10 Spectacular Jordan Places You Must See Once in Your Life!

November 22, 2021

inside petra jordan

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, better known simply as Jordan, is the friendliest country in the Middle East. Sometimes called “the jewel of the Middle East, “ and “Middle East Lite,” Jordan places are free from the surrounding chaos and unrest and offer fascinating archaeological sites, ethereal desert landscapes, and chic seaside resorts which attract over four million visitors a year.

jordan places

Jordan will steal your heart from the second you set foot on its soil. While small in size, it looms large with a plethora of history, five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, rich culture, outdoor adventure, warm-hearted locals, and hospitable Bedouins.

One thing is for sure: Jordan is one country you need to add to your bucket list…and sooner rather than later.

If you want to follow in my footsteps, here’s the trip I took with G Adventures.  And…it’s on sale for a short time!

INSIDER TIP: Click here for my complete guide on what to wear in Jordan (and still look cute!)

10  Madaba

madaba

The ancient town of Madaba, with a population of about 60,000, is known for its 6th-century mosaic map of the Holy Land in the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George. The mosaic map of Madaba is the oldest known geographic floor mosaic in art history, dating back 1500 years, and the world’s oldest glimpse into the cartography of the Middle East area between Lebanon and Egypt, including Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, and the Moab Desert during biblical times. The beautiful church houses artifacts from the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic eras.

jordan places

The town is known as being one of the most traveler-friendly in Jordan, and I certainly concur. After exploring the church, we stopped at a coffee shop in the small downtown. After purchasing sizzling hot, thick Turkish coffee, the owners brought samples of soft, sweet Medjool dates and delicious baklava to our group. Did I say delicious? That would be an understatement…we purchased a supply to take with us for snacks!

9  Mt. Nebo

jordan places

One of the holiest of Jordan places, Mount Nebo is allegedly the spectacular panoramic spot where God showed Moses the Promised Land before he died, but He would not allow him to set foot there due to his disobedience.

Historically and geographically significant, the 3281 foot-high pilgrimage mountain (the highest in Jordan) offers sweeping views across to (left to right) Hebron, the Dead Sea, Herodium, Bethlehem, Qumran, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Jericho, Nablus, and Lake Tiberias. It’s believed that Moses is also buried here, although it’s never been proven.

I find it fascinating that the roots of the three major world religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) can be traced back to the small sliver of land that is present-day Jordan.

lot's wife

Another interesting Old Testament site is the stone sculpture, pointed out to me as “Lot’s wife” sits on a cliff directly across from the Dead Sea. According to Genesis 19:26, Lot’s wife was turned to a pillar of salt because she disobeyed God and turned to look back towards Sodom and Gomorrah as it was being destroyed. Ironically, the statue above is looking toward where the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

8  Karak Castle

karak castle

Karak Castle is one of the largest Crusader castles in the Levant and still has ongoing excavations. The 12th-century fortress sits about 3000 feet above sea level, inside the walls of the old city.

Karak Castle was the stronghold during the crusades between the Crusaders and the army of Saladin, the first sultan of Egypt and Syria. After many years of battles, the castle was eventually overthrown by Saladin’s army.

Like other Crusader castles, the views from the strategic bastion are remarkable. If you’re interested in visiting other Crusader castles, here are some scattered throughout Jordan:

  • Aljoun
  • Shobak
  • Qasr Al Azraq
  • Vaux Moise
  • Al-Habis

7  Aqaba

aqaba

You may be surprised to hear that there’s more to Jordan than just camels and lost cities. Since I always try to find a beach when I travel, I was happy to spend a day and night in Jordan’s only seaside city, Aqaba.

red sea

Photo credit: Felix Bartenbach

With just 16 miles of coastline on the Red Sea, the warm, clear blue waters make the Gulf of Aqaba one of the top destinations for scuba diving and snorkeling in the world. In addition to the multi-colored Yamanieh Coral Reef, tropical fish, moray eels, and sea turtles, you can also find sunken ships and even a tank.

aqaba

I’m a certified diver and it was tempting, but since we just had one day here, I didn’t want to spend all of it on a boat. Instead, we opted to lounge under a palapa on Berenice Beach with pizza and cocktails brought to us.

Later in the afternoon, we went to the Bab al Hara Hamman (Turkish bath) near our hotel. A Hamman was a new experience for me; first the sauna, then steam room, then I was scrubbed until there was no dead or dry skin to be found, hair washed, Jacuzzi, shower, then a (rather hard) massage. What an experience!

If you’re looking for a bit more history, Aqaba dates all the way back to 4000 B.C., and in 1500 B.C. it’s believed the Edomites built the first port here. You can explore Islamic-era ruins and the Aqaba Castle.

6  Amman

amman

Amman is a thriving metropolis and since you will probably land here, it’s worth taking a day or two to explore. We had a great time exploring the ancient, historic sites and an introduction to Jordan culture.

Located in the heart of the city, Amman’s Roman citadel offers breathtaking views over several neighborhoods of Amman. The citadel is composed of several impressive historical buildings, and pottery and other artifacts have been found dating back to the Bronze Age.

jordan places

The Temple of Hercules sits within the historic Citadel complex on the top of the highest hill in Amman. Two massive pillars and parts of the podium are all that remains of the temple. The most unique sculpture is a few large fingers carved from stone thought to be the hand of Hercules, the only thing left from a statue that would have stood 39-feet tall. It is thought that the original statue toppled and was destroyed in a long-ago earthquake.

The Roman amphitheater on the Hashemite Plaza in the Old City is one of the most iconic sites in the city. Amman’s most famous archaeological treasure, it was built in the 2nd -century A.D. has three tiers, and seats 6,000 people. The theatre now occasionally hosts cultural events.

amman

We shopped ‘till we dropped in the souks lining the vibrant city center. It’s a kaleidoscope of color, sound, and smells and you can find just about anything you might want to buy from antique jewelry to traditional clothing and kufiyah, homemade crafts, and every manner of souvenir.

kunafah

TIP: Do try the kunafah – Jordan’s most famous pastry, at Habibah Sweets (the oldest sweet shop in Amman) on a side alley for the best kunafeh in all of Jordan! Kunafeh pastry is made with two layers of crispy filo dough with hot Akkawi cheese in the middle and covered with sugary sweet syrup. The combination of savory and sweet, crunchy and soft, and warm and cool sensations is ridiculously delicious!

Bohemian Rainbow Street is a great place for a leisurely stroll, filled with restaurants and galleries. We ended our afternoon with a fantastic late lunch in the flowering courtyard at Sufra, a lovely historic villa regarded as the best restaurant in Jordan, frequently visited by the royal family.

The city center also hosts the impressive King Abdullah Mosque, with a beautiful blue mosaic dome, and if you are so inclined to try a little shisha (aka hookah), you can partake at many local bars and restaurants.

5  Jerash

jerash

Jordan is home to dozens of ancient Roman sites, but Jerash, one of the oldest citadels in the Middle East, is easily the most impressive and compelling, even better than its counterpart in Rome, IMHO.

Boasting an unbroken chain of human occupation since the Bronze Age, the grand, walled Greco-Roman settlement is entered through the 2nd-century Hadrian’s Arch, then progresses on to the Temple of Zeus, Hippodrome, Corinthian columns of the Temple of Artemis, and the huge Forum’s oval colonnade lined with 56 Corinthian columns.

Once an important city on Rome’s ancient trade route, Jerash was buried and preserved in the dry climate for centuries, until excavation began in 1925.

4  Dead Sea

dead sea

Photo credit: Robert Leinz

One of the best experiences in Jordan is a visit to the Dead Sea, famous since Biblical times where Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for disobeying God. The lake’s surface is 1414 feet below sea level, making it the lowest elevation on Earth.

You can’t swim in the Dead Sea, but you can float with no effort at all!  The high salinity concentration makes even the heaviest of humans buoyant. While nothing can live in it, the salty water is reputedly therapeutic and it feels very oily on your skin.

Do not soak for more than 15 minutes, and make sure not to get any of that salty water in your mouth, eyes, or nose – it burns at best and can cause death in the extreme. If you are looking for an Instagram moment, this is arguably the most coveted photo in Jordan – especially if you can find an Arabic newspaper, which was extremely difficult to find in this day of online media.

jordan places

Photo credit: Robert Leinz

And don’t forget the mud therapy! The mineral-rich Dead Sea mud is also supposed to have healing qualities as well as good for your skin.  It was one of the world’s first health resorts (for Herod the Great) and allegedly even Egyptian queen Cleopatra traveled to the Dead Sea for the fountain of youth properties.

So, I slathered the thick black gook all over myself with it in the hopes of shaving off a few years. What do you think?

dead sea

The striations in the cliff show how much the Dead Sea has receded.

It’s not all fun and games at the Dead Sea. The sea is receding approximately three feet per year due to the salt and minerals being removed to make health and beauty products. If this continues, they say the Dead Sea will be gone in 50 years. What a shame!

3  Wadi Rum

wadi rum

Also known as the Valley of the Moon, Wadi Rum is a magnificent desert valley filled with dramatic sandstone and basalt cliffs, with narrow gorges, bright orange sand, and natural stone arches.

One of the world’s most stunning deserts, Wadi Rum has been a movie set for several legendary movies such as The Martian, Aladdin, and Lawrence of Arabia. In fact, the incredible rock formation known as the Seven Pillars of Wisdom was named after Lawrence of Arabia’s autobiography.

An adventurer’s paradise, there are almost endless things to do in Wadi Rum…

wadi rum

We took a 4×4 tour deep into the desert to see rock formations such as the Mushroom Rock, the Graffiti Ship Rock, admire the petroglyphs, sink into the soft dunes, and examine rugged sites that looked like they belonged more on the moon than on the Earth.

jordan places

Bedouins have inhabited this land for nearly 12,000 years. We stopped at a Bedouin tent to experience true nomad hospitality and lifestyle, drinking delightful hot sweet tea spiced with cardamom, lots of cinnamon, sage, and sugar while listening to them playing handmade instruments and singing a poem of welcome.

jordan places

Photo credit: Robert Leinz

For the most amazing desert sunset, we hiked up a cliff of large, uneven rocks which was a bit tricky, but we were rewarded with the best view in town.

We stayed overnight in a Bedouin camp run by a hospitable Bedouin family living in the desert for generations. They slow-cooked our delicious traditional dinner of barbequed lamb, chicken, sausage, and vegetables cooked in an underground pit, called Zarb. While I usually am not overly fond of rustic accommodations, this was an exception, and easily my favorite sleeping place in Jordan

wadi rum

Photo credit: Robert Leinz

Early the next morning, we channeled our Lawrence of Arabia as we rode camels to catch the intense sunrise over the distant scenic mountains

Wadi Rum is an alluring and surreal experience and one of the Jordan places you can’t miss!

2  Wadi Mujib

wadi mujib

Wadi Mujib was not part of our G Adventures Jordan tour; in fact, after lots of pre-trip research, I only decided to hike this extraordinary natural site with much trepidation.

Aka the “Grand Canyon of Jordan,” awe-inspiring Wadi Mujib is a fast-running river that runs through a narrow slot canyon ending at the Dead Sea. I did the strenuous Siq Trail, a 2–3 hour trek pushing against the rushing river, scampering and struggling to get over huge, slick boulders, tenuously crossing multiple waterfalls, and sometimes plunging neck-deep in the rushing water while pulling yourself forward and hanging on for dear life to a rope along the canyon wall.

wadi mujib

Every hiker is required to wear a lifejacket, and sturdy water shoes with good treads are recommended.

Wadi Mujib is also believed to be the historical site of Arnon Valley, which once separated the Amorites from the Moabites.

Truth be told, my experience in Wadi Mujib was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done; I did not think I’d be able to do it, but thanks to the help from my guide, Ali, who several times towed me up the rocks by sheer physical strength, I did manage it, and that sense of accomplishment will stay with me forever.

1  Petra

petra

Ancient Petra is the unparalleled star attraction of Jordan. One of the New Seven Wonders of the World (BTW, I now have visited all seven plus the Pyramids of Giza which was grandfathered in making it eight), this remnant of ancient Nabatean civilization is an expansive city of temples and tombs carved into the sandstone cliffs, around since 300 B.C.

Often referred to as the “Lost City of Petra,” the sprawling 120 sq. mi. 2657 foot high UNESCO city dates to around 300 B.C. when it was the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom. The city was rediscovered by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812 who uncovered it under ancient layers of sand.

One of the oldest cities in the world, Petra is also considered one of the most eminent archaeological sites in the world containing tombs and temples carved into pink sandstone cliffs, earning its other nickname, the “Rose City.”

petra

Prepare yourself for THAT MOMENT…after walking 2 km through the siq (a narrow gorge with 262-foot towering canyon walls), you spot the famous ruins known as “The Treasury” peeking at you from the distance. Oh, the thrill is unforgettable!

Al Khazneh, aka the Treasury, is Petra’s most famous and visited site. The 131-foot high, ornate, Greek-style façade carved into the rock cliff was made famous by the Indiana Jones movie “The Last Crusade” and was my #1 bucket list for Jordan; I was literally giddy to get it!

FYI, while originally thought to hold treasure, the Treasury is actually a tomb for the Nabataean King Aretas III.

TIP: Get to Petra at the opening, 6 a.m. You’ll walk with very few people through the siq as well as be able to obtain unencumbered photos at the Treasury.

To get the coveted “treasury from above” shot, you’ll have to hire a Bedouin guide to show you the way and help you scramble up a steep winding path with lots of huge boulders; it is illegal for your guide or anyone but the Bedouins to take you up to that vantage point. Again, if you get there early in the morning, you will not have to deal with other people jostling to go up…or rising prices.

After marveling at the Treasury, continue your journey to the Amphitheater, past the Street of Facades, the Royal Tombs, the Colonnaded Street, and the Qasr al-Bint temple. And then you’ll reach the entrance to another amazing archaeological splendor.

petra

Second only to the Treasury, Al Dier, aka the Monastery, is a fabulous iconic 154-foot façade cut out of rose-colored rock in Petra. It’s about a 5 km hike from the entrance to Petra (2 km from the Treasury) and then you’ll have to climb another 900 +/- steep, uneven steps to get to the Monastery.  Oh, the pain!

jordan places

At the recommendation of our fantastic local guide, Montaser Khatatbeh, we decided at the last minute to ride a donkey up the steps, due to intense heat at midday and would have limited time for exploring the tombs and shop in the stalls for handmade Bedouin souvenirs afterward. It was a bit scary as I looked at the steep drop just to my right, but my handsome white donkey did not let me down.

FYI, I was pleased to see that it’s illegal to mistreat the donkeys, camels, and horses in Petra, complete with a hotline number to call if you see anything amiss. The Bedouins value and take good care of their animals, at least that I could see.

At this point, it will be mid-afternoon, hot, and the hordes of tourists on day trips from Amman will be arriving. You’ll be glad once more that you came early. Relax and have a cup of tea or soft drink in one of the small cafes at the site while watching the masses of sweaty tourists go by.

Currently, only 15% of Petra has been explored by archaeologists, so who knows how many more incredible ruins will be revealed in the future!

little petra

You probably don’t know this (I didn’t), but 5 miles north of Petra in Wadi Musa is another archaeological site called “Little Petra.” Also known as Siq al-Barid, the smaller-scale Nabataean site, is also entered through a narrow canyon and has buildings carved into the rose sandstone walls.

Built in the 1st century B.C., some scholars believe it was the original Nabataean city before they moved to the larger site while others think it was a suburb. Unlike Petra which was rediscovered in 1812, Little Petra wasn’t discovered until the late 1950s.

Epilogue

Jordan is awash with fantastic things to do and see from rich history, ancient sites, surreal landscapes, and outdoor activities, making it a desirable destination for every taste. It should top everyone’s bucket list. Jordan will not disappoint.

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Disclosure:  The author partnered with G Adventures during her stay in Jordan, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.

This article may contain affiliate/compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer.

About the Author

Patti MorrowPatti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials” and she was named one of the “Top 35 Travel Blogs” in the world.

She is also the star of the upcoming TV series “Destination Takeover” which is scheduled to premiere in the new few months.

Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled extensively through six continents looking for fabulous destinations, exotic beaches, and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer tribe.

3 comments

  1. Comment by Suzanne Fluhr

    Suzanne Fluhr Reply November 23, 2021 at 2:47 am

    This looks like it was a fantastic trip and a good way to see a lot in Jordan. We did a small group GAdventures tour in Turkey and thought it was very well run. I enjoyed reading your narrative and seeing your photos because it’s unlikely I’ll make it to Jordan on my own. OTOH, hope springs eternal.

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply November 23, 2021 at 7:52 am

      Jordan is fantastic, and I do hope you get the opportunity to visit. You’ve come so far in your recovery and I’m confident you will continue on that path. Ironically, I’d love to visit Turkey but that does not seem likely because of the political unrest. 🙁

  2. Pingback: Food in Jordan You Must Try! - Luggage and Lipstick

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