Thinking Aloud: Jordan Tourist Sites

Feb. 15, 2015 by Darius

I have returned from Jordan after a very productive month and will be resuming daily posts.  For today, I thought I’d share my impressions of Jordan’s tourist sites in case you might have the opportunity to visit.

I’ve put Jordan’s offerings in three categories.  The first category is “things worth coming to Jordan to see.”  The second is “things worth going to see if you’re already in Jordan.”  The final category is “things you can skip without missing much.”

Things worth coming to Jordan to see:

  • Petra: everyone’s heard of it, but the real thing is worth seeing for yourself.  The city of Petra is a lot more than the iconic building seen in Indiana Jones.  I was able to spend most of a day there, but I could have spent two or even three days there exploring the ruins.  I’d recommend getting a guide for at least one day, as mine provided a lot of interesting information about various features of the site.  Be prepared to shell out about $70 US, though, for the privilege of admission to Petra.
  • Wadi Rum: another of Jordan’s well-known tourist sites. Like Petra, it’s famous for good reason.  The experience of bouncing through the desert in the back of a pickup truck was unforgettable :).  Wadi Rum has a lot of interesting geology, some historical significance, and opportunities for hiking.

Things worth seeing if you’re in Jordan:

  • The Dead Sea: floating on the Dead Sea is a unique experience. However, there isn’t terribly much to do or see at the Dead Sea other than floating in it.  Because of the salt’s interaction with every abrasion, hangnail, cut, and scrape on my body, actually being in the water became quite painful after 20 minutes or so.  However, I’d recommend doing it at least once.
  • Jerash: one of the best-preserved Roman cities in the Middle East. The ruins are quite impressive and worth seeing.
  • Amman sites: you can see most of the interesting parts of Amman in less than a day. I’d recommend the King Abdullah Mosque (for sure), the Citadel, the Roman theatre, and a good bit of time spent just walking through Downtown.  (Amman is built on seven hills.  “Downtown,” the oldest part of Amman, is the area between the hills.  To get there, just walk downhill.)
  • Umm Qais: this Roman and later Ottoman town today offers some interesting ruins as well as a spectacular view over the Golan Heights. Now I’ve seen what everyone in the area has been squabbling over for decades.
  • Ajloun Castle: Saladin’s stronghold. The Crusaders tried and failed to capture Ajloun multiple times.  Signage is a bit poor but worth seeing for the history.

Things you can skip:

  • The Desert Castles: three “castles” out in the desert near Amman, called Qasr Kharanna, Qasr Amra, and Qasr Azrak.  The two former “castles” are actually a caravanserai and part of a larger palace complex, respectively.  Qasr Kharanna is basically a dusty stone building with little to no accompanying information or signage.  Qasr Amra is one of Jordan’s few UNESCO Heritage Sites due to the Umayyad-era frescoes; however, the frescoes are in such poor condition that Qasr Amra is eminently skippable.  Qasr Azrak is another dusty pile of rocks with little accompanying information.  At least you can climb around on the ruins at Azrak and be a kid again at heart.
  • Madaba: if you like mosaics and/or the Bible, Madaba is the place for you. If you aren’t into either of these, Madaba offers very little.
  • Nebo: similar to Madaba, if you’re into the Bible, Mt. Nebo is interesting. If you aren’t into the Bible, Mt. Nebo offers nothing more than a nice view.
  • Azrak Wetland Preserve: the remnants of a grand oasis that attracted hundreds of thousands of migratory birds until its water was drained to serve Amman in the 1980s. The wetlands are now 10% of their original size.  The most interesting things about the preserve are the bitter signs denouncing the people of Jordan in general for not caring about the destruction of the wetlands and the Ministry of Water in particular.
  • The Royal Automobile Museum in Amman: fascinating if you like old cars, boring if you don’t.
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