“You’re going where”? I often got from confused friends and family when I told them I had booked a week-long adventure to Jordan this past October. “Do you mean Jordan, Minnesota or Jordan the country” was another bemused response to my statement. “I’m going to the Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan”, I proclaimed with excitement and pride at how adventurous those words sounded as they escaped my mouth. “You know, the royal kingdom located in the Middle East who became famous for its American-born Queen Noor, Lawrence of Arabia, Wadi Rum, and of course the ancient city of Petra which is now one of the 7 New Wonders of the World. That is the Jordan I’m visiting, and I’m going with an adventure travel company called Intrepid” I finished to either silence or awkward stares. “Is it safe” was another common question I received.
Telling my family and friends that I was going to Jordan was a huge awakening for me as I realized at that very moment how little people know about this mystical place, including myself. After a week’s adventure spent camping with the Bedouins in the desert of the Wadi Rum, exploring the incredible treasures of Petra, wandering through the ancient Roman ruins of Amman and Jerash, questioning my religion (or lack thereof) at Madaba and the Spring of Moses, and floating in the Dead Sea, I realized that there is so much more to Jordan than I ever dreamed of and wondered when I could ever get back to see more.
Jordan is simply extraordinary and trying to experience it all in a week’s time is truly difficult. However, if you plan your time wisely it can be done. It also helps to have an experienced, sustainable adventure travel company like Intrepid Travel plan it for you. Regardless of which way you choose to see Jordan, there are several “must-see and must-do” experiences that you need to add to your visit. Here is a list of my top highlights of what to do in one spellbinding week in Jordan.
Why Jordan and What Makes Jordan Unique?
Jordan is a magical place and has a ton to offer any kind of traveler, whether you are interested in religion, art, culture, history, adventure, cuisine, architecture or it all. Best of all, Jordan is one of the safest countries in the world and especially in the Middle East. Jordanians are ready and extremely willing for tourists to come to their country, the country has modern infrastructure and well-run tourist facilities, and delicious, mouth-watering food. Furthermore, Jordan’s relatively small size makes it easy to pack in a ton of things in a week’s time.
So what makes Jordan stand out compared to other destinations around the world? Here are a few highlights to grab your attention. Jordan offers the intrepid traveler:
- An ancient civilization, history, and culture with many well-preserved treasures (Petra, Jerash, and the Citadel to name a few).
- A glimpse into the region’s Holy Land with phenomenal religious sites throughout Jordan.
- The vast, wild desert landscape of Wadi Rum offer Bedouin stays, adventure activities and purely incredible beauty.
- The Red Sea with some of the best snorkeling in the Middle East and the Dead Sea with its natural healing powers.
- A warm, open culture that invites guests to share a cup of tea and their country with you.
Top Places to visit in Jordan:
The main gateway into Jordan is via the newly remodeled modern airport, the Queen Alia International Airport, located roughly 35 kilometers south of Amman. Unless you are flying into Israel and going across the border to get to Jordan, you will land at the Queen Alia Airport in Amman. Usually, travelers spend only a night in Amman or head out of town right away to see the more well-known sites. At first, I wished we were leaving as well because I wasn’t thinking there would be much to see or do in such a big, boisterous city. But after a couple of days in Jordan’s capital, I was glad we stayed. Amman is a fascinating place.
At times, you can feel its legendary history bringing you back to the days when Amman was known as Philadelphia and run by the ancient Greeks or even earlier when you step into the Jordan Museum where you can see the oldest known human statues of Ain Ghazal dating back 9,500 years or the Dead Sea Scrolls (the only known surviving copies from the Old Testament that date before 100 AD). While at other times, you can feel the newer, more progressive Jordan moving full speed ahead while you walk down vibrant Rainbow Street or drive past some of the modern hi-rise hotels, condos and skyscrapers proudly gracing Amman’s newly emerging skyline.
One thing is for sure: You will be constantly swept away from the past and into the modern, cosmopolitan city that is changing faster than its peers. What I loved so much about Amman is this constant contradiction and tension between old versus new and tradition and modernity. Start your day by beating the crowds and the heat by spending the early hours of the morning at the Citadel. Occupied since the bronze age, these impressive ancient Roman ruins will give you insight into Amman’s amazing past and also provide you with some extraordinary views of the city. Head down to the Roman Theater and into the winding streets of Amman.
Right when the heat of the day is at its worst, walk down to explore the well-curated Jordan Museum (open 10 am- 2 pm) and then have a hummus lunch at the famous Hashem Restaurant before taking a cultural stroll through Amman’s fascinating souqs. In the evening, head down to one of the many trendy restaurants on Rainbow Street where you can admire some of Jordan’s cool street art and eclectic food. There are tons of excellent restaurants so make sure to try out some of the different varieties of cuisine from the surrounding countries and Jordan too.
Explore the wild, vast landscape of Wadi Rum where you will sleep under the stars at a Bedouin Camp in the heart of Lawrence of Arabia’s desert and enjoy a traditional Bedouin meal. Marvel at the rocks changing color as the sun sets and rises over the rugged sandstone and sit outside under the brilliance of the stars. Take in the stillness and solitude of one of the most surreal places on earth. Pinch yourself often that you are truly there. Riding a camel (as uncomfortable as it may be) goes without saying.
A great place to stop and spend a day or two after visiting Wadi Rum is Aqaba. Home to the Red Sea, Aqaba is a relaxed seaside resort town that is known for some of the best snorkeling in diving in the Middle East. There is a surprising amount of beautiful coral and fish as well as a few sunken treasures such as an army tank and even a jet plane. It is a nice break between the hot, sultry desert of Wadi Rum and the crowds of Petra. Best of all, the fish is caught daily and it is one of the only places in Jordan outside of Amman that you can somewhat easily get a cold mug of beer or a glass of wine with your meal.
The highlight of the entire trip was the two full days spent in Petra. I honestly did not know much about it before going and perhaps that made the entire experience all the better. I simply fell in love with the beauty, mystique and sheer size of Petra. It is absolutely extraordinary and like no place on earth. Built over 2,000 years ago by the Nabateans, the “Rose City” was once one of the grandest ancient trading centers in the Middle East. Its massive size and number of hand-carved buildings, tombs and temples literally blow you away. Be prepared to walk. On my second day, I spent over seven hours walking, climbing and hiking to explore as much as I could of Petra. Best day ever.
Sometimes a place is beyond words. Come take a walk with me through Petra……
Inhabited since the 4th century BC and abandoned after an earthquake in 749 AD, Jerash is one of the most spectacularly well-preserved ancient Roman ruins in the Middle East. Only an hour’s drive north of Amman, “The City of 1,000 columns” should definitely be on your list of top places to see in Jordan. Prepare to spend at least a few hours wandering around Jerash’s glorious theater, archways, buildings, and colonnaded streets. Get there early in the morning to beat the crowds and if you are lucky, you will be able to hear a live bagpipe show in the ancient theater being awestruck by the ancient sound system.
Coat yourself in thick, gooey mud before floating like a baby in the ultra salty waters of the Dead Sea. Known as the saltiest body of water on the planet, a dip in the Dead Sea is like no experience on earth. We only spent a few hours at the Dead Sea, however, if you love soaking up the hot sun and lounging by the pool or on the beach, there are plenty of fancy resorts around the Dead Sea to enjoy a few more days just chilling.
Driving on the King’s Highway with stops at Shobak, the Dana Reserve and Mababa
Take a drive on the King’s Highway making stops to visit the ancient Crusader castle at Shobak and continue on to get a spectacular view on the edge of the Dana Biosphere Reserve. If you have an extra day or two, spend it at a lovely hotel outside of the Dana Reserve and hike your days away in this beautiful place. Continue three hours more to the town of Madaba where you can visit the famous Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, home to a mosaic map (used by pilgrims) of the Holy Land that depicts Palestine and Lower Egypt around 550 AD.
Why Small Group Travel is the Best Way to See Jordan
The majority of the time that I travel, I go without a guide and plan the entire trip myself. For most of my trips this works out fine however when I go to more off-the-beaten-path destinations and/or travel solo, I find a lot of benefit in traveling with a group. I also tend to learn way more about the place I’m visiting when I’m traveling with a group-led tour as opposed to by myself.
When selecting a tour, I do have my rules. First of all, I refuse to travel with a large group all crammed into a bus rushing through sites at breakneck speed and feeling like we are being herded around like cattle. I understand that for some people large group travel works great but for me, I prefer to travel with a small group. Second of all, the guide must be local as I learn so much more and it also generates income for the place I’m visiting.
I feel much more connected with a place and the fellow guests when we are in a small group (preferably under 12) with a knowledgable local guide who can answer all my questions about the history, culture, and insight of a place. It is also very important that I travel responsibly giving respect to the people, environment, and culture of a destination. I don’t want my visit to negatively impact a place especially if it is a destination like Petra that is already very overcrowded. That is why I chose Intrepid Travel for my trip to Jordan.
Intrepid Travel -one of the world’s largest adventure travel companies – is changing the way we see and impact the world. With over 1,000 tours in 120 countries, Intrepid has done wonders to promote responsible tourism and help make a positive impact on where they travel. As part of the Intrepid Group which includes fellow tour operators Urban Adventures, Peregrine, and Adventure Tours Australia and runs The Intrepid Foundation, Intrepid is on a mission to change the way people see the world by delivering sustainable experience-rich travel products while also harnessing the power of travel to benefit the places and people they visit. You can read more about Intrepid’s work in this exclusive interview I wrote months before booking my trip to Jordan.
So how did Intrepid do? Incredible. I loved my trip and what truly made the difference was our incredible guide, Iyad. His passion, knowledge, and love for sharing his country with us truly made the trip extraordinary. I learned so much in just a week’s time and I can hardly wait to share this amazing country with my readers.
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