Off the beaten track in Jordan
By Martha Hales
Jordan packs a big punch for a small nation, with some fantastic sights to tempt you there. Chief among these is the world famous Nabatean lost city of Petra, a true wonder of the world. Obviously most visitors to Jordan have Petra firmly in their sights, and rightly so, but what if you like to balance out the major attractions with the road less travelled? Where in Jordan can you get off the beaten track and experience the country in relative solitude? We’ve come up with some suggestions for going off the beaten track in Jordan - the places for adventures without the crowds.
A sustainable tourism success story is waiting for you at Dana. The old stone village blends seamlessly with its surroundings and has been reinvigorated by this innovative programme which has helped local people to stay in the village because they are earning an income by providing visitors with goods and services. The nature reserve is a huge expanse of unusual rock formations interspersed with patches of scrubby greenery and plenty of wildlife. Ornithologists will be particularly interested in the 200 or so species of birds that make Dana their home. Set out on a guided hike with knowledgeable local guides to help you understand the environment you are walking through, or hike through deserted canyons to discover secret plunge pools among the twisted rocks. One thing you definitely won’t find at Dana are crowds.
To see some of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture in Jordan look no further than Salt, a handsome town to the north-west of Amman. Arranged over three hills, Salt’s impressive palaces are built from an imposing yellow limestone found locally. Many of the most renowned buildings were constructed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries by Ottoman merchants who grew wealthy as the town expanded and created fine palaces to reflect their status. Salt today is still a thriving town with a strong artisanal heritage and some good museums. It's not well known to tourists, however, so you can investigate its impressive artistic and architectural relics without the hordes.
The large block of Jordanian territory stretching north east of Amman is mainly barren and stony desert, but scattered an easy day’s drive from the capital lie a clutch of impressive seventh century strongholds which can be visited on a looping road. Although collectively known as castles, these imposing buildings were actually staging posts outside the city, mostly used for hunting or farming rather than anything defensive or military. The ‘Desert Castles’ make atmospheric and intriguing destinations, and each has its own unique appeal. Qasr Hallabat is notable for its pleasing site atop a hillock, its mosaic floors and its peaceful and untouristed atmosphere. Qasr Kharana is the most castle-like in appearance, solid and imposing with towers standing at each corner and an ancient, calm central space which would have been used as a desert staging post and meeting place by Bedouin tribes. The frescoes of Qusayr Amra, which was built as a bathhouse, are impressive and lively, and would have made an attractive decorative backdrop for the bathing caliphs. There are a further handful of ‘castles’ deep in the desert out towards the borders with Syria and Iraq, but these take some dedication and planning to get to as roads are not as good and a desert guide is a necessity to avoid getting lost.
This huge cleft running east from the Dead Sea is known as Jordan’s Grand Canyon. The scenic King’s Highway loops down into it and up the other side, offering a perfect viewpoint across this defining feature of Jordan’s geography. The Jordan Trail also traverses it, opening up an amazing perspective on this most impressive of natural features. The slot canyons within the larger wadi system are great destinations for anyone interested in canyoning, with guides and equipment all available locally and a brilliant mix of fast flowing water, boulders and waterfalls to challenge you. From the Dead Sea ends of Wadi Mujib you can access the Mujib Biosphere Reserve, a wonderfully wild area of around 200 kilometres that has been protected under the umbrella organisation of Wild Jordan. Despite its relatively empty appearance, the reserve is actually a natural haven for lots of interesting species from ibex and hyenas to snakes and raptors. The hiking possibilities are fantastic too, and a brilliant way to see the varied terrain of the area.
Make it happen
Set your sights on some of Jordan’s lesser known attractions, which make a great counterpoint to the more famous draws of Petra, Jerash and Wadi Rum. Our expert local operators are old hands at crafting itineraries based on each party’s particular requirements, so you can create a bespoke itinerary around your own priorities. Why not get in touch today and see what great suggestions they come up with for your Jordan adventure? To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898