Jordan, pearl of the middle east

Oh Jordan, what a marvelous discovery you were! For anyone shortlisting slightly adventurous holiday destinations for 7 to 12 days, Jordan should be on your bucket list. Still under discovery of mainstream tourism, the country provides the full package of magnificent nature combined with culture and history. Although surrounded by troublesome countries, Jordan manages to provide a safe and welcoming atmosphere with incredibly kind people.

Rental cars are by far the best way of transport, and distances between highlights are quite close. So anyone flying to Amman can visit landmarks such as Wadi Mujib, the Dead Sea, Aqaba, Wadi Rum, Petra, Dana and Jerash in an easy plannable tour of around 8 days. Don’t forget the buy your Jordan Pass up front, as it offers a budget-friendly entrance pass to various sites like Petra, Wadi Rum and Amman’s Citadel. It also acts as a waiver of visa to enter Jordan. So it basically is a financial no-brainer for around €100. Check out www.jordanpass.jo for more info.

As we had around 12 days to spend, we took additional day trips to Madaba, a nice and quiet city with a few orthodox churches and a famous mosaic floor from 600 AD. We also visited the Ajloun forest up north and castle and slept in the beautiful Ecolodge Cabins.

Dead Sea & Wadi Mujib

The first highlight of our trip was a visit to the Dead Sea, 400m below sea level. We found some gooey scrubbing clay and took a dive as far as the salty water allow us. If you plan your swim right here (31.600632, 35.562129), you’ll find a freshwater waterfall to get clean and some food stalls on the street for refreshments. Slightly southwards to that stop is the incredible Wadi Mujib.

This narrow canyon can be hiked during summer months and is closed for public in winter time. On a 2,5-3h hike you can walk (and swim) up to a lovely waterfall. The warm water is guarded by tiny but curious (and hungry) fish, nibbling your feet. The trail is a bit adventurous, as it requires you to use ropes and small ladders to climb the boulders in the river, so wear some sneakers or outdoor sandals. Not too far off south is Wadi Numeira, a not-so-known canyon trail and therefore completely free (compared to the €28/pp in Mujib). If offers a dry-ish walk between the walls of sandstone (once you get past the piles of rubbish).

Aqaba, the diver’s paradise

In the utter south of Jordan lies Aqaba, the great city at the Red Sea. Accommodating over 25 dive spots, Aqaba offers an incredible diversity in environments. For example, the ‘Underwater Museum’ harbors military vehicles and a helicopter, a tank and a plane right below sea level that can be visited by ‘try out’ divers or even by snorkeling. Colorful reefs provide the perfect background for thousands of cheerful and stunning fish of all kinds.

During our diving days at Aqaba, we went diving with http://www.aqabadivingseastar.com/ Due to its long-standing reputation, even late Jordan’s king Abdullah went diving here. Due to the passion for diving that runs in the Jordanian royal family for generations, most Aqaba’s wrecks have been scuttled on purpose. The dive school is located around 10km south of Aqaba, right next to all the dive spots and right at the beautiful beach. There is a nice pool and restaurant on site for you to relax between dives.

A must-see on any Aqaba dive is the Cedar Pride Shipwreck. This Spanish cargo vessel was built in 1964 (and scuttled in 1985 after an accident in the harbor of Aqaba). Diving depths range from 12 to 26m. Experienced divers can swim underneath the vessel and can visit the rear cargo hold that offers an air pocket. The crow’s nest is populated by coral and is a great spot for photography.

But let’s not forget the other attractions like ‘The Tank’ and the Lockheed Hercules C-130 airplane, The Japanese Gardens and King Abdalla Reef. With a visibility of minimum 15 to 30 meters and summer temperatures of around 26°C, the underwater world of Aqaba is nothing short but stunning. To wrap it up, let’s highlight some species we encountered during or 4 dives: Hawksbill turtle, lizard fish, fire urchin, yellowmargin moray eel, needle fish, dragonfish, cornetfish, lionfish, scorpion fish, flathead crocodile fish, butterfly fish, abudjubbe wrasse, parrotfish, pyjama slug, unicorn fish, sole, trunkfish, boxfish, brain coral, leaf Coral, bubble coral, cup coral, scriptus flatworm, boxer shrimp and sea cucumbers.

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Next up: Wadi Rum!

Wadi Rum (also known as Valley of the Moon) is Jordan’s largest wadi, a valley cut into sandstone and granite rocks. Home for various Hollywood movies like Lawrence of Arabia, Transformers, Star Wars Rogue One, Dune, Aladdin and The Martian, the desert views are simply breath taking.

But Wadi Rum is more than a desert. It is the home of local Bedouin for many centuries and offers historical relics like rock inscriptions and temple ruins next to amazing natural wonders. The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence’s Spring, dunes, canyon walks, the mushroom rock and various arches are just a few highlights you’ll visit during the day tour.

We would highly recommend you to take a 4×4 day tour with a local agency and stay the night in a charming Bedouin tent to gaze at the stars in a pitch black surrounding. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could sleep under the stars just as well as temperatures at night is still comfortable. Tour operators offering this experience provide sleeping equipment, meals and transport.

Our host during this adventure was https://wadirumnature.tours/ , you can book via this website or via http://www.booking.com/Share-g9yo8R Our guide in this family-run business was a funny, polite and knowledgeable local. The family prepared a traditional underground BBQ and honestly, it might have been the best supper we had during our stay in Jordan. The camp offers clean sanitary and hot showers and a big central tent with cozy seats and a campfire for relaxing after your day trip. Don’t hesitate to include this marvel in your journey!

Petra, The World Wonder

Every tourist in Jordan is obliged to visit the ancient archaeological city of Petra, one of the seven World Wonders. Inhabited from as early as 7000 BC by the Nabataeans, Petra would become the capital city of their kingdom, as early as the 4th century BC. These Arab nomads gained considerably from trading and Petra would become the benefactor of this wealth. Although it was conquered by the Roman Empire, it was the earthquake in 363 AD that destroyed many buildings. In the Byzantine era the city continued to decline to eventually become abandoned in the Islamic era.  It remained unknown to the West until it was rediscovered only in 1812 by Johann Burckhardt, a Swiss explorer.

Covid-19 crippled tourism for the country in 2020 and 2021 and especially local families around Petra, dependent on the income of tourists. With a normal visitor count between 2-3000 per day, current numbers plummeted to around 200 per day. The few visiting tourists are in return treated with spectacular and unobstructed views.

Hiking through the narrow gorge for about 1,2 km, you will wind up at Al Khazneh, the Treasury. The well-preserved façade hits you in the face as it just appears out of nowhere. From there you can hike up on trails for bird’s eye viewpoints and nice trails across various ruins like tombs, houses and an amphitheater. There are two trails to two different viewpoints overlooking the Treasury. There’s the free one and there’s the one that requires a guide and an added fee. Local Bedouins will amuse you plenty of times with opportunities to guide you through. I would definitely recommended The High Place of Sacrifice, the hike to the Monastery (Ad-Deir) and the Al-Khubta trail (Treasury viewpoint) as top hikes.

You could visit Little Petra as well (take a taxi trip and walk back through ‘the back door entrance’ to the Monastery, although I would not recommend it if you have less than 1,5 days at the site. In that case, start with this trip before you visit the main site, as you might get underwhelmed if you have gazed at the Monastery and the Treasury already before.

Dana

Dana is a small village (even without an ATM so beware) that acts as the starting point of great hikes. Although still under the radar of many travel agencies, Dana definitely has what it takes. We took a stop at the Tower Hotel as our basecamp for a few days of hiking. A great suggestion would be to walk the Wadi Ghuweir Trail (17km and 5-7h of walking). Sleep at the terrific Feynan Ecolodge and discover why it was ranked by NatGeo in the top 25 ecolodges globally, and walk back on the Dana Trail (14km and 4-5h of walking).

The Wadi Ghuweir certainly offered a few photographer’s postcards with lush greenery and palm trees seemingly growing out of the steep canyon walls, divided by a charming stream of crystal clear water. It is mostly downhill hiking, with some patches of shade as well. In comparison the Dana Trail (although shorter) was far more challenging, and less jawdropping. When you finally arrive back at the Dana village after the trail, the viewpoint certainly makes it worthwhile though. Don’t forget to check it out at sunset for a romantic frame.

Amman & Jerash

Jerash offers a very well-preserved archaeologic site. Cobblestone streets, rows and rows of pillars, a hippodrome, amphitheaters and remains of houses and churches make it an awesome place to wander around and immerse yourself in ancient Greece (or Jordan). The Amman Citadel offers a similar, but slightly less cool experience, so make sure to put Jerash on your trip schedule too. We did not took the opportunity to explore Amman city center beyond Rainbow Street’. This street has some colorful street decorations at various crossroads and embraces various hip and trendy food stalls, restaurants and shops.

To close off our city trip we visited the Blue Mosque (King Abdullah Mosque). This quite recent (completed in 1989) azure blue-domed landmark can house up to 7000 worshippers and has a magnificent indoor architecture and chandelier. Visitors need to cover their arms and legs, but clothing is offered at the entrance.

Overall, Jordan definetly lived up with our expectations and we got even more than we anticipated. Make sure to plan your trip well-ahead as weather conditions vary over the seasons heavily, disabling some great activities. We visited in September and still got treated with a solid 32-35°C degrees, so if you are not a fan of sweating all, you might wanna check out our post on camping in Iceland! 😉 

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