Jordan, still too often dismissed by overly cautious tourists who skip over the entire region, has been quietly building itself into the adventure hub of the Middle East. Long blessed with myriad archaeological sites to tempt travelers on a cultural safari through the country’s historical treasures, Jordan also beckons with an experience-stuffed itinerary to quench the thirst of even the most adrenalin-aching traveler.
Here’s where to get your fix in the Middle East’s newest adventure playground.
1. Climb Jordan’s highest peak in Wadi Rum
Best known for its rust-colored Martian-like landscapes, Wadi Rum is no secret to the adventure seeker. A sunrise trek on camelback or simply whizzing through the valleys on the back of a pickup truck is the classic Rum experience, but there’s much more on offer in this 720-sq-km protected area. For example, Jordan’s tallest mountain, the little-visited Jebel Umm Ad Dami (1832m), rises silently near the country’s southern border with Saudi Arabia and is about as far away as you can get from Wadi Rum’s visitor center. Jebel Umm Ad Dami isn’t only for peakbaggers: the hike to the top can be conquered in just an hour. The path up the sandstone formation is marked with cairns, but it’s best to hire a guide; you’ll need someone to high-five when you reach the Jordanian flag planted at the summit.
2. Hike the Jordan Trail – or at least part of it
Nothing will make you feel closer to a place than walking its every curve, but even if you don’t have six weeks to set aside for this 650km-long country-length stroll, it’s still possible to tackle shorter sections in just a few days. The most incredible stretch of the Jordan Trail runs from the wild and wonderful valleys of the Dana Biosphere Reserve to the south, where you’re knocking on the back door of Petra, earning the right to glimpse the Monastery first thing in the morning before any other tourists have bothered to wake up. The route passes through the biologically diverse Dana, where you’ll descend through four distinct climate zones in just the first day, before meandering past nomadic Bedouin camps, shepherds guiding their flocks and rugged sandstone plateaus with uninhibited views across the Holy Land before arriving at Little Petra to give just a small sampling of the magic that the final day of the trek has in store.
3. Go off-grid at Feynan Ecolodge
Often named the world’s best ecolodge, sand-colored Feynan is a desert mirage tucked into the eponymous mountain-hugged valley. The complex with 26 guest rooms is powered entirely by solar energy, and at nightfall, an all-vegetarian dinner is served by the light of hundreds of flickering candle flames. Far from any proper pavement, just getting here is an adventure: Feynan awaits at the end of a rough track, and the most atmospheric way to arrive is by foot on a day hike from Dana along the Jordan Trail.
4. Experience true Jordanian generosity
The hospitality of Jordanians is legendary, and there is no better way to get closer to the local culture than by pressing pause. Feynan Ecolodge works closely with the semi-nomadic neighboring Bedouin tribes so that travelers can experience life from their perspective, whether grinding pungent beans to make Arabic coffee, weaving tents from goat hair or joining the shepherds and their reports for a day of trekking along the rocky slopes. Local Bedouins in Petra also host a "shepherd’s breakfast," where you can try your hand at milking the goats before settling down for a scrumptious feast with your spoils. So many interactions with the Bedouin are refreshingly frank and open: every conversation feels like a Q&A cultural exchange where little seems off limits. As a Bedouin said to us on a recent visit, "First you come as tourists, and then you come back as friends."
5. Walk with the ancients, and far from the crowds, in Petra
No adventure in Jordan is complete without a few days in bucket-list-topping Petra, a mysterious sandstone city carved into cliffs by the now-extinct Nabataean civilization – it’s now a wonder of the world. Even the entrance to the ancient city feels like the start of a quest; wandering through the twists and turns of the Siq, the kilometer-long slot canyon gateway to the site, you might not think it so strange that Westerners forgot Petra existed for nearly 1000 years. Although most of Petra’s most noteworthy monuments line the main trail, a visit becomes even more rewarding off this beaten track. For unbeatable views of the Treasury, venture up to the heady heights of Al Kubtha Trail, or stroll along the rarely sought-out ancient tombs along Wadi Farasa behind the ancient city.
6. Take on eating as an endurance sport in Amman
Hope you packed your appetite: it’s impossible to leave Jordan hungry. Nowhere epitomizes that more than the foodie capital of Amman, with its vast range of cuisines to satisfy any taste and budget. Rainbow St is the obvious first destination for the ravenous: the famous Al Quds fries up some of the city’s best falafel for less than JD2 (about US$2.80). An equally tasty chickpea competitor, Hashem Restaurant, is just down the hill. For dessert, try the ubiquitous kunafeh, an originally Palestinian sweet concocted from salty white cheese, soaked in sugary rosewater-tinted syrup and finished off with crunchy pistachios. For our money, you’ll find the best at Habibah, where you can polish off your pastry from a paper plate in the alleyway. Or, if you want to make your own, get your hands dirty on a cooking course at Beit Sitti.
7. Go underwater with a scuba diving trip in Aqaba
Thanks to recent conservation efforts, the coral in the northern end of the Red Sea are flourishing, putting another notch into the country’s belt of adventure options. Despite Jordan having only 26km of coastline, Aqaba is quickly morphing into a diving hub of the region. Dive instructors in the city offer full PADI courses. If you’re already certified, plunge into the depths to explore the Cedar Pride, a creature-laden 74m-long sunken cargo ship that’s considered one of the best dives in the area.
8. Conquer a canyon at Wadi Mujib
Somehow still under the radar, Wadi Mujib is one of Jordan’s most exciting adventures, and if you like your hike with a side of swimming, these trails are certainly a walk on the wild side. Just north of the Dead Sea, this nature reserve is the lowest in the world, and the rapid elevation changes mean that the river’s swift waters are choked into impossibly narrow slot canyons that require abseiling, scrambling, wading and sliding down natural waterfalls, the perfect desert cool down.