More than ever, Jordan is popping up on the travel wish lists of savvy globetrotters—and for good reason. In an era of global instability, especially amidst the longstanding turmoil of some of its neighbors, the small Middle Eastern country is making itself known as an oasis of tranquility—and, increasingly, of outdoor adventure. Its rugged landscapes and under-the-radar status as an adventure mecca have caught the attention of active-minded types. In addition, Jordan, whose official name is the Hashemite Kingdom, has recently unveiled new tourism initiatives such as the Jordan Trail, the Jordan Bike Trail, and the Aqaba Marine Park, which provide job opportunities for locals and visitors with new reasons to stop and stay a while.
Of course, the country isn’t without its challenges, including a struggling economy, high numbers of refugees from neighboring regions, and a dearth of jobs. But Jordanians are finding a way to move forward with aplomb, and are more excited than ever to share their country with eager travelers, likely over syrupy mint tea or a celebratory meal of mansaf, the tasty national lamb dish. Here, four reasons to travel to Jordan now.
Gain an Appreciation for Ancient Culture and Traditions
The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, or RSCN, as locals call it, was established in 1966 to protect and manage Jordan’s natural resources, including wildlife and wild places. One of the few independent national organizations in the Middle East with this mandate, the RSCN runs the Royal Academy for Nature Conservation near the Ajloun Forest Reserve in the northern part of the country. The center is used for everything from wildlife identification to training for adventure guides to search-and-rescue education, and it’s is developing into a key asset for the Jordanian adventure travel industry.
Part of the Academy grounds are open to the public, and visitors can explore local handicrafts and gourmet goodies made on-site by locals, including a shop that crafts cookies with local, regional ingredients. Grab lunch among staff at the cafeteria-style dining hall, and eat on the expansive porch overlooking the sweeping Mediterranean-like terrain of the surrounding valleys.
Just 40 miles west from the center of Amman lies the small village of Iraq al-Amir, home to the oldest standing building in Jordan: Qasr Iraq al-Amir, built in 164 BC. But while the ruins are well worth a stop, the real draw lies in the small compound of the Iraq al-Amir Women Cooperative Society. The Society provides business and work training for local women as they create handicrafts to sell, marking the first opportunity for many to make a living of their own. Peruse their handcrafted good like pottery, weaving, soap, and paper, and enjoy a delicious traditional lunch under the shade of the sprawling porch (complete with friendly, rather audacious, cats).
And speaking of local cuisine: From remarkable hummus and the ever-present yogurt variations to rich meals like mansaf, a popular dish of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt and served with rice or bulgur, and kofta, a kebab made of ground beef and lamb mixed with fresh parsley, onions, garlic, and Middle Eastern spices. Jordan-style meals are large and rich. Local spices including the blend za’atar, which is becoming more common on American menus, are heavily utilized, and sweets such as knafeh, a cheese pastry of shredded phyllo, are no joke—they’re simply dripping in syrups. Be sure to sample Turkish coffee, Arabic coffee, and sugary-sweet teas flavored with sage or mint; the teas are a popular offer for visitors, so expect to drink your fair share. They are surprisingly medicinal on a hot day.
Hit the Trails As People Have for Thousands of Years
Those ready for a challenging adventure can test their mettle against the Jordan Trail. The 404-mile long-distance hiking trail traverses the length of the country, from Um Qais in the north to the shores of the Red Sea in Aqaba in the south. Thru-hikers can expect to spend more than 40 days crossing diverse landscapes from the Mediterranean-like hillsides in the north to the sweeping red desert of Wadi Rum further south.
For a less ambitious itinerary, plan to tackle a short section of the trail, perhaps even as a day hike. Hikers experience true Jordanian hospitality as they travel—though the trail itself is new, the tradition of hospitality in the region is not, and visitors can anticipate being welcomed into homes throughout the trek.
Prefer to spend your time in the saddle? Similar to the Jordan Trail, the Jordan Bike Trail crosses the country north-to-south, offering long-distance, mixed-track cycling across diverse terrain that offers a chance to get off the tourist track and explore Jordan as it truly is. Whether you ride for a few days or a month, plan to have overnight support via local families, who often open up their homes to guests, and even Bedouin tribes, who are an excellent resource in the challenging southern sections.
Embrace the Water-Lover in You
Water in the desert? Sure! Canyoneering is a popular and thrilling way to explore the sandstone canyons of Wadi Mujib, nearly 70 miles south of Amman. Under the eye of an experienced guide, expect a challenging day navigating the rugged desert canyons that act as veins through the desert. Come prepared to climb, hike, scramble, wade, abseil, and even swim as you make your way through the canyons. (And be sure to bring a waterproof camera along with your water shoes.)
Home to Jordan’s only coastline, Aqaba is quickly becoming a hotspot for recreationalists and adventurers. Some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world are located just off the coast, drawing divers and snorkelers from around the globe, including more than 12,000 scuba divers in 2017. The Aqaba Marine Park just opened to the public in 2018, housing more than 127 species of hard coral throughout its 4.35-mile length. The site boasts both natural and transplant reefs, and promises to make a mark on snorkeling and scuba enthusiasts’ “to-do” lists.
Bag Peaks, Explore History, and Take a Soak
For most, the idea of Jordan summons mental images of sweeping desert, Lawrence of Arabia-style. But Jabal Um Al Dami, Jordan’s highest peak at 6,083 feet, is here to showcase the diversity of the country. Near the border with Saudi Arabia in Aqaba Governate, the peak is an underrated adventure for summit-baggers. Take the day to summit the peak; the breaktaking views of Wadi Rum’s mountain ranges and northwestern Saudi Arabia’s sweeping deserts at the top is worth the climb.
After summiting the highest peak in Jordan, why not stand at the lowest point on earth? The shore of the Dead Sea lies at 1,378 feet below sea level, and visitors from higher altitudes will find the low altitude has its benefits — oxygen is dense here, and you’ll feel great! You’d be remiss not to float in the Dead Sea; with 34.2% salinity the water is 9.6 times saltier than the ocean. Slather up with mud and float away, but don’t get the water in your eyes! (Though friendly locals are often ready with bottled water to help flush the eyes of over-eager travelers.)
Another recommended stop, the ancient city of Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, showcases history well-preserved in its sandstone canyons. And while you may find yourself battling crowds through the main entrance, those who opt for the longer hike to the rear entrance, dubbed the Nabatean Route, will find solace along the quiet morning trail. This Back Route begins at nearby Little Petra and leads hikers along a winding trail to the Monastery (if you arrive early enough, you may have it to yourself) before descending 900 steps to the “main” part of the site, which boasts famous landmarks like the Treasury buildings and the Siq, the latter of which is a tall sandstone slot canyon made famous in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
It’s just one of the places where, not unlike the globetrotting archeologist, you might find yourself captivated by Jordan’s charms.
Written by Jess McGlothlin for RootsRated Media in partnership with RootsRated.
Featured image provided by David Stanley