Read last week's post and made the decision to travel to Jordan? Congratulations! You’ve made the right choice. Only now that you have arrived, you’re wondering exactly where to go and what to do... Fret not as I've done the legwork for you. Follow my itineraries – which have been tailored according to taste and time – and you can suss out the best of this biblical country in no time.
Jordan for adventure seekers
As Jordanian experiences go, making like Lawrence of Arabia and riding a camel over cinnamon covered sand in the true heart of Arabia, ranks high up on the ‘must do’ agenda. If you’re only after a taster, you can ride a ‘ship of the desert’ almost anywhere inside Petra. Alternatively, arrange a longer excursion in Wadi Rum where treks can take anything from 30 minutes to three days!
Budding Jacques Cousteaus will be in their element; the mighty Red Sea is the Middle East’s premier diving spot and the sites south of Aqaba are crowded with corals and colourful fish. If you’re after something more idle, laze on a beach or by a pool at Aqaba – Jordan’s one and only resort. And of course no visit to Jordan is complete without a dip in the Dead Sea.
Sleeping out under the stars will be one of the defining moments of any holiday in Jordan. The Kingdom is blessed with some outstanding campsites – those at Wadi Mujib, Ajloun Woodland Reserve and Burqu are worth special mention. Despite this, my top two would have to be Dana (the campsite here is called Rumana and is run by the RSCN) and Wadi Rum – the grand dame of Middle Eastern camping experiences.
Jordan for film fanatics
Jordan’s first independent feature film, Captain Abu Raed, was shot in Amman. While the country’s capital can’t compete with Cairo and Damascus in terms of history, Amman nonetheless has its own unexpected charm and is a great base from which to get to grips with the rest of the Kingdom.
The famous ‘red rose’ city hewn out of rock has been the dramatic backdrop for several films including Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Mummy Returns. Yet the city was lost to the ancient world until 1812 when a Swiss traveller talked his way into the fiercely guarded site. Visiting Petra is akin to stepping back in time; if you only travel to one place in Jordan, pick Petra.
Wadi Rum, Maan and El Jafr
David Lean’s 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia was filmed in these three locations. The standout, however, has to be Wadi Rum – without a doubt one of the most extraordinary desert destinations in the world. TE Lawrence fell in love with the landscape on the spot, describing it as ‘vast, echoing and God-like’.
Jordan for foodies
mman has an excellent eating out scene so junk the diet and prime your stomach for one hell of a feast. Outstanding eateries include Abu Ahamad Orient Restaurant, Tannoureen and the fabulous Fakhr el Din. Meanwhile sweet toothed tourists are amply catered for; sweet shops and stalls abound with shelves positively groaning under the weight of sweetmeats.
The compact Christian town of Madaba is famed for its Byzantine mosaics, but it also boasts one of Jordan’s best restaurants in the shape of the atmospheric Haret Jdoudna (324 8650). Set inside one of Madaba’s restored old houses, the Arabic grub served up here is a cut above the average. Diners can choose to sit inside, or – if the weather permits – outside in the pleasant courtyard.
Petra If you want to learn how to make a mezze, Petra’s Kitchen (3 215 6665/www.petramoon.com) is where it’s at. At this nightly cookery course – the brainchild of Texan Wendy Botham – you can get up to your elbows in staples such as fattoush, falafel, triangles of pastry called sambousek, tabbouleh and toasted pita bread. After two hours of hard labour, comes the icing on the cake; you and your fellow aspirant chefs get to sit down and feast on the mezze spread you’ve made.
Jordan for history buffs
Jordan is crammed with castles, arguably the most impressive of which are those over at Karak and Shobak. The castle at Karak is one of the Middle East’s best preserved and serves as a reminder of the Crusaders’ occupation of the country. However the first castle to be built by the Crusaders was Shobak (formerly called Mons Realis). While admittedly not as commanding as Karak castle, it still repays a visit and entrance is free.
Wander the ruins of this well preserved Roman City with its lovely colonnaded streets, impressive temples, oval plaza and theatres. Jerash is also the spot to watch a revival of the Roman sport of chariot racing – epitomised in the 1950s film Ben Hur. For more information, check out www.jerashchariots.com.
The laid back market town of Madaba houses the oldest known map of the Middle East made entirely from mosaics (millions of coloured stones). You’ll find the map on the floor of the modern St George’s Church. More mosaics are on offer at Mt Nebo – an easy afternoon excursion from Madaba.
Jordan for indulgence seekers
It maybe the lowest point on earth, but when it comes to pampering this place serves up only highs. Smother yourself in the famous black mud or stretch out for one of the luxurious treatments at the Movenpick’s Zara Spa or Kempinski’s Anantara and let the therapists get their hands dirty for you.
People have been flocking to the mineral springs of Hammamat Ma’in since the days of Rome and for good reason; a bath in the hot freshwater springs of Hammamat Ma’in makes for a wonderfully relaxing way to spend a day.
After a day spent exploring Jordan’s Lost City, soothe away any aches and pains by having a hamman (Turkish bath). Submit to a steam, sweat, scrub and massage by a ‘hamami’ and trust me; you’ll leave relaxed, rebalanced and ready to brave the 800 step climb to the Monastery the next morning.
Jordan for nature lovers
Azraq Wetland Reserve
This is Jordan’s prime bird watching location so keep your eyes open for the chance to see the Sinai Rosefinch (Jordan’s national bird), Desert Lark, Desert Wheatear, Hoopoe Lark, Temmink’s Horned Lark and the Trumpet Finch. If you’re visiting during winter, watch out for Cranes and Imperial Eagles.
Mujib Nature Reserve
At410m below sea level, Jordan’s ‘Grand Canyon’ is the lowest altitude nature reserve in the world. The reserve extends to the Karak mountains in the north and Madaba mountains in the south, reaching 900m above sea level in some places.
Dana Nature Reserve
Dana’s physical assets are unrivalled. Rocky slopes, wooded highlands, sand dunes and stony deserts are all here for the taking. Regardless of whether you spend a day in Dana or a week, the difficulty lies in leaving. There are some lovely relaxing village walks to enjoy, or – if you’re feeling more active – hardcore hiking opportunities.