Jordan is a beautiful, intensely poignant country with a complex political, economic, and social history. Considered to be one of the safer and more progressive countries in the Middle East, Western travelers usually visit Jordan to see Petra, an ancient and sprawling carved into cliff faces that once served as the capital city of the Nabatean Kingdom. Although Petra is spectacular – like spectacular – if you’re planning a trip to Jordan, there’s so much more to do.
To this day, Amman, the Jordanian capital, remains one of the greatest cities I’ve ever had the pleasure of calling home. If you’re interested in seeing all the best that Jordan has to offer, read on.
5 Best Things to Do in Jordan
Hashem is my favorite restaurant in downtown Amman. Positioned in Wasat Al Balad (which translates literally to city center, or just Al Balad (pronounced bel-ed), it’s a culinary experience you can’t miss.
Food is served family-style, with servers roving through plastic-covered tables with big trays of bread, large pots of hummus, falafel, and baba ganoush. If something looks tasty, just flag the server down and they’ll ladle out enough servings for your party. Don’t be surprised if they throw the bread or hummus right on the table – the plastic is replaced before a new party is seated.
The more people you bring with you, the cheaper it will be. With a group of four, we never paid more than 3 JD (around 5 USD) each.
The Arabic word for the check is hisaab (heh-saahb). Make sure to always check your receipt. Tourists are easy to spot and take advantage of, but bargaining is common, if not expected. Don’t be afraid to push back if you feel you’re getting overcharged.
Jordan borders The Dead Sea and there are plenty of resorts that allow you to book a day pass to swim at a private beach.
Due to the Dead Sea’s high salt content, there are some things to keep in mind before swimming. The first thing is shaving – although it’s common (especially in Western culture) to shave, the microdermabrasion from razors can cause salty discomfort when swimming. I’d recommend putting down the razor at least 3-4 days before, just to be safe.
The second thing is the mud – Dead Sea mud has long been used in beauty products for its restorative qualities. In the Middle East, it’s respectful to choose a more conservative swimsuit (a one-piece, no bikinis) but make sure you bring something that you don’t mind getting dirty. Chances are you’ll be smearing the mud all over your skin, face, arms, and legs, and sometimes the mud can stain.
This was my favorite thing that I did while in Jordan and my friends and I still talk about it to this day.
Wadi Mujib is a water canyon hike with a variety of courses that you can elect to experience. Note, this is not for the faint-hearted. You’ll be doing at least three hours of walking through water, swimming, and climbing over waterfalls (yes, you heard me). However, it’s one of the most cathartic and amazing experiences that’s ever happened to me.
If you’re going for the simplest hike, the walk starts easy with a pleasant level of ankle-deep water, allowing you to gaze at the canyon walls all around you. The deeper you go into the canyon, the more water you’ll have to swim against and the more waterfalls you’ll have to climb over.
The way back is far easier, and the current carries you home. You’ll find that the waterfalls you climbed over turn into slides when you’re with the current, and there are employees at the hardest parts to make sure you make it over obstacles safely.
If you’re considering Wadi Mujib there are two things you should be aware of – shoes and getting to and from the canyon. You will absolutely need well-fitting, closed-toed shoes. I’ve seen a few shoes lost in that canyon, so make sure whatever footwear you’ve chosen is securely fastened.
The second thing is logistics. Wadi Mujib itself is a bit far away from Amman, so you’ll need to schedule a taxi driver beforehand who can drop you off and pick you up once you’re done. Chances are you’ll have little to no cell service either, so make sure you plan ahead.
Jordan is filled with hundreds of Roman ruins. Tourists usually head to Jerash, an incredibly preserved area complete with an amphitheater and courtyard, a temple to Artemis, and over 100 standing columns. While this is definitely worth seeing, my favorite ruin is Gadara at Umm Qais.
What differentiates Umm Qais from other ruins is the building material – the ruins were made using black basalt. This gives the structures a distinctly grey, smoky color.
From a cultural perspective, rumor has it that this is where Jesus performed one of his miracles while overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Religious association aside, this spot is one that you shouldn’t miss.
Wadi Dana is the largest of Jordan’s nature reserves. Filled with hikes, ruins, creatures, and olive trees, Dana is the perfect getaway if you’re looking to get back in touch with nature.
Dana used to be an Ottoman town and the few inhabitants still live in the original, renovated structures. If you’re staying there, I’d recommend Wadi Dana Lodge, an affordable and comfortable option with tasty food. There are plenty of nature hikes and trails, and you could easily spend hours wandering around. The feeling of the town is distinctly Mediterranean and secluded, so if you’ve been craving a reprieve from the city this is a great place to go.