My one-week Spring Break 2011 trip to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan sets Madaba - the city of Mosaics - as my home base. Madaba is located just 30 min from the capital city and it's well known for housing a 6th century mosaic depicting Jerusalem and parts of the Holy Land.
I chose Madaba as my home base due to its proximity to the capital, it is void of traffic and it still conserves its small town charm.
From my hotel in Madaba, I was able to organize my daily tours to The Dead Sea, the hot springs and Jerash as well as being my departure city to my onward journey to Petra and Aqaba.
Almost an hour away from Madaba, you come across Mukawir while enjoying the Jordanian countryside This site is perched on a hill top and it's quite a hike as there is no other way to get there but walking for approximately 15 min. Once at the top of the hill, you will notice that this site is merely a pile of ruble with a few standing columns. Nonetheless, you can somewhat imagine what it would have looked like back in the days as a secure summer palace overlooking the Dead Sea.
The importance and significance of this site is that King Herod of Israel rebuilt this complex after being proclaimed king by the Roman Senate and it was here that John the Baptist was imprisoned and then beheaded after Salome's fateful dance. (Matthew 14: 1-12)
In order to gain access to these pools and baths, you need to pay a 1-day pass as this site is located within a modern spa resort.
Nothing says positive buoyancy than floating on this hypersalinated water. The tourist fad here is to have your photo taken while floating and reading a newspaper. Sadly I could not fulfill this fad, hence the photo below.
Word of advise:
Floating on these waters has a greasy feel to it and while in it, you have to make sure that you do not get any of it into your eyes, nose, ears and by all means, avoid getting in if you have any cuts or bruises as the hypersalinated water will make them sting.
You also need to be careful while walking around the shore as some of the salt rocks may be pointy and could easily cut you.
Located north of the capital Amman, this site boosts the largest and best preserved Roman ruins in the entire Middle East. Jerash, second only to Petra, used to be part of the Decapolis (ten cities) that were part of Federation of Greek cities. Later on, the Roman Emperor Hadrian made this city his favorite and so it prospered economically and socially. Nowadays, Hadrian's Arch can still be seen and it is the location were you pay your entry fee into this site.
As per WikiTravel:
"The Visitor's Centre is located at the entrance to the archaeological park (just south of the Hippodrome and the Arch). The site is poorly signposted, so be sure to pick up a map to orient yourself and understand what you are seeing. The ruins are fairly extensive, but it's not hard to see everything in a matter of hours. It is unlikely that visitors will miss anything important, but some of the notable sites are:
It is also worth noting and checking out the recreation of a Roman chariot race full with legionnaires and gladiators. These performance is known as The Roman Army and Chariot Experience. For more info, check out their site here.
This castle/fortress is located near Jerash and it is important to Islam as it prevented the Crusaders from capturing the castle and the nearby village while also protecting the three main routes to the Jordan Valley and the commercial routes between Jordan and Syria.
From within you can almost get lost in its maze of passages while the upper part of the castle offers panoramic views of the surrounding area, northwest Jordan and even Galilee.
From here on, I left behind the charming city of mosaics, Madaba, and started my journey to the southern part of the country going to Petra, Wadi Rum and then heading to the port city of Aqaba to go SCUBA diving on the Red Sea!
A UNESCO World Heritage site. This barren, isolated yet vast place is where Lawrence of Arabia and former Prince Faisal bin Hussein based their headquarters during the Arab revolt against the Ottomans during WWI.
Now go watch the movie and then come back to continue reading!
During my visit to Wadi Rum, I met two bedouins who offered me for a good price a tour of Wadi Rum (a day tour with an overnight stay in the middle of nowhere), guidance at Petra and then they would drive me to my last point of interest, Aqaba; which I then accepted.
Some of my highlights here include:
The rose-red city of Petra:
Without any doubt, one of the 7 wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
This site is best seen in 2 days unless you have the ambitious plan of a 1-day visit to which I would advise you to head there as soon as they open at 6 a.m. and then start making your way out before they whisk you out near closing time at 6 p.m. (depending the season) which is what I did. Nonetheless, I wished I had budgeted an extra day as I would have wanted to make a day hike/donkey ride (approx. 5+ hr) to visit the shrine of the Prophet Aaron, Moses' elder brother.
During spring time expect rain showers so make sure you check the weather forecast before adventuring into Petra so as to not get washed out by flooding. I mention this because I had booked myself into the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp because as they mention on their site, I wanted to fully experience the bedouin life especially in this part of the world.
As a result, I chose a tent for myself with breakfast included and don't get me wrong because this is a neat location and their service is superb but on my first night there, it started to rain and the downpour was such that at some point I wished I had been at a hotel where I did not have to worry about water getting into the tent.
In short, the staff worked at God's speed to properly cover almost everything as to avoid any water leakage; I slept well and the blankets kept me warm throughout the wet and cold night. The following day, I moved into a hotel!
Once you have paid your entrance fee, you should walk through the almost 2 km long gorge known as the Siq that will lead you through a winding path along old terra-cotta Roman water pipes to the most photographed structure in Petra, the Treasury or Al-Khanz.
Although you cannot enter the structure, it is worth taking note of the bullet prints on the side of the columns as well as the urn at the very top from which many had speculated that a treasure had been hidden inside.
The street of Façades which is a canyon lined with various monumental Nabataean tombs which you can take your time to explore as they are massive and well decorated. Afterwards, I continued to the Roman Theater which used to host close to four thousand spectators and it is located at the foot of the High Place of Sacrifice, high place from which I took my aerial views of Petra down below.
From there, I took my time in following the map that I photographed and followed it religiously. On the way, I came across more temples, more tombs and what would have been a garden and a pond in the good old days. For a complete listing of these sites, please go here.
A suggested group of trails appear here while WikiTravel suggests the following routes:
"For the terminally energetic, there are a number of popular hikes around Petra:
As you continue the trail, you will also come across the Great Temple and the Colonnaded Street.
The Monastery which in Arabic is Al-Dayr and it is the largest carved monument in Petra. Once inside you may be a little disappointed as there is no significant comparison to its outer façade. It received its name as it used to be used as a Christian chapel and a meeting place for religious associations.
To get here, you need to walk uphill 800+ steps which may take close to an hour depending on your physical condition and the inclement weather. I hope you noted the emphasis placed on walking as it is recommended to avoid hiring donkeys to make this trip due to the treatment they receive especially during a hot day.
Final stop on this trail:
No other than the apocalyptic Rift Valley's "view of the end of the world"!
After a full day of exploration, I made it to one of the local bedouin restaurants within Petra to relax, have some tea and a snack. It did not take that long after I became a good friend of one of the ladies serving who in turn convinced me of one final trail. I caved in and took the offer of riding a donkey to the exit of this site to meet her family who lived all the way out in Little Petra. I do have to admit that after feeling like a tomb raider on Indiana Jones, the donkey ride was quite a relief to my feet.
In the photo below, I am posing in front of one of the oldest olive trees within Petra.