By Debi Lander
Americans generally don’t include the Middle East on their bucket list, but I’d like to change your mind about Jordan. The Hashemite Kingdom, Jordan’s official name, is the safest country in the region and extremely welcoming to tourists. Jordan offers incredible historic sites, attractions, and adventures for luxury to budget travelers.
Petra, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, stands out as the favorite. The ancient city flourished as the strategic crossroads for spice and silk trade some 2,300 years ago, but routes changed and earthquakes twice ravaged the area. By the 13th century, only local Bedouin tribes remembered Petra. In 1812, Swiss explorer Jean Louis Burckhardt disguised himself as an Arab wanting to make an offering. He convinced a guide to take him to the area. Burckhardt rediscovered Petra’s tombs, but couldn’t fully inspect the ruins. His guide became suspicious, forcing Burckhardt to leave. He wrote about his findings, but they, too, remained off limits for decades.
The Treasury, a delicate and beautifully chiseled stone structure, lies hidden at the end of a mile long walk between massive 10-story high boulders. The movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” features Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in a miraculous escape from the location.
Reaching the Monastery takes a climb of 900 rough, worn steps unless you’d prefer a donkey ride. The reward at the end more than justifies the arduous trek opening up views of the most intricate architectural shrine. Petra includes many more temples, tombs, an amphitheater and streets within the vast World Heritage site.
Wadi Rum, about an hour from Petra, is also part of the cinematic legend, providing locations for the movie “Lawrence of Arabia,” highlighted by British Intelligence Officer T.E. Lawrence’s epic battle. Camel and jeep tours into the desert offer overnight camping. The more budget conscious still have a dazzling choice — sleeping under the crystal clear starry sky. Slightly splurging turns an already fantastic experience to “glamping” (glamor camping) in rooms with ensuite bathrooms. Accommodations include Zarb, a delicious Bedouin dinner cooked in a sand-covered pit.
Aqaba, a famous harbor on the Red Sea, offers boating and great snorkeling or scuba diving. Farther up the coast, Dead Sea luxury resort hotels sparkle next to the often-iridescent water. Relax on the beach and give yourself the mud treatment and dip in the salty brine. My skin never felt better!
The Romans were no strangers to Jordan. Jerash, called the City of a Thousand Columns, displays the best ruins outside of Italy. In some ways, I found them superior to their counterparts in Rome, as they haven’t been overly visited. You’ll need at least a half-day to explore the expansive archeological destination. Recently, opera star Andrea Bocelli gave a concert in the amphitheater.
Other than Israel, no other country has more biblical sites. Bethany Beyond the Jordan attracts as the site of Jesus’ baptism. It’s common to see Christians being dunked in the River Jordan during their baptismal ceremony. Nearby, at Mt. Nebo, stand where Moses first gazed upon the Promised Land.
The accommodating Jordanians offer farm-fresh, colorful and American friendly food, but don’t expect burgers and fries. Meals begin with salad, fresh bread and an array of toppings like hummus, tabbouleh or moutabel, similar to baba ghanoush.
Direct flights from New York City arrive in Amman, the capital. Western-friendly hotels and local-run establishments alike await. My suggestion is to sign on for a five – seven day tour of the country and prepare yourself for the thrill of a lifetime.
Visit www.bylandersea.com to read more of local travel writer Debi Lander’s stories and travel tips.
Photo courtesy Debi Lander