Destinations in Jordan, because there’s more than just Petra!

by Audrey on January 12, 2014 · 41 comments

Tell anyone you’re travelling to Jordan and the first points of reference that will come to mind are Indiana Jones and Petra. Yes, that film may have put The Lost City on the map, but there is so much more to this country than Petra alone.

The truth is that Jordan is still a relatively unknown travel destination, yet there is so much to see! The country is home to a wealth of archaeological sites, nature reserves, biblical points of interest, ancient ruins and peaceful deserts – the perfect introduction to the Middle East.

Temple ruins in Jerash, Jordan.

My visit to Jordan last autumn allowed me to sample a varied flavour of some of the destinations this country has to offer, so now I’m sharing these with you.

Jerash

Located just 48 kilometres north of the capital of Amman, Jerash makes for an easy day trip. This ancient city was inhabited by both the Greeks and later the Romans, and you can always expect to find architectural masterpieces when you visit a place that saw either of these civilizations pass through.

The Graeco-Roman ruins of Jerash, Jordan.

While much of ancient Jerash still remains to be excavated, today you can see Hadrian’s Arch which was built to celebrate the visit of Emperor Hadrian, the Temple of Artemis and the Temple of Zeus, the Hippodrome which could sit 15,000 spectators and was the setting to chariot races and other sports, the North Theatre and the South Theatre, and the Oval Plaza which our guide explained only begun to be excavated in the 1970s!

The Oval Plaza in the ancient city of Jerash, in Jordan.

On another note, if you have dreams of being an archaeologist, this is where you need to be!

Amman

Eating a hummus, falafel and pita lunch at Hashem Restaurant in Amman, Jordan.

Amman, to me, was a foodie destination. Everything I ate there was great, but if there’s one establishment that stands out in my mind, it’s Hashem Restaurant. Hashem is a humble little spot that you could easily miss if you weren’t looking for it, but inside it’s always packed. Popular with foreigners and locals alike (even the Jordanian King and Queen have been known to drop by to get their fix!), this restaurant serves up some delicious hummus, falafel and pita. Add a few cups of sweet mint tea, and it’s easy to see why people are willing to stand in line to get a table.

Visiting the citadel in Amman, Jordan.

Aside from great food, Amman also boasts its own share of ancient history and the Citadel is the place to get started. Located on top of a hill in the heart of Amman, not only to do you get spectacular views of the modern city below, but you also get to wander through ancient settlements, an Umayyad Palace, and the Roman temple of Hercules. There is also a stone fragment of what is believed to be the hand of Hercules, but the jury is still out on that one because some experts argue that the hand looks too feminine to belong to the god!

Dana Nature Reserve

Going into the Dana Nature Reserve was a really cool experience for 2 reasons; firstly because I got to stay at an ecolodge that is redefining ecotourism, and secondly because I got to spend the day hanging out with a Bedouin family and learning about their daily life.

Staying at the Feynan Ecolodge in the Dana Nature Reserve, Jordan.

I’ll start by telling you about the Feynan Ecolodge which has been winning accolades left, right and centre. This 26 room lodge located in the southwestern end of the Dana Nature Reserve is completely off the grid.

At night, the bedrooms and the grounds are entirely lit by candle with only the bathrooms running on solar powered electric lights. Aside from this, the lodge uses solar panels to heat water, all linens are air dried rather than using a drier, clay jars are used instead of water bottles, and olive pit charcoal is used to heat the place in the winter.

Feynan Ecolodge lit by candlelight at night.

Another cool thing about the Feynan Ecolodge is that they employ the local community, which gave me the opportunity to learn a thing or two from the local Bedouins.

As part of the ‘Bedouin Experience’, our local guide met us at the lodge in the morning, and together we began the walk out to his community. Our first stop: his father’s home.

An introduction to the Bedouin way of life in Jordan.

Here I learned how to roast coffee beans and the importance coffee plays in Bedouin culture when making deals and reaching agreements. I learned that tea should be served pipping hot and that it can never be too sweet. I learned how women make bread and cook the dough by placing it right on top of the coals so that it cooks with the heat. I learned how kohl is made and that applying it to your eyelids is a little easier said than done. And I also learned about true Bedouin hospitality – the kind that will welcome a complete stranger for 3 days and offer food, drink and shelter with no questions asked.

I couldn’t think of a better way to learn first hand about a culture that was so foreign to me.

Ma’in Hot Springs

The Ma’in Hot Springs were all about rest and relaxation. Located in a valley between Madaba and the Dead Sea, this was a lush oasis of greenery where you could hear nothing but the soothing sounds of nature.

Visiting the Ma'in Hot Springs for some rest and relaxation.

The main draw here were the springs, where the water temperatures range from 40-60 degrees Celsius. The thermal pools are high in minerals and renowned for their therapeutic benefits, and while the Evason Ma’in Six Senses Resort had reserved access to certain pools for its hotel guests, there are also public pools in the area which are open to everyone.

Mount Nebo

Mount Nebo is an important biblical site because this is where Moses first glimpsed the Promised Land. While Moses never lived long enough to see his people enter the land that had been promised by God, he is believed to have been buried on Mount Nebo.

A dog playing on top of ancient mosaics at Mount Nebo. Bad puppy!

Today, you’ll find the remains of a church atop the mountain, however, it was undergoing renovations when I visited so I didn’t actually get to go in! Instead, I saw this cute pup who was scratching himself and laying on top of these ancient mosaic floors while attendants tried to usher him away… It didn’t quite work, but it made for a cute photo.

Madaba

If there is one thing Madaba is known for, it’s a map – a very ancient map. Now you’re probably wondering what makes this map so special that it’s considered the main draw to the town, right?

Ancient map of the Holy Land in Madaba, Jordan.

Well, it turns out that this 6th century map from the Byzantine period portrays what the Holy Land looked like around 560 AD. Made up of over 2 million tiny pieces of coloured stone, the map depicts a sprinting gazelle, fish swimming away from the Dead Sea, Jericho and its palm trees, the walled city of Jerusalem, the town of Bethlehem, and numerous small villages and settlements across the region.

Dead Sea

I’m not going to lie – there aren’t a lot of budget options along the Dead Sea in Jordan. The friends I was travelling with had been looking at rates for hotels right on the beach and the prices started out at around $200 USD a night. Add the fact that there are still relatively few properties along the Dead Sea (the region is undergoing development with hotels and resorts springing up all along the shore!), and you can understand why hotels are able to charge what they do. This and the relatively short driving distance from the capital make the Dead Sea a popular day trip (as opposed to weekend stay) for most locals and travellers.

Getting muddy in the Dead Sea, Jordan.

However, if you don’t mind splurging for a night or two, there are excellent properties like the Kempinksi Hotel Ishtar and the Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea, where you can get muddy, go for a dip in the salty waters, and then swim in an infinity pool like a queen.

Sunset over the Dead Sea in Jordan.

As you can probably see from my photos, I had a lot of fun visiting even though I had already been to the Dead Sea in Israel.

Petra

Seeing the Treasury for the first time. The Lost City of Petra, Jordan.

Oh, Petra! What a sight! Even though I had seen images of the Treasury countless times, nothing quite prepares you for that last turn where the Lost City is finally revealed through the slit in the canyon. Setting foot there was pure magic and I walked around with a giant grin plastered on my face for the rest of the day.

Photos from Petra, Jordan.

Of course, once you reach the Rose City, there’s plenty more to see aside from the Treasury. The archaeological site is a sprawling ancient complex of tombs, palaces, caves, and what little is left of the Roman construction (their buildings didn’t fare as well as that of the Nabateans once the earthquakes hit!)

The Ancient ruins of Petra. The Rose City, Jordan.

Some of the most impressive sites include the Urn Tomb, an intricate architectural feat that would later be converted into a church by the Greeks; the Monastery, which can be reached by those willing to climb 850 steps; the Palace Tomb, which held four different burial rooms; and the Roman ruins along the cardo maximus, where some columns still stand while other lie flat like pancakes in the red sand.

Audrey and Sam in Jordan.

Wadi Rum

Of course you already know that one of the highlights of my time in Jordan was camping out in the desert!

My day in the Valley of the Moon started with some off-roading, where we jumped in the back of pick-up trucks and hit the dunes like Lawrence of Arabia. We climbed up dunes and ran down dunes, and when we had more sand in our pockets than a kid who just came back from the playground, we stopped at a camp for a cup of sweet mint tea served in a glass.

Photos from Wadi Rum, Jordan.

From there it was more off-roading until the sun finally began its descent. We all sat silently on the top of a dune and watched the sky transform itself before our eyes. With the light gone, it was time to head over to the Captain’s Desert Camp, where the night unfurled with singing, dancing and laughing as our new Bedouin friends pulled us up to our feet and invited us to join them in a dance circle around the fire.

Overnight camping (or glamping) at Captain's Desert Camp, in Wadi Rum, Jordan.

We went to sleep in the early hours of the morning and once the laughter died down around the campfire, there was nothing but absolute silence.

This is a night I will remember for a long time.

Aqaba

I bet you didn’t think it was possible to find a scuba haven out in Jordan, but that’s exactly what the coastal city of Aqaba has to offer. Located on the banks of the Red Sea, this holiday hot spot is known for its warm waters and sea life. What’s cool about the Gulf of Aqaba is that it puts you right at the crossroads of the Middle East. While I bobbed in the water in my red life-jacket, I had Egypt to the west, Israel to the north, Jordan to the east, and Saudi Arabia to the southeast. Four countries bordering one narrow body of water and I could see all of them from where I was.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

Bethany Beyond the Jordan. The baptismal site of Jesus.
Due to its importance as the location where John the Baptist preached and baptised, Bethany Beyond the Jordan was part of the early Christian pilgrimage route that ran between Jerusalem and Mt. Nebo. As I toured this place laden with reeds and willows, our guide brought history to life by merging biblical stories with the landscape in front of us.

When we reached the banks of the Jordan River, I was surprised to see that the river wasn’t as deep or wide as I expected it to be. Considering the Jordan River  acts as the border between Jordan and Israel, were it not for the soldiers on either side, you could likely just splash across in two leaps!

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And that’s a wrap! I obviously haven’t covered everything there is to see and do in Jordan. Instead consider this a mere sampling of what the country has to offer.

You still have the Graeco-Roman ruins of Pella, the Shawmari Wildlife Reserve which is home to some of the rarest species in the Middle East, Quseir Amra and its desert castles, the theatre ruins at Umm Qays, Karak Castle which acted as a Crusader stronghold, the ancient fortress of Mukawir, the Mujib Nature Reserve where you can wade, swim and hike through canyons…and still there is so much more!

Have you been to Jordan?

What destinations would you add to this list?

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Kieu January 12, 2014 at 7:23 pm

I’ve only ever had Petra and the Dead Sea on my mind.. until now! Thanks for writing this. So much more of Jordan I want to see.
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Audrey January 14, 2014 at 10:09 am

I didn’t know there was so much to Jordan before visiting either! You could seriously spend weeks exploring the length of the country. :)

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Renuka January 12, 2014 at 8:00 pm

It’s an extremely interesting post on Jordon. I’m kind of more intrigued to visit it now. :) So many charming sights and stories! Nice to learn about their culinary too.
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Maria January 12, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Wow! Audrey there is so much to choose from. With your first post from Jordan, I was sold but now I don’t think I can fit it all into one trip – guess I should plan multiple visits. :-D
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Audrey January 14, 2014 at 10:09 am

Multiple visits or one really looong stay. ;)

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Sam January 12, 2014 at 8:52 pm

I really enjoyed Jordan when I visited three years ago. I especially loved Dana Nature Reserve – possibly my favourite landscapes in the whole country! I actually skipped Amman due to time restraints, but I’d definitely incorporate it into my next visit, if just for the food!
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Audrey January 14, 2014 at 10:11 am

The Dana Nature Reserve was so cool – the landscapes were mind-blowing! I only had 2 days there, but whenever I got back, that’s where I want to spend a good chunk of my time. :)

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Agness January 13, 2014 at 9:14 am

My next travel direction: HOT SPRINGS!! You guys had such a great time and yes, there are definitely more places worth exploring than Petra :).
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Julie January 13, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Jordan is a country I have always been fascinated by, especially with its mind boggling and incredibly rich ancient past. And to hear that Amman is a foodie city definitely makes me want to visit all the more!
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Casey @ A Cruising Couple January 13, 2014 at 10:58 pm

Amazing roundup. You definitely did a great job showing how much there is to see and do! I camped in the desert in Morocco, and it was SO much fun. I would love to get to do it again somewhere like Jordan!
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Audrey January 14, 2014 at 10:13 am

Camping out in Wadi Rum was a lot of fun! If you end up going there, try to spend a few days in the desert. Between the off-roading and the hiking, it’s a lot of fun!

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apol | WanderfulTogether.com January 14, 2014 at 4:49 am

You keep adding items in my bucket list Audrey.
And I like it haha. :)
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Audrey January 14, 2014 at 10:13 am

Haha, glad to hear so! ;)

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Jesse January 15, 2014 at 8:07 am

This really makes me want to visit Jordan, place that I’ve never thought much of but definitely going on my to do list!

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Corinne January 15, 2014 at 12:31 pm

I loved our trip to Jordan. We drove all over for ten days! You definitely hit all the highlights! We went snorkeling in the Red Sea, but we didn’t do the Dead Sea. It was way too cold that day with high winds…bummer, it looks like fun!
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Jules January 16, 2014 at 6:39 am

I really enjoyed my two weeks backpacking through Jordan and thought it a fascinating country. It was great to revisit some of my memories from 3 years ago through your wonderful photos!
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Lauren Meshkin January 16, 2014 at 9:12 am

You really captured Jordan beautifully! I’d love to visit Amman… you sold me with that food photo ;)
Thanks for sharing!
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Ehab Basuoni January 16, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Where is Aqaba?

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Audrey January 18, 2014 at 12:50 pm

It’s on the shores of the Red Sea in the southern part of the country.

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Jeff January 16, 2014 at 4:43 pm

Amazing photos, i have never been in Jordan, I have already added it in my bucket list.
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Karen January 17, 2014 at 3:55 am

Thanks for the post and great photos. I’ve been to Jordan twice and love it! It is one of the more secure feeling Arab nations. I’m interested to know where the first photo was taken of the upright pillars. I didn’t see them. Thanks
Karen

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Audrey January 18, 2014 at 12:53 pm

The first photo was taken at one of the ancient temples in Jerash. I believe it was the Temple of Artemis. :)

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Steven January 17, 2014 at 6:35 am

Jordan is an amazing country! My partner and I combined it with a trip to Turkey in late 2012, and spent a week exploring Amman, Petra, the Dead Sea region, and Jerash. When we were planning our trip, many people we knew were confused by our choice of Jordan as a destination. Once we had returned, and they heard our stories and saw our photos (link here: http://www.stevensullivan.net/Travel/TurkeyJordan2012), they understood, and wanted to travel there as well. Petra was simply incredible, but so was the rest of what we saw. I’d love to return, as we didn’t have time to see Aqaba or Wadi Rum. The country is definitely a gem and should be on every international traveler’s list.

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Heather January 17, 2014 at 5:10 pm

I’d like to spend a month in Jordan, visiting all these gorgeous places and soaking up the history and culture. It looks like an amazing place!
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Samer .T January 17, 2014 at 8:16 pm

Dear Audrey

Nice Photos nice article nice job, I am a Jordanian and believe me when I say that with this page you have mode more effort than the Ministry of Tourism and Jordan Tourism Board combined.

Please if you need anything over here you can write me an email and I hope that we can meet in Jordan

Best regards

Samer

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Katie January 20, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Stunning! I knew so little about Jordan before reading this, though I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about visiting Jordan in the past 6 months or so. I’m hoping to make it there sometime in the next year or so, so I’ll definitely be making the most of your recommendations. Thanks!
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Samantha @mytanfeet January 21, 2014 at 7:26 pm

This is so informative! After seeing quite a few posts about Jordan, it’s become one of the places I hope to go to in the next couple of years and even better I have detailed information about what to do there besides Petra. It looks like a really unique and interesting place to visit

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Marysia @ My Travel Affairs January 22, 2014 at 5:55 pm

Great list Audrey, I could think as well about few more things like Um – Qais, Ajlun Castle, Eastern Desert and the famous desert castles, few small places on the King’s Highway…. etc etc But the greatest and my favourite was wadi Rum, so totally in love with this place :) Great post!
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Anne @ Pretraveller January 22, 2014 at 10:04 pm

Wow, thanks for sharing the amazing things to do in Jordan. I would definitely be keen to visit one day.
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Tamara January 23, 2014 at 6:31 pm

Hey Audrey! Great website – just this minute found you and quickly perused your Jordan trip which looks amazing. How did you go about organizing such a trip? So far most of my travel has been to Europe – did venture into Russia but used a tour group for that. Am a little hesitant when it comes to Jordan – hope this isn’t redundant. I’ve just now found you and only looked at your Jordan trip…

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shikha (whywasteannualleave) January 25, 2014 at 11:17 am

I really want to make it to Jordan either this year or next – your photos are giving me so much inspiration to go!! And I love the way you’ve given us a taster of what to expect in various different areas! Great post! Happy travels and look forward to seeing more of your adventures!
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arievrahman January 26, 2014 at 8:33 am

I haven’t been there, but after reading your post, I will save more money for Jordan trip.
Haha!
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Sarah January 29, 2014 at 6:50 pm

Jordan is one of my 40+ destinations this coming year, and my only goal within Jordan was Petra. Now I think I’ll have to set aside a little more time for this country! Any recommendations for how much time and how much money? I won’t be able to do it all, but I’d like to have a range of experiences like you showcased here.
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Franca February 16, 2014 at 7:31 pm

Jordan has been on my list of places to see for long time, I haven’t been yet, maybe it’s time. Everything looks simply amazing, interesting and different to countries I’ve seen so far. So many cute animals and the food looks great for veggie like me :)
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Ross February 28, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Great photos and great info for anybody heading to Jordan. Im glad you included Dana Reserve. I thought that was one of the best things in Jordan. It is so beautiful but always in the shadow of Petra and Wadi Rum
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Natalie Tamara March 14, 2014 at 9:18 pm

This is a great list! I visited in late 2012 – we only had 8 days but found it was easy to cover quite a few of these places in that time. Seems like there’s still a lot more left to see…!

Hashem really was a gem but I had one of the greatest meals (read: feast) of my life in a place called Afra just around the corner from there.
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Danni June 8, 2014 at 6:32 pm

Jordan is on the US state departments list of potentially dangerous places to travel…but I really want to go! Your pictures are only adding to that. Did you feel unsafe at any time? Were you concerned about unrest?

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Audrey June 10, 2014 at 6:35 pm

Hi Danni,

I felt VERY safe when I was travelling through Jordan. The local hospitality was great and everyone I met was kind, helpful, and happy to be sharing their country with visitors. I’ve read up on the travel warnings you mentioned and those seem to be for non-essential travel within 3 kilometres of the border with Syria. I imagine if you came to Jordan you’d be visiting some of the popular areas like Petra, Wadi Rum, and the Dead Sea – all of which are very safe for travellers and are nowhere near the Syrian border. I travelled all the way from Jerash in the north, to Aqaba in the south with no issues. The country is truly beautiful and I hope you get to visit! :)

Audrey

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