Jordan? Oh, you mean, Petra? That was about all I knew of Jordan before I ever went to see it for myself. My initial intent was to use it as a gateway to access Israel and Palestine, but due to some visa issues (Malaysian passport is not allowed to pass through to Israel, and everything was planned at the last minute so I didn’t have enough time to apply for a temporary entry permission), that idea had to be scratched, and so there was a whole load of time and an entire country of Jordan to explore. And I am so glad I did! Here are some of the things I think you should NOT miss seeing/doing if your ever get the chance to visit this beautiful, historic country. This list is arranged in sequential order, which is great if you wish to turn this into an entire itinerary, moving from North Jordan all the way down South, and then back to Amman to catch your flight back home. Renting a car is imperative to make the most out of the country, as the public transportation system isn’t the most efficient here.
1. See The Roman Monuments in Jerash
Located about an hour away from the capital Amman, Jerash has the second-most well-preserved Roman ruins after Italy. It’s a great place to start your exploration, as it is located North of the country, and it lets you dive into an amazing Roman complex that paints a picture on what life was like back in the day. You can cover the complex in a day, but I went there twice, and arriving there as early as it opens gives you an advantage because it would be mostly empty. The complex consists of the Temple of Zeus, the Temple of Artemis, 2 amphitheatres, beautiful ancient roads with tall pillars, an old bath and a beautiful fountain, to name a few. As you climb up the hills to the temples you might ponder on how it is that your fitness resolutions never materialised, but the views would be worth it.
2. Visit the old Ajloun Castle for a Beautiful View
The fact that Jordan is literally next to Palestine and Israel means that it is deeply affiliated with the history of the wars of the Holy Land. One of such is the War of the Crusaders, and the monuments and remains are everywhere around the country. Ajloun Castle is definitely one of the best preserved ones, propped right in top of a hill that can be seen from miles away. Built by Sultan Saladdin of the Ayyubis (you might remember him from the movie Kingdom of Heaven), it served as a strategic military fort against the Crusaders in the 12th Century. Take your time to check out the artillery rooms to the rooftop views, where on a clear day, you would be able to see Jerusalem in the distance. The drive is a beautiful one, going uphill across acres of olive trees, so be sure to spend at least half a day here.
3. Take a Dip in the Dead Sea
First of all, the Dead Sea isn’t even a sea. It’s a lake. A very salty lake. In fact, the salt content is 10 times higher than normal sea water. Swimming in the Dead Sea is certainly an experience I would never forget. You really do float, just as what they raved about all over the internet! You can even read a book quite comfortably in it. However, if you do have an external wound, it would sting like a bitch. The Dead Sea waters and minerals are medicinal, and you can relax by the sea while slathering yourself with the mud, while hoping that after the wash-off you’d look like Meghan Fox. The West Bank is in full view, and although some parts of the beach is sandy, a lot of them are made of salt hydrates, which means they are sharp and will split your feet open if you’re not careful. I would recommend spending a couple of days here at least, so that you could really enjoy the waters and view.
4. Tread Where The Dinosaurs Walked at Wadi Mujib
You gotta take time to drive along the Dead Sea coast, not only for the sweeping views, but also because there are a lot of things to see. Take the Wadi Mujib, for example. Mentioned in the Bible, it is a beautiful canyon that cuts through high sandstone walls, with a lovely creek passing right through. During the warmer months the entire trek is open so that your could explore the gorge, the cool waters a relief against the Arabian sunshine. This canyon is also pre-historic - traces of dinosaurs using this place as a walkway had been found!
Aside from Wadi Mujib, keep your eyes open to other beautiful attractions around the coastline, like view points, hidden waterfalls and public beaches.
6. Pretend You’re Indiana Jones at Petra
I’ll put up a different post on Petra because there is so much to share, but here I’ll tell you these things; you need at least 2 days to fully appreciate it, you should be at least moderately fit to climb up the sandstone hills, you should really do the night tour, and bring a sandwich.
7. Take a Jeep to Explore the Valley of the Moon
Wadi Rum, the desert South of Jordan, is also dubbed the ‘Valley of the Moon’ due to its landscape that looks other-wordly. You might have actually seen it before, you know. Star Wars? The Martian? Aladdin? They were all filmed in this desert. This magnificent place is just a vast orange land, with jagged rock formations creating small valleys with wild camels galloping around. It is especially beautiful at sunset, when the light turns the entire place bright orange. Driving across the desert requires a specific jeep, which you can rent online or at the reception desk of any nearby campsite. You should note that Wadi Rum is extremely cold during winter, and the temperature will plummet after sundown. An extra treat? Spend a night or two with the Arab Bedouins in a nomadic-style desert tent, and appreciate how these amazing people live out here for generations.
8. Watch the Desert Sunrise in Bed, in a See-Through Glamping Tent
Speaking of tents. What most camp sites also provide is an experience of ‘glamping’ in a see-through tent. It’s a Mars-like round tent with a transparent side of the wall, and what this means is that you can watch the sunset/sunrise in the comforts of your own room, and let’s not forget the stargazing! This is especially important during winter, because who wants to die of hypothermia from watching the night sky? It’s certainly more pricey than the regular tents, but boy oh boy is it worth it. I stayed at a camp called Hasan Zawaideh Camp, and I loved it. They even have a fancy nomadic tea room for you to hang out in, with a fireplace, floor-to-ceiling carpets and sisha. The breakfast and dinner spread is also pretty good.
9. Eat Slow Cooked Goat Cooked in Sand in the Middle of the Desert
I have a strange bucket list. One of the things in the bucket list was eating a goat that is cooked in the sand in the middle of the desert by desert nomads. Where did I get this idea, you asked? From an Anthony Bourdain TV show. As a young girl, that image of Anthony huddled with a group of nomads under the starry night sky in the middle of a vast desert while gnawing on the bones of a well-cooked goat became the epitome of my visualisation of an adventure. And guess what? I finally ticked this one off the list in Wadi Rum, Jordan. You can ask your host if this is possible (it usually is, although you’ll have to pay), and before dinner time be sure to show up early and ask the cook if you can see the unveiling of the meat from the ground (you usually can).
Was the goat as good as I had imagined it all these years? Yes, my friend, yes. The animal is cooked low and slow in the heat of the charcoal and sand for almost an entire day, mildly spiced and served with roasted vegetables, onions and garlic. Perfect for a cold night in the desert. Thank you, Anthony Bourdain, for the inspiration.
10. Chill in Cafes by the Red Sea in Aqaba
One of the southmost cities of Jordan, Aqaba, is well worth a visit, if only for just a half-day. It’s where the country meets the Red Sea, a sea mentioned in both the Bible and the Quran, and you’re probably most familiar with it through the story of how Moses parted the Red Sea in order to flee with the rest of the Israelis from the hands of Pharoah. From the coastline of the sea, you can see 3 different nations - Jordan, Egypt and Israel. Aqaba itself is a very laid-back seaside town, with a beautiful waterfront boasting with cafes and restaurants, and bustling roads lined with small shops worth a visit. Things are generally cheaper here than the rest of the country thanks to its tax-free appeal, so it’s a good place to get some local souvenirs or splurge a little. Otherwise, take time to sit by the pier and enjoy a cuppa with a view in one of the pretty cafes.
11. Immerse Yourself in History at Madaba
As you make your way up to the North of Jordan again, re-route yourself through the highway that will pass through Madaba. It’s a small city in the middle of Jordan, but mighty when it comes to its history. The Greek Orthodox church in the city currently preserves the biggest known early map of the Holy Land, made completely from tiny mosaics. It’s amazing to observe the details of this map, and how life was depicted like back in the day. Madaba is also well-known in the Islamic history as the location for the Battle of Mu’tah, where the Islamic army led by the Prophet Muhammad battled the Romans, with 3 of his closest companions perished. Their tombs are located in the city. Madaba is also close to Mount Nebo, where biblical accounts claim Prophet Moses climbed and saw the Promised Land for the first time. Of course, you can see it too from the top of the mountain. On a clear day, you’ll be able to view as far as Jerusalem and Ramallah, and it’s amazing to put it all into perspective - so many stories of remarkable people in the holy books took place around this area, as well as centuries of wars and political turmoil. It is worth to spend at least a day or so in and around the city.
12. Watch a City Sunset In Amman
Amman, the capital city of Jordan, is certainly a place of its own. There’s the citadel for you to see, perched on top of the hill overlooking the entire population, and also the place where Coldplay launched their album last year via a live streaming performance from that very same citadel. Amman has the vibe of a middle eastern city, quiet, low-key, and beige-coloured, but at the same time some parts of it, like Jafra and Sweifieh Village, exhibits a lot of globalisation, in terms of food, fashion and even culture.
A nice thing to do would be to find a rooftop cafe (there are plenty in the city, such as the ones near the as-Shams cafe area), and watch the sunset with a drink or a plate of falafels/hummus. The way the dark washes over the brown buildings and the blue skies is a nice way to wrap up your entire Jordanian adventure.
It’s definitely worth renting a car for your travels in Jordan, as public transport isn’t the most efficient here. On the other hand, local Jordanians are warm, friendly and so helpful. I’ve had people give me free food, invite me to their homes for tea and gave wonderful recommendations over what to do and where to go.
ProTip: Get the Jordan pass, which you can buy online and gives you access to most historical sites around the country. It’s much more value for money than buying tickets per-entry to everything.