Although The Lost City of Petra has made my list of things to see in Jordan, there are many other historical layers to discover while visiting this country. From Roman ruins to a Crusader Castle to wandering the Wadi Rum Desert, Jordan is filled with eye opening exploration for all ages and adventure levels.
The capital of Jordan is Amman and will most likely be the city that you will be arriving to first. Take a day or two before journeying out to visit this fascinating city. Amman sits in a valley surrounded by crowded hilltop houses. My friends and I truly enjoyed wandering around Amman and found it quite a safe and very friendly. I cannot tell you how many times that smiling strangers waved to us and said “Welcome to Jordan!”
If you want to see the real Amman, take a walk through the Old Town. It is alive with the sounds of locals shopping for animals, meat, baked goods and spices. It can get crowded, so like in any large city make sure your belongings are safe as you can easily get swallowed up in the crowd.
The animals you will see in cages may be of sensitive nature to most people but this is a custom in many countries around the world. If this bothers you just walk across the street from the animal market.
Remember to stop at Hashem in Old Town Amman for the best hummus in the world!
For information on Hashem Restaurant- What I ate in Jordan – A Food Journal
Amman’s Roman Theatre and The Citadel
Towards the center of Amman, you will find the Roman Theatre and the Roman ruins of The Citadel. Although The Citadel houses important Roman ruins such as the Hand of Hercules and the Temple of Hercules, there is evidence of occupation as far back as the Neolithic Period. This historical site sits on a hill top in the middle of a valley. From the edge of The Citadel, look out and up as you will be surrounded with incredible views of the city. The hills all around are littered with wandering steps and winding roads that lead to ivory colored houses that gleam in the desert sun. It was a sight that I have never experienced before, standing upon ancient Roman Ruins and being surrounded by a modern city in the Middle East- so very far away from home!
To get to The Roman Theatre or The Citadel, you can take a taxi if you are not driving. If you are not keen on taking a taxi off the street, have your hotel call you one and ask your driver to wait for an additional amount. There are also yellow taxis waiting at both Roman sites and they are quite safe.
This ancient city is another archeological site of Roman ruins and is located 45 minutes north of Amman. In the Middle East, Jerash is one of the best preserved and most important Roman City sites. This ancient city made a huge impression on me due to the size, the preserved architecture and witnessing first hand how advanced the Romans were.
Do not miss viewing Hadrian’s Arch built in the year 129 AD, which was constructed to honor Roman Emperor Hadrian’s visit.
The impressive Oval Forum is lined with towering columns and was once used for public demonstrations such as gladiator games, public speeches, elections and victory processions. Inside The Southern Theatre, there are live Bedouin music concerts that you can enjoy in an open air forum. Here you can sit where spectators as far back as 90AD once enjoyed stage performances of centuries long ago.
The Dead Sea
Please do not get the Dead Sea water in your eyes! There are signs warning tourist and they aren’t messing around- It burned! Yes, I was one of the visitors who got Dead Sea Water in her eyes. Other than eye burning water, The Dead Sea is famously known for its healing mud baths that is open to the public for an additional charge. I met one French woman in Petra who swore her eczema was cured from bathing in the Dead Sea mud for a couple of days.
To best visit the Dead Sea there are many resorts along the waters with access to the beaches. On my visit to The Dead Sea our group accessed the waters through a resort that offered changing rooms, showers, restaurant and patio seating.
Once you make it down to the beach, get in the water and float! The dead sea has a high amount of salt in the water which causes you to float while laying on your back. Just be careful getting back up to not splash that burning water in your eyes- Lesson learned.
The Baptismal Site of Jesus Christ – UNESCO World Heritage Site
This biblical site along the River Jordan is within a humble wood shelter where it is believed that Jesus was baptized. Depending on your religious beliefs this may not be high on your list. As for me, I was brought up Catholic and became a Born Again at nineteen for about a year. To this date, I do not follow any religion but I did come here to honor my early years of Christian beliefs. Visiting the Baptismal Site of Jesus Christ is a personal pilgrimage and should be treated as that.
This mountainous range with vast valley views is an important religious site for those of Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith. This is where all three faiths can peacefully honor Moses who was an important prophet for these three religions. At the top of Mount Nebo was where Moses last viewed the Promised Land before he died and he is apparently buried here. Like the Baptismal Site of Jesus and depending on your Religious Views, Mount Nebo is a personal pilgrimage.
I am realistic and I know that a lot of belief systems do not resonate with the Prophet Moses. If this is the case your visit to Mount Nebo will not be wasted. The views from top are incredible and overlook the Jordan Valley, River Jordan, the Hills of Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.
Wadi Rum Desert Camping – UNESCO World Heritage Site
Wadi Rum was the second highlight of my visit to Jordan after Petra. I live in the desert community of Las Vegas, so I appreciate the solace feeling of the desert and can escape into it when needed. In Wadi Rum there is no escape of the solace feeling because you are always in it.
We rode through the Wadi Rum desert in the backs of small 4×4 trucks to various locations getting dirty along the way. At one point it started to rain while we were sitting in the back and another traveler pulled out his sleeping bag to put on our laps. I surveyed the situation a said “Eff you guys, I am going under” and I did. My short Asian genes pulled off and I sat in the bed of the truck between everyone’s feet. Then I slipped the sleeping bag over my head and rode blindly. Several minutes later all the trucks stopped and so we could ride inside. Try fitting six people inside a small Toyota truck! It was not comfortable but it was definitely an adventure riding down hills of sand and through the desert inside a Tetris Toyota Truck.
The campsite we stayed in seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. No lights and no city sounds, just the quietness of the desert. We did have moonlight to light our way as we ventured into the desert night by foot and cell phone lights. I had a head lamp which came in handy because my cellphone was on its last bar! Our group had Bedouin Tea which our guide made over a little fire and we conversed by star light. A few of us wandered off on our own and made it back to camp one after the other. I think I was the last one who made it back to camp before our guide who was searching for wifi in the middle of the night. Being alone in the Wadi Rum dessert with only my headlamp was just the solace I needed. I was soaking up the idea that I was far away from home finding my way back to a goat haired tent. How I find myself in these situations is beyond me!
If this and more sounds like the adventure you need there are many Wadi Rum Desert Camps available from basic to glamping. We used GAdventures for our visit to Wadi Rum and our week long visit to Jordan. Make sure you are prepared for cold nights as it can dip into the 40s F like it did on our visit. Check the weather before you arrive so you are prepared to bundle up if needed.
If available with your desert camp, an early morning camel ride as the sun rises will add to the magic of the Wadi Rum Desert.
This 900 year castle stands majestically on a hill that overlooks the city al-Karak. Built in 1142 as a Crusader Fortress, it serves as a reminder of the win-loose history and the different empires that once ruled this part of the world. Today, almost 1,000 years later it is a top tourist destination in Jordan along the King’s Highway. Many visitors stop by before heading to other destinations in Jordan. The ruins are one of the largest Crusader Castles in the Levant and should not be missed due to its historical value.
Sadly, several months later after my visit to Kerak Castle in 2016 there was a terrorist attack killing fourteen people. Another reminder of the volatile state of this part of the world and a repeat of attacks within the castle walls.
Madaba and Her Ancient Mosaic Tile
The city of Madaba is located South West of Amman and features mosaics that date back to the 6th century. Wandering around this ancient town, there are several locations that you can view these centuries old preserved mosaics.
Inside of Saint George Byzantine Church, the floor mosaic Madaba Map is a 6th Century map of the Middle East. It has depictions of The Holy Land including Jerusalem.
Within the Archeological Park of Madaba, The 6th Century Church of the Virgin houses extraordinary viewings of ancient mosaic work and ruins that have been excavated in the last century. The masterpiece of the church is the central mosaic that dates back to 767AD.
Madaba is a nice walking town with little shops and places for lunch to extend your day of mosaic hunting. Madaba was very memorable and for me it was more than just the mosaics. I remember purchasing an inexpensive Middle Eastern Barbie like doll then the shop owner and I got into a friendly conversation. Before I left, he gifted me withy a Shemagh patterned coin purse with blessings from Jordan. I in turn gifted the coin purse to my daughter and whenever I see it laying around, I am reminded of the kindness of the Ancient Town of Madaba.
Shaumari Wildlife Reserve
Jordan’s animal preserve is located East of Amman and is a desert conservation that acts as a breeding center for local endangered animals. To just visit and support this conservation is very important to Jordan since visitation proceeds go to feeding and maintenance of the almost extinct animals. Over the decade, visitors have vastly decreased due to the wars in Iraq and Syria. With the decrease of visitors, there is decrease of proceeds to help conserve these beautiful endangered animals of the Middle East.
Shaumari welcomes guests from all over the world offering family oriented safari jeep rides throughout the reserve. The low key safari runs through the desert where you can spot peaceful wildlife like the Arabian oryx, Asian Wild Asses, Gazelles and Somali Ostriches.
Quaseir Amra – UNESCO World Heritage Site
Located about an hour east of Amman, Quaseir Amra is a well known UNESCO World Heritage site dating back to the 8th Century. When approaching this little sand castle in the desert that was built for Walid Ibn Yazid who dominated the region of the time, you cannot tell that the inside houses early priceless Islamic Art. The interior walls of Quaseir Amra have colorful floor to ceiling frescoes including a magnificent Zodiac painting on the caldarium dome.
When we visited Quaseir Amra, we were greeted by a care taker who explained the history of the frescoes which was extremely helpful. Without his guidance we would have just been looking at painted walls. After our personal tour of Quaseir Amra, we followed our guide into his goat haired tent where he made us Bedouin Tea. This was an additional highlight to my day as my childhood friends and myself chatted among strangers sitting on cushions. We put countries and politics aside and became one, all it took was a glass of Bedouin Tea and the frescoes inside a sand castle.
The Red Sea – Aqaba
The city of Aqaba is located along the North-Eastern tip of the Red Sea across from Egypt and to the South is Saudi Arabia. At the time of my visit in 2016, I noticed when visiting this waterfront city that the feel was very different than the capital city of Amman. It was relatively safe but there were a few more stares to us Westernized women showing our legs along the beaches and city. Myself and another male traveler from the group walked the city with no issues.
We were told that if we wanted to hang out by the beaches, we should not use the public beaches. There are resorts along the shore that you can stay at and snorkel with peace of mind.
For our whole group we chartered a yacht that took us close to the Saudi Arabia border where we had BBQ, snorkeled, saw dolphins and they let me drive the boat. When my friend saw me at the wheel, he yelled “Trixie, get down from there. For the safety of all of us stop driving the boat!” It was like he had seen me drive a car before!
The Lost City of Petra – UNESCO World Heritage Site
Last but not least, Petra. This Ancient City is what everyone goes to see when in Jordan. It is the most visited tourist site in Jordan and should be on everyone’s bucket list! To read more about visiting and my memoirs of Petra, please visit my post Indiana Jones and The Lost City of Petra.
We used the tour company GAdventures. Although I generally do not take full tours, I found GAdventures and our guide Ayman exceptional! The itinerary of the tour and the wonderful travelers that I met were incredible experiences. https://www.gadventures.com/
Other Reads: What I ate in Jordan – A Food Journal
📸 All Photos are taken by me, unless otherwise stated, and are my intellectual property