Modern Amman courtesy of the Jordan Tourism Board

To date, Jordan has been one of the most surprising destinations I’ve visited. I’ll admit before going my opinion of the country was clouded somewhat by typical Middle Eastern stereotypes; however, these were quickly shattered as I met the locals and immersed myself in a welcoming local culture. To give you an idea of what changed my perception of this beautiful (mainly) desert country, here are 10 things that surprised me about Jordan.

1. Its Capital Has A Very Modern Downtown

Amman is a city of contrasts. While they have the Old City with the 6th century Roman Amphitheater, ancient citadel, Abu Darwish Mosque, and traditional souk, there’s also a modern downtown — with the hub being Rainbow Street — with upscale hotels, swanky rooftop bars and an array of local and international restaurants.

You can enjoy sipping handcrafted cocktails on candlelit terraces, sampling sustainable cuisine with a view, and smoking fragrant shisha. It’s also a great place to start a solo trip to Jordan.

2. The People Are Genuinely Friendly

While you’ll find friendly locals in many countries, often they want something from you, for example, money or for you to purchase something from them. In Jordan, people will invite you for tea to chat or give you a local gift for free so you have something to remember Jordan by. Schoolchildren will ask you your name to practice their English, and both young and old will ask to have their photo taken with you in excitement. They genuinely want to get to know you and tell you about their country.

Dana Biosphere Reserve
Dana Biosphere Reserve

3. Jordan Isn’t All Desert

While over 80% of Jordan is desert, it actually experiences three distinct climates: Tropical, Mediterranean and Sahara. Because of this, you’ll find a number of different landscapes throughout the country. One of the best places to experience this is one place is the Dana Biosphere Reserve, home to three major bio-geographical zones, four distinct vegetation zones, drastic elevation changes, 449 animal species (25 of which are vulnerable or endangered) and 690 plant species, leading it to be declared an area of “global importance” and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

4. Women Don’t Have To Cover Their Hair

If you see a woman wearing a full burqa or niqab in Jordan they are most likely from Syriah. In Jordan, woman have a choice whether they want to cover their hair and face or not without judgement from others. In fact, it’s common to see those in traditional dress out and about with those in more modern clothing.

Maklouba or “Upside Down”

5. It’s A True Foodie Country

While places like New Orleans, Paris and Rome are constantly touted as “top foodie destinations,” you rarely — if ever — hear Jordan in that mix. I’ve traveled to hundreds of cities around the world and can honestly say Jordan has an amazing culinary scene. While Amman is home to a mix of trendy international and authentic local venues, Madaba features Jordanian fare amidst beautiful mosaics. Along with delicious mezzes — dips, salads, breads and small plates like hummus, tempeh, babaganoosh and samosas — there are tasty and memorable main entrees. Try Maklouba (“Upside Down”), a dish of creamy rice, chicken, eggplant and potato spiced with cinnamon, sumac, turmeric and/or cumin; Foul, a typical breakfast of mashed brown beans, red lentils or fava beans topped with your choice of tahini, green onion, lemon, spicy chillies and olive oil; and Mashawi, traditional Jordanian barbecue with succulent and spicy chicken, beef, fish, lamb and other meats.

6. There are many Female Workers

In downtown Amman, you’ll see many women who are lawyers, doctors and professionals. Interestingly, in Jordan about 70% of university students are female compared to about 30% male.

Bedouin man courtesy of Feynan Ecolodge

7. Bedouins Are Technologically Advanced

In places like Fenyan and Wadi Rum you can see authentic Bedouin villages. These people have a special relationship with the land, roaming the desert, drinking goat’s milk and and living in tents made of black goat hair. Money isn’t of utmost concern for these people, as they focus more on forming and strengthening healthy and helpful relationships. While their way of life may be simple, you’ll surprisingly meet many Bedouins with smartphones. This was extremely shocking to me, and made it apparent just how much technology is taking over the world.

8. They Love Tourists

Tourism is Jordan’s bread and butter, and because of this — and the fact they’re genuinely friendly people — they welcome tourists with open arms. Jordanians are extremely proud of their country and are happy to show it off to you, which becomes apparent as you roam the markets and attractions.

My favorite silhouette shot from Petra

9. Petra Is A Great Attraction For Adventure-Enthusiasts

Petra, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, preserves much of Jordan’s rich history. That being said, it’s also a great attraction for adventure enthusiasts. Not only can ride a donkey up and down steep hills, there are an array of challenging hiking trails onsite. I hiked up to the “Best View” across from the iconic Monastery. It was a steep uphill climb that awarded beautiful views of the Petra monuments, surrounding peaks, colorful rock formations and had an interesting cave that made for some great silhouette shots.

10. Jordan Has A Beach Resort Town

Aqaba is Jordan’s only coastal city and where the country’s port is located for boats and cruise ships. After spending some much time riding camels and camping in the desert, I was shocked to come upon a true resort town with beach shorts and waterfront resorts (and stores that sell beer!). It’s from here where you can take a cruise on the Red Sea, whose name comes from its more than 500 brightly colored coral species.

Have you visited Jordan?

Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of Epicure & Culture as well as Jessie on a Journey. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia, agritouring through Tuscany, and volunteering in Ghana.

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  1. Agree with all these points, Jessie! I loved the food and the warmth of the people.

    1. @Charu: I think I could live solely on Jordanian food. So delicious!

  2. Jordan is great country to travel in for all those exact reasons you have mentioned above. I loved my time there! I would add superb diving to the list 🙂

    1. @Marysia: Did you get to dive in the Red Sea? That’s a dream of mine 🙂

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