This year I found myself driving through snow-capped mountains in Armenia to reach remote, medieval monasteries, and hiking in the middle of a rainstorm to the southernmost point of Europe in Mani, Greece.
Dramatic, raw beauty inspired by earth’s elements defines both of these destinations, but nothing prepared me for the sights of Jordan.
This Middle Eastern country has been on my mind for almost a decade. Maybe I was captivated by the images of boxy tan-coloured buildings spread over Amman’s hills or Petra’s rock-cut temples. Whatever it was that inspired my desire to go there, this month I finally travelled to Jordan with my family.
It may be a small country but it packs a punch. Be prepared for an exhilarating adventure if you decide to visit. I spent hours hiking off-the-beaten track in the ancient city of Petra, zooming through the Wadi Rum Desert in a Jeep, and absorbing the inspired art scene in the country’s capital, Amman. And I barely scratched the surface on my trip.
Here are some of my top things to do in Jordan plus practical tips to make the most of your once-in-a-lifetime holiday.
What are the best places to visit in Jordan?
An hour north of Amman, Jerash is home to expansive Roman ruins. I was struck by how well-preserved the site is, reminding me only of the grandeur of Ephesus in Selcuk, Turkey.
Entering the main gate of Jerash, you’ll find the ruins of a Byzantine church with ancient Greek alphabets inscribed into the impressively in-tact mosaic flooring. To the left, the hippodrome, once the scene of sporting festivals and chariot races.
But the Oval Forum at the centre of the city is what really blew me away. The plaza, built in the 1st century AD, is surrounded by 56 columns. I spent two hours walking through these ruins and still wished I had more time.
Experience a different side of Petra
The rose-hued city of Petra is so much more than what I had initially expected. We walked into the Siq, a narrow one-kilometre-long canyon flanked by high cliffs that leads to the Treasury.
Many tourists come to take photos in front of this temple. But we wanted to explore the world beyond this main attraction.
It took us 40 minutes to hike south up to the High Place of Sacrifice Trail to an open-air altar where Nabataeans slaughtered animals. We then followed the Wadi Farasa trail back down, making our way past panoramic vistas, stunning ancient architecture and the homes of Bedouin families who still live in the city.
To close out our day, we climbed the 800 steps to the monastery. If we’d had more time, I’d have liked to visit the al-Khubtha trail but we’d already been walking for six hours that day. I let curiosity lead the way and left with a fondness for Petra that I wasn't expecting when I first arrived.
If you’re planning a trip to Petra, wear hiking boots and comfortable clothes. Make sure to pack energy bars and water but don’t worry about weighing yourself down, there are plenty of shops to pick up extra supplies along the trails.
You can also stop along the paths to sip highly-sweetened mint tea, as we did at the Garden Hall while looking out onto the cliffs.
Escape to the wilderness of the Wadi Rum Desert
To give us the flexibility to change our plans, we rented a car from the airport for our week-long trip.
From Petra, we decided to drive to the desert wilderness of Wadi Rum in southern Jordan. This landscape is littered with towering, historic rock formations that look like something from another planet.
We spent the night sipping strong cardamom-infused Bedouin coffee out of a tiny porcelain cup with no handles and exchanging stories with other travellers under the moonlight.
The next day, we watched the sunrise from our tent and then hopped in the back of a Toyota jeep for a tour organised by the hotel we’d been staying at. We whizzed from one location to the next, including the Khazali canyon where I gently brushed my fingers over the Islamic inscriptions dating back thousands of years.
Float on the Dead Sea for free
There are several ways to explore the Dead Sea, the lowest dry land in the world. Hotels offer a day pass that includes access to the salty waters, amenities such as showers, and lunch.
Amman Beach has free entrance, but with so many visitors, there is little privacy. We were looking for a more local experience that didn’t require spending unnecessary cash, so we headed to a secluded location on the east coast of the sea.
We parked on the side of the road and made our way down the sliding, rocky path to the edge of the water.
I reached into the waters to scoop up the smooth Dead Sea charcoal mud and slathered it on my face. After it hardened, I squatted by the nearby hot spring and splashed the pale yellow water on my face. My face was as red as Petra’s canyons.
I waded into the sea and gleefully bopped for a few minutes - fully clothed to protect my skin.
After the swim, my clothes were sticky and sparkled with salt, my hair felt as if it had just been oiled, and parts of my skin were on fire.
This was the most unusual and intriguing part of the experience for me. Somehow, I survived the one-hour car ride back to Amman.
If you plan to visit this location, I’d recommend wearing comfortable shoes and packing towels, a picnic blanket, sunscreen, and a change of clothes.
What can you do in Amman?
Amman has a thriving art scene and while I was there a friend took me to visit her favourite galleries. We went to Dar Al-Anda, where it happened to be the opening of a new exhibition on Greek Mythology.
We also visited Darat al Funun, which has become a meeting place for artists in the Arab world. In recent years, local artists have painted murals that make the otherwise dull city landscape pop. One of the best things you can do is walk through the streets and admire the art you’ll find in unexpected corners.
What are the travel restrictions for Jordan?
After two years of stringent COVID entry rules, Jordan opened up to visitors on 1 March 2022. The country no longer requires vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers to take a PCR test before or upon arrival.
Travellers need to buy medical insurance covering COVID-19, fill out this declaration form and present the generated QR code at the airport.