It’s easy to think of Israel when planning a faith-based tour of the Holy Land. To go beyond the usual, consider the neighboring Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, where history and religion come alive.
Faith-based tours — a current travel trend — are the “bread and butter” excursions for Ya’lla Tours USA, according to Ronen Paldi, president of the Oregon-based company that specializes in travel to Israel, Egypt, Greece, Turkey and Jordan.
Paldi explained that since Jordan is relatively small, tours can be condensed into two or three days and combined with trips to Israel and Egypt. But it’s the eight-day Ultimate Jordan tour that provides the richest view of the kingdom, and proves that Jordan can be a fulfilling destination all by itself.
The tour begins in Jordan’s capital city. A day is spent in Amman and nearby Jerash, a marvelously preserved Roman town. Visitors then travel south via the King’s Highway, one of the world’s most ancient thoroughfares. This 200-mile highway not only passes through different ecological zones, ranging from forested highlands to desert landscapes, but also allows visitors to see an amazing chain of ancient villages, castles and biblical locales.
The King’s Highway is actually mentioned by name in the Bible’s book of Numbers (20:17 and 21:22) in reference to Moses’ epic journey. Moses asked permission to travel the road but was refused. Some say the highway goes back even further to the Genesis account of Abraham and his nephew, Lot.
One destination along the way is Madaba, famous for its stunning Byzantine mosaics. In the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, visitors marvel at the earliest surviving map of the Holy Land found in a mosaic floor dating back to the sixth century. One fascinating feature of the map, according to Paldi, is the central prominence of the city of Jerusalem.
More ancient mosaics are found in the Franciscan church atop Mt. Nebo. This stop is emotional, Paldi said, because of the biblical connection. After 40 years of wandering, Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land, but he did look upon it before he died. From this high point in the Moabite range, there is a view of the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea, Jericho and distant Jerusalem.
Petra is another destination that moves tourists, according to Paldi. The wonders of this “rose-red city, half as old as time,” as it’s sometimes called, are explored on foot and on horseback. Adventurous souls hike to the “High Place” to see the sacrificial altar and a spectacular view of the city.
At Bethany Beyond the Jordan there are more biblical landmarks, including the excavation of the site where Jesus was baptized, and the site where Elijah ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire. The Dead Sea is the final stop on the tour.
Ultimate Jordan starts as low as $2,145 per person, double occupancy, and includes an entry visa, seven hotel nights, daily breakfast, transfers, a horseback ride in Petra, a jeep ride in Wadi Rum where “Lawrence of Arabia” was filmed, an air-conditioned van or bus and the services of a licensed, English-speaking guide. Airfare is extra.
The number of visitors to Jordan has skyrocketed over the last decade.
“Jordan has a bit of everything: history, archaeology, religion, resorts and superior hotels. The demand is such that high season lasts all year,” Paldi said.
To accommodate them, and to attract more visitors, Jordan has done much to improve its services.
“Their five-star hotels are superior to any in the region,” he said. “More needs to be done. It’s coming. I’m very confident in Jordan’s progress.”
Due to high demand, Delta Airlines will offer nonstop service from JFK to Jordan beginning in June.
“This,” said Paldi, “is a show of confidence in this destination and its potential.”
Ya'lla Tours USA