The following Amman Day Trips guide is brought to you by
Ms. Gracie Barrie, check her out on Instagram: @standbyflygirl
After thoroughly exploring Amman, you may feel the need to get out and explore more of the country. Jerash is about a 45 minute drive north of the city and it is worth every minute and more. Often called the Pompeii of the East, Jerash is a must-see for anyone with even the slightest interest in history. It is awe-inducing in size and preservation. Walking down the main street you practically hear the Roman vendors and merchants arguing about prices and sales. You can walk through the temple of Zeus and sit on the steps of the temple of Artemis. The best part about it is that it’s so big that you can often wander for a few moments without seeing another person, completely losing yourself in the process. The amphitheater is the most incredible part of it all. It stands in near perfect condition, its height daunting and causing legs to wobble at the top. Sometimes a group of musicians waits inside to serenade you with a song and to show you where to stand to get your voice to echo throughout the entire stadium. You will most likely encounter some men waiting inside for tourists to tell you a few facts or show you around for a second in exchange for a few dinars. Some of these guys have worthwhile facts, like the guy who will show you the hollow pillar that echoes when hit in just the right spot, but others may just be trying to sell you something. Keep your wits about you and you’ve got nothing to worry about, they won’t pester you if you politely say no. Jerash is like traveling back in time for a day, so plan for plenty of hours to spend back in the 2nd century.
Another day trip that would probably take about half the time of Jerash is a visit to Madaba. Only about 45 minutes away from Amman, Madaba is like a laid-back brother to the capital city. It is home to St. George’s Church which houses the oldest map of Palestine known to us today. The ancient mosaic was uncovered when the church was renovated, so the church itself isn’t ancient, but the mosaic is a special surprise. Madaba also has Mt. Nebo, the place where Moses was supposedly shown the Holy Land. On a clear day you can see Jerusalem from the top and a stunning view of neighboring Palestine. After seeing the sites be sure to stop at Haret Jdoudna for a life-changing meal. The restaurant is a legendary family-owned business housed in a restored 20th century Madaba house and it is almost as if you can taste the hard work and history in the food. Madaba will only take about half of your day so if you have the time it’s a great quick trip to get away from the noise of Amman.
Another day trip from the city worth your while is Bethany, or the Baptism site of Jesus Christ, yes that Jesus. This site even counts Pope Francis as one of its most recent visitors. I’m not and never have been a religious person, but I am an art history scholar and visiting the actual land that the names and faces I’ve come to know through endless art and scripture was inspiring. The baptism site on the Jordanian side of the River Jordan is a humble set of stairs leading into a reservoir fed by the river. You cannot go in the exact site but you can baptize yourself in the nearby river a few steps away. It is a beautiful and calming experience to feel the muddy ground of the river and feel the cold water. You also get a view of the Palestinian side of the river, now controlled by Israel and a brand new, very big tourist center. In my opinion, it took away from the experience to be so detached from the earth at the spot, I was glad to be on the side of the river where grass and water still rushed past your feet, not wet concrete. It is a good idea to dress respectfully and mindfully, and, if you’re a woman, perhaps wear a swimsuit under your baptism dress if you want to actually go into the water (as opposed to undergarments). You are lead through the site in groups that leave from a designated parking area and guided around the many paths that make up the area. Our visit didn’t take very long but it was a valuable experience and sure to be extremely moving if you are religious or interested in history. To think of how much the Christian faith and the figure of Jesus has affected our world since his time is overwhelming. Everything from wars and assassinations, the formation and destruction of empires and people, and hopefully a wide-spread message of love and acceptance has been influenced by the name of this one man who once walked the same land you can now walk today. It’s definitely a special experience regardless of faith (word to wise about the souvenir shop there, the prices are very high. You can likely find similar objects in a souvenir shop in Amman for much less).
From the baptism site we went to spend the evening at the Dead Sea. We visited Jordan in the winter so we had planned our time to only be an evening, but if I were to visit in the summer I would love to luxuriate there for as long as a week. To drive from the baptism site to the Marriott at the Dead Sea only took us about 30 minutes. We purchased a pass from the front entrance of the hotel for about 40 dinars each since it was off-season for access to the beach and pool for the day. We each changed into our suit in the hotel bathroom, as Caroline and I were determined to go in the sea despite the chilly weather and cloudy skies. It was definitely not what I had pictured in my mind when I envisioned going the Dead Sea, namely missing the ungodly sunny skies and tropical drinks with umbrellas in them, and maybe some reggaeton playing somewhere. But I wouldn’t trade anything for the experience we got. We began our walk down the path to the beach which was absolutely deserted. If Zara was any evidence, no Jordanian in their right mind wants to go into the Dead Sea in January (even though it was only 60 degrees! Practically tropical compared to the weather back home in Chicago). After covering ourselves in Dead Sea mud from giant clay pots on the shore we eventually convinced Zara to join us in the water, which was surprisingly warm and comfortable. A word of warning: it is nearly impossible to look graceful while walking into the Dead Sea. The shoreline is all small rocks with crystallized salt covering them. This, as you can imagine, is not the most pleasing thing to walk barefoot across, but it is worth it for the weightless feeling one gets when floating in that sea. I’ve never felt anything quite like it! It was even hard to swim properly because you cannot hold your legs down, everything just floats right to the top. Be very careful not to get any water in your eyes or mouth, the stinging sensation is very real and the taste is absolutely disgusting. After getting used to the floating sensation it is possible to take your phone or camera in the water to get some unreal and jealousy-inducing selfies. It is also wonderful to just float for a while unimpeded and let everything slip away.
It was near sunset by the time we got in the water. Despite being cloudy all day long, the sun came out for the last 20 minutes of its time in the sky and absolutely blew us away. It was just the three of us in the water and an adorable Jordanian beach attendant down on the shore. We felt like the only people in the whole sea and the only people experiencing this incredible sight. Technically you can’t stay down on the beach past sunset but it was so beautiful and we were begging our new friend to please, please let us have 5 more minutes. After we finally went with him back up the steps, he had had his friend/coworker bring around a golf cart to take us back up to the showers and hotel (it will definitely be necessary to shower after the sea, that much salt doesn’t feel too great once dry and you might not have gotten all the mud off). We chatted with him on the way up and he said what so many of the wonderful people I had met so far said before him, that he was so excited that we were American and we were visiting and enjoying Jordan. He wanted to be sure we had an incredible time and that we would be able to tell everyone back home how special this place is. I often think about all the amazing individuals who helped us in our journey and try to tell as many people as I can that my favorite part about the trip was meeting these people with such generous hearts. The hotel has plenty of lounge space for a post-swim drink and supper. After that we threw our sleepy selves in the car and headed back to Amman, about 1.5 hours away.