Jordan is a destination that is sometimes misunderstood. The land of lost cities and epic adventures like Lawrence of Arabia, it's a place that should be much more popular than it is. Safe and hospitable, Jordan suffers guilt by association due to its location in the Middle East. But visitors who take the time to discover this peaceful country are rewarded with a taste of the exotic and a warm welcome from locals.
Here are just a few of the many reasons everyone should not only visit Jordan, but visit now.
1. Yes, it's safe!
Before leaving for Amman a couple of months ago, even my most world-savvy friends asked me if my trip was a smart one. Every day we're warned of dangers in the Middle East with little attention to the countries actually involved. The truth is that Jordan is a peaceful and stable country that happens to live in a bad neighborhood.
The U.S. and Jordan have had extremely strong ties for decades and traveling around the country I never once felt any threat or even mild concern. So if safety is why you haven't visited, it's time to relegate that concern to the garbage heap and start planning your adventure immediately.
2. Wadi Rum
The natural beauty of Jordan is one of the aspects of traveling there that I enjoy most. From the Dead Sea to the Red Sea and the vast desert in between, beauty comes in many different forms throughout Jordan. One of the natural highlights to any trip though is to spend time in the UNESCO World Heritage protected desert known as Wadi Rum.
This desert is unusual in the terrain and the colors you see as you drive around in an old 4x4 truck. It's so unusual in fact that many films and documentaries have used Wadi Rum as a stand in for moon or Mars landscapes. The best way to experience Wadi Rum is to spend some time at one of the many tented camps in the desert. Far from roughing it, these camps have every amenity and also include tours and activities within the desert itself. Trust me, after seeing your first golden-red sunset you'll never want to leave.
The capital of Jordan, Amman is a large and exciting city to spend some time in. If you are interested in history, there are few better places to explore in the region than Amman, which dates back to at least the 13th century B.C. From the top of the Citadel with impressive Greek and Roman ruins to the old souks and markets, you can easily lose yourself in the history of the city and Jordan itself.
But Amman isn't stuck in the past, it's also a thriving, modern city and fashionistas and shoppers will find all the big name brands they're used to in European capitals, as well as an equally luxurious culinary scene. Amman is a city constantly in flux, which always makes it a fun place to explore.
4. The food
When asked, I usually say that Jordanian cuisine is my favorite. Based on traditional Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences, the food in Jordan is delicious and thankfully plentiful. Meals usually start out with a variety of mezze or small plates including traditional hummus, baba ghanoush and small meat plates.
Main courses vary and can include roasted meats or even mansaf, the national dish of Jordan. Made from lamb, fermented yogurt, spices and rice, it's a delicious and hearty social event that every tourist should try at least once. No matter what you decided to nosh on, it's hard to go wrong at mealtimes in Jordan.
5. History, including Petra
History is easy to find not only in Petra, but throughout the country. The most famous site, and the most popular destination in Jordan, is Petra. An ancient Nabatean city that was once a focal point of the trade between Africa, the Middle East with Europe and Asia, modern day travelers will recognize the iconic Treasury building from its staring role in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.
Petra is much more than just one building though, it's a vast city that takes at least one full day to properly explore. Not far from Petra you'll find many other historical sites including the Dead Sea, Mt. Nebo (where Moses first saw the Promised Land) and Madaba, home to a remarkable church housing the oldest known mosaic map of the Middle East. No matter your specific interests, if you're a history buff then Jordan is the perfect place to explore.
6. The people
In general, I've found that most people everywhere are good and kind, but I am always surprised at the warmth and hospitality I find in Jordan. Jordanians will go to extremes to help others and to make sure your experiences in their country are positive ones. From simple acts of kindness like offering directions when lost to more impressive ones, like being invited into their homes for a hearty meal, I don't think I've been anywhere else in the world where I've found such consistently kind people.
7. Adventure experiences
Don't fret, my fellow adventure travelers, if adrenaline-pumping experiences are what you look for when you travel, then Jordan is for you. Since most of the best activities are outdoors, adventure travel is a natural way to see this remarkable country. Near the Dead Sea, you can skydive and get a view of the sea and desert that will knock your socks off.
At the other extreme, the Red Sea near Aqaba boasts some of the best snorkeling and diving opportunities in the world. The crystal clear waters provide interactions with wildlife that you can't experience anywhere else. Finally, to really get up close and personal with nature, embark on the intense 16-kilometer hike through the Dana Biosphere Reserve. A gorgeous example of desert landscape, the hike is strenuous but beautiful as you weave through valleys and small, hidden oases, following the path Bedouins have used for centuries.
8. To decompress
It's not all go-go-go in Jordan though. If rest and relaxation, with a touch of luxury, is what you're looking for, Jordan can oblige that as well. Some of the best hotels in the world can be found within the country's borders including the Kempinski Ishtar on the banks of the Dead Sea, the Evason Six Sense Ma'In next to naturally occurring warm spring waterfalls and of course the more rugged luxury found in Wadi Rum.No matter where you decided to go in Jordan, there are plenty of opportunities to relax and soak up the natural beauty in ways that are peaceful and restorative.
- Contributed by Matt Long for Viator
All photos Courtesy of Viator.