When a person hears Jordan, it is most likely that he will think of the Ancient Nabatean City of Petra. This proves that Petra, the magnificent rock hewn city is indeed one of Middle East’s most dazzling and spectacular sights to behold. Yet Jordan is not just about Petra. Travelling across the country will show you that there’s more to see – from Crusader castles, desert citadels, ruined Roman cities to Mt. Nebo which was newly consecrated by the late Pope John Paul II. The country also straddles the ancient Holy Land where powerful biblical sites can be visited like the brook where Jesus was baptized, the mountaintop where Moses cast eyes to the Promised Land and the fortress where Herod beheaded John the Baptist. Biblical scenes are not just visible in the past of Jordan; today you’ll see a lot of men clad in full flowing robes and herd their sheep and other livestock across the timeless desert.
Jordan does not only boast of historical ruins – the capital of Amman is a modern Arab city with diverse cultures and definitely far flung from the clichés of Modern Eastern exoticism. Other un-missable sights include the red desert sands of Wadi Rum, the Gulf of Agaba where coral reefs can be seen behind brilliant blue waters, and rich palm filled wadis. Float in the lifeless Dead Sea, look for Madaba’s legendary mosaics and unwrap a scarf in Mukawir. Anywhere you go, you’ll surely notice that every stone, every place has a rich history to tell in Jordan.
Jordanians are proud and compassionate people. No matter what country you came from, you will be greeted with warm smiles and open arms by the people the moment you step in Jordanian land.
When to Travel
The Jordan Valley and the Gulf of Agaba, being the lowest areas in the country is still warm with chilly evenings during the winter months of January to February and suffers extreme heat during summer months of June to August. In contrast, the higher central and northern areas can be quite cold in winter with some snowfall. The Eastern Desert region also experiences bitter cold nights during winter and dry intense heat during summer.
The best time to visit the country is during spring from March to May, and autumn from September to November. During these months, daytime temperatures are not that extreme, making travel easier and more comfortable. April is the best time to witness wildflowers in full bloom and the temperature is warm enough.
Winter season brings occasional snowfall in Petra and Amman. Even deserts can be surprisingly cold at night so it is advisable to bring plenty of warm clothes and a waterproof and windproof jacket.
July and August is the high summer season that brings extreme heat in the Jordan Valley and the desert of Wadi Rum. Though hot, weather is easier to deal with, especially with festivals held in this season. One of them is the Jerash Festival. Bring sunscreen, hats, and any clothing that will protect you from the sun if you plan to travel during these months.
The Ramadan Festival is another thing to consider when planning your trip. Visitors are not allowed to eat, smoke or drink in any public place, thus spoiling your visit. On the other hand, the great celebration Eid al – Fitr or the last day of Ramadan is a good time for tourists but its best to wait for a few more days since hotel accommodations are hard to find.
Also take note, excellent nature reserves located in Wadi Mujib, Ajlun and Jordan’s Dana only operates between April and October.
Cuisine and Drinks
Jordanian cuisine is quite the same with all the dishes served across the region. It shares many of the characteristics of Middle Eastern cooking, but adding fresh, locally made yogurt and cheese gives it a unique Jordanian taste.
Khobez, a delicious flat Arabic bread sold in most bakeries across the country, is the main staple. Other ingredients commonly used in dishes are chickpeas, aubergines, lentils and beans. Restaurants often serve menus that are both Arabic and European while all hotels offer American style meals for breakfast. Breakfast often includes eggs, cheese, labaneh, zataar and olive oil along with bread and a cup of tea.
Jordan’s national dish is the Masaf, a stewed lamb cooked in a unique yogurt sauce. It is sprinkled with golden pine nuts or fried almonds and served with mounds of glistening rice. Another dish worth trying is Makloubat which is chicken stuffed with different spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and allspice. Baklava, a pastry filled with nuts and drizzled with honey. Kibbi, which is deep fired ground beef or lamb with steamed rice, onion and cinnamon are some national specialties tourists will be delighted to taste for a truly Jordanian cuisine. For starters, there’s also a selection of dishes that pre-empt almost every main meal; this include hummus (mashed chickpeas in a tahini or sesame sauce), moutabel (aubergine dip which was smoked), fool (a thick type of stew made with fava beans and tabouleh (chopped parsley salad).
Most popular places to eat are the local businesses such as Al Kalha and Abu Jbarah famous for their falafel and hummus, Al-Daya’a and Reem for great shawarma sandwiches and dishes and the Jerusalem restaurant in downtown Amman known for serving cheap, tasty Mansaf. International fast food chains crowd the country too. You can find the Pizza Hut, Burger King and McDonalds almost anywhere. Five- star hotels have the best fine-dining foreign style restaurant and Italian cuisine and pizza places are abundant in Madaba, Amman and Aqaba.
For drinkers, recommended national drinks are Arabic coffee, served strong and is more considered a tradition than a drink, and the Araq, a local liquor similar to Greek Ouzois typically mixed with water and ice. The country also has a long tradition of wine-production, thanks to the Christian minority.
Popular Vacation Sights in Jordan
Amman - The capital of Jordan, Amman is often referred to as the “white city”. It can be compared to Rome, built on seven hills and still form its natural focal points. With modernization, the city is now full of sophisticated buildings, excellent hotels and tourist facilities even in the jabal (hill) areas. The central market called souk is always lively and at the same time providing a taste of a traditional city. Greek, Roman and Ottoman Turk ruins can be seen when exploring the city.
Highlights of the visit will be the Roman Ampitheater located in the center of the city and is believed to be from the second century AS. Other main attraction is the Jebel el Qalat citadel where Archaeological Musuem, Popular Museum of Costume and Jewelry and the National Gallery of Fine Arts are located.
Because of the country’s small size, other tourist destination sights can be reached via road from the capital city of Amman.
Salt- Located west of Amman, this small, rich city is filled with sights and sounds of an old Arab town. Donkeys can be found anywhere as well as coffee houses. Major attraction is Iraq al Amir which is the only Hellenistic palace still surviving in the Middle East.
Jerash - North of Amman, this magnificently preserved Graeco-Roman city is a must-visit sight famous for its Hippodrome, Triumphal Arch, good theaters, some baths and gateways and the interesting Roman Bridge with series of columns that lead to The Temple of Artemis. The city can be reached in just less than an hour drive from the capital city.
Umm Qais - The famous ruins of Acropolis, the Nymphaeum, forum and some colonnaded street with chariot tracks are just few tourist attractions you will see in Umm Qais. The city also provides with its theaters and very good hotsprings.
Dead Sea - Known to be the lowest point on earth, Dead Sea will delight even the non-swimmers by floating freely on its rich salt water. It supports no life at all and tourists can witness how it glistens by day and night in an eerie, dry landscape.
The King’s Highway - Among the different routes taken from Amman to Aqaba, the most interesting will be the King’s Highway. This is because the whole length is dotted with different places worth stopping by. There is the Mount Nebo were Moses was believed to have struck the rock. Nearby, in Madaba, ancient maps of sixth-century Palestine can be seen together with an old museum. Mukawir, a charming small village where Salome performed her fateful dance can also be found off the Highway. Spectacular views of the Dead Sea, Jerusalem and Mount Olives can be seen high above the summit of Qasr al-Meshneque. The Zarqa main nearby hosts a number of hot mineral water springs. Moving south is the Kerak which is a beautiful medieval town surrounded by high walls with a castle. Another place you should not miss is the Shaubek Castle, a splendid crusader hill fortress.
Petra - Considered as one of the wonders of the Middle Eastern World, Petra is a must-see in Jordan. This gigantic natural ampitheater that seems to be artistically carved in the rocks has a city within where spectacular facades can be seen. Other attractions inside this city of rock are Qasr al-Bint castle shrine and the Al-Habis caves and museums. The city can be reached only by horseback riding if you are away from the road. Hotel accommodations are available nearby. There’s even a rest house built against the rock wall found in the entrance.
Aqaba - The Gulf of Aqaba contains Jordan’s only port. It has grown for the past few years not just as a port but also as a tourist center due to its pristine beaches and excellent water sports facilities that includes scuba diving, windsurfing, sailing an even fishing. Aside from that, the city also boasts on its ideal climate – hot and less humid as well as its old church which was destroyed centuries ago but was recently excavated.
The country’s currency is dinar (JD) and is commonly known as jay-dee among the hip young locals. One dinar is made up of 100 fils. Denominations in coins are in 10, 25, 50, 100, 250, 500 fils and 1 dinar while notes are in JD1, 5, 10, 20 and 50. Oftentimes, tourists will hear piastre or qirsh. Both are 10 fils that is, 10 qirsh equals 100 fils. When a price is quoted in the Jordanian market, usually the unit is omitted so tourists are left to work out if it is in fils, piastres or dinars. Although this is the case, Jordanians will never try to rip off a tourist.
ATM’s can be seen all around the country except for smaller towns. Credit card cash advances are also accepted and there are no local charges, but a maximum daily withdrawal amount is set to JD500, depending also on a tourist’s card. The most widely accepted card is Visa followed by MasterCard. Cirrus and Plus Cards are also accepted by many ATM’s such as HSBC and Jordan National Bank. Large signs showing what credit cards are accepted by a specific bank are posted outside all bank offices making it easier for tourists to transact business.
International transfers are also possible through Arab Bank and Jordan National Bank. On the other hand, Western Union Service is offered by the Cairo-Amman Bank.
For changing money, moneychangers offer lower rates than banks. Their offices are smaller and easier to use compared to banks and they even open until 9:00 in the evening.
Traveler’s checks are also handy. The most recognized is the Amex (American Express). Just make sure you check the commission before changing.