I had wanted to visit Petra ever since my parents returned from a visit and said what an incredible place it was. On my journey I discovered that Jordan has more to offer than a visit to Petra. When I travelled I stopped at the most interesting sites along the way. If you arrive at the airport in Amman you will need to travel south to Wadi Musa the closest town to Petra. On the journey you can visit the remains of a Roman town, see early Christian churches and mosaics, visit a crusader castle and see scenery to match the Grand Canyon.
I spent some time planning my trip. I did think about taking a circular route down through Jordan to Petra then up through Israel to Jerusalem. I rejected the idea for the following reasons:
Firstly, I thought the border crossings into Israel would be too difficult, but I now know I was wrong. I met other people who had crossed the border in the north at the Sheikh Hussein crossing and the south at Wadi Araba and had no problems.
Secondly, I thought that driving in Jordan would be as chaotic as driving in Egypt. Crazy preconception really. On the whole the roads were quiet and people did observe rules. I think I would have had no problem hiring a car and driving. I would even consider driving in Amman.
Without a car the circular journey would be difficult and expensive unless you had plenty of time to use local coaches. I think that would be possible but you lose the flexibility to visit all the sights along the way and would miss out on a lot.
I took the simplest option of staying only in Jordan. If I were to do the journey again I would hire a car and would not worry about crossing the border between Jordan and Israel. If you need to change cars at the border you might need to pay a fee for dropping off at a different location to pick up. But I still think it would be cheaper than using taxis.
Whether you take a circular route or not you will travel the route between Amman and Petra discussed here. I took the simplest option of travelling only in Jordan. I took a return flight to Amman and travelled south to Petra.
There are two routes south to chose from. The desert highway is fast but monotonous, it is the route the coach takes. The more interesting route takes the route known as the King’s Highway. This was the original route before the highway was built. Much slower but you can take your time and stop along the way.
So I decided to hire a taxi to travel south and to return on the coach. The taxi was not cheap but I could chose where to stop at my leisure. In fact Jordan is not a cheap destination. Many locals will tell you that the cost of living for the ordinary people is a big problem. Politics is a topic you hear discussed a lot. The immigration of wealthy people from the surrounding trouble spots, has pushed up the prices to the point where life for the locals is a struggle. For me Jordan was more expensive than I’m used to when travelling.
I made three stops on the journey south and enjoyed what I saw. I will tell you where I stopped and you can see if it would interest you.
South of Amman you can find a small town called Madaba. This town was occupied by Romans then Christians and later Muslims. Today Jordan is a tolerant country Christians and Muslims live together in peace. However there is a strong anti-Jewish sentiment given the history of Palestine. Many Palestinian refugees settled in Jordan and view The West Bank of the Dead Sea as an occupied territory. This is sad as once all religions lived together.
Madaba was the first stop on my journey south from Amman. From a distance Madaba does not look anything special but under the modern buildings are many fascinating archaeological finds. The most interesting of these are the mosaics and Roman remains. Madaba is known as the city of Mosaics and when you visit you can find out why.
The most important find for historians is the earliest known map of the Middle East, made out of mosaics as shown below.
The map is drawn as if you are in the Mediterranean looking inland towards the dead sea. You can see the River Jordan flowing into the dead sea from left to right. The city shown on the left is Jerusalem. The map is accurate enough that it has been used to find the remains of buildings long since lost. You can find the map inside the Greek Orthodox church of Saint George.
There are more amazing mosaics in the Archaeological park shown below.
Apparently many other mosaics are to be found or yet to be discovered under the buildings in Madaba.
Travelling further south you reach the gorge of Wadi al Mujib. In its own way it is as impressive as the Grand Canyon. You follow a route of many switch backs down into the canyon then up the other side. You can guess from the photo that you get to enjoy the canyon for quite a while. Although I didn’t walk through the gorge you can find details on the internet and it does look amazing.
Travelling on further south you reach Kerak castle. It was one of the largest Crusader castles and is certainly imposing. When I visited, it was deserted as there had been a terror attack just a few months before and a tourist was killed. However terrorism is rare in Jordan.
You can see the local guards keeping a close eye on things in this photo.
I spent some time exploring Kerak castle. I wondered what the lives of the Crusaders would have been like and why they were motivated to leave the peace of their homes to come and fight here.
It reminded me of tales of Richard the Lionheart and Saladin. Richard ‘Coeur de Lion’ might have been King of England but he was more French than English, as were most of the Crusaders. In fact this land could be viewed as part of the Norman empire – just like England. Having been bought up on a diet of Robin Hood, King John and Richard the Lionheart it was interesting to follow this path.
From Kerak castle it is only 2 hours on to Wadi Musa the closest town to Petra. The journey from Amman along the King’s highway is easy to do in a day including the stops along the way. You realise that it does not actually take long to travel the complete length of Jordan. In fact you can make the journey from the border crossing in the north to the border crossing in the south in under 5 hours if you take the fastest route. Perhaps you will take the King’s highway route rather than bypass the sites on the way.