One of the Most Amazing Places I’ve Been To: Jordan. It’s something many of us save up for, work hard for, and hope to do throughout our lives. The experience of visiting new places, trying exotic foods, meeting new people, and learning about different cultures are all things that add to a more fulfilling life. For some people, the travel bug hits when they’re young and a life of backpacking or frequent getaways is common practice. For others, the bug hits later in life and these individuals spend their later years traveling the world.
But the question is, what comes to mind when you think of a vacation? It is a hike through the Appalachian Mountains? Is it a tropical island getaway? A backpacking journey through Europe? Or something totally different?
For me, it used to be a vision of a tropical island. You know, the ones you’d see in those travel brochures with people happily frolicking through the beach with sandals and a beverage in hand. But that all changed when I went to visit the Middle East this past summer.
Last summer I had the opportunity to take a three-week trip that brought me to Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Jordan, and Israel. While the bulk of the trip was for academic purposes (with my grad school classmates), my schedule was flexible enough that it allowed me to visit and see local tourist attractions as well as spend extra time in the area. When the topic of traveling in the Middle East comes up, most people discount the area as a relaxing getaway. Rather haunting images of conflict and protests, missile strikes, or civil unrest come to mind, all as a result of what we’ve been exposed to in the news and media.
I was one of those people myself. Relying on news accounts of what was going on Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan to make broad generalizations about that geographic region. Stereotypes about the Middle East such as: the Middle East is a large sandy desert with little development, or Islamic faith is violent, or all Muslims are Arabs, or Arab countries are all oil-rich, or women have no rights in the Middle East all quickly faded far away as I educated myself about the truth of traveling there and the beauty of the region. As I learned more about the area, the safer I felt and more than ever I wanted to travel and see for myself.
And it was during this trip that I had the opportunity to visit one of the most amazing countries of all, Jordan. You may be asking yourself, what is there to do in Jordan? There’s quite a bit. But if you only had 2 or 3 days in the area, these are the top three things I would highly recommend.
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A) Visit Petra – Now you may have seen Petra before. Where you ask? Petra was one of the popular locations in the Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade film. Don’t know much more about it? Not a problem, it’s still a location you won’t want to miss, so add it to your bucket list today. Established as early as 312BC, Petra wasn’t rediscovered in recent time until 1812. Petra was established by the Nabataeans and then ruled by the Romans before it was ruined by an earthquake. If you are into sightseeing, walking, and history, Petra combines the best of three.
What should you bring with you to Petra? Bring comfortable hiking/walking shoes, water, shade, Band-Aids, and a camera as you’ll be in for a lot of walking and amazing sights. How much walking? At least a 2-3 mile walk on dusty roads with a very gradual incline. If you’re a history buff, this place is as good as it gets. As you traverse through the ancient city, you’ll discover old dwellings, places of worship, monasteries, common areas, and much more. If you get tired of walking, the locals have horses and donkeys that you can hitch a ride on, all for a nominal fee of course.
B) The Dead Sea – The Dead Sea, aka Earth’s lowest elevation on land is a must visit spot. Accessible from both Jordan and Israel, the Dead Sea provides a unique experience you really can’t find elsewhere. The over 30% salinity in the Dead Sea makes floating a natural occurrence. As you walk into the water, you’ll notice it’ll become hard to stay upright as your body will naturally lift itself up. Don’t fight it too much though, as splashing water or even getting a small bit into your eyes can be very painful experience.
What to expect? When I went with classmates, a few of us shaved earlier in the day. Boy was that painful! Any small cut or scrap you have on your body is magnified in the Dead Sea and stings a lot! While you’ll become numb to it eventually, be sure that if you have any major cuts or blisters (such as from walking in Petra) take care of them as best you can before entering the Dead Sea.
C) A Tour of the City of Jerash – Jerash City (also known as Gerasa in Ancient Greek) may be one of the most amazing hidden gems in Jordan and the Middle East. I for one haven’t had the opportunity to visit any Roman ruins before, so seeing the amazing coliseums, forums, and cobbled streets sparked my imagination into how the city once was back in its prime.
And once you’re done visited these three spots in Jordan, consider visiting one of the neighboring countries such as Israel. Jordan and Israel share a border and from Amman (the capital of Jordan), it’s a quick taxi ride to the Allenby bridge that will allow you access to Israel.
So what are you waiting for? If you’re ready for an exciting vacation much different than what you most likely have experienced before, consider Jordan as one of your stops. Want to make it just one of the stops in your Middle East Trip? Consider also stopping Dubai, Israel and Egypt, all of which are just a short plane ride away from each other.