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5 Hidden Hikes in Jordan (Outside of Petra)

Hey there! I am so excited to have an incredible guest post today by April Blaszak who is the travel blogger behind The Unending Journey. April will be sharing a monthly travel post that will highlight offbeat journeys around the world, so stay tuned for more!

April started traveling when she was 19 and hasn’t looked back since. 26 countries later she’s as excited as ever to journey to a new place (be it 20 miles from me or half way around the world) and discover what she can. Passionate about solo travel, she hopes to inspire others to get out, leave their fear behind, and experience the world. 

Jordan. When you hear that country, what’s the first thing that pops into your mind? It’s probably, Petra, right? And I mean, why not? Petra is amazing. Epic. Breathtaking. It’s a place that’s well worth taking 2-3 days to explore. But too many people rush through the country on their trip to Jordan. Or they tack on a few days to visit Petra on a longer visit to Israel. And maybe throw in a day to explore the red desert of Wadi Rum.

Please don’t be one of those people. Jordan has so much more to offer to make for an incredible vacation in its own right. Jordan is a country full of unexpected beauty in the landscape and genuinely friendly people. Recently, I spent 16 days exploring and getting to know this amazing country. For those who want to get away from the crowds and see parts of Jordan that many tourists either skip over or don’t know about, check out these incredible off the beaten path sights that should be added to any Jordan itinerary.

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The Desert Castles of the East

Amman, the capital of Jordan, is usually where people start on their trip to Jordan. Using it as a base, visitors will venture north for day trips to the Roman ruins of Jerash and Umm Qaison. Or to the castle and forests of Ajloun. But venturing off the beaten path in Jordan to the eastern desert is something not many do. Maybe a desert sounds boring. But trust me, there are some Jordan’s more fascinating attractions to visit giving glimpses into Jordan’s rich history.

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Qasr Al-Kharaneh

Less than an hour outside of Amman lies the first stop, Qasr al-Kharaneh. This stunning piece of architecture stands isolated in a barren landscape. Though its purpose is still being debated, that doesn’t take away from the fun of exploring the two floors of maze-like rooms surrounding a large, central courtyard. Though it’s crumbling in places, you can’t help but be impressed.

Close by is the incredible Qusayr Amara, a World Heritage Site. Don’t let its size fool you into thinking it’s not worth your time. Once a bathhouse, its beauty is fully revealed once you step inside. All around you are vivid frescoes from the floor to the ceiling. The best preserved of their type and time. Luckily, a guide is always inside to give you more insight and stories from the frescoes. From the main vaulted room are several smaller rooms that you cannot miss.

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Azraq Castle

Heading further east you enter the town of Azraq. Here is Azraq Castle. Yes, finally a proper castle. The grounds date back to 300 AD when Romans controlled the area. The castle has played a part in every epoch of Jordan history – from stronghold against the Crusaders to the Arab Revolt of the early 1900s. TE Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) even lived here for several months. Though the grounds are sparse now, it’s still an intriguing site to walk around.

If you’re looking to take a break from the barren wasteland of the eastern desert, while in Azraq you can stop at the Azraq Wetland Reserve. It’s hard to imagine, but once the whole area was a green oasis. It served as a watering hole for migrating birds. Once there was talk of turning the area into a national park. Alas, that never happened and much of the water was drained as a resource for Amman. What’s left is a small fraction of what the area used to be.

And, if you’re looking for someplace really off the beaten path in Jordan, look no further than Umm al-Jimal, the black gem of the desert. Very few visitors venture to this site, even though its less than a two-hour drive from Azraq (and just over an hour from Amman, making it the perfect last stop on a day loop through the castles). On first glance, it may just look like a massive site of piles of rocks.

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Um Al-Jimal

Trust me, it’s so much more. Yes, there are a lot of rock piles, but there are many foundations of houses and churches. Paths follow the old street layouts. Existing courtyards and arched windows are exciting finds. And, locals love to use the area as a park for walking or taking in their own history. As they love to speak with visitors, it’s a great way to interact with the locals. Spending a day touring the desert castles will be a unique day in your Jordan itinerary.

Helpful Information: entry to each of the desert castles is free with the Jordan Pass or 1-2 JD per site. Make sure you fill up on gas before setting out as the only gas station on the route is at Azraq. All sites except Umm al-Jimal have toilets on the premises.

Mukawir – Machaerus Fortress

The Dead Sea is a place nearly everyone wants to go to when in Jordan. It’s one of Jordan’s premiere attractions. Floating in unsinkable waters at the lowest spot on the planet…how could one refuse? But there’s much more to do in the Dead Sea area than float. You can take in where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist at Bethany Beyond Jordan. Behold stunning views of the holy land at Mt. Nebo. Marvel at the intricate mosaics in Madaba. All of these are on the popular tourist route on most Jordan itineraries.

But, what about Mukawir? Probably never heard of it, right? But you may have heard the biblical story of Salome doing the Dance of the Seven Veils for King Herod to get John the Baptist’s head. Well, this is where that happened! When I read that, visiting was a must.

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Views of dead sea from Mukawir ruins.

Located approximately 40 minutes from Madaba, the remains of the great palace stand atop a hill with the Dead Sea as its backdrop. From the parking lot, it’s about a 10-minute walk up the hill to the ruins. Truthfully, the ruins are on the skimpy side with zero information about what you’re looking at. But the views of the surrounding landscape are stunning. And to say you stood where Salome did her famous dance, well, just priceless.

Helpful Information: entry is 1 JD to the ruins (Jordan Pass is not accepted here). Restrooms are just off the parking lot.

And, if you want to give back to the community, right before you see the ruins, there’s the Bani Hamida Weaving Centre and Gallery. This women’s cooperative features all handmade rugs of varying sizes, baskets, bracelets, and pillow covers. The work is exquisite, and the prices reflect that. But it’s a rare opportunity to ensure your money goes straight to supporting the local community.

Hiking Mecca of Dana Biosphere Reserve

Did you know that Jordan offers a plethora of premier hiking trails? Don’t feel bad, I didn’t know either! There’s even the Jordan Trail which runs the entire length of the country! But, if you don’t have 40 days to do that, you can find awesome hiking trails at the Dana Biosphere Reserve. Unfortunately, many people speed past on their way to Petra from Amman. If you’re an outdoor lover or hiking enthusiast, the Dana Nature Reserve must be on your Jordan itinerary.

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Wadi Dana trail in Dana Biosphere

Located between the Kings Way and the Dead Sea Highway, Dana is the largest nature reserve in Jordan combining several ecosystems into one protected area. And the area is stunning. If you picture Jordan as being a dry, desolate country filled with nothing but desert and sand, a visit to Dana will have you rethinking that image. Over 800 species of plants can be found here. And, going in spring after the heavy winter rains means everything is lush and in bloom. If you love hiking, this is a place you’ll want to spend at least several days.

The main hiking trail is the Wadi Dana Trail. This easy 14km hike goes from the small village of Dana to the Feynan Ecolodge (an incredible ecolodge in the middle of the Dana Reserve the provides you with an experience you’ll never forget. For more information, go here). Traversing through a canyon, you’ll start in a green landscape with towering red canyon walls and end in the dry, harsh environment of Wadi Araba. It’s one of the best hikes I’ve done anywhere in the world. 

Jordan Itinerary
Wadi Dana Trail for Dana Biosphere

The other popular trail is the Wadi Ghwayr trek, which is 16km through a stunning canyon (siq). This trail begins near Shoubak Castle and ends near the Feynan Ecolodge. A guide is required. But there are shorter trails you can enjoy around Dana, too. Most of those can be found at the Rummana Camp Grounds located about a 25-minute drive north of Dana Village. Four easy trails can be done in a day and all without a guide. Though easy, the scenery and views are killer!

You can read about more about the many hiking trails available at the Dana Biosphere Reserve here.

Shoubak Castle

Many people stop at Kerak Castle on the way to Petra from the north. But very few make the short side trip to Shoubak Castle. Both are Crusader Castles, and both are fantastic in their own way. So, a visit to only one doesn’t forgive you for not seeing the other one. And, it’s easy to make time for both in your Jordan itinerary. Built in the 1100s, the castle held a strategic point along a popular trade route. In its heyday, the castle was said to be a well-fortified and quite beautiful.

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Views from Shoubak Castle

Nowadays, some of the exterior walls have been rebuilt. However, the interior is all ruins. But they’re wonderful! Tons of arches to admire. Churches to venture into. Towers to enjoy the sweeping views from. Though the scenery around the castle may be brown, it’s certainly not boring. Shoubak may be not be the largest castle, but that just means its easy to get around to see it all and not get lost.

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Inside Shoubak Castle

And, as a bonus, on the road to Shoubak Castle, you pass the world’s smallest hotel! Yes, officially the smallest hotel is in Germany. But this unofficial one is inside a Volkswagen Beetle. The owner is extremely friendly and doesn’t mind anyone stopping by to look. But you can only visit the hotel on the way TO Shoubak Castle as you go out a different way from it. Bet you didn’t know about this Jordan attraction.

Helpful Information: entry to Shoubak Castle is free with Jordan Pass or 1 JD. Toilets are available at the visitor center.

Umm Ar-Rasas

When you think Roman ruins in Jordan, immediately you jump to Jerash. These stunning ruins are known as the Pompeii of the Middle East. And, they should be on any Jordan itinerary. But, Jerash is not the only Roman ruins to see. Off the beaten path in Jordan to the south of Amman between the Desert Highway and Kings Way are the ruins of Umm ar-Rasas.

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Um Ar-Rasas

Um ar-Rasas began life as a military camp. But it quickly grew into a thriving town. Although you may not gather that from the rubble that remains. The site contains several impressive churches. Though much smaller than Jerash, these ruins have several things that you won’t find there making it a must stop on your trip to Jordan.

One is the stunning mosaics found in St. Stephens Church. Well protected from the elements, the mosaics found here are some of the largest and most detailed you’ll find in Jordan (in fact, the museum at St. John the Baptist’s church in Madaba has a small replica of this mosaic). It details the daily life of the time as well as highlights the main cities in the area of the time (one side are cities in Jordan, the other Israel). It’s magnificent.

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Umm Ar-Rasas

One of the more fascinating finds in Umm ar-Rasas is something that is overlooked by many visitors. And that’s because you need to drive less than 2 minutes down the road to get to it form the main ruins. But, it’s worth it (in my humble opinion). And that’s the monk tower. Devout men would spend days atop this tower. It’s fascinating.

Helpful Information: entry is free with the Jordan Pass or 2 JD. Toilets are available at the visitor center.

What’s the Jordan Pass?

The Jordan Pass is a program run by the Ministry of Tourism in Jordan. Visitors heading to Jordan purchase the pass online (must purchase before you get to Jordan). With it, the entry visa fee is waived (40 JD), and it allows for free entry to 36 sites and museums in Jordan, including Petra. Costs start at 70 JD and goes to 80 JD. Which pass level you purchase depends on how many days you want to spend in Petra (1 – 3 days). So its best to know your Jordan itinerary before you purchase.

The Jordan Pass is only worth getting if you’re going to spend more than 4 days in the country and are going to Petra. A day ticket to Petra is 50 JD. Combined with the visa fee, you’re already ahead 20 JD with the pass. I used it during my time in Jordan and it was super easy to use. All you need to do is present the pass at the ticket office where it’ll get stamped or scanned at each Jordan attraction.

Is Jordan Safe?

Yes. Yes. YES!!

With having Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, and Israel among its neighbors, it’s no wonder people’s first question about Jordan is about safety. It’s completely safe. Traveling solo throughout the country, never for one moment did I feel like I was in any danger. Yes, you’ll encounter police checks on the roads now and then. But that’s only to help keep the peace. In the 16 days I was there, I encountered no incidents.

Female Solo Travel in Jordan

Traveling as a solo female, again, I felt completely fine. Jordanians are among the genuinely friendliest people you’ll ever meet. There’s a reason that they’re known for their hospitality. But I will say, that men will do what they can to talk to you. To stave off any unwanted attention, I wore a ring on my left hand to give the appearance of being married. And boy did they notice! Many times, I was asked about it (so have a story prepared). But if you’re not into slight deceit, a firm no will work for them to respectfully back off.

Best Way to Travel in Jordan

Unfortunately, public transportation in Jordan is lacking. Buses are far and few in between and don’t go everywhere, especially to sights off the beaten path in Jordan. Taxis are always an option, but that can quickly add up. The best way to explore Jordan is to drive. If the thought of driving in the middle east makes you nervous, don’t be. Yes, there are a few quirks to driving in Jordan but once you’ve mastered them, you’ll find it a joy. The first day is the hardest.

But afterward, you’ll soon discover how wonderful the freedom of the road is in Jordan. And, you’ll be able to easily visit all the attractions on your Jordan itinerary you want to without the headache of figuring out how to get there.

Many of the big-name rental car companies are found at Queen Alia International Airport near Amman. It’s super easy to rent a car there. But I don’t recommend driving into Amman itself as the traffic is crazy and there are endless one-way roads that will drive you crazy. If you’re looking for a bargain, local companies are found throughout Amman. And it’s with these companies that you can negotiate for better pricing.

Staying Connected in Jordan

If you want to stay connected at all time on your trip to Jordan without depending on Wifi, the best thing to do is to purchase a SIM card. Luckily, at the Queen Alia International Airport, there’s an Orange Jordan stand located by the rental car agencies. Here you can pick up a SIM card before you hit the road to start on your Jordan itinerary.

Now hopefully you know that Jordan is more than Petra and Wadi Rum. Are those two places incredible? Yes, don’t miss them on your trip to Jordan. But, Jordan has so much more to offer with its long history and endless outdoor activities. And this is just a start to the wonderful things you can experience on any Jordan itinerary. But these are also places off the beaten path in Jordan that you can explore without massive crowds. You’ll leave Jordan with a deeper appreciation. So, prepare yourself for an adventure going off the beaten path in Jordan.

If you want to keep following April’s journey you can find her at The Unending Journey or say hi on Instagram.


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