Top things to see and do in Jordan including Petra, Wadi Rum and the Dead Sea

I can’t think of any other historic site in the world that does ‘The Big Reveal’ quite like Petra in Jordan – even though I had thought I knew what to expect.

I’d walked for half-an-hour down a dark, narrow gorge in between rocks called ‘the Siq’ (the shaft) that are in places only three to four yards wide, when I first glimpsed light shining through a crack at the end of the ‘tunnel’.

As I nervously edged forwards, my eyes came into focus, and I stood open-jawed as Petra’s most elaborate ruin, Al-Khazneh, revealed itself to me in all its imposing glory.

Like many, I’d first dreamt of seeing the spectacular 2,000-year-old, 130ft high monument carved out of a single block of sandstone when it featured as the entrance to the temple that housed the final resting place of The Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

The location was made famous by the Indiana Jones film

 

Thanks to easyJet, which has started flying weekly to Aqaba in Jordan direct from Gatwick – opening it up as a potential new winter sun destination – that dream has become an affordable reality.

And Petra is undeniably even more inspiring in the flesh than in the movies.

You can wander the streets of Petra as ancients used to

Al-Khazneh’s name translates as The Treasury, which comes from a local Bedouin legend that a pharaoh hid treasures in an urn at the top, although it was actually a mausoleum used for sacrifices.

Stephen Jones on his recent trip to Jordan
Stephen looked the part stood in front of the temple

 

I got lost in my own imagination as I gawped at its winged griffins, axe-wielding Amazons and the bullet holes which remain as evidence that some had believed the myths.

They say nothing is built here, only carved. In 2007, Petra was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and it’s hard to argue with that.

Stephen Jones on his recent trip to Jordan
And then there’s the magical moon-like moonscape of Wadi Rum

You can actually spend a couple of days wandering around its maze of tombs, temples and other ruins, absorbing its extensive history, and still not manage to take it all in (the Petra By Night tour is a unique experience).

Stephen Jones on his recent trip to Jordan
And the only way to stay is by glamping in a space age pod

 

Getting to know the locals was also on the menu when we opted to cook our own dinner at Petra Kitchen, which turned out to be a fun evening as we learnt our fattoush from our baba ganoush.

Up the road at the aptly named The Cave (described in Lonely Planet as “the oldest bar in the world”) we were shown how to smoke Shisha on a hookah.

The mountains of Wadi Rum Desert – also known as The Valley of the Moon

This is not for the faint-hearted – you draw heated tobacco through water using a pipe attached to a hose.

Incredibly, Petra is not the only jaw-dropping experience you can have in Jordan – just two hours’ drive south of the city is the spectacular wilderness of Wadi Rum, aka The Valley of the Moon, set on a high plateau on the western edge of the Arabian desert.

Featuring dramatic three-coloured sandstone mountains that litter its expansive landscape, prehistoric carvings and vast swathes of red-pink sands, it’s quite unlike anywhere else I’ve seen on Earth.

Taking the camel’s eye view of the desert is the only way to ride Wadi Rum

When I wandered away from our group to spend five minutes alone, it felt as if I was the last human left standing on the planet.

It’s easy to see how this ‘otherworldly’ landscape has played its role in movies such as Ridley Scott’s acclaimed The Martian.

It’s also lined up to star in the next Star Wars film.

Bedouin guides lead guests around Wadi Rum desert

And our safari adventure speeding over dunes in an open-top Toyota jeep felt like a scene out of Top Gear as we watched a sunset so breathtaking that even the most amateur photographer couldn’t fail to capture the magical effect of the light catching on the rocks.

 

Our base for the night was in the surreal ‘Martian’ setting of Sun City Camp.

It’s no wonder they filmed Lawrence of Arabia here

We tucked into a sumptuous meal of traditional dishes cooked by local Bedouins over a fire buried underground, before settling into one of the surprisingly cosy space-age domes that dot the resort.

Keen to savour every moment of our once-in-a-lifetime trip, we braved the desert chill and got up before dawn and after seeing a stunning sunrise, set out to discover 2,000 year-old rock etchings of camels.

Stephen Jones on his recent trip to Jordan
A bedouin crosses the horizon at daybreak with his camel

Then, suddenly making a dramatic entrance, over the horizon appeared men riding camels – with the sun behind them, in a scene that could have come straight out of Lawrence of Arabia (also filmed here).

After the excitement of the last few days, we had a chance to unwind in style at the luxurious five-star Hotel Kempinski, a four-hour drive to the north from Wadi Rum.

The Dead sea might look inviting – but it is a sticky experience

We took advantage of the hotel’s location on the edge of the Dead Sea (at 1,312ft below sea level, it’s the lowest point on Earth) and alternated between caking ourselves in the famous therapeutic mud and floating on our backs in the treacly salt-saturated lake, before relaxing by lounging on sunbeds sipping cocktails.

As I gazed past the infinity pool out across to the vast sea, I couldn’t believe it was only three days since we had landed in Aqaba.

Taking a boat out to go swimming with turtles and puffer fish hidden among the colourful coral reefs, we could see why this place boasts some of the world’s best diving and snorkelling sites.

It was one of many highlights to treasure from my memorable visit to this infinitely fascinating and most hospitable Middle Eastern kingdom.

Book the holiday

BOOK IT: easyJet Holidays offer seven nights room only at the five-star Al Manara, A Luxury Collection Hotel, starting at £845pp (based on two sharing) including flights departing on February 2 from Gatwick. Find out more at easyjet.com/en/holidays.

GET THERE: easyJet flies weekly from Gatwick to Aqaba from £99.36pp one-way (based on two people on the same booking). Find out more at easyjet.com.

TOURIST INFO: Find out more at visitjordan.com.

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