It’s one of the safest places in the Middle East, with history, culture, style and adventure tightly packed into one destination
Dead Sea, Jordan
It’s an unnerving feeling to just lie back on water, and just float. The Dead Sea has 10 times more salt than a normal sea, which means no life can survive. But that also makes it a mecca for spa junkies. Once you tire of the float, try any one of the many spas, some of which are affiliated with the hotels on the beach. The low elevation of the sea filters the UV from the sunlight, and the mineral-rich sea mud turns the whole spot into a fountain of youth. It is a great idea to plan your vacation close to the Dead Sea as there is lots to explore here. So why not check out the Dead Sea Hotels list and pick a stay that suits your tastes.
Diving or snorkelling in the Red Sea is unlike anywhere else. The water body gets its name from comes from the generous spread of coral reefs, which also promises exciting sea life. But the star appearance is that of jellyfish. Sans sting. The crystal clear waters are home to schools and schools of jellyfish. You can take a boat out from Aqaba, and snorkel in the waters surrounded by the pink and purple creatures. Their stings are not venomous and if you don’t provoke them, they are happy to leave you alone. Surf through the vast list of Aqaba hotels and check the facilities and amenities each offer. Then pick what suits your needs and your affordability.
A relative newcomer to the hall of the Seven Wonders of the World is the once lost city of Petra that was inhabited by the Nabataeans, around 300 BC. This cavernous city was discovered by a Swiss explorer (who disguised himself as a Bedouin) in the 1800s. Today, apparently 85% of the ancient, and elaborately laid out city still lies underneath. The bits that are visible are incredibly grand, especially the entrance to the Treasury, a gargantuan carved gate. But it’s the walk up to the UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s equally breath taking–and many tour companies offer hiking trails around Petra. You cannot explore this place in a single day. So book into any of the Petra hotels and plan at least a week’s stay. It will help you unravel the unseen facets of this place.
Some foods sound sketchy on paper, but once you’re gearing up for a bite, it’s an explosion of senses, spices and happiness. Jordanean cuisine falls in this category. Their national dish/main course, for example, mansaf is lamb slow-cooked in fermented yogurt, served with rice on a paratha. Like salted caramel, it’s difficult to get your head around this. But spectacular tasting it certainly is, just like their hummus and zerb (lamb stuffed with rice, nuts and spices and cooked in an oven buried in the ground).
Middle Eastern style of food presentation prevails, so be prepared for communal eating off a gigantic plate, ’cause sometimes that’s the only way food should be enjoyed. You can get there by flights at different hours. Check the list of flights to Aqaba and see their timings and fares. Pick what suits your schedule and affordability.
Amman, Aqaba, Mukawir
Handicrafts in Jordan have more do with necessity than being art born out of luxury. Woven and hand embroidered textiles are stunning works of art here – and therefore expensive. But rest assured they’re made with techniques that might be centuries old. The Bani Hamida women’s weaving project in Mukawir is where you can see how traditional rugs are woven and how such a craft is sustained and provides employment for women. Intricate bits of silver jewellery are also common, as Bedouin women consider it their protection against abandonment by their husbands. Also look for beautifully worked tiles and pottery – if you have space in your baggage. Ammam offers a fascinating shopping experience for new comers. Check the flight schedule and surf through the list of flights to Ammam. Pick what suits your travel needs.
The desert landscape of Wadi Rum is stunning – so otherworldly that it has often been the inspiration for science fiction version of Mars’ landscapes. It’s also filled with bits of history, from Aramaic letters on rocks, to Lawrence’s spring, a now dry spot but filled with drawings made by caravan travellers who had once made it their pit stop. One of the best ways to experience it is through a night spent in a Bedouin tent, going to sleep under a star-filled sky, and waking up to towering sand dunes and super-sweet tea. Book into any of the Wadi Rum Hotels and take time to explore this unique place. You will never regret the Stay as there is still lots unseen here.
Spread across more than 300 sq km, the Dana Biosphere Reserve is unique, not just in the way it looks. Sure, the rock faces and the immense diversity of bio-geographical zones (Mediterranean, Irano-Turanian, Saharo-Arabian and Sudanian) creates quite unusual pictures. It’s also home to a number of endangered species like the Nubian Ibex, Syrian Serin, Caracal, and Lesser Kestrel. Hiking among the canyons is one way to experience this place, or you can take a mountain bike. Bedouin guides will help along the way. Don’t miss the Neolithic ruins of a village, Byzantine churches, Roman aqueducts and ancient copper mines.
The Romans have of course left their mark pretty much all around the world, so why should Jordan miss out on all the fun. In fact, if anything, Jordan is the one place you can actually revisit ancient Rome. In the city of Jerash lies a beautifully restored hippodrome, where you can take part in chariot races, a la Ben Hur. Once a bastion of the Romans known as Gerasa, Jerash is now taking its heritage very seriously. When you’re suitably worn out and have hopefully won, visit the old baths, fountains, public squares and plazas to complete the whole time-travelling experience. Book into any of the Jarash Hotels. Plan your travel well in advance for a smooth travel experience.
Jordan, Madaba, Petra
Jordan is literally a mecca for Muslims, Christians and Jews. There are dozens of references to various spots in the desert in the Bible and Koran. Wadi Kharrar is where Jesus is said to have been baptised by John; Kerak, a town near Jordan, has a hill crowded with well preserved castles from the Crusades; look for Byzantine mosaics in Madaba, near Amman and Umm al-Rasas where churches are covered with mosaics from the 3rd century; Petra is dotted with Byzantine churches, and temples from the 1st century BC; Mt Nebo is said to be where Moses died; and Jordan is filled with tombs of the companions of Prophet Mohammed. If you wish for a spiritual journey, book into any of the Madaba Hotels. They have all facilities you require for a pleasant stay.
It’s a mixed bag of delights, this Amman. East Amman is largely populated by refugees and immigrants, while West Amman is a study in contrast with hip cafes and restaurants, embracing tradition as well as trends.The Tche Tche Café for example, might sound like an old tea house but in fact serves some of the best fruit smoothies and pecan waffles with fruit flavoured hookahs. There are sleek sushi bars, sexy lounges, crazy water parks for kids, museums, a Roman amphitheatre, hammams, malls, souks, golf courses and theatres.
Head to the Balad for a Middle Eastern shopping experience, complete with haggling vendors, roadside cafes, sheeshas and falafels. Otherwise try Rainbow Street, a more European space with antique stores, cafes and flea markets. Check into any of the Ammam Hotels and stay there for a couple of days. It will help you explore this place closely and even capture some beautiful sights in the camera.
Spring between March and May is beautiful, with wildflower blossoms everywhere and perfect temperatures. Only the desert wind khamseen creates a mild bit of havoc. Winter in the desert is too cold, plus the rains are annoying in October, and the temperatures in summer are pretty harsh.
Try and go to Petra at night, and do the Petra by Night tour – you can sign up for it at the tourism office. It’s strange, moving and sublime, as you walk towards the looming Treasury gate, on a path lit entirely by candles. It ends on a sweet and musical note with tea under the stars and Bedouin music surrounding you in the echoing desert.