For travelers fascinated by the stories of the Old and New Testaments, Jordan is rich with the settings of many of those tales. Here you can gaze into the Holy Land from the same summit where Moses did more than 3,000 years earlier. A few miles upstream from the Dead Sea, you can wade into the stretch of the Jordan River where John the Baptist met Jesus around 2,000 years ago. At these sites and others, those initial events were followed by centuries of pilgrims. Perhaps as intriguing as the biblical events themselves are the many churches, chapels, and shrines constructed by later Byzantine clerics and crusading knights.
This itinerary by A & S Signature Journeys of the Highlights of Jordan isn’t limited to biblical sites. Ancient temples to Artemis, Hercules, and Zeus are also included as stops, as is the country’s most famous and mysterious “lost” city, Petra, tucked into the folds of sandstone canyons. The galleries of the Jordan Museum, the ruins of the Umayyad palace in the Amman Citadel, and the glittering domes of mosques are introductions to—and reminders of—Islam’s role in Jordan today.
And, finally, there are also the landscapes that have inspired countless spiritual seekers and mystics, from the towering outcroppings of Wadi Rum to the Dead Sea, where the shores are lined with natural sculptures of salt. Whatever your faith, you’ll likely soon agree that Jordan is a land of magic and miracles.
Itinerary / 7 DAYSPLAN YOUR TRIP
DAY 1Arrive in Amman
The 85-room hotel is just 15 minutes from many of Amman’s historic sites, like the Amman Citadel and the Roman Theater. Recover from your journey poolside or by enjoy a drink at the Bar Rouge or the Grand Lounge.
If you’re up for some exploring, the Amman Citadel has been the heart of the city since antiquity, when it was known as Philadelphia. The Roman and Byzantine empires have left their mark here—the former most notably in the Temple of Hercules. The building measured roughly 80 feet by 100 feet, though today all that remains standing are some columns and several fingers from the hand of a monumental statue of the god. It’s enough, however, to imagine how the temple would have appeared at its peak and before the builders of a nearby Byzantine church took marble from a pagan religious building to reuse it in a Christian one.
The enormous Roman Theater is nearby and dates from the same period as the temple—the second century C.E. It seated 6,000 people and is still used today for performances. After exploring the citadel, have dinner in Amman and then make it an early night so you can awake rested for your first full day exploring Jordan.
DAY 2Travel to Petra
The first stop is the church of St. George, to the northwest of central Amman in Madaba. The current building dates only from the end of the 19th century, but during construction an enormous mosaic panel from an earlier 6th-century Byzantine church was unearthed. The original mosaic may have contained as many as two million tiles. What has survived the ages is the earliest known map of the Holy Land, stretching from Egypt to Jordan, with Jerusalem given prominence. It may have once been a tool for pilgrims—a guide to where they would be traveling—but for you it will be a preview of some of the sites you’ll see this week, like the Jordan River, the Dead Sea, and the biblical land of Moab.
You’ll continue on to Mount Nebo, one of the holiest sites in the Middle East. It was here that Moses stood and gazed out onto the Holy Land; like he did, you’ll be able to see the Jordan River and Jericho from its peak. On an especially clear day, you may even see as far as Jerusalem. After taking in the views, visit the ruins of a Byzantine chapel, constructed in the fourth century to mark the spot where Moses was believed to have died. It, too, has some notable mosaics and you can also stop at an olive tree planted by John Paul II during his visit to Mount Nebo in 2000.
Afterwards, you’ll stop at the castle at Karak, which dates from the 12th century. One of the largest Crusader castles in the Levant, it was built atop earlier citadels and reflects an intriguing mix of European (especially French), Byzantine, and Arab fortifications and decorative elements. While it was only used by knights from the Kingdom of Jerusalem for a little over 40 years, the town of Karak remains predominantly Christian. Many residents trace their roots, and their faith, back to the days of the Byzantine Empire.
Your final destination for the day is Petra, where you’ll check into the Petra Guest House. It’s impossible to get any closer to the legendary site you’ll be exploring tomorrow: The hotel sits right next to the orientation center and entrance. After dropping your bags in your room, you might want to get a drink at a bar that bills itself as the oldest in the world, since it incorporates an ancient Nabatean tomb.
The magic of Petra, however, is more than just the beauty of its individual buildings. It’s the entire setting that’s unforgettable, with the carved facades of classical columns flush with the walls of sandstone cliffs, creating “a rose-red city, half as old as time,” to borrow the words from “Petra,” a poem by the 19th-century English writer John Burgon.
Surprisingly, while Burgon captured the atmosphere of Petra, he never actually visited the site. Who knows what lyrical lines might flow from your pen after walking along its twisting gorges and admiring iconic structures like the famous Treasury. Here nature and architecture combine to create a site that feels mythical and mystical at once.
After a day exploring the ruins, you’ll return to the Petra Guest House for dinner.
DAY 4Wadi Rum and the Dead Sea
For many in the West, Wadi Rum is associated with T.E. Lawrence—that is, Lawrence of Arabia—who spent much of 1917 and 1918 in this part of Jordan. Wadi Rum is, in his words, a landscape that is “vast, echoing, and god-like”—a place where one feels self-conscious of one’s “smallness in the presence of such stupendous hills.”
You’ll tour Wadi Rum with Bedouin guides who know this desert better than anyone, having called it home for centuries. As you make your way along hiking trails, your guides will lead you to petroglyphs that are millennia old and springs that are essential to life in this arid part of the world.
After lunch, you’ll continue on to the Dead Sea—sitting 1410 feet below sea level, it’s the lowest spot on earth. Much as the landscapes of Wadi Rum have inspired poets and mystics, the same is true of the Dead Sea. From the prophet Ezekiel to the Jewish community of Essenes, this arid and windswept place—and the unusual sea at its heart—have long drawn those on spiritual quests. A look at the shoreline of the sea helps explains the attraction, with captivating natural sculptures of salt formed as the water evaporates under the desert sun. (This phenomenon is, perhaps, behind the story of Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt.)
You don’t, however, need to be on a spiritual quest to enjoy an afternoon of bobbing atop the water; your buoyancy enhanced by a salinity eight times greater than that of the ocean. While Essenes came here to ponder life and God, others—including Cleopatra—have praised the Dead Sea for its restorative properties. You have an afternoon free, and whether you want to spend it meditating or enjoying a mud bath is up to you.
Tonight you’ll sleep at the Movenpick Dead Sea Resort, an oasis with 20 acres of lush gardens and an enormous spa that includes almost 65,000 square feet of various pools, hammams, and treatment rooms.
DAY 5Bethany Beyond the Jordan
The spiritual significance of the site means it also provides glimpses into Christian life over the centuries. The area is dotted with the ruins of churches, chapels, monasteries, and caves used by hermits and built mostly from the 4th to the 15th centuries—a long history that explains why UNESCO recognized it as a World Heritage Site. Bethany Beyond the Jordan is also, however, a testament to a faith that endures to this day. Christian pilgrims travel here from around the world to either be baptized themselves in the Jordan or simply to spend time near the location of this essential moment in Jesus’s life. The area is also significant in Judaism, as this is where the prophet Elijah is said to have ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire.
After this excursion, you’ll return to the resort for another afternoon on the shores of the Dead Sea.
Gerasa lives up to its nickname, the City of a Thousand Columns, despite a devastating earthquake in the 8th century. Fortunately, much of the site has been meticulously restored, allowing visitors to see the urban planning that characterized Roman cities, with their colonnaded streets, squares, baths, and theaters—an influence that continues to shape our cities to this day.
Afterwards you’ll travel from ancient Gerasa back to modern Amman. A panoramic tour this afternoon will include a chance to see more of the city’s most famous landmarks and inviting neighborhoods before a final dinner.
DAY 7Return Home
The country may be small on a map, but it’s bursting with must-visit sites. You’ll likely be pondering how to see them again, and to tour others—from more Crusader castles to some of the country’s many nature reserves. Jordan will be awaiting your return.