Backpacking in Jordan on a Gap Year

Countries  »  Jordan

Located in the Middle East, Jordan is bordered to the west by the West Bank and Israel, to the north by Syria, to the east by Iraq and to the south by Saudi Arabia. This tiny desert kingdom was once an important trading centre of the Roman Empire, and everywhere you look this history is displayed. Lying at the heart of a region known for its perpetual tumult, Jordan is a sea of calm, blending different cultures, tradition and modernity, ancient history and youth appeal, all with seemingly effortless ease. We could (and will) bang on about Jordan’s desert citadels, Crusader castles, and famous biblical sites, but there’s also the chance to go sandboarding in the desert, relax in a mineral spa, and see if you really do float in the Dead Sea. Backpacking in Jordan comes in all shapes and sizes.

Jordan’s ability to cater for all cultures gives you the freedom to immerse yourself here as much or as little as you please. You might simply check off Jordan’s top attractions – Petra, a camel ride in Wadi Rum, a wander through Amman’s souks – or spend hours haggling with merchants or live with shepherds for a fortnight. The choice is yours.

Perhaps one of the most spectacular sights is the ancient city of Petra. This magnificent city radiates with beautiful pink hues at sunset especially on a winter's eve. Other wonders you'll discover in this kaleidoscopic country apart from this enchanting city are ruined Roman cities, desert citadels, Crusader castles and powerful biblical sites such as the mountain top overlooking the Promised Land, and the small creek where Jesus was baptized, among so many more.

In contrast to the magnificent historical sites spread across this land you will find the capital city, Amman, to be a culturally diverse and modern Arab city. There's a varied backdrop to this amazing country which ranges from the colourful corals of the Gulf of Agaba, to the red desert of Wadi Rum, and the majesty of the salt encrusted shores of the sparkling Dead Sea. Of course you should be aware of and respect conservative Jordanian values, especially in more rural areas. Women should make an effort to cover their arms and legs and wear loose clothes. Headscarves aren’t necessary outside of mosques.

The people of Jordan are passionate and proud and welcome all with open arms. Hospitality and courtesy will surround you as you experience the sensual delights of daily life in the Middle East.

Cities in Jordan

Capital city Amman is characterised by its rich history, its hills mixing Roman ruins, mosques, and traditional Arab souks with modern architecture. Arguably the most famous landmark is the 2nd-century Roman Amphitheater, the 6,000-seat structure built into the hill, with the Nymphaeum and Odeon theater nearby.

Amman is also the perfect place to sample Jordanian cuisine. Downtown has plenty of food stalls, selling simple fare (falafel, hummus, and flat bread) alongside less familiar dishes like mansaf, lamb served with rice and dried yoghurt. Refuel before delving into the chaos of the souks to seek some bargain souvenirs.

Other cities in Jordan aren’t so commonly part of the traveller trail, although anybody interested in diving or water sports might make time for Aqaba, and Jerash to the north of Amman has a wealth of ruins dating back to the Bronze Age (told you we were going to bang on about ruins).

Countryside in Jordan

Although most of Jordan is desert, the landscape hides some truly awe-inspiring sights. Petra is a bona fide wonder of the world, the ancient Nabataean city carved out of the cliffs. It’s place in the middle of a forbidding landscape means it was lost for centuries, and despite its popularity with visitors today (thanks in no small part to a starring role in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) it maintains a palpable sense of mystery.

All around Petra is Wadi Rum, a red-sand desert populated with craggy outcrops and plunging canyons. Play act as one of the Bedouin for a day with a camel trek – after a couple of hours it feels like traversing the surface of Mars.