop, but I can’t remember the name. It was just across the street from the entrance to the ruins, so keep an eye out for it!
Something for Next Time: The first item on my list for a future trip to Jordan will be a horse ride / camping trip in Wadi Rum (as mentioned above). I also would love to visit the Ma’in Hot Springs with a waterfall and thermal baths — they’re supposed to be relaxing! Finally, the (4,000 year old!) Red Sea town of Aqaba is reportedly quite nice. I was a stone’s throw away when I visited Eliat (in Israel), but didn’t make it across the border to see the Jordanian side!