See Jordan Through the Eyes of a Local

Muna Haddad As the founder and managing director of BARAKA, Muna develops tourism destinations around Jordan that help local communities benefit from visitors while sharing their culture and natural heritage. She’s often out exploring a village somewhere and sipping a cup of tea while getting to know the diverse cultures of the people of Jordan.

Umm Qais, Jordan
Tucked into the hilly northwestern corner of Jordan, Umm Qais (or ancient Gadara) commands grand views of the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights from the edge of its plateau. It was here that Jesus is said to have performed the miracle of casting demons out of men and into pigs. The town has existed since the Hellenistic period, but is best known for its Roman ruins, which once sat along a prosperous trade route. Many ancient streets and buildings are still intact, as are several Ottoman-era stone houses, which remained occupied all the way until the 1980s. Grandest of all the ruins is the black basalt theater, located along the wide Decumanus Maximus that still holds its original paving stones. Visitors should also be sure to check out the small museum in what was once the home of the Ottoman governor, as well as the celebrated restaurant in the old Ottoman school. In recent years, Umm Qais has become a pioneer of community tourism in Jordan, and it’s even possible to take cooking classes, nature walks, or tours with a local beekeeper after enjoying the ancient ruins.
Jabal Al Lweibdeh, Amman, Jordan
Artists have long flocked to Al Lweibdeh, which remains the preferred neighborhood of creative types, even as it admittedly gentrifies. My favorite lunch spot is Joz Hind. There’s no menu; Luca makes his creations from whatever seasonal, locally farmed products he’s in the mood for that day. Get your caffeine fix nearby at Rumi, a coffee shop that also serves a wide selection of tea (Yemeni, Moroccan, and beyond). Fairuz is a famous dessert shop across the street. It’s a casual set-up, and everyone you meet there has an interesting project in the works. Among the galleries, Darat Al Funun has earned a reputation as a leader in the national art scene. But you can’t really go wrong—between the cafés and street art, this is the perfect neighborhood to get lost in.
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