The lowest point on the earth’s surface, the Dead Sea is a fascinating natural phenomena and one of the most spectacular natural and spiritual landscapes in the whole world. It is the lowest body of water on earth, the lowest point on earth, and the world’s richest source of natural salts, hiding wonderful treasures that accumulated throughout thousands of years.To reach this unique spot, the visitor enjoys a short 30 minutes drive from Amman, surrounded by a landscape and arid hills, which could be from another planet. En route a stone marker indicates “Sea Level”, but the Dead Sea itself is not reached before descending another 400 meters below this sign.
Hammamat Ma’in / Ma’in Hot Springs
Visitors to the Dead Sea should also take advantage of another nearby wonder, Hammamat Ma’in (Ma’in Hot Springs). Popular with both locals and tourists alike, the springs are located 264m below sea level in one of the most breathtaking desert oases in the world. Thousands of visiting bathers come each year to enjoy the mineral-rich waters of these hyper-thermal waterfalls. These falls originate from winter rainfalls in the highland plains of Jordan and eventually feed the 109 hot and cold springs in the valley. This water is heated to temperatures of up to 63° Celsius by underground lava fissures as it makes its way through the valley before emptying into the Zarqa River.
As the political, cultural and commercial capital of Jordan, it should come as no surprise that Amman is brimming with activity and has no end of exciting things to do. Today, the city is thriving and has been crowned one of the world’s most liberal Arab capitals, making it a very appealing destination for European travellers. A striking feature of Amman is how it has delicately struck a balance between the old and the new. Skyscrapers and busy streets fill the city center, but nestled in the heart of this modern metropolis is the ancient citadel, dating back to the Neolithic period. For those looking for an authentic experience, head to the markets where you will be able to sample traditional Middle Eastern snacks and haggle with vendors over spices, perfumes and jewellery. At the end of the day, retire to one of the numerous Turkish baths for a bit of self-indulgence.
Umm Qais, situated 110 km north of Amman on a broad promontory 378 meters above sea level with a magnificent view over the Yarmouk River, the Golan Heights, and Lake Tiberias, this town was known as Gadara, one of the most brilliant ancient Greco-Roman cities of the Decapolis; and according to the Bible, the spot where Jesus cast out the Devil from two demoniacs (mad men) into a herd of pigs (Mathew 8:28-34).
Magnificently set in a fold of the hills that rise from the Jordan Valley 78 km north of Amman, Pella; known in Arabic as Tabaqat Fahl; is one of the most ancient sites in Jordan and a favorite of archaeologists being exceptionally rich in antiquities. It is perfectly situated, for there is a spring here which issues into a small river and never runs dry. The tell itself seems to have been continuously occupied since Neolithic times for some flints from this period have been found there; and some recent finds 2 km north even date to Paleolithic times, around 100,000 years ago.
The Decapolis (meaning ten cities in Greek) was a ten-city Greco-Roman federation, or league, occupying all of Bashan and Gilead in northeastern Palestine and is mentioned three times in the New Testament. The territory was contiguous except for Damascus which some believe to have been an honorary member. Eusebius records it as the region around Hippos, Pella, and Gadara.Created under Pompey the Great, about 64-63 BC as part of his eastern settlement, the league provided a formidable means of defense on the eastern frontier of the empire. Such leagues existed in other parts of the Roman Empire for purposes of trade and mutual protection.
Known today as Mukawir, this dramatic hilltop is the traditional site of the execution of John the Baptist. It lies less than 20 km southwest of Madaba at the King’s Highway on a stark promontory (720 m), overlooking the Dead Sea and protected on three sides by deep ravines. A fortress was first built here by the Hasmonean ruler Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BC) to defend Perea against the expansionist Nabataeans. His widow Alexandra, confident of the site’s inviolability, stored her treasure here – to no avail, as the Romans destroyed it in 63 BC.
Scattered throughout the black basalt desert, east of Amman, the Desert Castles stand as a testament to the flourishing beginnings of Islamic-Arab civilization. These seemingly isolated pavilions, caravan stations, secluded baths, and hunting lodges, were at one time integrated agricultural or trading complexes, built mostly under the Umayyads (661-750 AD), when Muslim Arabs had succeeded in transforming the fringes of the desert into well-watered settlements.
Aside from being widely considered as the most spectacular and original monuments of early Islamic art, these complexes also served practical purposes: namely, as residences, caravanserais, and baths.
Aclose second to Petra on the list of favorite destinations in Jordan, the ancient city of Jerash boasts an unbroken chain of human occupation dating back more than 6,500 years. The city’s golden age came under Roman rule and the site is now generally acknowledged to be one of the best-preserved Roman provincial towns in the world. Hidden for centuries in sand before being excavated and restored over the past 70 years, Jerash reveals a fine example of the grand, formal provincial Roman urbanism that is found throughout the Middle East, comprising paved and colonnaded streets, soaring hilltop temples, handsome theatres, spacious public squares and plazas, baths, fountains and city walls pierced by towers and gates. Beneath its external Graeco-Roman veneer, Jerash also preserves a subtle blend of east and west. Its architecture, religion and languages reflect a process by which two powerful cultures meshed and coexisted – The Graeco-Roman world of the Mediterranean basin and the ancient traditions of the Arab Orient.
Ajloun Forest Reserve
Ajloun Forest Reserve is located in the Ajlun highlands (North of Amman). It consists of Mediterranean-like hill country, dominated by open woodlands of Oak and Pistachio trees. The Reserve was first established in 1988 when a captive-breeding program for the Roe Deer was initiated. The reserve is located in an area named Eshtafeena. The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature has set up two hiking trails and provided a special area for camping. Ajlun’s woodlands consist mostly of oak trees, interspersed with pistachio, pine, carob, and wild strawberry trees. These trees have been important to local people for their wood, scenic beauty and, quite often, for medicine and food.
The marvels of nature and the genius of medieval Arab military architecture have given northern Jordan two of the most important ecological and historical attractions in the Middle East: the sprawling pine forests of the Ajlun-Dibbine area, and the towering Ayyubid castle at Ajlun, which helped to defeat the Crusaders eight centuries ago.Ajlun Castle (Qal’at Ar-Rabad) was built by one of Saladin’s generals in 1184 AD to control the iron mines of Ajlun, and to deter the Franks from invading Ajlun. Ajlun Castle dominated the three main routes leading to the Jordan Valley and protected the trade and commercial routes between Jordan and Syria; it became an important link in the defensive chain against the Crusaders, who, unsuccessfully spent decades trying to capture the castle and the nearby village.
Dibeen Forest Reserve
The newest addition to Jordan’s network of nature reserves, Dibeen was established in 2004. Located north of Amman and offering vista views, nature walks, and a rest house, Dibeen boasts an exceptionally large variety of trees of different sizes and ages.
The Kings Highway
A most ancient route. The King’s Highway winds its way through the different ecological zones of the country, including forested highlands, open farmland plateaus, deep ravines, the edge of the eastern desert, and the warm tropical Gulf of Aqaba.First mentioned by name in the Bible (Numbers 20:17 and 21:22), the King’s Highway was the route that Moses wished to follow as he led his people north through the land of Edom, which is in southern Jordan.
Dana Nature Reserve
Unique in the Middle East region, the Dana Nature Reserve is a protected region overseen by Jordan’s RSCN (Royal Society for the Protection of Nature) combining scientific research, social reconstruction and sustainable tourism. A real joy for nature lovers, enthusiastic ornithologists, hikers, trekkers and amateur photographers, the terrain of Dana drops from 1500m above sea level at Dana to below sea level west of Faynan with diverse geological features as well. The most obvious walking route in the reserve is the magnificent Wadi Dana Trail, which stretches for some 14km from the village all the way to Faynan. Another spectacular walk is the seasonal (March – October) Steppe Trail, which is some 8km in length, the Water Drops Trail (2km) and the Palm Trees Wadi Trail (17km). All of these trails can be undertaken with a local guide.
Azrak wetland Reserve
Azraq is a unique wetland oasis located in the heart of the semi-arid Jordanian Eastern Desert, one of several beautiful nature reserves managed by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN). Its attractions include several natural and ancient built pools, a seasonally flooded marshland, and a large mudflat know as Qa’a Al-Azraq. A wide variety of birds stop at the Reserve each year for a rest during their arduous migration routes between Asia and Africa. Some stay for the winter or breed within the protected areas of the wetland.
Bethany Beyond Jordan
Less than 2 kms east of the Jordan River is an important place associated with the lives of Jesus and John the Baptist, the settlement of Bethany, where John lived and baptized. John 1:28 refer to it as “Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing”. In John 10:40 it is mentioned as the place to which Jesus fled for safety after being threatened with stoning in Jerusalem: “Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days”.
This settlement beyond the Bethany has recently been identified on the south bank of the small perennials stream named Wadi Kharrar, just east of the Jordan River and opposite Jericho. It is being excavated, protected, and made accessible for visitors.
The small natural hill forming the core of Bethany is called Elijah’s Hill, or Tell Mar Elias in Arabic. Local tradition for thousands of years has identified it as the place from where Elijah ascended to heaven.
Bethany’s ancient remains include structures from the 1st century settlement of John the Baptist , including large plastered pools with steps for full immersion, and the 5th-6th century remains of the Byzantine period settlement called Ainon or Saphsaphas and depicted on the 6th century Madaba Mosaic Map of the Holy Land.
A charming town known for its thriving markets and stunning mosaics which date back to the Byzantine era, Madaba is both an interesting and hospitable stop on any Jordan itinerary. Throughout the city there are a number of boutiques and outlets selling tasteful handmade crafts, particularly tapestries and carpets. For those looking to get more familiar with Madaba’s mosaic-related history, the Archaeological Park and Museum is a great place to start.
Rising majestically from the rugged landscape of the region just northwest of Madaba, Mount Nebo reaches a height of around 820m and is of great religious importance due to its biblical associations. It is told that it was here that Moses got a glimpse of the Promised Land before he died and because of this, the mountain has long been a site of pilgrimage for Christians from around the world. Those who take on the challenge of hiking to the mountain’s summit are well rewarded with stunning panoramic views of the Jordan River, Dead Sea, Bethlehem and various other sites, just as Moses would have had all those centuries ago. Climbers will also be able to visit the Memorial Church of Moses, which includes a Byzantine basilica and Old Baptistery that were excavated in the recent past. Whether you are religious or not, climbing Mount Nebo offers a fantastic and unique way to see Jordan.
In the hills east of Ghor as-Safi (ancient Zoar) a cave was found in 1991 with Early and Middle Bronze Age pottery inside. Speculation linked the finds with Abraham’s nephew Lot who, according to the Bible, moved to a cave in the hills above Zoar after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Measuring 500 metres in depth and spanning 4 kilometres across, the impressive Wadi Mujib canyon is one of Jordan’s most remarkable natural features. The Mujib Biosphere Reserve is the lowest nature reserve in the world, with a spectacular array of scenery near the east coast of the Dead Sea. The Reserve is located within the deep Wadi Mujib gorge, which enters the Dead Sea at 410m below sea level. The dramatic canyon features sheer rocky walls and sparkling waterways that range from puddle height to depths that are perfect for swimming trails. The canyon is just one feature of the Mujib Biosphere Reserve, the lowest nature reserve in the world, home to a surprising diversity of wildlife and plant species. With five different trails available, it’s an ideal hiking spot especially in the spring (April and May) and autumn (September and October) months.
Shaumari Wildlife Reserve
The Shaumari Wildlife Reserve was created in 1975 by the RSCN as a breeding centre for endangered or locally extinct wildlife. Today, following breeding programs with some of the world’s leading wildlife parks and zoos, this small, 22 sq km reserve is a thriving protected environment for some of the most rare species of animals in the Middle East. Oryx, ostriches, gazelles and onagers – which are depicted on many 6th century Byzantine mosaics – are rebuilding their populations and reasserting their presence in this safe haven, protected from hunting and habitat destruction that nearly wiped them out.
The magnificent Crusader fortress of Kerak – Crak des Moabites, or Le Pierre du Desert to Crusaders – soars above its valleys and hills like a great ship riding waves of rock. But Kerak’s origins go back long before the Crusaders; the earliest remains are Iron Age, shortly after the Exodus, when this was a part of Moab. It was known as Kir-haraseth, Kir-heres, or Kir, and its doom was prophesied by Isaiah (16:7), who mentions its ‘raisin-cakes’, presumably a local specialty. Then it falls out of history until the Byzantine period, when it was important enough to have an archbishop.
Just off the King’s Highway 190 km south of Amman and less than an hour north of Petra stands an impressive castle as a lonely reminder of former Crusader glory dating from the same turbulent period as Kerak, crowning a cone of rock, which rises above a wild and rugged landscape dotted with a grand sweep of fruit trees below.
Voted as one of the best eco-lodges in the world, the Feynan Ecolodge offers a stay with a difference. Running completely on solar power and candle light, come nightfall it becomes a beautiful, romantic retreat that you won’t want to leave. All guest rooms are ensuite – with hot water from the natural spring. For the ultimate in atmospheric evenings – head to the roof at night time and enjoy the endless stars overhead – truly breathtaking. The Lodge is in the Wadi Finan Bedouin area below Dana Reserve.
An ancient town, As-Salt was once the most important settlement in the area between the Jordan Valley and the Eastern Desert. Because of its history as an important trading link between the Eastern Desert and the west, it was a significant place for the region’s many rulers.It’s the ideal place for admiring the architecture, stopping off at the small archaeological museum, and finishing up at Salt Zaman, a lovely restored old building in the heart of the town, charmingly furnished with antiques and handicrafts. Salt also houses a Handicrafts School where you can admire traditional skills of ceramics, weaving and silk screen printing.
Excavations in Umm Ar-Rasas have uncovered some of the finest Byzantine church mosaics, including a large carpet depicting Old and New Testament cities on both the east and west banks of the Jordan River. Another feature at Umm Ar-Rasas walled settlement is a 15m Byzantine tower used by early Christian monks seeking solitude.
Hidden away in a secluded valley amidst the mountainous Jordanian landscape, it is no wonder why Petra was lost to the world for hundreds of years before its rediscovery in the 1800s. With the winding narrow passageway of the Siq, impressive Treasury facade, a beautiful hilltop monastery and numerous other monuments you’ll need at least two days to explore.
The moonlike landscape of Wadi Rum is unique to the world. The desert of Rum is dotted with massive mountains, coloured in shades of red, yellow, and orange. Their hues spill over to color the sand dunes around the desert and the horizon of its breathtaking panorama. This is a place where you can become one with nature, where visitors are humbled by the towering mountains and overwhelmed by the serenity and quiet ambiance of this magnificent place. The eco-system of Wadi Rum holds many rare and endemic plants. Spring reveals hundreds of species of wild flowers. About 120 bird species have been recorded in the area, including the Griffon Vulture, the Fan-Tailed Raven, Bonelli’s Eagle, and Hume’s Tawny Owl. Baseline surveys show the existence of the Grey Wolf, Blandford’s Fox, the Sand Cat, and the Ibex within the area. On visits to Wadi Rum we take a 4×4 desert jeep ride through the heart of the stunning desert and spend a night at a remote desert camp where we watch a beautiful sunset, enjoy a traditional Jordanian meal and camp under the stars or in tents.
The Gulf of Aqaba is famous for its marine wildlife. It is the north-eastern arm of the Red Sea, measuring a length of 180km and expanding to a width of 25km, with a shoreline shared by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Jordan. The Gulf of Aqaba has the world’s northernmost coral reef ecosystem. An average water temperature of 23° Celsius, the absence of stormy weather and mild water currents have created a hospitable environment for the growth of corals. Favorable salinity levels are perfect for the myriads of other marine life-forms. As a result, it is home to 110 species of soft corals and 120 species of hard corals. The reefs that fringe the Gulf host over 1000 species of fish, corals, crustaceans, and mammals living in its waters. Nocturnal animals such as the crab, shrimp, and lobster appear in search of food in the dark hours of the night. Seasonal visitors to the Gulf of Aqaba include sea turtles, dolphins, sea cows, and harmless whale sharks.