You may recognise this fascinating nation from the backdrop of hit films from Lawrence of Arabia, The Hurt Locker and even… Bruno, among others. Jordan sits squashed between some of the most tumultuous places in the region (or indeed the world) – with neighbours like Israel, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia you’d be forgiven thinking it could be a stressful place to take a holiday.
However, this friendly and open country welcomes millions of tourists to some of the most spectacular attractions in the world – Petra’s warren of ancient Bedouin caves is without a doubt one of the most mindboggling historic sites you will ever clap eyes on, while the holidaymakers bobbing up and down in the Dead Sea seem to defy science. Meanwhile, Amman, Jordan’s modern capital, has a bubbling art scene, atmospheric markets and Roman ruins dotted around the city. Here’s what not to miss on this Arabic adventure of a lifetime…
Remarkably, Petra remained unknown to the western world until 1812, and it caught our attention once again when Indiana Jones came riding up to it on his third adventure (the Last Crusade). In the climactic movie Jones makes his way through a red rock pathway and is faced with the spectacular Treasury (above). The building is even more spectacular in real life. As the route continues into the desert, visitors will find a warren of sophisticated homes (some complete with doorways, windows, etchings and bedrooms) carved right into the rock. The Bedouin area was invaded by the Romans in 106 AD, and in true Roman fashion they constructed monoliths in the area to make their mark – the Temple on the Hill and the Petra Roman Road also remain today. Bedouins dressed in black eyeliner and Captain Jack (Pirates of the Caribbean) attire still patrol the area on horseback, offering rides into the desert to tourist willing to pay.
The lowest point on earth is not the prettiest of seaside spots; however, it does offer the rare opportunity to watch people float around in what looks like a human game of apple bobbing. On taking a dip in the sea, you’ll feel a weightless and be able to bathe in water with eight times more minerals than normal seawater. Health experts claim that these nutrient-rich waters can cure all sorts of ailments from spotty skin to arthritis. However, a word of warning: don’t swallow it – it tases vile. And don’t get it in your eyes – they’ll be stinging for hours.
The throbbing downtown area around King Faisal Street is packed with friendly street vendors and street food selling local treats such as doughy manakeesh (flat bread flavoured with cheese or sprinkled with herbs). Local restaurants (including Cairo’s on Al-Malek Talal Street) sell intriguing dishes such as boiled goat’s head. The easiest way to navigate around the city is using the Grand Husseini Mosque’s illuminated turrets. Built in 640AD, non-Muslims are not allowed in ,but the proud Ottoman pink-and-white stone facade stands out like a beacon in most parts of the city. Meanwhile, history fans should climb the winding steps to The Hill of the Citadel; the remains of the ancient Temple of Hercules have stood here for more than 1000 years. The view below will leave you speechless, and from here it’s possible to listen to the atmospheric call to prayer, while gazing onto the dusty city and grand Roman Theatre (above) carved into the hill. Nearby, bohemian Rainbow Street offers an entirely different flavour – creative cafes line the streets and offer shisha, live music and art shows.
Once a small fishing village, this Jordanian costal city on the southernmost tip is now home to the country’s busiest, and only, port. As well as unspoiled reefs, ample snorkelling and diving opportunities, a highlight of the area is Aqaba Castle. This property has been tinkered with by all manners of rulers through the its years, and now measures an enormous 50m wide and 50m long. It’s believed that the original structure was built by crusaders in the 13th century. Inside there are ancient Arabic inscriptions, thought to have been etched by Mamluks (slaves of the king) during sultan Qansur al-Ghuri’s rule in the early 16th century. The property also has Ottoman detailing, and was used as a supply base during the Arab Revolt between 1916 and 1918.
No trip to the Middle East would be complete without a jaunt into the desert. At Wadi Rum, it’s possible to take the same iconic journey that British army officer and explorer T.E Lawrence took through the valley and beautiful limestone shapes, in the 19th century. In order to do this Lawrence of Arabia route in the vast southern Jordanian desert, you must first choose your mode of transport – horse, camel or 4×4. If you can bear the camel hump, you’ll be rewarded with a proper Bedouin experience – a tent stay, home cooked lamb and a star-studded night sky.