When you think of Jordan, what comes to mind? If you’re anything like me, you probably think of Petra! Walking in the footsteps of Indiana Jones was a top priority, but while researching things to do in Jordan, I realized I was seriously behind on my knowledge of this country.
Of course there was more to see than Petra, but I hadn’t really thought about anything other than the rose red city where they keep the Holy Grail in the movies. Angie kept going on and on about when she visited Jordan how she loved Jerash, Madaba and Wadi Rum, and I just smiled and nodded when she showed me the pictures. Having now been to all these places, I finally get it!
I’ll be writing all about my visit to unforgettable Petra soon, but I think y’all should hear about the other things to do in Jordan even before we get to the main event.
But first I had to get there. Angie and I are similar in a lot of ways but one big difference is the way we like to travel. She could travel the world solo (and she did), whereas I prefer the dynamics of group travel. Plus there’s nothing like having a local guide handling logistics so I can focus on fun, photography and food. Since she visited Jordan solo a few years ago, I wanted to experience the country a bit differently, and that’s how I ended up working with Travel Club Adventures.
Club Adventures had a trip to Jordan and the itinerary lined up PERFECTLY with everything I wanted to do, like visiting Petra during the day and at night, riding a camel and snorkeling in the Red Sea. I booked the dates, packed all my scarves into my carry-on and prepared to unleash my inner explorer.
1. Trek through Wadi Rum on the Back of a Camel
Our first stop was in the Wadi Rum desert. This desert encompasses 300-square-miles of dunes, golden sand, red mountains and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Like Petra, Wadi Rum’s carvings date to the time of the Nabataeans who controlled regional trade routes thousands of years ago.
If the area looks familiar, you’ve probably seen it in the movies. Wadi Rum is basically the Hollywood backlot of the Middle East! Lawrence of Arabia, Transformers, Star Wars and The Martian all filmed here in the expansive desert.
And what’s the best way to spend Hump Day in Jordan? On the ship of the desert of course!
We (very clumsily) hopped up on our camels and set out across the golden sand. This was my first time riding a camel and I did not expect it to be so… bumpy! As much as I enjoyed it, several times I felt like I was going to end up face first in the sand. My camel had hips like Shakira and after jostling about for almost an hour, my legs felt like jelly. Other folks in my group said it was easy for them, so either I’m just really bad at riding camels or I had a real stinker of a desert ship.
Our camel excursion ended at a Bedouin tent at Lawrence Spring where we celebrated with tea. More about that later.
The Bedouins are a group of traditionally nomadic people from North Africa, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq and Jordan. Bedouin means “desert dweller” in Arabic. They’re famous for hospitality, eyeliner and an intriguing history in the region. We learned a bit about their heritage before the next adventure.
2. Take a Jeep Tour through the Desert
We climbed into the back of a truck with cushions and rails – so not exactly a Jeep, but you get the idea – and weaved our way through the tall red rocks. What a rugged and adventurous way take in the enormity of Wadi Rum!
During our many stops, we ran up and down red sand dunes, climbed through narrow caves and overlooked some of the best views in the whole desert. The tour lasts about 2-3 hours and I don’t think we saw half the desert.
I’m a Florida girl through and through, so for me, getting to experience a landscape so vastly different from the one I grew up in was something I won’t soon forget.
3. Sleep Under the Stars in a Bedouin Camp
Within this vast area are several camps where you can bunk up in traditional Bedouin accommodations. Our Travel Club Adventures itinerary included a night at the Quiet Village of Wadi Rum, a Bedouin camp. Way out in the middle of the desert we had electricity, flushing toilets and a room with a bed. And with no light pollution, the view of the night sky was better than any 5-star resort. More like a billion star resort!
After settling in, our Club Adventures group gathered around the fire as the sun set on the horizon. TIP: If you bring your own sleeping bag, you can snooze under the stars. But it was just a little too chilly for this Florida girl to handle.
4. Snorkel in the Red Sea
We had a pretty active day in Wadi Rum, so after running up and down sand dunes and gripping my camel for dear life, I was looking forward to spending the day relaxing and snorkeling in the Red Sea just off Jordan’s only coastal town, Aqaba.
The Red Sea is rich and diverse with more than 1,200 species of fish. Our private yacht came equipped with all the snorkeling equipment we needed, as well as personal guides leading us to the best snorkeling spots. The one fish I really wanted to see was a lionfish, and I was assured that would be no problem.
Because Club Adventures keeps its tour group numbers small, I think the fish weren’t afraid to be around us. We spent hours exploring the colorful coral reefs and guess what… I SAW A LIONFISH! If you can imagine what it looks like to see me celebrate underwater, that’s what was happening. I also saw a pufferfish, sea turtles and tons of jellyfish. Thankfully the jellyfish don’t sting here, but I didn’t confirm that promise so beware when you’re in the area.
5. Buy all the Souvenirs in the Aqaba markets
After our day on the boat, we spent some time shopping in Aqaba. This walkable town is full of markets with everything you could want to bring home and things you never thought you needed. Spices, scarves, knives, shoes, jewelry, handmade bowls and plates.
Do I need a genie lamp? Yes. Yes, I do.
Our guide from Club Adventures was a local (just like all guides that work for Club Adventures) and he walked us through the shops and introduced us to a few of his friends and shop owners. We got great deals on souvenirs and I bought just about every scarf in Aqaba, YAY!
6. See the Oldest Map of the Holy Land
Along the King’s Highway is the ancient city of Madaba. Also known as the “City of Mosaics,” Madaba is home to the famous mosaic map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Between 542 to 570 AD, a large mosaic map of the Holy Land was crafted in the apse of the church of St. George.
It’s the oldest surviving map of the Holy Land, so it’s a big deal and a unique way to peer back in time. For example, in the mosaic, the Dead Sea has boats — something you don’t find today due to the high salinity. We also see bridges across the Jordan River that no longer exist.
The past is pieced together bit by bit on the 25% of this mosaic that remains, and pilgrims used it hundreds of years ago to map routes throughout the holiest sites in the Holy Land. The Madaba mosaic captured my attention more than any of the numerous mosaics I saw during my visit – and given Jordan is famous for its many well-preserved mosaics, that’s really saying something.
Note that Madaba is close to Amman and Mt. Nebo, where Moses saw the Holy Land for the first time, so it’s easily accessed even for the short-term visitor.
7. Explore the Roman Ruins of Jerash
I’d never given much thought to Jerash until I saw it listed on my Club Adventures itinerary, and yet it’s known as the “Pompeii of the Middle East” due to its massive size, extent of excavation and level of preservation. That’s about it for similarities with Pompeii. While earthquakes have ravaged Jerash over the years, it’s never been buried by a volcano.
With ancient ruins as far as you can see, it’s striking to see the modern Middle East and the modern day town of Jerash, popping up amid the columns. Having wandered these abandoned streets and run my fingers over chariot ruts in the stones, it wasn’t hard to imagine Roman citizens scurrying from temple to market. If you ever wanted to walk the famous Roman road, or even sit on the same benches as ancient Roman citizens, Jerash is a great place to do it.
As with so many sprawling ancient ruins, the excavation of Jerash continues to this day. Still, Jerash is one of Jordan’s best kept secrets, a fact many hint is because it’s not yet classified a UNESCO heritage site like Petra and Wadi Rum. While the historic and cultural heritage warrants the designation, Jerash doesn’t quite fit some of the UNESCO guidelines. Maybe that makes it even more worthy of a visit.
Much of what we can see at the ruins today comes from the Greco-Roman period, when the city served as a bustling trading post between Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and was part of the Decapolis, ten influential cities comprising the Roman Empire’s eastern border. Jerash is one of the best-preserved Roman towns in the world and an absolutely must for your trip to Jordan.
8. Eat your Way through Amman
I could eat cheeseburgers all day for the rest of my life and be happy, but everyone I knew that had visited Jordan before me insisted I try something new. Most trips to Jordan, like ours, began in Amman. If you’re able to stay in the capital for a few days, your taste buds will thank you!
There are tons of food options in Amman from street markets to fine dining.
Dishes you must try:
- Hummus. Thick, creamy, chickpeas sent from heaven, I could eat hummus all day everyday.
- Falafel. Jordan has the best Falafel in the world. Ground chickpeas mixed with spices, deep fried until golden and crispy. Definitely worth a try!
- Mansaf. This is the traditional Jordan dish. Cooked with lamb, jameed (goat yoghurt that is made into a gravy), rice and pine nuts.
- Maqluba. I found this dish just about everywhere we went. Chicken and spices are cooked on the bottom of a pot with rice on top. Once the dish is cooked, it is flipped upside down so the rice is on the bottom and the chicken is on top, YUM!
- Baba Ganoush. Eggplant for DAYS! I watched as they made this dish and had no idea it was so easy, so I’ll be making this at home more often.
For picky Western eaters, Amman has plenty of pizza and cheeseburgers, but I don’t think we could be friends if I knew you didn’t at least try the mansaf. These are just a few of the dishes you should try in the Amman markets, I could go on forever but I’m getting too hungry.
9. Treat Yourself to a Spa Day at the Dead Sea
Floating in the Dead Sea is a must, so don’t miss it! But for just 3 dinar, you can completely cover yourself with nutrient-rich Dead Sea mud. And why wouldn’t you? People pay hundreds of dollars for the stuff around the world, and here you can get it direct from the source for a bargain.
It may sound a little yucky, but your skin feels amazing afterward. People literally come from all around the world to cover themselves in this stuff.
DIY Dead Sea Spa Treatment
- Apply a thick layer of mud all over your skin
- Be extra careful not get it in you eyes or mouth – and that goes for the Dead Sea water, too
- Wait 15 minutes and scrub off in the Dead Sea
You’ll feel like a million bucks afterward, and this is something you can really only do at the Dead Sea. Bucket list for sure!
After, enjoy the simply pleasure of floating in the Dead Sea. It is the saltiest body of water in the world and the lowest point on earth which means it literally takes zero effort to stay afloat.
My Club Adventures guide asked me after if I felt 10 years younger yet, don’t I look like it?
10. Drink Tea with Everyone
Whether you’re shopping in Aqaba, climbing to the top of Petra or sitting around a camp fire with new Bedouin friends, there will undoubtedly be a cup of tea waiting for you. This is a great time to get to know the people from Jordan and learn about their heritage.
We stopped several times a day to have a cup of tea with someone new we met. At first, it took me a minute to adjust to slowing down and connecting and just taking it all in. It’s a simple activity but this is a great way to immerse yourself into a different culture, make friends and connect with tradition.
11. Visit Petra
Petra is one of those destinations on almost everyone’s bucket list. Thanks to Indiana Jones, most folks know a little bit about the Rose Red City, but I still learned a TON about this place from my guide. It’s bigger than I imagined, more powerful than expected and certainly a one-of-a-kind experience. I plan on giving you LOTS AND LOTS of details on Petra in my next post.
We spent two full days here and still didn’t see all of it. Walking along the Siq, a winding, narrow chasm for about 45 minutes until you reach the Treasury, was almost mystical. While it’s the most famously photographed spot in all of Petra, the Treasury is just one of the many rock carving within miles and miles of this sight.
Petra was once a bustling city in the 6th century, so of course there is more to see. What I didn’t realize is that there are other carvings inside Petra. Wandering along the path, you’ll find the Monastery, Roman Theatre, tombs, temples and churches.
12. Visit Petra at Night
The only thing cooler than Petra by day is seeing it at night. More than 1,500 candles light the way from the parking lot through the narrow Siq, leading up to the Treasury. When we went, there weren’t too many people around us, so the walk was peaceful and mysterious and like nothing I’ve ever done.
Once we arrived at the Treasury, we were invited to sit in front of the structure and wait for the show to start. The whole area that had been filled with eager tourists and noisy camels earlier in the day was now just glowing light bouncing off the red rocks and hushed whispers.
Once everyone is settled in, Bedouins play the flute and tell stories about Petra. It only takes about 30 minutes, but it really gives you time to enjoy Petra without the crowd of tourists taking selfies.
13. Take a Cooking Class
There’s nothing like taking home a recipe or two from your travels to help you remember a trip long after it’s over. We took a cooking class at Petra Kitchen and I was extra impressed with everyone in my group. I’ve never chopped tomatoes or minced garlic, but we really got our hands dirty in the kitchen!
I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much food in my life. If you’re interested I’ll make you some baba ganoush sometime 😉
Many of Jordan’s most popular attractions require hours and hours, if not days and days, to explore. I have a lifetime of memories and stories to tell.
*Special thanks to Travel Club Adventures for hosting this visit. This content campaign was in partnership with Travel Club Adventures, and all opinions and observations are mine. Always. Thank you for supporting the brands that keep Angie Away a free travel resource! Please note, AngieAway.com may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase using these links, we earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for keeping Angie and Rae… away!
What do you think?
Did you have any idea Jordan was filled with so many unique activities?
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