THE SOUTH REGION
A lonely reminder of former Crusader glory is Shawbak Castle, less than an hour north of Petra. Once called ''Mont Real'', Shawbak dates from the same turbulent period as Karak. It is perched on the side of a mountain, with a grand sweep of fruit trees below. The castle's exterior is impressive, with a forbidding gate and encircling triple wall. Despite the precautions of its builder the fortress fell to Saladin only 75 years after it was raised. Inscriptions by his proud successors appear on the castle wall.
Until recently it provided homes for nearly 2,000 years to local Bedouin families. The smoke deposits from their fires still encrust many ceilings.
Take the Desert Highway. At the Hashmiyyeh Bridge turn right. Shawbak is around 2.5 hours from Amman.
Often described as the eighth wonder of the ancient world, it is without doubt Jordan's most valuable treasure and the greatest tourist attraction. It is a vast, unique city, carved into the rock face by the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab civilization who settled here more than 2000 years ago, turning it into an important junction for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked China India, and southern Arabia with Egypt, Greece, and Rome.
The Nabataean Kingdom existed for centuries and Petra became widely admired for its refined culture, massive architecture and ingenious complex of dams and water channels. Ultimately, however, the Roman Emperor Trajan annexed the kingdom and, jealous of the Nabataean wealth and influence, forcibly diverted the lucrative caravan routes, thus by-passing Petra.
By the 14th century, Petra was completely lost to the West, and so it remained for almost 300 years. Then in 1812, a Swiss traveler, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt persuaded his guide to take him to the site of the rumoured lost city. Secretly making notes and sketches, he wrote, ''It seems very probable that the ruins at Wadi Musa are those of the ancient Petra.''
In order to preserve Petra, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, all tourists' facilities have been located in the town of Wadi Musa, next to the entrance of the site.
What To See:
The main attraction of Petra is naturally the city itself. A one day visit is an absolute minimum, and a week will still leave many areas unexplored. Maps and excellent guidebooks are for sale at the entrance of the Petra site, and tour guides are available to take you through the ancient city.
You can hire a horse or horse-drawn carriages to take you from the main entrance through the Siq to the Treasury. For elderly and handicapped tourists, the Visitors Centre can issue a special permit for a extra fee, so that the carriages can go inside Petra itself to its main attractions. After you have passed the Siq, once inside the actual city, hire a donkey or, for the more adventurous, be led on camelback. It is easier than you may think, and surprisingly comfortable! Remember to use caution, as the Petra site is large and can involve some fairly steep climbs!
Petra's most famous monument, the Treasury or Al-Khazneh, appears dramatically at the end of Siq. Used in the final sequence of the film Indiana Jones and the last Crusade, this towering façade is only the first of Petra's secrets…
Various walks and climbs reveal hundreds of rock carved tombs and temple facades, funerary halls and rock reliefs- enough to keep you here for many days. You will find a 3000-seat theatre from the early 1st century AD, a Palace Tomb in the Roman style, and Qasr al-Bint, the only freestanding building that survives of this ancient city.
A climb of over 900 rock-cut stairs will bring you to many visitors' highlight – the gigantic 1st century Al Deir (Monastery). A short walk on from Al Deir takes the visitor to several viewpoints overlooking Wadi Araba and the Israeli hills beyond.
A modest shrine commemorating the death of Aaron. Brother of Moses was built in the 13th century by the Mameluke Sultan, high atop Mount Aaron (Jabal Haroun) in the Sharah mountain range.
These sights are at their best in early morning and late afternoon, when the sun is lower and less powerful, giving warm tones to the multicoloured stone. You can view the majesty of Petra as Burckhardt saw it in 1812. Another way to see Petra as well as to experience the Bedouin culture of the region is to attend the Petra by night experience after the sun has set.
Another worthwhile sight is the Petra Archaeological Museum inside the site, which houses a wide variety of finds from Petra and the surrounding area.
More information on Petra and its other attractions are available from the Visitors centre at the entrance to the site.
An extensive range of accommodation to suit all budgets is available in and around the town of Wadi Musa, just outside the site of Petra, including excellent 5 and 4 star hotels. It is always advisable to pre-book accommodation.
Local hotels have delicious international restaurants. Inside the town are several restaurants which serve traditional cuisine, as well as several fast food outlets.
Apart from the artisans stalls inside the Petra site, there are many shops in Wadi Musa that sell local products, such as Nabataean-style pottery, silverware and beadwork jewellery. These are mainly produced locally by the Bedouin people.
Just outside the centre of Wadi Musa is a silver workshop, where local women make a delightful array of silver jewellery pieces, which are sold in several local shops.
The best time to see Petra is the early morning or late afternoon, so plan for an early start, or arrive the evening before and stay in one of the comfortable hotels near the site.
By bus: Daily bus services operate from Amman and Aqaba.
By car or taxi: Petra is a 3-hour drive south from Amman on the modern Desert Highway, or 5 hours on the more scenic Kings' Highway. Leave Amman from the 7th Circle and follow the brown signs, which are indicative of a tourist site.
‘‘Vast, echoing and god like''.
These are the words T. E. Lawrence used in describing Wadi Rum. The largest and most magnificent of Jordan's desert landscapes. This is a world of awesome beauty, virtually untouched by man.
A maze of monolithic rockscapes rise from the desert floor to heights of 1,750 meters creating a natural challenge for serious mountaineers. Hikers can enjoy the tranquility of the wadi floors, the vast, empty spaces and explore the canyons and water holes to discover 4000-year-old rock drawings and the many other spectacular treasures this vast wilderness holds in store.
Also known as ''The Valley of the moon", it was here that Prince Faisal Bin Hussein and T.E. Lawrence based their headquarters during the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans in World War 1. There is still much evidence to connect them with this amazing area.
What To See:
First and foremost, come to Wadi Rum to experience the desert itself. Wadi Rum is the classic picture of sandy desert, with sandstone Jabals (mountains) rising sheer out of the valley floor. They tower over a small Bedouin village, which includes the Desert patrol fort (now a Badiya or desert police station). The men of the Desert Police are a spectacle in themselves, traditionally dressed in khaki uniform, many still riding camels.
Wadi Rum Visitors' Centre has a souvenir shop with handicraft products of excellent design situated in the historical train wagons next to the Rest House.
There are several options for exploring Wadi Rum. Visitors should head for the Visitors Centre where, apart from visitors' facilities, they can hire a 4x4 vehicle, together with driver guide, and then drive for two or three hours to explore some of the best known sites. Alternatively they can hire a camel and guide. The duration of the trip can be arranged beforehand through the Visitors' Centre.
Once transport has been arranged, there are various excursions available. For example, a trip to Burdah Rock Bridge, the highest in Wadi Rum, via the Seven Pillars of Wisdom and many other interesting sights. This is a full day by car or an overnight trip by camel. There are many alternative routes. For more information please contacts us at Inquiry@explorejordantours.com
There are two types of accommodation available in the Wadi Rum area: camping and bed and breakfast. Campers can choose either the "wild campsites", without facilities and visitors must bring their own tents and equipment, or alternatively, there are Bedouin style campsites with all facilities and entertainment. Bed and breakfast facilities are available in Rum Village.
Camping trips can be arranged. Various travel agents in Amman, Petra or Aqaba, can tailor your trip according to your requirements and size of group. They can also supply transport (4x4 vehicles), guides, camels, food and equipment.
Because Wadi Rum is a nature reserve, there are no facilities available within the site. However, there are shops and a restaurant at the Visitors' Centre.
Wadi Rum makes a perfect combination before or after a visit to Dana, Petra or Aqaba.
By car or taxi: from Amman, head south on the Desert highway or the more-scenic Kings' Highway. Allow around four hours for the Journey. From Aqaba, head north – the journey time is less than one hour.
By minibus: There are minibus rides every day from Aqaba and Wadi Musa (Petra). You can inquire at your hotel.
On the shores of the Red Sea, Aqaba is greatly prized as Jordan's access to the world’s maritime trade and to the thousands of visitors who arrive each year by cruise ship. Aqaba brings a refreshing release from the rose-coloured desert to the north. Its sandy beaches and coral reefs are the most pristine on the Red Sea and Jordanians continuously work hard to preserve it as such.
Deep, azure water lies just off shore in Aqaba, offering kaleidoscopic marine life within easy reach. Exploring means a leisurely drive to a private spot and a short swim out to the reef. Unusual vertical currents and sea breezes make diving cool and pleasant, even in the heat of the summer.
Aqaba's reef is thriving. There is great variety in its coral and fish. Common species are branch coral, fungia, and montipora, and the rare archelia, a black, tree like specimen found at great depths and first discovered by the late King Hussein himself. Darting through the reef are clownfish, Picasso triggerfish, goby, sea anemone, parrotfish, pipefish, and countless others. Two of the most intriguing are the harmless, plankton-eating whale shark, the largest fish in the world, and the willowy garden eel, almost invisible in the sea grass.
Aqaba offers some of the world's best scuba diving. In addition, hotels and other beachfront operators can organize other water sports for you. There is snorkelling, fishing, water-ski-ing and sailing to pass the time or glass bottomed boats for those who prefer to keep marine life at arm's length.
There is a Mameluke Fort at the end of the corniche and, on an island in the middle of the Gulf, the castle of Saladin, enemy of Richard the Lionheart and de Chatillon. Last century, Arab forces with T.E. Lawrence wrestled the port from the Ottomans in one of the most dramatic victories of the Arab Revolt, their attack coming from the desert and not from the sea where the Ottoman guns were pointing!
Aqaba basks in delightfully warm weather nine months of the year during winter, spring and autumn. Summer is hot, but you can pace your activities and adapt to the climate, slowing down in midday, and reviving in the cool of the evening.
What To See:
- Aqaba Marine Science Station.
- Aqaba Birds Observatory.
- Museum of Aqaba Antiquities.
- Aqaba Archaeological Museum.
- Mameluke Fort.
Aqaba offers a wide range of accommodation, including excellent five, four and three star hotels most of which are well-equipped with all facilities necessary for meetings and conferences. The top hotels are located on the beach front and offer a full range of water sports and holiday activities, as well as tennis courts, spa and fitness, centres, boutiques and beauty shops.
More modest accommodation is also available within the town along with a campsite located on the beach. For more information on accommodation in Aqaba, please contact us at Info@explorejordantours.com
There are regular flights from Amman and other international airports to Aqaba; flight time from Amman is about 45 minutes.
Several companies offer charter bus tours and regular tours between Amman & Aqaba.
Aqaba, via the Dead Sea road is approximately a 3 hour drive south from Amman, via the Desert Highway, 4 hours; via the scenic kings Highway, 5 hours.