5 Must-See Attractions in Jordan
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. It is by far one of the safest countries in the Middle East, and 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 are considerably less costly 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 the Middle East. Since we left our toddlers behind for this adventure, we decided to only stay six days.
So here is 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 the movie “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 0.75 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 air-conditioned JETT buses from downtown Amman at 6:30AM each day 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, it takes about 3 hours (if you have a fast driver!). There are two ways to Petra: the highway or along the Dead Sea. We wanted 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, if you have time. 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 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, courtesy of the 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 #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. Add natural evaporation to all of this. All of these issues have compounded and have 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 chock-full of minerals that will leave your skin 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 offered.
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. In Jordan, the Dead Sea is really only accessible through a hotel resort. The charge is roughly $45 per person and payment is collected at the hotel gate. The charge covers access to the resort’s pools, towels, and shower facilities. Plan to stay the entire day to really take advantage of your time here!
Ever dream 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 desert sunsets (very romantic) and nighttime stargazing. 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? The Bedouins 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 Bedouin dining experiences in the desert. We were short on time, so we 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 regularly! Hashem is famous for their falafel, a deep-fried ball made with ground chickpeas and chopped parsley and herbs. A close second is "Al Quds Falafel right off Rainbow Street— perfect for grabbing a fresh hummus and falafel sandwich on your way to shop. If you are with kids, the Souk Jara is actually quite kid-friendly! At the bottom of the marketplace, there are booths for face painting, a bouncy house, and other family activities.
Temple of Hercules
There is so much offered in Amman, 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 Arab dessert made of layered cheese and shredded Phyllo dough, soaked in simple syrup, and topped with pistachios. According to the locals, the best Kunafa in Amman is sold at Habibah Sweets and for me, conjures up the most delicious 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!