During our first time in this amazing country in the Middle East, we obviously spent a lot of time exploring the must-sees, as anyone should. With Petra, Wadi Rum and Jerash just to name a few, Jordan offers some unique highlights for any visiting tourist. But even during our limited time there, we had planned to visit a few places a little bit more off the beaten track. And we found those to be at least as special as the more famous sites. In the case of our second hidden gem, it turned out to be our favorite experience in all of Jordan!
Hidden gem Jordan 1: Pella Archaeological Site
Jordan is a country rich in remnants of the Roman Empire that once stretched all the way to the Middle East. You may have seen our Instagram posts on Jerash and Umm Qais, two of the more known and visited archaeological sites in the country. The site at Pella however, is one that seems to be overlooked by many tourists and in fact by the country itself too. After navigating the narrow roads to get to the entrance gate, we found a tiny closed building from the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, and a sign with some information on the history and limited preservation of the site so far. Apparently, an archaeology team from the University of Sydney undertook some excavation works from 1979 onwards, but they have left much work to be done. There was absolutely no-one else at the site, apart from the man who came walking after us asking for our Jordan Passes when we had been inside the gates for a good five minutes. The site consists of numerous remains, including those of two churches and a small amphitheater (no Roman city could go without one, apparently). All of the remains are however overgrown and little restoration has been done to tidy them up like they have for example been in Jerash. The charm in this is that we were able to find pieces of ancient pottery lying around the entire site. Everywhere we looked, shatters of pots, pans, plates and whatever were still lying on the floor, there for us to pick up and investigate. But hey, we aren’t archaeologists and we wanted to avoid problems at the airport, so we decided to leave everything we found in place, for if and when the researchers ever may return.
The entrance to the Pella Archaeological Site is located here, just outside the town of the same name. Finding a minibus to the town should be possible, from where you could in theory walk. We had our rental car though, and could park it right in front of the entry gates.
Hidden gem Jordan 2: Wadi Hasa
Of all the beautiful places we saw in Jordan, Wadi Hasa tops our lists as the most beautiful. Wading through one of Jordan’s many wadis (in this case we mean one of the canyons with a river running through) should definitely be on your list when visiting Jordan. There are quite a few to choose from, with the more famous being Wadi Mujib (which was actually closed due to a previous storm upon our visit), and some of the others being Wadi Bin Hammad or Wadi Ghuweir. However, we can thoroughly recommend taking half a day to visit Wadi Hasa in the West of the country, near the Dead Sea. This wadi gives the opportunity to wade through up to 40 kilometers of river canyon from its starting point, which would be a massive multi-day undertaking. We decided to walk about 3 kilometers into the Wadi and turn back, for a good 2,5 hours return journey. And during all of the 2,5 hours, we enjoyed ever-improving amazing views, the refreshing feeling of cold river water on our feet and legs, and the peace and quiet of nearly no other tourists. In 2,5 hours we only ran into two other couples, each with a guide. One of them told us that despite being a guide since 1995, this was only his second visit to the Wadi Hasa: ‘groups don’t come to this place’ were his words. How’s that for a spot worthy of a place on our Go Beyond the Usual travel map? Despite this, the Wadi is very accessible and the hike into it is not very challenging or dangerous, at least with the water levels that we had.
Bring shoes that can get wet and are suitable for a few kilometers of rocky terrain. The water can apparently get up to waist level, though for us it was a bit lower. The wadi can be quite tough to find, as there are no signs or indications that you are approaching it until the very end, nor is it listed on Google Maps or Maps.ME. The entrance is located just below the village of Gawr-As-Safi, off Dead Sea Highway 65. Us these coords to find the spot: 31°01’01.5″N 35°29’24.0″E We struggled a bit to find the best place to park, but ended up following one of the two guides that happened to arrive to park on what seemed to be the parking lot of the power plant located in the area. The guide had a bit of a discussion with the man watching over the parking lot, and told us that we could park in a covered spot as long as we paid the man 2 JD upon our return from the Wadi. Our eventual parking spot was here. If you don’t have any luck finding this spot, you’re good to park a little further out and walk into the riverbed without all too much trouble. You really can’t miss the entrance to the Wadi from either possible parking location.
Hidden gem Jordan 3: Qasr al-Hallabat
Driving east from the bustling metropolis that Amman is, you’ll quickly find yourself surrounded by desert. This particular part of the country contains multiple desert castles, of which we visited two during our time in Jordan. The better known Quseir Amra, a desert palace with impressive frescos from the 8th century still well-preserved inside, is found by many buses of tourists. Qasr al-Hallabat however, is much less visited. We found ourselves entirely alone by a closed visitor’s center when we got there. Walking up to the Qasr, surrounded by desert on all sides, in 35-degrees and a sky filled with dust, was a truly mesmerizing experience. You can enter the castle itself through its restored main gate, and find many rooms and even some remnants of mosaics. Unlike in more touristy places, the mosaics in this Qasr are unprotected and there for you to witness from up close. This felt a bit strange though, as it may harm the preservation of such an impressive historical site.
Qasr al-Hallabat is located next to the town that took its name. Click here for its location. You can park by the visitor center, from where it is a short and flat walk to the castle. You can visit the castle 24 hours, as it is not surrounded by fences. There are toilets in the visitor center building, but don’t count on them, as they don’t look like they are ever cleaned… Information on this and the other desert castles is available on this website.
Would you like to visit any of these places? Check out our travel map by clicking on the button below, to see exactly where they are!
Kirsten & Thomas