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Experience Jordan’s History: Amman Citadel

Jordan has more amazing historical sites than most people realize. This historic fortress, the Amman Citadel, is located on top of Jabal al-Qal’a, the highest of seven hills on which the city was built (jabal means ‘mountain’, qal’a ‘castle’).

Travel through time…

The citadel boasts a diverse range of previous inhabitants: Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, as well as Umayyad and Ayyubid dynasties. Of course, this is a paradise for everyone else who loves history. The first signs of human occupation that archaeologists found date back to the Middle Bronze Age (1650-1550 BC). At that time, most likely either a fortress, or an agora (a public space for arts, sports and politics) occupied the hill. Today’s visitors can trace the great ancient civilizations through the remnants of a Roman Hercules Temple, a Byzantine church, a spectacular Umayyad palace, and many other ruins and fragments. They can also visit the Jordan Archaeological Museum. In the museum many excavated artifacts are preserved, including both every day items, and the finer things of life such as jewels and statues.

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“I’m not interested in History…” – Here is why you should still visit:

You may say, “Thanks for all the information, but historical sights are not really my cup of tea. Why should I visit?” – We have a few more reasons to convince you…

1. The Location

The citadel is the perfect place to take a moment of rest. This is in particular from the busy and sometimes even stressful atmosphere in downtown. Since the site is located only a few minutes walking distance from Roman theater and Husseini Mosque (to be honest though, that’s downhill), you can fit a visit easily into your schedule. The way from downtown to the citadel is mostly a steep uphill. We therefore recommend to take a taxi (should cost less than 1 JD), or plan a few extra minutes of walking.

2. The View

From the citadel’s vantage point, situated atop the highest hill in Amman, you can see far out in every direction across the beautiful city. As you look west, the tallest freestanding flag in the world flies proudly in the wind. At the foot of the hill the amphitheater and downtown Amman buzz with life. And all throughout the year you can see flocks of domesticated doves circle over the city, that are joined by numerous kites during winter and spring time. It is a strange and fascinating feeling to stand in the ancient site that has been occupied by so many cultures, all while observing the modern city of today.

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3. The Atmosphere

Like the many locals coming to the Citadel, you can take time to relax, have a chat with friends and let you gaze wander over the sea of houses. Due to the variety of people present, you oftentimes find yourself enveloped by an atmosphere that is as diverse and multicultural as the traces of history covering the place.

Practically speaking, there are WC facilities on the mountain and a nice little market where you can get ice cream, waters, snacks, and coffee. The site closes around sunset – so make sure to be there early enough, so you can lean back to enjoy Amman in the glow of the golden hour (or any other hour of the day).

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Hiking Wadi Mukheires

​There is a strip of road by the Dead Sea where you will find a dozen or so hotels on the water’s edge. Their entrances with the glittering golden letters sit proudly at the roadside. You couldn’t be blamed, therefore, to be looking at them when driving past. Nor for looking even further out, beyond the buildings, to the reason they’re all there – the Dead Sea. If you finally look the other way, however, to the rocks and the dust, you will see the entrances to several wadis. They are tucked away from the road, and outwardly inconspicuous, but ready for exploration!

 

Wadi Mukheires wasn’t my first wadi hike, but definitely the best!

 

​We set off from Amman bright and early, after a short briefing. It was here that I met Ayman, who was our guide for the hike, and – like me – a new Experience Jordan employee. Wadi Mukheires is located perhaps forty minutes from Amman, but soon after entering I had the impression I was in another country. The wadi was shady and cool, varying in width, with a small stream winding its way through the valley, easy to follow by the lush greenery lining its route. Reeds and rocks and ferns were sprayed across the wadi floor and they seemed to get bigger and greener the further into the wadi we hiked. The water too, became deeper and wider at points. To continue into the wadi we had to climb up several waterfalls of varying size. A couple of us definitely got an extra shower or two at various points along the way.

 

 

​Once or twice I was pretty convinced we had reached an impasse on the route. I looked around despairingly, expecting the apologies to the group, the trek back to the cars slightly sooner than expected. The next thing I knew, two of my fellow walkers had sprung up what seemed like an impossibly smooth and high boulder, and were already giving hand-ups to others. We continued like that for a couple or so hours, splashing through the blissfully cool waters, climbing over rocks, brushing through green curtains of vegetation, chatting to each other.

 

​We reached the end of the wadi when we reached the huge waterfall at the end. The splashing water echoed around the high rock walls and we had our group photograph in front of the spray, in a patch of beaming sunlight, before heading back the way we came and stopping for lunch a short way back along the stream.

 

​Ayman, who had been heroically carrying a huge tin kettle and all the food for the trip, started up a small fire and we cooked sausages and burgers on a small grill, and then boiled the kettle and drank Ayman’s special tea blend in the shade. It was a delicious stop in the early afternoon, and time to take in the beauty of our surroundings in the quiet valley.

 

​We were soon back at the entrance of the wadi by the cars, and drove back to Amman as the sun was getting lower in the sky. I arrived home tired, but wonderfully invigorated. The day had been a my much-needed break from the hustle and bustle of life in Jordan’s capital.

 

Edited by Juliane Zimmermann.

Amber Week 2 1
Exploring Wadi Himara

Amber Stowell’s 4 Week Journal (Week 2)

 

If you have been following Amber’s journal, check out her second week in Jordan below:

 

Settling in…

 

The second week in Jordan was a bit less hectic than the first. I was settling into my new place, getting to know my roommates better, and navigating the grocery store in search of familiar meal items.

 

I’ve also been getting more comfortable at the Experience Jordan office and have loved walking to different local places for lunch. I never know what to expect but it’s always delicious and inexpensive (not necessarily healthy, though. I’ve indulged in more than my fair share of fried bread, cheese and meat). I’ve also discovered that I am terrible at remembering and pronouncing Arabic phrases, and have given up on ever learning more than a few basic words. I am amazed and have so much respect for the expats who have become fluent because it takes so much studying and dedication in my opinion.

 

Weekend Trip to Wadi Himara

 

The highlight of this week would have to be hiking in Wadi Himara with an Experience Jordan group. After being in the city all week it was refreshing to take a bus out into the less populated desert. We got off the bus and I was immediately greeted with a beautiful panoramic view of the dead sea right from the road. We followed a stream peppered with small waterfalls on the hike up. Apparently, during the spring the hike turns into a lot of stream wading, but summer is a lot dryer. I was thankful for the occasional shade on the way up. Hiking at home in Seattle, I’m used to constant cover from the sun whether it be from trees or clouds.

 

To get to the final waterfall, there was a ladder and ropes you had to climb up about 15 vertical feet. Only 3 people decided to take on the challenge, including the guide and myself. The rest of the group waited below while the three of us got to enjoy the massive waterfall hidden at the end of the trail. After enjoying the cooling mist, we climbed our way back down and had a campfire cooked lunch.




You can join a group to hike Wadi Himara and more on our Weekly Walks: https://www.experiencejordan.com/daytrips/.

Amber Week One
One Week in Jordan

Amber Stowell’s 4 Week Journal (Week 1)

One of our summer interns has shared with us her four week journal, and now we are sharing it with you! Check out week 1 below:

Upon arrival to Queen Alia Airport in Amman, I could feel my curiosity peaking. After a few months of planning, I was ready to experience a culture on the other side of the world — with little expectations. It was midnight when I arrived and as I went to leave the airport, I was surprised to hear the sound of drums and chanting. People were doing the Dabke and gathered outside the front of the airport. Whatever was going on, I knew that it was something I would never see at home.

Stepping outside, I could even tell a difference in the air and the way it felt on my skin and in my lungs. The late-night drive to my temporary home was dark and the buildings were softly lit. I immediately noticed the difference in architecture. The traditional Arab style buildings were primarily beige stone but with their own unique details.

Life in Amman

Over the course of the week I would learn the little quirks of the house and neighborhood. For example, the musical jingle I would hear outside in the morning was not an ice cream truck, but the gas truck letting people know when he was around to exchange containers. Or being warned of a possible water shortage because the water is not directly pumped to your taps and faucets, but rather pumped to tanks on the top of the building that are refilled every week. Luckily the Experience Jordan office is only a 10 minute walk from the apartment and goes through a lovely neighborhood and shopping area.

Visiting Jerash

To my surprise, a day after arriving in Jordan I was able to go on a Jerash/Petra tour with Experience Jordan. I think the excitement of getting to see these sites gave me the motivation to overcome jetlag. I met up with a tour group who came in from Israel and we headed to the ruins of Jerash. When we arrived, I was surprised I had never heard of the ruins before. They parallel or may even surpass the impressive ruins in Greece or Rome. Amphitheatres, columns, and stone streets where merchants would sell goods gave you a perspective of what life was like for these ancient communities. That night we took a bus ride to Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp and experienced the well-known Jordanian hospitality.

In the footsteps of Indiana Jones

The following day we went to Petra. What came to mind when I thought about Petra was watching Indiana Jones find the fountain of youth. I didn’t know everything that Petra entailed, but I found that the whole area was much more elaborate than I had previously thought. I didn’t expect to see so much history in the canyon as we walked towards the treasury, the iconic structure everyone knows. Burial tombs and other carvings could be found left and right in the yellow and red streaked rocks. After walking the winding trail through the canyon, the space suddenly opens up and you’re looking up at the face of a cliff made into one of the world’s greatest wonders. Pictures don’t fully prepare you for the feeling you get when you take in the entire landscape and how much work went into this lost city. Our guide set us free to explore the different sites and walk into the ancient carved out caves.

(Edits by Juliane)

Amber Week 4
Amber Stowell’s 4 Week Journal (Week 4)

Cycling in Wadi Rum

We, at Experience Jordan, have thoroughly enjoyed having Amber working for us over the past month. We are equally happy to see that in her final journal she embraces the enthusiasm we all have for wanting to get out and experience Jordan. For those who have been following Amber’s journal, check out her final entry below: 

At this point, living in Jordan feels more like the norm for me. I’ve gotten used to walking in front of traffic when crossing the street and I don’t notice people staring as much. While I may be terrible at directions and speaking the language, I feel slightly more comfortable in this foreign country than I thought I would. It’s strange how in just over a week I’ll return to the same old schedule and flow of life. While I am excited to see my friends and family, I have enjoyed the break from my regular responsibilities.

Eid al-Adha

This week is also an observed holiday in Jordan called Eid al-Adha, which is a Muslim festival that honors the culmination of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and commemorating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. On the first day of Eid  I was unaware that the holiday had started, so I got up and went to work only to find a cleaning lady there. Since I had a surprise day off of work I headed to the mall to kill some time and do a little shopping instead.

Cycling in Wadi Rum

For the actual weekend (Thursday and Friday here in Jordan), I was fortunate enough to go on a tour to Wadi Rum with Nader Bikes. It was a long bus ride there and we had a little trouble getting stuck in the sand, but we made it to the bedouin camp in the late afternoon. After unpacking and eating, we headed out into the desert salt flats on our bikes.

The refreshing cool of the evening was finally upon us, making the ride much more enjoyable. The vast empty space with the sun setting over the rock formations was a magnificent sight. Once we got back to camp, we ate some traditional food prepared by the bedouins. We spent the rest of night enjoying everyone’s company and hiking up a small sand dune to get a better view of the stars. The moon was so bright that it drowned out some stars, but it was still a pleasant view of the night sky. The next morning after breakfast we set out into the sandy desert with two pickup trucks and seats built into the bed. We drove through the sandscape, stopping along the way to learn about ancient carvings and way of life hundreds of years ago.

Good bye Jordan…

Overall, my trip to Jordan has been an enjoyable one that pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I’m fortunate to have been able to experience life on the other side of the globe and appreciate the differences that make this world so wonderfully diverse.

(Edits by Juliane)

Amber (Week 3)
From Um Qais to Wadi Hidan

Amber Stowell’s 4 Week Journal (Week 3)

Amber’s third journal is chalk full with adventures throughout Jordan. Check out Amber’s third week below:

On Friday afternoon, with a group of about 10 people, I learned how to make some traditional cookies in a local woman’s home in Um Qais. We all helped in shaping what looked like mini donuts with date filling. After making at least a hundred cookies, we left to go on a short hike while they baked and dinner was being prepared. We ended up walking through a Hellenistic-Roman ruin, much like Jaresh but smaller and less well-known. We continued on a trail on the side of a large hill through almond trees, farmland and goat herds. Then we arrived at the top which offered a breathtaking view of the Sea of Galilee and The Jordan Valley. Our group enjoyed the view, drinking tea and eating dates while the sky grew more colorful as the sun set over the hills.

Just as the sun disappeared over the horizon, we got on our bus that conveniently met us at the top. We returned to the local woman’s house and were greeted with several platters of delicious food. We all quickly sat down on the floor cushions to enjoy our fill of rice, chicken, plenty other dishes I’m not familiar with, and of course the cookies we made earlier. This trip was relaxing compared to the others I’ve been on, and while I do love a rigorous adventure, it was nice to wind down and focus on just enjoying the view and the new people I had met.

We got back from Um Qais pretty late and I was debating on whether or not I would have the energy to go on a  early morning hike to Wadi Hidan the following day. Knowing I wouldn’t get much sleep, I decided to go anyway because I knew I would regret it if I didn’t. I’m so thankful that I pushed through the early morning tiredness because this might have been my favorite trip so far this month.

Wadi Hidan was so much more than I imagined; it seemed like an oasis in the desert to me. We began a short descent into the Wadi and were soon greeted with the first of many freshwater pools. The water felt perfectly cool, not too cold, and I was so excited to swim after so many hot days spent in Jordan! We continued our hike and stopped frequently to enjoy the pools, have a splash war, or try to catch a frog.


We also got to go down a terrifying natural rock waterslide, but it was much more fun than I had initially expected. We savored the last pool as much as we could. I spent most of the time jumping from a small cliff, about a 15 foot fall into the water. Sadly we had to leave the Wadi and hike back up the valley, but by that time we were eager to eat the lunch prepared for us at the top.

Blog Getting Around
Experience Jordan’s Guide on Getting Around

Navigating Amman’s complicated roads and the overall somewhat chaotic driving in Jordan can be a daunting task. The good news is – there are plenty of options for getting around! Our team at Experience Jordan Adventures is always happy to help you arrange transportation in- and outside Amman. If your adventure includes setting out on your own though, let us present you herewith …(*drums*)… Experience Jordan’s Guide on Getting Around:

 

Apps – Uber and Careem

 

The international ride hailing app Uber, and its Arab world alternative Careem are readily available in Amman. Careem was bought by Uber in May 2019, but will remain an independent brand. Both companies initially faced legalization battles in Jordan, but by now have emerged successfully.

 

The apps’ rating systems, GPS navigation, and automatic calculation of prices may spare you from many uncomfortable situations. They can for example prevent the driver from overcharging you. Or both you and the driver from getting lost on the way to your destination. On the other hand, it can sometimes take painfully long between ordering a ride through Careem or Uber, and that ride actually arriving at your starting point. This is especially the case during rush hours. However, you can prevent the problem by pre-scheduling your ride several hours, or even the day before.

 

All in all, experience showed that if you’re in Amman, unfamiliar with the city, and want a save, clean, and comfortable ride, Uber and Careem are great choices!

 

Taxis

 

Yellow taxis are ubiquitous in and outside of Amman, and can take you almost anywhere. They are also a bit cheaper than Uber and Careem.

 

The perhaps most important thing to know about yellow cabs: They are legally required to operate with a meter. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for a cab driver to overcharge foreigners, particularly when picking them up around tourist sites or hotels. Always make sure the driver uses a meter (al-addad) and turns it on. Shaghal al-addad is the Arabic phrase for this. If he refuses, simply get out and take another cab.

 

There are some other taxis customs that travelers should regard in Jordan. For instance, it is recommended that women sit in the back, especially when travelling alone. Men usually take the front passenger seat. Also, while technically not required, it is nice to round up the fare to an easy number with for example five to ten qirsh. Just keep in mind that most taxi drivers don’t make a great salary…

 

In Aqaba, the “yellow taxis” are green. In Amman you might also see silver and white taxis driving around. The silver taxis are basically the same as the yellow ones, just more luxurious (newer models), and therefore also more expensive. The white taxis are called service. They are a type of public transportation which follows specified routes and are shared with other passengers. Visitors (and at times locals) usually find it very difficult to navigate service. We therefore recommend avoiding them in favor of the yellow (or green) taxis.

 

Private Drivers

 

A private driver is an excellent option for those looking to go on a day trip to one or more of the many sites close to Amman. These drivers generally have excellent knowledge of the surrounding areas, and often become one of the best parts of the trip, adding entertainment and information to the experience!

 

Some yellow taxi drivers or private car owners will agree to drive visitors around for the day. We, however, recommend hiring a private driver only from reputable companies. If you need assistance with this, we are happy to help! You can also have a look at our transfer services between Jordan, Jerusalem, and Israel/Palestine.

 

Public Transport

 

Public transport in Jordan is very different from the one in most European or North American countries. Services tend to be more informal, and timetables or system maps are nearly impossible to find, or -if existent- unreliable.

 

An exception to this is JETT. The transportation company is running buses on longer distances at fixed rates and schedules.
For all other buses, the best option is to find out from where to take the bus (you can e.g. try asking the staff in your hotel), and then go to this place and wait for the bus to pass by. Sometimes you also have to wait for the bus to fill up with passengers. The good think is, these buses are really cheap. The bad thing is, using them requires quite a bit of regional knowledge, as well as time and flexibility.

 

We hope this guide can bring some clarity to the Jordanian transportation system. And – on a last note – sometimes, getting around is as easy as asking someone to take you there!