Petra

Jordan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites

The Wadi Rum Protected Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the south of Jordan. Photo taken by Jurick Wessels,  @jurickwessels on Instagram .

The Wadi Rum Protected Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the south of Jordan. Photo taken by Jurick Wessels, @jurickwessels on Instagram.

There are five UNESCO World Heritage sites in Jordan; four of the sites are considered cultural sites and the fifth is a mixed site, qualifying as both a natural and a cultural site. In this post, we’ve written a little bit about what makes each site special as well as how to get to the site. If you have any questions, or if you’ve visited the site already and you want to share some tips for future visitors, please send us a message.


Petra

Petra’s Treasury after dark. Photograph by Mustafa Waad Saeed, distributed under  CC BY-SA 4.0  license.

Petra’s Treasury after dark. Photograph by Mustafa Waad Saeed, distributed under CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

What is it?

The ancient city of Petra is the most popular tourist destination in Jordan and it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. What makes Petra stand out is the ancient tombs which were carved out of the sandstone rock formations when Petra was a thriving city and center of trade between Arabia, Egypt and Syria-Phoenicia, whose merchants carried goods from all over Africa and Eurasia. The most famous sites at Petra are known as The Treasury and The Monastery.

The Monastery at Petra. Photograph by Tom Neys.

The Monastery at Petra. Photograph by Tom Neys.

The Treasury is Petra’s most famous tomb due to its size, location, state of preservation, and appearance in popular culture. In film, The Treasury is most well-known for its appearance as the entrance to the temple housing the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Some visitors to Petra are surprised to learn that the inside of the tombs are architecturally uninteresting. Although you aren’t permitted to enter The Treasury, you can enter other tombs and have a look around. The name ‘The Treasury’ comes from the belief that the urn at the top contains an ancient treasure. Groups have tried to access the loot by shooting through the urn however scans have shown it to be solid sandstone. If you look closely, you can see the damage caused by the bullets.

The Monastery is an extremely impressive architectural site, especially at sunset. The Monastery is a bit far from from the Treasury and even further from the Visitor Center. If you are planning to visit the Monastery (which you should!), consider wearing good walking shoes. There are many other lesser known but interesting and beautiful sites to explore at Petra. Make sure you leave enough time to visit most of them. Too many visitors leave only enough time to visit The Treasury but you could easily spend two days covering the entire site.  

How do I get there?

Due to its popularity, it is quite easy to get to Petra from anywhere in Jordan. Petra is located next to the town of Wadi Musa in the south of Jordan, along the King’s Highway. From Wadi Rum, there is a tourist bus that departs each morning around 9:00 AM and travels to Wadi Musa. The cost is 8 JOD per passenger (Oct 2018). If you want go to Petra later in the day, a taxi from Wadi Rum to Amman costs 40 JOD. From Aqaba, you can take the tourist friendly JETT buses, the cheaper local mini-buses, or arrange a taxi for around 60 JD.


Bethany Beyond the Jordan

Bethany_Beyond_The_Jordan.jpeg

What is it?

Bethany Beyond the Jordan, also known as Al-Maghtas is believed to be the location where Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptist. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. This site is located in the Jordan Valley, to the east of the Jordan River. It is about 9 km from the coastline of the Dead Sea. The site is split into two areas; (1) Tell Al-Kharrar and (2) and the area close to the river where the churches of Saint John the Baptist were located.

Russian President Vladimir Putin visiting Bethany Beyond the Jordan (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Russian President Vladimir Putin visiting Bethany Beyond the Jordan (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Tell Al-Kharrar, also known as Jabal Mar-Elias (Elijah’s Hill), is thought to be the location of Elijah’s ascension as described in the Hebrew Bible. As the story goes, Elijah was a prophet and was not on good terms with King Ahab in Israel. When Elijah grew old he, along with his successor Elisha, decided to leave Israel and settle in modern-day Jordan. Upon arrival at the Jordan River, Elijah parted the waters with his cloak allowing them safe passage. Once they reached the other side, a fiery chariot is thought to have swooped down and carried Elijah to Heaven.

Jesus of Nazareth is thought to have travelled from Nazareth to come to John to be baptized. Despite John’s initial objections, he agreed to baptize Jesus at Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Ever since, this historical and spiritual site has been a popular place for pilgrims, hermits, and monks to reside. During the Six Day War in 1967, the site became off limits to pilgrims due to both banks of the Jordan River being militarized. In 1994, Prince Ghazi of Jordan restored access to the site. Ever since, it has been a popular site for pilgrims, tourists, and archaeological investigations. In 2000, Pope John Paul II became the first pope in history to visit the site. Since then, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have both visited the site along with many world leaders and members of royal families including Vladimir Putin and Prince Charles of the United Kingdom.

How do I get there?

Bethany Beyond the Jordan is close to the Dead Sea and thus it is best to combine a visit to both sites. Buses travel between the Dead Sea resort area to this site each day. If you are not intending to stay in the area, this UNESCO site is not too far from Amman and a taxi can be hired for a reasonable price. Further, Bethany Beyond the Jordan is not far from the Allenby Bridge Border Crossing which connects Jordan with the Israeli city of Jericho. Free entry to Tell Al-Kharrar is included with the Jordan Pass.


Quseir Amra

Quseir Amra. Photograph by JoTB, distribute under  CC BY-SA 3.0  license.

Quseir Amra. Photograph by JoTB, distribute under CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

What is it?

Quseir Amra is a fortress built by the Ummayads in the 8th century. It is one of Jordan’s five desert castles, all of which are located in the remote, north-eastern part of the country. Today, very little of the castle remains but luckily, Quseir Amra was not only used as a military post. The Ummayad caliphate had built what is known as a ‘pleasure-palace’ which today remains very well preserved.

Animal playing a stringed instrument at Quseir Amra. Photo taken by Simon Bowden,  @sj_bowden on Instagram .

Animal playing a stringed instrument at Quseir Amra. Photo taken by Simon Bowden, @sj_bowden on Instagram.

Inside the Pleasure Palace, you can see frescoes painted on the walls which depict hunting scenes, animals and birds, and inscriptions in both Arabic and Greek. In the apodyterium (the changing room) you can see an interesting painting with animals playing musical instruments and engaging in other human activities.

Quseir Amra was abandoned when it was rediscovered by the Czech explorer Alois Musil in 1898. Although you may want to thank him for the discovery, you may want to reconsider. He tried to steal one of the most important paintings inside known as the Painting of the Six Kings, permanently damaging it in the process.

How do I get there?

Quseir Amra is located in a remote area, not close to any town or village that you are likely to find yourself in during your visit to Jordan. If you don’t have your own vehicle, the easiest way to visit this site is to hire a taxi in Amman. The journey should take about one hour. Entry to this site is free with the Jordan Pass. Without the pass, the entrance fee is 3 JOD.


Um er-Rasas

Mosaic at Um er-Rasas. Photograph by Professor Bjorn Anderson.

Mosaic at Um er-Rasas. Photograph by Professor Bjorn Anderson.

What is it?

Um er-Rasas (also known as Kastron Mefa'a) is an ancient settlement close to Madaba that was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. This archaeological site was once inhabited by the Romans, Byzantines, and Early Muslims. The site began as a Roman military camp in the 3rd century and it became a town by the 5th century. The site contains the remains of 16 churches and remains largely unexcavated.

Stylite tower at Um er-Rasas. Photograph by Professor Bjorn Anderson.

Stylite tower at Um er-Rasas. Photograph by Professor Bjorn Anderson.

What makes Um er-Rasas special is its mosaics. The most important mosaic is the floor of the Church of Saint Stephen. This mosaic is perfectly preserved and wasn’t discovered until after 1986. The central scene in the mosaic is a fishing and hunting scene. A side panel contains a map of the main cities in the region including Philadelphia (Amman), Madaba, Kerak, Gaza, Jerusalem, and more. The mosaic is the largest in Jordan and the work dates back to the year 785 AD.  

Another interesting aspect of Um er-Rasas is the Stylite tower. This tower is around 14m tall and is believed to have been used by Stylite monks as a place to live. It is believed that the monks lived in a room at the top of the tower. The entrance to the tower was not located at ground level and a ladder would have been required to access it. The tower is decorated with Christian symbols from the Byzantine era.

How do I get there?

It is not possible to reach Um er-Rasas by public transportation. The closest city to Um er-Rasas is Madaba where it is possible to arrange a taxi. If you are driving, the distance from Madaba to Um er-Rasas is around 30 km and the journey takes about 40 minutes. Um er-Rasas is an included attraction with the Jordan Pass. Without the Jordan Pass, the entrance fee is 3 JOD. If you aren’t able to visit Um er-Rasas, you can visit the site using Google Maps.


Wadi Rum Protected Area

Wadi Rum Landscape - Photo taken by our guest Hilda Berenice Hernandez Ramirez from Mexico.

Wadi Rum Landscape - Photo taken by our guest Hilda Berenice Hernandez Ramirez from Mexico.

What is it?

Our guide Raid Abdullah on top of one of Wadi Rum’s peaks. Photo taken by our guest Cristi Trufas from the USA.

Our guide Raid Abdullah on top of one of Wadi Rum’s peaks. Photo taken by our guest Cristi Trufas from the USA.

The Wadi Rum Protected Area was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011 and it is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Jordan that meets the criteria in terms of both natural and cultural excellence. Wadi Rum is a desert area filled with a vast number of impressive geological structures including gorges, natural rock bridges, sandstone cliffs, mountains, caves, and more. Three of the tallest mountains in Jordan are located within the Protected Area. Jabal Ram and Jabal Umm Ishrin, the second and third tallest peaks, are located near to the Wadi Rum Village. Jabal Umm ad Dami is the tallest mountain in Jordan and it is located in the southern extreme of the Wadi Rum Protected Area, near to the border with Saudi Arabia.

Wadi Rum’s cultural significance comes from its collection of petroglyphs, inscriptions, and other archaeological findings made on the site. People have been living in Wadi Rum for more than 12,000 years and have left their mark on the landscape by leaving behind more than 25,000 rock carvings and 20,000 inscriptions. The inscriptions are made in four different Northern-Arabian scripts and demonstrate the transition from hieroglyphs to alphabet. The most popular inscriptions are the Anfaishiyya Inscriptions which are visited on our Wadi Rum Jeep Tour. Also, Wadi Rum is specifically mentioned in the Quran as the location where Iram, and the tribe of ‘Ad lived.   

If you are planning to visit Wadi Rum, please click here to learn more about our Wadi Rum Tours.  

How do I get there?

Travelling by Camel in the Wadi Rum Desert. Photo taken by Jurick Wessels,  @jurickwessels on Instagram .

Travelling by Camel in the Wadi Rum Desert. Photo taken by Jurick Wessels, @jurickwessels on Instagram.

Wadi Rum is most easily accessed from Aqaba and Petra. The journey from Aqaba to Wadi Rum is around one hour. There is a local bus that travels between Aqaba and Wadi Rum each afternoon. If you would like to come by taxi, we can arrange a taxi for you starting at 25 JD. From Petra, there is as early morning tourist bus each day that travels to Wadi Rum. You can reserve a seat on this bus by contacting your accommodation in Wadi Musa. Taxis can be arranged for 40 JD. If you are coming from somewhere else in Jordan, or from the Wadi Araba Border Crossing with Eilat, please send us a message and we will let you know your options for getting to Wadi Rum.


Wadi Rum Nature Tours offers tours and accommodation in the Wadi Rum Desert, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the south of Jordan. If you are planning a trip to Jordan, click here to read about our tours and our accommodation in beautiful Wadi Rum.

Five Must-See Places on Your Trip to Jordan

Temple of Hercules, Amman Citadel. Photo taken by Adnan Ahmed,  @adnanahmed9 on Instagram .

Temple of Hercules, Amman Citadel. Photo taken by Adnan Ahmed, @adnanahmed9 on Instagram.

At Wadi Rum Nature Tours, we’ve decided to start writing blog posts which help our guests plan their visit to Jordan. This is our first ever post! If you have any questions about the information that you see in our articles, or you have an idea for an article, please send us a message. We hope you find this article helpful when you are planning your trip to our country.

For our first article, we’ve decided to write about our top five destinations to visit in Jordan. Of course, there are many great things to do in Jordan that didn’t make the list, but we believe that this list is a great starting point for people who are trying to plan their trip. We have included lots of links in this article so that you can read more about whatever piques your interest. We hope you enjoy :).

The Wadi Rum Desert

Wadi Rum Jordan Landscape

Unsurprisingly, Wadi Rum is our number one place to visit in Jordan. When you visit Wadi Rum, you get a perfect combination of natural beauty and Bedouin hospitality. It is the best place to experience breathtaking desert landscapes and also learn a bit about the Jordanian and Bedouin culture. Wadi Rum is the best place to try unique Bedouin cuisine and to meet people who still live a nomadic lifestyle. If you come to Jordan, there is no doubt that Wadi Rum has to be part of your itinerary!

Wadi Rum is also known as the Valley of the Moon and it is the largest wadi (valley) in all of Jordan. Today, the Wadi Rum Protected Area covers an area of 720 km2 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Wadi Rum is known for its towering sandstone cliffs, imposing sand dunes, wide valleys, ancient petroglyphs and inscriptions, and of course, the friendly local people!  

The most popular way to explore Wadi Rum is by Jeep however, this is not the only way to explore our desert. You can also visit the sites on the back of a camel or you can hike, scramble, or go rock climbing on the many mountains found in Wadi Rum. If you have the time to stay overnight in the desert, you can sleep in a Bedouin camp (you can see some photos of our camp here) or you can sleep in the open air under the starry desert sky. The lack of light pollution in Wadi Rum makes it a perfect destination for astrophotography.

Several popular Hollywood films have been filmed in Wadi Rum including Lawrence of Arabia with Peter O’Toole, The Martian with Matt Damon, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Wadi Rum is a popular filming destination for movies which take place in outer space due to the similarities between the landscapes in Wadi Rum and on Mars.

I was in awe of that place. It was really, really special. One of the most spectacular and beautiful places I have ever seen, and like nothing I’ve ever seen anywhere else on Earth.
— Matt Damon talking about filming The Martian in Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum is easily reached from Aqaba, Petra (Wadi Musa), and from the Wadi Araba Border Crossing with Israel. From Aqaba, there is a daily local bus which makes one trip to Wadi Rum each day. From Wadi Musa, there is a tourist bus which departs each morning and arrives in Wadi Rum around 8:30 AM. We can arrange a taxi to Wadi Rum for you from anywhere in Jordan. Let us know your transportation needs when you make a booking, and we will tell you everything that you need to know.

Sunset Wadi Rum Desert Jordan

Petra

Petra Treasury

Petra is an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Jordan. According to the Jordan’s Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities, over 620,000 tourists visited the ancient city in 2017 making it by far the most popular tourist destination in Jordan. In addition to being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Petra was named as one of the New7 Wonders of the World in 2001 along with other famous places like Chichen Itza in Mexico and the Taj Mahal in India.

Petra was an ancient city built by a group of people called the Nabataeans. The Nabataeans were an Arab people and Petra was an important location for the caravan trade. It is believed that Petra was built in the 4th century BC however by the beginning of the Islamic Era, the city was more or less abandoned with only a handful of Bedouins living inside. Petra was unknown to the Western world until 1812 when it was rediscovered by a Swiss explorer pretending to be an Arab.  

Even today there are new secrets being uncovered at Petra. In 2016, archaeologists used satellite technology to discover a monumental structure that is estimated to be around 2150 years old. Petra has also featured in a variety of popular Hollywood films. You may recognize The Treasury as the entrance to the temple holding the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.   

The Petra Visitor Center is located on the edge of a town called Wadi Musa, which is where most tourists stay when they are visiting Petra. There is a tourist bus that leaves Wadi Musa each morning before 7:00 AM and comes to Wadi Rum. After arriving  Wadi Rum, the bus returns to Wadi Musa around 9:00 AM. If you do not have your own vehicle and you want to travel between Wadi Musa and Wadi Rum in the afternoon, please let us know and we can arrange a taxi for you.

Author’s tip: The Treasury at Petra can become quite crowded during the day when the tour buses arrive from Amman and Israel. If you wake up early, you can enter the site at 6:00 AM and you will feel like you have the entire city to yourself.

The Royal Tombs at Petra. Photo taken by Mithun Bhandary,  @drmik666 on Instagram .

The Royal Tombs at Petra. Photo taken by Mithun Bhandary, @drmik666 on Instagram.


The Dead Sea

Floating on the Dead Sea. Photo taken by Joe Parker,  @joe.xplores on Instagram .

Floating on the Dead Sea. Photo taken by Joe Parker, @joe.xplores on Instagram.

The Dead Sea is a unique destination located on the border between Jordan and Israel. The shores of the Dead Sea are located more than 430m below sea level, making it the Earth’s lowest point on land. The Dead Sea gets its name due to its high salt content. The amount of salt in the water prevents any fish or plants from living in the water.

Swimming in the Dead Sea is an interesting experience as due to the high salt content, you will float very easily. The water also feels greasy on your skin which can be a bit strange when you are experiencing it for the first time. The mud along the shoreline is thought to have many health benefits and people often cover their skin in this mud before or after they go for a swim.

If you are visiting the Dead Sea, there are a number of interesting sites nearby that you can also easily visit. Mount Nebo is a site that is mentioned in the Bible as the place where Moses had a view over the Promised Land. It is a 15 minute drive from the Dead Sea and you can have a great view over the Holy Land and the Jordan River Valley. Bethany Beyond the Jordan is a place that archaeologists believe is the baptism site of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist. The site is about a 10 minute drive from the Dead Sea and there are guided tours available. Other nearby sites that you might like to visit include the Dead Sea Museum, the Mujib Nature Reserve, and Lot’s Cave.

There are nine international hotels on the coast of the Dead Sea on the Jordanian side if you are planning to spend the night. It will take you more than four hours to drive to the resort area of the Dead Sea from Wadi. The Dead Sea is much more accessible from Amman. The drive from Amman to the Dead Sea is about one hour.  

Author’s tip: The Dead Sea can be a bit dangerous if you are not careful. The shoreline can be a bit jagged so you must wear proper footwear. Also, the water is so salty that you must try to not get any in your eyes. If you do, it is better to let your tears do the work than to rub your eyes with your hands.

Relaxing in the Dead Sea. Photo taken by  @eldora0x0 on Instagram .

Relaxing in the Dead Sea. Photo taken by @eldora0x0 on Instagram.


Jerash

Hadrian’s Gate in Jerash. Photo taken by  @asifaa on Instagram .

Hadrian’s Gate in Jerash. Photo taken by @asifaa on Instagram.

Jerash is an archaeological site located to the north of Amman and today it is considered one of the most well-preserved sites of ancient Roman architecture outside of Italy. Today, Jerash is the second most visited tourist destination in Jordan, with over 250,000 visitors in 2017.

When you walk around the ancient city, you can see a variety of ruins that were very important to the city many centuries ago. Some interesting sites include the Hippodrome, once the smallest hippodrome in the Roman Empire, the Temple of Artemis with it’s impressive pillars still intact, and the Oval Plaza, an asymmetrical plaza surrounded by 160 Ionic columns. When you enter the site, you will enter through Hadrian’s Arch. This arch was built in 129 AD in preparation for an imperial visit and now acts as the southern gate to this fantastic historical site.   

You can easily reach Jerash by car from Amman. The journey takes between 60 and 90 minutes. A very cost effective way to visit Jerash is to take a bus from the Tarbabour Bus Station in Amman. A one-way ticket should only cost around 1 JOD. If you are planning a day trip from Amman, Jerash is not too far from other historical sites like Ajlun Castle, Pella, and Umm Qais.

Author’s Tip: The entrance fee to Jerash is 10 JOD but you can enter for free with the Jordan Pass. The Jordan Pass will save you money even if you are only planning to visit Petra and you require a visa-on-arrival to enter Jordan.

Jerash. Photo taken by  @asifaa on Instagram .

Jerash. Photo taken by @asifaa on Instagram.


Amman

The Temple of Hercules at the Amman Citadel. Photo taken by Joe Parker,  @joe.xplores on Instagram .

The Temple of Hercules at the Amman Citadel. Photo taken by Joe Parker, @joe.xplores on Instagram.

Despite being the capital of the country, Amman is often overlooked as a tourist destination. Amman is by far the largest city in the country and it contains more than 40% of the country’s entire population.

Two important historical sites in Amman are the Roman Amphitheatre and the Amman Citadel. The Roman amphitheatre seats 6,000 people and it is a symbol of the city. It was built in the 2nd Century AD when the city was known as Philadelphia. The Amman Citadel has a number of interesting ruins including the Temple of Hercules and the Umayyad Palace.

In Amman, you can also visit The Jordan Museum. This museum was built in 2014 and it is the largest museum in Jordan. The museum has some very important historical artifacts such as some Dead Sea Scrolls, a copy of Mesha Stele, and the statues of 'Ain Ghazal, thought to be some of the oldest statues ever discovered, dating back to around 7000 BC.

Amman is a great starting point for day trips to some of Jordan’s lesser known tourist sites like Qasr Amra (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Azraq (a historic wetland), and the Desert Castles of Jordan, a series of castles located in the remote eastern part of the country.

Author’s Tip: Visit the Amman Citadel at sunset. Not only will you have fantastic views over the city in all directions, but you will also get to hear a call to prayer echoing from each mosque located in downtown Amman. This is an auditory experience that should not be missed!

The Roman Theater in Amman. Photo taken by  @fedeworld on Instagram .

The Roman Theater in Amman. Photo taken by @fedeworld on Instagram.


Wadi Rum Nature Tours offers tours and accommodation in the Wadi Rum Desert, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the south of Jordan. If you are planning a trip to Jordan, click here to read about our tours and our accommodation in beautiful Wadi Rum.