When I tell people I’m studying in Amman, Jordan, I’m often met with a flurry of questions. Why did you choose to go there? Is it safe? Do you cover your hair? Can you drink?
I think this shows just how alien the Middle East is to most Westerners and this means it is often, and unnecessarily, overlooked as a holiday destination. Going to Jordan has been the experience of a lifetime and one I’d recommend to everyone and anyone. It’s a place full of surprises; whether it be a flock of sheep grazing off the inner city street on your way to class or the beautiful pink-tinted sunsets from the top of one of Amman’s many hills.
Amman, the capital, is not pretty. It’s a far cry away from the beautiful chateaux of the Loire, where I was before Christmas. It’s a city of concrete, roads, and six-lane traffic. It’s dirty, loud and sprawling. But it’s also a city of extremes and variation. Here you can find conservative Muslims in niqabs and young Jordanians dancing to rap music at Tequila Tuesdays. In the morning you can find yourself in an English-speaking café enjoying chai tea with carrot cake on Rainbow Street, only to experience the marketplace and bustle of the much more traditional downtown before climbing up Citadel Hill to visit the roman ruins of the Temple of Herculesin in the afternoon. Then you could spend your evening exploring the contemporary art scene of Jebel-al Weibdeh.
The food is also incredible. There’s mezze to start a meal; tabbouleh, foul, houmous, fatoush, baba ganoush, stuffed vine leaves, all with Jordanian flat bread. The main course could be the national dish, mansaaf, which consists of lamb cooked in fermented yoghurt sauce served with rice. If you’re still hungry, there’s kunafa for dessert, which is cheese pastry soaked in sugar syrup. As for street food, the favourites are falafel and shawarma, which is essentially the best kebab you’ll ever have.
Escaping the city is another set of adventures. North of the capital, you can drive through beautiful valleys and mountains adorned with olive and pine trees. Whilst you’re there, you can visit the remains of the castle of Ajloun, which sits high on a mountain from which, on a clear day, you can see Palestine, Syria and Iraq. Or, you could visit the surprisingly well preserved Roman city of Jerash, particularly nice to visit as the sun is setting.
If ruins aren’t really your thing, you could go to the beach. An hour south of Amman is the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth, sitting 400m below sea level. Its salt content is so high that it is impossible not to float, so you can lie effortlessly in the sea (classically reading a newspaper), gazing at the magnificent views. The Dead Sea mud is also amazing for your skin, so many tourists (including me and my mum) cover themselves in it.
There’s also Aqaba, Jordan’s coast resort on the Red Sea, around a 4h drive away from the capital. As it is further south, it is an excellent city break offering year-round sunshine, warmth and the chance to go diving and partake in other water sports.
One thing you must see is Petra. Featured in both An Idiot Abroad and Indiana Jones, it is a vast, ancient city carved out of pink sandstone. The architecture itself is exquisite and on an enormous scale, but if that isn’t enough, you could spend hours gazing at the panoramas of mountains and valleys. Bedouins (the traditional nomadic Arabs of the Jordanian desert) will try to sell you everything from camel rides to jewellery. They also look uncannily like Jack Sparrow, complete with eyeliner and plaited beards.
The Bedouins are fascinating people and if you’re feeling really adventurous you can sleep under the stars with them in Wadi Rum, a desert which was featured in the film The Martian. It is yet another memorable landscape which you can explore by jeep, camel, or hiking.
If this isn’t enough, the list of things to do in Jordan is quite honestly endless. There’s the town of Salt, full of Ottoman architecture, the baptism site of Jesus, the town of Karak, Mount Nebo, maybe a couple of days in Palestine…whatever you fancy. But if you ever have the chance, definitely go. It without a doubt an absolutely incredible place.