Undoubtedly, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Petra is Jordan’s most iconic and popular attraction. While the impressive site gives an important look into the country’s history, it’s also important to realize Jordan has much more to offer than just Petra. In fact, Jordan has many other worthwhile offerings suitable for all kinds of travelers, from adventure enthusiasts to spa-goers to foodies and beyond. To help you enjoy a well-rounded trip to Jordan, here are some suggestions.
If you’re looking for: Adventure
For those looking for an adrenaline rush, Jordan is full of adventurous opportunities. Wadi Rum is the first stop one should make when looking to get their heart rate up, as amongst its desert skyscrapers, vast expanse of red sand, otherworldly rock formations and colorful pinnacles visitors can skydive, paraglide, camp, rock climb, go hot air ballooning, ride camels, go on 4×4 tours, ATV and go desert trekking.
That being said, Wadi Rum isn’t the only place for an adrenaline rush. Dana Biosphere Reserve is Jordan’s largest nature reserve, encompassing 119 square miles (320 square kilometers) of rugged landscape across the Great Rift Valley with many opportunities for trekking through different climates and ecosystems, camping and 4x4ing. One challenging yet worthwhile experience includes spending a night camping at the Rummana Camp Site and waking up early to trek 14 kilometers (nine miles) to the Fenyan Ecolodge, passing sandstone gorges, colorful valleys, vibrant pink oliander, camels and goat-hair Bedouin tents. Truly adventurous travelers can extend the hike to go to Petra, which takes about five days to one week. For those who want to get a little wet, there’s Wadi Mujib for trekking and canyoning in the gorge and abseiling down 50-foot (15-meter waterfalls).
If you’re looking for: Eco-Tourism
There are many restaurants, hotels, tour agencies and conservation groups working hard to make Jordan a more eco-friendly place. Because of this, travelers can find an array of sustainable experiences.
For example, Fenyan Ecolodge is located in the Dana Biosphere Reserve and is a true ecolodge focusing on four main objectives: to help the local Bedouin community, give guests unique experiences, reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to conservation. Fenyan Ecolodge is designed to allow all 26 guest rooms to stay cool without the aid of fans or air conditioning. A very minimal amount of electricity is used as rooms are void of outlets and lights (except for the bathroom), with the entire property illuminated by candlelight. Because there is no refrigeration the food and beverage program features delicious vegetarian cuisine made with local ingredients. Moreover, to help the local community Fenyan Ecolodge hires majority of their staff from the local Bedouin community, one of the few remaining places in Jordan where an authentic Bedouin culture still exists.
In terms of experiences, the property is located within the above-mentioned Dana Biosphere Reserve, and visitors can experience the landscape through guided hikes. Vegetarian cooking classes, stargazing on their rooftop with a state-of-the-art telescope, a daily sunset hike, exploring the nearby copper mines and cultural Bedouin experiences like visiting a Bedouin goat-hair tent home to experience coffee making or goat hair weaving are also possible.
Visiting Jordan and its many wadis (valleys) — like Wadi Rum, Wadi Araba, Wadi Mujib, Wadi Musa and Wadi Saqra — can also help you to explore the local landscape and get to know the local ecosystem. And if you’re in Amman, don’t leave without enjoying a meal at Wild Jordan Cafe, a sustainable restaurant supporting the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) — responsible for the society’s ecotourism and handicrafts enterprises — that showcases 360-degree views, locally-sourced ingredients, organic meals, teas containing herbs picked by Jordanian farmers and the largest nature shop in the region.
If you’re looking for: Food and wine experiences
In typical Jordanian food you’ll see a lot of rice, lamb, pita and hummus. The national dish is mansaf, which consists of seasoned lamb cooked in yogurt and served with rice. Mezzes are a popular way to begin a meal and are small plates of flavorful dishes like hummus, falafel, tabouleh, babba ghanoush and za’atar.
The area of the country you visit will determine what kind of culinary experience you will have, as certain parts of Jordan don’t have bars or diverse restaurant offerings. For the most varied selection of food and drink, head to the capital of Amman. Here you have two downtowns: the old city where you can enjoy historical attractions, local eateries and shopping at colorful markets, as well as the modern downtown where you’ll find comfortable hotels, trendy rooftop bars, energetic clubs and a mix of local and international cuisine.
One not-to-miss experience is visiting Zumot Winery & Vineyards which features an array of organic wines that can be paired with baguettes, cold cuts and cheese. Many of the wines feature unusual flavors, for example, their Merlot showcases flavors of plum, bacon, cashew, toffee and tobacco leaves, while their Chardonnay is more buttery than most and has notes of baked bread, vanilla, apricot and citrus.
Another worthwhile culinary experience is taking a cooking class at Beit Sitti, where you’ll learn how to cook a four-course Arabic meal with a traditional hajjeh. Some typical menu items include maneesh, hummus, foul and falafel.
For a trendy food and drink experience head to Cantaloupe Gastro Pub (10 Rainbow Street), an ambient bar and restaurant where you can enjoy dishes like char-grilled whole Sea Bream fish served with a special chili garlic sauce; a prime bone-in ribeye; and an orzo salad with oven-roasted vegetables, feta cheese, fresh nuts, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. While you eat, take in aerial views of the city from their outdoor rooftop. They also offer local and international wines, beer and an array of signature cocktails like the “Blink,” which features Champagne, vodka and raspberry, or the “Lychee Mac,” which has whiskey, ginger ale, fresh lime juice and real lychee.
One worthwhile way to explore the local culinary culture of Amman is through a Private Evening Tour of Central Amman with Arabic Meza Dinner. The experience allows you to pass the capital’s many coffee shops, pubs, traditional souks and sample a typical Jordanian meal.
From Amman you can also enjoy the local experience of having lunch with a local family at their home. This is a great way to have a home-cooked meal while also getting a glimpse of local culture. To book this experience, you can contact the tourism board at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re looking for: A spa retreat
For a rejuvenating retreat, your best option is to head to the Dead Sea — the lowest point on Earth — and float in its waters, which are high in curative salts and minerals. Additionally, the area is full of resorts and spas where you can enjoy massages, body treatments and facials that make use of the Dead Sea salts.
Located about 20 minutes from the Dead Sea, the eco-friendly Evason Ma’In Hot Springs & Six Senses Spa in Ma’In has numerous onsite hot springs that feed the Dead Sea, as well as a sumptuous spa with treatments like an “Olive Grove Scrub,” “Jasmine Facial” and “Dead Sea Mud Body Wrap.” The atmosphere of the property is one that promotes total zen, with a fitness center overlooking the surrounding nature, polished wood furniture, neutral tones, plush couches and relaxing swing chairs, an onsite organic garden with ingredients that get used in their numerous bars and restaurants, and rooms providing waterfall balcony views.
If you’re looking for: A beach getaway
Those wanting a beach resort experience should head to Aqaba to relax on soft golden beach or take a boat tour out to snorkel or dive the reefs. The Red Sea is home to over 500 species of corals and 1,200 species of colorful fish, many of which are native to the area, like the Arabian Angelfish, Domino Damselfish, Emperor Angelfish, Sunburst Butterflyfish and the Valentini Pufferfish. Along with watersports like sailing, jet skiing, water skiing, snorkeling and windsurfing, Aqaba is home to more than 30 main diving sites offering everything from shipwrecks to pinnacles to underwater canyons and beyond.
If you’re looking for: A cultural experience
There are many worthwhile things to do in Jordan and endless ways to explore local culture; for example, shopping in local markets, going to women’s cooperatives and watching artisans at work, visiting Bedouins in their goat-hair tent homes, taking a cooking class at Petra Kitchen and seeing the ruins of Jerash’s ancient Greco-Roman civilization.
To truly immerse yourself in Jordanian culture, spend a night at the Captain’s Desert Camp in Wadi Rum sleeping in authentic Bedouin tents made of goat hair, smoking shisha, taking part in traditional song and dance, stargazing and having a traditional “zarb” meal cooked in an underground oven. The camp is beautiful with candlelit pathways and an open-air common area with soft cushions to relax around the fire. To add some active fun, bring a soccer ball and invite the Bedouins and other guests to take part in a match of Jordan’s most beloved sport. From here, you’ll be able to easily explore the many things to do in Wadi Rum.
If you’re looking for: History
Petra isn’t the only historical site in Jordan, as the country is full of ancient ruins, historic churches, early settlement sites and artifacts. Due to its location at the crossroads of Asia, Africa and Europe the country has played a vital role in international trade since the dawn civilization. Jordan’s rich Roman, Biblical and early Islamic history can still be seen today.
Many of Jordan’s important historical sites can be visited within an hour or less of Amman. Right in the city you’ll find the Amman Citadel, which was the focus of settlement from the Early Bronze Age (3,200 to 2,000 BC) and sits on one of seven jabals (hills) that originally made up Amman. Along with being able to walk through the many ruins visitors can peruse the artifacts in the onsite Jordan Archeological Museum. Nearby, you’ll find an ancient Roman Theater built into the hillside between 138-161 CE. Interestingly, the theater is still used today.
Visiting the old Greco-Roman civilization of Gerasa in Jerash, nicknamed “Pompeii of the East,” is also a must, as the site is known for its impressive unbroken chain of human occupation dating back to 2000 BC. The ancient site is filled with columns, temples, roads, theaters, bathes, mosaics, fountains, marketplaces and an impressive hippodrome used for chariot racing. Don’t leave without seeing a bagpipe performance in the South Theater or visiting the Acropolis for some Bedouin whiskey (aka tea) and seeing the moving column that sways with the breeze.
If you’re looking for: Biblical sites
Jordan is home to a rich biblical history that can still be explored today, like Mount Nebo, the place where Moses saw the Holy Land and where he is thought to be buried. In Madaba, known as the “City of Mosaics,” you’ll find the Greek Orthodox church of St. George and its 6th century Byzantine mosaic map depicting the holy sites of the area.
If you’re in the Dead Sea area you’ll be in the place the bible referred to as “Salt Sea” and the “Sea of Arabah.” Surrounding cities are regularly referred to in the Bible, as the Dead Sea area was important in biblical times. In fact, just a short taxi ride from the Dead Sea resorts will take you to Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the place where John baptized Jesus Christ.