Over the last decade, Jordan has moved ever further into the mainstream of American travel. As the world shrinks and the Middle East becomes ever more central to the daily lives of Americans, they become increasingly interested in finding out about it for themselves. For those of you who want to venture into the Middle East but are still a little jittery over news stories they hear, Jordan travel is an excellent starting point.
Today’s Jordan comprises a large section of what is known as The Holy Land, where all three monotheistic religions call home: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Jordan comprises about three quarters of what was historically called Palestine, which was divided by the British in the 20th century. The eastern part was called Trans-Jordan because it was Palestine east of the Jordan River. Later the name was shortened to Jordan and the country became a constitutional monarchy.
Though Jordan is at the heart of the Middle East, its government has taken great pains to walk the narrow path of peace with all its neighbors, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Iraq and Israel. It is a very western-friendly nation, very modern and cosmopolitan. English is widely spoken and it’s not hard to get around for Americans, though it is preferable to have local guides if you want to do more adventurous things. It’s easy to navigate around Jordan’s capital city of Amman with no more help than a hotel concierge. It’s a large, international city and relatively easy for you to orient yourself in. Beyond Amman however, your time and money will be much better spent with professional guidance. Though people speak English, the signs are not just a different language, but a different alphabet.
Contributing to the western-friendly atmosphere of Jordan is the fact the former King Hussein I was married to an American of Syrian, Swedish and British descent. King Hussein assumed the throne in 1953 and died in 1999. He was succeeded by his son King Abdullah, who continues the progressive and cosmopolitan attitudes of his father. The country continues to be very Western-friendly, striking a comfortable balance between East and West.
Jordan is rich in history, which can be seen throughout the country in layers upon layers from the Stone Age and Neolithic period through the days of the Pharaohs, the Romans and the Crusades to the present day. Since the Lost City of Petra was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, it has received a huge boost in tourism. Little is known about what the ancient Nabateans who lived there did, but what they left is mind blowing: colossal carvings in sandstone cliffs that make them into replicas of Greek temples. The Nabateans also had very sophisticated water systems that are little understood today.
Jordan’s capital city, Amman, has many Roman ruins worth visiting, but Jordan’s city of Jerash is one of the best preserved Roman provincial towns in the world. Jerash can trace an unbroken chain of human habitation going back 6,500 years. The Roman ruins were hidden in sand for centuries until excavation began about 70 years ago.
Tourists can visit Mount Nebo, where Moses saw the Promised Land and then died before reaching it. From the mountain peak 2,700 feet above sea level, visitors can see a vast panorama that includes the Jordan River Valley, the Dead Sea, Jericho and Jerusalem. Jordan also offers much to the adventure traveler, with mountains, deserts and thermal springs, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, rafting, camel rides and camping with Bedouins.