Touring Jordan

By Trevor Claringbold, a Travel Professional

Read more on Amman.

Overall rating:3.5 out of 5 (based on 4 votes)
Recommended for:
Cultural, Mid-range

With a history stretching back 10,000 years, magnificent desert panoramas and the famous Dead Sea, Jordan is a fascinating place to visit, and surprisingly easy to travel round

Jordan was somewhere I’d always wanted to visit, but when the opportunity finally arose, I have to admit to a little trepidation. I wondered how safe a country that shares borders with Israel, Syria and Iraq would be. Luckily, Jordan enjoys good relations with the West, and generally manages to avoid the problems of its neighbours.
In the past, though, it’s had plenty of conflicts. Around 8,000 years of them to be precise, but to even scrape the surface of Jordan’s history would fill this entire article. Suffice to say that with its position at the junction of Europe, Asia and Africa, and their respective great empires and civilisations, it has more than enough historical highlights to keep anyone interested.
I planned to stay in the capital, Amman, and take trips out to the main centres of interest. Hiring a car is straightforward, the roads are good and petrol is cheap. I was also pleased to find all road signs in both Arabic and English. I was warned – several times – not to venture off roads and into the desert, no matter how appealing it looks. The sands can be treacherous, with sudden soft areas that can trap even the best 4x4s. It should only be attempted in the hands of an expert local guide.
Amman itself was not what I expected, a vast, sprawling city with endless tiers of light-coloured houses, and little style or variance between them. In the busy modern downtown area, traffic is congested and the whole place continually echoes to the sound of car horns. Surprisingly for a place with such an amazing past, not a great deal has survived within the capital.
The Roman theatre was the highlight for me. The huge open semi-circular structure would have held around 6,000 people when it was built in the 2nd century. I was intrigued by the restoration programme, which is returning it to its full original state – and funding the work through performances in the theatre itself. I caught the end of one recital, which was backed by mime artists re-enacting scenes from Roman plays.
Nearby is the city’s most important religious building, the King Hussein Mosque, with its two thin, ornate minarets, and behind is King Talal Street, with its souks. I am always fascinated when exploring these places, as you never know what little gems you will come across. Be prepared to barter for everything in the maze of enticing little stalls, and don’t trust anything is genuine unless you either have proof or are an expert.
The hill nearby is the site of the original city walls, although there is not much left to see. It’s still worth the climb to get great views across the city, and the remains of the temple of Hercules and the palace complex are also worth a stop.
My first trip out of the city took me north some 20 miles, over a hilly route with great views of the Jordan Valley, to Jarash. This is a surprisingly green and pleasant region, with olive groves, wheat fields, and some vineyards lining the road.
Jarash, or Gerasa to give it its ancient name, has some of the Middle East’s most impressive relics. The immense Northern Colonnade leads along the Cardo Maximus to the rare Oval Precinct. Within the ancient city walls are a wealth of temples, churches, mosques, and even three theatres. The huge pillars, the walls of the temples, and even the impressive paved Roman road, all have the same coloured stone that blends them harmoniously together. There is so much to see, and even more to understand here, that even with a whole day I felt I had rushed my fascinating visit.
Further north, the cities of Um Qeis and Ajlun have similarly impressive relics, and also made enjoyable and interesting visits, as did my drive to the desert castles east of Amman. It was to the south, though, that I found the most impressive sights of my tour.
The Kings Highwayfollows a historic route, parallel to the Dead Sea, once used by the Hebrews and detailed in the Old Testament. It passes through ancient cities such as Madaba, Karak and Shawbak, before arriving at the greatest of Jordan’s monuments: Petra. The landscape is one of endless deserts, rocky cliffs and vast canyons. On the road, 21st-century articulated lorries thunder past, while camels and Bedouin tribesmen traverse the rocks and sand. Strangely, for a land that is predominantly all one colour, I found it remarkably appealing.
I stopped to see the Holy Land Mosaic in Madaba, which was discovered when a Greek Orthodox church was being built over an old Byzantine basilica. The mosaic depicts a map of the Holy Land, using a staggering two million tiny tiles. Then, after crossing the Wadi el Mujib, and the Wadi el Hasa, (which both have some stunning panoramas from the various viewpoints), it was on to Petra.
From the first moment you set eyes on it, as you round a bend to be confronted with the stark red cliffs, it’s breathtaking. The natural geology had already spent millions of years creating a magnificent spectacle before the mysterious Nabataeans from Arabia carved an entire city out of the rock. As you walk in amazement through narrow gorges, every turn will bring a vista more enthralling than the last. A necropolis containing more than 800 tombs hewn into the cliffs, the stunning facades of the Treasury and Monastery, and the walk down the Siq to the lower town – all had me marvelling at how an ancient civilisation could create such a place of unique beauty. It’s a vast site, though, and I returned the following day to see the rest.
For me Jordan is a wonderful country, full of interest and fascination, and it left me with many fine memories. My two days at Petra, however, were like travelling back in time, and will live with me forever.


Where to eat
The following two restaurants are recommended: Orient Restaurant (3rd Circle, Amman) and Lebanese House Restaurant (Ajlun Road, Jarash).

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More information on Touring Jordan :

Trevor Claringbold
Traveller type:
Travel Professional
Guide rating:
Average: 3.5 (4 votes)
Total views:
First uploaded:
8 May 2009
Last updated:
5 years 49 weeks 2 days 20 hours 5 min 58 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Budget level:
Free tags / Keywords:
desert, castles, history, archaeology, souk

Trevor recommends


Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Petra Palace Hotel
2. Hisham Hotel

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Community comments (5)

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Paul,
Ironically I keep meaning to do a separate Petra article, but time is always at a premium! I hope you have a good trip, and I'm sure you have everything covered. A couple of tips which were cut from the original article (only because of the restrictions on length)- if you're driving then keep the car fairly full of fuel. Petrol stations are sometimes not easy to find in the more remote areas, and we also some that had no fuel while awaiting deliveries. Also, if you are unsure of anything, lost, or just curious about a particular place, don't be afraid to ask the locals. They were always more than willing to help, and seemed very warm to foreigners.
Have fun!

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Thanks for your piece Trevor; I'm just checking to see whether I'm missing anything vital out of my forthcoming trip to Jordan.

I think you cover all the bases in your article; in fact you have so many places described, I wonder if the piece could have been sub divided so there was a specific Petra article. I will have to see how I get along with writing up my experiences in due course :o)


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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

The main sights are covered very well, and Amman is as I remember it - very well described.

However, I feel that some people might be (unreasonably) apprehensive about the country, for precisely the reasons alluded to at the start of the guide. For that reason, I was disappointed that there is little reference to the fine traditions of hospitality maintained by the very friendly people.

Also, no mention of the food - which has to be a huge selling-point for the would-be visitor, surely?s

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1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Kenny, thanks for the review. As it was my first trip there I booked the Hisham Hotel in Amman before I travelled, and the same with the car hire. Hertz are based in another hotel, but will meet you at the airport with a car. The Petra Palace was booked on arrival, and although not my first choice (which was full), it turned out to be a good alternative. In hindsight, it would probably be best to book the Petra hotel in advance too, as they do seem to get quite busy. Those on the route south are easier to just arrive and get a room, so you can still have some flexibility in your journey.
Hope that helps, and look forward to hearing how you get on!

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1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Hello Trevor,
Thank you for your writing a good report on Jordan. If you would fill in a few blanks that would be much appreciated.
1; did you hire your car from home or on your arrival in Jordan ?
2; did you consider using various hotels ie arriving at Peta for example and finding a hotel or was booking the one more practical,

Thank you.

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