Jordan: You have to see these highlights is written by Jacob Gowland Jørgensen
Historic and hospitable Jordan
The Middle East, "hmmm" you think, "that sounds legitimately exotic and uncertain". But here you are wrong, because Jordan is a small and safe butter hole in the Middle East.
Jordan offers fantastic natural experiences, one of the world's seven wonders, a hospitable population and a large historic take-your-own table.
The journey there is affordable. The climate is quite varied and mainly pleasant all year round. And the country is not particularly large, so you can reach most places fairly easily.
And Jordan is more than the capital Amman and the ancient city of Petra. Much more even! Ancient times are everywhere, as is modern Jordan, where you can easily get close to the locals.
So here is a guide to some of the highlights of Jordan, based on my trip there in March.
Amman: Falafles, Romans and flying lamps
Amman is the colorful capital and a place worth spending a few days in. We flew directly from Copenhagen to Amman in 6 hours, and after leaving the luggage at the hotel, we went straight into the city center.
And where do you start in such a big city? In the souk, of course, as in Amman there are shopping streets with everything the heart could desire - and also quite a few things you didn't really need! I am a foodie, and therefore went in search of spices and fresh falafel, and luckily it was easy to find. We also found the old post office, which today is a fun mix of a cafe and a museum squeezed into a tiny cozy house.
Here we also found some small falafel stalls, where you can follow the whole process of mixing fresh herbs with all kinds of good things, and such a freshly made falafel is a particularly good snack for the walk in the city.
Rainbow Street is located a short distance from the market streets, and is perhaps the most colorful street in the whole city.
It is easy to recognize by the lamps that form a cozy shielding roof over the street, and there are otherwise restaurants and cafes ad libitum.
You can also find the “Umbrella Stairs” filled with flying umbrellas in this area of town.
After a good day in Amman, we went back to the Hotel Fairmont in the nice part of the city, and indulged again in the local dishes in their restaurant. Jordanian food is a hit.
Philadelphia in the Middle East
Philadelphia. It was the name that the Romans gave Amman in his time, and to defend the strategically important city, they built a fortification on a hill above the city. We visited it one morning, and easily spent more than an hour in the peaceful place above the city.
Now, since it was the Romans who built it, of course they had to have a Roman theater as well, so it's right below.
The Amman Citadel, as it is called locally, is located on one of the seven hills on which Amman was originally built - exactly as, by the way Rome, which was also built on seven mounds. The weather was beautiful, but with a temperature that was on the cool side, so sunglasses and a down jacket were right in the eye.
Amman is still a hilly city, so there are plenty of good views when moving around the city. With over four million people living in the area, it is a densely packed city that also houses permanent settlements of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Palestine.
Our own guide also had a Palestinian background, and everywhere in the street scene you see the Palestinian headscarf.
The dead Sea in Jordan
I am a beach animal, so I was looking forward to playing corkscrew in the Dead Sea. And it certainly did not disappoint.
It is a wild experience to lie in the warm water and be pushed up by the extremely salty water. It stings a bit if you have tears in the skin, but it passes and you can just enjoy it. You can't swim in the Dead Sea, so you have to find your own swimming style and then just enjoy it.
There was a dish of delicious mud right next to the water, so you can have a mud bath, and of course you had to try it. So I lubricated myself and lay on the water while the sun baked.
Bathing in the Dead Sea is healthy because of all the minerals in the water and mud, and who can resist something that is both healthy and fun! At least I couldn't. There is also the option of opting for more luxurious spa treatments, but this natural version was absolutely perfect for me.
If you are still heading south on the Dead Sea Highway, it is also worth taking a detour past the 'Dead Sea Panoramic Complex'. There is a nice view over havet, (which is actually a lake) and to Israel.
To learn more about the nature of the area and the development of the Dead Sea in Jordan, there is also a whole exhibition to tackle.
We stayed at a real "beach resort", the Dead Sea Marriott Resort & Spa, and it had just the right holiday atmosphere, and lots of nice pools and an eminent view of the Dead Sea.
However, we would rather eat locally, and fortunately found a unique little place that is both community center, restaurant and cafe, Beit Sweimeh.
I love Middle Eastern cuisine, and when it comes straight from mother's meat pots like this, it hardly gets any better. We got their set menu and this modest and cozy place produced some of the best food I've had in the Middle East. It is run by the local women, and can therefore be recommended.
Eating local delicacies on a rooftop terrace was a perfect way to end a day at the Dead Sea.
Jordan River and Moses Mount Nebo in Jordan
Mount Nebo has a phenomenal view. Here Moses should have stood and seen the promised land, which today is known as Israel. The Dead Sea can also be seen on the horizon. From here, it is only a short drive to a large number of well-known and historic cities in the region, and you feel that we are in the heart of the Middle East here.
Apart from a few religious monuments, there is not much here other than the view, but it is definitely also worth a stop on the way to one of the other well-known religious rentals, namely the Jordan River.
The Jordan River separates Jordan from Israel, and is so narrow that one could easily swim across to the other side.
Here we met walking pilgrims who had taken part of one of the world's longest pilgrimage routes, "The Jerusalem Way", from Spanish Finisterre at the well-known fireplace by Atlantichavet and all the way down to Jordan! They came to do what Jesus is said to have done in this humble river: to be baptized in holy water.
The place is a unique blend of a religious place with a fine, elevated atmosphere, and a border with armed guards and a multitude of flags that clearly mark which side of the river you are on.
We dipped our feet in the muddy stream and felt a little closer to the history and nature of Jordan.
Petra in Jordan - one of the seven wonders of the world
It is not only in the history books - or in Indiana Jones - that Petra is fantastic.
It's one of those places where you get a kick in the stomach when the world-famous 'The Treasury' reveals itself for the first time. The anticipatory trip through 'The Siq', the narrow gorge and the access to Petra, is an experience in itself.
The name 'The Treasury' is – of course – a misunderstanding, because this is a grave valley, so 'The Treasury' is also a burial chamber. The name comes from the fact that there was once a group of grave robbers who thought that the beautiful decorations must contain gold, and therefore smashed some of it until they gave up, when only dust came out of the wall...
Seat two days off if you really want the full experience: Petra is a huge area, and even for the most enthusiastic hiker, Petra is a big mouthful. Do not be fooled by the trips to 'High Place of Sacrifice' and 'The Monastery', even though they are long and involve many steps.
It may be a good idea to go out to the sides of the area so that you don't just follow the main road, as there may well be many people. You can easily find a burial chamber you can have for yourself if you just go a little up into the hills.
You can also buy a ticket for Petra by night. It is an evening event where the walk through the Siq and the square in front of The Treasury is illuminated by small, fine light bags.
The performance itself is short with a little historical introduction to the area and music played on instruments from the time of the Nabateans (the Nabateans were the people who created Petra). And no, you are definitely not alone - and no, the performance is not particularly spectacular.
I would still recommend it though, but as your first encounter with Petra in Jordan. It is a very special atmosphere and a very different experience to walk in pitch darkness - while you get lifted a little tab of all the exciting things that await you until the next day.
So grab it Petra by night in the evening, and take in the whole area the next day with a guide. You will be happy about that. And Petra is pretty wild.
Wadi Rum - a Lawrence of Arabia adventure
The Wadi Rum desert is an almost spiritual experience. It is preternaturally beautiful and quiet in the desert, and at night the starry sky shines brightly. Naturally, I also got back on a camel, and it is now once again a very suitable animal to experience the desert on, even if it is a little hard on the rear.
We came on a jeep safari with lots of stops along the way: climbing huge sandbanks, up to viewpoints and climbing natural stone bridges and with a crimson sunset as the perfect end to the day.
We stayed in a luxury camp in the desert itself, which I can highly recommend. It was away from roads and civilization, and you quickly got an experience of being in another world.
All meals and tours were taken care of by local Bedouins. In the evening we had delicious local food, which was prepared on the spot over an open fire and in an earthen oven. A Bedouin can obviously always conjure up the most delicious meal over an open fire, and not least sweet spiced tea, which you are offered everywhere. We also heard some local music on a simple form of violin while the wind shook the Bedouin tent and the scent of the tea spread.
We lived like we had landed on Mars, in domes with our own little bathroom and even heat, which was good because it gets cold in the desert at night in March, and even during the day a down jacket came in very handy.
Wadi Rum has provided sand for many film shoots, and I can kind of understand that. It is exceptionally beautiful out there.
Snorkeling in the Red Sea in Aqaba
If you are into underwater experiences, diving or snorkelling, then it is lucky that Jordan has 27 km of coastline to the Red Sea. They share that with Israeli Eilat just on the other side of the narrow bay, and moreover quite close to Egypt.
Despite the wind and waves, we managed to swim to 'The Japanese Garden' in Jordan, which is recommended as the best snorkelling spot by Lonely Planet. We were on a half-sized boat which arranged trip, then we could get around a bit more and we got to see part of the coast and we were in several times.
The area is not that big, and the selection of fish not that diverse, so it's a bit more for relaxing snorkelling. There are also plenty of diving centers in the area, where you can get down to some of the experiences that await below havet.
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Aqaba Ayla Resort, which is a huge beach resort, with its own beach and cool pools. Now that we were by the water, it was also to be enjoyed, and it was. It is a fairly modern hotel, located a little away from the city, and with beautiful rooms.
Aqaba itself has an old fort, some restaurants and not much more than that, but it's a nice walk along the harbor by the fort.
More tips for your Jordan trip
Apart from the highlights, you can also visit historical places like the Crusader Castle of Karak, Jerash, Wadi Mujib-the gap and the city of Madaba, which is known for its mosaics, i.a. a beautiful old world map made in the small mosaic stones.
You can easily spend 14 days if you want to experience most of Jordan. But you can also achieve a lot in less time.
Jordan is not necessarily a cheap destination. Hotels can cost the same as in Northern Europe, food costs real money and entrance ticket prices are usually more expensive for non-Jordanians. The entrance ticket to Petra is particularly expensive, but it is also a great experience. When you are considering whether to travel on your own or go on an organized tour, you must at least consider what you get in the package.
Here are a few things to know before you travel:
- A visa is required to enter Jordan. It costs approx. DKK 400, and you buy it on arrival at the airport. There is money to be saved by buying a “Jordan Pass”, which includes access to some of the biggest sights in Jordan.
- It is simple and easy to rent a car and get around Jordan. North and south are well connected by the Dead Sea Highway and the Desert Highway respectively. However, there may be a long distance between gas stations. There are also reasonably good bus connections, and there is even an old train, which, however, cannot be used for much other than an experience. It can also be obvious to go on an organized trip.
- It is generally safe to travel and travel as a woman in Jordan. However, a good piece of advice is to wear knee-length trousers or dresses and cover your shoulders - especially when you are outside the very touristy areas.
- Alcohol is generally only available at select restaurants in major cities and at hotels. It is illegal to drink alcohol on a public street and not well-liked to be visibly drunk.
God travel to beautiful Jordan.