Visit Petra, An Ancient Metropolis
This is the first thing that people think of when they hear the words visit Jordan, and rightfully so. Petra is one of the world’s most incredible archaeological sites and dates back two thousand years. Carved into the rose, red, and white sandstone this incredible city was–quite astonishingly– lost to the western world for centuries.
Petra was the capital of the Nabataean empire from the third century BCE to the second century AD. One of the most incredible facts about Petra is that only 15% of the city has so far been uncovered. New finds are happening all the time and with 85% of the area still to be excavated, I wonder what other hidden treasures lie beneath the surface of the red sand.
If you’re looking for world-class photography opportunities, Petra offers some of my all-time favorite spots like the Monastery (the Deir) pictured above and the Treasury (Al-Khazneh) pictured below. My photo tour in Jordan is the only one in the world that offers after hour access to these incredible spots within the Unesco World Heritage site. This permits our guests to get photos just like these!
It seems no work of Man’s creative hand,
by labour wrought as wavering fancy planned;
But from the rock as if by magic grown,
eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
where erst Athena held her rites divine;
Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;
But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,
Match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
a rose-red city half as old as time.
This poem by John William Burgon won Burgon Oxford University’s prestigious Newdigate Prize for Poetry in 1845.
Step Back In Time To The Roman Empire
Jordan truly has one of the richest histories of any country on the planet and Jerash is one of those places that has more stories to tell than most countries in the world. Evidence of settlements dating back to the Bronze Age (3200 BC – 1200 BC) has been found in the region of Jerash.
Here you will find some of the best preserved Greco-Roman ruins on Earth and the excavation of the site that began in the 1920s continues to this day. Some of the ruins that you’ll find here include:
• Numerous Corinthian columns
• Hadrian’s Arch
• The circus/hippodrome
• The two large temples (dedicated to Zeus and Artemis)
• The nearly unique oval Forum, which is surrounded by a fine colonnade,
• The long colonnaded street or cardo
• Two theatres (the Large South Theatre and smaller North Theatre)
• Two communal baths, and a scattering of small temples
• A large Nymphaeum fed by an aqueduct
• An almost complete circuit of city walls
• A water-powered sawmill for cutting stone
After the Greeks and Romans had their turns ruling the area, Jerash then it as the turn of the Christians and Muslims. From the fifth to seventh centuries Jerash saw over a dozen churches built and many of them had spectacular mosaic floors which are still being uncovered by archeologists.
In 749 AD an earthquake hit the region and destroyed large areas of Jerash, leaving the ruins covered under soil and sand for centuries. Over a millennia later German explorer Ulrich Jasper Seetzen discovered the ruins while on a research expedition. Today, Jerash has become the second most visited historic archeological site in Jordan.
Camp With Bedouins
One of my all time favourite things to do in Jordan is camp—or in this case glamp—with the local Bedouin people in the vast Wadi Rum desert.
This unique experience allows you to do participate in some exciting events like hot air ballooning, camel riding, and desert jeep rides that you’ll never forget. The cool thing for photography enthusiasts is that all of these things allow you to get incredible photos that you friends will be jealous of.
Imagine seeing the desert from high above as you glide effortlessly and silently in a beautiful balloon or riding on a camel like they did for millennia on the spice road caravan route. Top it all off with desert sunset photoshoots and epic Bedouin fare for dinner and you’ll see why this is an experience not to be missed!
Camping with the Bedouin in luxury tents is one of the experiences that my guests on my Jordan photo tour rave about afterwards. I like to think of the experience as an unexpected treasure.
“The desert could not be claimed or owned–it was a piece of cloth carried by winds, never held down by stones, and given a hundred shifting names… Its caravans, those strange rambling feasts and cultures, left nothing behind, not an ember. All of us, even those with European homes and children in the distance, wished to remove the clothing of our countries. It was a place of faith. We disappeared into landscape.”
~ Michael Ondaatje
Float In A Giant Salt Lake
Visiting the Dead Sea is one of the most memorable travel experiences in my life, for several reasons. Where to begin?
To start, the Dead Sea is a natural wonder. What makes it so special? I’m glad you asked!
The water in the Dead Sea is incredibly salty. In fact, the salinity level of the water is 9.6 times as salty as the ocean and the sixth saltiest body of water on Earth. (Fun fact: The most saline body of water on the planet is actually Don Juan Pond in Antarctica with a salinity level of over 40%.)
The Dead Sea is over 400m (1,312 ft.) below sea level. This makes it the lowest point on the face of the planet.
Dead Sea salts and minerals like the famous Dead Sea mud have been used for millennia to treat skin ailments. The salts also make for ethereal photographs, especially when using neutral density filters.
But the coolest thing about the Dead Sea is the fact that you can float effortlessly on the water. I’ve done it several times and each time is like the first… absolutely awesome!
Here are a few tips for floating in the Dead Sea…
• Wear water shoes or at least sandals. The bottom of the sea is rough and jagged in many places and you could cut your feet if you’re not careful
• When you get to the shore at the resort you’re staying at, look for the huge pots of mineral mud and slather it all over yourself. Trust me, this will make your skin soft as silk once it washes off in the salty water.
• Don’t shave for at least 24-48 hours before entering the Dead Sea. Any nicks, cuts, or abrasions will sting like crazy. You’ll get a much better understanding of the idiom “Pouring salt on their wounds”.
• Relax and slowly immerse yourself into the water, especially if this is your first time. You do not want to get water in your mouth… yuk! Even more so, do not dunk your head in as you do not want to get water in your eyes… trust me, ouch!!
• Wear old bathing suits. Why risk ruining that fancy new one you just bought?
• Shower quickly after exiting the water.
Eat Exotic Jordanian Foods
While in Jordan, you’ll hopefully eat traditional local foods that you’ll wish you could get back home. Sure there’s the traditional Mediterranean and Arabic type food that you’ll find on menus everywhere like hummus, falafel, tabbouleh, shish kebab, and shawarma, but allow me to share some of the lesser known treats that you’re in store for.
Moutabel is a yummy roasted eggplant dish similar to baba ganoush but with a twist. One of the main ingredients in moutabel is yoghurt.
Another delectable Jordanian dipping dish is labneh, also a yoghurt based dish. This is a breakfast treat that is served with bread and dipping veggies.
Kousa Mahshi is a unique Jordanian dish made of zucchini stuffed with ground meat, onions, and spices.
Mujadara is a tasty mix of rice, lentils, and cumin based spices. Once cooked the dish can be garnished with caramelized onions and pine nuts. Simple but oh so delicious.
As a main course, my favorite Jordanian delicacy is mansaf. It’s basically the national dish of Jordan and for good reason. Mansaf is unique not just in the preparation but also in how one eats it. The dish consists of rice, lamb, and jameed. Jameed is a Jordanian gravy consisting of hard dry laban (yoghurt) made from goat’s milk.The kicker is that you eat mansaf with your hands. On our Jordan photo adventure, we get the chance to eat with a local family who prepares their national dish for us with pride. They also make sure that they show us the proper technique of eating the rice dish with our hands. Don’t worry, if you don’t get it right the first time, there’s a lot more mansaf where that came from!
Walk on Mars, Hollywood style
The relatively inhospitable and vast Wadi Rum desert in the middle of Jordan is home to very few people other than the few thousand Bedouin nomads who have claimed the desert as a home for centuries.
Being so vast and otherworldly… and red, have made Wadi Rum the perfect setting for many Hollywood movies, many of which take place on Mars or other planets.
Here are some of those movies:
- Red Planet starring Val Kilmer
- Prometheus directed by Ridley Scott
- The Last Days on Mars starring Liev Schreiber
- Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen directed by Michael Bay
- The Martian starring Matt Damon
- Star Wars: Rogue One directed by Gareth Edwards
Tour Amman, The Ancient Capital
Amman is a mix of old and new… very old and very new. The city was actually originally called Philadelphia. As far as Middle Eastern cities go, Amman is open, liberal, welcoming and safe. It’s also the largest city of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan with a population of more than four million.
The Jordanian people are incredibly welcoming and also very charitable when it comes to taking in hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and since the Syrian war broke out in 2011 many Syrians have made Amman their home.
The city lies on land that has been inhabited by humans since the Neolithic times dating back to around 7,500 BCE. During the times of Greek occupation during the era of Alexander the Great, many new cities in the middle east were founded including what we now call Amman. At that time though the city was named Philadelphia in honor of Ptolemy II Philadelphus the Macedonian ruler of Egypt, who occupied and rebuilt the city, and named it after himself. Nice fact… Philadelphia in Greek means the city of brotherly love.
Today the city is a vibrant mix of older historic buildings, ruins, and landmarks alongside more modern architecture that keeps popping up as the city quickly expands and evolves into its current incarnation.
This is a city of rich culture, wonderful food, and deep history.
“This being human is a guest house. Every morning is a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor…Welcome and entertain them all. Treat each guest honorably. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”
~ Jalaluddin Rumi
Explore Dana Biosphere Reserve
While Jordan is well known for such incredible places s Petra, Jerash, the Dead Sea, and Wadi Rum, don’t overlook the Dana Biosphere Reserve!
When we visit this jewel of a place, we do it in style with a green touch. On a small plot of land kissing the border of the Dana Biosphere Reserve lies one of the top-rated Eco-Lodges (by Nat Geo Traveler) in the world and I absolutely love it. Everything that is used at the Feynan Eco-Lodge is locally sourced, from the delectable vegetarian fare to the candle wax used to keep the lodge lit in the evenings. There is no electricity other than a small generator for emergencies and a few solar panels for the very basic necessities.
This is a wonderful place to contemplate, relax, meditate in a serene environment. The hotel staff are warm and hospitable members of the local Bedouin community that still live the nomadic lifestyle as they follow their goats as they graze in different areas of Dana. We get a chance to visit them in their tented homes and take part in a traditional tea ceremony, go for a sunset nature walk and photo-shoot, and eat some of the best vegetarian food you could imagine.This is one place that you’ll want to go for seconds!
With such tranquillity at night and being so far from civilization, you’ll be hypnotized by the starry skies as well as the shimmering candlelight as you walk around the lodge or turn into your elegant room for the most relaxing night of sleep you could imagine.
If it sounds as if I like the Feynan experience, you’d be dead wrong… I don’t like it, I love it!
A Peaceful Haven In The Middle East
While many westerners tend to think of the Middle East as a war-ravaged part of the world that is beset by violence and conflict, Jordan will prove to be the exception to that rule.
I’ve never heard the word “welcome” more than when I’m in Jordan. It starts at the airport and I’ll guarantee you that you’ll hear it several times a day from different people as your days unfold. This is a welcoming country with hospitable, proud, and passionate people. Even if the people you meet do not speak English, they at least know the word “welcome” and will make sure that you feel welcomed in their country or even their home.
I’ve never once felt any cause for fear or panic in Jordan. I can honestly say that you’re far safer in Jordan than in many places in the United States or other western countries. There is no war going on in Jordan. In fact, the Jordanian people have welcomed millions of Palestinian and Syrian refugees into their country in hopes of making their lives better and giving their children a chance to grow up in a place without fear, hatred, or violence. We could all learn something from the Jordanians who live by the golden rule…
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
In my many visits to the beautiful country of Jordan, I’ve always been blown away by the natural beauty and history of the land. That being said, the thing that impressed me the most though was the kindness of the people.
Do not be fooled by the seemingly gruff exterior of some of the men you’ll meet as once they get to know you, you will be welcomed with open arms, a brilliant smile, and a warm embrace. Our local guides are the absolute best and help us make sure that the photos we take are associated with wonderful and meaningful stories that we live on our Jordanian odyssey. The passion for their country is palpable and contagious and when you listen to the meaning or narrative of the places they are describing, your photos of that place will become far more precious to you.
Not only are the people I work with in Jordan a pleasure to deal with but the people we meet as our journey progresses are often good fodder for portraits and candid photos. Just be aware that women should not be photographed without permission, especially in Bedouin communities where tradition runs deep.
More often than not, where we eat or stop for tea, the owners of the establishments will come and speak with our group to make sure that we are satisfied, well fed, and well informed about the fare we are eating. Whether it is Bedouin Zarb for dinner or the national dish Mansaf prepared by a local family, our meals have meaning and are prepared with love.
On my first trip to Jordan, I remember being in Amman and looking for a good perspective to get a wide-angle photo of the city from a high vantage point. I wandered around like a lost puppy, searching for that ideal vantage point. In my confusion, I ended up in someone’s backyard all the while thinking that I was on public property. An old woman came rushing out of her home into the yard and looked at me up and down with a judgemental gaze and for a moment I thought that I was in trouble. After explaining to her what I was doing, half in English, half in pantomime pointing to my camera and tripod, she smiled and rushed back indoors. Not sure what to make of this and not knowing if I should stay or go, I decided to wait. To my delight, once she re-emerged, she did so with a plate of cookies and a big pot of tea and two delicate porcelain teacups.
That is how I’ll always remember the people of Jordan and I welcome you to find out for yourself just what a special part of the world Jordan truly is.
“Unexpected and pleasant surprises occur every day…random kindnesses from a stranger; would-be tragic accidents narrowly avoided; sicknesses healed…. We will notice if we look. We will see good sprinkled liberally over every day if we are open.”
~ Steve Goodier