To reach remote medieval monasteries, I drove through snow-capped mountains of Armenia. I hiked through a torrential rainstorm to reach the southernmost point in Europe, Mani, Greece.
These destinations are characterized by dramatic, raw beauty that is inspired by the earth’s elements. But nothing could prepare me for the sight of Jordan.
Since almost a decade, this Middle Eastern country has been on the forefront of my thoughts. Perhaps I was drawn to the image of the boxy, tan-colored buildings that tower over Amman’s hills and Petra’s rock-cut shrines. Whatever the reason, I was inspired to travel to Jordan this month with my family.
Although it may be small, this country packs a big punch. If you’re planning to visit, be prepared for an exciting adventure. I spent hours in Petra hiking off the beaten path, zipping through the Wadi Rum desert in a Jeep, as well as absorbing the inspiring art scene in Amman, the capital of the country. My trip was only a fraction of what it was.
These are my top Jordanian activities, plus some practical tips for making the most of your once in a lifetime holiday.
Which are the top places to see in Jordan?
Jerash, located an hour north of Amman is home to extensive Roman ruins. The site was so well preserved that it reminded me of Ephesus in Selcuk (Turkey).
The main gate to Jerash contains the remains of a Byzantine church, with ancient Greek alphabets inscribed in the stunningly intact mosaic flooring. The hippodrome is to the left. This was once the site of sporting festivals as well as chariot races.
The Oval Forum in the middle of the city was what truly blew me away. 56 columns surround the plaza, which was built in 1st Century AD. These ruins were fascinating to me for two hours and I wished I had more time.
Petra offers a new side to the story
Petra, a rose-hued city, is much more than I initially thought. We entered the Siq, a narrow canyon that runs for one kilometre and is flanked by high cliffs. It leads to the Treasury.
Tourists flock to this temple to take pictures. We wanted to see more than the main attraction.
We hiked for 40 minutes south to the High Place of Sacrifice Trail, which leads to an open-air shrine where Nabataeans used to slaughter animals. The Wadi Farasa trail led us back down. We passed breathtaking architecture, panoramic views, and homes of Bedouin families still living in the city.
We climbed the 800 steps up to the monastery as a way to close our day. We had already walked for six hours and I wish we had more time. I let my curiosity guide me and I left with a fondness of Petra I didn’t expect when I arrived.
Comfortable clothes and hiking boots are recommended for trips to Petra. You can bring energy bars and water, but don’t worry if you are overweight. There are many shops along the trail to purchase extra supplies.
I let curiosity take the lead and ended up with a newfound fondness for Petra, which I didn’t expect when I arrived.
You can also stop at any point along the paths to enjoy highly-sweetened mint tee, just like we did at Garden Hall looking out over the cliffs.
Escape to the Wadi Rum desert wilderness
We rented a car at the airport to allow us flexibility and change our plans throughout our week-long trip.
We drove from Petra to the desert wilderness at Wadirum, in southern Jordan. These rock formations look like they came from another planet.
We spent the night drinking strong, cardamom-infused Bedouin coffee from a small porcelain cup without handles and exchanging stories under the moonlight.
We watched the sun rise from our tent the next morning, and then we hopped on the back of a Toyota jeep to go on a tour organized by the hotel where we were staying. We moved from one place to another, stopping at the Khazali Canyon where I brushed my hands over the thousands-year-old Islamic inscriptions.
Free Float on Dead Sea
You have many options to visit the Dead Sea. This is the lowest dry land on the planet. A day pass is available at hotels that allows you to access the salty waters and other amenities like showers and lunch.
Amman Beach is free to enter, but there are many people visiting. We wanted to experience something more local without spending too much money so we went to , a remote location along the east coast.
We parked at the side of the road, and then made our way down the rocky, sliding path to the water’s edge.
I reached for the Dead Sea charcoal mud in the water and applied it to my face. After the mud had dried, I stood up and swam to the hot spring nearby. My face was as reddish as Petra’s canyons.
I plunged into the ocean and enjoyed a few minutes of gleeful bopping – fully covered to protect my skin.
My clothes felt sticky and glistening with salt after the swim. Some parts of my skin lit up.
This was my favorite and most interesting part of the trip. I managed to survive the 1 hour car ride back from Amman.
It’s important to wear comfortable shoes if you intend to visit this area. Also, bring towels, sunscreen, a picnic blanket, and change of clothes.
What are you able to do in Amman?
Amman is home to a vibrant art scene. A friend took me along to her favorite galleries while I was there. Dar Al-Anda was the site of an opening for a new exhibit on Greek Mythology. We visited it.
Darat al Funun is a popular meeting spot for artists from the Arab world. Local artists have created murals that transform otherwise boring cities. Walking through the streets to admire the art in the corners is one of the most enjoyable things you can do.