Early in my weeklong trip to Jordan, I was at a dinner hosted by the Minster of Tourism. He was asked by one of my travel companions to describe the country. “Jordan is more than Petra”, was his immediate reply. Over the coming days I discovered what he meant, as I encountered new treasures, surprises and scenery that matched (and often surpassed) the much-published glory of Petra. The country is a treasure trove of delights for anyone interested in history, culture and biblical events.
Jordan is a relatively small country and it takes a few hours to travel across it by car. Allowing you to easily see unique places, like the red Wadi Rum desert and the quirky Dead Sea, and explore some of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world, such as the Amphitheatre and Citadel in Amman and Jerash.
Oasis of Calm
It is also an oasis of calm surrounded by turbulent Middle Eastern neighbours: Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank. Populated by welcoming and friendly people, who have a deep respect for their King, they have accepted refugees escaping turmoil for decades. Despite it not being an especially affluent country, Palestinians, Iraqis and, more recently, Syrians have been cared for in the hundreds of thousands. This attitude of hospitality, warmth and lack of judgement towards their fellow-man also makes it a generous and calm place to visit for vacation.
In recent years tourism has been much affectedly by regional troubles, especially Syria. However, Western Governments have not identified Jordan as a risk country to visit and I felt secure and safe during my entire trip. The lower numbers make prices competitive and attractions less crowded, making this a good time to consider a vacation here.
Richness: I was amazed at how rich Jordan was with historical and biblical sites, and especially by the remarkable Roman ruins across Amman and sites like Jerash. I came to appreciate the long history of human existence and endeavours dating back to prehistoric times.
Welcoming. The people were friendly and welcoming. Even in the major tourist sites the merchants and providers are not pushy and assertive.
Accessible. It is easy to get around the country as it is not large and the road network is good. Public transport is limited and so hiring a guide and driver or going on package tours or excursions work best. People speak English everywhere, making it feel easy to reach and find your way around the system and sites.
Jordan had a varied history before becoming an independent state in 1946. Over the centuries it was occupied by the Nabateans, Romans, Byzantines, Ummayads, Abbasids, Ayyubids, Mamluks and the Ottomans. The latter until the First World War, when the Arab uprising took place to shake off their control. Although it took many more decades before finally becoming a stand-alone state recognised internationally. This constant flow of occupations and influences led to the varied and diverse ruins and sites.
Jordan has strong ties with the United States and United Kingdom, and large commercial and academic relationships with Japan, Korea and increasingly China. It and Egypt are the only Arab states that have peace treaties with Israel.
Tips for Travellers
Best time to go
It gets very hot in summer (mid year) and may be cold, and even snow, in winter. Spring and autumn are the best months to visit.
There is a busy International airport in Amman. Visas are required on entry, and obtained on arrival.
Go on private or organized tours. In the city taxis are plentiful and easy to use.
12 General tips and advice
- Consider buying a Jordan Pass (http://www.jordanpass.jo) with access to over 40 attractions at a significant discount.
- Be ready for the heat with hat (or buy a traditional headscarf), sun lotion and carry water
- Visit the major sites, like Petra and Jerash, early morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the heat and crowds.
- English is widely spoken and understood. Learn a few key words in Arabic as this is greatly appreciated.
- Do not drink water from the tap. Ensure when buying bottled water that they are sealed bottles.
- Carry small notes and coins to use for tipping and toilets.
- Public toilets are found in most sites and mostly western style. Toilet paper is not to be flushed down them.
- Friday and Saturday is the “weekend”.
- OTC drugs are inexpensive but I recommend bringing your favourite first aid remedies (e.g. Imodium, headache pills etc.)
- Pace yourself. There is a lot to see and do not pack in too much into your trip to allow time to savour and explore what you are seeing. You need at least a week and ideally longer.
- When buying souvenirs, make sure they are local versus mass-produced souvenirs (often from China).
- Hosts will serve lots of food at a meal, as this is a sign of being welcoming and generous. So be ready for that!
My top 10 recommended must-see sights and attractions
Based on my time in Jordan, there are eight things that I recommend you visit during the course of a one-week vacation. You can find out more on each by clicking on them to get more details, my thoughts and pictures. They are:
- Ras El Ein Graffiti Amman.
- Roman Amphitheatre Amman.
- Citadel Amman.
- Little Petra.
- Wadi Rum Desert.
- Madaba Map.
- Baptism site of Jesus Christ.
- Aljoun Castle Fortress.
Jordan was an adventure and revelation. I had thought that the highlight would be Petra but, as the Minster pointed out, there was so much more to the country. It was a constant flow of new experiences, sights and surprises. Made special by the warmth of the people. I look forward to my next visit.
- Foreign Office Travel Advice to Jordan
Disclaimer: I travelled as a guest of Jordan Tourism Board on an 8-night trip exploring Amman, Petra, Wadi Rum, Jerash, the Dead Sea and other popular destinations.