Jordan is one of Untamed’s newest destinations and highly recommended. It has spectacular desert landscapes, an enchanting underwater world and is rich in cultural historical treasures. You are entering a totally different world, and that’s only a four-and-a-half to five-hour flight! Reason enough to bring wide attention to this beautiful country, which is why in mid-June I boarded a plane with ten travel agents for a study tour of Jordan, organized by Untamed Travelling. We fly directly from Amsterdam to Amman. Once landed, our luggage arrives quickly after which we meet our guide Essam and the driver whom we get to call “captain. We will build a special bond with them over the next week.
The Dead Sea
We drive in an hour to the Marriott hotel by the Dead Sea where we arrive around midnight. We have since gone from 730 meters of altitude to about 420 meters below sea level. It is the lowest point on earth, and as the water table is sinking, this lowest point is expected to get even lower in the future.
The Dead Sea lives up to its name because no fish or plants live in it. This is due to the salt content of about 33%, which makes it great for floating. You can read a book or the newspaper while floating. Because of this salt content, the Dead Sea has many beneficial minerals and is also popular as a spa. According to tradition, Cleopatra discovered the beneficial effects of these minerals on her skin. Visitors to the spas have the healing mud brushed on their bodies for a deep cleansing effect. “It absorbs oils and dirt, relieves muscle and joint pain and soothes and refreshes the skin.” , if the advertising is to be believed. However, it is advised not to stay too long or too often in the Dead Sea.
In the morning it is our turn to take a dip in the Dead Sea in, or rather, we carefully step into it. Of course, we also all rub ourselves with the Dead Sea mud, let it soak in for a while and then rinse it off. Totally refreshed, we briefly visit the nearby Movenpick and Kempinski hotels for inspection. Both resorts have access to the Dead Sea. The Mövenpick has a traditional design and décor. The complex looks like a local village. The Kempinski is more sleekly decorated and has fenomenal views of the Dead Sea and Israel on the other side, including Jerusalem and Jericho.
We then drive north where we visit the ancient city of Jerash, but not before being served our first local lunch in village just outside Jerash. We sit in the covered garden of Beit Khairat Souf, at a traditional 1881 family house. Here the mother of the house, together with local women, set up a project that is supported by Unicef since 2019. They grow natural products that we of course get to taste. We are served a nice varied mix of humus, salads, fresh bread, potatoes and chicken. Delicious! A great and very tasty first introduction to Jordanian cuisine.
Then it’s time for culture and “Gerasa” as Jerash used to be called. It was long one of the most important Greco-Roman-Byzantine cities with a heyday in the second century of our era. The city fell into disrepair and, barely destroyed, was slowly buried under the desert sands. In the early 20th century, the city was rediscovered and its remains have since been uncovered.
We walk through Hadrian’s Gate past the hippodrome where 15,000 people could watch horse races. In the city we still find well-paved streets with huge rows of columns. Several temples and a large amphitheater are still in good condition. This impressive theater could seat 30000 people and offers fine views of the complex and the present city from the upper rows. The central oval forum measures 80 by 90 meters and is surrounded by 56 Ionic columns. We listen enthralled to the stories of our experienced guide Essam. Especially when he relates that earlier this month he had the opportunity to accompany Queen Maxima during her visit to Jordan because of the crown prince’s wedding. He has pictures to prove it!
In Amman, we take up residence at the Grand Hyatt. As you would expect from such a hotel, everything is pico bello in order. We are taken to the central shopping street Rainbow Street from where it is just under a 10-minute walk to restaurant Sufra. We taste the delicious appetizers and already have our bellies almost full when the main courses arrive. Travel agent Petra enjoys her first Petra beer; most others enjoy a first Jordan River wine.
The next morning we inspect the Fairmont Hotel. We are very impressed with the beautiful rooms with stunning views of the city, the several stylishly decorated restaurants, bars and the swimming pool. It is located on the Fifth Circle where there are more luxury hotels such as the Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons.
Mt. Nebo and Madaba
From Amman, we drive via Mount Nebo and Madaba to Petra, which is probably the highlight of any trip to Jordan. From Mount Nebo, according to the Bible, Moses saw the promised land. In Madaba, you will find a beautiful Roman mosaic floor in St. George’s Church with a beautiful map of the Middle East and numerous Biblical sites. For people with an interest in religion, in the Old Testament, Jordan is a very interesting country.
In Madaba, we have lunch at Hikayet Sitti, which means as much as “Grandmother’s House. The bright granddaughter Feryal has turned her grandmother’s house into a nice restaurant serving traditional local dishes. We enjoy kusa (stuffed eggplant) and warak (rolled stuffed grape leaves). The main dish of chicken, rice and vegetables appears in a huge pan that is turned over at the table and served on a platter. Special. Pictures of George W. Bush on the wall show that Feryal has created a special place. After lunch, we will drive in a few hours to Petra, where we will stay at the Mövenpick Hotel. A nice traditional-style hotel with pool, walking distance from the entrance to Petra. The spacious rooms are set in a square around an attractive courtyard where something to eat or drink can be enjoyed. Another traditional meal follows in the evening. Mansaf this time; for many, the country’s national dish. Served on a large platter, the base of this originally Bedouin dish is a thin flat bread. This is garnished with lightly spiced rice, pieces of tender lamb and a generous amount of fried nuts. The sauce is a broth made from goat milk yogurt and herbs. Locals eat the dish by hand; fortunately, we are given a knife and fork.
Petra was the Greek name of the capital of the Nabataeans, Arab people who lived in the Middle East in classical antiquity. Located in a valley in the hills, the city is known for the tombs carved into the rocks. Literally translated, the name means “rock,” which was a Greek nickname for the capital of the Nabataeans. The city flourished thanks to the trade in incense brought from Yemen to Persia, Syria and Greek and Roman empires, as well as its location on several other trade routes. At one time, about 25,000 people lived here.
At Petra, it’s not like being dropped off at the Treasury by bus; no, you have to do something for it! We walk with the guide in about two hours along a beautiful path through the ‘Siq,’ a beautiful valley and narrow gorge, to the narrowest point of the gorge and then…. Suddenly there looms the beautiful iconic facade of ‘the Treasury’. Quite special this first glimpse of this ‘modern’ Wonder of the World. As expected, we are not the only visitors. It is busy, but there will be days with more visitors. We take pictures of the view of the magnificent Treasury, selfies, group pictures, pictures with the camel; all with the famous Treasury in the background. You can also climb up the rocks to see it from above but we decide not to.
We continue walking to the old city and see the ancient theater and several royal tombs carved into the rock. Some participants still visit the remains of the ancient temple.
What we do not see due to lack of time is “The Monastery”; the monastery that we are told is even more impressive than the Treasury. For travelers spending more time in Petra, a route along the “back” and Little Petra is recommended. From this route you can see Petra’s most colorful rock formations, Wadi Ferasa.
After another delicious lunch in Petra, we drive to the Petra Mariott Hotel for an inspection. Located a bit outside the city, this beutiful hotel offers stunning views of the surrounding area. We then continue driving south toward Wadi Rum. In Wadi Rum Village, we switch to jeeps for a scenic tour in the desert.
Wadi Rum, the Moon Valley, is Jordan’s largest desert valley at 720 km2. It is a beautiful area with magnificent rock formations of sandstone and granite in the southwestern part of the country. It has been inhabited by Bedouin tribes for centuries. We see beautiful nature, ancient petroglyphs and a place where Lawrence of Arabia is said to have lived.
We waited in a beautiful spot for the sunset before being taken to our tented camp, the beautiful Saraya Rum Private Luxury Camp. It is well sheltered and the rooms there are great. You don’t realize you are in the desert. So beautifully decorated and with a beautiful bathroom with walk-in shower. We have dinner in the camp’s “canteen”. The food is prepared in the ground; a kind of “hangi” like the Maoris in New Zealand. It tastes delightful again, along with all the salads, mezzes and hummus prepared by a real chef. The desserts taste as delicious as they look.
The walkways to the rooms are well lit. Ask the camp staff to turn off those lights after dinner. That’s when you get to see a fantastic starry sky. Fans can download an app that allows you to see where the constellations are located.
From the camp we return to Wadi Rum village where the driver is waiting to take us to Aqaba. It’s is an hour’s drive from the desert on the Red Sea. Located next to Israel’s Eilat, Aqaba is the country’s seaside resort. Besides Israel, you can also see Egypt and the border with Saudi Arabia is not far. From Aqaba, in addition to snorkeling trips, diving excursions can be arranged further out into the Red Sea.
On the coast, we visit three more hotels to have a good comparison for future clients. The traditional El Manara is our favorite though, beautiful on the water and with lovely rooms. It is spacious with pools and offers phenomenal views of the Red Sea. Kempinski is a bit colder, more businesslike, but also very good and right by the sea. The Mövenpick is a little further from the coast.
We stay overnight at the newly developed Hyatt Regency Aqaba Ayla Resort, just outside the city, close to the Israeli border. It is a beautiful spacious accommodation with several restaurants, nice places to have a drink and a lovely pool. About a five-minute walk away is the marina where there is also the souk and some restaurants. For people who want to have a drink after dinner, there is another “bar” street in the souk.
Back to Amman
We drive back to the capital Amman in four and a half hours. We walk with the guide through the old city, through the colorful and busy souk. This time, we have a simple lunch with falafel and salads. Our guide takes us to where he says they make the tastiest dessert in town, Kanafeh, a crispy fried dough dessert filled with cheese and topped with a sweet sugar syrup. After inspecting the top notch Four Seasons Hotel, we enjoy a few free hours at our “own” Sheraton Hotel. To conclude the trip, a final dinner awaits us in the evening before we fly back to Amsterdam after a good night’s sleep.
Jordan is highly recommended! Within four and a half to five hours of flying you are in a totally different environment, ideal for a short trip of 7 to 14 days. Highlights such as world wonder Petra, the spectacular desert landscapes of Wadi Rum, the ancient Roman city of Jerash and several Crusader castles will make everyone’s cultural heart beat faster. Combine this with a few days of relaxing, snorkeling and/or diving in the Red Sea and, of course, a visit to the Dead Sea for a unique floating experience. Add to that the extremely hospitable people, delicious local cuisine, fine luxury accommodation options and you have all the ingredients for a dream vacation!