The Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea

If you travel to Jordan, you simply must visit the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea. This amazing region is world famous as a place of religious and spiritual reawakening. If religion isn’t your thing, you’ll still love the beautiful landscape, rich cultural history, and the uniqueness of the Jordan Valley. I’ll say it again – the Jordan Valley is NOT to be missed!

The Dead Sea lies within the Jordan Valley, and rests at a staggering 400m (1,312 ft) under sea level. This makes it, by far, the lowest point on the surface of our planet. This alone makes the Dead Sea incredibly unique, but the fascinating nature of this area does not stop here. Since the Dead Sea is so low, many rivers flow into it, including the iconic River Jordan. The rivers flow into the Sea constantly, but have nowhere to go from there. Slowly, the hot sun evaporates the water back into the atmosphere, leaving behind salts and minerals within the Dead Sea.

The water of the Dead Sea is world renowned for its healing and therapeutic properties. It is so chock-full of minerals and salts that it is almost black in color. The water of the Dead Sea is around 10x saltier than the salt waters of the Pacific and Atlantic, and is also incredibly rich in minerals such as magnesium, bromine, potassium, and many others. Dead Sea water is so mineral rich that it is used in countless high-end beauty products that are distributed all throughout the world. The Dead Sea has another fascinating feature – almost everything floats in the sodium-rich waters of this unique sea. An adult can float effortlessly on these mind bogglingly buoyant waters.

To the east, mountains flank the Dead Sea, and to west, Jerusalem’s rolling hills. These natural features frame the iconic Dead Sea in such a way that is truly breathtaking. Today, this area is sparsely populated, but it is thought to be the site of many biblical cities, including Sodom and Gomorrah. On the east coast of the Dead Sea, under the shadows of the nearby mountains, a major hub of activity has developed. This area has become the center of religious tourism in the area, and also attracts many nonreligious health and wellness tourists.

In recent years, the east coast of the Dead Sea has been rapidly modernized. Large luxury hotels have moved in, as have upscale restaurants, spas, and other tourist attractions. Somehow, however, the area has maintained its cultural roots and “vibe”. And, if you want a more rustic, authentic experience, you won’t have to travel far to escape the tourist traps. This area has a long history of attracting people from all over the world. It is said that both Cleopatra, the famous Egyptian queen, and King Herod the Great, often traveled to the Dead Sea, seeking spiritual enlightenment. Today, tourists, religion students, and celebrities alike flock to the Dead Sea, both for its physical properties and its rich cultural history.

Madaba Jordan

Madaba, known as “The City of Mosaics” is one of the most magnificent and historical places in all of Jordan.  Situated a mere 30KM from the capital city of Amman, Madaba is one of the first cities you will encounter along the ancient 5,000 year old Kings’ Highway.  This is one place not to be missed, when visiting Jordan!

Madaba, a city rich in history, is renowned for its many mosaics and beautiful sites.   The best known and one of the most beautiful mosaics can be found in the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George. It is known as the Mosaic Map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land.  This mosaic, in a church built in 1896 (atop the ruins of a much older Byzantine church from the 6th century), utilizes over two million pieces of brilliantly colored local stones.  It depicts the Holy Land, and hills, valleys, and lands as far away as the Nile delta.  Only a quarter of this piece of fantastic art has been preserved, but it is still quite a marvel to behold.

Other mosaics that call Madaba home can be found in the Church of the Virgin and The Apostles, and in the vast Archaeological Museum.  These murals boast vivid profusions of flowers, of wildlife, of birds, and scenes straight from mythology.  They feature terrifying beasts and humans. They even boast scenes of everyday life, such as the lives of everyday people hunting, fishing, and farming.  There are, quite literally, hundreds of murals in Madaba’s churches, public spaces, and even in the homes of the locals!  The University of Toronto has been excavating and exploring the regions of Madaba since 1986, and has found on the west acropolis an open field where the entire sequence of occupation can be found from modern day Madaba, all the way to the relics of the Early Bronze age.  Of the most significant finds in this field are a 7.5 meter fortification wall built sometime in the 9th century, and a Byzantine house built near the base of the fortification wall.

Jordan has taken an aggressive stance on restoration of and preservation of its historical and beautiful mosaics.  In accordance with that, the Archaeological Park and Museum encompasses what remains of several Byzantine churches, including the Church of the Virgin, and Hyppolytus Hall, which is part of a mansion dating to the 6th century.  In keeping with the preservation aspect of the mosaics, Madaba is home to the only school of its kind in the region, The Madaba Institute for Mosaic Art and Restoration.  This school teaches people how to make, repair, and restore mosaics.  The school is run under the patronage of the Ministry of Tourism.

Madaba is an ancient city, along an ancient road, with many ancient treasures, artifacts and stories waiting to be unearthed.  Tourists are quite warmly welcomed here, as are scholars and archaeologists.  You will be welcomed warmly here too, when you visit this city of antiquities, treasures, and beautiful, beautiful mosaics.  Madaba awaits!



Karak Jordan

Karak is a unique and fascinating ancient town, located east of the Dead Sea. Upon arriving in Karak, you’ll instantly feel like you’re in a movie set, or that you have managed to travel back in time several centuries. The vast majority of buildings in Karak were built in or around the 19th century, and although most have been renovated since then, the town still has a very ancient, archaic feel to it. Karak was an outpost of the Ottoman Empire during the late 18th and 19th centuries, and their legacy remains there today.

The centerpiece of this town is the amazing Karak Castle. This large fortress was built sometime around the 12th century, yet its history dates back far further than that. Karak, then called Kir Heres, is mentioned often in the bible. Although the existing Karak Castle was not built until 1161 AD, the area now known as Karak has been a military fortress for as long as we have had written history books. The history of Karak deserves a book of its own.

If you are interested in visiting Karak Castle and learning about the town’s history, the best way to go about it is to visit during one of their Sight and Sound events. The local tourism agency hosts these events regularly. During the event, the castle is lit up at night by 50 light posts, giving it an eerie yet beautiful appearance. Visitors are free to explore certain areas of the castle, inside and out. There is also a film screening of a documentary made about Karak Castle and the major events of the area, some taking place as early as 800 BC. The documentary highlights both the history and the modern uses of Karak Castle, and explains that Karak, as a town, is a beautiful example of how Muslims and Christians can coexist peacefully.

Karak Castle is not huge, as far as castles go, but it appears massive when seeing it in person. The castle measures approximately 220m long, 125m wide at the north end, and 40m wide at the southern end. It’s interesting to view the walls and architecture of the castle, and note the different types of stone used, as well as the different styles of masonry. As a place where violence occurred often, Karak Castle had to be repaired and renovated many times over the years. It also changed hands often, passing from one powerful empire to the next. Evidence of each empire’s legacy is still visible within the walls of the castle if you look hard enough.

While Karak Castle is by far the main attraction of this area, the rest of the town is well worth exploring. Karak is currently home to around 170,000 people, and is largely surrounded by ancient walls, which were used for preliminary lines of defense in wartime. Evidence of the city’s age is apparent everywhere you look, yet the city functions as a modern dwelling place. Overall, Karak is a beautiful, unique place with a rich history, making it a common tourist attraction.


Jerash Jordan

Jerash, an ancient city, second in destination choice only to Petra, boasts an unbroken history of human occupation dating well over 6,500 years.  Jerash lays on a plain, surrounded by wooded hills and basins of rich, fertile soil.

Jerash was conquered by Pompey in 63 B.C. and consequently came to be under Roman rule.  The city soon became one of the ten great cities of the Decapolis League.  The Golden Age of Gerasa (which was what Jerash was known as during Roman rule) came under Roman rule.  The city is now widely believed to be the one of the best preserved Roman towns in the world.  It lay hidden from view for centuries under tons of sand, but over the last 70 years has been excavated, explored, and preserved.  Jerash truly is an historical marvel.

Jerash is a unique blend of East and West.  The Graeco-Roman façade crumbles away to reveal a new culture wherein the Mediterranean traditions meshed with and coexisted for many, many years with the traditions of the Arab-Orient.  The languages, cultures, and architecture all display many signs of this coexistence and the region is all the richer for this development.

The modern-day Jerash is found to the East of the old ruins, and though the ruins and the modern city share a wall, care has been taken to see that no encroachment or destruction of the ancient ruins has occurred. There is a ten-gated Hippodrome in Jerash, where one can daily catch shows (for a ticket price) of a Roman Army Chariot Experience (RACE). The hippodrome is only one of the many historical buildings one can view in Jerash.

The Jerash Festival also draws in tourists and locals alike. The festival runs in July of each year, and offers concerts, ballet, theater, folk dances from around the world, handicrafts, and local foods from the region, all under the brightly floodlit ancient ruins of Jerash.

Jerash, believed by some to have been founded by Alexander the Great (or his General, Perdiccas) is a city of much blending, much turmoil, many occupiers, and a strong sense of melding of cultures. The historical significance of this city, as well as the beauty of its buildings and surroundings, make it a must-see while visiting Jordan.

Dana, Jordan

While visiting Jordan, be sure to include a trip to Dana on your itinerary.  Dana is one of the most historically significant sites in all of Jordan, and also the most biologically diverse area in the region.

Dana is the home of the Al Atata people, whose presence dates back nearly 400 years.  Original settlement in the area dates back over 6000 years however, with archeological finds dating to the Paleolithic, Egyptian, Nabataean, and Roman eras.  It truly is a historical wonderland!

The Dana Biosphere Reserve, near the city of Tafilah, is the largest nature reserve in Jordan.  It comprises 308 kilometers, and was founded in 1989.  The Dana Bisosphere Reserve crosses four bio-geographical zones: Mediterranean, Irano-Turanian, Saharo-Arabian, and Sudanian.  There are over 700 plant species, over 200 species of birds, and nearly 40 species of mammals that call the Reserve home.  The Dana Biosphere Reserve is also home to the most diverse plant life in the country, including three plants that can be found nowhere else in the world.  There are several animals who reside in this reserve who are considered endangered according to the Global Environment Fund.  The largest threat to these species remains hunting, and the Dana Biosphere Reserve works hard to aid in their long-term survival.

Dana is a fantastic place to visit, and is largely untouched by the throngs of tourists that flock to many of Jordan’s more popular cities. The climate is warm and pleasant, especially during the summer and fall, and the local people are very receptive of travelers, and are often excited to show you their home and teach you about their town’s culture and history.

Dana is a natural and historical treasure not to be missed when one travels in Jordan.  It is an archaeologist’s treasure trove, a nature lover’s paradise, and a place of deep significance for anyone who has an appreciation for a sense of history.

Azraq and Shawmari Jordan

Jordan is home to several nature and wildlife reserves, two of which are the Azraq Wetland Reserve and the Shawmari Reserve. Both of these reserves are quite beautiful, and unique in their own way. They are both open to visitors year round, although there are certain times of the year when sightseeing, bird watching, etc. is better than others. In this article we will break down the attractions of each reserve, both of which are not to be missed if you’re in the area!

The Azraq Wetland Reserve is located in the heart of the Jordanian Eastern Desert. Azraq is, and always has been, a wetland oasis in the middle of a dry, barren desert. As you could imagine, Azraq attracts a lot of wildlife – even more so now that the area is an official Reserve. Wildlife from all over the desert region come to Azraq to drink, feed, and mate. It is a safe place for commonly hunted wildlife, given that it is a Reserve.

Azraq Wetland Reserve is a popular place to bird watch, especially during certain seasons. This oasis rests within the migration patterns of many birds, and many often stop at Azraq to rest and mate. Some species spend the winter in the Reserve, while others continue their migration south. If bird watching interests you, be sure to visit at the right time of year. Experts recommend traveling to Azraq in spring, late autumn, or winter. Different species are more present at certain times of the year, so be sure to do your research if you’re looking to spot a certain bird! Also, spring is a great time to visit, when warm seasonal rains bring around 2,000 species of wildflowers back to life.

The Shawmari Reserve is considerably smaller than Azraq, but just as interesting, if not more so. Shawmari is the official breeding grounds for some of the rarest species in all of the Middle East. Here, in the safety of the official Reserve, endangered species like the Arabian Oryx, Onagers, and Desert Gazelles, grow and thrive. The Shawmari Reserve has been instrumental in bringing back several species from the brink of extinction.

The Shawmari Reserve is also home to a wide variety of desert vegetation. This is mainly due to the sheltered nature of the Reserve. Outside the walls of Shawmari, sheep and goat herds ravage plant life, but inside the sheltered walls, plants thrive. Shawmari is even home to a few species of plants not found elsewhere in Jordan.

The Shawmari Reserve serves an important role in the recovery of Jordan’s animal population. In order to fundraise and support their efforts, there are various tourist activities offered at the Reserve. There is a Visitors Center, which contains a small museum and informational displays. There is a Tourist Information Center, which is a general reception point for tourists seeking information about the area, and there is a small shop offering locally made souvenirs and keepsakes. There is also a large Observation Tower within the Shawmari Reserve, where visitors can go to spot wildlife and enjoy the fantastic view from up high. Lastly, the RSCN offers regular Oryx Safari Trips, which must be booked in advance.


As-Salt Jordan

As-Salt, one of the ancient cities of Jordan, is merely half an hour’s drive from the Capitol city of Amman, so be sure to plan to spend some time in this place of many wonders.

As-Salt, built on three hills, boasts a history of being ruled by many differing empires.  It is not known exactly when As-Salt was built, but is widely believed to have been built by the Macedonian’s during the reign of Alexander the Great. During the Byzantine Empire, As-Salt was the primary human settlement on the East Bank of the Jordan River. The town was destroyed, then rebuilt, and once again gained notoriety during the reign of the Ottoman Empire, when it was the regional capital.

Salt’s heyday was in the 19th century and arrived with the advent of traders from Nablus, who sought to expand their trade routes beyond the Jordan Valley.  This era saw the rapid expansion of Salt from a small village, to a more complex, architecturally beautiful city, with elegant buildings made of the local honey colored stone.

After World War II, it seemed that As-Salt would become the capital of the new Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, but a quarrel between the King, and some of the local notables, forces King Abdullah to move the capital to what is now the capital city of Amman.

Among the many reasons to visit As-Salt, besides the rich and complex history of the region, is the architecture.  Many influences can be found in the lovely buildings and homes of the area.  Architectural influences from the many occupying forces can be found, along with European influences.  Most of the homes have domed roofs, courtyards, and very tall windows in the arch shape.  Some of the more wealthy homeowners even had their ceilings frescoed by European artists, recalling some of the treasures of European architecture.

The As-Salt region is famed for its fertile soil and high-quality harvests.  Grapes, olives, tomatoes, and peaches are grown here in abundance.  The area, once called Saltus, is believed to have been the inspiration for the naming of the Sultana raisin.

There are many places of note to visit while touring the region: Roman tombs on the outskirts of town, the Citadel of Ayyubid Fortress, which  Saladin’s nephew built after 1198 A.D., and the many places that peddle handicrafts of beads and other local products.

As-Salt: rich in history, in beauty, and in religious and cultural ties that bind us all together. Be sure to spend some time here!

Amman Jordan

No visit to Jordan would be complete without a visit to the capital city of Amman. Visitors to this fascinating area will be met with a wide array of appealingly stark contrasts. For example, the downtown retail district is largely made up of new buildings, but everywhere there is evidence of the Amman’s ancient origins. The physical location of Amman lends itself to contrast as well, as it is situated directly between the dry desert and the lush Jordan Valley.

Amman is relatively temperate in climate, compared to the rest of Jordan. Because of the climate, coupled with Amman’s modern-day prosperity, a large percentage of Jordan’s citizens live in or near Amman. It is estimated that almost half of Jordan’s population lives within the immediate area of Amman. The people of Amman are generally very warm and welcoming, and are very receptive towards tourists and people wishing to learn about their culture or history.

When planning a trip to Jordan, Amman should definitely be on your list. In fact, it’s a great base of operations so to speak, even if you plan on exploring the rest of Jordan. The fertile Jordan Valley is just a short drive away from Amman, making it easy to take a day-trip to go hiking, biking, or simply sightseeing. Horse riding enthusiasts will find themselves at home in and around Amman, and will enjoy the plethora of riding centers in the area.

Amman itself has become somewhat touristy over the years, but it has still retained its rich culture and vibe. If you do wish to indulge in “western activities”, there are plenty of options in and around Amman. There are many water parks in the area, as well as paintball facilities, golf courses, and much more. Aerial sports are also very popular in Amman, with several companies offering activities such as skydiving, hot air ballooning, parachuting, and more!

If you plan on visiting Amman, be sure to plan a trip to the King Hussein National Park. Located on the western outskirts of Amman, this large National Park is home to a wide array of activities. Most notable perhaps is the Cultural Village, a museum of sorts that highlights the rich culture and history of Amman and Jordan as a whole. Visit the Cultural Village to learn about Arabic calligraphy, natural dye making, stone inscription, and various other traditional crafts and activities. Also in the King Hussein National Park you will find beautiful themed gardens, as well as an auditorium where events are regularly held. It’s easy to spend an entire day just exploring this park!

Amman is one of those cities that come alive at night. If nightlife is appealing to you, come to Amman! Nightclubs have become very popular in recent years, and seem to be popping up left and right. Amman is home to many international restaurants, many of which offer live entertainment at night. Theatres and cinemas host plays and screen films, both old and new. Street venders serve delicious delicacies day and night, and young people flock to nightclubs and bars. Overall, Amman is a very accessible and fun city to spend some time in!




Ajloun, Jordan

Ajloun, a city where nature and the cleverness of man intersect, is truly a marvel to behold. Ajloun is a city that is home to two of the most significant ecological and military sites in all of the Middle East. The wide-ranging forests of the Ajloun-Dibbine area and the Ayyubid castle at Ajloun (Qal’at Ar-Rabad) are historical and beautiful sites to visit while touring Jordan.

The Ajloun Castle was built in 1189 by one of Saladin’s generals to help control the iron mines of the region and also to deter the Franks from further invasion. The three main routes through Jordan were protected by the castle, thus preserving healthy trade between Jordan and Syria. The castle also sought to defend against the Crusaders, who literally spent decades attempting to capture the castle and the nearby village, but were defeated with the aid of the castle and its military might.

The original Ajloun Castle had four towers, arrow slits cut into the thickset walls, and was even surrounded by a moat that was nearly 15 m. deep. In 1215 the original castle was expanded upon, by the addition of a fifth tower in the southeast corner, and a decorative, functional bridge, which can still be seen today. In the 13th century, further expansion of the castle was planned, but the Mongols invaded at the last minute, and destroyed much of the original castle. The castle and the village were quickly recaptured by the Mameluk-Sultan Baybars, who rebuilt the fortress in very little time. The Ajloun Castle is certainly a historical site not to be missed.

The Ajloun region is also known for its verdant and lush pine forests. The Ajloun Nature Reserve is a 13 sq. km. reserve that is managed and maintained by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature. The Reserve was founded in 1988, when a captive breeding program for the propagation of the Roe deer was first introduced. The Ajloun woodlands consist mostly of oak trees, mixed with pine, pistachio, wild strawberry, and carob trees. These trees have long been important to the local populace, for their use in medicine, food, and for their beauty and wood usage.

The Roe Deer was sustained for millennia by the lush wooded areas of Ajloun. The Mediterranean-like climate and vegetation provided an ideal habitat for them, offering food, protection and space enough to expand their numbers. However, in the past 200 years, deforestation and the desertification of the region have led to drastic reduction in the numbers of Roe Deer (and the extinction around the turn of the century of the Persian Fallow Dear), which is why the Nature Reserve began its breeding program. Due to the success of the Nature Reserve’s program, and the increased ecological guardianship of the area, the numbers of Roe Deer have increased slightly.

Ajloun is a region where one can take a long hike through the Southernmost complete pine forest in the world, or enjoy a day or more touring ancient fortresses and soaking in the rich, complex history of one of the most significant regions on the globe.

Petra Jordan

Petra is an ancient city that is widely considered one of Jordan’s top tourist attractions. Some even go as far as to call Petra the 8th wonder of the world. While that hefty title certainly has to be earned, Petra is certainly a contender. This unique, beautiful city was built by the Nabataeans more than 2,000 years ago. The Nabataeans were an industrious Arab tribe who chose the location of their new city wisely. They placed Petra near the common trade routes of the silk and spice trades, intending for it to become a junction of sorts.

A less industrious people may have been deterred from their goal of building a city in a region of solid rock. But the Nabataeans were determined, and spent the next several centuries carving a city out of stone – literally. Buildings were carved out of cliff faces, with natural features selected carefully to save time and resources. Almost every building in the city was carved out of solid stone, a feat that would be quite impressive even with modern machinery and engineering practices. How a primitive tribe managed to achieve such a marvel of ancient engineering is up for debate.

One might argue that the Nabataeans spent too long building Petra, when they could have built a more traditional city using wood in a fraction of the time. On the other hand, Petra is still largely intact, unaffected by the elements, even over thousands of years. Any city built of wood more than 2,000 years ago would have been completely destroyed by now. Many houses in Petra have been destroyed by earthquakes over the years, but the large buildings and intricately carved tombs are still in amazing condition, given their age.

Petra is an overwhelmingly large city, especially considering that it’s carved out of cliff faces. You will need a good 3-5 days to truly explore the marvels of this beautiful city. If you’re pressed for time, there are a few must-sees in Petra. The first, and most commonly touted, is The Treasury at Petra, which is one of the most popular attractions in not only Petra, but Jordan as a whole. The Treasury, known as Al-Khazneh in the native tongue, is a massive structure, some 43m high and 30m wide, carved out of the sheer cliff face. Beautiful and intricate carvings cover the face of the Treasury, making it easy to just sit and stare at it for quite some time.

Another must-see in Petra is the Roman-style theatre, which is said to be able to comfortably seat around 3,000 people. There is also the Ad-Deir Monastery, which overlooks Petra from its lofty perch. There are also two full museums within the area; the Petra Archaeological Museum and the Nabataean Museum, both of which do an excellent job of bringing Petra’s rich and fascinating history into light, as well as displaying many archaeological finds discovered in the area. Petra is an amazing place to visit, with lots to explore. If you plan on visiting Jordan, add Petra to your list immediately!