I closed my eyes and for a few moments it was as if I was back in the desert sipping tea with the Bedouins. Now that I’m back home I’m so glad I bought that pack of herbal tea from the Bedouin stand in Wadi Rum.
I always wanted to visit Jordan, ever since I watched “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” as a child. Little did I know back then that Petra was not just a single impressive monument and Jordan was not only the mysterious Petra? The peaceful Middle Eastern kingdom of Jordan is blessed with numerous natural and historical wonders and while it’s quite impossible to visit them all in one go, here’s my guide to the country’s top attractions and experiences you shouldn’t miss.
The capital of Jordan, is first of all a city of juxtapositions – a blend of old and new, with a fascinating history going back thousands of years. The key sights of the city are mostly down town and you can explore them on foot. The Citadel, sits on the highest hill of the city and it includes important attractions such as the Temple of Hercules, Umayyad Palace, a Byzantine Basilica and of course some amazing views of the surrounding city. At the foothill of the Citadel lies the striking Roman Theatre, with a seating capacity of 6000. In the same complex, the Forum, the Odeon as well as the small Folklore museum are also worth visiting, while the large Hashemite Plaza in front of the theatre usually hosts events and activities.
The brand-new Jordan Museum, located in Ras Al-Ein district, shelters some amazing archaeological findings such as the 'Ain Ghazal Statues, which are considered to be the oldest human statues ever made dating back to 7000 BC. The city’s Souks (markets) are gathered in the streets around Al Husseiny Mosque and it is where you’ll get instantly captivated by the vivid colours of fresh fruits, the exotic scents of ground spices and also where you want to buy a pack of local cardamom-spiced coffee. Fan of sweets or not, in the Souqs you need to try “Kunafeh”, a pastry with warm cheese drenched in syrup and sprinkled with pistachios and “Hareeseh”, another type of sweet which is semolina-based drizzled with syrup and decorated with nuts.
The nearby grandiose Al Malek Faisal St. is a large avenue with shops, restaurants and coffee shops scattered along it. Rainbow Street, a bit further up, is another popular area where locals usually go during the evening for cafe-hopping. The most pleasant discovery of this street is Sufra, a bougainvillea-covered restaurant in a beautifully restored stone villa with a big backyard offering amazing views over the city of Amman. Needless to say, the food is delicious. Try, “Mansaf”, the country’s national dish, a meal made of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt and served with rice and garnished with roasted almonds. While in Amman you can’t miss visiting the modern part of the city in the Abdali district. Called the New Downtown of Amman, the area is reshaped through a billion-worth mega project aiming to create a regional business and tourism hub. The Boulevard, is the area’s 370-meter-long outdoor pedestrian spine, which is lined with retail shops, cafes and restaurants and topped with luxurious apartments and office spaces.
The rose-red capital city of the Nabateans - originally known as Raqmu - is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and although tons have been written about this truly spectacular place, nothing really prepares you for it. Get yourself a bottle of water, sunscreen, comfy shoes and a hat because you’ll need a full day to discover at least the most important spots of this UNESCO World Heritage site. The first main thing you’ll get in touch with after Petra’s visitors centre is the Siq, an impressive natural rock canal that leads to the ancient city.
The 1.2 km long Siq ends at Petra's most elaborate and popular ruin, The Treasury, called Al Khazna by the locals. The outer Siq, right after the Treasury, has tombs scattered around it, Bedouin souvenir shops as well as the road to the High place of sacrifice which gives an eagle’s eye view of Petra. Following the outer Siq you will find the large Roman Theatre. Get a glimpse of the nearby Street of Facades and its carved tombs and then climb the stairs to Urn Tomb and Silk Tomb.
Downhill from the Theatre the Colonnaded Street starts and along its sides other important sites of Petra are located, such as the Great Temple, Petra Church, the Royal Palace, the Temenos Gateway and finally the Qasr Al Bint temple a bit further. One of Petra’s grandest monuments in both size and beauty but one less visited by tourists is The Monastery. It’s accessible via an 850 steps-trail up the hills, but is totally worth the effort as it offers stunning views along the way and a tea-shop right across it where you can take a break and enjoy the monument’s photogenic grand facade. If you still have some strength left, complete your experience with the “Petra by Night” show. Three times a week Petra opens up for about 2 hours during the night for a show put on by the local Bedouins. For around €20 you’ll be able to walk through a candle-lit Siq and enjoy a cup of tea along with a musical performance right in front of the Treasury which is lit by the glow of hundreds of candles.
Aqaba - Red Sea
Apart from being conveniently located near the country’s major tourist attractions - Petra and Wadi Rum - the one and only seaside town of Jordan is first and foremost, a world-class snorkelling and diving centre. There are thirty main diving sites in town, the majority of which are suitable for all level divers. Colourful fishes and gorgeous coral reefs are not the only things you’ll get to see underwater. Shipwrecks such as the SS Thistlegorm (World War II steamship), tugboats, cargo ships, tankers and even an aircraft are only a few of the surprises you’ll be able to spot in the warm waters of the Red Sea. Moreover, bear in mind that the water is about 35% saltier than other seas, something that is believed to improve blood circulation.
Undoubtedly the most striking of the town’s attractions is The Great Arab Revolt Plaza, which you can easily distinguish from miles away due to the huge flagpole that’s placed in the centre. Standing high at 130m, the Aqaba Flagpole is one of the tallest unsupported flagpoles in the world and it proudly bears the Great Arab Revolt flag. Aqaba was the first city the Arabs regained from the Ottomans during the Arab Revolt (1916-1918). The flagpole is not the only important thing in the square as the house of Al Hussein Bin Ali, leader of the Revolt, is also open to visitors. Other important sites in the city are the nearby 16th century Aqaba Fort, the beautiful white mosque of Masjid Al Hussein Bin Ali which bears the largest dome among Jordan’s’ mosques and the ancient Church of Ayla, which archaeologist believe is the oldest purpose-built church in the world. Aqaba has various beaches to choose from.
The Public beach (Al-Ghandour Beach) lies between the marina and the Arab Revolt Plaza and is the best way to engage with local life while the South Beach stretching between the harbour and the city border is ideal for snorkelling and diving as most of the diving centres are located there. The town is filled with restaurants of all kinds, those offering international cuisine are mostly gathered close to the marina and the ones with local delicacies are found close to the Arab Revolt Plaza. While you are in Aqaba you must try the local dish “Sayadieh”, a delicately spiced fish served with rice or potatoes and a tahini sauce.
DISCOVER ALL ABOUT WADI RUM DESERT, THE DEAD SEA AND THE BEST TIPS FOR YOUR JOURNEY: PART II
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