As you walk through the Siq to the Treasury at Petra, you cannot help but be in awe. Hand-hewn red sandstone buildings rise up into the clear desert sky, remembering ancient caravans of spice traders travelling far and wide to sell their wares. In the Roman ruins at Jerash and in the crusader castles and Byzantine mosaics along the King’s Highway, history is everywhere in this beautiful land. Travel through canyons and oases, stay with locals among the rock formations of Wadi Rum, and begin to understand why T.E. Lawrence loved this land.
Most people will start their adventure holiday in Jordan in the the capital Amman with its busy core but also its spectacular Roman ruins, a good museum and the buzz of mosques, souqs and coffeehouses, all watched over by a citadel.
From Amman it is an easy daytrip to Jerash, one of the city of the Roman Decapolis, known for its luxurious and lavish lifestyle. The ruins have an outstanding forum, colonnaded main streets, two theatres and an impressive temple of Zeus.
Travelling south along the Kings Highway, which meanders its way along lonely hilltops and through spectacular gorges, you will soon reach Madaba. The town is best known for its spectacular Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics, and home to a famous 6th century two million piece mosaic map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Nearby Mount Nebo is where tradition has it that Moses was shown the Promised Land before his death. The site has some beautiful mosaics also.
Further south, Kerak Castle is built on a rocky outcrop near the King's Highway, Kand the best preserved and most famous Crusader castle in Jordan. Roam its bulwarks, tunnels and halls and think about what life would have been like here, in the middle of the desert, constantly vigilant against hostile armies.
The undisputed highlight of Jordan is of course Petra, the Rose-Red City, rediscovered by Burckhardt over two centuries ago. Yes you will be awed when you first come eye-to-eye with the Treasury. But walk on and discover tombs and climb up and find magnificent views and vistas over a surreal red desert landscape. Find the half-forgotten staircases to the High Place of Sacrifice. Sit down and watch a magical sunset over the red-sandstone cliffs and canyons.
If seeing the Treasury at Petra is not spectacular enough, seeing it lit by the flickering flames of more than 2000 candles, their warm glow seeming to make the red-rose rock light up from within, is an unforgettable experience.
Described by T.E. Lawrence as "vast, echoing and God-like...", it is at Wadi Rum that red sandstone rocks reach up from the desert floor to the high desert sky. At its most dramatic early and late in the day, when the soft light and blue sky create a coppery effect on the sand, Wadi Rum is a must-see. Stay overnight and enjoy traditional Bedouin hospitality and a splendid meal of mansaf. After dinner, the adventurous may even have the chance to sleep out under the stars.
Drive deep into the red desert at Wadi Rum and perhaps follow in the footsteps of T.E. Lawrence, driving all the way through spectacular desertscapes to emerge at Aqaba, a small town on the Red Sea, and Jordan's only resort town. It is here you can snorkel and dive the corals and fish just beneath the surface.
From here turn back north and perhaps visit Dana Nature Reserve. Centred on the village by the same name, commanding spectacular views of the valley below, Dana is a hidden gem and home to sandstone escarpments sheltering numerous plants, animals and archaeological sites dating back 6000 years. Dana is the starting point of the trek to Petra - you hike through deep canyons and ancient wadis, along the sandstone escarpments of the high deserts, stumble upon forgotten archaeological sites, and count the millions of stars at night. This is trekking at its finest.
Hospitality in Jordan is legendary and whether you are passing through a city, stopping at a viewpoint or walking in the desert, you are bound to be invited for tea, or to share a meal. Dates and olives are staples in Jordan, but it is mansaf, a rich melange of rice, lamb and rehydrated yoghurt, which is considered Jordan's national dish. Another dish rooted in Bedouin culture is zarb, lamb or chicken, sometimes with herbs and vegetables, which has been buried with hot coals in the desert sand.
En-route to Amman, travel by the Dead Sea which has such a high salt content that almost no life survives in it. It is however impossible to sink and to float on its salty waters is a unique experience. Lay back and float, drink or newspaper in hand. Let your muscles relax - did you know you had that many?
The best time to visit Jordan is spring (February - May) and fall (September - November). If you visit in January and December, be prepared for cool weather, although snow is rare.