Alternative Tourism in Jordan

A couple of my friends from Abu Dhabi, all Americans, went to Jordan this week, and because I am in Jordan so often, they wanted my opinion of what to

Tourism Alternatives in Jordan

do—especially with their first two days in Amman.  My best advice for tourists stuck in Amman is to leave, as it is the only part of Jordan that has almost nothing to offer Western tourists on a short stay. My suggestions have been rolling off my tongue for years, pretty much in this order:

1.    Petra:  Now one of the Great Wonders of the World
2.    The Dead Sea:  Take a mud bath at the lowest point on Earth.
3.    Aqaba:  Swim and sun at the Red Sea.
4.    Jebel Musa: Where Moses saw the Promised Land for the first time, and near the old but still bustling town of Madaba, with its historic church.
5.    Jesus Baptism Site:  I often wonder what Jesus would think about  people look up from the water to find themselves starring at an armed Israel solider standing guard just on the other side of the narrow Jordan River.
6.    Jerash:  The old Roman amphitheatre is especially fun if it’s the Jerash festival, and especially if you eat kebab at Abu Yahya’s overlooking the valley.
7.    Wadi Rum:  Live out your Lawrence of Arabia fantasies in a group tour.
8.    Karak:  Fascinating ruins near the mountaintop city of Salt.
9.    Pella:  Yes, more ruins and another chance to see more of Jordan’s otherworldy landscape.
10.    Downtown Amman (if you must and only if you’ve never seen any other Middle Eastern downtown):  The gold souk, the dirt and crowds, the mom and pop shops, and Hashem, the popular falafel and hummos spot that takes up both sides of an alley.

All the above things are things I rarely do, unless I have tourists in tow with me—seen one of the great wonders of the world five or ten times, and it’s like you’ve seen it a hundred.  But for people who are going to stay longer, I’m going to start mentioning these things, too.

1.    Ajloun: The best views and weather in Jordan. At Saladin’s old fort, you can look out and see Jerusalem on a clear day, just as Moses did at Jebel Musa.
2.    Dana Reserve:  Where the deer and the antelope play.
3.    Ma’een: A natural hot springs deep in a gorge, and now with a luxury hotel.
4.    The Houses of West Amman:  This “I can build a bigger mansion than you can” neighborhood actually offers spectacular views.  Park at the Abdoun Mall and head for the hills from there.
5.    Wikalat Street: A pedestrian-only street of stores and cafes anchoring the Suweifeh neighborhood, which amongst its many divergent streets offers up shops that  specialize in honey, chocolate, spices, or cheese, and selling everything from evening gowns to screwdrivers.
6.    Jabri Restaurant: Mansaf is the national dish of Jordan, and Jabri’s mansaf, although it has been served at royal and state gatherings for decades, is for everybody.
7.    The Palestinian Refugee Camps:  A painful reminder that all is not well in the world.
8.    Palestine:  The border is half an hour a way, and the Palestinians in Jerusalem and elsewhere on the West Bank need the boost of tourism.

Christmas Gifts from the Holyland

For those of us have seen Palestine, there is an irony to Christmas, this celebration of the Prince of Peace born in a land that defies that very word ‘peace”

Holy Sepluchre

with words combinations like land confiscation, separation wall, medical deprivation, malnutrition, phosphorous bombs, home demolitions. (I could also mention the poverty, crime and drug abuse festering amongst the indigenous Palestinians living in Israel as third class citizens, particularly around Jesus’ other hometown, Nazareth)

There is only gift I would want from Palestine:  the end to the suffering of the Palestinians at the hands of their occupier and an end to the infighting their so-called leaders have fostered in recent years.   However, in the meantime, there is olive oil and great handicrafts, and non-profit American and international peace organizations that can mail them to you in time for Christmas.  The olive oil is produced under Fair Trade laws and is usually organic and genuinely delicious, and the Palestinian embroidery is merely beautiful.  The money made from the sale of these products goes back to helping the beleagured Palestinian farmers and artisans continue to work under very trying circumstances.

Another way to help at this time of year or any other time of year is to donate to the PCRF, a non-profit US organization that provides medical assistance to children in Palestine, Iraq, and Lebanon, including sending teams of volunteer doctors from around the world to conduct surgeries and provide onsite care for injured kids.   It also sells the embroidery from the women’s coop it supports.


PCRF (Palestine Children’s Relief Fund)

Walled in Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem


When I used to look out at the Corniche from our apartment in Beirut in the 1980s, I’d see a lot of guns, partly because a makeshift military post had sprung up

Cats Instead of Guns

Cats Instead of Guns

one night in the field in front of us, and partly because there was a war.  People still found away to walk the Corniche for a breath of fresh air from curfews, and a few, a very few, stray dogs milled about too.  The military post is now permanent and people still walk on the Corniche for fresh air, but the guns have diminished greatly and there are no stray dogs about.  Both the guns and the dogs have been replaced by cats—so many cats that their different shades form the mosaics for the beach rocks, almost like beach blankets made of cats.  Sometimes they work as optical illusions, too, as they spring in and out of the rocks, where they camoflauge as good as, if not better than, khaki. I’m not a huge fan of feral cats, but, as long as they don’t want to bite you, they are a lot more amusing than guns.