Jordan shouldn't exist the way it does. It shares borders with some of the craziest countries in the news: Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Syria. And yet it handles the refugees and violence at every border with patience, and sometimes even a dry sense of humor. It has a peaceful monarch who the Jordanian people love, who handles matters of state responsibly and is a leader who foreign governments respect. In all, it’s the perfect halfway mark in our Middle Eastern tour.
First thing we loved: the roads are safe and well organized. As you drive, there are security stops every half hour with armed guards in impeccable uniforms. They check your passport, and when they hand it back, they smile and say, “Welcome to Jordan.” Why, thank you!
In celebration of these great conditions, we rented a car and explored to our heart’s delight. We skipped the capital city Amman for the smaller and more interesting Madaba. We stayed with the charming and incredibly helpful Chef Odeh at The Black Iris Hotel. Odeh knows everything you need to do and he can organize the perfect itinerary. Along with being a fabulous shopping spot (which we’ll get to later!), Madaba prides itself on the peaceful relations between its large Christian population and Muslim population. Lastly, Madaba’s central location makes it the best jumping off point for the country’s top sights!
First up: The Wadi Mujib Siq, which has a fun hour-long hike up-river to a waterfall. As you scramble over rocks and swim through pools, crane your neck up to the towering siq walls around you.
Next, we headed to the famed Dead Sea. Whether the water and mud actually have any healing powers is up for discussion. We certainly didn’t feel anything but dehydrated (though Ryan claimed fluency in Gaelic, the effects wore off). Regardless, the Dead Sea can’t be missed and the buoyancy you feel while swimming is remarkable. Warning: Avoid the floating Russian tourists that soak for hours.
After our float, we went to Mount Nebo which is where Moses looked upon the Promised Land for the first time. After standing on top, it makes perfect sense. The dry air allows sight over great distances to create a remarkable and humbling vista. Mount Nebo is also where Moses's body was laid to rest (though the exact location of his body is unknown).
Our last sight was in Madaba proper—it’s the Church of St. George, which has a gorgeous mosaic floor that is a map from 600 A.D. It is the oldest original map of the Holy Land and its depiction of Jerusalem is especially impressive.
We moved on from Madaba for the main attraction: Petra. On the way, we drove along the beautiful King’s Highway and we stopped at the impressive Kerak Castle, which was a Crusader fortress in the 1100s. It’s one of the largest castles in the Middle East and so much fun to explore! The views aren’t too bad either…
Finally, we made it to Petra. Blakely treated herself to a cooking class with Petra Kitchen on our first night. It was a blast. The food was delicious, the chefs were entertaining, the other guests fun, and the atmosphere warm.
In Petra, we stayed with wonderful and kind host Mosleh at his creatively named hotel, Cleopetra. The rooms are simple and clean, but what makes this place exceptional is the host. Mosleh is exactly what you want in a host and we’re so grateful to have met him!
Petra is a huge park full of ancient tombs. “The Treasury” is the most iconic building, though by no means the only highlight. But before you can even enter Petra, you must pass through the siq entrance that leads you through a natural, twenty-minute build up to the highlight. Then, around a rock crevice, you see it. A gorgeous façade carved into rose-gold rock.
Exploring Petra is an all day affair (two or more days if you’re lucky). Start your days early and enjoy when the crowds disperse after the Treasury. It’s as if you’re discovering the ancient city on your own!
Our favorite was the hike to the Monastery. The steep, 45-minute climb was well-worth it! It is magnificent!
After Petra, we drove to Wadi Rum. We partnered with Rum Stars and the owner Ahmed treated us more as honored guests than clients! We explored the desert in the day and hiked, climbed, and even sand boarded through the gorgeous terrain. We had no idea deserts could be so beautiful, or so fun!
After our day exploring, we spent the night at the Rum Stars Bedouin Camp. We enjoyed a traditional Jordanian feast (where the food is buried with a fire beneath the sand for hours until it is tender and delicious!), we snuggled into one of Ahmed's cozy Bedouin tents for a well-deserved night rest. Who knew a desert could treat us so well!
Our last night in Jordan, we headed back to visit Chef Odeh in Madaba where we had a couple more things to check off our list. Not sites this time, these attractions were purely commercial. By recommendation, we headed to Yosef’s Shop around the corner. Yosef partners with the women in neighboring villages to produce hand-made textiles in different local styles. Not only is Yosef fascinating to talk with (our shopping excursion quickly turned into a coffee treat), he provides employment to hundreds of women, and promotes their continued tradition of weaving.
Our time in Jordan was far too short, but Israel was calling! Next up: Nazareth!