Back in October last year, I had the pleasure of visiting Jordan for a week – and I’ve finally managed to take some time out to sift through the endless pictures and type up this post to share with you all! I had the best time – it’s a truly magical country and I can’t recommend it enough. There’s so much history and culture to immerse yourself in, add to that friendly and welcoming people and then top with amazing food – what more could one want?
- Transportation: We hired a car which offered us tonnes of flexibility and was quite cheap and cheerful. We took taxis in Amman because it’s a lot busier and the roads are a tad crazy. On that note, taxi drivers you meet are usually keen to sign up for a road trip and I expect you can negotiate a deal for them to drive you around the country.
- Jordan Pass: We purchased a Jordan pass online in advance of visiting, between just savings from purchasing a visa on entry and entrance to Petra, we’d already made more than we paid for it so it’s really a no-brainer!
- Tour guides: Guides are available at almost every tourist site, they usually have an office and fixed prices so you won’t be shortchanged. I really recommend getting one in Petra and in Jerash, if you can, they add so much to the experience and bring the history of the sites alive – especially as there’s no real signage anywhere.
- Safety: Despite the unrest in the Middle East in the last few years, Jordan seems to have steered clear of trouble. Tourism is so important and they’ve put a lot of emphasis on security – for example, we were stopped – at least – every hour when driving and asked for our documents and every hotel had a metal detector and our belongings were regularly being scanned and checked. I honestly felt safe the entire time.
P.S. If anyone is planning to visit and wants specifics, I have a colour coded itinerary on Google docs (because I am a freak) which I’m more than happy to share so hit me up.
Amman, Jordan’s capital city, is bursting with life – there’s plenty to see and do from learning about Roman ruins through to exploring ‘downtown’ and absorbing the atmosphere. We stopped here on our first and last day.
This ancient site is located at the highest point in the city and it’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited places on earth. There are snippets of history from so many eras from the Neolithic Period (pre 4000BC) to the Ummayad Period (600 AD)!
A highlight for me was the remains of the Temple of Hercules from the Roman era.
Not too far from the pillars are the remains of a stone-carved hand. I wish the picture gave you some perspective. It was estimated that the completed statue would have towered around 13 meters tall!
A cave from the bronze era – used for communal burials.
The Citadel is also home to the National Archaeological Museum which has everything from ancient fossils to coins to pottery from the various eras.
Oh, and the views over the city are a treat – you can see the Roman amphitheatre nestled in amongst the buildings.
What a beautiful sunset.
Located downtown, the restored 2nd century 6,000 seat amphitheatre is truly reminiscent of the Roman period. At the time, the city would have been known as Philidelphia. As expected, the Romans put plenty of thought into the architecture – it was cut into the north facing side of a hill, meaning the sun would have been kept off of spectators whilst the stage would have had plenty of light. The steepness of the steps helped the sound carry.
Despite, I imagine, some gruesome events having taken place here, you can’t help but be taken aback by the architecture.
The chaotic centre, or downtown, in Amman is best explored by foot. Get lost in the maze of streets and soak in the culture – you’ll find everything from souks to cafes (great for people watching) to mosques and more!
^ thought these stairs were so cute!
I can’t help but stop and gawk at street art. Thought this was simply beautiful.
^ A shop selling money – fascinating to see this mans collection of old notes and coins. I bought a million Zimbabwean dollars for a tidy 1 dinar! He showed us a folder with ancient British pounds and American dollars too, which, as you can imagine were a little more expensive.
One of the things I love the most about being away is exploring the food markets and shops, and aside for it being super crowded, this did not disappoint!
Food / Restaurants
The food in Amman was incredible! Here are some of my faves:
Probably one of my favourite meals from our entire trip – everything was so, so good. Oh, and super cheap.
Some of the best falafel I’ve had the pleasure of eating. Crisp on the outside and fluffy on the in – well flavoured with garlic and parsley (admittedly, a tad too much salt for my personal tastes).
This houmous was so freaking good. I can’t even. It was so light and creamy with a slight nuttiness. Gah. Please teach me the ways. The baba ganoush was also really good but I was too busy fangirling over the houmous to really enjoy it!
There are a couple of branches of this shop. They sell all kinds of traditional pastries and sweets and are best known for their kunefe, cheese topped with strands of pastry before being drizzled with sugar syrup and topped with chopped pistachios.
We saved this place for our last evening in Jordan, serving up traditional Jordanian cuisine in an elegant old villa, it’s sure to live up to expectations!
^ Aubergine starter – my fave!! ❤
Their signature dish is mansaf, which (will sound weird!) is lamb cooked in dehydrated, fermented yoghurt and served with rice and nuts.
And for dessert, kunefe! I simply can not get enough – I fell in love with it a few years ago in Turkey where we had it cooked over hot coals.
This cute little place has a great vibe, delicious food and great shisha. It’s very lively with such a mixture of people – from locals, young and old, to tourists and gets rather busy in the evenings so there may be a little wait to get a table.
Lamb cooked in a clay pot – the waiter cracked the pot clean in half to serve us!
Chicken cooked in a clay pot with a bread lid.
This was lightly spiced and so good – I especially enjoyed the bread!
For dessert, rather predictably, more kunefe!
Slow cooked meat, a sprinkle of onions, a scoop of fresh tomatoes and a dollop of sauce all rolled up together to make a delicious wrap! So simple but so good!
This little hole in the wall makes the most incredible falafel sandwiches. Check out how fast he makes them!
Some of the best ice cream in Jordan can be found on Rainbow St. We opted for Gerard’s and selected a scoop of Maltesers and Crocon (caramel).
Oh, and don’t forget to grab a glass of sugarcane juice – yum!
An hour north of Amman lies the town of Jerash which is probably best known for its Greco-Roman ruins, the city of Gerasa. It’s probably one of the best-preserved Roman cities outside of Italy.
It was buried in sand and soil for centuries before being rediscovered in 1806 and excavation works are still currently underway.
^ Entrance at the South Gate.
After walking in you quickly reach the stunning huge oval forum (90m wide) which would have been the centre of social and political life. 56 columns surround the central plaza.
The forum leads directly into Cardo Maximus, the collonaded main street running through the length of the city to the North Gate with a fully functional underground drainage system.
Similar to Pompeii, as you walk down the original stone-paved streets, you can see chariot wheel ruts.
Running perpendicular to Cardo Maximus street is Decumanus which runs from East to West.
Dedicated to the water Nymphs, the main public fountain, would have been a beautiful sight. The two-story structure would have been covered with a semi-dome and decorated with marble slabs, water cascading down and then out through seven carved lion’s heads into the pool beneath.
The intricate stonework carvings are still visible – so pretty!
Temple of Artemis
Located on one of the highest points in the city, The Temple of Artemis was dedicated to the goddess of hunting and fertility and is accessed by climbing a set of stairs.
It doesn’t take too much to imagine the grandeur of this structure with 11 of the 12 original Corinthian columns still standing. The whole temple would have been marble-clad, decorated with ornate statues, watching over the city.
You’re able to go right inside, it’s a little sad to see that this is all that remains, considering the temple’s former glory.
The city of Jerash has two amphitheatres, located at either end. The South theatre is the larger of the two, with the capacity to seat 3,000 people and still in use for performances and the occasional chariot race.
When we arrived there was a bagpiper (apparently influenced behind by British military bands) and drummer performing which demonstrated the excellent acoustics in the theatre.
^ Students having a good time on a school trip.
Right outside the theatre, there was a red pepper tree which smelt absolutely amazing!
And finally, on the outer perimeter of the city, in the distance, you can see Hadrian’s arch which was built to commemorate the Emporer Hadrian’s visit.
After exploring the ruins for a few hours we were starved so popped across the road to get some lunch. Usually, I’d steer clear of any restaurants so close to a tourist site, but, we had a schedule to stick to!
We ordered a couple of starters – creamy humous and a whipped yoghurt with za’atar and walnuts and both, paired with the freshly baked bread, went down an absolute treat and had me reconsidering my initial doubts!
Sadly, the mains didn’t follow suit. Both the chicken and the lamb were overcooked and lacked any real flavour.
The Dead Sea
The dead sea lies over 400m below sea level, the lowest point on earth, and is renowned for its magical healing properties.
Upon arriving at Amman Beach (Notably, this is a private beach and you have to pay for entry. It was not well maintained), we slathered ourselves in the black mud and stood in the sun, patiently waiting, as instructed, for it to completely dry before taking a dip in the salty waters.
Despite the high salt levels (don’t shave beforehand, it will HURT!) the minerals will leave your skin moisturised, and in fact, slightly oily!
After a few steps into the water, you’re swept off of your feet and find yourself bobbing around and floating. Don’t bother trying to swim, it’ll end badly, and be extra careful not to get any into your mouth or eyes – it seriously stings!!
^ Salt crystals formed on the rocks nearby.
^ The dead sea separates Jordan and Israel which you can see in the distance.
After a couple of hours at the beach, we headed off and stopped at the Pastiche Café for lunch and shared a chicken shawarma. It looks so much better than it tasted.
We spent the rest of the day on the road, headed to Petra, through the mountains.
Sunset somewhere on the road:
The ancient Nabatean red stone city of Petra, a treasured Unesco world heritage site, spans over a vast area of mountains riddled with gorges and valleys. Grand, detailed architecture has been chiselled out of the sandstone – much of which served the purpose of tombs.
The main entrance to the city of Petra is through the Siq – over a kilometre long path which snakes through the middle of a mountain, split with the movement of tectonic plates. There are places as you walk through, that you can see how the halves would match up.
^ Be cautious as you walk through, horse and carriages hurtle through the winding paths, transporting people to and fro.
With almost 200m high walls you really do feel small walking through it.
The siq varies in width – from 3m to 12m.
I definitely recommend arriving really early if you want pictures like these (i.e. without other people!) – we showed up at the opening time, 6am!
^ The remains of some stone carvings – a man leading his camel.
One of the narrowest points.
You can see how the Nabateans would have channelled water from Wadi Musa into the desert city in the dugout channels on the side of the rock face. They would have been covered with stone panels – there were even places for filtering the water!
You can see in the pictures below the effects of years of rain and wind on sandstone.
At the end of the long walk through the siq, you’re rewarded by a glimpse of the treasury (al khazna). The purpose of this building is still unclear, and, unlike its depiction in Indiana Jones, it really isn’t that big inside (or at least, that’s what our guide told us!)
Some say that it was designed as a tomb for someone of great significance, others suggest it served as a library. It got its name through a rumour that there was treasure stored in one of the urns and you can see it’s laced with bullet marks from people wanting to cash out!
^ Camels seated outside, great photo op!
There’s also a bit still buried under – our guide said something about structural integrity being compromised had it been properly exhibited.
Later in the afternoon, we hiked (read: clambered ungracefully) to the top of the opposite mountaintop to see the treasury from a different perspective. It was incredible to see it from this angle, and far more peaceful than the ground level!
A little gecko that we met on our way up:
This amphitheatre would have originally been built by the Nabateans (not the Romans!) over 2000 years ago. The Romans came along and expanded its capacity to hold 8,500 people.
The Royal Tombs and the stairs leading up to them:
In comparison, the tombs which would have held normal families on the street of facades.
The start of the 30-40minute trail up to the monastery (al deir).
There are various little stalls selling wares as you make your way:
The view from somewhere up high in the mountains:
50m wide and 45m high, this carving is considerably larger than the treasury. It’s named after the crosses carved inside from Byzantine times.
^ to give you context on how big this is, the doorway measures 8m high!!
There’s a little tea house (they also sell snacks) opposite, it’s worth popping in for some sage tea and taking a few moments to marvel at the sight in front of you.
The remnants of the Temple of Qasr-Al-Bint:
One of the facades that hasn’t held up too well against weathering.
One of the other really cool experiences is Petra by night. The path to the treasury is lit up with candles in paper lanterns – it really is magical! (Well, except some people insisting on using their phones for extra light and being really loud!)
Definitely, need to work on my night photography skills!!
Once you arrive at the treasury, you can take a seat on the carpets strewn across the floor and relax with a cup of tea and enjoy the live musical performance.
What a long day, my feet were oh, SO sore by the end of it! And here’s the evidence – 25k and over 100 floors!
Red Cave Restaurant
I can usually count on my Lonely Planet guides not to lead me astray with restaurant recommendations, but sadly, this time around, it really, really failed.
Aside from the decor, I’ve not really got anything nice to say about this place. The service was abysmal and the most of the food lacked flavour – other dishes were doused with enough salt to put the dead sea out of business. Seriously.
Don’t bother. Go hit up the Hilton hotel and dine in one of it’s restaurants instead.
The desert in Wadi Rum is everything you could want from a desert – endless spectacular sand dunes amongst canyons with narrow crevices and warm and welcoming Bedouin nomads with their camels. We organised a 1 day & 1 night trip with the Bedouin Lifestyle Camp who were great hosts. We were driven across the desert in a 4×4 to each of the key landmarks, given a quick explanation and left to explore at our own pace.
Took this one on my iPhone – I absolutely love the second camera and playing around with the bokeh effect!
Pano, overlooking sand and mountains all around, I tried to take a full 360 image, but apparently, iPhones don’t support that.
Lots of new camel friends!
Exploring the Khazali Canyon:
Ancient inscriptions carved out – apparently, something to do animals often found atop the canyon (to be hunted, for food).
The Burrah Canyon. It doesn’t even look like there’s a passageway from this angle:
It was pretty hot so I was eternally grateful for the shade when we got inside!
Looking up at the mountain walls, towering over us!
Seriously. So beautiful. So peaceful.
Random tyre tracks in the sand.
We stopped a couple of times for some tea and snacks.
Oh and lunch, our driver made us a tomato and bean stew with bread – very simple but surprisingly tasty.
Lawrence’s Spring, named after Lawrence of Arabia (definitely want to watch the film now as well). Up at the top of this mountain is a spring which he would have used to source water.
Lawrence’s ‘house’ – or rather, as our guide told us, where he would have stored his belongings and extra food etc.
The penultimate stop we made was to the ‘bridge.’ We definitely made our way up (and I freaked the fuck out) on top of the naturally occurring structure…
Before long it was sunset, we climbed to the top of a mountain viewing point to enjoy the orange and pink hues.. ❤
Dinner – chicken, cooked in a traditional zarb! This was placed underground on a bed of coals, before being covered with sand to slow cook over a few hours.
After dinner, we sat outside in candlelight (they turned off all the lights) and sipped on sweet tea whilst smoking on shisha pipes, enjoying our hosts strumming on their guitars and singing…
Pretty soon the stars made an appearance…
There’s nothing like a sky full of stars to make you feel tiny and insignificant.
I definitely took about 400 pictures and only a handful of them came out well. I wish I’d bought a tripod!!!
One of my faves:
Magical. It really was one of the more special travelling experiences to date.
The final stop on our trip to Jordan was the seaside town of Aqaba.
The first thing we did was to check into our hotel and shower. After a day sweaty clambering around in the desert the day prior and passing on the opportunity to take a cold shower in the morning, I was so glad for modern comforts – i.e. a warm shower, fluffy towels and a comfy bed!
But bed would have to wait! We drove down to Berenice Beach Club for an afternoon of snorkelling. Sadly, because it was so busy, we missed out on the boat trip out to deeper, more exciting waters and also didn’t manage to rent proper snorkels and had to settle for goggles!
I managed to get a couple of underwater shots thanks to an underwater phone case – this was surprisingly difficult!
Sadly, a lot of the coral reef has been bleached out.
^ sea urchins.
^ there were plenty more fish but I failed spectacularly at a) not scaring them away b) taking a decent picture.
Definitely then proceeded to nap into the afternoon after the ‘snorkelling.’
The sun starting to set:
We spent the evening exploring the old town market – made up of lots of stalls and shops, selling all kinds of things. Of course, I had my eye on all things food related so I ended up walking away with lots of exciting ingredients that I can use!
Spices and nuts – totally stocked up on lots of sumac and za’atar.
Rakwet Kanaan Restaurant
We had one of the best meals of the trip in Aqaba – thick creamy humous, self-assemble chicken shawarmas and a fattoush salad with a side of fries. Even the smoothies were fresh and tasty, much better than expected! Everything was really, really good! And to top it off, it was such a lovely atmosphere with live traditional musicians.
We went for a walk down to the marina afterwards – so picturesque!
In the distance, on the right, where there are lots of lights, that’s Israel, on the left, Egypt, I didn’t catch it all in this shot, but there aren’t anywhere as many lights on that end.
And that pretty much sums it all up,