Jordan is perhaps the most alluring destination in the entire Middle East. Small in size, easy to move around and packed with natural drama, this enticing little country is one of the region’s biggest gems.
Many travellers visit Jordan with its history in mind and understandably so. Voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the 2000-year-old ‘lost city’ of Petra, capital of the Nabatean civilisation, stretches up out of rose-red sandstone cliffs, the jewel in Jordan’s cultural crown and the primary lure for many a traveller since its appearance in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
It’s not just the magnificent Petra that entices the visitor: Jordan is steeped in stories from the distant past, with the majestic relics to prove it. Look – here’s the spot where John baptised Jesus at Bethany-by-the-Jordan. Elsewhere, follow in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia from his headquarters fort at Azraq, through to the deserts of Wadi Rum, where the movie was filmed. Soak up the therapeutic benefits of a visit to the Dead Sea, trek along routes that were mentioned in the Old Testament, take in the view of the Promised Land that was revealed to Moses, and gaze out over a landscape that still has the power to evoke biblical splendour.
The landscapes will live with you long after you return home. For a country that is 85% arid desert, Jordan can wow with snow-capped mountains in the north around the Ajloun forest, plunging ravines such as Wadi Mujib, a mini-Grand Canyon, reaching 4km (2.5 miles) from rim to rim and more than 500m (1640 ft) deep, and epic deserts of golden dunes or rocky basalt. Go on wildlife safaris in the nature reserves, and make sure to stay with the desert-dwelling Bedouin tribes, who offer hospitality in tents still made of traditional black goat hair.
Nonetheless, the small Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan looks forwards. Its relatively stable economic and political position in the Middle East has fuelled much modernisation, particularly in the capital Amman. With new hotels, upmarket bars and restaurants and a strong sense of its diverse cultural heritage, Amman is no longer just a base from which to explore the ancient sites, but an attraction in its own right: urbane, cultured and outward-looking.
Still, if there’s one single aspect of travel in Jordan that resonates, it’s the hospitality. Traditions of taking care of guests run deep in Arab society, and Jordan lives up to its heritage by extending the kind of welcome tourist boards crave. Everywhere you go you’ll hear words of welcome – heartfelt, not contrived – and you’ll often be invited into the shops or homes of strangers for glasses of hot, sweet tea and good conversation. In other places this might prelude a hard-sell campaign of carpet-flogging. In Jordan, it’s almost always borne simply of an interest to engage with a visitor, and to forge a friendship. As the Jordanians say, “Ahlan wa sahlan!” – come in and make yourself at home.