Surrounded by countries like Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Israel is the nation of Jordan. Although it is clearly in the heart of the Middle East, Jordan can feel more liberal, progressive and safe than some of its neighbors. As a result, it is the ideal destination for those who want to explore this part of the world. A trip to Jordan offers the chance to visit ancient cities, admire magnificent granite cliffs, see secluded deserts and even swim in the Dead Sea. An overview of the best places to visit in Jordan:
Just south of the capital is Madaba, a small town known for its religious structures and its ancient art. Most notably, it is known for the Madaba Map, a mosaic from the sixth century that shows a map of Jerusalem and other holy sites. The Madaba Map is found in St. George’s Church. If you’re interested in the history of Madaba, then be sure to visit the Madaba Archaeological Park as well as the Madaba Museum. To see all these attractions and more in a single vista, climb to the bell tower of the Shrine of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, which can offer spectacular views.
For scenery and the chance to hike in the great outdoors, the Dana Nature Reserve is undoubtedly one of the top spots in Jordan. Your base will be the 15th century village of Dana, which has remained largely original and boasts a few accommodation and dining options, should you decide to make it an overnight trip. The main reason to visit the Dana Nature Reserve is to hike in the reserve, climbing up and down slot canyons and valleys. The landscape is beautiful and pristine, allowing for memorable views and plenty of exceptional photography opportunities.
Other than the Dead Sea, the only waterfront in Jordan is found in Aqaba, the nation’s only port city. Aqaba is sometimes called the window onto the Red Sea, and it has long been an important destination for the country. Aqaba has a unique blend of ancient and modern, allowing you to tour the 14th century Aqaba Fort or stay in luxurious, five-star resorts ranked among the best in the world. Ayla is of particular note, because it is a small settlement from the sixth century that is remarkably well preserved. Aqaba is also a popular place for scuba diving instruction and guided dives in the Red Sea.
If you’re interested in castles, then Al-Karak is definitely worth a visit. The city of Al-Karak, also known as just Karak or Kerak, is located in Southern Jordan. It is known for its significant Christian population as well as its amazing castle. Al-Karak is home to the Citadel of Kerak, which was once a Crusader stronghold. After being ransacked, the castle was left in ruins for nearly 500 years. Some restoration work has taken place, and you can tour the castle to see the parts that have been restored. In the lower portion of the castle is the Karak Archaeological Museum, which boasts an impressive collection that helps explain more about the region’s history.
Amman is the capital of Jordan, and it is also the largest city, the cultural hub and the center for trade. On your trip to Jordan, you will almost certainly spend some time in Amman. There are lots of Roman ruins to be found in Amman, with the highlights including the large Roman Amphitheatre and the Nymphaeum. The Citadel is definitely worth a visit, as it is home to some important local structures like the Roman Temple of Hercules and the large stone Ummayad Palace. If you’re at the palace for the muezzin call of prayer, you can hear and see an amazing display in the city below you.
In Jordan’s Eastern Desert, just east of Amman, there is a collection of castles that can be explored. These structures were constructed by the Umayyads, and many were used for defense as well as a place for the Kaliffs to stay. It was through this network of castles that the Umayyads were able to live and thrive in the unforgiving desert landscape. It is possible to see several of these desert castles on a single day of driving. The loop can take you to the black rock and mosaics of Qasr Al-Hallabat, the ongoing archeological site of Hammam as-Sarah and the incredible frescoes of Qasr Amra.
Although most of Jordan is landlocked, it does share one small piece of coast with the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on the planet, 430 metes (1,400 feet) below sea level, and the salinity level is incredibly high. The Dead Sea also has a number of historic and religious ties, and it was the site where the Jesus was allegedly baptized by John the Baptist. It is also an amazing place for relaxation, because the water is full of minerals and the high salinity makes it easy to float on your back. The best way to visit the Dead Sea is to stay at one of the luxury resorts at the northeastern end of the sea. Here you can enjoy a spa treatment, watch the sunset across the water and even see the night lights of Jerusalem.
When many people think about Roman ruins, they picture destinations in Europe. Jerash, however, is home to an incredible collection of Greco-Roman ruins. Touring Jerash today means being able to see landmarks like Hadrian’s Arch, which dates back to the second century, and the Hippodrome, which has the unique classification of being one of the smallest Roman hippodromes ever constructed. A great place to start your time in Jerash is at the Jerash Archaeological Museum, which boasts an incredible collection of artifacts and does an amazing job of explaining the rise and development of the settlement of Jerash in centuries past.
In Southern Jordan is Wadi Rum, a desert valley known for its breathtaking scenery. There are no permanent settlements in this secluded desert region, but Bedouins and nomadic tribes do occasionally pass through. Although deserts are often imagined as dunes, Wadi Rum boasts sandstone mountains and towering granite cliffs. Many of the major attractions in Wadi Rum are natural landmarks and rock formations as well as unique colors of sand or rock. The Umm Fruth Rock Bridge, for instance, is truly remarkable to behold in person. The distinctive reddish-orange colors that lend the area an otherworldly quality has brought severals science-fiction films here (such as The Martian) to replicate the Red Planet. Lawrence of Arabia also spent time in Wadi Rum, so you can tour places like his house and what is known as Lawrence’s Spring.
The best place to visit in Jordan, and now one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, is the ancient city of Petra. Also known as the Red City or the Rose City, Petra was once the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom before becoming part of the Roman Empire. The settlement was abandoned and forgotten for centuries by the Western world, but it was rediscovered in the 19th century. Today, a visit to Petra allows you to tour the ancient archeological park, entering through the sandstone canyon known as Siq. After the Siq is the magnificent Treasury, which was actually not a treasury but probably a temple or a royal tomb. Other significant ruins include the Roman Theatre, The Monastery and the Street of Facades, a huge canyon bordered with the facades of assorted tombs. For the most spectacular views, hike to the Mountain of Aaron, which allows you to look down on Petra and its amazing rock-cut architecture.