Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or an archaeology buff, Jordan has something for everyone. From the sweeping dunes of Wadi Rum to the ancient facades of the lost city of Petra, this uniquely captivating place is sure to inspire the most exciting adventures.
For the historian and archaeologist…
Those traveling to Jordan to experience its archaeological wonders will not be disappointed. The ruins of Jerash and the splendor of Madaba charm visitors, who will be delighted by the antiquity present in this Middle Eastern country.
Located just 30 miles north of Amman, Jerash is the holy grail of ancient architecture and cultural legacy. The site was initially settled by Greece’s most famous conqueror, Alexander the Great, and it has been occupied by humans in the 6,500 years since. Claimed by the Romans in 63 B.C., the city came to incorporate the most beautiful elements of Roman architecture.
To view Jordan’s most popular archaeological site, head for the ancient city of Petra. Now nicknamed the “Lost” City, Petra was once a thriving metropolis and trading center for the Nabataean culture between 400 B.C. and 106 A.D, after which the city fell from its position of power and faded into obscurity. It wasn’t until the early 1800s that Petra was rediscovered and introduced to the Western world by a European traveler who had craftily disguised himself in traditional Bedouin garb to examine the abandoned sandstone structure. Even today, an air of mystery surrounds the city, and archaeologists attest that Petra’s giant exposed cliff face only represents 15 percent of it — the rest, they say, is buried safely underground and remains untouched.
Visitors should explore the wonders of the ancient site and consider visiting at night, when hundreds of lit candles make the already gorgeous scene extraordinary. If you’re not claustrophobic, wander through the cavernous canyon (the Siq) that links Petra to the chaos of the outside world. Up for a bit of exploring? You can also view the area’s lesser-known attractions, like Little Petra, as well as the site’s famous cliffside monastery.
Getting to Petra from Amman is relatively easy. The four-hour drive can be accomplished via rental car, taxi, or public bus. Remember that you’ll have to purchase tickets for any attractions in the Lost City at the visitor center in Wadi Musa (the nearest town) before you arrive at the archaeological site itself.
This calm and sleepy city is a hop, skip, and a jump from Amman (just 19 miles or 30 kilometers) and is best known for its incredible collection of Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics, as well as its peaceful, longstanding cohabitation of Christian and Muslim populations.
In addition, Madaba enjoys a rich cultural legacy: not only does the city’s occupation date back to the Bronze Age, but biblical scholars have also pointed out that Madaba is mentioned in both Numbers 21:30 and in Joshua 13:9. Additionally, historians have proven that the site was ruled by both Roman and Byzantine civilizations between the second and seventh centuries.
In addition to the rich cultural legacy of Madaba, the city is also an artistic treasure trove. During a series of construction efforts, exquisitely crafted mosaics were discovered around the northernmost boundaries of the city. The region’s most famous finding was the Map of Madaba, a sixth-century mosaic that depicts the ancient boundaries of Jerusalem with nearly two million fragments of carefully colored stone. Today, the map is preserved at the Greek Orthodox Basilica of Saint George, but artistically inclined visitors can find other mosaic masterpieces in the Church of the Virgin and the Apostles and the Archaeological Museum, as well as throughout the city itself.
The distance between Madaba and Amman can be covered via car or public bus in about an hour — you’ll find lines running between the two regularly and for a reasonable price.
For the wellness warrior…
As vacations focus increasingly on health and relaxation, Jordan emerges as a frontrunner in wellness travel.
Swim in the Dead Sea
It’s no secret that the Dead Sea, which is 33.7 percent saline, has some unique properties. In addition to it being the lowest point on Earth, the Dead Sea has some additional advantages: water with a high mineral content, decreased allergens and pollen in its surrounding atmosphere, decreased atmospheric ultraviolet rays, and higher atmospheric pressure in the region — which all translate to a host of bodily benefits for visitors. Historically, the Dead Sea has been visited by ancient kings (such as Herod the Great) and raided for minerals that have comprised everything from ancient Egyptian mummification balms to agricultural fertilizers.
So, if you visit, be sure to slather yourself in the region’s thick, mineral-rich mud. In addition to having beautifying qualities, it’s known to treat skin oiliness, act as an exfoliant, moisturize and remove bacteria from the scalp, and treat certain health issues (namely, skin redness and cracking, muscle tension and aches, joint pain, inflammation, and poor circulation).
Visit Hammamat Ma’in Hot Springs
This series of waterfalls and natural hot springs is a must-visit for any traveler to Jordan seeking a relaxing experience. Endowed with a rich historical legacy and a variety of mineral properties, the springs have played host to a number of famous figures over the ages, including Herod the Great, and served as. the site for several significant biblical events, namely Salome’s dance, and — sadly — the beheading of John the Baptist.
Today, visitors can enjoy modern-day spa amenities at the site, as well as the ancient waterfalls and hot springs that the area is known for.
The springs are only a 20-minute drive from the city of Madaba and can be easily accessed via rental car or taxi cab.
For the people person…
Jordan is home to the Bedouin people, who have roamed the deserts of Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Israel, and North Africa for centuries. Bedouin culture is rich in tradition, gastronomically diverse, and culturally hospitable. To experience the wisdom and openness of the Bedouin, why not seek out a cross-cultural experience.
Visit the Feynan Ecolodge
Located in the rural center of Dana, Feynan Ecolodge is a sustainable center that welcomes guests from near and far with its legendary Bedouin hospitality. Powered by solar energy during the day and illuminated by candles at sundown, the center promotes sustainability with its purely vegetarian menu and emphasis on locally sourced food. Feynan is run entirely by members of the Bedouin tribe, who engage with guests and teach them traditional cooking methods, shepherding practices, and other cultural legacies.
You can travel to Dana from Amman via rental car or public bus — the trip will take between two to four hours depending on your chosen method of transportation.
For the film buff….
For visitors with a taste for famous films, this Jordanian location is sure to please.
Acting as the setting of films such as “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Wadi Rum,” “the Martian,” and “Star Wars: Rogue One,” Wadi Rum is an otherworldly expanse of weathered rock and sandy expanse — and one that’s not to be missed.
To explore this vast and unforgiving desert, visitors generally opt for one of three different options — Jeep tours, camel rides, or hikes. A Jeep tour is the quickest and easiest way to explore this scenic site and archaeological goldmine, and you can generally book a tour from the desert’s visitor center, which will allow you access to 19 of the area’s best sites. Camel rides range from a one-hour excursion to a full-day trip and can also be booked at the visitor center, while extensive hiking is recommended only under the expertise of a Bedouin guide. For the latter, you’ll need to book in advance, so be sure to ask your hotel or guesthouse for more information. Otherwise, there are two relatively easy trails that lead from the visitor center that don’t require a map or guide.
The drive between Amman and Wadi Rum will take about three and a half hours. You can either rent a car or sign up for a tour — transportation is included.
For the outdoor enthusiast…
Jordan is an archaeological playground, but it’s also a natural wonderland. For those who would rather spend their days hiking dunes or floating in the Dead Sea, here are a few other outdoor activities in the desert nation that you won’t want to miss.
Snorkeling, Diving, and Swimming
Visit Aqaba, Jordan’s only coastal city, for spectacular sights and the opportunity to view coral reefs, dive at over 30 sites, and snorkel through crystal clear waters. Located on the tip of the country’s Red Sea, the city offers visitors a unique opportunity to interact with the world below the ocean’s surface.
Aqaba is located in between Wadi Rum and Petra, which solidifies its place in the “golden triangle of tourism.” To get to Aqaba, take a bus or rent a car from the city of Amman — the drive will take around four hours.
Already been to Jordan? Let us know what activities you enjoy pursuing while in the Kingdom in the comments below!
Header image by Brian Kairuz