Have you ever found yourself visiting one of the most famous tourist destinations on our planet, wondering where are all the people? People occupying your personal space, elbows in your ribs, and a bunch of cameras in your face is something completely normal when you’re visiting places like the Louvre, the Taj Mahal or the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. However, that’s not the case in Petra, one of the most extraordinary sites not only in Jordan but in the world. When that’s the case in this magnificent historical remnant, you can imagine how it’s like in the rest of the country. Jordan is an amazing country, with incredible attractions, delicious food, and hospital people. The only thing missing are the tourists… Is Jordan safe to visit?
How did this happen?
Jordan has always been the crossroad in the Middle East, both geographically and historically. Every empire that ever existed in the region conquered the land east of the Jordan River. This means Jordan is not only a crossroad between Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, and Syria and Turkey. It is a historical crossroad where the Persian, Macedonian, Roman, and Ottoman empires meet. However, for Jordan, this geostrategic location has been a curse as much as it has been a blessing, especially with the turmoil happening in the Middle East in the following years.
This resulted in Jordan accepting 635,000 refugees from Syria but that’s not all. Jordan has a lot of refugees from Palestine and Iraq as well. In fact, according to the World Bank, nearly 35% of Jordan’s population is made up of refugees from neighboring countries.
Is Jordan safe for travelers?
Jordan somehow managed to keep itself out of all the turmoil in the neighboring countries and remain relatively safe. In fact, it is one of the safest countries to visit in the region, even if you’re traveling around Jordan with kids. There aren’t any restrictions on travel to any of Jordan’s most famous destinations. This means you can enjoy this country’s rich natural, historical and even biblical heritage.
When I reached my hotel in Amman, the first thing I was told was “Don’t worry, you are safe here. There might be some issues in the neighboring countries but you are completely safe here”- the hotel owner said. After a couple of days, I can’t even count how many times I heard the same words; from restaurant owners, shopkeepers, tourist guides, and even regular folks I met on the way. It seemed like the huge dip in visitors is really causing problems for Jordan, once a very famous travel destination that received hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. The main reason for this is an outside factor that has nothing to do with Jordan: the ongoing conflict in Syria. And the people you meet will have an urge to emphasize just how safe and risk-free traveling to Jordan is.
I could completely understand them. Most governments have warned their citizens against traveling to the region because of the Syrian War. This left Jordan empty, with the number of international tourists decreasing by over 60%! The country’s most extraordinary sites see only a third of the people that used to visit them back in 2011. This obviously had harsh consequences for Jordan’s economy, as the travel industry has historically contributed to 20% of the GDP.
Why now is the best time to visit Jordan?
The answer is simple: because there aren’t many tourists around and nothing can replace the solitary feeling you get as you pass through its ancient sites. It feels like you went back in time when there weren’t any cheap flights and good travel deals. Maybe even further back in the past… This makes you feel the authenticity of a place and experiencing it in a way that you didn’t think was possible. I’m not talking just about one or two places here. Jordan has an extremely rich history despite only being an independent country since 1946.
From the Nabataean places, through the hills covered with Roman amphitheaters, burial sites, and Greek architecture, to the miles of jaw-dropping desert terrain till the Dead Sea, Jordan has a lot to offer. Imagine having the ability to explore this places that have over 4,000 years of history without the tourist crowd. Sounds like a privilege, doesn’t it? That’s an obvious answer to the question why now is the best time to visit Jordan.
Visiting the ancient city of Petra
At its peak, this (almost) 3,000 years old archeological site hosted as many as 3,000 visitors every day. However, during my visit, there were barely any people. I could explore the site in peace, without people shouting in 15 different languages, and umbrella-waving tourist guides. I was lucky enough to get the unique opportunity to see this ancient marvel in its authentic state- like it has been for centuries. It was a sensation that no photograph or video can re-capture…
I walked around the ancient site for miles, overwhelmed by the number of stunning tombs and facades, dazzled by the Nabateans’ (nomadic people that built Petra) ability to build such a spectacular site 2,300 years ago. And as if that wasn’t impressive enough, the sun began setting over the ancient capital and I was stunned even more by the fascinating way in which the sunlight started changing the color of the rocks from orange during the day to pink during sunset, to shadowy gray during the dusk hours. It’s damn hard to describe this experience without sounding like a walking cliché…
Exploring Wadi Rum
Petra was really amazing but I wouldn’t be here writing this article if Jordan was a “one-trick pony”. My next destination was Wadi Rum: a spectacular desert terrain spreading across 500 square miles. After seeing the magnificent Petra, I must admit that I wasn’t expecting to be wowed by any other place in Jordan. However, Wadi Rum proved me wrong.
Wadi Rum inspired T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) to write his book “The pillars of seven wisdom”. The British officer was based in Wadi Rum when he helped the Arabs in their revolt against the Ottoman Empire. I can’t compare any other place on Earth to Wadi Rum, with its various, alien-like sandstone rock formations, impressive peaks, and camel caravans crossing the open plains in the distance. Moreover, staying in one of the eco-camps in the desert is an amazing experience. Spending the cool nights camping in Wadi Rum under a clear sky accompanied by candles, delicious food, and traditional dances is just a part of an experience that you’ll never forget.
Taking a swim in the Dead Sea
Located at the lowest point on Earth 1,401 feet below sea-level, this salt lake wears its name for a reason. No life lies beneath it. Its high salinity prevents aquatic organisms from living in it. It’s one of the very few places on our planet where you can’t drown even if you don’t know how to swim. The high salinity is also famous for its health-giving properties, as it contains 8 times more minerals than most sea water. However, nowadays, most people visit the Dead Sea from the Israel side and you will find a lot fewer people on the Jordan side.
However, the Dead Sea isn’t the only water source with health-giving properties. To find out more, read this article about the Healing waters of Jordan.
Often forgotten by travelers that come to visit the more famous sites, Amman is an underrated destination in Jordan, despite being the capital. The city has Ammonite ruins dating back as far as 1,200 B.C. and even classical ancient Greek architecture. However, the city fell victim to multiple earthquakes in the 8th century. This made Amman practically uninhabitable and the city wasn’t restored until 1921. That’s why today Amman is the ultimate mix of the old and the new and certainly a destination worthy of your time during your Jordan holiday. Surprisingly, in Amman, you will find probably the best-preserved Roman ruins outside of Italy! On the other hand, not so surprisingly, you’ll find the best food in Jordan.
As you could see from this article, Jordan’s location as a crossroad in the Middle East has taken a serious toll on tourism in the country. The First Intifada created the first threat to tourism in the country. The Iraq war and the 9/11 attacks followed. Just when the situation started getting better, the global recession hit in 2008, and the violent aftermath of the Arab Spring followed, culminating with the conflict in Syria. However, despite all the conflicts surrounding it, Jordan managed to become a completely peaceful oasis. The tourists, unfortunately, aren’t able to see this.
In a time when other countries are setting limits on the number of visitors on sights like Machu Pichu and Galapagos, visiting Jordan feels like a blessing. No matter where you decide to go, you will have plenty of opportunities to relax and enjoy Jordan’s amazing, natural beauty.