Itching for a new adventure or craving excitement in your next vacation ? Consider the land of lost cities and the place where great stories such as “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” were made–Jordan! Truly, when scouting for amazing destinations, consider putting Jordan at the top of your list. For one, it is by far one of the safest countries in the Middle East, and two it is full of culture and rich in history.
Other reasons to go? It can also be very affordable for the discerning vacationer as lodging and food is considerably less than Europe or even certain parts of the United States. My husband and I recently visited Jordan for a cousin’s wedding (sans kids). This was my husband’s first time to Jordan, and for that matter, the Middle East. Since we left our toddlers behind for this adventure, we decided to only stay six days.
So here are my recommendations for 5 amazing destinations within Jordan when you are short on time but want to experience it all!
You absolutely can’t miss the amazing sights of this ancient City! Petra literally means “Rock” in Greek, and is an ancient city surrounded by cliffs. Carved out of these rocks and cliffs are ancient tombs, temples and caves. Have you seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? That was filmed in Petra! Here you will discover the Great Temple, a two-story palace estimated from 1st century BC, only accessible by walking the siq (a narrow gorge approximately .75 miles or 1.2 km long and at times only 10 ft or 3 M wide). You can also visit an ancient theater built approximately the same time that may have seated over 800 spectators. As one of the 7 wonders of the world, it really should be on your list to visit if you are in Jordan!
Getting to Petra is a bit of a trip, however. You can take scheduled, air-conditioned JETT buses in downtown Amman at 6:30am everyday for approximately $15. Or you can hire a driver/cab to take you and stay with you for 4-5 hours for about $150. It is affordable to go, just a bit of a hike to get there. From Amman, Jordan it takes about 3 hours (if you have a fast driver!). There are two roads to get to Petra, the highway or along the Dead Sea. We wanted to get more of a scenic route so we chose the Dead Sea route. Be prepared to hang on for your lives, literally!
Tip: Consider visiting Petra in the evening after the sunsets for the Petra Night Show. This event is a magical experience, as you can explore this ancient city by candlelight! Over 1500 candles light up the walkways and historic attractions every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday of each week from 8:30PM to 10:30PM. Unfortunately we were unable to visit on one of those days so we missed out, but here are some images of the Petra Night Show curtesy of Petra tourism authority.
The Dead Sea
Dead Sea products have been gaining more and more popularity, but do you know where they come from? The Dead Sea! The Dead Sea should actually be the number 1 reason to visit Jordan NOW, as it may not be around ten years from now. Unfortunately, the Dead Sea really is dying, well shrinking actually. Back in 1964, the Dead Sea lost a substantial water source when Israel began diverting water from the Sea of Galilee (this feeds into the River Jordan, which feeds into the Dead Sea) to Israel’s national water system for drinking water. In addition, because the River Jordan is more of a stream than a river, Jordanians have been purifying water from the dead sea to use as their own water resource for human and agricultural use. Then there is natural evaporation. All of these issues have compounded and has caused the Dead Sea to shrink. Each year. By almost 3 Feet.
So why visit? The Dead Sea is an experience like no other–it has more salt than any body of water (34% saline) so you will literally float from the buoyancy! It is also healing and full of minerals and salts. Visitors come from all over the world to bathe here, seeking relief of health ailments. Before heading into the water, make sure you cover yourself with the clay–it is chalk full of minerals that will leave you feeling soft and supple. Not even kidding, it is life changing.
Interesting fact: The shore of the dead Sea is the lowest point on dry land on the planet!
I recommend staying at one of the resorts along the Dead Sea. We visited the Marriott, but there are multiple choices with Dead Sea beach-access. The Kempinski, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza to name a few are all along the Dead Sea’s shore; and all very luxurious with many amenities to offer.
Looking for just a day trip to the Dead Sea? No problem, you can access the Dead Sea from any resort hotel without booking a stay, the charge is roughly $45 per person (pay at the hotel gate). In Jordan, the Dead Sea is really only accessible through a hotel resort. The good thing is the charge covers access to the resorts pools, towels and showing facilities. Plan to stay the entire day to really take advantage of your time here!
Ever dreamed of visiting Mars? What about touring where “The Martian” was filmed? If so, you really can’t miss visiting the magical landscape of Wadi Rum, which means “dessert valley” in Arabic. Wadi Rum is the largest dessert valley in Jordan, and is famous for its spectacular dessert sunsets (very romantic) and nighttime star-gazing. It is also famous for the filming of major movies such as “The Martian” (2015), “Rogue One: Star Wars” (2016), “Transformers”, and “Prometheus” to name a few. It really does resemble Mars with its pink sand and Mars-like rock formations.
If you plan to make an evening trip, come at least a half hour before sunset (in August you would want to arrive around 7pm). Here you can hire Bedouins to take you by camel or by AWD to Wadi Rum to see the magnificent sunsets. Feeling more ambitious? They will also take you dessert racing through the Wadi Rum if you want an Adrenalin rush!
If you can stay a night or two, check out the luxurious camps where you can sleep under the stars in “Bubble Rooms”, or have authentic Bedouins dining experience in the desert. We were short on time, so just stopped to see the spectacular sunset after our trip to Petra.
We also ate dinner with the Bedouins and danced a bit before returning to Amman. It was an experience we will never forget and will cherish always.
If you are spending a day in Amman and want to shop from local vendors, I suggest you visit Rainbow Street in Souk Jara which is one of the oldest souks (marketplaces) in Amman. Be sure to visit Hashem, the oldest restaurant in Amman that boasts visits from the King of Jordan, diplomats and celebrities reguarly! Hashem is famous for their falafel, a deep fried ball made with ground chickpeas, chopped parsley and herbs. A close second is Al Quds Falafel right off Rainbow street, and perfect for grabbing a fresh humus and falafel sandwich on your way to shopping. If you are with kids, the Souk Jara is actually quite kid friendly, and at the bottom of the marketplace there is booths for face-painting, a bouncy house and other family activities.
Temple of Hercules
There is so much to offer in Amman, Jordan, so make sure you spend at least 48 hours in this historic city. Take in the full architectural splendor from atop the Amman Citadel, where you will find the Temple of Hercules and the Hand of Hercules, built between 162-166 AD. Larger than any temple in Rome, it is a must see when visiting Amman. From here you can also walk/cab it to the 2nd-century Roman Amphitheater which seated 6,000, a glorious sight where you can just imagine the spectators cheering centuries before us.
After walking and exploring, if you are craving something sweet, be sure to try Kunafa, a traditional Arabic dessert with layered cheese and shredded filo soaked in simple syrup and topped with pistachios. According to the locals the best Kunafa in Amman is Habibah Sweets , and for me conjures up the most delicous Kunafa found in Neblus, Palestine. Not surprisingly, the owner Al-Haj Mahmoud Habibah is originally from Neblus!
Hope you enjoy your travels in Jordan, we certainly did!