7 reasons to visit Jordan, the 'oasis of calm' in the Levant

7 reasons to visit Jordan, the 'oasis of calm' in the Levant
7 min read
16 March, 2024

Simply put, Jordan is misunderstood.

On the one hand, some see Jordan as an unknown quantity — a miscellaneous Arab state that's neither the Instagrammable Morocco nor the bold glamour of Dubai. On the other hand, there's the Petra brigade — backpacking, travel-ticking tourists who catch a flight to Amman, go to Petra, and then head straight home. 'We went to Jordan', they say. No, you did not. 

Perhaps it's understandable — our media in the West certainly doesn't do the Levant any favours. Dominated by coverage of political turmoil and sectarian strife; one could think the Mashriq, 'the land where the sun rises', has finally set. But this is far from the truth.

To visit Jordan in 2024 is to step into a civilisation where hospitality and heritage meet a rainbow culture full of surprises. From its Palaeolithic beginnings to the majesty of Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic influence, history stands shoulder-to-shoulder with modernity — a truly exhilarating getaway. 

Looking for vegan-friendly cuisine? Coral reefs greater than the Great Barrier Reef? UNESCO sites and Roman ruins? Jordan has you covered.

Here are The New Arab's 7 reasons why Jordan — and not just Petra — should be the next travel destination ticked off your bucket list. 

"Not many countries can boast of Jordan's history, which dates back to the Stone Age over 1.5 million years ago"

Jordanian food is here to stay

Most of us have enjoyed Lebanese cuisine, and dishes like hummus, tabbouleh, and baba ghanoush are now staples of the metropolitan diet.

Jordanian food has all the above and more.

The country's modern cuisine is a reflection of waves of immigration and the country's sizeable Palestinian, Syrian, Yemeni, and Circassian communities have each made huge contributions to Jordan's culinary heritage.

Recommendations: Enjoy the Jordanian national dish, Mansaf  — a savoury combination of fork-tender lamb and a fermented and dried yoghurt sauce called jameed on a bed of rice — at Fatemeh Al Zoubi's guest house in As-Salt. Try authentic Yemeni food at Bab Al-Yemen or book an organic, farm-to-table experience at Beit Sitti in the Jabal L'Weibdeh neighbourhood of Amman. 

The Jordanian food scene is also vegan and vegetarian-friendly. Yalanji — vegetarian stuffed grape leaves, Galayet Bandora — a tomato, garlic and olive oil tray, Muhammara — a spicy roasted walnut and pepper dip, and Za'atar Manakeesh — a Mediterranean flatbread topped with a spice mixture, are all popular items on most menus. 

A full Jordanian spread cooked by celebrated Jordanian chef Fatemeh Al Zoubi
A lavish Jordanian feast prepared by the renowned Jordanian chef, Fatemeh Al Zoubi

In Jordan, hospitality is king

It's not an understatement to say that Jordanian hospitality is some of the best in the world, and karam — Arabic for generosity — is an incredibly important part of your visit.

Everywhere you go you'll be met with the phrase Ahlan wa Sahlan, which doesn't just mean 'welcome', as Google Translate will have you believe. Rather dig deeper and you'll find out how central the phrase is to the Arab psyche. Derived from pre-Islamic Arabic, it literally means: 'You're among family, and you're in safe territory'. 

So don't be shy, forget being timid or polite and embrace the warm welcome of Jordan — where the guest always comes first. Accept chai (tea) or kahwe (coffee) when offered, keep your bellies full, and understand that "no" isn't an answer when it comes to enjoying the comfort of Jordanian rituals.

Tip: The response to Ahlan wa Sahlan is Ahlan Beek (boy) or Ahlan Biki (girl) which means 'You are my family'. 

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Some of the world's best-kept archaeological sites

Not many countries can boast of Jordan's history, which dates back to the Stone Age over 1.5 million years ago. Throughout its history, many different peoples and empires have settled in the region that is now Jordan, leaving behind a legacy that can still be seen and felt today.

They include: the Natufians (14,600-12,000 years ago), the three Iron Age kingdoms of Moab, Edom, and Ammon (1200-600 BC), the Persians (539 -333 BC), the Nabateans (4th century-106 BC) who built Petra, one of the two remaining Ancient Wonders of the World, the Greeks (332-64 BC), the Byzantines (395-636 BC), the Ummayads (661-750 CE), the Abbasids (750-1258 CE), the Fatimids (909-1171 CE), the Ayyubids (1171–1260 CE), the Mamluks (1250-1516 CE), the Ottomans (1516-1921 CE), and the Hashemites (1924-) who rule the kingdom today. 

Yet one of the most striking things about Jordan's ancient history is just how seamlessly it blends in with the country's modern landscape. In the capital Amman, the Roman Amphitheatre stands firm amidst the noisy happenings of downtown. Atop Amman, the Citadel watches on like a proud ancestor, watching generations come, go, and stay.

Amman is one of the few places in the world where you can combine a city break with a proper ancient history lesson.

Amman's Roman amphitheatre dates back to the 2nd century AD [Getty Images]
Amman's Roman Amphitheatre dates back to the 2nd century AD [Getty Images]

But outside the capital is where Jordan's archaeological remains shine. A short 45-minute drive from Amman will take you to Jerash, one of the largest preserved sites of Roman architecture outside Rome. Hidden for centuries and only restored 70 years ago, Jerash offers a marvellous example of the grandeur of provincial Roman urbanism, from its paved and collonaded streets to its plazas, baths and public squares, representing a mirroring process of East and West, Graeco-Roman and Arab. 

Recommendation: For those searching for somewhere off the beaten path, check out the UNESCO World Heritage Site Qasr Amra on the road to Azraq — a 'pleasure palace' of Walid Ibn Yazid, a future Ummayad caliph. The palace is famous for its frescoes which adorn the walls and have remained well-preserved over the centuries, as seen below. 

Some scholars point to the frescoes of Qasr Amra as the birthpoint of Islamic art in the Umayyad period [photo credit: Ashraf Balah]
Some scholars point to Qasr Amra's frescoes as the birth point of Islamic art in the Umayyad period [photo credit: Ashraf Balah]

Eco-lodges, trails, and deep-dives

Lush nature reserves and teeming aquatic life aren't the first things that come to mind when you think of Jordan, but you'd be wrong. One-and-a-half hours north of Amman takes you to the fertile highlands of Ajloun, known for its 12th-century Crusader castle built by Salahuddin Al-Ayyoubi and the surrounding nature reserve established in 1988 by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature. 

Follow the Jordan trail during the day and get lost among the fig, strawberry, and 2000-year-old olive treesAt night, sleep at the Ajloun eco-lodge surrounded by forests of oak, pine, and wild pistachio.

The Roman or 'Mehras' olive tree is considered to be a Jordanian national treasure [photo credit: Ashraf Balah]
The Roman or 'Mehras' olive cultivar is a Jordanian national treasure [photo credit: Ashraf Balah]

Recommendation: If marine biology floats your boat then Aqaba is the place for you. The port city is located at the southernmost tip of Jordan on the Red Sea and is known for its excellent scuba diving and snorkelling opportunities. It's also home to many popular sites such as the Yamanieh coral reef and the Cedar Drive shipwreck.

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Dead Sea

Studies have shown that the Dead Sea is likely to dry up by 2050 so now's the time to take the plunge (or not) 423 metres below sea level to the Dead Sea: scrub up, bob along, and float your worries away at the world's lowest point. 

Using Dead Sea mud for its health benefits has become a popular ritual in Jordan so don't take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for granted. Dead Sea mud is packed with essential minerals like magnesium, potassium, and calcium and is widely recognised for its therapeutic properties that can treat skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. 

Tip: While public beaches are available, Dead Sea hotels offer private sections accessible with a room or day pass at similar rates.

Wadi Rum

It's hard to find someone who has been to Wadi Rum and hasn't been left in awe. If you've watched movies like Star Wars, Dune, or Laurence of Arabia, you'll know how otherworldly Wadi Rum can be. But the 'Valley of the Moon' is even more breathtaking in person.

On the drive down, watch society fade away into brick-red sandstone and granite rock, the skyline punctuated by craggy mountains and narrow valleys rising from vast stretches of dunes.

Gaze up and see shooting stars. Stay up and see the night sky disappate; planets whispering off as day breaks. Lose yourself in the petroglyph inscriptions from thousands of years ago or gather around the campfire to hear Bedouin stories of old.

Whichever path you choose, Wadi Rum is a magical experience.

Low light pollution makes Wadi Rum one of the world's best star gazing locations [Getty Images]
Low light pollution makes Wadi Rum one of the world's best star-gazing locations [Getty Images]

Recommendation: Wadi Rum is often included in packages that include Aqaba and Petra. Although it is a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Amman, it is worth the visit. You can choose between taking a bus or hiring a private taxi. During the low season, there are plenty of deals available on accommodation.

Ease of travel

Travelling to Jordan has never been easier. Royal Jordanian offers flights from 51 different destinations and the Queen Alia International Airport is consistently ranked as the best airport in the Middle East. For UK travellers, Royal Jordanian now offers direct flights from Heathrow, Stanstead, and Manchester. The flight time from takeoff to landing is approximately four and a half hours.

The author's trip to Jordan was organised by the Jordan Tourism Board. Flights were provided by Royal Jordanian. Royal Jordanian now flies Stanstead-Amman direct from around £450 return. 

Ashraf Balah is a London-based journalist, writing on travel, lifestyle, and culture.