Situated between Israel, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, theKingdom of Jordan is unexpectedly peaceful amid the turmoil of itsneighbours and is a wonderful place to visit. With two of the mostmagnificent sights in the Middle East, namely the ancient city ofPetra and Wadi Rum's spectacular desert scenery, it is sad that sofew people explore its rich history.
Jordan is a kingdom layered in antiquity, from thework of Nabataean stonemasons to characters such as Moses andLawrence of Arabia; from ancient cities and Biblical sites todesert castles, Crusader forts, and Byzantine mosaics.
This ancient culture belies the fact that it is alsoa modern country, with good infrastructure, a thriving business andarts scene, and first-class hotels, restaurants, and shoppingopportunities. The contrast between the old and new isastonishing.
Jordan is a relatively small country of variedlandscapes, where the fertile Jordan Valley, bordering the entirewestern side of the kingdom, is separated from the immense desertstretching to the east by the populated highlands. As part of theGreat Rift Valley, the Jordan Valley incorporates the Dead Sea, thelowest point on the earth's surface and most famous for its heavysalt and mineral concentrations.
The main towns strung along the length of thehighland plateau include the capital of Amman, as well as plenty ofhistorical sites from ancient civilisations. Home to brilliantdeserts, colourful coral reefs that are unequalled the world over,and sweeping vistas, Jordan is full of charismatic beauty.
Like much else in Jordan, the variety and quality of sightseeingopportunities will take visitors by surprise if they haven't donetheir homework. There is far more to see than just desertlandscapes, although these are just as astoundingly beautiful asany others in the world. Jordan gives travellers a great way to seethe Middle East in a safe environment, and everything visitorscould want out of a desert adventure can be found here. Jordan ison friendly terms with its neighbours, making it the safestdestination to travel to in the Middle East, all while serving upfantastic sights such as the ancient and wonderful city ofPetra.
Beyond Petra, there are many other fascinating desert cities,castles and fortresses to be explored, many of which can easily beaccessed from the capital of Amman or from the lively city ofAqaba. Visitors can opt to take these excursions by local taxi,hired car, 4x4 or do it in style, atop a camel, as nativeJordanians have done for centuries. Not merely a land of desert andcamels, there are great opportunities for visitors to get theirfeet wet in either the Dead Sea or the Red Sea. While the Red Sea(situated at the very southernmost tip of Jordan) offers up afantastic chance to swim and scuba in crystal clear waters,harbouring some of the most spectacular coral reefs in the world,the Dead Sea experience is something totally different. The lowestpoint on earth, the Dead Sea allows swimmers to float weightlesslyin its extremely salty waters.
From its position on top of a hill overlooking thecity, the Citadel (known locally as Jabal al-Qal'a) standstestament to the history of Amman, with its ancient ruins andexcavated relics. It is the site of the ancient capitalRabbath-Ammon and numerous excavations have revealed Stone Ageremains as well as those from the Roman to the Islamic periods.Other items from throughout the country are housed in the JordanArchaeological Museum. The site contains several structuresincluding the impressive Omayyad Palace (al-Qasr), a smallByzantine basilica and what was once the Temple of Hercules, theGreat Temple of Amman. Also on the site is the JordanArchaeological Museum, which has an excellent collection ofartefacts from Jordan dating back to the earliest settlement in theregion over 700,000 years ago. The Dead Sea Scrolls, Iron Agesarcophagi, and a copy of the Mesha Stele are its most importantexhibits.
Below the Citadel is the magnificent Romanamphitheatre, an impressive relic from ancient Philadelphia that iscut into the hill and can seat up to 6,000 people. The theatre isstill used occasionally for events today. Two cultural museums formpart of the complex: the Jordan Folklore Museum, which has exhibitson traditional life, and the Museum of Popular Traditions withtraditional costumes and mosaics from 4th to 6th century Jordanianchurches. The theatre was built during the reign of Antonius Pius(138-161 CE) and is today a famous landmark in Amman and of coursethe ancient Roman city Philadelphia. It surrounds the HashemitePlaza, Odeon Theatre, and the Nymphaeum.
Stretching to the east of Amman towards Saudi Arabiaand Iraq is the vast desert plain where a cluster of historic ruinssuch as castles, forts, baths, and palaces have been preserved.They are collectively known as the Desert Castles. Their purpose islargely unknown, but most are thought to have been built asrecreational retreats by the Umayyad caliphs during the earlyIslamic Period (7th to 8th centuries AD). Qasr Mushatta is thebiggest and most elaborate of the castles, a fine example ofUmayyad architecture despite never being completed. The bestpreserved and most enchanting is the luxurious bathhouse of QusayrAmra, with its domed ceiling, colourful interior frescoes, andmosaics. It's also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other desertcastles include the black rock fortress at Azraq, which was thedesert headquarters of Lawrence of Arabia during the Great ArabRevolt in 1917, the mysterious Qasr al-Kharrana, Qasr al-Hallabat'scrumbling remains, and the well-maintained complex at Qastal.
Lying 42 miles (68km) north of Aqaba, the scenery ofWadi Rum is acclaimed as one of the most stunningly beautifuldesert landscapes in the world and is a major tourist destinationin Jordan. Towering mountains of weathered sandstone risevertically from the pink desert sands where the vast emptiness andsilence is takes the breath away. There are many ways to explorethe vast desert interior where the likes of Lawrence of Arabia oncerode. Serious mountaineers and climbers relish the challenge of itshigh peaks, particularly the highest in the area, Jabal Rum, andthe remarkable Rock Bridge, while hikers can enjoy the grandeur ofthe interior by walking out into the wilderness and camping aloneunder the stars. Camel trips and 4x4 vehicle tours can also bearranged from the Government Rest House. Wadi Rum is home toseveral nomadic Bedouin families who are famous for theirhospitality, and visitors are often invited to share mint tea withthem inside their goat-hair tents or beside the fire under thestarry sky.
Originally spread over seven hills, or jabals, the capital ofthe Hashemite kingdom now sprawls over 19 hills and is home to overa million people, almost half of Jordan's population. Known as theWhite City, the hills are covered in a jumble of light-colouredstone houses, consistently box-like in shape with flat roofscharacteristic of a typical desert city.
Faded minarets, pavement markets, Arabian sweet shops, and thecrumbling remains of ancient civilisations contrast wonderfullywith the contemporary edifices, fashionable boutiques andinternational restaurants. This blend of the old and the newcombines in the noisy and chaotic downtown area where the city'sextraordinarily friendly residents go about their business.
At the heart of downtown is the Ottoman-style King HusseinMosque, around which the buzz and bustle is at its mostinteresting. Even busier at prayer times, the surrounding streetsare filled with the essence of Arabia, exotic smells and rows ofglittering treasures in the souq (market) amid the noise offrenetic haggling.
Just as overwhelming is Amman's sense of history, dating back5,500 years to its position as the ancient capital of theAmmonites, Rabbath-Ammon of the Old Testament, and later asPhiladelphia, the Roman city that became part of the Decapolis.Overlooking the city from atop Jabal al-Qala'a is the Citadel, thesite of the ancient Rabbath-Ammon, and at its foot lies theimpressive Roman amphitheatre that is the most remarkable remnantof ancient Philadelphia.
Amman is one of the oldest, continuously inhabited cities in theworld, and today functions as a thriving commercial andadministrative centre with modern facilities, historicalattractions and a longstanding tradition of hospitality. It is anexcellent base from which to explore the surrounds, even the restof the country as its no more than five hours drive from anywhere,and is surprisingly agreeable for a capital city.
Carved into the rock and protected by ruggedmountains on all sides is Jordan's most famous attraction, theancient city of Petra, one of the world's most spectacular ruins,set within a canyon near the town of Wadi Musa.
Wadi Musa, or Valley of Moses, was once the name ofthe valley and not just the small tourist town along the sides ofthe valley leading down to Petra. The town's existence is primarilyto service the tourist industry as the gateway to Petra.
More than 2,000 years ago, a nomadic tribe fromArabia settled in the area and these Nabateans established Petra astheir capital. It became a powerful fortress city that controlledthe passage of traders, and grew prosperous from the caravanscrossing their land carrying spices and riches from India andArabia.
An astonishing city of monumental tombs, temples anddecorative buildings carved from the solid rock was created fromthis wealth, which still stands as a testament to the remarkablecreativity and engineering prowess of the Nabateans.
Today's Petra is a staggering landscape of rock-hewnmonuments, amphitheatres, palaces, arched gateways, water channels,and detailed carvings spread over a vast area. Dramatic tombs andtemples unfold with each step taken further into the windingcanyon.
Intricate facades cut into the soaring cliff facesdwarf the ubiquitous camel drivers, traders and tourists toinsignificance. Where the uppermost layers of the rock have erodedaway, fantastic surreal streaks of blue, red, yellow, purple, andwhite cover the monuments in undulating patterns.
To enter the city, visitors must first pass through along, narrow chasm in the rock, the Siq, that winds its way foralmost a mile (1.5km) with steep inclining sides that come close tomeeting 656 feet (200m) above. Suddenly, the Siq opens out onto thecanyon floor, dramatically revealing Petra's most famous monument:the Treasury, or Al-Khazneh.
The Treasury is intricately carved into the solidrock of the pink mountain face and stands 140 feet (43m) high. Thetowering façade was used in the final moments of the film Petra's second mostfabulous structure is the Monastery (El-Deir) situated amongspectacular desert scenery high up on the mountain, and while it isbigger than the Treasury, it was never finished and is lessornate.
A number of places require a bit of effort to reach,but climbing will be rewarded with enchanting views of the desertsetting, an overwhelming sense of the size of the site andpanoramic lookouts over the rose city of Petra, a certain highlightof any trip to Jordan.
July and August are the hottest and driest months of the year,especially in Amman and the Jordan Valley, and in the desert areas,with temperatures over 97°F (36°C). Spring and autumn are the mostpleasant times to visit with clear, sunny days and moderatetemperatures. The winter months from December to March can be verycold, particularly in Amman, with snow, rain and wind, but there islittle rainfall in the desert regions and in Aqaba, which makes apleasant wintertime resort. About 75 percent of the country can bedescribed as having a desert climate with very little annualrainfall.
The official currency is the Dinar (JOD), which is divided into10 dirhams, 100 piastres or 1,000 fulus. Foreign currency can bechanged 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 creditcards and can be used at major hotels, restaurants and touristshops; cash can be withdrawn from inside banks. ATMs are available,though acceptance of foreign cards is limited.
Arabic is the official language, but English isunderstood by most people involved in the tourist industry and bymiddle to upper class Jordanians.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Europeantwo-pin plugs are most common, though occasionally UK flatthree-pin plugs are used.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least sixmonths beyond the date of their arrival in Jordan. A visa isrequired, and can be obtained on arrival.
British citizens must have a passport that is valid for at leastsix months beyond the date of their arrival in Jordan. A visa isrequired and can be obtained on arrival.
Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for atleast six months beyond the date of their arrival in Jordan. A visais required, and can be obtained on arrival.
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for atleast six months beyond the date of their arrival in Jordan. A visais required, and can be obtained on arrival.
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for atleast six months beyond the date of their arrival in Jordan. A visais required, and can be obtained on arrival for a maximum stay of30 days. It is possible to apply for an extension.
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for at leastsix months beyond the date of their arrival in Jordan. A visa isrequired, and can be obtained on arrival.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least sixmonths beyond the date of their arrival in Jordan. A visa isrequired, and can be obtained on arrival.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for atleast six months beyond the date of their arrival in Jordan. A visais required, and can be obtained on arrival.
All foreign passengers to Jordan must hold return/onwardtickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their nextdestination. Furthermore, most nationalities require a visa toenter Jordan, which can be obtained on arrival, if arriving by air.A single-entry visa costs JOD 40, and is valid for two months; aJOD 60 visa is valid for 3 months and two entries; a JOD 120 visais valid for 6 months and multiple entries. Note that the fee ispayable in Jordanian Dinars only. This fee may be waived forregistered tour groups of more than five people. NOTE: It is highlyrecommended that your passport has at least six months validityremaining after your intended date of departure from your traveldestination. Immigration officials often apply different rules tothose stated by travel agents and official sources.
Inoculations are not required unless travelling from an areainfected with yellow fever, in which case a certificate will berequested on arrival. Although not necessary, it is recommendedthat a vaccination for typhoid be had before travel to Jordan,except for short-term business travellers who restrict their mealsto major restaurants and hotels. It is advisable to drink bottledwater, which is cheap and widely available, although better hotelshave their own water filtering systems. Medical services are goodthroughout the country with clinics, hospitals and medical centresin every city and village, many doctors in the larger towns andcities speak English. Most hospitals are privately owned.Travellers should carry their own prescription medicines andmedical insurance is recommended.
Most of the better hotels and restaurants will add a 10 percentservice charge to the bill, but smaller establishments usuallyexpect a tip. It is customary to round up the price of a taxi tripinstead of tipping.
The vast majority of tourist visits to Jordan are safe andtrouble free. However, there remains a moderate risk of terroristattacks throughout the Middle East including Jordan and foreignersshould maintain a degree of vigilance particularly in public placesfrequented by tourists and at tourist sites. The situation in Iraqhas had an impact on local opinion, as well as the violence betweenthe neighbouring Israelis and Palestinians, and foreigners shouldavoid all public demonstrations and political gatherings. There isa fair degree of anti-American and anti-Western sentiment in thecountry, and no distinction is made between US government personneland ordinary citizens. Care should be taken at the borders withIsrael and Iraq. Though crime is not a serious risk for travellers,visitors can be targets of pickpockets or petty thieves on busesand in crowded places.
The consumption of alcohol is strictly forbidden in the streets.It is advisable to respect local Muslim conservatism regardingdress and women in particular will be better respected if theirlegs and shoulders are covered in public places. It is advisable toask permission before photographing people. Bargaining is expectedwith merchants especially in the markets. Religious customs shouldbe respected, particularly during the month of Ramadan when eating,drinking and smoking during daylight hours should be discreet as itis forbidden by the Muslim culture. Homosexuality is illegal.Bedouin hospitality is genuine, but custom requires that visitorsshould leave some small gift in return for a meal or a glass oftea.
Business in Jordan is conducted with an emphasis on modest,formal attire. Women, in particular, should be sure to dressconservatively. As with most Arab countries, business is verymale-dominated and therefore women should clarify their role earlyin meetings. Meetings often start very late, but it is alwaysadvised to be punctual nonetheless. Most business is conducted inEnglish, although using a few words of Arabic (particularly fortitles) will be appreciated. Business cards are often exchanged. Itis common to be invited for meals by one's host, who will usuallypay the bill, although it is appreciated if the guest pays for thefinal meal or gives a small gift. Business hours are usually 9.30amto 1.30pm and 3.30pm to 6pm Sunday to Thursday.
The international dialling code for Jordan is +962. The outgoingcode is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for theUK). Jordan has international direct dialling with most countries.City/area codes are in use, e.g. (0)3 for both Aqaba and Petra, and(0)6 for Amman. Free wifi is available in most prominent hotels andinternational coffee shops.
Travellers to Jordan over 18 years do not have to pay duty on200 cigarettes or 25 cigars, or 200 grams of pipe tobacco; 1 litreof alcohol, 1 or 2 bottles of perfume and eau-de-Cologne or lotionfor personal use; and gifts to the value of JD200 or US$280.Restricted items include firearms, sporting guns and other weaponswithout prior approval from authorities of country of origin anddestination country. Prohibited items include all narcotics andbirds or bird products.
Jordan Tourism Board, Amman: +96 26 5678 444 orwww.visitjordan.com
Embassy of Jordan, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 9662664.
Embassy of Jordan, London, United Kingdom (also responsible forIreland): +44 20 7937 3685.
Embassy of Jordan, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 238 8090.
Embassy of Jordan, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 346 8615.
Embassy of Jordan, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for NewZealand): +61 2 6295 9951.
United States Embassy, Amman: +962 6 590 6000.
British Embassy, Amman: +962 6 590 9200.
Canadian Embassy, Amman: +962 6 520 3300.
South African Embassy, Amman: +962 6 592 1194.
Australian Embassy, Amman: +962 6 580 7000.
Irish Honourary Consulate, Amman: +962 6 553 3616.
New Zealand Consulate, Ankara, Turkey (also responsible forJordan): +90 312 446 3333.
Situated about 31 miles (50km) north of Amman is oneof the top attractions in Jordan: the ancient city of Jerash,considered to be one of the best-preserved Roman sites in theworld. Its exceptional preservation is due to it being buried insand for centuries and the magnificent baths, theatres, temples,arches, columns ,and stone chariot-rutted streets have longattracted scholars and tourists from across the world to admire themost complete city in the Roman Decapolis. Excavations dating tothe Neolithic Age have indicated that Jerash was continuouslyoccupied for more than 6,500 years. Today visitors can marvel asthe ancient amphitheatre comes to life at the annual JerashFestival of Culture and Arts, where artists from around the globesing, dance, act, and play music on stage in a celebration ofJordanian and international culture.
Situated about 28 miles (45km) from Amman, lies thefamous attraction of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth at1,335 feet (407m) below sea level. Devoid of plant or animal lifedue to the high salt concentration (four times saltier thannormal), it is the incredible mineral rich water that has made itan internationally sought-after destination since ancient times,popular for its curative properties as well as for the experienceof floating effortlessly on its surface. Most holidaymakers go tothe main resort area on the northern shore at Sweimeh, where theGovernment Rest House provides showers, a restaurant, a beach, andthe opportunity to smother oneself in the mineral-rich black mud.Accommodation is available at the Dead Sea Spa Hotel, where variousmedical treatments are also on offer.
The most sacred site in Jordan, Mount Nebo isbelieved to be the burial site of Moses who climbed the hill inorder to survey the Promised Land that he would never enter.Situated on the edge of a plateau about six miles (10km) fromMadaba, Mount Nebo affords spectacular views towards Jerusalem,whose spires are visible on a clear day, and across the JordanValley and the Dead Sea. A modern day shrine sits on the ruins of a6th-century Byzantine monastery, and affords protection to theoriginal floor mosaics, while in the grounds stands the symbolicSerpentine Cross.
Madaba is most famous for its spectacular Byzantineand Umayyad mosaics from the 5th to 7th centuries which arescattered throughout the town's homes and churches. Located just 19miles (30km) south of Amman, Madaba is also home to the famous6th-century mosaic map of the Holy Land, in which Jerusalem and itssurrounding regions are depicted. One of the town's most beautifulmosaics covers the floor of the Byzantine Church of the Apostles,and the Archaeological Park features an impressive collection ofmosaic collages, where a series of ramps has been built overexcavated mosaics to allow people to view them from above. TheGreek Orthodox Church of St George is home to Madaba's mainattraction and most famous mosaic: the 6th-century Madaba Map.Millions of pieces of coloured stone embedded on the church floorcreate a vivid picture of Jerusalem and its holy sites, includingthe Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dead Sea, Jericho, and theJordan River. It is the earliest surviving original map of theregion and was laid around 560 AD. Madaba is also known for itshand-woven carpets and tapestries and it is possible to see thembeing made in several shops around town.