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Joe Meredith

Jordan’s top 10 adventure & culture activities | Cox & Kings

Jordan: the camel-trod crossroads of three continents, stomping ground of Lawrence of Arabia, and metropole of the mysterious Nabataeans. This desert nation kindles a sense of adventure in all who visit.

Petra is the star attraction, with its astounding temples carved straight into rose-pink rock. Yet there is much more to discover here, from the lunar dunes of Wadi Rum to the Roman ruins of Jerash.

Here is our pick of the 10 best things to do in Jordan for adventure and culture seekers – all available as part of a Cox & Kings Jordan tour.

1. Discover Petra, the Rose City

Around the time the Greeks were constructing the Tomb of Mausolus – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – the Nabataeans were building their own Hellenistic wonder. Founded as early as the fifth century BC, the rock-carved city of Petra is the jewel in Jordan’s crown.

To explore these desert ruins, you arrive via a 160-metre-long rock corridor called The Siq. The end of this narrow passage opens out dramatically before the Treasury (Al Khazneh), Petra’s most iconic temple.

The Treasury alone is worth the price of admission, but the UNESCO-listed complex is far larger, encompassing an area of 264 square kilometres. Archaeologists have excavated numerous temples, tombs, a theatre, an altar, gardens, and even an ancient swimming pool.

Petra deserves a thorough exploration, which is why Cox & Kings guests spend two full days touring the ruins alongside an expert guide. There is also an optional evening visit to see the Treasury illuminated by thousands of candles – a truly atmospheric experience.

2. Float in the Dead Sea

The ancient Hebrews called it ‘Yam HaMavet’, the Greeks ‘Nekra Thalassa’, and the Jordanians ‘Al-Bahr Al-Mayyit’. Each name translates to The Dead Sea – so called because the salt level makes it uninhabitable for aquatic life.

While you’ll find neither fin nor fish scale in this lake, you will see plenty of bathers. The Dead Sea’s high salinity makes its water exceptionally buoyant, while its minerals are reputed to bring health benefits.

Along the shore, luxury resorts accommodate visitors who wish to experience Earth’s lowest body of water in style. Float gently on the Dead Sea’s surface for a unique stress reliever, or test the therapeutic benefits of its nutrient-rich mud. This is an excellent place to unwind, which is why we often round off tours of Jordan with a Dead Sea resort stay.

3. Explore Wadi Rum

In southern Jordan, giants of stone jut out of pink sand to form an otherworldly picture. This is Wadi Rum – the ‘Valley of the Moon’ – a landscape Lawrence of Arabia described as “greater than imagination”.

Wadi Rum’s dramatic scenery has earnt it many a role in cinema. You may have seen it playing a red planet in Dune (2021), Star Wars: Rogue One (2016), and The Martian (2015). It also starred in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), since it was through here that T.E. Lawrence passed during the Arab Revolt of 1917-18.

You can explore this desert landscape best by 4x4, or as part of a camel cavalcade. Camp overnight as the Bedouin do for starry skies followed by sunrises over dunes.

4. Tour Jerash's Roman ruins

Alexander the Great founded the city of Gerasa In around 331 BC. Then, when the Romans conquered swathes of the Levant, Gerasa became part of the Decapolis: 10 Roman city-states spread across modern-day Jordan, Israel and Syria.

Today, Gerasa is known as Jerash, and boasts the best-preserved ruins of the Decapolis confederation, including a triumphal arch honouring Emperor Hadrian, two theatres, a forum, temples, and a hippodrome – one of the only authentic Roman settings in the world where chariot races are re-enacted.

Most holidays in Jordan begin in Amman, which places you just a short drive from Jerash and its well-preserved ruins. We highly recommend making time to visit Jerash, and include it as a dedicated stop on most Cox & Kings tours of Jordan.

5. Sample authentic Jordanian cuisine

Rich in olive oil, garlic, onion, tomato and lemon, Jordan’s cuisine reflects its history as a continental crossroads. Cooking and tasting Jordanian food, from mansaf (the national dish) to mezzes (small dishes), gives you immediate insight into the culture.

There are plenty of refreshing local drinks to sample, too, including limonada (blended lemon and mint), pomegranate juice, rolled sugarcane juice, Arabic coffee, and tea – steeped, seasoned and served the Bedouin way. Though alcohol is often off the menu for religious reasons, Jordan maintains its long tradition as a producer of both wine and araq (a spirit made using grapes and aniseed).

With Cox & Kings, you have the opportunity to learn Jordanian cooking techniques directly from the locals. Selected tours include culinary lessons at Beit Sitti restaurant, situated in one of Amman’s oldest neighbourhoods; and Petra Kitchen, a relaxed venue set close to the famed Nabataean ruins of its namesake. Learn to prepare hot and cold mezze starters as well as main courses, before tucking into the dishes you’ve created.

6. See the desert castles

To the east of Amman lie several qasrs (desert castles), most of which were built between the seventh and eights centuries under the Umayyad Caliphate. These important examples of early Islamic architecture contain fine frescoes and mosaics, and stand isolated amidst sun-beaten sands.

UNESCO-listed Qasr Amra is among the smallest but best preserved of Jordan’s qasrs. Although its exterior is unassuming, enter the compact, domed interior and you’re greeted by ceiling frescoes that are over 1,000 years old. The artwork depicts hunters, kings, nude women, heaven, constellations and the zodiac.

Other qasrs worthy of a visit include the Qasr Kharaneh, Qasr Al-Tuba and Qasr Al-Hallabat – all restored and in excellent condition – and the basalt fortress of Qasr Al-Azra, built over centuries atop Roman foundations. Lawrence of Arabia made Qasr Al-Azra his desert headquarters during the Arab Revolt. He spoke of the ghostly howls heard echoing within its six towers, rumoured to be hounds of the Benu Hilal tribe, crying out for their long-dead masters.

7. Snorkel Aqaba's Red Sea reefs

The southern tip of Jordan looks onto the Red Sea, the vast inlet of the Indian Ocean that divides West Asia from Africa. This is where you will find Aqaba, a strategic port since ancient times.

As Jordan’s only coastal city, Aqaba has become a popular choice for a beach retreat, with big-name resorts popping up to provide luxury accommodation.

Beyond just relaxing on Aqaba’s sandy coast, you also have the chance to swim with a cornucopia of marine life. The Gulf of Aqaba is one of the world’s most popular diving spots, though several beaches offer direct access to more shallow reefs – ideal for snorkelling. Thousands of colourful fish frequent the coral reefs here, and you may spot eye-catching species ranging from clown fish and lion fish to sting and manta rays.

8. Summit holy Mount Nebo

Jordan is home to several Christian sites of pilgrimage, including Bethany, Madaba, and Mount Nebo – the 710-metre-high summit where the Bible says Moses saw the Promised Land.

In Deuteronomy 34:1-4, the Bible describes how ‘Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land… then said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob… I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab.’

Hike up Mount Nebo and you can still enjoy the same panoramic view across the Jordan Valley, including views of Jericho, and – on a very clear day – Jerusalem. A sculpted nehushtan (bronze serpent on a pole) serves as a memorial on the summit.

9. Admire Madaba's mosaics

Close to Mount Nebo lies Madaba, known as the ‘City of Mosaics’. This ancient settlement preserves Byzantine- and Umayyad-era mosaics across a number of its oldest buildings. Many of these mosaics were only rediscovered in the late 19th century.

The most famous of Madaba’s mosaics is the sixth-century Map of Madaba, a Byzantine floor mosaic depicting the Holy Land of Jerusalem and its surroundings using two million colourful stone pieces. It currently measures 16 by 6 metres, and is thought to have originally measured 21 by 7 metres. You can admire the craftsmanship yourself by visiting the city’s Church of Saint George.

There are hundreds of other mosaics preserved in Madaba, including an easily navigable collection at The Madaba Archaeological Museum – located close to the Church of Saint George.

10. Hike in Jordan's nature reserves

Experience the wilder side of Jordan with excursions into its best nature reserves. The Dana Biosphere Reserve is Jordan’s largest, covering 308 square kilometres of rugged wilderness in the country’s centre. This diverse habitat of desert, forests and mountains is a habitat for upward of 215 bird species – including the endangered Syrian serin and lesser kestrel – making this an excellent choice for birdwatchers.

Encompassing a more compact 13 square kilometres, the Ajloun Forest Reserve is a green oasis of oak, pine, pistachio, carob and strawberry trees north of Amman. This hilly reserve is a habitat for boar, foxes, badgers, striped hyenas, wildcats, Asiatic jackals and the recently reintroduced roe deer. Flitting through the sky, you may also spot finches, tits and jays. The Ajloun Forest Reserve offers a variety of scenic trails. We recommend the seven-kilometre Soap Maker’s Trail, which can incorporate a visit to a remote co-operative, where local women produce soap from olive oil.

Cox & Kings tours to Jordan provide the perfect balance of adventure and culture activities.

Whether you’re interested in one of our small group tours, or would prefer a private holiday, let our experts show you the best of this fascinating kingdom. Speak to one of our Jordan specialists today.