Jordan is a place capable of fulfilling the dreams and desires
of many diverse travelers.
For the anthropologist or “Indiana Jones” junkie there’s Petra,
the ancient city carved into the side of a mountain. It is one of
the top tourist sights in the Middle East. For sports enthusiasts
there’s the Red Sea, with some of the best scuba diving and
snorkeling in the world. Wadi Rum offers rock climbing and hiking
against a backdrop of magnificent colors. For the religious or
historical aficionado there’s Mt. Nebo, where Moses saw the
Promised Land, and Bethany-by-Jordan, where it’s said Jesus was
baptized by John the Baptist. Jordan also opens doors for the
culture buffs. The locals are friendly and open, food is a melange
of various Middle Eastern cuisines and the markets are dazzling
displays of exotic wares, where people converse over
shisha pipes (water pipes with flavored tobacco).
Jordan, like many countries around the world, has suffered
greatly since Sept. 11. It received another blow with the war in
Iraq. The phrase I heard most often while traveling through the
country was “please tell Americans it is safe here, we welcome them
And I did feel safe during my weeklong stay. Since Jordan is one
of the most progressive countries in the Middle East, female
travelers do not feel ostracized in their Western attire. While
many Jordanian women wear headscarves, others do not. And while
some women are covered head to toe, most wear Western clothes. The
number-one industry in Jordan is tourism, so Jordanians are used to
the influx of Western travelers and treat them with respect despite
their obvious cultural differences.
In short, travelers feel welcome. The Jordanians are warm and
hospitable hosts who are proud of their country’s ancient sites
like Petra, which is undeniably the biggest draw.
Petra is where the Nabeteans settled in 6th century B.C. and, at
the height of civilization, where 40,000 people resided. But by the
7th century A.D., Petra had passed into obscurity until it was
discovered in 1812 by a Swiss explorer. Since then, it has become
one of the top attractions in the Middle East.
Travelers should take advantage of Petra by Night, a tour which
is only offered on Mondays and Thursdays. After the sun sets, 2,500
candles are lit (it takes 15 people one hour to do this) along the
path to Petra’s treasury. Outside the city, visitors are given the
history of Petra and then taken on a 40-minute, silent journey into
As we walked single file through the narrow canyons, the shadows
from the candles danced on the rose-colored rocks and evoked images
from the past of an active, vital city.
At the entrance to the treasury, the most photographed image in
Petra, a Bedouin played the flute among a sea of candles.
Surrounded by the great walls of Petra, enveloped by the sound of
the music and the flickering flames, and looking up at a sky
shining with stars, I knew this was the high point of my trip.
Most travelers visit Petra by night and then spend the next two
days visiting by day. A 45-minute, uphill hike to the monastery is
a small price to pay for the breathtaking views of the surrounding
More awaits travelers at the Red Sea and the Dead Sea.
Famous for its snorkeling and scuba diving, the Red Sea is
extremely popular with active travelers. I also recommend taking a
sunset cruise, where passengers are able to see Saudi Arabia,
Jordan, Egypt and Israel from the boat as the sun slowly sets.
At the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth, visitors are treated
to the saltiest water on the planet; in fact, the sea got its
moniker because nothing can survive in its waters. There’s so much
salt in the water it’s also impossible to drown. The salt makes
people so buoyant that, in the water, my feet flew out from under
me and landed on the surface.
It is also said that salt is good for your skin, but it’s the
Dead Sea mud that is highly coveted by spa-goers around the world.
It’s here in abundance, and it’s free. Tourists venture to the
water’s edge and smear the mud on their bodies; then once it’s dry,
they dive into the sea. The mud’s therapeutic elements, combined
with the healing powers of the Dead Sea salt, leave the skin soft
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