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  • Overview

    Situated between Israel, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom of Jordan is unexpectedly peaceful amid the turmoil of its neighbours and is a wonderful place to visit. With two of the most magnificent sights in the Middle East, namely the ancient city of Petra and Wadi Rum's spectacular desert scenery, it is sad that so few people explore its rich history.

    Jordan is a kingdom layered in antiquity, from the work of Nabataean stonemasons to characters such as Moses and Lawrence of Arabia; from ancient cities and Biblical sites to desert castles, Crusader forts, and Byzantine mosaics.

    This ancient culture belies the fact that it is also a modern country, with good infrastructure, a thriving business and arts scene, and first-class hotels, restaurants, and shopping opportunities. The contrast between the old and new is astonishing.

    Jordan is a relatively small country of varied landscapes, where the fertile Jordan Valley, bordering the entire western side of the kingdom, is separated from the immense desert stretching to the east by the populated highlands. As part of the Great Rift Valley, the Jordan Valley incorporates the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the earth's surface and most famous for its heavy salt and mineral concentrations.

    The main towns strung along the length of the highland plateau include the capital of Amman, as well as plenty of historical sites from ancient civilisations. Home to brilliant deserts, colourful coral reefs that are unequalled the world over, and sweeping vistas, Jordan is full of charismatic beauty.

    The quality of sightseeing opportunities in Jordan will take visitors by surprise if they haven't done their homework, as there is far more to see than the astonishingly beautiful desert landscapes. Jordan is also on friendly terms with its neighbours and is the safest destination to visit in the Middle East.

    Travellers can explore fascinating desert cities, castles and fortresses, many of which can easily be accessed from the capital of Amman or from the lively city of Aqaba. Visitors can opt to take these excursions by local taxi, hired car, 4x4 or atop a camel (as native Jordanians have done for centuries).

    Not merely a land of desert and camels, there are great opportunities for visitors to get their feet wet in either the Dead Sea or the Red Sea. While the Red Sea (situated at the very southernmost tip of Jordan) offers up a fantastic chance to swim and scuba in crystal clear waters that harbour some of the most spectacular coral reefs in the world, the Dead Sea experience is something totally different. The lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea allows swimmers to float weightlessly in its extremely salty waters.

    Citadel Hill

    From its position on top of a hill overlooking the city, the Citadel (known locally as Jabal al-Qal'a) stands testament to the history of Amman, with its ancient ruins and excavated relics. It is the site of the ancient capital Rabbath-Ammon and numerous excavations have revealed Stone Age remains as well as those from the Roman to the Islamic periods. Other items from throughout the country are housed in the Jordan Archaeological Museum. The site contains several structures, including the impressive Omayyad Palace (al-Qasr), a small Byzantine basilica and what was once the Temple of Hercules, the Great Temple of Amman. Also on the site is the Jordan Archaeological Museum, which has an excellent collection of artefacts from Jordan dating back to the earliest settlement in the region over 700,000 years ago. The Dead Sea Scrolls, Iron Age sarcophagi, and a copy of the Mesha Stele are its most important exhibits.

    Citadel Hill Citadel Hill Shadi Samawi
    Roman Theatre

    Below the Citadel is the magnificent Roman amphitheatre, an impressive relic from ancient Philadelphia that is cut into the hill and can seat up to 6,000 people. The theatre is still used occasionally for events today. Two cultural museums form part of the complex: the Jordan Folklore Museum, which has exhibits on traditional life, and the Museum of Popular Traditions, which covers traditional costumes and mosaics from 4th to 6th century Jordanian churches. The theatre was built during the reign of Antonius Pius (138 to 161 CE) and is today a famous landmark in Amman and, of course, the ancient Roman city Philadelphia. It surrounds the Hashemite Plaza, Odeon Theatre, and the Nymphaeum.

    Roman Amphitheatre Roman Amphitheatre Dennis Jarvis
    Desert Castle Loop

    Stretching to the east of Amman towards Saudi Arabia and Iraq is a vast desert plain where a cluster of historic castle, fort, bath, and palace ruins has been preserved. Collectively known as the Desert Castles, their purpose is largely unknown, but most are thought to have been built as recreational retreats by the Umayyad caliphs during the early Islamic Period (7th to 8th centuries AD). Qasr Mushatta is the biggest and most elaborate of the castles, and is a fine example of Umayyad architecture despite never being completed. The best preserved and most enchanting is the luxurious bathhouse of Qusayr Amra, with its domed ceiling, colourful interior frescoes, and mosaics. It's also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other desert castles include the black rock fortress at Azraq, which was the desert headquarters of Lawrence of Arabia during the Great Arab Revolt in 1917, the mysterious Qasr al-Kharrana, and Qasr al-Hallabat's crumbling remains.

    Wadi Rum

    Lying 42 miles (68km) north of Aqaba, Wadi Rum is acclaimed as one of the most stunningly beautiful desert landscapes in the world and is a major tourist destination in Jordan. Towering mountains of weathered sandstone rise from the pink desert sands, where the vast emptiness and silence takes the breath away. There are many ways to explore the vast desert interior, where the likes of Lawrence of Arabia once rode. Serious mountaineers and climbers relish the challenge of its high peaks, particularly the highest in the area, Jabal Rum, and the remarkable Rock Bridge, while hikers can enjoy the grandeur of the interior by walking out into the wilderness and camping alone under the stars. Camel trips and 4x4 vehicle tours can also be arranged. Wadi Rum is home to several nomadic Bedouin families who are famous for their hospitality, and visitors are often invited to share mint tea with them inside their goat-hair tents or beside the fire under the starry sky.

    Website: www.wadirum.jo
    Wadi Rum Wadi Rum Eric Montfort
    Amman

    Amman is one of the oldest, continuously inhabited cities in the world, and is today a thriving commercial and administrative centre, where travellers will find modern facilities, historical attractions and a longstanding tradition of hospitality. Faded minarets, pavement markets, Arabian sweet shops, and the crumbling remains of ancient civilisations contrast wonderfully with the contemporary edifices, fashionable boutiques and international restaurants, creating a spellbinding blend of old and new. The city is also an excellent base for visitors, as it's no more than five hours drive from anywhere in the country.

    Amman Amman Judith Duk
    Petra

    Carved into the rock and protected by rugged mountains on all sides is Jordan's most famous attraction, the ancient city of Petra. One of the world's most spectacular ruins, it is set within a canyon near the town of Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses), which was once the name of the valley and not just the small tourist town along the sides of the valley leading down to Petra. The town's existence is primarily to service the tourist industry as the gateway to Petra. More than 2,000 years ago, a nomadic tribe from Arabia settled in the area and these Nabateans established Petra as their capital. It became a powerful fortress city that controlled the passage of traders, and grew prosperous from the caravans crossing their land carrying spices and riches from India and Arabia. An astonishing city of monumental tombs, temples and decorative buildings carved from the solid rock was created from this wealth, which still stands as a testament to the remarkable creativity and engineering prowess of the Nabateans. Today's Petra is a staggering landscape of rock-hewn monuments, amphitheatres, palaces, arched gateways, water channels, and detailed carvings spread over a vast area. Dramatic tombs and temples unfold with each step taken further into the winding canyon.

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    July and August are the hottest and driest months of the year, especially in Amman and the Jordan Valley, and in the desert areas, where temperatures can top 97F (36C). Spring and autumn are the most pleasant times to visit, as there are clear, sunny days and moderate temperatures. The winter months from December to March can be very cold, particularly in Amman, where there is snow, rain and wind, but there is little rainfall in the desert regions and in Aqaba, which makes a pleasant wintertime resort. About 75 percent of the country can be described as having a desert climate with very little annual rainfall.

    Queen Alia International Airport
    Location: The airport is situated 20 miles (32km) south of Amman.
    Time: Local time is GMT +2 (GMT +3, from the last Friday in March to the last Friday in October)
    Getting to the city: Local buses and an airport express bus offer transfer options to the city.
    Car Rental: Car rental is available through companies such as Budget and Hertz.
    Airport Taxis: Airport taxis are available and prices are fixed.
    Facilities: Facilities include banks and bureaux de change, duty-free shopping, bars and restaurants, a medical centrel, as well as VIP and business lounges. A tourist help desk is available and facilities for the disabled are good.
    Parking Parking is available and costs vary depending on the parking lot.
    Money:

    The official currency is the dinar (JOD), which is divided into 10 dirhams, 100 piastres or 1,000 fulus. Foreign currency can be changed at any bank or moneychanger. Banks are closed on Fridays. Better hotels will also exchange money. American Express, Visa, MasterCard and Diners Club are the most widely accepted credit cards and can be used at major hotels, restaurants and tourist shops; cash can be withdrawn from inside banks. ATMs are available throughout Amman and in other major cities, but are harder to find in rural areas.

    Language:

    Arabic is the official language, but English is understood by most people involved in the tourist industry, and by middle to upper-class Jordanians.

    Electricity:

    Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. European two-pin plugs are most common, though occasionally UK flat three-pin plugs are used.

    Entry Requirements:

    US nationals: US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Jordan. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival.

    UK nationals: British citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Jordan. A visa is required and can be obtained on arrival.

    CA nationals: Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Jordan. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival.

    AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Jordan. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival.

    ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Jordan. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival for a maximum stay of 30 days. It is possible to apply for an extension.

    IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Jordan. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival.

    NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Jordan. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival.

    Passport/Visa Note:Visa:

    All foreign passengers to Jordan must hold return or onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination, and most nationalities require a visa to enter Jordan, which can be obtained on arrival, if travellers are arriving by air. It is highly recommended that travellers' passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

    Travel Health:

    Proof of vaccination is required if travellers are coming from or have transited through an airport of a country where yellow fever occurs, and a vaccination for typhoid is recommended for most travellers, particularly those who are venturing to rural areas, travelling for a long time or visiting friends or relatives. It is advisable to drink bottled water, which is cheap and widely available, though better hotels have their own water filtering systems. Medical facilities are basic outside of Amman and travellers should seek treatment in Amman or Aqaba in the event of an emergency. Adequate travel health insurance is essential and should cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

    Tipping:

    The better hotels and restaurants add a 10 percent service charge to the bill, but smaller establishments usually expect a tip. It is customary to round up the price of a taxi trip instead of tipping.

    Safety Information:

    The vast majority of tourist visits to Jordan are safe and trouble free, but there is a risk of terrorist attacks. Travellers should maintain a degree of vigilance at all times, particularly in public places and at tourist attractions. They should also avoid all areas near the borders with Iraq and Syria due to military activity, the threat of kidnapping by terrorist groups, and the lack of emergency facilities. Public demonstrations and political gatherings could potentially turn violent, so travellers should steer clear. Crime levels are generally low, and incidents mostly involve pick pocketing, bag snatching and theft from cars; visitors should take sensible precautions to keep their money, passports and valuables secure. Women travellers should exercise caution when hiking in some of Jordan's more remote areas, as they may receive unwanted attention from men or groups of men.

    Local Customs:

    Visitors should respect religious customs around eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours, particularly during the month of Ramadan. The consumption of alcohol is strictly forbidden in the streets and it is advisable to respect local Muslim conservatism regarding dress. Women in particular will be better received if their legs and shoulders are covered in public places. Jordanian law doesn't explicitly prohibit homosexual acts, but locals generally don't tolerate public displays of affection between homosexual couples. Bedouin hospitality is genuine, though custom requires that visitors leave some small gift in return for a meal or a glass of tea. Bargaining is expected with merchants, especially in the markets.

    Business:

    Jordanian business people generally prefer dark, conservative suits and ties for initial meetings, though casual dress is becoming more acceptable in certain industries. Conservative yet stylish attire is a good choice for women. As is the case in most Arab countries, business is very male-dominated, so women should clarify their role early in meetings. Meetings often start very late, but it is always advised to be punctual nonetheless. Most business is conducted in English, though using a few words of Arabic (particularly for titles) will be appreciated. Business cards are often exchanged. It is common to be invited for meals by one's host, who will usually pay the bill, though it is appreciated if the guest pays for the final meal or gives a small gift. Business hours are usually 9.30am to 1.30pm and 3.30pm to 6pm Sunday to Thursday.

    Communications:

    The international dialling code for Jordan is +962. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the UK). Free WiFi is available in most prominent hotels and international coffee shops; travellers can purchase prepaid SIM cards for unlocked phones.

    Duty Free:

    Travellers to Jordan who are older than 18 years of age do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, normal cigars with a value not exceeding JOD 20, or Cuban cigars with a value not exceeding JOD 70; 1 litre of alcohol; and gifts to the value of JD200. Restricted items include firearms, sporting guns and other weapons without prior approval from authorities of country of origin and destination country. Prohibited items include all narcotics and birds or bird products.

    Useful Contacts:

    Jordan Tourism Board, Amman: +96 26 5678 444 or www.visitjordan.com

    Jordan Embassies:

    Embassy of Jordan, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 966 2664.

    Embassy of Jordan, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 20 7937 3685.

    Embassy of Jordan, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 238 8090.

    Embassy of Jordan, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 2 6295 9951.

    Embassy of Jordan, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 346 8615.

    Foreign Embassies in Jordan :

    United States Embassy, Amman: +962 6 590 6000.

    British Embassy, Amman: +962 6 590 9200.

    Canadian Embassy, Amman: +962 6 520 3300.

    Australian Embassy, Amman: +962 6 580 7000.

    South African Embassy, Amman: +962 6 592 1194.

    Irish Honourary Consulate, Amman: +962 6 553 3616.

    New Zealand Consulate, Ankara, Turkey (also responsible for Jordan): +90 312 446 3333.

    Jordan Emergency Numbers : General: 911
    Jordan
    Jerash

    Situated about 31 miles (50km) north of Amman is one of the top attractions in Jordan: the ancient city of Jerash. Considered to be one of the best-preserved Roman sites in the world, its exceptional preservation is due to it being buried in sand for centuries, and the magnificent baths, theatres, temples, arches, columns and stone chariot-rutted streets have long attracted scholars and tourists from across the world to admire the most complete city in the Roman Decapolis. Excavations dating to the Neolithic Age have indicated that Jerash was continuously occupied for more than 6,500 years. Today visitors can marvel as the ancient amphitheatre comes to life at the annual Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts, where artists from around the globe sing, dance, act, and play music on stage in a celebration of Jordanian and international culture.

    The Dead Sea

    Situated about 28 miles (45km) from Amman, lies the famous attraction of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth at 1,335 feet (407m) below sea level. Devoid of plant or animal life due to the high salt concentration (four times saltier than normal), it is the incredible mineral rich water that has made it an internationally sought-after destination since ancient times, popular for its curative properties as well as for the experience of floating effortlessly on its surface. Most holidaymakers go to the main resort area on the northern shore at Sweimeh, where they will find showers, restaurants, a beach, and the opportunity to smother themselves in the mineral-rich black mud. Accommodation is available at the Dead Sea Spa Hotel, where various medical treatments are also on offer.

    Dead Sea Dead Sea Pieter van Marion
    Mount Nebo

    The most sacred site in Jordan, Mount Nebo is believed to be the burial site of Moses who climbed the hill in order to survey the Promised Land that he would never enter. Situated on the edge of a plateau about six miles (10km) from Madaba, Mount Nebo affords spectacular views towards Jerusalem, whose spires are visible on a clear day, and across the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea. A modern day shrine sits on the ruins of a 6th-century Byzantine monastery, and affords protection to the original floor mosaics, while in the grounds stands the symbolic Serpentine Cross.

    Madaba

    Madaba is most famous for its spectacular Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics from the 5th to 7th centuries, which are scattered throughout the town's homes and churches. Located just 19 miles (30km) south of Amman, Madaba is also home to the famous 6th-century mosaic map of the Holy Land, in which Jerusalem and its surrounding regions are depicted. One of the town's most beautiful mosaics covers the floor of the Byzantine Church of the Apostles, and the Archaeological Park features an impressive collection of mosaic collages, where a series of ramps has been built over excavated mosaics to allow people to view them from above. The Greek Orthodox Church of St George is home to Madaba's main attraction and most famous mosaic: the 6th-century Madaba Map. Millions of pieces of coloured stone embedded on the church floor create a vivid picture of Jerusalem and its holy sites, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dead Sea, Jericho, and the Jordan River. It is the earliest surviving original map of the region and was laid around 560 AD.

    Madaba Madaba Wojtek Ogrodowczyk