Our guide to Jordan
In Jordan, history and spectacular scenery take centre stage. Eons of civilisation laid claim to the country’s arid deserts, fragile ecosystems and ancient cities long before the country was even etched onto a map. Since then, waves of invasion have woven the rich heritage of Jordan, all leaving their perennial mark on its cuisine, traditions and architecture.
As a result, Jordan is country that sits both literally and figuratively at the crossroads between the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Hailing at once from the Mediterranean and Arabia, it is one of few places on the planet where you can discover lost kingdoms, swim amongst vibrant reefs, explore crumbling ruins and hunker down in the desert all in just a few short days.
Jordan for history and culture
Jordan’s rich history is prevalent in every corner of the country. In its cities, grand amphitheatres sit cheek by jowl with Crusader castles and Christian mosaics whilst in the countryside, rural life is played out to the tune of tradition.
From the moment you arrive in Amman, home to the ruins of the Roman Temple of Hercules and a spectacular 6,000 seat ancient theatre, you will be greeted by the boundless hospitality for which the country is renowned. The gateway to Jordan is a vibrant and bustling city where old meets new; home to labyrinthine souks, Byzantine churches, countless museums and ancient temples.
A short drive north of Amman lies Jerash, the most astonishing Roman city in the Middle East, making it the perfect destination to indulge in a spot of culture on a day trip from the capital. Renowned for its mighty Corinthian columns, the recently excavated ancient city is an archaeological wonder with a fascinating history dating back over 6,500 years.
Taking the King’s Highway towards Petra is undoubtedly the more scenic route from Amman but this simple, unassuming byway passes by some of the country’s most extraordinary sights. Along the route, bide some time at the Crusaders’ castles of Kerak and Shobak for the perfect way to sate culture seeking appetites. Petra is arguably the jewel in the crown of Jordan’s ancient offering. This 2000-year-old Nabatean city, carved pristinely into red-rose rock, is the stuff Indiana Jones is made of and a simply breath-taking sight. Beating the crowds by visiting early in the morning or witnessing the Treasury illuminated by candle light after nightfall is bound to be a highlight of your trip.
Jordan for the great outdoors
Whilst a remarkable nine tenths of Jordan is desert, pockets of the country are green and fertile. In northern Jordan, Ajloun is an area of verdant, rolling hillside, cloaked in Mediterranean woodland and dotted with flowers of every colour and kind. The historic Ajloun Castle, perched atop Mount ‘Auf, is well worth a visit to gain a fascinating insight into the evolution of Jordan’s cultural landscape.
Further south, the Dana Nature Reserve or Dana Biosphere is a mecca for hikers. This incredibly fragile yet mighty ecosystem is amongst the rarest in the world. A patchwork of desertscapes, tiny oases, craggy mountains, wooded uplands and home to a myriad of plant, bird and mammal species, Dana is an unrivalled destination for adventurers looking for an eco-escape.
Wadi Rum is a protected desert wilderness in southern Jordan and the real showstopper of Jordan’s natural world. Following in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia as you explore its vast red rust dunes, weathered sandstone formations and charming Bedouin camps is bound to completely unforgettable.
Jordan’s most famous stretches of water are simply unmissable too. At the port town of Aqaba, snorkelling sits top of the bill and exploring the kaleidoscopic reefs of the famed Red Sea is a scuba paradise. The Dead Sea on the other hand, is, as its moniker suggests, void of life. Yet, as the lowest point of Earth, and a stone’s throw from the site of Jesus’ baptism, it is a particularly significant point of interest in Jordan.
Jordan for families
Children of all ages are welcomed with open arms in Jordan. From snorkelling in the Red Sea to camel riding in Wadi Rum, Jordan is an adventure playground for kids. Whilst hiking activities tend to be orientated towards families with older children, a night under the stars in the desert is an adventure fit for the entire family. Only a short flight from London, and benefiting from very little time difference, Jordan is perfect for active families wanting to squeeze in an adventure into a half term or Easter break.
Jordan for romance
For an intrepid honeymoon, look no further. Whilst Jordan is perhaps not the most obvious place to spend a post- nuptial holiday, it could offer adventurous couples the perfect way to celebrate. Ticking Jordan off the bucket list on the holiday of a lifetime, complete with romantic moments under the stars and private candlelit dinners in the desert makes for an unforgettable escape.
Off the beaten track in Jordan
Travelling to Jordan is all about the experience. It is worth bearing in mind that in the cities, hotels tend to be international chains and boutique properties are harder to find. Yet combining five-star accommodation with local options elsewhere or a short stay in a desert camp is the perfect way to get under the skin of the real Jordan. Year after year, hotels continue to open their doors yet accommodation still tends to be quite basic.
In Jordan, chickpeas take centre stage. Everything from falafel to hummus is piled high on delicious mezze platters, complete with lashings of baba ghanoush, olive oil and served with freshly baked flatbread. The national dish, Mansaf, is a must-try. Consisting of rice, vegetables and lamb, cooked in a sealed underground oven, the dish is a totally delicious nod to the many influences that complete Jordan’s culinary offering. At some point during your stay, you will no doubt be offered a cup of Bedouin tea or coffee, and as a true reflection of Jordanian hospitality, you can expect infinite refills of this sweetened tea steeped in aromatic sage. Jordan also produces its own wine yet it is worth noting that whilst available in many restaurants, alcohol is expensive.
Culture & etiquette in Jordan
Jordan is one of the safest countries in the Middle East. Its cities are remarkably modern whilst rural areas maintain a unique traditional character and ooze boundless Middle Eastern charm. Conservative dress should be respected as you travel through the country, and keeping shoulders and knees covered is considered a sign of respect. Respecting local customs is key to a successful holiday in Jordan so spending some time researching some of the country’s cultural nuances will be appreciated by local people.
When to go to Jordan
Temperatures soar in the summer, so we would recommend going in the spring between March and May or as the heat of summer subsides between September and November. Winters can be quite wet and very cold whilst some areas can even see snow during the colder months.
Getting to and travelling around
Jordan is particularly easy to navigate around and many of its key sites are within a two or three-hour drive of one another. Conveniently, is possible to fly direct to Jordan from London taking only around five and a half hours and there are routings from major European, North America and Southeast Asian hubs.
Combinations with Jordan
Thanks to its compact size, Jordan is a brilliant stand-alone destination. This being said, it can be paired perfectly with Oman for the ultimate Middle Eastern adventure. Whilst Oman’s beaches are somewhat better, it is also home to stunning landscapes and is perfect for active travellers looking for world class hiking and cultural discovery too.
Jordan is an ideal escape for Easter, May and October Half terms. Showing the children ‘Indian Jones and the Last Crusade’ before you travel always gets them into the mood to visit Petra. The gladiator and chariot show at Jerash is a perfect introduction to the Roman site. A night in the desert as a family, sitting under the stars in true ‘Arabian Nights’ style is something no one can ever forget and floating in the Dead Sea at the end is the perfect remedy before heading back to school.
Jordan has always been the crossing point between East and West, where trade routes met and the Roman Empire had its frontier. It’s a land that saw the baptism of Jesus, and where Moses discovered the Promised Land. It was the scene of the conflict between Christianity and Islam during the Crusades. At Scott Dunn, we tailor every itinerary, so you can do as much or as little sightseeing as you wish.
The wonderful remains of Petra continually attract intense fascination. Petra was the capital of the Nabataean kingdom from around the 6th century BC until its subjugation to the Romans in the 2nd Century AD, and was largely untouched until the 19th century. The site is extensive, and we suggest spending a whole day with a private guide exploring the nooks and crannies. It is always worth wandering to the Monastery at the far end of the site before returning slowly back to the main town.
Jerash is located only 45 minutes from Amman is in no way second best to the delights of Petra. Only recently excavated, the site is one of the best-preserved Roman sites anywhere in the world, complete with amphitheatres, hippodromes, temples and wide streets with 2000-year-old shops. Amman itself is a treasure trove of cultural fascination from its 6,000 seat Roman amphitheatre to Byzantine churches, museums and ancient temples.
Many of Scott Dunn’s guests have adored visiting Dana Nature Reserve located to the south of the Dead Sea. It is a chain of valleys and mountains ranging from the rugged terrain of the Jordan Rift Valley to the desert lowlands. As you walk down, you pass local Bedouins, who will invite you in for a cup of tea. Continue to Wadi Rum, and explore hidden canyons by foot to see ancient Thamudic inscriptions or take a 4x4 through the vast open expanse to your own private desert camp.
You will never forget floating in the Dead Sea, one of the world’s most unique lakes. It looks out over the West Bank, and as such the sun sets directly across the sea making it wonderful in the early evening. Because it is 400 metres below sea level, the temperatures remain more pleasant when other areas of Jordan are much cooler. Day trips are possible to Petra (2 hours) and Jerash (2 hours), creating an ideal mix of relaxation and exploration.
The Red Sea is the place to dive; Aqaba has 30 dive sites. Even when you are only 100m from the shore, you can experience 50m-drop offs into the abyss. June and July is the best time to come if you are interested in seeing Whale Sharks and February is a good month to see Manta Rays. Alternatively, day trips can be made to Wadi Rum (2 hours) and Petra (3 hours), so the Red Sea can be used as a single centre destination in itself.
The hot springs of Ma’In, located about an hour from Amman and close to the Dead Sea, is for those seeking a spa holiday in Jordan. Stay at the Evason Ma’In Hot Springs; set like an oasis in the dramatic terrain, it is the perfect resort to relax and be pampered. There is a stunning Six Senses spa, treatments focus on the therapeutic properties of the mineral-rich waters. It is ideal for spa weekends, or an excellent place to start or end a tour of Jordan.
Jordan can offer some superb authentic experiences. Just north of Amman, for those wanting to really engage with the local people, you can head to a local Jordanian house for lunch. In Petra, you can try your hand at Arabic cookery at Petra Kitchen. In Wadi Rum, you can take a hot air balloon ride over the desert at dawn. For those even more active, a visit to the Majib Nature Reserve offers a perfect tonic. Rising from the Dead Sea, the only trail is the river itself as you clamber through cascading waterfalls and high rugged wadis. It is not for the faint-hearted.
For those wanting to combine a holiday to Jordan with other countries in the region, you can easily combine it with Egypt, Oman, Dubai & India. At Scott Dunn, we can tailor-make almost any itinerary, and many guests have opted to extend their stay in the region. 3 nights in Cairo seeing the Pyramids can precede a week in Jordan. There are also many flights to the beaches of Oman and Dubai. Jordan can also be a convenient stop for those returning from the subcontinent.