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Wadi Rum (Photo: Annie Fitzsimmons)

Beyond Petra: Unexpected Treasures of Jordan

Jordan still flies under the radar of many travelers today, conjuring a sense of isolation and wonder. Once uncovered, the country is easy to fall in love with, as I did during a recent ten-day visit. I was captivated by the landscapes and the friendly Jordanian people, from the Bedouins in tents to the young professionals in Amman (60 percent of Jordan’s population is under the age of 30, which provides a striking contrast between modern lifestyles and deep-rooted traditions.)

My favorite discoveries went far beyond Petra, the bucket list destination and ancient Nabataean city featured in Hollywood films such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Here are four treasures I found on my trip:

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Jerash (Photo: Annie Fitzsimmons)

Jerash

I had never heard of Jerash before leaving for Jordan, despite the site being one of the best-preserved Roman ruins outside of Italy.  But Jerash is pleasantly less crowded than Pompeii or Ephesus– my group was essentially alone during our tour.

The stately Hadrian’s Arch welcomes visitors to the “City of 1,000 Columns,” many of which were destroyed by a series of earthquakes in the mid-700s A.D. Stepping through the arch, dizzy from the late morning sun beating down on my brow, I stood mesmerized by the Temple of Zeus. I imagined the ancient city coming alive amid the ruins. I could almost hear the bustle of daily life, of shoppers bartering for goods, and small children chasing after each other on the main street, or Cardo Maximus. I visited the north and south theaters with pitch-perfect acoustics. These arenas are still used today during July’s annual Jerash Festival, drawing top-billed singers, dancers, and artists.

Only 15 percent of Jerash is excavated, so I plan to return to see more.

The Siq Trail in the Wadi Mujib Nature Preserve

Just 20 minutes from the luxury hotels on the Dead Sea is the Wadi Mujib Nature Preserve, one of the lowest nature preserves on Earth. Here a short but challenging water trail winds its way through a canyon, culminating with a view of a large, rushing waterfall. I donned my water shoes and pushed against the river’s current, using ropes to scale small boulders, sliding down them into the rock-filled water on the return journey. It was a thrilling adventure but I’d advise that you avoid floating in the Dead Sea afterward, as the salt water painfully stung each small scratch I’d received from the hike!

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Bethany Beyond the Jordan (Photo: Annie Fitzsimmons)

Holy Sites: Bethany Beyond the Jordan and Mount Nebo

Although Jordan is not commonly thought of as a must-stop on a tour of religious sites, it has true heavy hitters like Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where John the Baptist is said to have baptized Jesus Christ. In the humid, sweltering air, I wondered if the leaders and prophets of Christianity and Islam could have predicted the extent of religious unrest that still rages in the neighboring region to this day.

Another religious site worth the trip is the top of Mount Nebo, where Moses surveyed his gift of the Promised Land. He is said to have died here, and no matter one’s religious views, as you gaze out over the brown landscapes and hazy Dead Sea, you feel a sense of spiritual awe.

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Wadi Rum (Photo: Annie Fitzsimmons)

The Desert of Wadi Rum

Reviewing photos I shot of the sun descending on the desert of Wadi Rum, I found the red sand eerily resembled the photos taken by NASA’s Mars Rover. Lawrence of Arabia famously described Wadi Rum and its mountain as “vast, echoing, and God-like,” but to me, it felt like a place suspended in time before humans inhabited the Earth. A night in a private tented camp, with accommodation options ranging from bare-bones to swanky, offers an intimate experience of Wadi Rum.

Annie Fitzsimmons is a New York-based travel and hotel writer.  She is a frequent contributor to publications that share her love of exploration and discovery. Follow her adventures on her personal blog, Hotel Belle.