From the exciting urban rush of Amman to a 40-day hike that takes you from one end of the country to the other, Jordan is an ancient land filled with surprises. Shaped by dozens of cultures over its history, Jordan today lures up to a million visitors each year to Petra, the Nabataean city that spent five centuries largely hidden from Western eyes. Yet, these bucket-listing sightseers make up less than a quarter of Jordan’s international tourist numbers. In other words, much more awaits those who stay a little longer in Jordan.
Running close second to Petra for fame is Wadi Rum, the desert known to many for its star turns in Lawrence of Arabia… and Star Wars, The Martian, Dune, Prometheus, and… we could go on, it’s a long list. But long before Hollywood came calling, Wadi Rum was home to desert tribes including the Zalabieh, who conduct tours inside the Wadi Rum Protected Area today. With their strong local connection to the land, tours like these are by far the best, most meaningful way to explore, admire, and understand Wadi Rum. You might even enjoy the legendary hospitality of the Bedouins, the region’s traditional nomadic inhabitants.
Ancient sites dot Jordan from top to bottom, but several of the most famous can be explored right in Amman, so give yourself a couple of days in the capital when you arrive. The 6,000-seat Roman Theatre dates to the 2nd century and is famed for acoustics that allow actors to be heard even in the far back rows. Don’t miss the nearby 500-seat Odeon, just in case you thought multi-theatre arts venues were a new concept!
Another ancient treasure not to be missed is Jerash. This Greco-Roman city contains some of the best-preserved Roman ruins in Jordan, and is Jordan’s second most-visited attraction, partly because of its proximity to Amman. Walk under Hadrian’s Arch, explore the 15,000-seat Hippodrome, weave your way through the mighty columns at the Temple of Artemis, and wonder at what the enormous Zeus Temple must have been like in its heyday.
Hopefully you got a chance to see the beautiful mosaics at Jerash’s Byzantine church, but regardless, it’s worth a special trip to see Jordan’s best-known mosaics in Madaba, including the enormous map found in St. George’s Church. Another historic site close to Amman is Kerak Castle, whose stone walls hold turbulent stories dating back to the Crusades.
While it’s home to one of the world’s most beautiful and famous deserts, Jordan’s geography is as varied as its history. Stop in at the Dead Sea for a little “spa and R,” enjoying the health-giving properties of the salty waters. The Dana Biosphere Reserve is the largest nature reserve in Jordan and shows off the country’s natural diversity in full bloom, from dry, golden deserts to lush Mediterranean forests. Geographically, you’ll see Europe, Africa, and Asia come together as you explore. But humans have played a key role in its history too. Dana Village is believed to have been inhabited for over 6,000 years.
Connecting many of these amazing sites is the Jordan trail, an epic multi-week hiking journey that can be taken in short highlights, or as one complete trek for the ultimate journey through this ancient land. Whether you’re here for the long walk, that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Petra, or just a few days in Amman, take a moment to enjoy the whole picture. You’ll find so many more pieces that make up Jordan!
This article was originally published in No. 31 of Globetrotting Magazine.
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