I had never been to the Middle East, in fact, I knew very little. I was offered the opportunity to visit for work and I jumped at the chance. Would I have elected to go on my own? Probably not; if only I had realized my naïve mistake.
Maybe it was genuine; a simple lack of knowledge or my culturally western mind blinded by unintentionally consumed negative media. Whatever it was, my eyes have been opened. I have now stumbled upon a magical land full of warmth, welcome and unbelievable adventure. Why don’t backpackers worldwide champion Jordan above other destinations? Riddle me that, because NOW is the time to explore, immerse and dive into Aladdin’s magical playground.
Here are 5 reasons I didn’t expect to love Jordan and 5 reasons that you should Go NOW.
As a seasoned traveler my friends and family all asked, “Is it safe?” Geographically, Jordan is between some…um…interesting, neighbors. This has caused a drop in tourism and a rise in humanitarian aid. The capital city of Amman is filled to the brim with refugees and international aid organizations. Historically, open and welcoming to these populations, the city of Amman is now nearly 60% refugees. King Abdullah has only recently fully closed northern borders and still Jordanians open up their homes, schools and culturally welcome all their refugee neighbors.
I will never forget walking down the street on my own. As a tall, blonde, female I don’t pass for a local in many places I travel. However, I never questioned my personal safety in Amman as I have in many other large cities across the world. As I was walking back to my hotel after dinner, a car drove past and a young man leaned out the window to yell proudly, “WELCOME TO JORDAN!!” Was this what I anticipated? Absolutely not. However, I was thrilled to find locals who couldn’t wait to share their rich heritage and the unexpected beauty of this tiny country.
Even in my life back in the US I consider myself a hummus and falafel connoisseur. However, Jordan took the hummus game to an entirely new level. Hummus for every meal – check yes! If you are a carnivore, unlike myself, this country is equally heaven. Shawarma for the masses, lamb, chicken or beef in any savory variety one can dream. I can honestly say that I never had a bad meal in Jordan. From an upscale Syrian restaurant, to western style coffee shops that rival any San Francisco coffee snobs palate, to a street vendor selling kunafa (cheese dessert); there are plenty of culinary opportunities for every budget.
Speaking of adventure, I was blown away by all the fun things I wanted to see and do. There are four specific activities that are worth a plane ticket all on their own.
- Petra – is a world wonder for a reason. It has been filmed, archived and described by countless travel bloggers and new parts of Petra are still being unearthed! Check out this NY Times article from 2006 that is still on point ten years later – http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/10/travel/10nextstop.html
- Wadi Rum – Do you want to pretend you are Lawrence of Arabia, riding camels into a red desert and sleeping in a Bedouin tent? This Mars-like landscape was the set for Matt Damon’s “The Martian.” It is otherworldly and not to be missed.
- Dead Sea – Within a quick drive from Amman you can blitz down to the edge of the Dead Sea. Travelers can either stay the night or grab a day pass from one of the many spa hotels. At any of these locations you can float in the Dead Sea and revel in the historical mystery of this salty body. Friendly tip: Don’t shave your legs before you go. Its better to be hairy than to be writhing in pain on the shoreline.
- Wadi Mujib – This was my very favorite thing in all of Jordan. Easily combined with a trip to the Dead Sea via Amman, Wadi Mujib is an opportunity to trek up a stunning turquoise river canyon. The trek requires a mild level of fitness, waterproof everything, and no guide. Memories of climbing clear waterfalls, scrambling up slippery rock faces and floating back down the river make this stop on the highway feel like a hidden natural playground. Reminiscent of Zion National Park in Utah, this adventure canyon offers warm waters, indescribable beauty and the opportunity to ruin any electronics you own (lesson learned).
If you have some extra time make sure you stop by Wild Jordan in Amman – this conservation hub is home to a restaurant and gift shop but also staff who will help you discover the natural beauty of Jordan off the beaten path. If you are interested in conservation of wildlife species, protected lands and eco-tourism – this is a place not to be missed.
Also, Jordan is a rock-climbing paradise. This is not my particular forte, but if you dabble be sure to check out Tropical Desert Jordan.
The heart of the Middle East, where cultures have crossed paths for eons; roman ruins (Jerash) give way to Nabatean tombs, which lead you towards biblical holy lands. The trails of Moses, Mohammed and Hadrean – disputed lands highlighted by ancient Muslim castles (Aljoun) and recent British colonialism. This land has an intercultural language, understanding and fervor that I had never before experienced. Just go see it yourself!
Western media has had a hard time making issues pertaining to the Middle East palpable and personal for the general public. Even as an individual who cares passionately about the world and global issues, I’ve always had a hard time relating and identifying to the political madness contained in the Middle East. But now, Lord have mercy, my list of films and documentaries is insane. This is the greatest gift I received from my visit to Jordan, an insatiable need to understand this region, its cultures, history and why it’s so complicated for westerners to grasp.
I am endlessly grateful for this brief visit even if it only afforded me the opportunity to realize that I know nothing. The more I travel, the more I realize how little I know about the world. Thank you for making me humble Jordan, you are beautiful, untapped and underestimated. I hope many others like myself get to experience your open arms and endless hummus.