Exploring Jordan

There’s a widespread sense of unease about travelling to the Middle East but Jordan is not only safe, it’s also spectacular and super friendly to boot. Thinking of heading to the Hashemite Kingdom? Follow TNT’s itineraries – which have been tailored according to taste – and you can suss out the best of this biblical country in no time

The Dead Sea credit: vvvita

The Middle East, the headlines tell us, is a deeply troubled place. That may be the case when it comes to Syria, Yemen, Qatar and co but as far as Jordan is concerned it’s a case of crisis, what crisis?

Visitor numbers may be down in 2017 owing to Jordan’s unenviable location – the Hashemite Kingdom shares borders with Saudi, Syria, Israel and Iraq – but, despite being situated in a rough neighbourhood, is utterly safe.

So much so that there’s a sense of hurt among locals as to why the great British public think that Jordanians – for whom hospitality is second nature – wouldn’t welcome and look after us?

Nothing really bad has ever happened here they tell TNT. Can we say that for the UK? In the aftermath of four terrorist attacks in one month and the Grenfell Tower tragedy, perhaps they have a point…

Bottom line? Jordan isn’t sticking to the script. If you’re looking for trouble, you’ve come to the wrong place…

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credit: RudolfT

Jordan for adventure seekers

Get wet

Scuba divers will be in seventh heaven: the 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.

Saddle up

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 last anything from 30 minutes to three days.

Starry night

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 a special mention. That being said TNT’s standouts would have to be Dana (the campsite here is called Rumana and is run by the RSCN, www.wildjordan.com/eco-tourism-section/camping) and Wadi Rum – the grand dame of Middle Eastern camping experiences.

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Jordan for film fanatics

Amman

Jordan’s first independent feature film, Captain Abu Raed, was shot in Amman. While the country’s capital can’t compete with Cairo 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.

Petra

The famous ‘red rose’ city hewn out of rock has been the dramatic backdrop for several films - step forward 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 highlight, however, has to be Wadi Rum – without a doubt one of the most extraordinary desert destinations in the world. Little wonder then that TE Lawrence - aka Lawrence of Arabia - fell in love with the landscape on the spot, describing it as “vast, echoing and God-like.”

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Karak Castle credit: Rhombur

Jordan for history buffs

Castle culture

Jordan is crammed with castles, 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 rewards a visit and what’s more entrance is absolutely free.

Jerash

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.

Madaba

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.

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The Dead Sea credit: RuslanDashinsky

Jordan for indulgence seekers

Dead Sea

It may be 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 (www.movenpick.com/en/middle-east/jordan/amman/resort-dead-sea) or Kempinski’s Ishtar Spa (www.kempinski.com/en/dead-sea/hotel-ishtar/luxury-spa) and let the therapists get their hands dirty for you.

Hammamat Ma’in

People have been flocking to the mineral springs of Hammamat Ma’in since the days of Rome and rightly so - a bath in the hot freshwater springs of Hammamat Ma’in is a fantastic way to spend a day.

Petra

After a day spent exploring Jordan’s Lost City, soothe away any aches and pains by having a hammam (Turkish bath). Submit to a steam, sweat, scrub and massage by a ‘hamami’ and trust TNT when we say: you’ll leave relaxed, rebalanced and ready to brave the 800 step climb to the Monastery the next morning.

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Souq Market in Amman credit: Astalor

Jordan for foodies

Amman

Jordan’s capital has an excellent eating out scene so prime your stomach for one hell of a feast. Outstanding spots include Abu Ahmad Orient Restaurant (3522520), Tannoureen (info@tannoureen.net) and the fabulous Fakhr el Din (www.fakhreldin.com). Meanwhile sweet toothed tourists are amply catered for: sweet shops and stalls abound with shelves positively groaning under the weight of sweetmeats.

Madaba

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 (www.haretjdoudna.com). 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 – weather permitting – outside in the pleasant courtyard.

Petra

If you want to learn how to make a mezze, Petra Kitchen (www.petrakitchen.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. Afterwards you and your fellow chefs get to sit down and feast on the mezze spread you’ve made. Result!

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Dana Valley credit: wetback

Jordan for nature lovers

Azraq Wetland Reserve

This is Jordan’s prime bird watching location so keep your eyes peeled 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

At 410m 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.


Words by Kaye Holland