So you are dreaming of going to Petra but don’t really know what else there is to do in Jordan? Here’s a quick introduction to the wide variety of sights that make Jordan worth a visit (or two) beyond the Red Rose City.
Once you’ve made up your mind about visiting the country, the Jordan Pass is a brilliant money saver, giving you not only a free visa but also free access to three dozen sites throughout Jordan.
Introducing the Jordan Pass
I only found out about the Jordan Pass 24 hours before entering the country. That was crucial because included in the pass is the visa fee of JOD40 (for short stays) or JOD10 for stays of at least three nights.
I bought my Expert Pass online and had the hostel print a copy of it. You don’t need the copy if you show the PDF on your phone. But I liked the idea of collecting stamps as I went along.
The pass is valid for 12 months from the date of purchase. Once activated at the first site (the border crossing doesn’t count) you have 14 days to visit the included attractions.
But is the steep price of at least JOD70 ($100) for the Wanderer edition really worth it?
Yes, it is if you intend to visit Petra!
First of all, the price structure for the Jordan Pass is as follows: JOD70 buy you access to Petra for one day (Jordan Wanderer), JOD75 for two days (Jordan Explorer), and JOD80 include a 3-day stay in Petra (Jordan Expert).
If you are staying only for two nights to see Petra, it will cost you JOD40 for the visa and JOD55 entrance fee into Petra. That’s a total of JOD95. The Jordan Pass covers both for a mere JOD75.
As I’ve laid out before, I absolutely recommend staying — at least — three days in the Lost City. That costs a cool JOD60. Plus a reduced visa fee of JOD10 this leaves you with JOD10 to spend on other sights in the country.
There is a list of currently about 40 sights covered by the Jordan Pass. Most of them only cost JOD2 to JOD5 to enter. But even those small amounts add up.
What to See in Jordan beyond Petra
Petra is without a doubt the number one attraction in Jordan. However, beyond Petra there are countless other things to discover throughout the country:
First of all, there is the classic sunset/overnight trip from Petra: Wadi Rum. The entrance to this Natural Reserve is included in the Jordan Pass.
Furthermore, Jordan’s West is part of Christian tradition with the site of Jesus’ baptism, Bethany Beyond the Jordan, and Mount Nebo, where according to tradition Moses died while looking at the Holy Land in the distance. Both sites can be reached by bus or on an organized tour from Madaba.
Madaba itself is known for its splendid Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics, among them one of the largest and best-kept maps of the Holy Land dating back to the 6th century. While the city is easily reached within an hour from Amman on the local bus via various stops along Madaba Road, the quaint little town could also serve as a base for those who find Amman too stressful. Tip: The taxi journey from Madaba to Amman Airport is shorter/cheaper than from downtown Amman.
Amman is a bustling city of four million. Like Rome, it was once built on seven hills and looks back at a long history spanning millennia. In Roman days, the city was called Philadelphia and was one of the Decapolis, the ten most influential cities in the Levant (modern-day Israel, Palestine, Syria, and Jordan). The Amman Citadel offers a brilliant assembly of evidence from different stages in Amman’s history — Neolithic to Roman to Byzantine to Ummayyad to the Crusaders and the Mamluks. After a massive earthquake in 749 devastated Amman like most of the other big cities in the region, it fell into decline and was only resettled in the 19th century. Interestingly enough, Amman was not even the first capital of modern Jordan. That was As-Salt.
Not much evidence remains of As-Salt‘s former status as Jordan’s capital. It is now a small town nestled in the valleys between three hills. Even if it ‘s hard to get there, the journey is worth it to admire the bright yellow limestone houses built by settlers from Nablus (Palestine) in the 19th century who discovered the Bedouin town as a convenient addition to their trading network.
Jerash is another one of the Decapolis, and one of the most magnificent archeological sites I’ve ever seen (yes, Petra is more striking, but this one is close). Destroyed by the 749 earthquake, the city was re-discovered in the 19th century and ever since archeologists have been working tirelessly to make the site accessible to visitors. You can wander here for hours. Across the huge oval square, through the cathedral and the Hercules temple, along the colonnaded cardo maximus, and one and on. Tip: Take the bus from Amman’s North Bus Station (Tabarbour) and get dropped before you reach downtown Jerash at the archeological site (the monumental arch that was the city’s gate is visible from afar).
The East of the country is covered by a desert. There you will find a dozen of the so-called Desert Castles built by the Umayyads in the 7th and 8th century to manifest their reign over the region. Visiting them can be challenging and is best done with a tour or by rental car. BTW: Just to make it more complicated, there are also so-called Desert Castles in cities like the one on the Amman Citadel or fertile land like on the shores of Lake Tiberias in Israel. Who said archeology was always logical?
For those who want to visit castles with a little more ease, there are the Shobak and Kerak (Karak) Castles, built by the Crusaders to conquer the Holy Land and used by the fabled Saladin to defeat the Crusaders. They are both easy to reach by bus (or car) from Wadi Musa/Petra. Kerak is the bigger one, in fact, one of the largest Crusader castles. But I liked the peace and quiet of Shobak.
I didn’t visit Ajloun Castle in the North (not far from Jerash). But this fortress erected by Saladin on the remains of a monastery is another mainstay in the day-trip-itineraries from Amman.
Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan’s largest nature reserve, is worth spending at least a day hiking the mountains and Wadis along the Great Rift of the Dead Sea. Dana is one of half a dozen ecotourism sites developed by The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature. The RSCN headquarters sits in the Wild Jordan Center in Amman, where a splendid café/restaurant offers not only delicious organic, locally sourced food (the date-mint smoothie is to die for!) but also one of the most beautiful views of the citadel and the city center.
Oh, and then there are two of the World’s largest flag poles (in Amman and Aqaba), snorkeling all year round in the Red Sea from Aqaba, and who could forget that Jordan is on the shores of the Dead Sea.
As you can see: there is plenty more to Jordan than Petra. I hope this list has inspired you to venture out and start planning your tour through the country.
- The official Jordan Pass website:jordanpass.jo
- Complete list of all attractions included in the Jordan Pass: jordanpass.jo/Contents/Jordan_Attractions.aspx
- Wild Jordan and The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature: wildjordan.com
- Dana Biosphere hikes: wildjordan.com/eco-tourism-section/dana-biosphere-reserve
- Don’t forget to check out my comprehensive guide on Petra, including info on transport, food, sleeping, hiking routes, etc.
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