South of Jordan
Petra

The ancient city of Petra is one of Jordan's national treasures and by far its best known tourist attraction. Located approximately three hours south of Amman, Petra is the legacy of the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled in southern Jordan more than 2,000 years ago. Admired then for its refined culture, massive architecture and ingenious complex of dams and water channels, Petra is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site that enchants visitors from all corners of the globe.

Much of Petra's appeal comes from its spectacular setting deep inside a narrow desert gorge. The site is accessed by walking through a kilometre long chasm (or siq), the walls of which soar 200m upwards. Petra's most famous monument, the Treasury, appears dramatically at the end of the Siq. Used in the final sequence of the film "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." the towering façade of the Treasury is only one of myriad archaeological wonders to be explored at Petra.

Various walks and climbs reveal literally hundreds of buildings, tombs, baths, funerary halls,temples, arched gateways, colonnaded streets and haunting rock drawings - as well as a 3,000 seat open air theatre, a gigantic 1st century Monastery and a modern archeological museum, all of which can be explored at leisure. A modest shrine commemorating the death of Aaron, brother of Moses, was built in the 13th century by the Mamluk Sultan, high atop mount Aaron in the Sharah range.
Aqaba

Famed for its preserved coral reefs and unique sea life, this Red Sea port city was, in ancient times, the main port for shipments from the Red Sea to the Far East. The Mameluk Fort, one of the main historical landmarks of Aqaba, rebuilt by the Mameluks in the 16th century.

Square in shape and flanked by semicircular towers, the fort is marked with various inscriptions marking the latter period of the Islamic dynasty. The current excavations at the ancient site of the early Islamic town Ayla, with its two main streets intersecting in the middle and dating back to the 7th century already revealed a gate and city wall along with towers, buildings and a mosque. The museum houses a collection of artefacts collected in the region, including pottery and coins. Aqaba also hosts the house of Sharif Hussein Bin Ali, the great grandfather of King Abdullah II. Other places of interest include the mud brick building thought to be the earliest church in the region.
Karak

The fort itself is a dark maze of stone-vaulted halls and endless passageways. The best-preserved are underground, and to be reached through a massive door (ask at the ticket office).

The castle in itself is more imposing than beautiful, though it is all the more impressive as an example of the Crusaders' architectural military genius. Karak's most famous occupant was Reynald de Chatillon, whose reputation for treachery, betrayal and brutality is unsurpassed.

When Baldwin II died, his son, a 13-year-old leper, sued for peace with Saladin. The Leper King, however, died without an heir, and in stepped Reynald, who succeeded in winning the hand of Stephanie, the wealthy widow of Karak's assassinated regent. He promptly broke the truce with Saladin, who returned with a huge army, ready for war.

Reynald and King Guy of Jerusalem led the Crusader forces and suffered a massive defeat. Reynald was taken prisoner and beheaded by Saladin himself, marking the beginning of the decline in Crusader fortunes. The castle was enlarged with a new west wing added by the Ayyubids and Mameluks.
Showbak

A lonely reminder of former Crusader glory is Showbak Castle, less than an hour north of Petra. Once called "Mont Real," Showbak dates from the same turbulent period as Karak. It is perched on the side of a mountain, with a grand sweep of fruit trees below.

The castle's exterior is impressive, with a foreboding gate and encircling triple wall. Despite the precautions of its builder, the fortress fell to Saladin only 75 years after it was raised. Inscriptions by his proud successors appear on the castle wall.



The Kings' Highway

The Kings' Highway winds its way through the different ecological zones of the country, including forested highlands, open farmland plateaus, deep ravines, the edge of the Eastern Desert, and the warm tropical Gulf of Aqaba.

Lining both sides of this 335km (207 mile) thoroughfare is a rich chain of archaeological sites that reads like an index of ancient history and a biblical gazetteer -- prehistoric villages from the Stone Age, biblical towns from the kingdoms of Ammon, Moab and Edom, Crusader Castles, some of the finest early Christian Byzantine mosaics in the Middle East, a Roman-Herodian fortress, several Nabataean temples, two major Roman fortresses, early Islamic towns, and the rock-cut Nabataean capital of Petra. First mentioned by name in the Bible, the Kings' Highway was the route that Moses wished to follow as he led his people north through the land of Edom, which today is in southern Jordan.

The name may, however, derive from the even earlier episode recounted in Genesis 14, when an alliance of "four kings from the north" marched their troops along this route to do battle against the five kings of the Cities of the Plain, including the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.


Wadi Rum

This is a stupendous, timeless place, virtually untouched by humanity and its destructive forces. Here, it is the weather and winds that have carved the imposing, towering skyscrapers, so elegantly described by T.E. Lawrence as “vast, echoing and God-like..."

A maze of monolithic rockscapes rise up from the desert floor to heights of 1,750m creating a natural challenge for serious mountaineers. Hikers can enjoy the tranquility of the boundless empty spaces and explore the canyons and water holes to discover 4000-year-old rock drawings and the many other spectacular treasures this vast wilderness holds in store. As with any expedition into a desert area, trekkers should always be well-equipped. It is easy to get lost in this maze of mountains and desert, so it’s best to take a Bedouin guide. Always carry a map of the area and a compass, as well as plenty of water, sunblock and a hat.
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