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Introducing Jerash, Irbid & the Jordan Valley

The area to the north of Amman is the most densely populated in Jordan, with the major centres of Irbid and Jerash, as well as dozens of small towns dotted in among the rugged and relatively fertile hills.

These are the biblical Hills of Gilead, peppered with olive groves and pine forests that lend a distinctly Mediterranean feel to the region. This is also the heart of Jordan's increasingly important olive oil industry. The well-watered plateau is drained by the Yarmouk and Zerqa (the ancient Jabbok) Rivers, the two biggest tributaries of the Jordan River, the latter marking the ancient border between Ammon and Gilead.

In this area lie the ruins of the ancient Roman Decapolis cities of Jerash (Gerasa) and Umm Qais (Gadara), both of which are well worth a visit. The impressive Islamic castle at Ajlun is also nearby and can be combined with pleasant walking trails at nearby Ajlun Nature Reserve.

Northeast of Irbid, the country flattens out to plains that stretch away into Syria. To the west lies the steamy Jordan Valley, one of the most fertile patches of land in the Middle East and pockmarked by ancient tells and archaeological remains.

In general northern Jordan is a good place to have a car, especially around Ajlun, which combines lovely scenery with light traffic, but it is still possible to see most things with public transport.