I have been to Jordan twice, and both trips were memorable experiences filled with natural wonders. The highlights for first-time travelers include Wadi Rum, Petra, and the Dead Sea. The beautiful red, desert sands of Wadi Rum are impressive, and one cannot help but think of Lawrence of Arabia while traversing the dunes. I enjoyed its sunsets and would recommend being there at that time.
On my first trip, my friend and I hired a guide to take us to Wadi Rum, and he included a stop at a typical Bedouin camp for tea. Judging from their attire, Bedouins might, at first glance, appear to be out of a different age, but don’t be surprised to see a satellite TV dish or mobile phone nearby. After viewing a sunset, we continued on to Petra and overnighted at Taybet Zaman (from $95/night), where Bill Clinton once stayed. This very simple boutique hotel has a Turkish sauna that is enjoyable after a day of touring.
The next day, after rising early we took a 15-minute taxi ride to Petra. This is one of those magical places that a visitor won’t easily forget. Our guide reviewed the history of this once vibrant, ancient Nabataean city and provided a bit of entertainment when he played the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark. The movie was partly filmed in Petra, and I sensed a whiff of Indiana Jones there.
The third must-see site in Jordan is the Dead Sea. As a result of the region’s oil money and growing luxury tourism, development has taken off along the Dead Sea, with new hotels sprouting up every year. The best, offering a smart-splurge stay, is the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea (from $226/night). This is truly a palace, but the rates are not exorbitant. Alternatively, one can overnight at the hotel and explore Petra on a day trip. Set aside time to lounge by one of the Kempinski’s pools, and don’t miss the experience of smearing mud on your skin and then taking a dip in the sea. Float effortlessly in the salty water, and enjoy the serene arid surroundings.
Another way to explore the Dead Sea is by visiting the Jordan Valley Marriott Dead Sea Resort & Spa (from $210/night; marriott.com), which offers day passes, or the O Beach Dead Sea (day passes from $35; obeach.net/jordan), a beach club that attracts a trendy set of visitors.
Travelers who have more time or are returning for a second visit should consider staying for a couple of nights in Amman to explore this emerging cosmopolitan capital in Jordan’s northern region. Amman’s highlights include the Citadel, the Roman amphitheater, and the Royal Automobile Museum (royalautomuseum.jo), where King Abdullah II showcases his father’s love affair with cars. For diversions in Amman, I recommend Yoshi (atico-jo.com/yoshi.htm), a restaurant with sushi that is better than most in New York; Books@café (booksatcafe.com) for drinks and dessert; strolling around Rainbow Street; and meandering around Abdoun, a chic part of town with shops, restaurants, and cafés.
My friend and I stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel Amman (from $297/night; fourseasons.com/amman), and we seemed to be among just a few leisure tourists. The hotel is a beautiful property with rates that make it a good value.
People say Amman is the newest up-and-coming cosmopolitan city in the Middle East, after Beirut, Tel Aviv, and Dubai. An educated and moneyed class of former expats have come back to energize the city. Amman is a bit like Los Angeles; everything is a car ride away. The city is also a great launching point for tours to the north of Jordan. A long day trip would include visits to the medieval fortress of Ajloun Castle and Umm Qais, Roman ruins with amazing views of the Jordan Valley, the Golan Heights, and Israel’s Lake Tiberias. Driving between each site takes about an hour. It’s a lot of ground to cover, so if need be, skip touring the castle, and if possible, make sure to hire a driver who is also a good guide.
I found the people in Jordan to be exceedingly nice and hospitable, and most in Amman speak English. The society does have conservative cultural aspects. One will see many more covered and veiled women in Amman than in Beirut. Yet there is a stylish set just the same; go to one of the new, hopping nightclubs to see it.
Politically, Jordanians are decidedly moderate, a position I hope others will adopt in the region. One can travel to Jordan on a nonstop flight from New York. Many Americans, however, arrive via Israel and thereby visit both countries. Jordan maintains peace with Israel but cross-border tourism is minimal. Travelers from each country need a visa to visit the other. It’s possible to enter Wadi Rum through the border crossing at Eilat in Israel’s south or via the King Hussein Bridge in the West Bank, but beware of closing times.
From the Fall 2010 issue of Smart Luxury Travel magazine by ShermansTravel.com.
For general trip-planning information, see our Jordan Travel Guide.