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Though Amman is a lively and fascinating city, a weekend break away can provide an opportunity to hike through spectacular nature reserves, experience rural Jordanian culture, and go beyond flashy historical sites (we’re looking at you, Petra). Here’s our pick of the best.
If you’re seeking some historical inspiration mixed with complete immersion in nature, head 75 miles (120km) north of Amman to Umm Qais, where you can explore hilltop ruins of an abandoned Ottoman village, formerly the ancient Decapolis city of Gadara. Here you can take in stunning views of the Yarmouk River gorge, the Sea of Galillee and Lake Tiberius, or hike out to Arab Dam or through rolling hills of the adjacent Yarmouk Nature Reserve, among waterfalls and wildlife. It’s possible to camp in Yarmouk with a local guide, or by booking a stay at Philodemus Campsite. If camping isn’t your thing, try Bait Al Baraka, a cute bed and breakfast, or Umm Qais Hotel, which offers basic budget-friendly rooms.
Pro tip: A guide is recommended for hiking outside the archaeological site or camping in Yarmouk. Contact Experience Jordan for suggestions. You can also hire local Airbnb guides to lead you on a short hike, take you foraging or teach you about local beekeeping.
If you’re a nature lover seeking immersion in rolling hills of green, drive two hours north of Amman for a quiet weekend in the verdant Ajloun Forest. While not the largest national park in Jordan, it is one of the prettiest. The only lodging option in the reserve is Ajloun Cabins, which are austere but stylish, and RE run by Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN). Support the Ajloun community by hiring a local guide to hike the through reserve, get a calligraphy lesson and learn to write your name in Arabic, learn about soap making at Orjan Soap House, or arrange to have dinner at a local family’s house. If two days relaxing in a forest are a bit too much, sneak out to explore Ajloun Castle, seven miles (12km) from the reserve, or Jerash (see below), which is 40 minutes south by car.
Pro tip: Ajloun Cabins’ lodge has a rooftop restaurant with great views, but isn’t always open. If you plan to have dinner there, just let the front desk folks know in advance and they’ll often accommodate.
Because Jerash is just 30 miles (48km) north of Amman, many visitors take a day trip to see the impressive ruins. However, for intrepid adrenaline-fixated explorers, Jerash is worthy of a weekend trip. Take the whole day to investigate the sprawling Greco-Roman ruins and finish up at Lebanese House with a bottle of local arak and their famous grilled whole fish. The next day, mountain bike or hike the trails in Wasfi Al Tal forest, or take 4x4s through the same area and beyond. The nearby Royal Botanical Garden is currently closed to the public, but Badia 4×4 Adventures has a special arrangement that allows guests to pass through the park along access roads, which includes wonderful views of King Tal Dam and the reservoir.
Pro tip: For budget travelers, a camp site and very basic rooms are available at the Olive Branch Hotel, which is a 15-minute drive from Jerash. If you’re traveling with friends, rent the Dibeen Eco Farm House, which is halfway between Jerash and Badia 4×4. The farm house, perched in the pastoral hills, complete with farm animals, is an idyllic place to spend a weekend – and to come down from the biking or off-roading high.
Just an hour south of Amman, the charming little town of Madaba warrants a day or two of wandering the narrow cobblestone streets, shopping the abundance of carpet and jewelry stores, and ogling some of the best mosaics in the country. For those who wish to venture beyond the town, nearby Mt Nebo and Umm ar-Rasas, a World Heritage Site, (a 20-minute and 40-minute drive, respectively) provide additional doses of history. While you won’t find any chain hotels or chic boutique stays in Madaba, there is plenty of adequate and affordable accommodation.
Pro tip: Make your first stop Madaba Visitor Center to get oriented and pick up a map. Follow the painted lines on the sidewalks to see the most important historic sites, but leave time to stop for snacks, tea, and shopping along the way.
For a rejuvenating but adventurous weekend less than an hour outside Amman, head to the lowest point on earth for some oxygen-rich air (which locals claim gives visitors’ moods a boost), mineral-rich mud, hyper-saline water and some exciting canyoning. For a more peaceful experience than the cluster of chains along “hotel row,” book a minimalist eco-friendly chalet at Mujib Chalets on the shores of the Dead Sea in Mujib Nature Preserve, far away from the maddening crowds (a 25-minute drive south, to be exact). Hikers will want to hit Wadi Mujib located near the chalets, for an exhilarating canyoning trail and other epic hikes with views of the Dead Sea.
Pro tip: Mujib Chalets’ remote waterfront location means food options are limited, so pack a cooler of snacks. It’s best to rent a car, (preferably a small SUV, since the road to Mujib Chalets can be a bit rough), in case you wish to venture out to Dead Sea Panorama Restaurant or hotel row for meals.
For some luxe pampering, book a spa getaway at Ma’in Hot Springs Hotel. An hour and a half south of Amman, you’ll find an oasis with therapeutic hot springs where Herod the Great is said to have once taken the waters. During the descent to the springs along a narrow winding road, the landscape transforms from stark rocky desert to lush tropical dreamscape. The only hotel at the site, Ma’in Hot Springs Hotel Spa, is a lovely Instagramable property with stunning vistas and man-made pools fed by thermal waterfalls. Book a room on the west side of the property to enjoy sunset views through Wadi Zarqa.
Pro tip: The hotel’s food service is provided by Dead Sea Panorama Restaurant. Ride the complimentary 15-minute shuttle to have a traditional Arabian lunch or dinner on a cliff with a truly panoramic view of the Dead Sea. Make reservations in advance (ask for one of the outdoor terrace tables closest to the Dead Sea view). While you’re there, stroll through the Dead Sea Museum on site.
Escape into nature and get your hiking fix at Dana. A two and a half hour drive from Amman, Dana Biosphere Reserve encompasses 200 sq miles (320 sq km) of wilderness, and is the largest and most biodiverse preserve in Jordan. Hike through the remains of a 15th-century Ottoman village (currently being restored), scramble up sand dunes, climb through canyons and tread the trails along cool mountaintops.
Pro tip: There are a few hotels on the periphery of the biosphere, but for the full experience, stay in the actual reserve, either at the budget-friendly Rummana Campsite, run by one of the Bedouin tribes who still live in the reserve, or at the full-service Feynan Eco Lodge.
While frequented by tourists, the experience of camping Bedouin-style in the vast desert under a sea of stars, miles from civilization, is still an unforgettable weekend getaway. With its expanse of red sand, dramatic sheer rock walls and extra-terrestrial landscape, many Jordanians cite Wadi Rum over Petra as their favorite attraction in the country. Within the protected area, there are dozens of Bedouin camps, from no-frills black goat-hair tents with shared bathrooms, all the way up to luxe desert glamping.
Pro tip: While the local Bedouin are allowed to drive in the protected area, visitors are not. The area is vast, so to see the sights, book a Jeep tour through your camp. Camels are a charming option for short distances, but you’ll want more practical 4-wheeled transport for traversing the beautiful but arid 278 sq mile (720 sq km) area.
A little sliver that keeps Jordan from being entirely landlocked, the seaport of Aqaba is teeming with recreation options. Four hours south of Amman, Aqaba has plenty of attractions from Mamluk Fort ruins and Aqaba Bird Observatory, to an 18-hole championship all-grass golf course, and duty-free shopping. But visitors flock to Aqaba for the water sports on or in the Red Sea: deep-sea fishing, speedboat tours, diving or snorkeling along coral reefs, kitesurfing, waterskiing, paddle boarding and jet skiing. Plentiful hotel options are available for every budget level.
Pro tip: For divers, Pharaoh’s Island is a fascinating day trip. Closer to shore, the city’s 20+ diving and snorkeling spots include coral reefs, shipwrecks and even an army tank. Aqaba Marine Park is a good place to start, since a majority of the underwater sights are located in the park.