Where to go in Jordan

Pink is the colour that jumps to mind when most people think of Jordan, with famous images of its Rose City at Petra engraved into everybody’s travel wish list. However, Jordan’s palette in fact verges on the kaleidoscopic. There are rolling hills covered in thick forests, table-flat expanses of shimmering desert, Arcadian groves of olives, pomegranate and apricot trees, stark saw-toothed mountains, as well as mystical, narrow canyons of pink, red and cream rock. Bazaars are bursting with spices and sweets, fruits and falafels and even the main market street in Amman is called Rainbow Street.
Ajloun Forest Reserve

1. Ajloun Forest Reserve

This reserve comprises just 13km² of densely forested mountains, but within this area are some 300 plant species. Visit in spring for a carpet of rock roses, wild tulips, black iris and orchids. Walking trails here last from one to 10 hours, some longer routes including lunch stops with local families. Keep an eye out for elusive roe deer, wild boar, golden jackal, porcupines and wolves.

2. Amman

Most vacations in Jordan get underway in the capital, Amman, which as well as being a good base for day trips to Ajloun, Jerash or Pella, merits a day or so of exploring itself. Among the highlights are the hillside Roman amphitheatre, the many ruins from several civilisations around the Citadel in downtown Amman, and browsing the stalls, shops and architecture of the Jabal Amman neighbourhood.
Aqaba & the Red Sea

3. Aqaba & the Red Sea

Jordan has a toe in the water of the Red Sea at Aqaba and although the country’s total coastline is only about 27km long, part of it has been designated a marine park. Jordan has over 20 designated dive sites, some only 60m from shore. As well as coral and fish, green turtles put in an appearance. The marine park also has a wonderful visitors’ center that is worth checking out.
Azraq Wetland Reserve

4. Azraq Wetland Reserve

‘Azraq’ means ‘blue’ – and is the name given to this oasis in the heart of the Eastern Desert, where 150 species of birds can be seen on their migration between Europe, Asia and Africa. Raised boardwalks take you on a looping trail over the waters and reeds; there are also remote adobe hides that you can access with the reserve’s guides. Water buffalo help maintain the ecosystem and reduce the reeds.
Dana Reserve

5. Dana Reserve

Straddling the edge of the Great Rift Valley, the Dana Reserve is Jordan’s largest nature reserve, 320km² of shark-tooth mountain ridges with towering cliffs, sandstone, limestone and granite canyons, eroded into exquisite landscapes. Receding finally to the dramatic Saharo-Arabian desert plains of Wadi Arabi. Dana village, around 400 years old, is a fascinating place and good spot for buying a wide array of artisans’ finery.
Dead Sea

6. Dead Sea

Water falling in the mountains filters down and collects at the bottom of the Great Rift Valley. The Sea’s shores are 400m below sea level, where evaporation creates a cocktail of salts and minerals leaving a solution so strong the shoreline’s rocks are white with deposits. Its high viscosity means that this lake, 80km long and 14km wide, is often mirror-calm – and the best place to float in the world.
Desert Castles

7. Desert Castles

A desert plain east of Amman is home to several monuments known as ‘desert castles’. Qasr Amra, the best preserved and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was a bath house and pleasure palace. Qasr Kharana was thought to be a desert retreat for Umayyad dignitaries, and Qasr al-Azraq has a military history – Lawrence of Arabia used it as a headquarters during the Arab Revolt.

8. Jerash

Jerash is one of the best-preserved provincial Roman cities in the world, protected by sand over the centuries. The main street is still paved with dressed stone and lined with an impressive colonnade. A huge triumphal arch erected in honour of Hadrian marks the site entry where hilltop temples, baths, hippodrome, fountains and a large oval forum are just some of the highlights.

9. Karak

Karak’s position on a hilltop almost 1,000m above sea level, surrounded on three sides by valleys and with commanding views over the Dead Sea, makes it a perfect spot for a castle. With a bloody history in the hands of infamous 12th-century Crusader Reynaud De Chatillon, the ruins still seem to have an air of menace, possibly due to the many underground passages with side rooms and chambers to explore.
King’s Highway

10. King’s Highway

This ancient artery is now a well-maintained road. It begins in Amman and winds its way through over 330km of rolling farmland, past sleepy villages, along the edge of the desert and up into steep, rugged mountains. From there, it plunges 600m into Jordan’s Grand Canyon and follows the Desert Highway down to the Red Sea. Along the way you’ll encounter Madaba’s mosaics, Petra, Karak’s castles, plus roadside coffee and baklava stalls.

11. Madaba

Dating back 3,500 years and mentioned in the Old Testament, Karak is now most famous for its intricate 5th- and 6th-century mosaics, prolific throughout the town. The most important example lies in the Greek Orthodox Church of St George, a Byzantine mosaic map of the Holy Land that originally contained 2.3 million pieces. Nearby Mount Nebo is the place from where Moses viewed the Promised Land.
Mount Nebo

12. Mount Nebo

Mount Nebo, in the north-east close to Madaba and Amman, is one of the holiest sites in Jordan. It is from here, according to the Bible, that Moses saw the Promised Land. On a clear day, you can see over the Dead Sea as far as Jerusalem. Most will visit as a stop-off from the King’s Highway, but it’s possible to hike to the summit, which will usually take between five and seven hours.

13. Petra

Petra is cut into pink sandstone, inspiring its nickname The Rose City and dating back to 312BC. First-timers should approach via the extraordinary multi-coloured Al Siq. Other highlights include 800 steps up to Ad Deir Monastery and Al Khazneh Treasury. Take in Bedouin lifestyles, still thriving in Petra’s caves. Top tip: leave via the lower gate, taking the road that climbs to Umm Sayhoon village.
Wadi Rum

14. Wadi Rum

The Bedouin call Wadi Rum the Valley of the Moon and its razor-toothed mountains, wind-sculpted rocks and expansive plains do make it otherworldly. Wadi Rum describes Southern Jordan’s entire desert, but the true protected area makes up just 720km². Rich in Bedouin culture, access is via Wadi Rum village, the last outpost before the daunting yet captivating wilderness.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Jordan or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Pocholo Calapre] [Ajloun Forest Reserve: Smart Viral ] [Amman: Daniel Qura] [Aqaba & the Red Sea: Adeeb Atwan] [Azraq Wetland Reserve: xorge] [Dana Reserve: Bakerstass82] [Dead Sea: Jan Simons] [Desert Castles: David Bjorgen] [Jerash: Walaa] [Karak: Adeeb Atwan] [King’s Highway: Zairon] [Madaba: Bashar Tabbah] [Mount Nebo: Jeroen van Luin] [Petra: Ahmad Qaisieh] [Wadi Rum: Juli Kosolapova]