Making use of cheap flights from Warsaw to Amman and a couple of free days between Christmas, New Year and Epiphany, I decided to visit the country that is home to spectacular sights such as Petra and Wadi Rum. Jordan has also the opinion of being the safest country in a rather unstable region. Travelling through Jordan in winter is a good idea for those that prefer cooler temperatures. It’s quite pleasant around the Dead Sea and the Red Sea, but the desert can get really cold and snowfall is possible. Furthermore, some attractions won’t be available due to the risk of flash floods, e.g. canyon hikes.
The following itinerary assumes you rent a car for the entire duration of your stay which makes moving between sights much easier and faster.
Day 1 – Amman airport, Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the Dead Sea
Upon arrival in Amman, you will meet a representative of Monte Carlo Car Rental company. They will take you to their office which is only 10 minutes from the airport, where you will pick up the keys to your car. In my case, it was a Mitsubishi Mirage. It’s a small car but should fit perfectly for 1-2 travellers or even 3 if travelling light.
From there, take a very picturesque road descending the hills towards the Dead Sea, passing by the area where people live in tents and walk with the goats. Soon you will arrive at Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Several archaeological excavations in that area uncovered remains of churches, baptismal pools and prayer halls. Today, it is believed to be the most likely site of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. Of course, it’s kind of symbolic, as the exact spot will probably never be identified. Entrance costs 12 JOD and sightseeing is with guided tours only which include transfer from the parking to the baptism site by minibus. The last entry in the wintertime at 4 pm and in the summertime at 6 pm.
Overnight: Ramada Resort by Wyndham Dead Sea. The hotel has its own beach and is very affordable comparing to other hotels and resorts in the area of Dead Sea.
Day 2 – Dead Sea Highway, Wadi Mujib, Karak Castle, arrival to Wadi Rum
After breakfast, check out the beach that belongs to the hotel. It’s only 10 minutes walk or alternatively you can use a shuttle bus. When I was there, the weather was pretty bad. Cloudy, windy, cold. There was a blue sky on the horizon so probably later the situation improved but at that moment I really didn’t feel like going to the water. Instead, I hit the road towards Karak Castle with several stops on the way.
First stop is Wadi Mujib. It’s a very popular canyon for hikes, however, in winter it’s closed due to the risk of flash floods. The information centre and viewpoint there is still open though, so it’s worth to have a look.
Continue along Jordan Hwy towards the place called Coral Reefs. The name comes from the salt formations on the banks of the Dead Sea, which looks similar to the coral reef. Leave the car just off the main road, take your swimming shorts and shoes (essential as the salt crystals are very sharp) and make your way down the hill. Being away from the main paid beaches, it’s a great place for a peaceful play in the Dead Sea. The water was much warmer than I expected and the feeling of floating was stunning!
Next, take Route 50 towards Karak Castle. It’s one of the largest and most famous Crusader castles in the region where furious battles between Crusaders and Islamic armies of Saladin took place.
From Kerak it’s about 3.5 hours drive via Kings Hwy to Rum Village. Whichever Bedouin camp you choose, it’s necessary to park the car here, find your company representative and continue further to the camp by 4×4 jeep. I chose Bedouin Directions, which have a camp about 45 minutes drive from the village into the desert. Contact them online to check availability.
Overnight: Bedouins Directions campsite
Day 3 – Wadi Rum
You have several options about how to spend the day. Hiking, camel trekking or jeep tours being the most popular ones. I opted for the full-day jeep tour. The guide and driver from Bedouin Directions was a great guy, even though his English skills were very limited. During the tour, you will visit several highlights of the desert: Lawrence Spring, Red Sand Dune, Little Rock Bridge, Burdah Rock Bridge, Um Fruth rock bridge, Khazali & Burrah Canyons. Everything concluded with an amazing sunset!
Overnight: Bedouins Directions campsite
Day 4 – Wadi Rum, Aqaba
In the morning, do 1-hour camel ride back to the Rum Village and then stop at the Visitor Centre for a short hike from there towards The Pillars of Wisdom. How difficult it is to walk on soft sand! In the second half of the day, make your way to Aqaba. There, visit the castle built by Crusaders, Sharif Hussein bin Ali Mosque and South Beach known for great snorkelling and diving. Corals are really nice, there is also the wreck of the plane and tank accessible even for snorkelers. Several dive centres operate in the area so rent your gear and ask for directions over there.
Overnight: Grannie House
Day 5 – Little Petra, Petra
Follow Route 65 to the north until after around 1.5 hours you will see the signs towards Petra. Turn right and continue along the mountain road to the intersection with Kings Hwy. Little Petra should be your first stop. If you do Little Petra after main Petra, then it simply won’t impress you that much. Continue to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World – Petra and have a look into Petra Museum first to get the historical background of what you will see later. Then, continue through the Siq to the High Place of Sacrifice and further through Wadi Farasa exiting right next to Temple of Dushares. It’s a great hike and not that busy as the main road in Petra. It’s getting late so start to walk back, stopping next to the Royal Tombs to admire the sunset.
I was considering doing the attraction called Petra by Night, but after reading so many negative reviews I decided not to. If you decide to do it, it’s every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday of each week and costs 17 JOD.
Overnight: Nomads Hostel
Day 6 – Petra, Shobak Castle, Dana Village
Start the day at 6 am to have the chance of taking a couple of pictures in the Siq without crowds. Next, climb the rock just opposite the Treasury and then follow Al-Khubtha Trail (starting just to the left behind the Royal Tombs) to another Treasury Viewpoint. The next stop is Ad Deir (Monastery) and you will get there following the uphill trail to the end of the valley with lots of donkey poo on it. On the way back, I check out the Great Temple, Lion Triclinium, Roman Theatre and Byzantine Church. Finally, it’s time to hit the road again. Make your way to the next destination – Shobak Castle.
Shobak Castle is a Crusader castle built by the king Baldwin I in 1115. The location on the hill and landscape around it are more interesting than the castle itself, although it’s still interesting to wonder around such old walls. Defenders of the castle resisted numerous attacks from the armies of Saladin before giving up after an 18-month siege. From here, your hotel in Dana Village is only half an hour away.
Overnight: Dana Tower Hotel. I recommend paying extra for dinner. It doesn’t seem that there is a lot of restaurants beside ones in hotels, and the buffet in Dana Tower Hotel is great value for the price.
Day 7 – Wadi Dana Trail
The guys in Dana Tower Hotel advised me to start the hike early as later on there is someone standing at the entrance and charging 8 JD. I recommend to do the same! The trail is 16 km long and starts just behind the hotel. It is not marked, however, it would be really difficult to get lost as you follow the valley all the time. You can either go to the end, where you will reach Feynan Eco-Lodge and organize a taxi back to Dana Village. A taxi will cost around 40-50 JD and take over 2 hours. You can get a drink in Feynan and wait for more hikers to split the costs. Alternatively, simply don’t go to the very end of the trail and come back the same way on foot. The landscape does not change anyway and you will save quite some money. The whole adventure takes most of the day and Dana Village is pleasant enough to justify another night there.
Overnight: Dana Tower Hotel
Day 8 – Lot’s Cave, Umm ar-Rasas, Fortress of Machaerus, Madaba
Long drives today. First, make a detour to Lot’s Cave. Lot is believed to have lived here together with his daughters after fleeing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Next stop is Umm ar-Rasas ruins with famous floor mosaic in Stephen’s Church.
Further on the Fortress of Machaerus offers breathtaking views of the Dead Sea and the surrounding area. The place is most likely where John the Baptist was kept captive and eventually beheaded. Not much of the ruins left though.
Continue to Madaba – the city of mosaics. The most famous one is in St George’s Church and presents the map of all major biblical sites in the Middle East, including Egypt and Palestine. But it’s certainly not the only site worth visiting in town. Church of the Beheading of John the Baptist offers superb city panorama from its bell tower but also photographs and replica of mosaic at Umm ar-Rasas. Not enough of mosaics? Then drop by to Church of the Apostles, Archeological Parks I & II and Madaba Museum.
Overnight: Moab Land Hotel
Day 9 – Amman
One day is an absolute minimum to do the city justice. The ruins of Citadel on top of Jebel Al Qala and Roman Theatre (seating capacity 6.000) downtown are must-see. Getting a ticket to the last one will also get you into the Folklore Museum and Museum of Popular Traditions. Both are very compact but worth having a quick look. Odeon is just on the east side of the Roman Theatre. Back then it was a place for music performances and seated 500 people. A few steps further are Al Husseiny Mosque and Nymphaeum (public fountain).
Drive or take a taxi to King Abdullah Mosque. It was finished in 1989 and is recognizable by a huge blue dome. Tourists are welcome to visit.
Add to your day Jordan Museum which is the best in the country and leads you through Jordan’s history from ancient to modern times.
Putting all the historical attractions on the side, in this city, you will get something that you can’t get anywhere else in Jordan. It’s big, dynamic and modern with a lot of nice eateries, coffee houses and cool hostels. For dinner and drinks check out Rainbow Street or Hashem Restaurant for their famous falafel and hummus. I was there twice!
Overnight: Sydney Hotel
Day 10 – Jerash, As-Salt
Start the day with a drive to Ajloun Castle, which was built in the 12th century under the rule of the sultan and military leader Saladin. The castle sits on top of Mount ‘Auf and provides visitors with panoramic views of the Jordan Valley and surrounding desert.
Next, return to Jerash. Tourists stop here for one reason – Roman ruins of the ancient city in Archeological Site of Jerash. Enter through Hadrian’s Gate and get lost in this big area with ceremonial gates, collonaded streets, hippodrome, forum, theatres, temples, fountains and a small museum. At least 3 hours are necessary to see and appreciate it all.
The last stop for today is As-Salt. Here nothing is better than simply walking around and admiring architecture from the Ottoman period. The city was the most prosperous when in the 20th century Ottomans established a regional administrative base here. But then, Amman was chosen as the new capital of the Empire of Transjordan and As-Salt lost its importance.
Check out Orthodox Church, Hammam Street Market, Ottoman Mosque, Salt Archeological Museum, Muhammed Al Bashir’s House and Abu Jaber Museum.
Come back to Amman and spend your last night in one of the traditional restaurants, e.g. AlQuds.
Overnight: Sydney Hotel
Day 11 – Mount Nebo, Amman airport
It’s around one hour from Amman to Mount Nebo. The place is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as the one where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land. Nowadays, the views are still amazing. The Dead Sea, the Jordan River Valley, Jericho, Bethlehem and the hills of Jerusalem in a distance. Drop by to the basilica and have a look at the Byzantine mosaics and serpentine cross sculpture. Nearby, there is the La Storia Tourism Complex with a bit kitschy exhibition but a great shop with mosaics and other souvenirs. Don’t be shy to negotiate the price.
Floor mosaic can be also viewed in Church of Saint George. If it’s closed, go to the nearby house and the owner will open it for you. Then… it is time to return the car and get ready for the flight back!
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