A modern country, home to the mesmerising city of Petra, Jordan has been inhabited since the Paleolithic Age. A driving holiday through this little kingdom is a fabulous experience
A country which lives by the principle of peace, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is surrounded by strife-ridden Syria, Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Located on the cross roads of Asia, Africa and Europe, it is home to many Biblical sites, and blessed by all those who travelled through to reach the holy city of Jerusalem.
A constitutional monarchy, the country is currently ruled by King Abdullah II. His eldest son Prince Hussein is the Crown Prince of Jordan, for the throne always passes to the eldest son. Jordan has a high human development index and is a high middle-income country. Jordan is an ally of the USA and UK and has signed a peace treaty with Israel.
Jordan is a small country and you can easily explore it by road. However, there are ups and downs and you will need to know the traffic rules and places to stop. It is a left-hand drive. Planning is the key to having a good time in this country. The roads outside Amman have long stretches of nothingness.
I was hosted on a 7-day trip by the Jordan Tourism Board (representation in India). We landed in the capital, Amman, where we got a glimpse of the ancient Citadel. During our trip, we revelled in Bedouin flute music at Petra, roamed through the Roman remains at Jerash, took a jeep safari at Wadi Rum, went for a boat ride at Aqaba, floated on the Dead Sea, bathed in the Ma’in Hot Springs, followed the Biblical Trail at Madaba-Bethany-Mount Nebo, dug out some fresh watermelons, drank Jordanian Arak, ate the national dish Mansaf.
The capital of the Nabateans was on the list of the New 7 Wonders of the World in 2007. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is an explorer’s love. Some call it the rose city, others an erstwhile traders’ market, yet others know it as a place where the Arab nomadic traders, the Nabateans, rest in peace. Petra has awed and floored generations since its discovery in 1812 by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.
Petra is located near Wadi Musa, which is the valley of Moses. It is said that he struck a rock in the ground here and water emerged. And you can see this channel inside the heritage site.
Our exploration begins with a trip to Little Petra which is a beautiful drive through the magnificent mountainous landscape. Little Petra is the nickname of Siq al-Barid meaning ‘cold canyon’. The high walls and narrow canyon path make it difficult for the sunlight to penetrate fully, hence the name.
A signboard on the patchy grass at the entrance says ‘Neolithic Village 8500-5500 BC’. The patch is fodder for the sheep. I walk towards the narrow path which leads into the canyon. Our guide, Salah points out a room of records where the traders visiting the area would register. The ambience is surreal as if I am walking in another world.
The narrow path actually leads to Petra but is closed due to safety reasons. I crane my neck to find something more on the rocky walls and see some openings. There is a dining hall with frescoes, but you need to climb up for that.
As the sun begins to set, the landscape bursts into shades of reds, and we head for the night show at Petra.
Petra at night is eerie, but little eco-friendly lamps lighting the path amid towering rocks is like walking into a fantasy movie. Guided by these flickering lights, the stillness of the two-kilometre walk is broken by hurried feet. Through this pathway, we reach the treasury, the most prominent landmark of the ancient city.
Sitting on the ground, little candles playing truant with the breeze, and watching the lazy cats, we enjoy the musical flute. A cup of hot Arabic tea accompanies the story of Bedouin history.
The next morning, we see Petra in full glory. The Nabatean tombs are clearly visible, they are of all sizes. We peek into some, bow to the gods residing in the narrow path leading to the famous treasury. Legend says that even marriages were held here. Looking up, gazing at the blue sky, flowers growing in the crevices, adding their colour to the red sandstone hills, it did seem like an ideal place to get married.
With breath-taking twists and turns on the path, we reach the treasury–a magnificent carving in stone with three rooms, a calendar, mythological figures and even an urn. I am in no rush, walking around to explore a small part of the city to see more tombs, more hills, more carvings, an amphitheatre.
If you dedicate a day to the city, then an hour’s walk can take you higher up to a monastery. And you could see more vistas.
This is Bedouin zone, and the government has rehabilitated them with housing and allowing them to open stalls inside the city. They trade in souvenirs and have small cafes. As an ancient city trading in fragrances, shops sell frankincense, wall decor pieces, and amber stones too. Bedouins dressed as soldiers allow you to take pictures.
Marguerite van Geldermalsen, a New Zealand-born nurse married to a Bedouin, souvenir-seller Mohammad Abdallah Othma, runs a bookstore there. She is the author of the book ‘Married to a Bedouin’ and you can get your copy signed by her.
I enjoy a glass of fresh orange juice in the scorching sun. You can take donkey, camel and horse cart rides, but a slow walk is an absorbing experience. The beauty of Petra lies in the natural shapes and impressions.
Where to eat in Petra: Petra Kitchen, Wadi Musa, has cooking classes and a beautiful patio to enjoy your meal. You can even buy some handicrafts and souvenirs.
Al Qantarah restaurant is on the outskirts of Petra. The name means arch and the restaurant has lovely interiors. Warm cane furniture and traditional items grace the walls. They use the traditional clay oven, Taboun, to bake the bread and have a live grill. Mansaf, the national dish with rice and meat, is its high point and you are even taught how to eat it.
Where to stay in Petra: Petra Guest House
Seeing the modern avatar of Amman, it’s difficult to believe that Jordan is among the oldest inhabited lands on Earth. It has been home to many empires, including the Nabatean Empire, Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire until it became the Hashemite kingdom in 1948. The name Jordan is based on the Jordan River, a tiny stream now, which was born out of flash floods and muddy waters.
A quick lunch and we headed to see famed ruins of Citadel of Amman. In Arabic, the citadel is known as Jabal al-Qal’a, the L-shaped hill, one of the seven on which the city is built. It offers a spectacular view of the city and the amphitheatre.
The citadel houses three main structures–the temple of Hercules, dated to the Roman period of 2nd century AD, an Umayyad palace probably built for an official in that era, and a Byzantine church. There are remarkable water cisterns underground from the Umayyad era.
Around the citadel are homes of refugees from the neighbouring regions. Even though these create a stress on the government and the economy, the monarch has a soft heart, explains our guide Salah. Around 90% of the population is Sunni Muslim and rest Christians.
The museum here houses the remnants of Middle Bronze Age (1650-1550 BC), examples of early Phoenician writing, signs of occupation by Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians, Greeks during 331 BC, and those of Romans around 30 BC and the Muslim rule in 661 AD. The citadel is still being excavated by the experts.
The king’s car collection at the Royal Automobile Museum is spectacular. It is the first public automotive museum in the Arab region. Inaugurated by King Abdullah II in 2003, on display are 80 of late King Hussein’s cars and motorcycles, some dating to 1909. It is closed on Tuesday and has easy accessibility for differently-abled people as well.
Amman is a vibrant capital with culture and good food. The wholesale market in the downtown area is where the locals spend their mornings haggling over fresh fruits and vegetables or taking their stock of spices. It also has shops from where tourists can buy souvenirs such as evil eye, Bedouin bracelets and dresses. I loved the mixed nuts and bought many kilograms.
An evening walk through Rainbow Street is a glittery experience. Flashy cars and loud music, this is a youngster’s paradise. Pubs, ice cream shops, spice carts and chai vendors, it’s a place to enjoy your evening.
Where to eat in Amman: Sufra, Rainbow Street. It is listed among the world’s best 50 restaurants for middle eastern food. With trellis on the walls and mosaic on the floor, this restaurant is constantly full. It offers some traditional Arabic food with lots of Mediterranean greens and kebabs. Located in the upbeat Rainbow Street, most people enjoy their meal with a shisha.
Where to stay in Amman: Crowne Plaza
In this city, the Greco Roman era comes alive. It is around 48 km from the capital Amman towards Syria. And we cross watermelon fields along the way, even got to taste a fresh one.
Archaeologists have found two human skulls here, which belong to the Neolithic period (7500-5500 BC), making it among the 12 sites across the world that contain similar human remains. There is also evidence that Jerash was inhabited during the Bronze Age (3200 BC – 1200 BC).
Famous for its olive trees and the well-preserved ruins, Jerash is also called the Antioch on the Golden River. Ancient Greek inscriptions and literary sources from Iamblichus, Syrian Neoplatonist philosopher (ca. 242–ca. 325), and the Etymologicum Magnum, Greek lexical encyclopaedia compiled at Constantinople by an unknown lexicographer around 1150 AD, point out that it was founded by Alexander the Great or his general Perdiccas, who settled aged Macedonian soldiers there. It was then called Gerasa. It was also the birthplace of mathematician Nicomachus (c. 60 – c. 120 AD).
The Romans conquered it in 63 BC and connected it to the Roman province of Syria, and then with the Decapolis cities. In 90 AD, Jerash became a part of the Roman province of Arabia, including modern day Amman. The Persian invasion in 614 AD led to decline of Jerash.
The golden period of this city can be traced to 1st century AD. Emperor Trajan in 106 AD constructed roads and trade flourished. Emperor Hadrian visited Jerash in 129-130 AD and the Arch of Hadrian was built to celebrate this visit.
We walk through Hadrian’s Arch and inside the Hippodrome. During my visit in 2009 to Jordan, I had seen a Roman mock battle with horse chariots and sword flashing warriors. But in 2016, this was discontinued. I don’t know the current fate of this exercise.
Walking past the visitor’s centre, we enter the south gate, reaching the Corinthium columns and the oval forum. In the centre of this is a large nymphaeum fed by an aqueduct.
The tall columns of the temple of Zeus catch the eye as do the sheep grazing there. From here, a long street leads to the modern city. This was the colonnade of traders during the Ottoman period. Traditional music plays on pipes and drums at the South Theatre, bringing the ruins to life.
Now the modern city on the west is inhabited by refugees from Syria and Palestine.
Literally translated as valley of the moon, this red desert is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This Bedouin land has been featured in many movies. Even the ‘Dil tu his bata’ song from Hrithik Roshan starrer Krrish 3 was filmed here.
Hair in the wind, I love the jeep safari over the dunes, the sand covering the tyre tracks. Our guide, Salah regales us with stories of the British officer T. E. Lawrence who passed through several times during the Arab Revolt of 1917–18.
Made famous by the writings of Lawrence of Arabia, adventures of Indiana Jones and beauty of The Martian, it was home to the Nabateans as well. Their marks lie in rock paintings, graffiti and temples.
Home to the Zalabia Bedouin, Wadi Rum is popular with climbers and trekkers. Near our tent camp is a racing track and the sands change colour as the cars whizz past. The wind howling, I watch the red hills changing hues with the setting sun.
And then it is time for black tea and traditional Jordanian fare cooked in the sand. The night was peppy as musicians played traditional music in the dinner area. Bedtime came after some silent star gazing. I did not hear the hyenas at night and woke up to the sunrays that filtered through the small tent window.
There is a tourism centre at Wadi Rum from where the jeep safari begins. You can take a tour of the Bedouin land with traditional Bedouin guides. You can go rock climbing, see the canyons, the rock drawings and enjoy camel rides.
Where to stay in Wadi Rum: Captain’s Desert Camp
Even though most of Jordan is a desert, there is a fantastic coastal belt around the Red Sea that separates it from Egypt.
The port city is located at the north-eastern tip of the Red Sea, between Asia and Africa. On a boat ride to see the corals, we crossed the famous port. Since I didn’t have a swim suit, I enjoy the breeze. But some from the group did jump into the cold waters, braving the strong current, to see the corals. The azure sea is a calming experience and we gorge on the freshly grilled fish on the boat. There are different kinds of boats—steamers, motor boats. And the port city also has an aquarium. You can go scuba diving as well.
As it is an economic free zone, a walk-through glittery shop, eating out places and a handicraft fair make it a grand affair.
Where to stay in Aqaba: Mövenpick Resort & Residences Aqaba
Where to eat in Aqaba: Royal Yacht Club. Launched in 2018 by the Aqaba Development Corporation (ADC), it has a boat maintenance facility for members and non-members. The restaurant is open for visitors.
The world’s most famous natural wonder, the Dead Sea is the lowest elevation on earth, it is 429 metres (1,407 ft) below sea level. It is 304 m (997 ft) deep and has a 34.2 per cent salinity (in 2011). Due to this, plants and animals cannot flourish here. And it makes for an amazing floating experience. All you need to do is ensure the water doesn’t go into your eyes. After a long float, some even take a Dead Sea mud bath.
The Dead Sea is bordered by Jordan to the east and Israel and Palestine to the west. It is a lovely drive from Aqaba, taking us past the emerald shores.
The healing properties of this place were enjoyed by King David too from the Biblical era. Herod the Great also came here. And a wide variety of products from here were used in Egyptian mummification such as asphalt and potash as fertilizers. The salt and the minerals from the Dead Sea are now sold as cosmetics and herbal sachets.
Where to stay in Dead Sea: Marriott Resort and Spa
Ma’in Hot Springs
These come right out of the movies, located between Madaba and the Dead Sea. Going back to Biblical times, it is said that King Herod visited the healing springs at Ma’in (when these waters were known as Baaras) and built a villa at nearby Mukawer. Folks say that it was at that villa that Salome danced and John the Baptist was beheaded (Matthew 14: 1-12).
Looking up at the rocky mountain from my first-floor balcony, I see the point of origin. There are some birds there too, which is surprising, considering that the temperature ranges from 40°-60° C (104-140° F). Flowers, trees, water and greens make this a beautiful spot to rejuvenate.
The resort has its own hot spring pool and those who dived in claimed it took away all the pains. Even the mist from this is as warm as it can be. There is also an area where you can stand under the hot gush.
Where to stay: Ma’in Hot Spring Resort & Spa
Jordan is dotted with churches for the country was part of the Holy Land, as tales from the Bible live on in Bethany, Madaba and Mount Nebo
The oldest Christian communities flourished in Jordan. Since early 1st century AD, after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Christians have been residing in Jordan and make up about 4% of the population. Most follow the Greek Orthodox Church.
St George Greek Orthodox Church, Madaba
Our Biblical trail begins from St George Church in Madaba. This houses the oldest mosaic map of the Holy Land. We head to the interpretation centre where the guide explains about the map and history.
Though a lot has corroded with time, but a lot remains to feast your eyes upon. Most mosaics were created between the 4th and 8th centuries during the Byzantine era. The map in this church was made between 542 and 570 AD. There are many natural features such as animals, palm trees, fishing on this map.
This mosaic map was rediscovered in 1894 and shows an area from Lebanon in the north to the Nile Delta in the south and from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Eastern Desert. And at the centre is Jerusalem. The church has beautiful artworks with scenes from Bible and a marvellous chandelier. I lit a candle, praying for the light to shine within.
This church also houses a souvenir shop. And there is a market outside too.
Where to eat in Madaba: Haret Jdoudna. Located close to St George’s Church, it has a beautiful ambience with colourful seating. We eat in the courtyard, sitting under a huge, old tree. It also houses a crafts shop.
Introduced to the Holy Land, we headed to Bethany Beyond the Jordan (Al Might’s). Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was known as Bethabara or house of the ford, place of crossing and even the Madaba Map calls it by this name.
A mosaic showing the scene of Jesus baptism was excavated around 1994. This is now an enclosed in a wooden structure and there is a little pond with clean water in the centre. The beauty of Bethany lies in its silence and the peace.
At the back is River Jordan, the little stream that separates Israel and Jordan. But once upon a time, as per a version of the New Testament, this is where John the Baptist preached and performed baptisms. Here he met with a group of priests and Levites sent by the Pharisees to investigate his ministry and baptised Jesus.
We walk towards the church, breathe in the holy air and sprinkle ourselves with some holy water. Then sit at the steps by the river, watching devotees in Israel taking a holy dip. Actually, we could have all waded through and touched the shores of Israel, but we didn’t have the visa! I bring back the holy soil and water box from Bethany.
An elevated ridge, approximately 817 m (2,680 ft) above sea level, this is where Moses got a view of the Promised Land, as mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Crossing a lovely monument, a museum and seeing two mosaics in a covered tent discovered by Bedouins, we walk up to the summit.
The serpentine cross sculpture (the Brazen Serpent Monument) created by Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni, is a major attraction of this summit. It symbolizes the bronze serpent created by Moses in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4–9) and the cross upon which Jesus was crucified (John 3:14).
On a clear day, Jerusalem can be seen from here. Watching the desert stretch into the neighbouring Israel, you can actually fall into a reverie at this place. The West Bank city of Jericho is also visible a clear day. Some say Moses was also buried here but the burial place is not specified.
The olive tree here is special as Pope John Paul II visited the site during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land and planted this on March 20, 2000. Pope Benedict XVI also visited the site in 2009. We could not enter the Byzantine church and monastery that were discovered in 1933, as restoration work was underway.
A mosaic art centre is located close to the site, where artists make intricate pieces of furniture such as a table top. The intricate work had also been done on a real ostrich egg. They even export these treasured pieces.
There are many more churches and sites in Jordan, including a desert national park, but then I need another week to see them all. Maybe, Jordan will call again with a different itinerary.
All about Jordanian cuisine
Like most cuisines of the Arab world, popular foods include hummus and falafel. Mezze includes koubba maqliya, labaneh, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, olives and pickles.
There are influences of Turkish and Ottoman Empires as well, mingled with the flavours of neighbouring Syria, Palestine and Iraq. Methods of cooking include baking, sautéing and grilling to stuffing of vegetables, meat and poultry. Special sauces are used. Olive oil is the main cooking oil and herbs, garlic, onion, tomato sauce and lemon are the traditional ingredients. A blend of spices called Za’atar contains a local herb Sumac which grows wild in Jordan.
Jameed, a form of dried yogurt is unique to this cuisine and a main ingredient in Mansaf, the national dish. Another famous meat dish especially in the Bedouin desert area of Petra and Wadi Rum is ‘Zarb’, prepared in a Taboun.
Popular desserts include baklava, knafeh, halva and qatayef and seasonal fruits such as watermelons, figs and cactus pear. Turkish coffee and tea flavoured with mint or sage are common. Arabic coffee is served on formal occasions. Arak, an aniseed flavoured spirit, is another popular drink.
Quick Facts About Jordan
The currency is Jordanian Dinar but in the city one can use the US dollar well.
There is a fee for entry into the sites.
Always carry change for the knick-knacks, small souvenirs.
The public transport includes taxis and buses.
There are no trains in Jordan, except for a small line near Wadi Rum where trains run by steam engines carry phosphate.
It is a country of cats and they roam around freely, even in 5-star hotels.
Jordan is among the least forested countries in the world, with 2% forest area. Nature reserves include the Dana Biosphere Reserve, the Azraq Wetland Reserve, the Shaumari Wildlife Reserve and the Mujib Nature Reserve.
How to reach Jordan:
Air Arabia has flights from different cities in India such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. You can buy your meals on the plane or state your preference at the time of booking.
This blog post is part of #BlogchatterA2Z 2023 challenge.
39 thoughts on “A Guide to Jordan”
hat’s an in-depth guide to Jordan.
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All the old posts were all over the place, so I thought it’s better to have it one place
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Good idea. It is useful for the readers, too
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I watched a documentary on Petra and was just awed by its mystery and lustre! Gorgeous pics.. Would love to visit one day~~
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We had only a 2 day stop in Jordon on our cruise and if did not feel like enough time. But we did get to visit the Dead Sea from Israel. Your 7 day visit sounds like a much better pace to see it all. Of course we visited Petra but I was not sure that one day was enough. And we were very sad we missed the chance to spend some time in Wadi Rum. A jeep safari over the dunes sounds amazing. It would be fascinating to experience the Greco Roman era on a visit to Jerash. I am always fascinated by how far the Greeks and Romans travelled. One day we will get back!
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Jerash and Petra at night are quite an amazing sight. I am sure you will enjoy our second visit. It’s the only country I have seen twice.
What an incredible trip this was in Jordan! I would like to visit and see these sites for myself one day. Petra would be top of the list but I know it’s always so busy. Bethany sounds fascinating especially if you’re Christian. Jordanian food looks fresh and healthy, would love to try it.
Reading your guide to Jordan was a pleasure because it is on my wish list. I would especially like to see Petra because this ancient city carved into the rock has enchanted me for years. But now I know spending more time on the trip and seeing other exciting places you write about is worth it. Amman has a fascinating history, and I would like to see the ruins of the Citadel of Amman. I also add to my itinerary Jeresh with its famous olive trees and ruins. I would love to spend a few days at Wadi Rum and enjoy the Dead Sea. You had such amazing adventures!
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Truly a lovely geography it has. I wasn’t a photographer then, so didn;t get good pix. There are some marvellous landscapes there.
I said to myself that I would love to be back in Jordan, having just been on a cruise stop here was way too short. of course i saw Petra and Wadi rum but your blog post shows why a week-long trip (at least) would be a better idea. Good read!
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It’s very picturesque with its reddish oil and stark blue stretches of sky.
Petra has been a dream of mine for a while now, Ambica! I’m so jealous. I’m even more interested now that just read about the Turkish inspired cuisine and the cast roaming around.
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Jordan has a beautiful landscape, so Petra is amazing. Unfortunately I didn’t have photography skills in those days and couldn’t capture the beauty well.
With its historic sites, delectable cuisine, grand cities, breathtaking hot springs, and fascinating museums, Jordan is truly an amazing travel destination. This place has so much to discover, and I adore it! Petra’s camel rides seem like fun. I’d also like to sample some Jordanian food. I am very interested in learning more about Jordan, and I really want to visit a place like this.
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Your article got me very excited as I will be visiting Jordan in May. I am looking forward to exploring Petra at a slow pace and sleep overnight in Wadi Rum, in the desert. Amman looks very intriguing as well, I can’t wait to visit it as well. I will be spending one day at the Dead Sea and one in Aqaba, to combine exploration with relaxing.
Have a good trip, however be prepaed for the heat. Do take all your headcovers and electrolytes.
Oh wow! I didn’t even realize there was a “new 7 wonders of the world.” Very interesting! I’ve always wanted to visit Jordan (specifically Petra like you did) as I really enjoy the vast history of places like this. AND you gave me even more of a reason to go. I love cats, and it would be so fun to be able to see and visit with kitties while so far away from home. Thank you for the lovely glimpse into Jordan!
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Yeah, it is a progressive country with great landscapes.
Jordan is high up on my wish list. I hope to visit there sometime soon. While it might be a great idea to explore Jordan by road, I dunno if I can manage RHT. 7 days in Jordan sounds perfect to explore the country well. The history buff in me is so fascinated by Wadi Rum, Amman and Petra. I didn’t know about the golden church when Jesus was baptized is there is Jordan as well. One more thing to add on my Jordan wishlist.
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