Squeezed between three continents, Jordan has been a hub of trade since ancient times. A tradition of trading exotic wares still thrives in its souks and souvenir markets. Here’s what to look for when shopping for a bit of Jordan to take home.
One of the three gifts of choice for the baby Jesus, frankincense kills bacteria and allegedly wards off the evil eye. “In biblical times, a single gram of frankincense was worth two grams of gold,” says merchant Mazen Al-Hamadin, who sells natural perfumes and raw incense at his shop in Petra. Sniff true sandalwood bark, crystallized amber, musk, and whole chunks of myrrh.
Buying spices is another fully sensual experience in Jordan, where you smell, touch, and taste the product before making your decision. Black, red, and white peppercorns are especially fragrant, and the cardamom, tea, and coffee are far more potent than anything you’ll find back home. The ultimate Jordanian herb is za’atar—a mix of dried herbs and roasted sesame seeds that can be sprinkled on just about anything. Aqaba spice merchant Fadel Al-Baba sells at least six different blends of za’atar, each one matching a different taste profile.
Colorful, handwoven Bedouin rugs are popular (though bulky) purchases. Support individual weavers by buying from the associations that represent them, like the Bani Hamida Women's Weaving Project.
Wild Jordan, part of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, has a number of shops in nature reserves around the country. The community-based project empowers makers by selling handcrafted jewelry, art, and unique beauty products. Aromatic soaps made from olive oil and camel milk are popular, as well as Dead Sea salt, mud, and lotions, which soothe and nourish the skin.
Embroidery, shawls, pottery, sand paintings, and clunky silver “tribal” jewelry are all readily available in Jordan. And intricate mosaics, compiled from thousands of tiny stone or glass tesserae, represent an early Christian art form that lives on today.
“You can own a piece of a 1,500-year-old tradition,” says merchant Majdi Zater at Madaba's Desert Treasures Bazaar. “Nothing here is from China.”