Best Things to do in Jordan
Best Things to Do in Jordan
The country of Jordan is a ruggedly beautiful place. Traces of old civilizations are everywhere along with more recently established nature reserves. The famous city of Petra is only one of many stunning Jordan sites to see. Also known as The Jewel of the Middle East, this is the place to experience a welcome that gives new meaning to the term hospitality.
Most of the famous landmarks in Jordan are enforcing responsible travel regulations to ensure that these sites are preserved for future generations. You can travel to a variety of beautiful places in Jordan with a light heart, knowing that you’re supporting their eco-tourism efforts.
A Brief History of Jordan
The first notable civilization to settle in Jordan was the Nabatean people, around 500 BC. They established the city of Petra and became a major trade center. Their kingdom was later conquered by the Roman Empire.
After the Roman Empire split, Jordan became part of the Byzantine Empire. In the 7th century, Jordan was conquered again and was absorbed into the Islamic World.
In 1516, Jordan became part of the Ottoman Empire. It remained this way until after WW1, when the country came under British rule. Jordan finally won its independence in 1946, although the country still experienced much unrest.
Eco Tourism in Jordan
The history of Jordan’s eco-tourism dates back to 1966, when the country’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) was created. The NGO is recognised around the world for its pioneering work in conservation around the country.
The RSCN manages all the conservation work in Jordan’s nature reserves (with the exception of Wadi Rum). Jordan’s nature reserves, all offering a unique outdoor experience, are:
- Dana Nature Reserve
- Mujib Biosphere Reserve
- Azraq Wetland Reserve
- Ajloun Forest Reserve
- Dibeen Forest Reserve
- Shaumari Wildlife Reserve
- Yarmouk Reserve
- Dahek Nature Reserve
- Fifa Nature Reserve
- Burqu Nature Reserve
With a focus on responsible travel, protection of biodiversity and sustaining the well-being of the local population, the RSCN promotes a circular economy that changes attitudes towards eco-tourism and works to insure understanding of the value of preserving natural heritage.
Jordan Attractions and Places to Visit
Today, the famous archaeological sites and natural wonders of this country attract visitors from around the world. As a playground for outdoor adventures, tourists can combine both nature and history exploring this extraordinary destination. For my trip, I combined an itinerary with G-Adventures – Highlights of Jordan, and then added a few days of exploration on my own. Here are the spectacular places and best things to see during your time in Jordan.
Amman is the capital city of Jordan and a fascinating mixture of modern and ancient cultures. It is one of the most liberal cities in the Arab world and offers large shopping malls, traditional souks, nightclubs, a superb fine dining scene along with an excellent opportunity to try some delicious Arabic street food.
Often looked upon as a gateway to reaching the surrounding historic sites and nature reserves, it would be a mistake for visitors to not spend some time in this fascinating destination. Amman is home to significant ancient archaeological sites as well as modern museums and an impressive street art scene.
Ancient Amman was initially built on 7 hills. The citadel hill is the highest in the city, towering over the valleys below. Visitors can take a taxi or climb the long stairway up to the city’s tallest hill. Here you can admire the giant pillars of the Temple of Hercules, as well as other structures dating back centuries.
At the Citadel’s highest point you’ll find the mosque dating from 730 AD. Don’t miss the interior ceiling, a fascinating piece of architecture that seems ahead of its time. In the background, you can just make out the coliseum sitting in stark contrast to the mass landscape of block houses.
From the Citadel, take a 20-minute walk to the enormous restored Roman Theatre. In the summer, you can watch a play here to get a glimpse of what it was like to attend the theatre 2,000 years ago.
One of my favorite experiences was a tour with Underground Amman. Don’t miss the street art on display in this remarkable city. (more coming on my post about Amman) This grass roots tour gives an unexpected slice of Jordanian culture. Combining the hip hop scene with an urban art experience, owner and artist Alaeddin turns a city stroll into something very personal and fascinating.
The iconic Dead Sea is probably one of the most popular Jordan tourist attractions and can be done in a day trip from Amman. Fed by the Jordan River, this natural salt lake is landlocked between Israel and Jordan. The water’s high salt content (10 times greater than the Atlantic ocean) means that you can float effortlessly on the surface on the lowest place on earth.
Besides this unique bathing experience, you can also marvel at the fascinating salt formations that form on the rocks and shoreline. Many visitors also come to slather on the Dead Sea mud that is said to have healing properties.
Insider Tip: Remember NOT to shave the day you swim as the salt can really sting! Also keep your mouth shut and avoid getting salt in your eyes. Do not dunk!
Looking for heart pounding adventure on your Jordan wish list? An adventure tour to Wadi Mujib is a must. The lowest nature reserve in the world, you’ll find it located near the coastline of the Dead Sea, about one hour from Amman.
This spectacular river canyon is known as Jordan’s Grand Canyon and upon arrival, you’ll immediately see why. Rising walls twist and turn their way through the canyon offering a hiking/water experience like no other.
The trails are open April thru October and there are several hikes to choose from. The canyon contains pools that are deep enough for swimming, waterfalls and challenging climbs with the added benefit of shade from depth of the walls.
For a day filled with the historical sites close to Amman begin with a trip to Mt. Nebo. the same spot where, according to the bible, Moses stood viewing the panorama of the Promised Land. Spectacular vistas of modern-day Jericho, the Negev desert, Jordan Valley and the distant hills of Jerusalem.
Many pilgrims believe this to be the location where Moses died. The present day shrine houses impressive mosaics from the Byzantine period.
If you’ve ever been to Rome and loved the Roman ruins, then a visit to Jerash when you are visiting Jordan is one of the first things you should add to your Jordan itinerary. Today, it’s home to one of the best-preserved Greco-Roman sites, even earning it the name Pompeii of the East.
One of the most visited cities in Jordan, we were especially lucky to be able to wander amongst Hadrian’s Arch, the Temple of Artemis and the massive Corinthian columns at our leisure, no crowds, trying to imagine what life must have been like in this ancient city. This spot really knocked my socks off!
Stepping back in time, quite literally, to one of the oldest known maps to display the Holy Land. Madaba – the city of mosaics, about 30 minutes from Amman. Found on the site of a Greek Orthodox church, the colorful 6th century map mosaic features hundreds of Greek inscriptions including mountain ranges, rivers streams and surrounding towns.
Nearby, tourists can visit a community development project where underserved women and people with disabilities are given economic opportunities in the pursuit of traditional crafts. This was one of the #GforGood moments – Don’t just see the world, make it better – that I particularly enjoyed with GAdventures.
Karak Castle is a 12th-century crusader stronghold located in the city of al-Karak. The ancient building has a striking silhouette and is the area’s main attraction. If you’re interested in Jordan tourist sites that offer opportunities to explore, this stone castle is the perfect adventure.
From a distance, it’s easy to see why this dramatic landscape was chosen for its protective geography. The massive structure was a fortress for the Crusaders who, after many false starts, were finally defeated by Saladin’s army in 1188.
You can buy a ticket at the door to wander through the dark winding passages or admire the view from the top of the crenelated walls. Inside the castle’s old vault is a museum with artifacts from the Bronze Age onwards.
Make sure to observe the structural use of skylights, found throughout the buildings. The castle is the largest in the Levant and even features the medieval version of a wine cellar.
Travel Tip: If castles are your jam, include a visit Ajloun Castle in northwest Jordan. Also built in the 12th century, it sits atop Mount ‘Auf and offers spectacular views of the surrounding area.
Beach Time and Snorkeling
Aqaba is Jordan’s only coastal city and a wonderful place to explore the Red Sea. If you want some beach time on your visit, this is the place to come. First-time and professional divers can enjoy swimming and observe colorful tropical fish, sea turtles and even see a sunken ship and army tank near Yamanieh Coral Reef. Both ½ and full day tours are readily available.
You can see more beautiful animals at the Aqaba Bird Observatory. Migratory birds from Africa, Europe, and Asia flock to the variety of wetland and forest habitats that the RSCN created and maintains here.
Aqaba also boasts some impressive architecture. Visit the 16th-century Mamluk Castle where pilgrims rested on their way to Mecca. The gleaming white Sharif al-Hussein bin Ali Mosque built in the late 1900s is another one of Jordan’s beautiful places to see.
The sun is quite strong here. Make sure to pack sunblock and I love to include sun-protection to wear as part of my travel capsule wardrobe.
Travel Tip: Although Jordan is one of the most open-minded countries in the Middle East, Westerners should take note. When bathing at the public beaches right in town, respectful coverage is the norm for swimming. Showing a lot of skin in Aqaba will draw unwanted attention. My advice is to take a day pass at one of the resorts. You will see more of a mix of bikinis and burkinis. Beach chairs, umbrellas and restaurants at Berenice Beach make this a great option for some rest and relaxation.
For an authentic Middle Eastern spa experience, a hammam should be on your itinerary. The Bab al Hara Hamman is a great choice. After donning the disposable paper panties and checking your modesty at the locker, you’ll spend some time in the sauna and then be steamed, soaked and scrubbed to within an inch of your life. Bubbled up, doused with buckets of water, rinsed and repeat. Then on to a marble slab for an intense massage with a lovely oil. Obviously, photos are a no, no. You’ll just have to take my word for it: a magical experience, glowing from head to toe afterwards.
The vast Wadi Rum desert wilderness, located in the area of Hasma in southern Jordan, is a geographical sight you won’t soon forget. The barren Valley of the Moon features massive sandstone formations, rocky caverns, and prehistoric carvings. Add in narrow corridors, natural arches and caves and it’s easy to see why the landscape has been used for the filming of Lawrence of Arabia, The Martian, Dune and the latest Star Wars.
A Unesco World Heritage Site, the area also features inscriptions and archaeological remains dating back 3,000 years, telling the stories of early trade routes and Nabataean lifestyle. This is a protected area, so the best way to explore and see the grand wadi is with a local Bedouin guide on a 4×4 jeep tour.
If you have the time, camp out under the stars or in a traditional goat hair Bedouin tent. A night in the desert is a sure-fire way to bring out your inner Gertrude Bell and have your very own Queen of the Desert experience. Having tea with a local elder or feasting on the traditional underground meal of zarb will give you a taste of the hospitality for which Jordan is well known.
This Wadi (valley) is the largest in Jordan and guests will be amazed by the otherworldly shapes. Sunrise on a camel was spectacular in this dream-like ecosystem. The rising sun reflecting on the undulating, copper shaded sand dunes and rippled, windblown landscape is memorable. With only a few days of rain a year, Wadi Rum and a Bedouin camp experience is enjoyed by both nature lovers and adventure seekers.
Dana Nature Reserve
For one of the best Jordan sightseeing opportunities, you can visit the Dana Biosphere Reserve. This large nature reserve was established in 1993 by the RSCN. It contains four different bio-geographical zones and is home to a variety of animals, including some endangered species.
The village of Dana has a history stretching back to the 15th century and visitors can still get a taste of the old-world charm. The stone settlement reflects the early societies of the region and historic finds have been dated back 6,000 years. Here, one can get a sense of the people-centered approach by the RSCN for protecting both the local communities and the natural beauty of the reserve.
Winning four international awards for sustainable development, the facilities, eco-lodge and small craft enterprise reflect that partnership and balance.
In the 320 square kilometer protected area, fertile river canyons compete with sand dunes and stark mountain tops offering hiking trails for all levels of fitness. Sharp eyes might spot the Desert Moniter Lizard, a Nubian Ibex and perhaps a Syrian Wolf. Hike , bike or simply enjoy a walk along the Dana Trail. This is a gorgeous eco-friendly place to see Jordan’s natural beauty at its most diverse.
Umm Qais is divided into three areas: the modern town, the traditional village, and the archaeological site Gadara. Most people come here to see the ruins of the ancient Hellenistic city of Gadara.
This famous site in Jordan sits on a high ridge from where you can see the surrounding valley, the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee. The Gadara site includes the ruins of two theaters, striking black basalt stone pillars, aqueducts, and many more examples of Roman architecture.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site went by the ancient name of Kastron Mefa’a. It is an archaeological site that contains remains from the Roman, Byzantine and Early Muslim eras.
After buying a ticket, you can walk around freely among the crumbling walls and ancient arches of Umm ar-Rasas. The Jordan landmark is well known for the beautifully preserved mosaic floor that was discovered in the ruins of the Church of St Stephen.
My first deep dive into a canyon hike and a prelude to the main event, Little Petra is a small taste, but no less captivating archeological site. Approximately eight miles north of Petra, it is on the local road of Wadi Musa and follows the same mountains surrounding Petra.
The structures and rugged landscape appear like a suburb of Petra, with much of the same style of rock cut architecture. Historians believe it was similarly built during the height of the Nabataen period, and perhaps meant to house traders along the Silk and Incense Road on route to the merchants of Petra.
This is an excellent way to visit a smaller and much less trafficked site. Siq al-Barid is the Arabic name and translates to cold canyon. Because of the high walls, the sun does not shine in the narrow gorge, so make sure to pack a jacket or wrap for your visit. I’d suggest visiting it before the main event; an inspired way to build excitement before discovering the breathtaking Wonder of the World.
And of course there is the #1 breathtaking site of Petra! As I was about to visit my 6th New Wonder of the World my stomach was all aflutter. Making the effort to rise before the sun to enter Petra as it opens is worth every sleepless moment! Located in southwest Jordan, the Lost City of Petra earned its name because it was undiscovered for centuries, covered by shifting sands and a circuitous entrance through a narrow slot canyon with walls reaching close to 250 feet.
Petra was made even more famous and added to bucket lists the world over (including mine) after its Hollywood debut in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. One of the oldest cities, the massive, 102 square mile site is still 80% uncovered.
Although the city’s beginnings date back close to 7,000 years, the height of culture there was during the fourth and sixth century B.C.. Under the Nabateans the carved city prospered into what we can now visit today.
If I had to pick a favorite spot in Petra, it would hands down be the Monastery. Located in a remote spot high in the hills, Ad Deir takes your breath away when you come upon its façade. Similar in style, but much larger than the Treasury, it was carved from the rock in the 3rd century BC.
The interior suggests that the building was used for rituals. Perhaps banquets took place in homage to the Nabataean King Obodas II. Ad Dier derives its Monastery moniker from the crosses carved on the inside walls; perhaps it was used as a church in Byzantine times.
If you haven’t had enough climbing, continue to the rocks above. At the end of the western cliffs, there are incredible panoramas of the Wadi Araba, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. For an additional view of the site, return to see Petra at night. Candles and music fill the grounds.
You could easily spend several days here hiking and exploring, so if you plan on visiting, make sure to read my post on Inside Petra. (coming soon)
Conclusion: Jordan Things to Do
Being a tourist in Jordan offers a variety of splendid sightseeing opportunities and unique activities for you to try. Along with the country’s budding eco-tourism industry, this makes a visit to the age-old landscape more appealing than ever.
Now that you know some of the best places to see in Jordan, it’s time to book your trip. Safe travels!
Travel Tip: If you plan to take a long flight to Jordan, consider stopping for a luxury Doha layover in Qatar.
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Disclaimer: The author worked in partnership with GAdventures on this trip, but as always, opinions, thoughts and experiences are her own.