Visitors to Jordan often make a beeline for the popular sights of Petra and Wadi Rum, but they should linger a little while in Amman, says Hossam Moussa
Travellers who arrive at Amman airport and leave straight away to go to Petra or one of the other major sights are missing out. Jordan's capital city, Amman, is an interesting mix of ancient and modern cultures and it’s worth spending at least a day or two here to explore. Join the locals at one of the many cafes, or take a walk in the Jebel Al Weibdeh area to see old buildings, ceramic museums, ancient churches, mosques and galleries, away from the noise and chaos of the modern city.
The Citadel is one of my favourite places in Amman. It was built in 1220AD during the Ayyubid era and was used to monitor the region for Crusader attacks. These days it mainly consists of ruins but as it is situated on a hilltop, the panoramic views of the city are incredible, especially at sunrise and sunset. From the Citadel you can see the 6,000-seat Roman Amphitheatre, which is also a must-see for anyone visiting Amman.
Just a short bus ride from the city is Jerash, which is well worth a day trip. You’ll find some of the best-preserved Roman ruins outside of Italy, and they are the easternmost ruins still visible today. It’s a peaceful way to spend an afternoon and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back to ancient times.
As well as Jerash, you’ll find some incredible sights within a short distance of Amman. To the east of the city is Madaba, which is known for its ancient mosaics including a famous sixth-century mosaic map on the floor of Saint George’s Church. Nearby Mount Nebo is a place of religious significance, where Moses is said to have seen the promised land (on a very clear day, you can see Jerusalem). Most visitors to Jordan can’t resist a float in the salty waters of the Dead Sea, which is said to have healing properties.
The national dish of Jordan is Mansaf, a traditional Bedouin dish of lamb seasoned with aromatic herbs, sometimes lightly spiced, cooked in a large stewing pot with yoghurt, and sprinkled with almonds, pine-kernels and other nuts. It is served with huge quantities of Arabic bread, which is dampened with yoghurt and topped with a layer of rice. Feasting on Mansaf is taken seriously, and many hours are spent preparing it. For something lighter, try the incredibly smooth hummus (chickpea dip) with lots of bread and some falafel.
Travelling in Jordan during the summer months (June to August) can be really challenging if you’re not accustomed to the heat. It’s also worth remembering that as a Muslim country, Jordan observes Ramadan during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Muslims fast from sunrise until sunset, and many restaurants and shops will be closed or operating reduced hours during this time.
Hossam Moussa is a tour leader for Intrepid Travel and a finalist in the Wanderlust World Guide Awards 2013. Find out how you can meet Hossam at this year's Awards ceremony this October here.