7 days in Jordan, an end of February dream trip with the most unexpected itinerary, starting from the depths of the Wadi Rum desert to the heights of Mount Nebo, through the ancient carved city of Petra and upstream the Jordan River, following closely the mystical paths of Christianity.
Even if I tried to plan this holiday to the smallest detail, the actual 7-day trip to Jordan, exceeded any expectations by far. Jordan is considered to be an expensive country. But with a moderate budget for two people and a rented car, we managed to balance and enjoy all that Jordan had to offer from South to North and back. In one week only!
Aqaba From Above, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
This included varied culinary experiences in historical Arab restaurants, exciting things to do, particular for Jordan, such as Wadi Rum desert safaris and Aqaba glass bottom boat trips, cultural insights into the Bedouin life and byzantine ancient artworks, plus cozy, out-of-the-ordinary, (sometimes) even luxurious accommodation.
Most often, people tend to associate holidays in Jordan with big names like Kempinski or Mövenpick. And that’s not a thing to ignore, as they are so exquisite. But luxury can sometimes be replaces by that special feeling when a space grows slowly into your heart from many other reasons rather than a perfect furniture. Therefore, all 7 nights were different and spectacular in their own way: striking panoramas over the cities, a Martian tent in the desert, a hotel inside a green oasis, surrounded by dramatic scenery and natural springs.
Beyond that, interaction with locals enriched the magical feeling. Jordanians are kind, relaxed, smiling, peaceful as the desert itself.
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First Day: The Mysterious Wadi Rum
First day of the one week long Jordan adventure started in the tiny, tiny airport of Aqaba. Early in the morning! With hopes of exploring the surroundings that looked a bit scarce at first sight.
But magically ended under the stars, in the vastity of Wadi Rum desert, glamping in a Bedouin camp. There, we fell asleep watching the other-worldly mountains, wrapped up in mysterious stories of long-lost civilizations and memories of iconic movies.
The whole day was dedicated to exploring the multiple faces of the UNESCO Protected Area of Wadi Rum in Southern Jordan. More specifically, the magnificent wilderness of the Jordanian desert, also known as the Valley of the Moon. The place features a jaw-dropping landscape used as a filming locations for dozens of famous movies, especially for the Mars-themed ones.
Just imagine: sandstone mountains crossed by canyons, hidden caves and natural arches.
✈️ Aqaba Airport
Choosing to land in Aqaba airport was one of the best choices I have ever made for this 7-day trip to Jordan. And finding a plane that conveniently landed at 09:00 was another. The airport is only one hour away from the Wadi Rum desert and this helped us take advantage of a full day in the desert.
Aqaba Airport, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Even if Aqaba airport is really small and not so popular, it gives you access to everything you need to start your trip. For example, you can easily:
- rent a car: renting a car is very convenient and cheap. And it gives you a lot of flexibility in visiting Jordan. We rented through a person who was recommend to us. We paid 30% more than the usual, but they took no warranty and no card details. And we paid in cash. But I would not recommend as the car was a bit dirty. Other (probably better) options:
Credit card payment
7 days rent: 190 JOD
Warranty: 350 JOD (returned a week after returning the car)
Reliable Rent A Car
7 days rent: 220 JOD
No warranty, full insurance, Kia Cerato, Reservation through Whatsapp
Credit card payment
7 days rent: 100 JOD
Warranty: 400 JOD (returned instantly after returning the car)
- withdraw money from an ATM machine: there is no exchange office in the airport. But there are ATM machines with good exchange rate. Still the bank fees are less reasonable than in the city. Still, in the whole Jordan, you can make payments almost everywhere by card (Visa) or in cash in their local currency (Jordanian Dinar), but also directly in USD or EUR. For the last 2 the rate will not be as the one in a bank. Be sure to check it online before paying in cash!
- buy a sim card for cheap and fast internet: You have a choice of Zain, Orange, and Umniah. We bought a 50 GB Orange sim card. It was around 10 JOD. And the internet worked great, with exception of Wadi Rum desert or deep in the mountains. In 7 days we used less than 20 GB. So it was more than sufficient for 2 phones (connection shared by hotspot).
🏕️ Martian Pods Surrounded by Desert Wilderness
We left the airport around 10:00 am in our pretty, red, newly-rented car. And went straight to add fuel and grab some local goodies. Because.. guess what!! The (no-name) company that gave us the car, gave it with an empty tank. Then, in less than 1.5 hours, we were already in our Martian tent in Hasan Zavaideh Camp (location), having a small lunch, complimentary from the hosts, sandwiches with pressed beef meat and cheese and vegetables.
Traditional Bedouin Tents, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The camp is located in the Disi district, north of the protected area of Wadi Rum, at the limit with the absolute wilderness. From afar, this place is similar to a small village scattered at the feet of a mountain, next to the main road. But the more closer you get to it, you realize the road is considerably far, that some of the tents are rather bigger than expected and the mountains are completely huge and harshly rugged.
The moment you pass the gate margined by two small-scale citadel towers and a stone wall, you enter an oasis. Because that’s what Hasan Zawaideh Camp is: an oasis in the middle of a dramatic, reddish setting just a few hundred meters from the shooting place of the Hollywood blockbuster “The Martian”.
Hassan Zawaideh Camp Courtyard, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
A desert adapted architecture unfolds around a central courtyard and a lively fountain. To the front and left, there are administrative facilities and eating area. On the left there is an elegant tent with a large porch, housing a restaurant in a traditional setting: fancy crystal chandeliers hanging above Bedouin-style, geometrically decorated furniture covered in Sadu fabrics.
Additionally, to the right, there is the accommodation space consisting of traditional black tents made of animal hair mixed with geodesic domes known as the Martian tents. The Martian tents have such a structure, with one third covered in transparent panels to allow a broad panorama, with a generous interior and an exterior, elevated terrace, strategically overlooking the desert and mountains.
Martian Tent no. 13, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
We had Martian tent no. 13. It made us feel somehow the embrace of the rocky mountains nearby while opening itself towards the immensity of the desert.
Martian Tent no. 13, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Moreover, it was beautifully decorated, with furniture in the same traditional Sadu style as the rest of the camp, very clean, had running hot water, heat, everything you would expect more from a hotel, and not from a supposed low-key tent.
Why I chose this exact Wadi Rum Camp:
- parking available in the camp: Most Bedouin camps located inside the protected area of Wadi Rum can’t be accessed by personal car. This camp is just at the limit, close to the road and has its own private parking;
- exclusive setting: the dining area and the tents are beautifully decorated with traditional fabrics and a touch of luxurious details;
- large selection of activities available: jeep tours, horse riding, camel riding, hiking, hot air ballooning, star gazing;
- fast reply from the hosts to all requests.
We made the reservation through Booking and paid around 110 JOD / night for our Martian, unusual tent, while the prices for a normal Bedouin black tent started at 40JOD/night. But as a new and unique experience, it was totally worth the money.
🐪 Legendary Wadi Rum from a Jeep
The wilderness of Wadi Rum desert is one-of-a-kind place where you can let your imagination run free of any constraints. You can close your eyes and feel like Indiana Jones in the search of some buried treasure, go back in time to Lawrence of Arabia or even travel to another planet. The reddish sand lying at the feet of the dramatic mass of granite rock and sandstone makes it perfect for daydreaming.
One of the most popular activities of Wadi Rum desert is definitely the jeep tour of the historical places surrounded by wilderness. And who doesn’t love desert safaris?!! I always kept as my most exciting memories the ones organized by the Baniyas tribes in the deserts of UAE. But in Jordan, the desert safair proved to be a completely different adventure. With around 65 JOD we had, for about 4 hours, our own Jeep with a Bedoiun, English-speaking driver guiding us through the secrets of the desert.
Our camp made all the arrangements on our arrival.
Wadi Rum Desert Trip, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The first place to visit was the spot where the Hollywood actor, Matt Damon, tried his martian boots on the red sands of Wadi Rum while shooting “The Martian“. This was followed by a sand dune climb for admiring the panoramic beauty where I couldn’t help but take off my shoes.
The tour continued along the 7 pillars of wisdom towards the Anfeeshiah Inscriptions, the old Nabathean inscription carved into the mountain wall, once measuring the levels of the water. Next stops were Umm Frouth rock bridge where some people were brave enough to climb the steep walls (but not me), the Mushroom Rock set closeby to a Bedouin’s tent raising animals, Barrah Canyon and Lawrence Canyon (where the movie “Lawrence of Arabia” was filmed).
In many of the locations, Bedouins expect their visitors with affordable souvenirs and a complimentary tea. We felt welcome, cared for, and we also found two amazingly handcrafted ceramics bowls at only 6 JOD.
Before returning to camp, we stopped for admiring the desert sunset. This is something not to miss in Wadi Rum!!
Other things to see in the Wadi Rum Desert:
- 🪨 The Nabataean temple;
- 💧 Lawrence’s Spring;
- 🪨 Khazali Canyon;
- 🏚️ Lawrence’s house.
🌌 Traditional Bedouin Evening Under the Stars
After the nightfall, it is the time for the lights to shine in the camp. Amid a crowd of stars, no less spectacular are the ones dripping along the chunky profile of the rocks nearby and inside the small caves above. While the dining area and the beautiful courtyard are immersed in music, the whole place gains an almost mystical ambience.
Hasan Zawaideh Camp at Nighttime, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The Bedouin dinner / Zarb, a meal cooked in a special oven placed under the ground, is the center piece of the dinner show. People gather around the cooking spot to see how the magic happens. A 3-story meal comes out: Rice Lamb chicken vegetables, a perfect fit for the salads already in the beautifully decorated dining tent.
Bedouin Dinner at Hasan Zawaideh Camp, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
And last, but now least, the view from the lovely Martian tent, sleeping pod no. 13. Although, badly spelt on the keychain as Marchion Tent, this is probably the closest to the feeling you’ve gone to Mars! The sandstone and granite mountains close by hold you in their huge arms, while the deserts unfolds itself under a sea of stars. The striking setting leaves you speechless and it feels almost impossible to fall asleep surrounded by so much greatness.
Wadi Rum, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
🥘 Price of a Bedouin meal under the stars is 10 JD only. A very convenient price for a traditional, buffet style dinner. In our case, it was complimentary due to the kindness of our hosts.
Day 2: The Nabateen City of Petra
Second day was fully dedicated to Petra in all its complexity, with all its faces. We left the bedouin camp early in the morning to be able to reach Petra in time and see as much as we could during the day, and not miss.
Petra, one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, is a vivid and unusual sharp-rock-cut city, still inhabited by Bedouin tribes. No matter how much we look at the pictures and read about it, nothing, absolutely nothing can actually describe the grandeur of this place.
More than 2 milleniums ago, an ancient Arab civilization called the Nabataeans settled here and carved their life and culture into the mountains Furthermore, they prospered as a junction for most important trade routes that linked Asian countries such as China and India with Africa and Europe, in particular with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome. Caravans passed passed this area carrying finest silk and spices, as well as aromatic resins for incence and perfumes. It continued to prosper even after the Roman occupation.
By the 7th century, Following an earthquake and change of trade routes, Petra had fallen into oblivion for the Western world. a Swiss traveler rediscovered the rumored lost city in the 19th century with the hekp of a bedouin.
🪨 Petra by Day
From there we picked up our tickets based on our Jordan Pass. And bought separately a one-way ride with a club car inside Petra. Just in case we were going to get tired or bored walking. It cost us 15 JOD / person extra.
From another counter, but in the same building, we acquired our Petra by Night tickets. This was not included in the Jordan Pass. Mainly because Petra by Night is an event organized independently, by another company.
Petra Road, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
We entered the actual city of Petra around 11:00 am. In the entrance area, there were many Bedouins trying to find clients for a short horse ride or a guided tour inside the city. Even so, we preferred to walk and discover the place on our own.
But if you get there and you are interested in climbing inside the canyon walls or discover secret places hard to access by most, Bedouin guides are a wonderful choice. They speak English well, they take care of you in the dangerous spots of the trails. And they are, of course, the keepers of the mysterious stories of this ancient place. And they are good people, even if they seem sometimes a bit annoying.
At first sight, Petra seems to be very commercial, but beyond this there is so much beauty.
Once you enter, the rose-red city is a combination of still preserved Roman roads crossing canyons, massive Nabataean architectural pieces carved into the stone walls, along with an ingenious system of dams and water channels.
Before getting to Petra, we stopped on the road at a souvenir shop. There, I found some prints of old sketches of David Roberts, a 19th-century illustrator. He was an artist who travelled Middle East and North Africa, from 1838 to 1839, drawing the Holy Land, including Petra.
Having those prints enhanced everything we were seeing, taking us back to the moment when the city was rediscovered: Bedouin shepherds, rock arches, ancient watch towers. 🤍
We started our day-long adventure in Petra by walking towards the obelisk tombs, we crossed on foot a Nabateaen-built dam diverting flood since the oldest times, and continued our journey through the Siq. The Siq is a 1.2 km-long, narrow canyon, that resulted from a natural split of the mountain. A beautiful work of nature itself. One triumphal arch, that can be seen in the sketches of David Roberts, once used to span over this entrance.
A paved road dating back to Roman times leads the way through old inscriptions and sacred stones, while water channels run along the two rock walls. It is impossible not to feel like it’s the perfect setting for an Indiana Jones movie.
Petra, The Treasury, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The Siq opens up dramatically, unveiling the Treasury or Al Khazna, a Nabataean temple built in the 1st century BC. Compared to the narrowness of the Siq, this space looks like a large courtyard, filled with cafes, camels, souvenir stalls and local tourist guides who invite you to climb the walls of the canyon with them for a panorama over the Treasury.
It is one of a kind experience. And I’ve seen even older people climbing to that spot.
Going back, the Treasury has a magnificent façade, 40 m heigh, stone carved and intricately decorated with Corinthian capitals and friezes. The road on its right side takes you towards a mountain wall pierced with numerous cave entrances, an open-air theater and series of famous tombs carved in the Southern cliff. This area is filled with local stalls showing local crafts, magnets, jewelry carpets. This is how we met Hamid. He is a Bedouin selling local crafts, just at the exist from the Treasury area.
Petra Souvenirs , The Treasury, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
There are many trails inside Petra, but I am not very good at climbing. So I prefer to take the easy roads. And long breaks!
Therefore, we stopped in a local café next to a mountain-carved theatre to have a coffee, a wonderful pomegranate juice and some sweets. And play with this pretty cat. Once you pass the crowded area of the Treasury, the atmosphere becomes more relaxed and the setting absolutely magical.
Petra Bar, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The next in line were the Royal Tombs, carved pretty heigh, like a necklace, in the rough wall of the mountain. Before going up the stairs, we stopped to speak to Nura, a Bedouin woman selling handmade crafts. Her genuine and kind attitude, her stories, her optimistic words are here to stay. In the middle of a scarce city, with little to have and little to survive, Nura was smiling and being gentle, inviting us to her home. I do recommend speaking to them. There is a whole new universe opening up.
The Royal Tombs, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
From the Royal Tombs, we continued towards the ruins of a Byzantine Church. This is right at the very heart of the ancient city. A place with well preserved mosaics and the exact spot where archeologists discovered 140 papyri giving details about the lives of past inhabitants.
The Church was followed by Winged Lion Temple, the ruins of an ancient complex that once had sacral spaces, living quarters, workshops and courtyards. From up there, we could admire the valley below with the Colonnaded Street, which used to be one of the main commercial streets in ancient Petra. Beside it stand The Great Temple, one of the most impressive archeological structures of almost 7000 sqm. and Qasr Al Bint Temple, the main temple of the ancient city.
My main regret was that we did not get to Ad Deir, the Monastery, as it was already 05:00 in the afternoon, getting dark already, and we would have needed probably another hour.
On our way back, we took the tourist club car from The Treasury to the exit. We were really inspired to use our one-way transport tickets when leaving Petra, because we were already tired and the route back, through the Siq, is going uphill.
📌 Main Landmarks of Petra & what we could visit in 6 hours:
- Djin Blocks (visited);
- Al Madras Route (not visited)
- The Dam (visited);
- The Siq (visited);
- Al Khazneh (The Treasury) (visited)
- Street of Facades (visited)
- The High Place of Sacrifice (not visited)
- Royal Tombs (visited only Urn Tomb);
- Theatre (visited);
- Byzantine Church (visited);
- Winged Lion Temple (visited);
- Colonnaded Street (visited);
- Great Temple (visited);
- Qasr Al-Bent (visited);
- Al Habees Fort (not visited)
- The Monastery (not visited)
Based on this experience, minimum 2 days are definitely needed to explore most of the city of Petra. And a third, to visit a Bedouin home.
🪨 Petra Museum
Petra Museum is a very modern addition to the Nabataean site. It doesn’t cost a thing to visit and it is open until late in the evening. The museum was build with Japanese funds and its purpose is to broaden the perspective on the history of the Wadi Musa and Petra, as well as Bedouin life and customs since the oldest times.
Petra Museum, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Some of the exhibits are mosaics, unique architectural pieces and decorative parts of the ancient Nabataean houses and temples, their trade history and daily use objects of an exquisite beauty and intricate details.
A plus is that compared to the dynamic atmosphere of Petra, the museum building, sitting next to a large body of water, is quite serene and pleasant.
🛎️ Petra Plaza Hotel
We checked-in around 06:00 pm, after spending a whole, the never-ending kind, day inside Petra.
First impression was one of a small hotel, hidden on a small street, with its own small, crowded parking. Still, the warmth inside makes you feel it’s definitely local, but special. We were offered tea while checking in and when they brought the luggage to our room, they also gave us a considerable portion of fruits as an welcoming gift. 💚
Petra Plaza Hotel Room View, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The exterior of the hotel had no special architecture, but the view from the 3rd floor room over the yellowish city of Wadi Musa compensated that. The rooms: sparkling clean, simple, elegantly decorated, with vintage furniture, earthly tones and red accents.
Petra Plaza Hotel, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The main reasons for choosing Petra Plaza Hotel were proximity to the old Nabataean site, 10 minutes on foot, very high rating out of over 1000 reviews, plus amazingly affordable price.
Considering Petra itself is an expensive and unbelievable experience, I couldn’t have made a better choice for the money we paid for the hotel. Still, if you expect more WOW from a hotel in Wadi Musa or afford a bit more expensive one, there are plenty luxurious accommodation options around Petra.
🕯️ Petra by Night & What to Expect
Around 8:15 pm we were back at the entrance to Petra.
When the sun sets down, over 1500 candles light up along the Siq, towards the Treasury, where a mass of brightness unfolds. At night, Petra is completely different. The old city magically transforms itself from a strongly commercial area to an enchanted land of the lost Nabateen Empire.
Petra By Night, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
On the land of Bedouins, the murmur of the tourist groups and their guides has disappeared, the horses are no longer galloping, the carriages were also well hidden by the dark. The entire canyon has been shrouded in silence broken only by the sound of a Shepard’s flute. A few hundred visitors walk through the sharp rock walls, peacefully, immersed in their own thoughts, as on a spiritual pathway.
Petra By Night, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
When reaching the Treasury, one chooses a woven mat to sit down on the ground and enjoy. An aromatic, warm tea is served while the rababa, the Bedouin traditional flute, echoes through out the canyon. It is followed by tales of lost Nabateen customs. And, at the end, by a show of shadows, projections of the many people trying to take wonderful pictures s memories. There are no laser lights, just simple, kind of initiatic, Bedouin-style gathering using as a setting the fascinating light up, centuries-old Nabateen temple.
- ❤️ Petra by Night is an out of the ordinary, mystic show, 2-hour long spiritual journey;
- 🎟️ The entrance costs 17JOD. Is is not included in the Jordan pass or day ticket;
- ⏰ It happens only on Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays, from 08:30 pm to 10:30 pm.
Day 3: Road to Madaba
The third day was mainly about visiting Little Petra and some medieval castles on our way to the ancient city of Madaba. We did not choose the highway, but the road 35, the one crossing multiple times the mountains in the Karak Governorate.
We enjoyed narrow steep car roads on rocky mountain slopes, desert valleys, unbelievable panoramas that when you look back to the pictures seem incredible, stories of old Bedouins holding the keys of the most unique souvenirs.
🪨 Little Petra
Just 9 km north of Petra Visitor Centre, on the road to Madaba, there is a smaller, similar-to-Petra, archeological site. It is called Siq al-Barid (“cold canyon”) and it is also known as Little Petra. But Little Petra is not so little. Initially we thought Little Petra was all about the small temple at the entrance. But in fact it’s a 350-meter long series of small narrow passages and open spaces surrounded by rock-cut tombs and temples, along with cave dwellings and water cisterns.
It seems to have been an important commercial spot on the Silk Road, surrounded by once a fertile land, the ideal place for merchant caravans to stop, rest and have fun, close to the Nabataean capital.
Bedouin Relaxing in Little Petra, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Most prominent architecture carved into the walls of the sandstone Siq al-Barid is represented by the colonnaded tricliniums and biclinium, ancient banquet rooms, some conserving not only the old structure, but also paintings from the old times. Most of them are accessible through carved stairs. Even the canyon itself ends in a steep staircase with heavily worn steps. No idea where it leads you. I wasn’t brave enough to check.
Little Petra Temple & Stone Carving, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
In my opinion, Little Petra is more accessible: free to visit, less commercial, with a few stores and free parking close to the entrance. Bedouin women are selling their locally made products. The atmosphere is more peaceful and more authentic. I bought myself a gorgeous artwork carved in local stone (25 JD) and we had the tastiest pomegranate juice (2JD). 💛
- 📌 Address: Al-Baydha, Jordan (Google Maps Location);
- 🎟️ The entrance costs: Free to visit;
- ⏰ Time to explore: approx. 2 hours.
🏰 Shoback Castle
After we left Little Petra, we took Road 35, on the eastern side of the Arabah Valley, trying to reach the place where the Shobak Castle reigned over a conical, rugged mountain. Even if it is just 40 km away, the journey can last close to one hour, because the road gets really narrow, along steep edges. In some places, two cars can hardly pass one next to each other. Still, right at the top, the road widens, leaving some place for parking.
Known by its many names among which Krak de Montreal, Montreal Castle or Qal’at ash-Shawbak, the military facility used to have a very important commercial purpose as was one of the strategical position on the the main trade routes from Egypt to Syria.
Shobak Castle, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Today, the archeological site confines between its boundaries the ruins of the castle built by the Crusaders in the 12th century and later expanded by the Mamluks. Being located on the round hilltop site, its main attribute is the spectacular view over the surrounding areas: a flowy rocky landscape, fruit orchards, small buildings made of of stone blocks that seem to perfectly integrate into the landscape below.
Sometimes some reenactments of 12th-century attacks take place on the premises, being performed by Jordan Heritage Revival Company: the Ayoubi Show. We were not lucky enough to see one.
If you’re the adventurous type, there are many secret passages in the castle: completely dark, slippery, tight, inhabited by bats. One of them takes you from inside the castle down to the exit in less than 15minutes.
- 📌 Address: Shobak, Jordan (Google Maps Location);
- 🎟️ Entrance fee: INCLUDED in the Jordan Pass; otherwise: 1JD;
- ⏰ Opening hours: Mon. – Sun., from 08:00 am – 08:00 pm.
🚙 The Smallest Hotel in the World
On your way to Shobak, the chances to meet Mr. Ali are very high. He lives in a tiny, stone house, next to the road. There, he prepares coffee for the tourists and shares with them stories about his ancient coins found in the Shobak area. Good place to buy hundreds-of-years-old souvenirs.
Smallest Hotel in the World, Shobak Area, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
He has also set up the smallest hotel in the world inside an old vehicle. Well, I don’t think you can book this for a night, but you can always have your picture taken for 1 JD.
🏰 Kerak Castle
Stories, memories, artefacts from prehistory to medieval era cover the walls and the floors of the small scale, but comprehensive Karak Archeological Museum. The historical Ottoman building in the Old Saraya area invites visitors to learn about the Karak Castle and the fortified city around it through the eyes, architecture and old inscriptions of Moabites, Nabateens, Romans, Arabs and Crusaders.
The Museum is just at the entrance into Karak complex, on the left and I recommend to visit it before visiting the castle itself. Inside the Karak fortress, there are few to none explicative boards, no maps, just ruins, tunnels, mysterious places that definitely need an advanced introduction.
Kerak Castle, Jordan, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Once you cross the bridge, you are at the gates of one of the most impressive ancient crusader-built, strongholds, 900 m above the sea. One step further and you are in for a wonderful view over the surrounding city.
The castle itself is a maze of stone vaulted halls and endless passageways giving a strong insight into the architectural military genius of the crusaders: tunnels that take you from upper plateau galleries to the underground and back, through arched passageways and tall rooms with vaulted ceilings.
🛎️ Mount Nebo Hotel in Madaba
Mount Nebo Hotel was one of the highlights of our trip to Jordan. This hotel itself was an enchanted experience. Even presented on Booking as just a 2-star accommodation, the comfort and the amenities proved to be well above that.
Except the fact it has a more than affordable price, it is located in the the very heart of the city, minutes away from all important Madaba attractions, and with a huge parking at the back. Which for us was amazing considering our rented car needed a safe place to rest.
The entrance is made from a small street bearing the name of queen Rania. And the reception area is very elegant, all white, decorated with family picture and hotel history details.
Mount Nebo Hotel Room, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
It is cute, intimate, family-owned business and you can feel that in every full of care gesture, in every kind word. Even the stone walls speak about peacefulness. The walls of the hotel remind the stone walls of a castle. And all interior decorations are in fact paper sculptures made by the hands of the owner’s wife.
The hotel has 10 rooms only and they are VERY clean, extremely spacious, elegantly furnished and, above all that, decorated in a particular theme. Each of them is personalized by one of the well known Jordanian attractions. Our room design seemed to have been inspired by the enchanted Petra. We stayed right next to the Jerash room, on the first floor.
- 📌 Address: Queen Rania St., Madaba, Jordan (Google Maps location);
- 🎟️ Extras: heated rooms, complimentary sweets, very good internet connection;
- ⏰ Ideal: free parking!
🥘 Haret Jdoudna Historical Restaurant
Mount Nebo Hotel does have a traditional dinner menu, but we refused thinking to try some local restaurant. And we found, really close by, Haret Jdoudna, a small version of a Jordanian Traditional Souk. It is a historical 20th century house, with a beautiful interior garden, transformed into a restaurant with traditional food and craft stores spaces.
Haret Jdoudna Dinner, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The menu includes countless types of oriental mezza, salads and soups to choose from. As well as very local main dishes such as Musakhan or Sajeah Meat.
Everything was delicious. And we also enjoyed the lively atmosphere. The restaurant was full in the evening
Day 4: Madaba, one of the 7 days in Jordan
Madaba is not a very big city, but it is crowded with byzantine legacy, lots of magically crafted, 6th-century mosaics. And it is largely known for the famous mosaic depicting the very first map of the Holy Land. The distances between the main tourist attractions are negligible. So, by starting our adventure around 9 am, the 5 hours we had were more than enough to explore, shop and eat. Our visit began at the St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church and and continued at Madaba Archeological Park, which were both just a 5-minute walk from our Madaba accommodation.
The third objective was Madaba Visitors Center to learn more about the pretty city we were in. We received information, a map of Madaba attractions and surroundings and watched a short documentary. They have a large parking and a pretty café, but we continued our adventure.
🥘 Jordanian-Style Breakfast in Madaba
Even if a bit rainy, the day started with a lovely Jordanian-style, buffet breakfast at Mount Nebo Hotel & Restaurant, included in the room price. The restaurant is located on the first floor, with a view to the back parking and beautiful buildings around. And it is as cozy and intimate as the rest of the hotel.
Mount Nebo Hotel Breakfast, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Dark wooden furniture, chunky white walls, a burning fireplace and a small buffet with tasty, fresh local specialties: local salads (hummus, labneh, fattoush), vairous bakery options (cereal bread, homemade pita, Za’atar Manaqish), fresh vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, fennel, mint), eggs, cheese, pressed beef, fresh fruits (kiwi, oranges, bananas, apples) and my favorite Arabic desert Muhallabia, plus many others.
The bohemian guitar playlist included some of the relaxing songs of the less known artist Rocker Tu (“More than anything”). This, along with the honest smiles of our Jordanian hosts, filled the amazingly elegant setting of the restaurant with some kind of silent happiness and hope.
Mr. Ayman, the owner was always around helping us to enjoy everything at most. He served us tea and coffee, explained each type of the dishes available and taught me how to make the PERFECT falafel sandwich: 2 pieces of falafel crushed inside a piece of soft, homemade pita bread, with a bit of hummus, some green leaves of mint and a tip of spicy red sauce. The warmth of people and this space gives you the genuine feeling of being at home.
Falafel Sandwich, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
⛪ St George’s Greek Orthodox Church
Less than 5 minutes walking from the hotel, northwest of the Madaba city center, there is the Church of Saint George. More specifically, a 19th century Greek Orthodox house of worship built upon the ruins of a 6th century Byzantine church.
St. George Church Main Façade, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Less than 5 minutes walking from the hotel, northwest of the Madaba city center, there is the Church of Saint George. More specifically, a 19th century Greek Orthodox house of worship built upon the ruins of a 6th century Byzantine church.
One of Jordan’s most important landmarks, it integrates in its floor surface the renowned Mosaic Map of the Holy Land. The map is in fact a partial, but well preserved relic of the ancient byzantine church depicting areas from Jordan and Palestine to the northern Nile Delta in Egypt, as well as the Dead Sea and Jordan River bursting with fish, in all complexity through beautiful illustrations.
With references to more than 150 (identified) cities and villages, the map is one of the best topographic representations made before the discovery o modern cartographic methods.
- 📌 Address: K. Talal St. 30, Madaba, Jordan (Google Maps location);
- 🎟️ Admission fee: 1 JOD. NOT included in the Jordan pass;
- ⏰ Opening hours: Mon.-Thu., Sat.: 08:00 am – 04:30 pm; Fri., Sun.: 10:30 am – 04:30 pm
🏛️ Madaba Archaeological Park
While advancing deeper in the heart of the city in search for Madaba Visitors Center, the Archeological Park popped up in front of us. So, of course, we stopped to have a fast look.
The site is housing and preserving some wonderful treasurers of various eras: remains of Roman structures and a paved Roman road, 3 byzantine churches dating back to 5th and 6th century AD (Church of the Virgin Mary, Church of Saint elias and Crypt of Saint Elianus), as well as some still colorful, excellent examples of Madaba’s mosaics.
Byzantine Mosaic Madaba Archeological Park, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Visit starts in a courtyard where the walls hold mosaics with images of animals, seasons, homes/cities or landmarks from the surrounding area.
You enter a covered space, built to protect Saint Mar’s church.
The church was built above the hall of an earlier 6th century mansion, itself built on an even older structure – a circular Roman temple. Church has a unique plan, with a circular nave, taking the shape of the Roman temple. It includes including the facinating Hippolytus Hall – its centerpiece, the floor mosaic depicting scenes and characters, god and human like (Afrodita, Artemis, Theseus, Phaedra) inspire by the Greek tragedy of Euripides. Acanthus leaves along with hunting and pastoral scenes. The 4 seasons in the 4 corners.
The site is small, but we had plenty to see. We spent about 30 minutes going around, taking pictures and listening to the story of this place. Although there are helpful explanation boards throughout the site, the sweet lady at the ticket counter offered herself to give us a tour of the place, explaining in detail, in English, each of the exhibits.
- 📌 Address: Hussein bin Ali Street, Madaba 17110 Jordan (Google Maps location);
- 🎟️ Admission fee: 3 JOD. INCLUDED in the Jordan pass, keep 1 or 2 JOD tip for guide;
- ⏰ Opening hours: Mon.-Sat.: 08:00 am – 04:00 pm; Closed on Sundays.
⛪ Old Market
From the Madaba Visitors Center we decided our next stop should be St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church, because we were promised a nice view of Madaba from above, from the bell tower. Still, Madaba city streets are so small, so crowded, a real labyrinth that we ended up in the Old Market.
Madaba Streets, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Even if it is filled with people of all ages, the atmosphere is pretty relaxed. Very few tourists, mostly locals doing their daily chores. Small stores selling lots of things from spices to phones and jewelry and souvenirs, especially mosaics. It is a pretty normal market, not as spectacular as the souks in Turkey, Egypt or UAE, but it is really worth to walk a bit to get the vibe of this place.
⛪ St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church
Moving forward to the plateau above the city, we got to the 20th century Church, overlooking Madaba and surroundings. The arched-structure building seems to have been built on the top of an ancient archeological site, from antique stones brought from local homes. The site is decorated with Corinthian and Roman columns.
The chapel on the right is a multipurpose building: visitor center, gift shop and small museum with photographs dating from 1902 to 1911 and an amazing floor replica of the mosaic of Umm Ar Rasas. This is also the place where you can get your tickets!
Madaba Streets, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The tour of the Church starts on the small door on the right by descending to the underground Acropolis. This is a labyrinthic collection of vaulted cave rooms and tunnels, beautifully decorated with pieces of art and concealing ancient ruins. Among the highlights, there is a still operational well dating back to the Moabite times, a shrine dedicated to the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, as well as a model of Madaba as it used to look in the 6th century.
A narrow staircase goes to the ground floor, inside the Church. On the other side of the beautifully crafted wooden altar there is a door takng you to the Bell Tower.
From here, in order to continue your visit, you need a bit of dexterity, good legs and pretty strong hands as you are preparing to climb steep metal ladders, with handrails while, trying to slip through low level beams, bell ropes and bells themselves. But the view at the top is 100% worth.
🎟️ Admission fee: 1 JOD / person. Visiting St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church is NOT included in the Jordan Pass.
- 📌 Address: Prs. Haya St., Madaba, Jordan (Google Maps location);
- 🎟️ Admission fee: 1 JOD. Not INCLUDED in the Jordan pass.
- ⏰ Opening hours: Mon.-Sun.: 08:00 am – 05:00 pm.
🏛️ Madaba Archaeological Museum
Hidden in a residential courtyard, on a tiny, dead-end street, there is this byzantine artefacts museum. A series of courtyards and chambers featuring mosaics and ancient daily life objects. There are some exceptional mosaics from old mansions and chapels in Kerak or Madaba area, some featuring Greco-Roman mythology, interlaced geometric motifs and birds or floral design, amphoras and the tree of life.
Byzantine Mosaic, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Most remarkable is considered to be the one split into registries showing a pair of rams and gazelles facing each other framed by a vine, followed by a bull facing a lion. It seems to be the earliest known work of the Byzantine Madaba this mosaic floor of a baptistry chapel part of an old cathedral complex, Chapel of the Martyr Theodore.
Compared to the Archeological Park, the Museum also displays ethnographic pieces most notable being jewelry, costumes, weapons, carpets.
- 📌 Address: Balqa St., Madaba, Jordan (Google Maps location);
- 🎟️ Admission fee: INCLUDED in the Jordan pass. Otherwise 1 JOD.
- ⏰ Opening hours: Mon.-Sun.: 08:00 am – 05:00 pm.
⛪ Apostles Church
Just 5 minutes walking from the archeological museum, southeast of the historical center, we found the Church of the Apostles, last landmark on our cultural Madaba path. We went back and forth along the walls, because there was no clear entrance and no one to guide us. In the end, we accessed it from the open back doors because the main gate was closed.
Seen from the street above, the church looks like a citadel. Yellow stone walls surround a beautiful garden and the shelter which appears as a massive, monumental construction, with few choices left for the light to enter. The current shelter stone building was designed by a contemporary Jordanian architect Ammar Khammash and covers the archeological site of a 6th century AD church.
Apostles Church Interior, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The interior of the church has a remarkable arcaded structure and a well preserved, complex mosaic floor. The mosaic is dedicated to the Twelve Apostles and covers a huge area, being populated with scenes of young people, animals, fruits and birds, immersed in acanthus scrolls and exotic trees. In the center of the nave, there is a famous medallion depicting Thalassa, a female personification of the sea, surrounded by marine creatures. An accompanying Greek inscription unravels the name of the mosaicist, Salman.
- 📌 Address: Rocks Ben Zayed Al-Uzaizi St., Madaba (Google Maps location);
- 🎟️ Admission fee: 1 JOD. Not INCLUDED in the Jordan pass. Part of Archeological Combo Ticket of 3JOD;
- ⏰ Opening hours: Mon.-Sun.: 08:00 am – 08:00 pm.
🥘 Jaw Zaman Restaurant & Caffè
On our way back to the hotel, planning to get our things and move on to Mount Nebo, we stopped at the famous cave restaurant Jaw Zaman for lunch. The restaurant, once an Ottoman Municipal Council, it is a quite spectacular, more than one century old building. It spans on two levels above the ground, plus an underground cave, being first of its kind in the center of the city.
Jaw Zaman Lentil Soup, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Even if it felt a bit chilly outside at the end of February, we preferred the terrace with a view over the small murmuring street filled with alluring gift shops and Arabic architecture.
Best pomegranate juice ever, lentil soup, houmous with meat, tubule salad, samosa and a coffee. That’s what we had for 20 JD. The prices are very low compared to other places in Jordan and the food looks mouthwatering.
Jaw Zaman First Floor Terrace, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The furniture and décor seemed charming, even though a bit worn out. But the food was extremely appealing, fresh and colorful. Like it was laid on your plate specially to contrast with the historical setting and delight your eyes. Everything was thought into the smallest detail: the way spices were spread over the meal, combining colors with strong accents and enriching the taste.. And yummy is too small word for the taste.
Architecture, tradition, nature and the buzz of Madaba.
- 📌 Address: Al Husain bin Ali 11، Madaba 17110, Jordan (Google Maps location);
- 🏷️ Prices: 2 – 5 JD, appetizers and salads; 5 – 15 JD, main course; 2 JD, sandwiches;
- 🍽️ Cuisine: traditional Jordanian food.
⛪ Mount Nebo
Mount Nebo is considered to be the place where Moses saw the promised land. And he was also buried here, 800 m above the sea. Therefore, its significance is quite strong among pilgrims. From the top of the mountain, you can see a panorama of the Jordan River Valley, the Dead Sea, Jericho and Jerusalem, the Holy Land as seen by Moses.
Sadly, the day we visited there was a lot of fog and a bit rainy. So, the panorama was kind of obstructed. However, the whole place had a very mystical appearance.
Mount Nebo Serpent Monument & Well, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Today, a modern chapel stands on the top of a 4th-5th century basilica built to commemorate the place of Moses’ death. The old church was abandoned in the 16th century and rediscovered only in the mid-19th century, using 4th- and 5th-century pilgrim travelogues.
The chapel features ancient mosaics from different time periods, but the reference is the Diakonikon Baptistery and its famous masterpiece: a combination of hunting and herding moments, captured in an African-styled environment. Some of the scenes are dynamic fights between man and wild animals such as lions and tigers, while others present the peace of nature, boars and bears under Madaba orange trees. However, some of the interesting details are the ostrich, the zebra and an awkward, spotted camel held on a leash.
Mouses Chapel on Mount Nebo, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
What else is there to see on Mount Nebo:
- The book of Love among Nations Monument, a monument raised for the People of The Book: Christians, Jews and Muslims who remember the prophet Moses. Its shape recalls the a book as well as megalithic stones found around Nebo;
- A small museum, Mount Nebo Interpretation Centre with panels and mosaics, speaking about the history of the mountain, its art and architecture;
- A huge rolling stone – The Abu Badd, used as a fortified door of a byzantine Monastery in the old village of Faisalyah, once known as Kufer Abu Badd;
- Siyagha Monastery, ruins of a 6th century Byzantine monastic complex;
- The Serpentine Cross or the Brazen Serpent Monument, which stands just outside the sanctuary, symbolically recalls the healing bronze serpent on a pole, taken by Moses into the desert, along with the image of a crucified Jesus;
- The olive tree of Pope John Paul II;
- The magical view over the Holly land.
Everything surrounded by fertile land and olive trees. Our visit took around 1 hour, especially because of the moody weather.
- 📌 Address: Al-Quds St., Jordan (Google Maps location);
- 🎟️ Admission fee: 2 JOD. NOT INCLUDED in the Jordan pass;
- ⏰ Opening hours: Mon.-Sun.: 08:00 am – 05:30 pm.
🛎️ Amman Accommodation: From ⭐ to ⭐⭐⭐⭐
We got to Amman late at night. Amman was crowded and driving was hellish, as well as parking. It was dark, we were confused and we were looking forward to our accommodation, just across the street from the famous Roman Theatre.
As sometimes failure is part of the experience, the local hotel that we chose was far from having anything awesome. Nice pictures online, great reviews, smashing view over the old ruins, and close to every touristic spot in Amman. In fact, that had nothing to do with reality.
This small, old center hotel looked modest, a bit run-down, and the room lacked cleanliness. The bed was full of hair, not even belonging to the same person. And my awesome view could be admired from a balcony that could have probably fell any minute. I cancelled the reservation and the money were returned with apologies.
I went on Booking again. Amman was 95% booked. I could only find one of the last rooms at Amman International Hotel. A 4-star boutique hotel, way across the city, 10 km outside the busy downtown. The difference of cost was just a bit more than double. But the advantages that came with it were kind of priceless at that moment.
Amman International Hotel Room, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
In the end, Amman International Hotel was exceptional. The staff was amazingly welcoming, always behind us, trying to help.
Rooms, more than clean and decorated with such an exquisite taste. Still, my favorite place in the hotel, the reward after a dreadful evening was the Grand Lounge. A classical style restaurant, with more than acceptable prices for its 5 stars. Fine food, fine drinks, leather chairs, precious artefacts exhibited. And even a fireplace. Half restaurant, half museum. So cozy. The only thing missing was a cigar!
Amman International Grand Lounge, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
My advice is, even if you are on a budget, do not go for the cheap Jordanian hotels in the old center. You can have something much, much, much higher quality outside the center and for better prices. Never forget that accommodation can always be on its own an amazing part of the whole traveling experience.
Day 5: Amman
Well, next day, we woke up in Amman in a different world than the rest of Jordan. Even inside Amman, the modern, west side of the city (where we got our hotel for the previous night) is million years distance from its older part, more to the east, where all important landmarks are located.
It took us about 40 minutes to reach the city center by car from Amman International Hotel. Right in the heart of the city, we found a huge free parking next to the Roman Theater (Google Maps Location). It was around 9 am and it wasn’t full… yet!
Amman city center means narrow streets, crazy driving, crowded places, but also monumental pieces of history and colorful little houses that still keep the memory of a cozy and charming Jordanian heritage.
🏛️ Roman Theater & Tradition & Folklore Museums
Amman’s iconic amphitheater has been having its shaped carved into into the Jabal Al-Jofeh hill since the long-forgotten times of the ancient city of Philadelphia. It is a grandiose and massive semicircular seating space, a relic of the 2nd century. And at the same time a huge open space dropped in the middle of a very dense urban fabric.
We started out visit with the the Odeon, eastern side of the Hashemite Plaza, a smaller Roman auditorium for musical performances. And after, we continued to the Theatre.
You can consider from the start that climbing up the steep, narrow and sometimes slippery steps can be extremely challenging. Adding to that the fear of heights, if any.
If you look from down to up, it is impressive. But if you get to the top and look downwards, the view of the whole complex along with the view over the city of Amman becomes breathtaking. You are actually looking into an abyss. Behind you, at the “very top”, there is a small cave-like area to see through an iron door, in fact a shrine where a statue of the goddess Athena used to be, watching from above. And straight ahead, on a neighboring hill, there is the Citadel.
Honestly, it was easier for me to go up and than come back down.
Jordan Folklore Museum, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Nowadays, this place is still in use. If 2000 years ago, 6000 spectators watched ancient theatre plays, today the same amount of people participates to concerts and modern shows.
Behind the stairs, if you pass the arcades on the second section, there are workshops and some garages. While on the ground floor, two rooms, each of them on one side of the entrance, are housing the Jordan Museum of Popular Traditions and the Jordan Folklore Museum. Inside the museums, there life-sized models are showcasing traditional Bedouin clothing, ceramics or jewelry, along with Byzantine mosaics and Palestinian handicraft items.
The row of columns in front of the theatre is what remains of the colonnades which once flanked the Roman Forum, a huge public square.
Roman Amphitheatre Top Tips:
- 📌 Address: Taha Al-Hashemi St., Amman, Jordan (Google Maps Location)
- 🎟️ Entrance fee: included in Jordan Pass. Otherwise 2 or 3JD. Covers the amphitheater & museums.
- 🕞 Time to visit: 1 – 1.5 hours;
- 💁♂️ Tour guides at the entrance: Approx. 20 JD.
🍨 Al-Madeenah Restaurant
From the Roman Theater we headed left, towards the busy heart of the city. We got lost on the old streets of downtown Amman crowded with restaurants, long-standing souqs and local markets in search for a late breakfast.
Al-Madeenah Restaurant Street View, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
After a 10-minute exploration, we found Al-Madeenah Restaurant on King Faisal Square, Al Bisharat Market. The suspended terrace attracted us mostly. Nonetheless, the entrance is also impressive as it is done through the continuous front of shops, on a staircase whose walls carry old photos and a multitude of flowers hanging from the ceiling.
The interior is beautiful, decorated in Arab style, with powerful reds accents and the special Jordanian coziness, while the covered terrace floats above the humming old, downtown district.
Al-Madeenah Restaurant Ice Cream & Interior Detail, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The menu is extremely complex, with lots of dishes to choose from, Jordanian or International cuisine. Oven cooked meals in clay pots such marinated chicken or lamb, Kofta (minced beef) with Tahina or tomatoes, appetizers like tabbouleh, fattoush, eggplant Baba Ghanoush, or main dishes such as Kubbah Labaniah (minced meat with bulgur) or Mansaf (lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt), as well as charcoal grills, pizza & pasta.
I personally started an unconventional brunch with an Arabic Ice cream with pistachio! This was followed by splitting between the two of us tabbouleh, chicken liver with onion and pomegranate, eggplant mutabbal, scrambles eggs with fries. Total cost for two people 15.50 JD. Really cheap!
Seems that at the moment the restaurant is pretty new and does not appear on Google Maps, but in my you should try it if you’re in the area. Approximate coordinates: Google Maps Location.
- 📌 Address: K. Faysal Sq., Amman, Jordan (Google Maps location);
- 🏷️ Prices: 1.5 – 2 JD, appetizers and salads; around 3 – 5JD, main course;
- 🍽️ Cuisine: Jordanian & International dishes.
🛋️ The Duke’s Diwan
Just across the street from the restaurant, we could easily spot this little gem that crawls into your heart with all its imperfections: one of the oldest townhouses in Amman. The Duke of Mukheibeh’s cultural residence known also as the Duke’s Diwan is open to visitors for free. A modest, hard to see entrance, marked though with a delicately crafted, antique metal arcade, is shyly followed by very tight, yellowish staircase that takes you to a first floor. While climbing the stairs I was honestly thinking I entered someone’s home.
Duke’s Diwan Interior, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The first image you get when you cross doorway of the diwan is a combination of high ceilings, turquoise painted woodwork and elegant black and white floor tiles that send you back, instantly to the past. Even the details: old books and pictures, semi-ruined, but comfy sofas, and antique decorations like a show polishing box or the radio that seem to come from another world. The whole interior gives you a glimpse on the Arab home comfort and beauty of a past era, while a large balcony over the lively commercial district of Habiba Knafeh lets you see the urban fabric of Amman unveiling on the old hills.
The forever image in my head: four young girls smiling super happy after they asked me to take them a picture with the pastel background of the 5-room ancient home. Sun, warm people and history. This place was first a post office, then ministry of Finance’s office and a hotel for more than five decades, until it was bought by The duke of Mukheibeh. Nowadays, this is a coffee and tea shop and an extraordinary time machine. 1 JOD only for an amazing coffee!
- 📌 Address: XW2M+P8Q, King Faisal Street, Amman, Jordan (Google Maps location);
- 🎟️Admission fee: the price of a coffee;
- ⏰ Opening hours: Mon.-Sun.: 10:00 am – 05:00 pm
🏛️ Amman Citadel
We could say that Amman Citadel stands face to face with the Roman Theatre, on the hill across the Al-Hashemi street. This is one of the seven hills on which the ancient city was built upon.
We took the longer road and climbed to the top on K. Hussein Street, going round the citadel instead of targeting directly the entrance. Anyway, it is less time consuming to take the small, almost hidden stairs from Al-Hashemi Street, between houses no. 71 and no. 73 (Google Maps location).
Amman Citadel is a fortified area around the very heart of an archeological site dating back to Neollithical times. And it was conquered countless times and by many civilizations. Still, the remaining structures today are from the Roman (Temple of Hercules), Byzantine (a church), and Umayyad period (the ruins of a Palace). Plus a more recent museum.
Umayyad Palace, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
My favorite part was definitely the Umayyad Palace. I stopped photographing every detail of the medium registry arches, the fascinating dome, the stone flowers on the floor.
Even so, one beautiful reward of climbing the hill to the fortress, except visiting the still-standing constructions, is that I could enjoy a 360 degrees panorama over the city of Amman. From up there, I could spot really enchanting and particular street art pieces all over the city. Nice place to watch the sunset also.
Amman Citadel Top Tips:
- 🎟️ Entrance fee: included in the Jordan Pass. Otherwise 2JD ($3);
- 🕞 Time to visit: 1.5 – 2 hours;
- 💁♂️ Tour guides at the entrance: If you really need a tour guide, pick a licensed one! Around 15JD/hour.
🌴 Bethany Beyond Jordan
After our half-day stroll around Amman, we headed straight to Bethany Beyond Jordan, one of the core Christian pilgrimage sites: the Baptism site of Jesus Christ. This is an area between the Jordan River and Tal Al Kharrar or Elijah’s Hill. The Bible narrates that in the old times people used to travel from Jerusalem and Yahuda and from countries bordering Jordan to this area to be baptized by John the Baptist:
“People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” — (Luke 3:1, 5-6). “These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” – (John 1:28)”
Baptism Site, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
When you pass the main gates, you will find yourself getting to a welcoming area with a generous parking, a ticketing office, a map of the site, a small store and toilets. From here, a bus comes to pick visitors every half hour and takes them to the actual site which is inside a militarized area. A less than 10-minutes drive to where Christianity was born.
The bus stops at the entrance, from where you can see Elijah’s Hill dominated by several Orthodox churches.
Behind you, a narrow, pergola-covered pathway unveils. This pathway crosses the natural reserve, dream-like wildlife areas, with strong green vegetation, footbridges and small water streams down to Jordan River. A spiritual road worth to be quietly traveled. It is quite beautiful even if you are visiting just out of curiosity. On our way, we passed next to a museum displaying religious artefacts and a one-of-a-kind Lutheran Church, got to the place where Jesus was baptized when Jordan River was far wider than it is nowadays, and we were taken further to area where the Jordan River flows today. And back
When I was small, each Easter, I used to watch with my grandmother the epic drama of Franco Zeffirelli, Jesus of Nazareth. If you’ve ever watched it, it is easy to connect it to this place.
Baptism Site Top Tips:
- 🎟️ Entrance fee is 12 JD: But it beforehand together with the Jordan Pass and get a discount;
- 🕞 Get there at least one hour before closing: the tour takes around 45 minutes;
- 💁♂️ Located in militarized area: You are accompanied by a guide at all times (included in the ticket price).
🛎️ Ma’in Springs Resort
We left the Baptism site and headed towards our accommodation for the upcoming night in the Ma’in Hot Springs area. This is less than half an hour from both Madaba and the Dead Sea.
Ma’in Springs have been famous for their natural healing qualities since Herod’s times. In the past, they were known as Baaras and even the Bible mentions them. Nowadays, the waterfalls are part of the grounds of a huge, privately-owned, Jordanian resort.
Ma’in Hot Springs Hotel & Spa, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Ma’In Hot Springs Resort & Spa is set within an idyllic valley, at 264 meters under the sea level, surrounded by a stunning mountainous scenery.
It seems most people come here to spend a few hours, just to enjoy the public waterfalls. Which. by the way, are not free of charge. Entrance is around 10 JD / day. But I think spending a few days inside the resort is quite magical. And it gives you access to private waterfalls, heated pools that you can also use at night, rejuvenating spa treatments and restaurants with incredible views.
Ma’in Hot Springs Hotel & Spa, Room details & Balcony View, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
We chose to spend one night only, on our way to the Dead Sea. And I had no regret. Our room was incredibly spacious and decorated with dark and heavy wooden furniture and impressive window shutters. A detail which I loved in the same measure as the swings in the main lobby.
But the panorama from our balcony at the 7th floor was the heart stopping element. Day and night.
Day 6: Going back to Aqaba
We started the 6th day in Jordan pretty relaxed. Even if we knew it will take us around 3 hours or so from Ma’in to Aqaba.
We hit the road a bit late, around 12:00 pm. But we had enough time to see at least a part of all our initial targets. We enjoyed to the fullest the Dead Sea area, visited the Museum on the top of Zara mountain and soaked our feet in the sparkling turqouise waters. We even met Lot’s wife and tried to visit Lot’s humble cave which was sadly unaccessible due to heavy raining.
When to turn towards Dana Reserve, we realized that it would greatly increase our delay in getting back to Aqaba before nightfall. So, we chose the highway.
Leaving 2-3 hourse earlier, would have given us enough time to at least get a glimpse on Machareus Fortress and Dana’s Reserve. But, there is always a next time!
🥞 Breakfast with a view
While this huge resort dominates a whole valley surrounded by mountains, small vegetable gardens, bathing spots and some adjacent buildings, we decided to have our lunch and then explore the surroundings.
Ma’in Hotel Breakfast View, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Their big and elegant restaurant has an astonishing view over the hot springs cascades and the mountains around. Still, the food tastes and looks average. Need to improve a bit the selection to get all the 5 stars. But for the view, I would have doubled the rating.
🌴 Cascade Spa vs Public Baths
If you go to the main entrance of the hotel, depending on the direction you turn to, the road outside can take you either to Cascade Spa or to the public Ma’in springs.
All over the internet, even on booking, there is this emblematic picture of a creamy-yellow building, tightly embraced by the rocky mountains behind. Well, that is not the hotel in the picture. But it surely is one one gorgeous annex, less than 10-minute away, walking distance – the Cascade Spa.
Once you get out of the hotel and head backwards, along the hotel walls, passing next to vegetables gardens, exotic trees, and finally cross over a bridge with a picturesque view, there is this little elegant spa where visitors can enjoy a relaxing afternoon.
Cascade Spa Ma’in Resort, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
More like a private, hotel-owned, but stand alone building that sits directly beneath one of the natural hot spring waterfalls. Inside, there is an intimate pool, small relaxation spots and high end Jordanian style care, based on healing mineral-rich Dead Sea salts and mud.
The price, at that time, was around 20 JD / day to stay at the pool and enjoy the thermal water in a confined space. Treatments were way more costly, but probably worth a try.
If you get leave the hotel and head forward on the main road for about 10-15 minutes you will get to the public Ma’in Springs area.
The fact is that the public area of Ma’in Springs also belongs to the same resort. And can be accessed by the general public with a 15 JD (14.10 USD) day pass. Needless to say, this is just as magical as the private area.
Ma’in Hot Springs Public Area, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The public area hosts a gorgeous roman bath, steam rooms, lounge areas and four out of a total of six waterfalls of Ma’in. Each waterfall maintains a warm temperature of 30-37 degrees Celsius.
Being hosted in the hotel, I used only private areas at all times. Still, I noticed there were a lot of people in the public area, both locals and foreigners. Maybe, being a foreign woman in a bathing suit in that place might feel a bit awkward and uncomfortable. But it depends.
🪨 Panorama Dead Sea Complex
Panorama Dead Sea is a serene, nature-themed complex. It is located just ten minutes away by car from Ma’in Springs.
The complex stands right on the top of Zara Mountain. Its configuration was imagined in such way that the series of spaces is unfolding along steep edges to offer an out-of-this-world view over the surroundings.
The heart of the Complex seems to be the museum. We spent around 1 hour inside trying to remember and define details of each landscape on our road there.
Dead Sea Museum Courtyard, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
It’s not even hard to take a leap back in time with millions of years and learn how the lowest point on earth came into existence. The informative panels describe everything about volcanic activity and its connections to Biblical events. There are details about fauna and flora, plus a fascinating collection of sample stones of the rocky topography from all around Jordan.
Outside the museum, the rugged landscape of Jordan Rift Valley and almost 1000-meters lower turquoise waters of the Dead Sea Basin appear unexpectedly from behind the orange flowers and strong-green exotic vegetation. Right there, at the top of the world, there is this beautiful garden with narrow pathways and observation points.
Dead Sea Panorama Complex Garden, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
All over the place, weird, little sparkling-green birds were chirping. Hard not to fall in love with nature. But also the architecture of the place itself is something worth seeing. An Islamic oriental style set of constructions that came into being by using local travertine stone.
For the hungry visitors, the complex has a charming restaurant serving traditional food. And for the adventurous ones, there is Zara Cliff Walking Trail, a self guided 25-minute hike to immerse in nature and the unique biodiversity of the area. We did not have enough time to explore the whole trail, but it looked like an easy one.
- 📌 Address: Dead Sea 40, AlBalqa, Jordan (Google Maps location);
- 🎟️ Entrance fee: 2JD;
- ⏰ Opening hours: open daily from 9:15am to 10:30pm
🌊 Dead Sea Free Bathing Spot
Coming down from the Panorama Complex, at the end of the road crossing the reddish mountain slopes, there is this charming, turquoise water hitting the milky-white shores of the Dead Sea. They call it dead because of its high salinity that prevents any trace of life to exist in its waters. It is 10 times saltier than the typical sea water!!
Unusual salts, brought by the deep springs in the area into the Dead Sea, are left behind when the water evaporates, covering the beach like a wooly blanket. Pretty sharp for the bare feet, it still feels like you have teleported yourself to another realm.
Dead Sea Beach, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
There are many spots along the highway where you can stop and get your feet inside the water. Or swim. Or even cover yourself in Dead Sea mud. But we found this one which is absolutely charming. It is a few-minutes long and not easy walk from the parking to the water, passing through a rough terrain area. So, you will definitely need good shoes! But it’s worth the effort.
Dead Sea Free Beach, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
I wish I had time for is one cool Dead Sea mud bath. If you’re in the area, take advantage of the natural spa opportunities and cover you body in minerals with healing properties. I saw mud for sale at some stalls on the beach (around $5 / package) but it can also be found along the shore for free.
Dead Sea Swimming Tips & Tricks:
- 🩴 Protect your feet: choose a pair of good slippers as the shores can hurt your feet;
- 💧 Don’t splash, don’t dive: getting that extremely salty water into your eyes will no be pleasant at all;
- 👙 Don’t bring the best in your wardrobe: the salt can damage your swimming suit.
🪨 Prophet Lot’s Legacy
The Dead Sea is strongly connected to Christianity and the way how Sodom and Gomorrah perished. References of Old Testament stories are found along the road crossing the area. These include natural and man-made reminders of Prophet Lot and his presence on these lands.
Lot’s Wife Stone Statue, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Just 3 km away from the bathing spot, we found Prophet Lot’s wife salt statue, on the top of the mountain. If you’ve ever read the Bible, you can easily recall the moment from The Book of Genesis that describes how she became a pillar of salt after she looked back at Sodom.
50 km away towards South there is also a cave, considered to have been Lot’s home after he had fled from Sodom. More precisely, on a hill near the small town of Zoar (modern-day Gawr as-Safi). Sadly, we could not access it due to the fact that the access was heavily affected by rain. In the same area, there is also the Museum at the Lowest Place on Earth, which was closed at our arrival.
🛎️ Aqaba Hotel: Lacosta ⭐⭐⭐⭐
We chose for the last two nights in Jordan a nice 4-star hotel, minutes away from the beach and all important landmarks.
Being a resort with well-known hotels like Movenpick (which, by the way, has a gorgeous architecture!!), Kempinski, Intercontinental, Golden Tulip and more, the cost for Lacosta room was more than decent and the stay exceeded our expectations. We received a huge-balcony room on the fifth floor (514) that had (THE most) perfect view of Aqaba, in all its beauty. We could feel the buzz of the city spread at the foot of the mountains and enjoy a view over the deep blue sea at the same time.
Lacosta Hotel Room & View of Aqaba, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The rooms are simply decorated, but very clean. The bed is comfortable and the big, big windows let you see the beautiful view in the morning.
The staff was extremely kind, as everywhere else in Jordan. We were received with a tasty glass of pomegranate juice, helped us park our car, made our reservations for different activities and cooked the breakfast earlier than normal for us in the last day, because our flight was early in the morning. We were really pampered.
🥘 Jordanian dinner with a twist
In the evening, hungry after our trip back from the Dead Sea, we started searching for a restaurant.
When you see on Google a 5-star rated restaurant, you obviously ask yourself where that almost-perfection comes from. More than a thousand of good reviews pushed us try the food at Khubza & Seneya. And, honestly, also the fact that we felt pretty lazy. And this was in the same building with Lacosta Hotel.
At first sight, the restaurant looks normal, a casual Arabic eatery with traditional dishes. Nothing fancy about the menu either. Everything good. But, again, where do the 5 stars come from?
It all starts to make sense when they bring the food to the table. They not only nicely decorate the plates, but each of the dishes served has a personal touch that makes you forget everything similar you’ve tasted before.
Traditional Jordanian Dinner, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Moutabal comes decorated with pomegranate seeds on top. But also surrounded by a fine, almost invisible layer of pomegranate sauce, that enhances the usual taste of this Arabic dish. The hommos with meat has nuts mixed in, a nice bit of crunch. Tahini salad is so fresh and the tahini sauce does not dry your mouth.
And lastly, the chicken with lemon and garlic sauce is spectacular. It is not sour, nor spicy, nor salty, but a perfect blend of all its ingredients.
On top of that, the service is given by good hearted people, with large smiles. Well, it is not a fancy restaurant, but their hospitality and taste of the food is more enjoyable. They offer you a tea at the end!!
- 📌 Address: An-Nahdah St. 18, Aqaba 77110, Jordan (Google Maps location);
- 🏷️ Prices: 2 JD, appetizers and salads; around 4 – 6JD, main course;
- 🍽️ Cuisine: traditional Jordanian restaurant.
Day 7: Aqaba, Beach Destination @ Red Sea
Our Jordan trip plans included one full day to this lovely Red Sea resort, the only coastal city of Jordan.
After so much traveling from South to North and back, a bit of sun, a beautiful beach and some rest were a must. And where else if not in Aqaba? It is a really affordable destination offering everything any other seaside destinations do and even more.
Palm trees, deep blue sea water, sunken artefacts and an extraordinary habitat of coral reefs, diving opportunities, luxury hotels like Mövenpick, Kempinski or Intercontinental, tasty Jordanian typical food and architectural and archeological attractions, all in one small corner of the world.
And one hour away from the Wadi Rum desert.
Aqaba Beach, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
We wanted to start our day with a short sea cruise. That is why we asked the hotel to book us a 2-hour tour on the big glass boat found at a very well know place called Berenice Beach Club. The cost was around 20 JOD per person for one hour coral viewing, and one hour snorkeling, plus towels, equipment and entrance to the beach, all included. But they did not have any boat going to the sea that day.
In the end, we were much happier exploring on our own.
🛥️ Aqaba’s Glass Bottom Boat Rides
We found the Al-Ghandour Beach, in the proximity of Aqaba fortress, filled with colorful, tiny, glass-bottom boats hiding behind exotic trees and palm leaf umbrellas. Most of them are private boats belonging to local people, trying to make a living. Therefore, negotiation is a needed skill as a tourist, but the reward is priceless.
Aqaba Glass Boat Trip, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
For 20 (not hard enough negotiated) JD, the two of us, rented one of the boats and its skipper for one full hour that felt like minutes. One lovely thing is that the boats are covered. So anyone can get lost while watching enthusiastic through the blurry, green glass the treasures hidden on the bottom of the Red Sea. Without sunburns or heat-strokes! Coral reefs, vivid aquatic creatures, lots of artefacts including war submarines and tanks that have become part of the underwater habitat made up a unique marine ecosystems, constantly changing, ready to be admired. At our feet.
The tour also included a view from afar of luxury resorts and private beaches, the city itself, as well as and going around a huge cargo boat. The February weather was perfect and the extremely intense blue water, so beautiful.
🏰 Aqaba Fortress
After the boat trip, we headed directly to the nearby Aqaba Fort for a bit of historical exploration. The entrance has a strong character, it has been kept in its original state and looks absolutely gorgeous. Above the massive front gate, there is the Hashemite coat of arms.
Partially in ruin, the walls of the fortress enclose small height buildings with Mamluk inscriptions and date palm roof structure, reminding of traditional Jordanian villages. An old prison, execution chambers, messenger pigeons coops and the ancient horse stables are some of the places worth prospecting. Also the second floor offers a picturesque view over the Gulf.
Aqaba Fortress Main Entrance, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The fortress was built by Crusaders in the 12th century, destroyed during the siege of Egypt’s first sultan Salah Al-Din in 1187 and rebuilt in the early 16th century under Mamluk Sultan Al-Ashraf Qansuh Al-Ghawri. In 1916, Aqaba Fortress was a functional ottoman military stronghold. And it became the central feature on the scene of the Arab revolt against the Ottomans. Following its tumultuous history, the epic castle was featured in the 1962 movie, Lawrence of Arabia.
There was no one around to guide us and no fees to pay. No explanatory boards inside so a bit of history beforehand, either a prior visit to the next door Archaeological Museum, if open, is a must. No handrail or other safety measures are present.
- 📌 Address: 10-15 min. walking distance from downtown (Google Maps location);
- 🎟️ Admission fee: free to visit;
- ⏰ Time to visit: 20-30 min. spent inside.
🥘 Sea View Coffee & Restaurant
Before going for an afternoon rest, we had lunch at Sea View Coffee & Restaurant, near the Aqaba Fortress. The restaurant which seems to be part of a family owned Boutique Hotel, has a huge terrace, a modern interior and has a wonderful view over the beautiful beach lined up with palm trees. It’s a very affordable place with huge food portions.
Sea View Fish & Chips Menu, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The staff does not speak good English, but they are very kind and funny. When we told one of the waiters their motto was wrongly written on the English menu, he took it and hid it behind his back ashamed. I have no idea about the hotel services, but the restaurant is very clean and joyful for a fast lunch next to the beach.
- 📌 Address: K. Hussein St., Aqaba, Jordan (Google Maps location);
- 🏷️ Prices: 2 – 3JD, appetizers and salads; around 4 – 5JD, main course;
- 🍽️ Cuisine: International (Arabic appetizers, fish & chips, pasta, steaks, salads).
🚍 Sightseeing Tour with the Hop-on, Hop-off Aqaba Bus
We decided to close our 7 day Jordan trip with an after sunset sightseeing tour of the city center. By bus. There is no Big Bus in Aqaba. But there is a small, open-top, red bus that turns the music on as loud as it can get, speeds up and drives you around for the main landmarks.
Aqaba Sightseeing Bus, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
It is a 45-minute ride that covers the central area, archeological sites, luxury resorts, stores, restaurants etc. Sadly, there is no guide or information available in the bus regarding the sights you pass. But it costs only 2 JD. And it’s pretty fun. Tickets can be bought near the Great Arab Revolt Circle, in the bus station (Google Maps Location).
🪨 How difficult is driving in Jordan?
Driving outside the cities is easy. Roads in the desert and mountains are almost empty.
But inside the cities, traffic is chaotic. Not as chaotic as in Egypt, for example. Still, there are no rules. And you always have to watch over your shoulder. One-way, narrow streets, steep roads curling up and down the hills, huge traffic jams. Sounds like Amman.
🪨 What was the budget for 7 days in Jordan?
We did not have a fixed budget, but we spent around 2700 euro for 8 days / 7 nights, without plane tickets included.
- Food: 1-2 meals / day in local restaurants, 300 JD
- Sweets, junk food: 80 JD
- Hotel rooms, including breakfast: 800 JD /
- 2 x Jordan Explorer Pass 83 JD, including 2 days in Petra and a 8 JD ticket to Baptism Site, a total of 166 JD
- Extra entrances not included in the Pass – around 60 JD
- Rented car: 250 JD
- Gasoline: 110 JD
- Gifts and Souvenirs: 250 JD
🪨 Was Jordan pass worth?
If you plan buying the pass and using it to the fullest, you have to check what exactly it includes.
Do you need the visa included? If you will pass through Amman airport, you do need the visa which is included in the pass. Through Aqaba, no. How much time are you going to spend in Petra? One day? Two days? The more you stay, the cheaper it is. How many and which places are you going to visit in Jordan? Entrance to many attractions except Petra is very very cheap, just 1 or 2 JD.
In our case, the pass just helped us skip the hassle of buying tickets here and there. And a 4JD discount for Bethany Beyond Jordan.
Why it was not so useful?
- We covered with the pass 2 days in Petra, and we spent there only one.
- The pass includes a 60 JD visa. However, this is needed only when you enter the country through Amman. We entered through Aqaba and in Aqaba, visa is not requested.
- We did not try to follow the path of the places covered by the pass. Sometimes, we went to free entrance places like Little Petra or where we had to pay extra, because they were not included: inside-Petra shuttle car, Petra by night, Dead Sea Panorama Complex, Mount Nebo and others.
🪨 Other nice places I wish we had visited
If we would have left Jordan from Amman instead of going back to Aqaba maybe we would have had some time for it too.
🪨 Where exactly in Jordan did I buy the souvenirs ?
I bought from everywhere: specialized stores, museum stores, directly from the Bedouins, from the artisans workshops, even from the airport.
In Petra, you will find extremely cheap and beautiful handcrafts. But you have to negotiate with the Bedouin sellers. And never buy form the first stall if you haven’t checked others also! There are plenty. And in Petra you can even pay however you want. Even with a card. If Petra is a bit more commercial, then there is Little Petra. In Little Petra the souvenirs are even more authentic and sold by Bedouin women. But here you need cash. I really do recommend this place. My carved stone astonished everyone who saw it.
In Wadi Rum, you will also find very cheap souvenirs. I bought two wonderfully painted bowls for 6 JD.
For mosaics, there are plenty of artisan stores in Madaba. And the price is much lower than in specialized gifts stores. And for jewelry, the stores in Aqaba.
I do not recommend museum stores, airport store or specialized gifts stores where you can easily fall into a tourist trap and prices can go up with 30%-300%. These must be your last resort.
🪨 Which time of the year should I visit Jordan?
We went at the end of February, beginning of March. And the weather was sometimes a bit, but just a bit cold. And some other times, warm. Like we found it in Wadi Rum or Petra. The temperatures varied between 18 and 25 °C. We were lucky, because just a week before we went there, in Amman was snowing.
Probably, from March to May the temperatures during the day should be about perfect. Still, considering the deserts the nights will still be a little cool.