16 Hidden gems in Jordan that you have to visit (Jordan off the beaten path)

This list is available on mobile through an app called Peoople , where you can find each location on a map, and listen to the aud...

This list is available on mobile through an app called Peoople, where you can find each location on a map, and listen to the audios instead of reading the whole blog post - so you can have it on the go!


Last week, I wrote a blog post on the 10 TOP Places to visit in Jordan, a country I had the chance to explore right before the pandemic, and a place that I highly highly recommend others to visit. 

But as usual, I am a big believer that a country has a lot more to offer than just the TOP places everyone knows and visit, and so, I am now presenting you a list of 16 hidden gems in Jordan that you must not miss when you visit the country.


Edge of the World viewpoint in Dana Nature Reserve, Jordan

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Last updated: March 2021


I have been to some of these myself, and others I didn't get the chance to do so, unfortunately. 

On this list, I will start with the ones you should definitely not miss when visiting Jordan, and go down to the least impressive places. Please remember that this is only my personal opinion, and depending on what you like to see when traveling, you might disagree with me, and that's ok!

ALL places on this list are worth your attention, so curate your itinerary according to your liking.

I have decided to present the table of contents in two different orders: by relevance (again, according to my personal opinion, highly influenced by what sort of things I like to visit) and by type, so you can fully customise your itinerary according to what you like to do.


TABLE OF CONTENTS


You will be able to find a map with all of the locations mentioned on this blog post at the end, so make sure you check it before you leave.



1) The abandoned French Fortress in the Desert

Abandoned French Fortress in Wadi Rum
Interiors of the abandoned French Fortress

Before you read about what exactly is this French Fortress and where is located, let me just tell you that this is probably the best hidden gem in the country. Don't believe me? I won't blame you. Unfortunately, there isn't much information available online on this location, so this was the best stock photo I could find. But if you want to have your mind blown, check this photo on Pinterest.

Now that I have your interest, let's discuss it: I bet you have never seen this place before - and unfortunately, that goes for me too. Believe it or not, I have done a ton of research on this country before traveling there (as I always do) and not even once I saw this place on any type of guide, book or webpage about Jordan. NEVER.

Exactly one year after visiting the country, I was doing some extra research to create this blog post and fill out some information on places we didn't get the chance to visit on our week in Jordan, and I came across this place by pure luck - I was searching for a location and I saw a picture of this place on Pinterest. I searched and searched and finally realised that this place is actually located in WADI RUM, one of the top places to visit in Jordan! Then why is nobody talking about it? And why do Bedouin camps never even mention this place on their tours?

This fortress was built in 1998 to serve as a filming location to a TV show called Forges du Desert (aired in 1999), a replica to the original popular French gameshow Fort Boyard. On the show, participants would overcome a series of challenges in the desert (Wadi Rum) and the winner couple would then be granted access to the French Fortress, where further challenges awaited them - intellectual and physical challenges. Unfortunately the popularity of this replica filmed in Jordan wasn't as high as expected, and after airing only few episodes, they stopped broadcasting it - and yep, you guessed it, the fortress in the desert was left abandoned - with much of it still intact (including underground tunnels that connect to many different rooms full of a variety of objects that were used to create the challenges in the show. 

And the reason why this is such a hidden gem and no Bedouin tour takes you here? While it was left abandoned, it's access is prohibited, and there's a Bedouin family that watches over it to avoid vandalism. However, some people have entered without being noticed and there is a chance that you might be able to negotiate an entry price with them. Nevertheless, be aware that you are at your own risk if you decide to do so, and if you manage to enter, please leave the place exactly as you found it. 


2) As‑Salt

Meal at Beit Aziz Restaurant with a view to As-Salt
Having a delicious meal with a view at Beit Aziz Restaurant in As-Salt

Never heard about it? I'm not surprised. This is, in my opinion, the most underrated city in Jordan.

As-Salt, also known as Al-Salt or just Salt, it's a city on a hill, full of beautifully aligned houses, narrow streets with gorgeous views and an incredible atmosphere: people laughing as everyone honks and tries to get away from the crazy traffic at the entrance of the city in rush hour, kids playing in the streets, busy local markets and the silence of the city as the mosques do their call to prayer.

Prior to our visit, we couldn't find much information online, and to be fair, I don't think we needed it: the little we had, plus a little bit of luck, lead to experience some of the most amazing things in this city -  walking along the popular Hamman Street Market, eat a delicious meal at Beit Aziz Restaurant (it comes with an amazing view as you can see in the picture above!) and admire the views from Al Qala'a viewpoint.


3) Kings Highway (Highway 35)

Panoramic view of the Kings Highway, Jordan
Panoramic view over Kings Highway and it's scenic surrounding landscape

Kings Highway (also known as highway 35) is one of the main routes in Jordan, and it's well known for  it's curved roads, scenic views and it's importance in the trading history of the country. 

The road starts about 1h10min drive north of Aqaba (around Tassan) and goes a long way up north the country towards the border with Syria, finishing not far from the centre of Beit Ras, and goes through very popular places such as Wadi Musa, Wadi Mujib, Madaba, Amman and Jerash, including other less popular destinations that we will be mentioning on this lists, such as Dana Nature Reserve, Karak and Shobak Castle.

So if you're driving around the country to get to the destinations in your itinerary, chances are, you will be driving through King's Highway at some point (or even more than once) - and if you do, it's time to enjoy the views.


4) At-Tafilah Highway (Highway 60)

tomato plantation in jordan
Tomato Plantation we found at the end of Highway 60 (30°54'13.4"N 35°28'53.4"E)
Al Borj Restaurant view over Jordan mountains
One of the most incredible views I've seen in Jordan, from Al Borj Rest Restaurant.

While Kings Highway makes it to the list of many Jordan guides, At-Tafilah Highway (number 60) stays in the shadows thanks to it - and I am actually quite sad it does. This was a road I never saw on any article about Jordan, but I just couldn't ignore its beauty as we drove past - to a point we had to leave the car and snap some pictures (more than once!!).

It's a much shorter Highway, starting at Desert Highway (number 15) and finishing at Jordan Valley Highway (number 65), and the highlights for us were the stunning views from Al Borj Rest Restaurant (and of course, the unique experience of seeing over 70 dogs in one single place) as well as a unique landscape we saw at the end of the Highway (near the junction with Jordan Valley Highway), to what seemed to be a tomato plantation.

You can see pictures of both places above and if you would like to see the video of our drive through Highway 60 (yes, including the dogs!!) watch the video below:




5) Dana Biosphere Nature Reserve

Dana village on the edge of the Dana Nature Reserve
Dana village on the edge of the Dana Nature Reserve

If you've done some research about Jordan, you've probably come across Dana Biosphere Nature Reserve at some point. This is the largest Nature Reserve in the whole country, with loads of fauna and flora to explore, as well as stunning views all over. One of the most incredible views it's probably the "Edge of the World", displayed on the top photo of this blog post.

You can explore on your own, as well as with a guide, and make sure you don't miss visiting the Dana village, where the locals live peacefully surrounded by the beauty and tranquillity of this place. Most common activities here are hiking, cycling, bird watching and stargazing. 

 

6) Little Petra (Siq al-Barid)

Triclinium in Little Petra
Standing in front of a stunning Triclinium in Little Petra

I am actually surprised about how so many guides do not include Little Petra on their list - but I guess I can understand why. Siq al-Barid (Cold Canyon), also known as Little Petra, it's as the name suggests, a much smaller version (and by much smaller I mean much much smaller) of the big Petra, and yes, it gets cold up here as the sun hides behind the walls of the canyon.

While you can find a lot of different opinions on whether is it worth visiting it or not, Little Petra is only 10km away from Wadi Musa and it can be a great introduction to your visit to the main Petra, if you start from here and hike towards the Monastery at the end (also known as "the back door" hike to the Monastery). 

That being said, overall, Little Petra isn't very impressive, specially after visiting main Petra, so if you decide to explore it, your have to be aware of that.


7) Wadi Bin Hammad

Wadi Bin Hammad

You've probably never heard about this Wadi before, and it's very likely because of the popular Wadi Mujib, that is considerably more impressive and of course, most popular. Since it's still quite a hidden gem, you can enjoy the tranquillity and beauty of the place without the crowds.

Located in Kerak, a region mostly known for it's castle (that I will mention on this list below), this Wadi is a wonderful way to explore the diversity of landscapes in Jordan, as here, you will get your feet wet as you hike through the narrow canyon, admiring the waterfalls, hanging gardens, vivid green palm trees and lush vegetation.

It's suitable for all levels of experience, but caution needs to be taken regarding the weather conditions due to flooding. 


8) Umm Qais

Umm Qais theatre
West theatre at Umm Qais

The reason why you probably haven't heard about this place is because of Jerash. Jerash is a lot more extensive and impressive, and it's proximity to the capital, Amman, it's a big plus. On the other hand, Umm Qais is located well north in the country, close to the border with Israel (around 70km north from Jerash). But even if Umm Qais had a better location, Jerash would totally win over it thanks to being such a large and unique place, with so much to offer, and so many structures in great condition (it's called the Pompeii of the East for a reason!).

Nevertheless, if you have extra time and would like to explore the area, in Umm Qais you will be able to visit the ruins of an ancient Hellenistic city called Gadara - name that the locals still use up to this day to refer to the area. These ruins include Roman tombs, two theatres, the very popular Byzantine church terrace and more.




9) Pella (Tabqet Fahel)

Ruis in Pella, Tabqet Fahel, Jordan

Since we're talking about ruins, I need to include Pella on this list. Also located Northwest (roughly 45km from Jerash), not far from the Jordan River, Pella was, just like Gadara, a city built in the Hellenistic period, and it's exceptionally popular among archaeologists. 

Here you can admire plenty of artefacts that have been discovered in recent excavations, as well as a fair amount of ruins: Byzantine churches and houses, Roman baths, temples, a mosque, roman gate and fountain house. Since most of the ruins are spread out, a bit of a walking is required.


10) Ajloun Castle (Qalสปat ar-Rabad)

Ajloun Castle (Qalสปat ar-Rabad) in Jordan

Ajloun Castle, also known as "Qalสปat ar-Rabad", is one of the most popular (if not the most popular) castles in the country and it contains a museum on site. This was an important site in the defence against the Crusaders, thanks to it's strategic location on a mount with views over the Jordan Valley and it's surrounding three desert wadis, that were protected thanks to it.

While getting up the castle will lead to a sweaty walk uphill, the views will make up for your effort.




11) Al-Karak Castle (Karak or Kerak)

Karak Castle in Jordan

Do you remember when I mentioned Karak Castle above on the topic of Wadi Bin Hammad? It's finally time to talk about it.

Built in AD 1142 by the Crusaders and used later as a Mamluk fortress, Al-Karak, Karak or Kerak is another popular castle in Jordan, specially for being one of the largest in the country, containing a museum, plenty of rooms, stables, a church, dungeons and dark chambers, as well as narrow pathways and low doorways.


12) Shobak Castle

Shoback castle on a hill in Jordan
Shobak Castle standing majestically on a hill 

Both Shobak and Karak castles have a lot in common. Shobak was built in AD 1115 by Baldwin I, the same Crusader King that built Karak Castle later in AD 1142. Being the first Crusader fortress in the area (Oultrejourdain), it was originally known as Mont Realis (Montreal). Just like Karak, Shobak Castle was later occupied by Mamluks.

Even though Shobak is considerably less popular than Karak (most likely because of being less well preserved and having less rooms to explore), Shobak Castle sits majestically on a hill from where you can have gorgeous views, and potentially spot parts of the ruins that have fell down the hill.

Once in the castle, you can explore ruins from a prision, two churches, plenty of different rooms including the Baldwin I court, catacombs, a watchtower built by the Mamluks and narrow pathways.


13) Qasr Al-Abd

Qasr Al-Abd ruins

Next on the list of castles is the lesser known Qasr Al-Abd. The ruins of this incomplete Hellenistic palace can be visited in Wadi al-Seer, around 18km away from the centre of the capital Amman. There are other attractions in the area in case you want to further explore it.


14) Desert Castles

Qasr al-Kharana, Jordan
One of the most popular desert castles in Jordan, Qasr al-Kharana


And finally, on the line of castles, I could not leave this list without mentioning the desert castles or Qasrs (palaces or castles), that are actually neither - but no better name has been found for them up until now, so desert castles it is.

These were built around the 7th-8th century by the Umayyads and because there is so much history behind each of them, I wrote a separate blog post with all of the information you need, including a map to make your life easier.

These desert castles were built for a lot of different reasons, and so, each one is unique, and while some can be easily accessible, others will require a bit more logistics to visit and so, many opt to hire a guide. Some of the most popular are Qasr al-Kharana, Qusair Amra, Qasr Al-Hallabat and Hammam al-Sarah, but there are others less explored that you might want to check it out as well (please check the Jordan desert castles route)

I have included the desert castles quite down on this list as I wanted to include them together with the other castles, but to be honest, I totally think they deserve a place on your itinerary, and I would probably place them higher otherwise.


15) Shaumari Wildlife Reserve

Oryxes in Shaumari Wildlife Reserve
Oryxes in Oryxes in Shaumari Wildlife Reserve

Did you know that there is a Wildlife Reserve in Jordan, where you can visit the endangered species that live in the desert wadis? Here you will find oryxes, gazelles, ostriches, onagers and houbara bustards in fenced enclosures, and have the opportunity to go on a safari jeep where you can spot other species out in the wild!

It's a family friendly attraction and if you're an animal lover, than this place might be worth your attention.


16) Azraq Wetland Reserve

Azraq Wetland Reserve in Jordan

Not far from Shaumari Wildlife Reserve we have the last point on this list - Azraq Wetland Reserve, a migratory stopover for birds from three different continents, turning it into a top place to visit for bird watchers. You will be able to enjoy the area as you walk by the boardwalks, and you can also spot different types of fish.

The Reserve is near some of the desert castles mentioned above, so you can visit it as part of your visit there!




And with this, we have come to the end of one of the most exiting hidden gems list I have ever created - can you tell how excited I get about Jordan?  

As promised above, you can find a map with all locations mentioned on this post below:


Tips to use the map above
  • You will find different layers on this map, showing you all points of interest by categories. To see these, click on the tab icon (top left). All layers will be enabled by default. By clicking on the check marks, you can disable/hide a specific label to better understand the info you're looking for.
  • To view more detailed information on any point of interest, click on it's icon over the map.
  • You can save this by clicking on the star on the top of the map (right next to the title). This will be added to your Google Maps, and you will be able to access it from any device (Google Maps - Your Places - Maps)



I hope this list helps you on your planning, and I am super glad you're considering exploring less travelled attractions as that way you will be helping sites that get less support from travellers. Thank you for traveling more sustainably!



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