Known for its vibrant bustling metropolitan scenes, sweeping desert landscapes reminiscent of the surface of Mars and an ancient archaeological city tucked inside a mountain encased basin, there is something for everyone in Jordan. Often cited as being one of the safest and friendliest locations in the middle east for tourists, I booked my flights last minute on a whim and ended up having one of the best adventures of my lifetime. Just make sure to avoid the Jack Sparrow lookalikes traipsing around Petra’s caves, and you’ll be fine.
Jordan is a small Arab country in Western Asia, nestled on the east bank of the Jordan river. It is strategically located at the crossroads of Asia, Africa and Europe and has been labelled as being a snubber of middle eastern convention. It is an amalgamation of cultures and landscapes – the best place for the indecisive traveller. I had no expectations upon arrival, but for those looking for inspiration here are some of the best things I ended up doing and some of the life lessons I’ve taken with me.
What can you do in Jordan?
Rainbow Street in Amman
The architecture of this old town dates back to the Roman Empire, but the vibrant street lights and swarms of people make this area a modern hub of activity. Head here if you are after some authentic falafel, shisha and Kanafeh (a popular Levantine dessert, essentially made from white cheese topped with crunchy pastry and drenched in syrup and Ghee).
Sleep under the stars in a traditional Bedouin camp (Wadi Rum)
If you don’t mind getting sand in your shoes, it’s definitely worth checking out the Wadi Rum desert (by foot, camel or jeep) and staying overnight in a traditional Bedouin camp. You can take in the arid red rock formations, sweeping desert valleys, canyons and dunes and wash down a meal with copious amounts of “Bedouin rum” (mint tea). Highlights in the desert include: Lawrence Spring, the rock bridges (Burdah Arch), Khazali Canyon and the Red Sand Dunes. It’s a truly otherworldly experience and you can see why Hollywood filmmakers use the dusty landscape as the backdrop to films such as The Martian.
Hike around Petra
Petra is the crown jewel of Jordan – a national treasure that was voted in 2007 by popular ballot to be one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’. It is a dusty archaeological treasure – a sandy ancient city immersed in culture and history. Make sure to visit the picturesque El Dier (the Monastery) and Al Khanzneh (the treasury) for those perfect travel shots, before winding through the narrow siq to reach tombs, temples and an amphitheatre. I’d recommend going on several hikes to make the most of what Petra has to offer, but make sure to wear a good pair of shoes and lots of water. It’s not an easy walk in the park, but it’s all worth it for the views.
Float in the Dead Sea
If you drive down the King’s Highway from Petra towards Madaba, you can stop along the way at the Dead Sea – bordered by Jordan to the east, and Israel and the West Bank to the west. It is the deepest hypersaline lake in the world – in other words, the water is super salty! Make sure to cover any exposed wounds before wading in, and bring a book or newspaper to get the classic ‘reading and floating’ picture. It was a very surreal experience being constantly dragged to the surface of the water, but I’m not sure I could fully appreciate it as I’m pretty sure I was dying of dehydration at that point. Bonus tip, bring (non-salty) water to keep hydrated – lots of it!
Explore the ruins at Jerash
Not many people have heard of Jerash but the ruined Roman city is one of Jordan’s hottest tourist spots. The colonnaded avenues, ancient temples and theatres are mighty and imposing and need a minimum of three hours to explore from gate to gate. Jerash flourished in the Greco and Roman periods until the mid-eighth century CE when the 749 Galilee earthquake brought destruction upon the site. It’s a beautiful and interesting site to walk around and learn about, whether you’re a history buff or just chasing good views.
What did I learn in Jordan?
When booking my trip to Jordan, I knew that I had to push myself out of my comfort zone in order to make the most of the experience. As a relatively inexperienced female traveller, I reckoned that a solo traipse into the middle east would not be the best idea so I booked onto an Intrepid Tour (an Australian travel company that specialise in small, locally-hosted tour groups). I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Jordan is one of the safest countries in the region – not to say you shouldn’t be vigilant, but if you stick to tours and guides then you should be absolutely fine. I didn’t have any expectations before going, so the vast arid landscapes and otherworldly desert really did blow me away. I also met a wonderful group of fellow travellers with whom I felt an instant click – we bonded straight away over our joint love of travel and mocking each other’s accents. It was hard walking away at the end of the week, knowing they were headed back across the other side of the globe, after sharing seven days of insane memories, deep chats and genuine belly laughter. Perhaps the biggest life lessons I learned whilst in Jordan is: never underestimate the power of Imodium. Trust me, it’s a life saver. And Jordanian guards are going to take pity on you if you have obvious bowel issues and WILL let you use onsite toilets for free.