If you’re looking for a bucket list destination where you can easily combine adventure, culture, history, religion, off-the-beaten-path locations, and immersive experiences, then look no further. Omar Banihani, Marketing Manager for Jordan Tourism North America, gave us the inside scoop on Jordan and just how easy it is to get your bucket list on the books.
Q: What are the top three bucket list destinations and/or experiences that travelers should see/do while visiting Jordan?
Jordan has an abundance of riches. There is simply so much to do, see and experience in a relatively small country.
Take for instance adventure travel. If you thirst for thrills in exotic places, you’ll be surprised what Jordan has to offer. Expand out of your comfort zone without sacrificing comfort, with a wealth of quality accommodations from Bedouin Camps in Wadi Rum to the Eco Lodge in Feynan.
Jordan is an elaborate mosaic of biblical history that dates back to the times of Genesis. Jordan is the home of Mount Nebo, where it is said Moses gazed upon the land he could not enter and was buried; Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River; Madaba, home of the oldest mosaic map of the Holy Land; and finally, Lot’s Cave, where Lot and his daughters sought refuge after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Spiritual or not, these places are significant as historical and cultural sites that should not be missed.
Experience history and culture literally everywhere. No trip to Jordan would be complete without visiting the ancient Nabataean city of Petra. This jewel of the Middle East is surrounded by imposing mountains and is approached through a deep, narrow cleft in the rocks known as the Siq. Petra is a unique and unforgettable place, an altogether overwhelming experience that you will never forget. Following a trip to Petra, be sure to head east of the capital city of Amman and visit Jordan’s Desert Castles. These castles showcase beautiful examples of both early Islamic art and architecture.
For many travelers, it’s all about the food, and Jordanian cuisine certainly offers a plethora of flavors and experiences. For instance, while in Petra, visit Beidha to see some ancient wine presses and learn about the significance of wine in Nabataean rituals. Then, travel along the King’s Highway to Karak, the heart of Jordan’s national meat dish, Mansaf. Learn the skill of making Jameed, dried yoghurt, an important ingredient that finishes the mansaf. Consider an overnight stay in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Wadi Rum which is home to several Bedouin tribes. You’ll watch the sunset as you sip on some traditional Bedouin sweet tea and enjoy a Bedouin zarb for dinner. This hearty meal of marinated meat and chunks of vegetable dinner is literally baked in a pit lined with hot coals and covered by sand.
Q: What are some of the lesser-known, more off-the-beaten-path locations/experiences that most travelers don’t know about but should definitely visit/do?
The ancient town of As-Salt, thirty minutes outside of Amman, is the perfect place to explore the narrow streets, tour the museums, and visit an artisan school where you will see the traditional skills of ceramics, weaving, and silk screen printing.
Drive south towards the Ma’in Hot Springs, and along the way, make a quick stop for lunch in Madaba followed by a peek into the Church of St. George to get a glimpse of the most ancient mosaic map of the Holy Land. Then, continue east to the Ma’In Hot Spring Resort and Spa, lying 853-feet below sea level and set like an oasis in the dramatic terrain, defining the resort and spa experience in the Middle East. It is the perfect retreat to relax and be pampered whilst enjoying the therapeutic benefits of the Ma’In Hot Spring waterfalls.
Lastly, visit Iraq Al-Amir located within the hills, an area that has many springs and is famous for its olive trees. It was built by a Persian prince in the third century BC. There are many caves in the hills that date back to the Copper Age, as well as precious artifacts, pottery, glass, and weapons that date back to the Bronze Age and the Nabataean and Roman periods. Additionally, inscriptions, gold Islamic coins, and the silver Ptolemaic hoard recently discovered in Iraq Al-Amir are also displayed.
Q: Tell us more about Jordan’s Meaningful Travel Map.
We are so proud of Jordan’s Meaningful Map, and we know it is important to so many travelers who want to experience authentic local life. There are 12 social enterprises on the Meaningful Travel Map that was launched in partnership with Tourism Cares, a non-profit organization dedicated to the long-term survival of the travel and tourism industry, by inspiring each other to make travel a force for good. By offering unique and hands-on cultural experiences, each of these social enterprises is satisfying the demand from travelers seeking authentic sustainable experiences that make a difference, as well as their need to use the power of travel to help people and places thrive.
Take for instance the Bani Hamida Women’s Weaving Project. Here, you can try your hand at traditional weaving while boosting women’s rights simultaneously. Visitors can purchase rugs made in the traditional Jordanian heritage with a modern twist, with the added opportunity to eat and drink tasty homemade local food cooked by the women of the area.
The best part of all of this is that the money you spend stays within each of these individual communities. More information on Jordan’s Meaningful Travel Map can be found here.
Q: How can travelers visiting Jordan immerse themselves into the local culture?
They can certainly do so by visiting any of the social enterprises on The Meaningful Travel Map, but there are many more opportunities. For example, Feynan Ecolodge is located deep in the mountains of Dana Biosphere Reserve. Here, you will enter an enchanting world of authentic Bedouin hospitality. This lodge is hailed as one of the best 25 eco lodges in the world by National Geographic Traveler Magazine.
Set against the glorious desert backdrop, guests staying at the 26-room lodge can spend the day with a local shepherd grazing the family’s goats in the Feynan wilderness. This experience involves sharing lunch with the shepherd who will make traditional earthy ‘Arbood’ bread and sweet Bedouin tea.
Additionally, guests can learn how to make Arabic coffee. This is an essential part of the traditions; the Bedouins serve it on almost every occasion including weddings, funerals, or simply family gathering in the evening. During this experience, travelers are taken through the musical experience of roasting the coffee beans, grinding them, and then boiling them. The Bedouin family also explains the etiquette of serving Arabic coffee and drinking it.
Q: For foodies visiting Jordan, what are three unique Jordanian foods they should try?
Only three? This is so hard!
I’d start by highly recommending you walk the streets of downtown Amman. Here, you will taste the various street foods alongside the locals, including fresh fruit cocktails, Shawarma, Falafel, and Knafeh.
Knafeh, a middle eastern sweet cheese pastry, is not to be missed! It is a delicious and rich treat, made with unripen cheese that's baked in shredded phyllo dough before being soaked in simple syrup.
Mansaf is considered the national dish of Jordan. Traditionally, this dish is served on a large platter meant for communal eating. It is made of tender meat, layered with a paper-thin flatbread called Shrak, cooked in a sauce of dried yogurt, and served with rice.
Of course, Falafel must be on the list. Falafel can be eaten at breakfast and as a late-night snack. These balls are often stuffed into warm pita bread for a quick sandwich. Amman’s legendary Hashem Restaurant is where you should try Falafel. Here, they are plated with bundles of fresh mint, raw onion, and tomatoes, and served alongside piles of flatbread fresh from the oven.
Q: How has Jordan adapted its tourism protocols in response to the pandemic?
Jordan is proud to be recognized by the World Travel & Tourism Council as a country that has adopted global standardized protocols for health and hygiene. Our lockdown actions were swift in the beginning, and we attribute this decisive action to the reopening of our country.
Our priority was to put in place Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) infographics that outline the visitor journey. Each stage of travel in Jordan, including pre-departure, arrival, ground transportation, accommodations, and site protocols, are mapped out for the traveler and travel advisor’s ease.
Additionally, we update our website’s COVID-19 information page on an ongoing basis with the most current information. We advise travelers to check this page regularly when planning travel to Jordan.
Most of all, we are so happy to announce Jordan is OPEN for tourism! We look forward to welcoming you and being able to say "Ahlan Wa Sahlan!” – Welcome to Jordan.
Q: BONUS: What does the ideal Jordan trip look like for first-time Jordan visitors?
There are limitless itinerary options available for travel in Jordan, but for a first timer, here is an itinerary I would recommend:
Day One – Amman
Arrive in Amman and transfer to your hotel. If you arrive early enough in the day, consider an Amman City Tour where you will explore the old city of Amman, the Citadel, and the Roman Theatre.
Day Two – Desert Castles
Fine mosaics, frescoes, stone and stucco carvings, and illustrations, inspired by the best in Persian and Greco-Roman tradition, tell countless stories of life as it was during the eighth century. Several of these preserved Castles, all of which are clustered to the east and south of Amman, can be visited on one-day or two-day loops from Amman. Don’t miss out on visiting Quseir Amra, one of Jordan’s five UNESCO World Heritage Sites!
Day Three – As-Salt and Iraq Al-Amir
Just thirty minutes outside of Amman, visit As-Salt, an ancient town that was once the most important settlement in the area between the Jordan Valley and the Eastern Desert. Because of its history as an important trading link, it was a significant place for the region’s many rulers.
Then, as you head back to Amman, visit Iraq Al-Amir located within the hills. The area has many springs and is famous for its olive trees, in addition to other forest trees. It was built by a Persian prince in the third century BC. There are many caves in the hills that date back to the Copper Age. Precious artifacts, pottery, glass and weapons date back to the Bronze Age and the Nabataean and Roman periods, and gold Islamic coins and the silver Ptolemaic hoard recently discovered at Iraq Al-Amir are displayed at the Exhibition of Arab Heritage and Recent Discoveries, which was opened in 1992.
Day Four – Jerash
Your day will begin traveling north to the ancient city of Jerash, “The Crossroads of Civilizations,'' remarkable for its unbroken chain of human occupation. Here, in the hills of Gilead, you will find remains from Neolithic times, as well as Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad civilizations.
Day Five – Bethany Beyond the Jordan, Mount Nebo, and Madaba
The Baptism site is located just east of the Jordan River – “Bethany Beyond the Jordan, Where John Baptized Jesus Christ.” Bethany Beyond the Jordan has emerged as a major new destination not only for religious pilgrims but for tourists from around the world.
Following your visit to Bethany Beyond the Jordan, head to “Mount Nebo, Where Moses Saw the Holy Land”. Sixty years of excavation on the hilltop of Mount Nebo, where Moses viewed the Holy Land and is said to be buried, reveals a basilica church with one of the most magnificent mosaic floors in the world. From the platform in front of the church, you will have an inspiring, breath-taking view across the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea to the rooftops of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. You will see what Moses saw.
After Mount Nebo, head to Madaba, “The City of Mosaics,” which was once a Byzantine community and one of the most important Christian communities east of the Jordan River. Today, it harbors a collection of extraordinary mosaics. First, enjoy a delectable lunch at Haret Jdoudna in the heart of the city. Following lunch, visit the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George which features a vivid sixth-century Byzantine mosaic map showing Jerusalem and other holy sites.
Day Six – Karak, Shobak Castle, and Petra By Night
On the way to Petra, make a quick stop at the ancient crusader city of Karak, dominated by the castle built by Baldwin I of Jerusalem in 1142 AD, which greatly impressed Lawrence of Arabia on his study tour in 1909. He spent many days exploring tunnels and dungeons and sketching the castle. Enjoy exploring this maze of stone-vaulted halls and endless passageways, and make sure to bring a flashlight with you. If time permits, check out Shobak Castle, another reminder of former Crusader glory, less than an hour north of Petra. Once called "Mont Real,” Shobak dates from the same turbulent period as Karak, perched on the side of a mountain, with a grand sweep of fruit trees below.
Visit Petra by candlelight on the night of your arrival. The Petra Night Show is a magical way to see part of the rock city and explore the old city, which has become a world wonder. This incomparable experience starts by walking the entire Siq to the Treasury, lit with over 1,500 candles. This is a major attraction due to the spectacular view it has.
Petra by Night runs every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday of each week.
Day Seven – Wadi Rum
No trip to Jordan is complete without a visit to the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site, Wadi Rum. This extraordinary desert landscape is where Lawrence of Arabia operated throughout 1917 and launched the strike on Aqaba. Venture off the beaten path in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Explore the desert and see the “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” up close. Wadi Rum is indeed a foreign world, so make sure to take in the stars at night as you lay by a campfire outside your Bedouin tent, but only after tasting the best cuisine of Wadi Rum, Zarb, which is cooked in the ground! Lastly, tea at sunset in the middle of the desert is really a MUST!
Day Eight – Aqaba
The Red Sea and its surrounding pink mountains are truly one of nature’s most breathtaking sites. Enjoy a lunch cruise on the Red Sea, and make sure to enjoy one of the many water sport options offered. One of the most beautiful attractions in Aqaba is the untouched coral reefs. Scuba dive through the shipwreck or snorkel in one of the reserves. Sunbathe at your leisure and spend the evening walking and exploring downtown Aqaba. Go shopping in the souq, then stop for tea/coffee and chat with locals at a local coffee shop. Make sure to try Jordan’s famous fish dish, Sayadeyeh.
Day Nine & Ten – Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth at 1,312 ft. (400 meters) below sea level. The curative properties of the Dead Sea have been recognized since the days of Queen Cleopatra. A series of good roads, excellent hotels with spa and fitness facilities, as well as archaeological and spiritual discoveries make this region as enticing to today’s international visitors as it was to kings, emperors, traders, prophets, and pilgrims in antiquity.
Enjoy a relaxing day and treat yourselves to a soothing massage, or try the renowned healing powers of the minerals right from the sea’s muddy floor. Book a beautiful sunset dinner at the Dead Sea Panorama Complex that sports an indoor dining area and an outdoor dining terrace where you will enjoy the dazzling views of the Dead Sea and the surrounding mountains at every turn.
Lastly, make sure to check out the exhibition at the Dead Sea Museum, located within the Dead Sea Panoramic Complex, which covers all aspects of the Dead Sea including its geological, ecological, archaeological, and historical origins, as well as the future conservation of the Dead Sea.
Day Eleven – Transfer back to Amman to the Airport for Departure
Content courtesy of Ensemble Travel