Jordan I have to admit is one of my favorite countries. I love the history (it’s ancient), the culture, the sites, the people, and the food; especially the food!
Jordan is a modern country that sits on ancient land. Civilization in Jordan pre-dates biblical times. It has been home to ancient people since the Neolithic Period over 12,000 years ago.
In fact some of the first artwork made by humans were discovered in Ayn Ghazal archaeological site in what is now Amman the modern city that is the country’s capital. In total 15 pottery statues were unearthed at the site and they are now displayed at the new Jordan Museum in Amman.
The museum is also home to some of the Dead Sea Scrolls including one of the famous copper scrolls. The Jordan Museum should be on your list of places to visit in Jordan regardless if you’re a history buff or not. The statues are amazing and the scrolls are definitely intriguing.
But to really experience Jordan step away from the museums and the hustle and bustle of the busy capital and visit some famous and not so famous sites around the country. Here are 5 unique activities that will make your Jordan vacation truly memorable.
The ancient Rose City of Petra located in southwest Jordan is arguably one of the most important archaeological sites on earth. In my opinion it ranks up there with the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, the Pyramids of Chichen Itza in Mexico, and the UK’s henges.
The city is located in Wadi Musa, the Valley of Moses where according to the holy books Moses struck one of the stones in the desert valley and found water. Nestled between desert canyons and mountains Petra was the thriving trading center and capital of the Nabataean empire between 400 BC and AD 106. The ancient buildings with elaborate facades were carved out of the sandstone cliffs in the second century AD.
I believe that a trip to Jordan is incomplete if one doesn’t visit the city of Petra. A trek through Petra is a humbling and awe inspiring experience. There are many ways to see Petra, the site is huge even though just 15% of the city has been excavated.
I prefer to walk in from the main gates. To reach the city one must meander thru the twisting canyon called the Siq. Walking is the best way to see all the features of the Siq including the system of ledges that brought water into the city in ancient times. You’ll also see some carved mini “temples” and staircases scattered through out the Siq; you never really know what lies beyond the curve until you get there!
It’s also the best way to get your first glimpse of the city, believe me it’s breathtaking! The narrow Siq opens up to allow you to set foot in the ancient city and the first sight you will see is the iconic building made famous by the movie Indian Jones and the Last Crusade. Stepping into the sunshine from the shadows of the Siq is a magical moment!
You can wander the city on foot then catch a donkey up to the monastery located up a steep path towards the end of the site.
Or if you prefer you can hire a camel to walk you around the city. On your way out if you’re too tired to walk back to the main gate you and hire a carriage to take you back.
How ever you decide to visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site it is definitely worth the time. For more information on things to see in Petra click here!
Wadi Rum is a desert valley in south Jordan known for its spectacular sunsets and topographical formations.
A ride through Wadi Rum is like a voyage through Earth’s topographic evolution. Many of the formations are older than the Dead Sea Rift which forms the western part of Jordan.
Wadi Rum is a desolate inhospitable place that the local Bedouins have camped in and traveled through for centuries. Today Wadi Rum is a protected area where visitors can participate in a variety of activities.
One of the most popular things to do is to stay overnight in a luxurious tent. A far cry from the tents used by ancient bedouins these modern tents are air conditioned, have running water, and are very comfortable. Many of the tent resorts or hotels are located deep enough within the preserve that you get a feeling of the isolation. If you’ve never experienced the saying “as black as night” this is one of the places to do so. The darkness that surrounds you makes it the perfect place to stargaze for those are the only points of light you’ll mostly see.
You can go trekking on camels, by horseback, or by 4×4 vehicles. You can even hike, but bring a guide and lots of water if you do. Or for a very special activity go on a balloon ride at sunrise or sunset. Spectacular!
Take a Dip in the Dead Sea
The Dead Sea has the lowest elevation and the lowest body of water on the surface of the Earth. Its surface level is over 1400 feet below sea level.
The Dead Sea is actually a landlocked lake located between Israel and Jordan. Its main source of water other than rain is the Jordan River although there are small tributaries and underground springs which trickle into the lake. But the Dead Sea is the terminus for the flow, in short there is now way out. So the water accumulated in the lake evaporates and creates salt.
It is famous for it’s healing waters which are said to cure everything from skin disorders to diabetes. The benefits of the waters are attributed to the high concentration of salts that have accumulated in the lake over centuries.
Because of the extremely high salinity pretty much everything is buoyant in the Dead Sea. So even if you don’t know how to swim you will float, but be aware that even though you float it doesn’t mean you can’t drown. In fact floating on your stomach is not a great idea, because the water is so buoyant turning and swimming is difficult; so you could get stuck on your stomach and drown!
But with some common sense and caution a dip in the Dead Sea is a must do when in Jordan!
Visit Umm Quais
Umm Quais is both a modern town and ancient city in Northern Jordan. Known as Gadara in ancient times it was a member of the Decapolis, a group of 10 city/states, that marked the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire.
It was also occupied by the Byzantines and later the Umayyad Dynasty so you’ll find ruins of those ancient civilizations as well.
What makes this town and site unique is it’s location. Snuggled amid the Golan Heights of Syria, the Jordan Valley of Jordan and the West Bank, and Lake Tiberia (The Sea of Galilee) in Israel Umm Quais quite literally has a view of 3 countries, or 4 on a clear day when one can spot the mountains of Lebanon.
The archaeological site is pretty much off the beaten path so you won’t find it busy at all. You can sit in the black basalt theater, walk the still paved Decumanus Maximus (main road going east to west) of the city in Roman times, stroll down the Cardo Maximus (Colonnaded main road going north to south), wander the ancient ruins that include a basilica, underground mausoleum, and a 16th. century church; and enjoy a meal at the cafe that’s built into the ruins of an ancient building. You can even visit the small on site museum that houses finds from the area’s excavation; you may have to round up the person in charge to unlock the building.
Umm Quais is one of my favorite sites, the views from the cafe are amazing. A trip to Umm Quais can be combined with a trip to Jerash, Irbid, and Ajloun. All are worth visiting!
A trip to Jordan would never be complete without trying all the wonderful food the area has to offer.
Don’t be afraid to try the shawarma and falafel sandwiches being sold on the road; they are amazing not to mention unbelievably cheap!
And then there are the outdoor cafes along the roads, I love the ones in the Shmesani district where the cafes, restaurants, and coffee houses are busy til the wee hours of the night!
For amazing falafel, hummus, and fresh baked bread try out Hashem’s downtown (even the Royals eat there!) or head to one of Abu Jbara’s locations.
For sweet treats nothing beats Habibah. You can grab some fresh kunafa at the little downtown kiosk where you stand in the alley to eat your delicious cheese pastry or sit down at their new location a block away from Abu Jbara on Medina Street. The new 2 story location is a wonderland of middle eastern and western treats. You’ll find baklava, kunafa, and maamoul along side ice cream, cakes, french pastries, and chocolates.
If you’re looking for something fancier head over to Reem Alo Bawadi. The food is excellent and the service outstanding.
What ever you decide to eat you’ll find something for every taste and budget in Amman! Want more great eats in Amman? Click here!
Whenever we’re in Jordan we try to spend at least a few days at one of the beachfront resorts in Aqaba. It’s about a 4 – 4 1/2 drive from Amman via the Desert Highway or a 3 hour drive from the Dead Sea via the Dead Sea Road.
(There are buses and taxis to and from Aqaba leaving from both Amman and the Dead Sea Area. It can actually be a day trip from either place.)
Aqaba is Jordan’s only coastal city and is the largest city on the Gulf of Aqaba. It is rich in history and has been inhabited since 4000 BCE.
It’s stragic location at the junction between Asia and Africa made it a very important part of the trade route between these two continents.
Today it is a well known tourist destination know for it’s warm water and rich marine life.
The Gulf of Aqaba is one of the top diving destinations in the world. Aqaba is also the perfect base from which to explore the wonders that Jordan has to offer in this area, including Petra and Wadi Rum.
Whenever we’re in Aqaba we always stay at the Intercontinental Aqaba Hotel & Resort on King Hussein Street. It is one of the 3 major hotels that I know of in the city that is on the beach, the Movenpick and Kempinski are its neighbors). The Intercontinental is one of my favorite hotels in the world!
The hotel property includes a private beach with oceans views and views of Eilat, Israel which is just across the water. It has great restaurants and lounges, comfortable rooms and suites, several pools, a full service spa, and a kids’ club with activities throughout the day. Of course the service is excellent!
We usually begin our day with the breakfast buffet at the Corniche Restaurant. The abundant buffet has an array of breakfast foods, cereals, fruit, pastries, and a live action station where friendly chefs will gladly fry you some eggs or and omelette. I does get very busy on the weekends and during high season.
The breakfast buffet cost $24 dinar for guests 12+, half price for children 5-11, and free for kids under 5.
The restaurant also has a dinner buffet, the menu changes nightly. We dined there for their Friday Night Barbecue where they served freshly grilled beef, chicken, and lamb kebobs and also had some very tasty shawarma. The price for the dinner buffet is about 40 dinar for adults, half price for kids 5-11, and free for kids under 5.
The Corniche Restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating. We love the outdoor seating as it has both pool and sea views.
The grandkids enjoyed the pools and beach. The kids’ pool is located in a shaded area in front of the indoor kids’ club. There’s also an outdoor shaded area with playground equipment. The kids’ club staff have planned activities on the beach and in the pools during the day. They’re very good at keeping the kids entertained. The boys had a great time at the water balloon toss on the beach.
The indoor play area is air conditioned and is well equipped. Activities for younger children are in this area and families are invited to movie nights. It’s a great place to cool off after a hot day on the beach.
We let the kids play here while my daughter and I indulged ourselves with massages at the spa located right next door!
For those looking for some water fun and adventure there’s a water sports kiosk on the hotel’s beach where you can rent jet skis, ride a banana boat or a glass bottom boat, parasail, and water ski or rent some scuba or snorkel gear to explore the underwater reef.
There are many restaurants in the old town just a few blocks from the Intercontinental. You can even walk from the hotel to the heart of the old town.
One of our usual dining spots is the Alibaba Restaurant in the heart of the old town on the corner of Raghadan and Hammamat Al Tunisyya Streets. The location is great for people watching and they serve alcohol.
They serve fresh seafood as well had traditional Arabic food. The food is okay if you order the grilled meats like shish taouk or lamb kabobs. The shrimp fried rice was actually pretty good too.
Prices here are less expensive than at the resorts starting at about 9 dinar for a plate of kabobs with rice, salad, and hummus. Seafood prices are higher depending on what is ordered.
After dinner we like to walk around town for a bit of souvenir shopping. The streets around Alibaba Restaurant are lined with all sorts of shops selling everything from clothing to household goods and beach toys. Prices are very reasonable, and bargaining is expected.
A walk around the old town is never complete without a stop at one of the sweet shops or bakeries. We pick up a kilo or so of freshly baked kunafa (cheese filled semolina pastry) and Awame (honey drenched fried bread balls.)
Of course when we’re in Aqaba we take a day or two to head over to Petra and Wadi Rum for the day!
Amman, Jordan’s capital, is a bustling city with a mixture of ancient sites and modern buildings. Here you can wander thru the Neolithic and Bronze Age ruins of Jabal al’Qal’a (the Citadel), see some of the oldest statues in the world and gaze at the Dead Sea Scrolls in the newly opened and very modern Jordan Museum, and relax at a hookah lounge in the popular Shmeisani district all in one day.
Where ever you wander in the city good food is never far away. Whether you’re hungry for burgers, pasta, or traditional Arabic food you’ll find it all in Amman. The city and its environs are crowded with familiar fast food joints from the ever present McDonald’s and Burger Kings to Applebee’s and Chili’s, you’ll find it all there.
But when we’re in Amman familiar franchise restaurants is never at the top of our dining choices, we take advantage of the wonderful Arabic specialties that abound through out the city. From street food to fine Lebanese restaurants you’ll find great food to satisfy your palate and fit your budget. Here are some of my favorite Amman restaurants, I’m sure you’ll find something to suit your appetite and your wallet.
Long time favorite Hashem’s Restaurant counts the Jordanian Royal Family among its patrons. It’s located in an alley off Al-Amir Mohammed Street in Amman’s busy downtown.
You can’t miss it, the restaurant literally takes up the entire alley, just look for white plastic chairs and tables usually filled with locals and tourists lining both sides of the alley.
Hashem’s in known for their freshly made falafels. You can see the the guy frying the spicy balls in front of the shop window, it’s actually quite amazing how fast he makes them.
I remember my first visit, I was a bit put off when our waiter was doling out fresh falafel from a tin bucket with his bare hands. I’d briefly wondered and hoped that his hands were clean. One bite was all it took for me to forget about his hands, perhaps serving them with bare hands added to the taste, maybe. At any rate along with falafels you can get plates of hummus, foul, pickles, and of course pita.
Hashem’s is still one of my favorite lunch spots when I find myself in downtown Amman. It gets no points for ambiance that’s for sure, specially when you have to sit on plastic chairs in the alley on a very hot summer day, but the food makes this place worth a visit. They’re open quite late if you get a late night hankering for some falafel and hummus. A meal here will set you back about 3 dinar per person, that’s just a bit over $4.
Abu Jbara is my newest favorite. Like Hashem’s they specialize in falafel and hummus but in a more upscale setting. They have several locations in Amman, I go to the one on Al-Madineh Al-Munawrah St.
Unlike Hashem’s in downtown Amman Abu Jbara is an indoor air conditioned restaurant in a newer section of the city. The place is open 24 hours and seems to do a bustling trade all the time. You’ll probably have to wait for a table, but they turn them over pretty fast so you won’t be waiting long.
I love the falafels and foul at Abu Jbara, not to mention the never ending bread service. A waiter will bring fresh hot pita bread to your table until you say stop. The bread is made on site and served directly from the oven, delicious! It’s a prices are about double what Hashem’s charges, about 6 dinar a person, $8.50, but the air conditioning is worth the extra cost on a hot summer day.
Another favorite is Habibah Sweets. Among their specialties is my husband’s favorite, Kunafa, a cheese filled pastry drenched in sweet syrup.
The original kiosk located in a side alley by the Arab Bank in downtown Amman is always busy in spite of the fact that they have no seating.
You grab your plate of fresh hot kunafa and eat it on the go.
They’ve come a long way since their humble beginning in 1951. They have several branches around the city. The newest one is on Al-Madineh Al-Munawrah St., a block away from Abu Jbara. Very convenient for us, we grab lunch at Abu Jbara then walk on over to Habibah for dessert.
The new 2 story Habibah is a dessert lover’s dream. The first floor houses the bakery where you will find just about every type of pastries and candy you can imagine. From a wide variety of Arabic sweets. cookies, chocolates, ice cream, and beautifully decorated cakes and molded marzipan, you’ll find it in this bake shop.
If you prefer to sit down and enjoy your dessert with tea or coffee you can take the elevator up to the second floor tea room. Here you can order just about everything they have in the bakery downstairs.
The menu has so many sweet offerings it’s hard to choose just one, so we ordered a large variety,
all of it delectable. It is rather pricey, expect to pay more for Habibah’s desserts than lunch at Abu Jbara. Whichever location you choose to visit, don’t leave Jordan without having a plate of Kunafa from Habibah!
Reem Al Bawadi Restaurant in the Khalda district of Amman is our favorite sit down restaurant. The place is huge with indoor and outdoor seating. The food and service are excellent. From the moment you’re seated you’ll be treated like royalty. Last time we were there I counted at least 3 waiters serving our table.
They offer a large selection of mezzes and great grilled meats. My favorite is their Shish Tauok, marinated chicken kebobs. They also serve good Mensaf, meat cooked in a yogurt type sauce and served over rice and thin bread. After dinner you can enjoy a hookah with tea or coffee.
This is a definite must whenever we’re in town. It’s pricey, expect to pay about 30 dinar per person, $42+, but it’s so worth the price.
This photo of Reem albawadi is courtesy of TripAdvisor
When I find myself at Mecca Mall during lunch time I head over to Lebnani Snack. This local franchise is Jordan’s version of McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Jamba Juice combined in one colorful restaurant.
Lebnani Snack serves burgers, sandwiches, pizza, juices, and pastries made from fresh Halal ingredients. They have many locations in the city. It’s a great place to grab a quick lunch or snack, and definitely indulge in one of their fresh fruit cocktails. I love their Mango, Strawberry, Banana with milk cocktail, it goes great with a chicken shawarma sandwich!
Prices are reasonable, but expect to pay more for one of their pretty juice concoctions than you would for a sandwich.
I love to hang out at one of the outdoor bars in the Shmeisani area, they are great places to people watch. There are many places to sit down and have a cup of coffee or a tall glass of freshly squeezed juices.
We usually pick one of the busier places and hang out for a couple of hours.
If you’re not a smoker you can ask for a table away from the crowds. Smoking seems to be allowed at any table, but the waiters are very good and will be happy to set up a table for you where you want. The last time we were there they were ready to set up a table on the sidewalk so that we didn’t have to navigate the crowded restaurant!
When in Amman don’t be afraid to try the little hole in the wall snack shops you’ll find on the streets. They’re clean and serve tasty food at very reasonable prices.
This little snack bar in the Shmeisani area serves everything from burgers and fries to mixed grill platters. We had a feast of mixed kebobs (lamb, ground beef, and chicken) with salads, hummus, bread, pickles, fries, and drinks for less than 25 dinar, $35. But don’t let the small price tag fool you, the food was delicious! The meats were tender and tasty, the bread fresh, and the fries hot!
I can’t end this post without mentioning shawarma sandwiches. I don’t exactly go to a restaurant to eat this although I have to admit the chicken shawarma from the Kempinski Hotel’s room service is outstanding. Most of the time I grab a bag of sandwiches from the street vendors. When we stay at the Meridien Hotel there’s a man who sets up shop on the corner across from the hotel for about 1 dinar, that’s like $1.50. I usually send our driver to pick up several sandwiches, they are to die for!
So if you see a street vendor selling shawarma sandwiches grab one or two you won’t be disappointed!
This summer we took my daughter and grandchildren to visit the ancient Nabataean city of Petra in Jordan. It has changed quite a bit since my visit back in the spring of 2007.
I guess being named 2nd. in the New 7 Wonders list in July 2007 brought about the changes, most of them good, some I’m not sure are great.
The Bedouins are still there hawking carriage, camel, horse, and donkey rides as are the snack bars and gifts shops around the entrance to the park, they’re just more organized and now have free wi-fi for guests.
Gone are the enormous portraits of Jordan’s beloved kings, King Hussein and his son the current King Abdullah, that covered the wall of the small visitor center.
The visitor center is there, now located behind a gate and clustered with shops and new restroom facilities around a rotunda. The ticket windows are right outside. You can still hire guides inside the visitor center.
The biggest changes that I noticed are the new snack bar and souvenir shop inside the park itself located just across from the famous “Treasury”, the abundance of tables through out the park displaying handicrafts for sale, and the Bedouin kids hawking postcards everywhere. They seem to have gotten much more aggressive in their sales pitch!
Regardless of the changes Petra is still a wonderful place to visit and should be on everyone’s bucket list. History buffs will love wondering thru the ancient building built into the cliff walls, hikers will enjoy walking thru the Siq (canyon leading to the site) and hiking up to the Monastery and other sites located higher up, and children will love exploring the caves and scrambling up stairs that have been carved on the cliff walls. I’m astounded that visitors are allowed so much freedom at the site.
My daughter and grandchildren enjoyed our day in Petra in spite of the heat and the long walk. Here are some of the things we saw.
My husband and grandson’s Dion and Devon at the Siq entrance.
Devon checking out the ancient water channels along the Siq walls.
In ancient times this channel brought water from the spring in nearby Wadi Musa to the city center of Petra.
My daughter and her son Jett walking down the sandy path in the Siq. Jett loved running around the Siq!
The boys scrambled up the stairs carved on the cliff walls of the Siq.
Dion and Devon getting that first glimpse of what lays at the end of the Siq.
Petra’s most famous structure, the “Treasury”. The kids loved walking around the camels. Jett spent most of the time running around the camels, he thought he was at a playground!
Tombs and other structures we saw as we walked thru the site.
The boys exploring the cave like structures in the site.
Here’s a video of our day in Petra from the park entrance and beyond.
We were exhausted after exploring the site on such a hot summer day, we ended up riding donkeys back to the Treasury area.
After a long hot day trekking thru the Siq and wandering the site we decided to hire carriages from the Treasury area to take us back to the entrance. It was a crazy ride thru the Siq, the kids loved it!
Back at the entrance we grabbed a couple of tables at one of the restaurants and sat down for some lunch and much needed rest.
The restaurants serve drinks, snacks, and Arabic food including falafels, shawarma, and kebobs. The food was ok, but very over priced. They do however have free wi-fi, just ask the waiter for the password.
Employees in guard costumes were very friendly. Many of them stopped by for a chat and to play with Jett.
During lunch we took turns exploring the souvenir shops around the restaurant. We ended up with a couple of plush camels and Khol pencils. We found the prices a bit higher than other shops in Jordan, but if you want something that says Petra the shops in this area have the best selections.
Our day it Petra was a lot of fun, it will definitely be remembered for years to come. The boys, Dion and Devon, had a great time and learned a few things about the ancient city as well. Petra is definitely a must do!
Voted one of the New 7 Wonders of the World in a competition held by the New 7 Wonders Foundation there’s no doubt that Petra is the Crown Jewel of Jordan’s many ancient historic sites.
Ancient Petra, also know as the Rose-Red City ( It was described as “a rose-red city half as old as time” in a prize winning poem by John William Burgon) due to the color of the sandstone from which its was carved, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
Petra, or Al-Batra as it’s called in Arabic, is famed for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system which turned the city into an artificial oasis in ancient times.
The city is believed to have possibly been established as the Nabatean Capital city as early as 312 BCE. The surrounding areas have been inhabited since pre-historic times. The city and environs are mentioned in Egyptian and Biblical accounts.
The Golden Age of Petra during Nabatean rule began in the 2nd. Century BCE when Petra thrived as the center of their caravan trade; controlling the major routes to Gaza in the west, Borsa and Damascus in the north, Aqaba on the Red Sea, and across the desert to the Persian Gulf.
In 106 CE the native dynasty came to an end and Petra was absorbed into the Roman Empire. It became the capital of the Roman Arabia Petraea region. The city flourished and reached its height of splendor during early Roman rule but declined rapidly in the Byzantine era. The city’s decline was aided by a couple of major earthquakes; the quake in 363 CE damaged buildings and crippled the vital water system; another major quake in 551 CE further damaged the already weakened structures and the city was abandoned in 663 CE when the Arabs invaded.
The ancient ruins were an object of curiosity during the Middle Ages visited only by the local Bedouins and Egyptian Sultans. The city remained unknown to the Western world until it was introduced by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.
The city played a role during the 1917 revolt against the Ottoman rule of Arabia. Led by British Army officer T. E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia, the Arabs and Syrians of Petra successfully rebelled against the Ottoman Turks.
Today, made popular in movies, books, and other media Petra is Jordan’s most visited tourist site. Located within the boundaries of the Petra National Park in Jordan’s southern Ma’an Governate Petra should be on everyone’s Travel Bucket List.
The Park encompasses and protects some 800+ structures and monuments on the UNESCO World Heritage List as well as the surrounding canyon and mountains. Many folks think that on a visit to Petra one will see just its iconic Al Khazneh or The Treasury, the monument that introduced Petra to modern masses when it was used as the setting in the blockbuster movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Surely just a glimpse of The Treasury is breathtaking, but there is so much more to Petra. Here are some must see highlights and tips for your visit to this beautiful site. Much of the ancient city is easily accessible by walking along wide level walkways, by hiring horse pulled buggies, and in some areas by riding a camel or donkey which local Bedouins hire out.
The first order of business is getting to the site. We usually spend a few days in the resort city of Aqaba and drive to Petra from there, it’s about an hour or so north of Aqaba. If you’re coming from Amman you can drive, take a taxi or bus, or take one of the tours which the tour desk at your hotel can arrange.
Whichever form of transport you take from Amman you will head south on the Desert Highway to Wadi Musa, the town that has sprung up around the site. If you’re planning on staying in the area overnight or longer you will find many types of accommodations in Wadi Musa ranging from hostels for backpackers to luxury hotels. The town also has a wide assortment of restaurants and shops catering to tourists.
Plan on arriving a the park early 8:30 – 9:00 a.m. to get the best views of The Siq and Treasury, they are deeply shadowed in the afternoon. Buy your entrance tickets, get maps and information, hire a guide if you wish, and GO TO THE BATHROOM at the visitor center as soon as you arrive at the center. There are clean bathrooms at the visitor center, make use of them, the next ones are deep inside the site and are a long walk away.
Buy tickets at the ticket window outside the Visitor Center. Admission tickets start at about 50JOD for foreign adults for 1 day. Prices for children, residents, students, and for multi-day admission will be posted at the ticket window.
You can get maps or hire a guide at the desk inside the Visitor Center.
You can stock up on water, sunblock, hats, etc. at the shops before the park entrance; just remember you will have to carry everything in the park and you will be doing plenty of walking. You may want to hold off on purchasing souvenirs until after you exit the park.
Once you pass the park entrance you will be bombarded with transportation offers; horses and donkeys will take you to the Bab al- Siq, entrance of the Siq, the beautiful gorge leading to the city; horse drawn buggies will take you thru the Siq to the entrance of the city itself. If you have a physical condition that makes walking difficult, or you just don’t feel like making the trek you can avail yourself of these services without feeling guilty, the animals are very well treated and cared for. If you choose to take the buggy you will zip thru the Siq and not be able to enjoy the scenic wonders that await you in the gorge. The cost to ride is very inexpensive and helps the local Bedouins make their living. If you opt to walk the vendors will politely let you do so.
As you walk to the Siq entrance look at the silica quarry on your left. The ancient Nabateans may have quarried the silica to make the water proof cement for their water system. Just past the quarry as the Bab al-Siq narrows you will see three huge cut rock square blocks. These are called Djinn Blocks and stand like sentinels guarding the entrance to the gorge. They are actually tower tombs and are believed to be some of the earliest tombs of Petra although their date remains unknown. 26 such blocks have been found in and around Petra.
Further along you may notice some steps leading up to a narrow unadorned entrance cut into the stone. This rarely visited attraction is the Snake Tomb, inside are 12 graves cut into the floor. On one wall is a rough carving of 2 snakes attacking a four legged animal, above it on a smaller scale is a horse with a block shaped rider. The significance of the carvings are unknown.
Dominating the left side of the wall as you walk towards the Siq are the 2 first major monuments of Petra; the Obelisk Tomb on top and the Bab al-Siq Triclinium directly below it.
The top decorated with 4 obelisks in the Egyptian tradition is the tomb itself. The bottom Triclinium is decorated in classical Nabatean style and is one of many such rooms in Petra that was used for memorial feasts in honor of the dead.
Some distance from the Obelisk Tomb the ground will rise and it will seem that you’ve come to the end of the road. You’ve reached the Dam. At the top left is the entrance to the Siq, ahead is a tunnel cut thru the mountain which the Nabateans created to divert flood waters from rushing into the city. After the city was abandoned the Dam crumbled allowing flash floods to destroy much of the city center. The Jordanian government has rebuilt the Dam keeping the city safe again from floods. Before you proceed to the Siq you may want to take a quick look around and take a peek into the tunnel, but DO NOT enter the tunnel if it’s raining, the area is known for flash floods in the rainy season. You will see inscriptions on the mountain walls, inside the tunnel there’s a statue of an eagle, and on the other side of the tunnel is another Djinn block.
If you are on horse or donkey back this is the point where you must dismount and walk into the Siq.
If you’re riding a buggy you will zip on pass and into the Siq.
As you walk thru the Siq notice the ancient water channels along the left wall, it was used to bring water from springs several miles away into the heart of the city.
You’ll also see carving and niches along the way. Enjoy the natural colors and rock formations that surround you. The Siq snakes its way to the city for about a kilometer, around every bend be prepared to be awed by yet another wonderful sight, building anticipation for what lies still ahead. I always find myself holding my breathe as I peek around each bend never quite sure if I’ve finally reached the point where I can catch that first glimpse of the city “half as old as time”.
Finally after an awesome trek thru the canyon you’ll see that crack in the mountain as you round the last curve. The first glimpse of the Al Khazneh or The Treasury thru that crack is breathtaking! Take a moment to gaze at the awe inspiring sight before you. Take plenty of photos to capture the moment before you step back in time into the great ancient Nabatean city that is Petra.
Stepping out of the Siq into the sunlight you come face to face with Al Khazneh, or the Treasury.
Arguably the most famous and most photographed monument in Petra, and justly so, it is magnificent. It’s still uncertain exactly what purpose it served although it is certain that it did not house any treasure. Some scholars believe it was a royal tomb, others believe it was a temple, and others still believe it was a memorial mausoleum. The funerary symbolism of the facade’s carvings certainly suggests at least some association with the dead.
In front of The Treasury you’ll find local Bedouins offering camels to ride thru the city. You can enter The Treasury for a glimpse of what’s inside, not much is there but the walls are multicolored layers of rock.
As you make your way to the heart of the city you will pass the Street of Facades. It’s lined with tombs and caves. Some of the facades are gone leaving only the carved entrances. The tall impressive tombs are clearly for the rich important folks of the time. The dozens of smaller ones on the canyon walls are for those not so rich.
Further along the canyon towards the heart of the city proper you will pass the Roman Theater which is in a sad state of deterioration.
Close by you’ll find the 700+ steps that will take you up to the High Place of Sacrifice.
There are several large tombs carved high on the canyon walls, they are called the Royal Tombs.
The first is The Urn Tomb with a large front courtyard, the some of the others are the Silk Tomb, Corinthian Tomb, Palace Tomb, and Sextius Florentinus Tomb.
The Corinthian Tomb
Eventually you will enter the Colonnade Street that has been badly damaged by ancient floods, the road passes thru the city center and is lined with many un-excavated sites waiting to someday be revealed. You’ll also pass some Roman Temples in various stages of deterioration or restoration.
At the far end of the road you’ll find Petra’s only restaurant on site and the museum.
The museum houses many interesting items found in Petra. The restaurant is very busy in spite of its high prices. Bathrooms are available within the restaurant. You’ll also find locals around this area offering donkey rides up to Ad Deir, also called the Monastery, located up on the mountainside.
You can climb up the 800+ steps to The Dier or opt to pay a few dinar and ride a donkey.
After you scramble down from The Monastery you’ll more than likely be ready for a cold drink. The restaurant on site is the only place in the park where you can chug down a cold beer! Have a drink or two as you ponder your options for the long trek back to the main gate, at this point it’s about 4 kilometers away. You may consider hiring a donkey, camel, horse, or buggy. I know I did!
I rode a donkey back to The Treasury….
….and a buggy back to the main gate
If you do decide to take one or more types of transport, bargain with the vendor, it’s expected.
But before you head back you might consider a handmade souvenir or two from the Bedouin vendors inside the park.
I couldn’t resist buying a couple of beaded necklaces from this charming child Rania
I have been to Egypt, Greece, Italy, and Turkey and have seen their ancient sites, of course they are awesome; but nothing captures my imagination more than the Rose-Red City of Petra. It truly must be on eveyone’s bucketlist!
For highlights on our most recent trip to Petra with the family click here!
The Ancient Nabatean City of Petra in Jordan is no doubt the crown jewel of the kingdom’s historic treasures; but there is so much more to Jordan than that. The country is an archaeologist’s dream, filled with ancient and historic fortresses, castles, and more dating back from pre-historic and Biblical times thru Ancient Rome, and on to the region’s Umayyad Period.
Biblical scholars can visit sites that are written in the Bible; The Dead Sea, The River Jordan, and the Sea of Galilee, just to name a few. Jordan’s natural beauty serves as a fantastic backdrop for all these historic and Biblical sites.
For those looking for fun in the sun, nature hikes, or some pampering you’ll find all that and more at Jordan’s resorts, and nature parks. Indulge in massages and treatments at one of the luxurious Dead Sea spas or enjoy a hike at the Dana Biosphere Reserve or the Azraq Wetlands Oasis.
Before you head south to Petra plan a stay in Amman, the capital city. Explore the city and the surrounding areas, you won’t be disappointed.
Originally built on seven hills or “Jebels”, Amman has served as the modern and ancient capital of Jordan. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world; recent excavations have revealed houses and towers believed to have been built in the Stone Age, circa 7000 BCE. There are many Biblical references to the city; around 1200 BCE it was the Ammonite capital of Rabbath-Ammon, the Ammonites fought epic battles with Saul, David, and other prominent Biblical figures.
Here are some of my favorite sites in Amman and others that can be explored by taking day trips from the city; of course you can stay in those areas if you prefer to spend more time exploring a particular area.
The best place to start a tour of Amman is at the Citadel. The Citadel sits on Jebel Al-Kala’a, Jordan’s highest hill. It is the site of the ancient city Rabbath-Ammon. During Roman rule Amman was renamed Philadelphia and was one of the great cities of the Roman Decapolis League. In the Byzantine Period it was the seat of a Christian Bishop. Arab armies regained the city around 635 and changed its name back to Ammon or “Amman” as it’s now known.
The site is really a jumble of ruins with layers of structures and artifacts from the city’s different eras; Paleolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad. As you explore the quiet hilltop you can see cave entrances along the path, evidence of the site’s pre-historic inhabitants.
The best preserved/restored structures are the Roman Temple of Hercules, The Umayyad Palace simply referred to Al-Qasr, and the Byzantine basilica.
The hilltop also has an awesome view of the city. The Roman Theater built in the side of the hill in downtown Amman can be seen from the hilltop as well as the Raghadan Flagpole which is located on the grounds of the Raghadan Palace at the royal compound of Al-Maquar. The pole was erected in 2003 and was the world’s tallest freestanding flagpole at that time.
The Citadel and surrounding Archeological Park is open 8am-4pm Sat-Thu Oct-Mar, to 7pm Sat-Thu Apr-Sep, 10am-4pm Fri yr-round. Admission is 2JOD
The Jordan Archeological Museum is located inside the Citadel. It houses a collection of statues, pottery, and other artifacts dating back to the Paleolithic Age to the Ayyubid Period.
The Ain Ghazal statues are displayed in this museum, they are among the oldest statues ever made by human civilization.
The museum housed some of the Dead Scrolls until recently when they were relocated to the new Jordan Museum in the Ras Al-Ayn Area next to the Greater Amman Municipality Building on Ali bin Abi Taleb St.
Jerash, the ancient city referred to as Gerasa in the Bible, is located less than 50 Km. north of Amman. It is considered one of the world’s largest best preserved Roman ruins outside of Italy.
Evidence of habitation in the area dates back to the Neolithic Period, but the golden age of Jerash was during the Roman rule when it was known as Gerasa. In 1st. Century BCE Gerasa was named one of the great cities in the Roman Decapolis League, 10 cities that were linked to the Empire by powerful political, commercial, and cultural interests.
Jerash is now an archeological park filled with well preserved Roman architecture; colonnaded streets, baths, theaters, arches, and plazas.
Hadrian’s Arch and the Hippodrome are located before the park entrance and can be seen for free. The park is open daily in the summer from 7:30 am – 7:00 pm, and in the winter from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm. Entrance for foreigners is 8 JOD.
The site is fairly large but can be seen in a few hours. You can pick up a site map at the Visitor Center at the park entrance. Here a the most notable sites you can look for as you explore this ancient city.
Forum (Oval Plaza) – an unusual wide, asymmetrical plaza at the beginning of the Cardo (or Colonnaded Street), built in the 1st century AD. The Oval Plaza is 80 m by 90 m (262 ft by 295 ft) and is enclosed by 160 Ionic columns.
The Cardo – a 600 m (660 yards) colonnaded street that runs the length of the city. It was once lined with the city’s major buildings, shops and residences. A complex drainage system lies below the stone paving. Look for chariot tracks in the stone.
Agora – the city’s main food market, which has a central fountain.
Nymphaeum – an ornate public fountain that was decorated with lions heads and dedicated to the nymphs.
Temple of Artemis – impressive temple ruins dedicated to the patron goddess of the city.
South Theater – an amphitheatre that seats up to 3000. It is occasionally used today for concerts and musical productions. Daily features include bag pipers in traditional Jordanian military dress.
Jerash Archaeological Museum – features a collection of artifacts found during excavation, including coins, statuary and sarcophagi.
Qala’at al-Rabadh also know as Ajloun Castle is located in the town of Ajloun. Ajloun is located 25 Km. west of Jerash and 73 Km. from Amman.
It can be a quick side trip on the way to or from Jerash. The site is open every day during daylight hours and can be entered free of charge.
Qala’at al-Rabadh is actually a fortress built on the hill above Ajloun by Saladin’s nephew in 1184-85 CE to combat the Crusaders. Its strategic location gave the defenders command of the Jordan Valley and today offers amazing views of the surrounding area; on a clear day you can see the Dead Sea, Jordan Valley, West Bank, and Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee).
Umm Qais located 120 Km. north of Amman, and 30 Km. from the city or Irbid, is one of my favorite sites in Jordan.
The modern town of Umm Qais is the site of the ancient Roman city Gadara, one of the great cities of the Decopolis. According to the Bible it is the place where Jesus cast out the devil from two men into a herd of pigs (Matthew 8: 28-34)
This is the northern most tourist attraction in Jordan and is a bit off the beaten path, but in my opinion is well worth the visit. On week days you could possibly have the site to yourself, we did. (It is a popular spot for local families on Fridays and holidays.)
The site seems a bit forlorn and neglected, the signs sparse and fading, and chunks of ruined columns and buildings line the once majestic decumanus (colonnaded street). At the entrance you will see some tumbled down ruins of Umayyad structures, rising right behind them are ancient Roman columns. A large portion of the Roman Theater still remains. Made of black basalt stones the theater is entered thru a vaulted passageway that supports rows of seats. Across the theater is the main colonnaded street which probably also served as the city’s commercial center. Near the theater is the Terrace which has a courtyard, church, and basilica from the city’s Byzantine era. Along the decumanus are the ruins of the Nymphaeum, a bath complex, and a well preserved Roman Mausoleum. Further along you can possibly make out the remains of what was once the Hippodrome. There’s a small museum on site which houses some Byzantine mosaics and the marble statue of Tyche which once sat in the VIP section of the basalt theater.
The ruins may not be too impressive, but the view from the site is well worth the trip. There’s a restaurant built in what was once an Ottoman structure, the outdoor seating offers magnificent panoramic views. You will be sitting at a table in Jordan admiring views in 3 bordering countries; Lake Tiberias (The Sea of Galilee) in Israel, the valley of the Yarmouk River across which is the southern end of the Golan Heights (claimed by and is recognized as Syria), and on clear days Mount Hermon which borders Lebanon is visible in the distance. The views are both breathtaking and heartbreaking.
Admission to the site and museum are free. You can easily combine a day trip to both Jerash and Umm Qais as each site will take just a few hours to see.
Another one of the great cities of the Roman Decapolis, Pella has been inhabited since the Neolithic Age. The city is said to be a Christian refuge during Jewish-Roman wars in the 1st. Century CE when Jerusalem Christians fled to the city to escape the wars.
The city was destroyed by the Golan earthquake in 749. Excavations have been conducted by the University of Sydney and the Jordan Dept. of Antiquities since 1979; much has been revealed but still more remains hidden.
The ongoing excavations have uncovered ruins from the Greco-Roman period, as well as the remains for Bronze and Iron Age walled cities, Byzantine churches, and Early Islamic homes and medieval mosque.
You can drop by the site for a quick look on the way back to Amman from Umm Qais. Entrance to the ruins are free. There’s a small tea house above the ruins where you can have tea and snacks and get a great view of the excavation; you may even meet one of the archeologists working at the site at the tea house, we did!
Umm Al-Jimal is a black city located 87 Km. east of Amman in the province of Mafraq which is just 10 Km. from the Syrian border.
Many of its houses, churches, barracks, and forts were built with black basalt stones thus earning the city the nickname “Black Oasis”.
The town’s origins are still unclear, it is believed to have been built by the Nabateans about 2000 years ago when it served as a post for many trading caravans as it is aptly named Umm al-Jimal which means Mother of camels.
The town was destroyed by the massive earthquake in 749 which razed many of the great cities in the area.
This in my opinion is a less interesting site which can be visited when exploring Jordan’s eastern desert region. We spent less than hour at the site on our way to Azraq and the desert castles.
Created some 250,000 years ago the wetlands was once the crossroads for human caravans and bird migration. Millions of meters of fresh water attracted migrating birds as well as caravans traveling between Arabia, Mesopotamia, and Syria. Today due to over consumption the springs have dried up. The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature established a reserve in 1978 and has been fighting an uphill battle to bring back the birds and water buffalo who have died or gone elsewhere since the water dried up.
The reserve is a nice respite when one is doing the Desert Castle loop from Amman. It provides a cool restful oasis from the endless miles of dry hot desert.
The reserve has a couple of easy walking trails and a rustic bird hide that overlooks one of the lagoons. There’s nearby Azraq lodge that has a few rooms, a restaurant, and gift shop. There’s also a small museum that narrates the history of the wetlands from pre-historic times to its current dehydrated condition.
A nice day trip from Amman is the Desert Castle Loop. You can begin the loop heading north from Amman to the town of Azraq where you’ll see 3 castles before you get to the town. (Qasr Al-Hallabat, Azraq Oasis, and Qasr Al-Azraq).
This is probably the best preserved castle along the route and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The castle has a luxurious bath house and is adorned by some well preserved frescoes. It was part of a larger complex that hosted traveling caravans. Entrance to the castles are free.
This castle is an enigma to both archeologists and historians; some maintain it served as a fort; others as a caravansari for passing caravans; and still others say it was a retreat for Umayyad leaders to discuss current affairs.
None the less the castle is fairly well preserved and you can spend a half hour or so exploring it’s rooms.
You will pass 2 more castles on the return to Amman; Qasr Al-Mushatta and Qastal.
Just a few kilometers west of Madaba is Mt. Nebo, known as Pisgah in the Bible. It was atop this mountain that the Bible says Moses lived out his remaining days and viewed the Promised Land which he would never enter. (Deuteronomy 34: 1-8)
The mountain top has awesome views that includes the Dead Sea, West Bank, Jericho, Jordan River, and on clear days Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
Mt. Nebo is a pilgrimage stop where early Christians stopped to pay homage to the “Tomb of Moses”.
The Nebo area was purchased by the Franciscan Fathers in 1934. Excavations starting in the 1930s have uncovered a basilica and 6 tombs in caves beneath the basilica floor. Today there is a church and shrine.
A stay in Amman would not be complete without a dip in the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is an easy day trip from Amman or Madaba, but I wouldn’t recommend combining a day in Madaba with a dip in the Dead Sea which can leave your skin feeling itchy and somewhat sticky.
Lying over 400 meters below sea level the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth. As its name suggests there are no living plants and animals in this body of water. The sea is fed by the Jordan River but it has no outlets. The rapid evaporation of the water has resulted in the extremely high content of salt and other minerals thus making it uninhabitable.
The mineral concentration however gives the waters therapeutic properties that have been recognized since the time of Herod the Great over 2000 years ago when it is referred to in the Bible as the Salt Sea.
The high salt content makes swimming impossible, the water’s buoyancy keeps one floating too high on the surface making strokes virtually impossible. However don’t be lulled into thinking you can not drown in the Dead Sea; you can, people do every year. This happens when they try to swim on their stomachs or fall into the water face first. The high water density that makes the water extremely buoyant acts against you if you’re face down; it’s difficult if not impossible to force legs and lower body down to flip over or stand up. Also swallowing even a small amount of the water can destroy a body’s electrolyte balance causing the heart and kidneys to possibly shut down. Floating on your back is really the only option.
A day trip to the Dead Sea of course must include a dip into the sea, you can do this at a resort, at a public beach, or a spot along the road with shore access.
There are quite a few hotels and resorts lining the length of the Dead Sea including Marriot, Hilton, Crowne Plaza, Moevenpick, and Kempenski; all 5 star resorts & spas. There is also the Medical Center that is part of the Dead Sea Spa complex, it is a luxury hotel with a spa and medical center that is recognized in the world as being the first in the region to offer natural skin treatments.
Resorts allow non-guests access to their private beaches and the use of their facilities including changing rooms, showers, spas, pools, bars, and restaurants. Expect to pay 25JOD and up per person for a Day Pass. You can of course book treatments and massages at any resort spa and treat yourself to a body wrap, facial, and more using Dead Sea products. My favorite resorts are the Jordan Valley Marriott Resort & Spa and the Moevenpick Dead Sea Resort & Spa. Day passes at either was 45 JOD per person. Spa prices vary by treatment; appointments can be made directly at the spa on the day of.
If you don’t want to splurge for a day pass at one of the resorts you can go to the public Amman Beach about 2 Km. from the hotel zone. Entrance fee cost 20 JOD per person, it includes a towel rental, beach access, use of showers, small child’s play area, and cafes and restaurants. It’s not luxurious but it works. You can dip yourself in the Dead Sea and slather on the mineral rich Dead Sea mud for a DIY spa treatment. Don’t be shy, everyone on the beach is doing it! Do rinse off the mud and salt before you leave as it will cause you to be itchy and sticky if you don’t.
If you’re really on a budget you can go to a road side location 20 Km south of Amman Beach and dip into the sea for free. The place is dirty and unkempt but the sea water has the same therapeutic properties as everywhere else along the Dead Sea. There is a small waterfall coming from a hot spring where you can wash off the salt after your dip. There are no facilities at this road side pull out, it’s identified by a couple of small snack kiosks.
A couple of things to remember when you go to the Dead Sea:
1. Don’t shave the day you go or even a day or two before you go. Freshly shaven skin will burn when you touch the salt laden water.
2. Don’t go in the water if you have any cuts or scrapes – it will hurt like the dickens!
3. Don’t get water in your eyes, nose, and mouth – it will burn and it takes a long time to rinse out so it stops burning. If you do get water in your eyes, nose, or mouth rinse with fresh water immediately; continue to rinse until it stops burning. Get medical attention if you swallow the water and start feeling sick, you may be poisoning yourself. The public and private beaches have lifeguards.
4. Don’t try to swim on your stomach; instead float on your back and keep your face out of the water.
5. Wear waterproof footwear. The shores can be pebbly and the sea floor rocky. The beach shores are can also be very hot specially in the summer time when it can be scorching. Also solidified salt and minerals can be sharp and will easily cut or puncture skin which will cause immense pain if you’re in the water.
6. The salt can stain your bathing suit and any clothing it comes in contact with. Rinse suits and clothing out asap after to leave the water. Better yet wear something old so you don’t have to worry about staining it.
7. Wash the salt off your body before you use a towel otherwise salt will stick on the towel and rub off on your skin when you use it later. The salt can make you very itchy.