See Jordan’s secret north

Most visitors to Jordan make a beeline for southern icons like Wadi Rum or Petra, but venture north and you’ll discover ancient heritage, wildlife and local entrepreneurship

Team Wanderlust
24 July 2023
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Explore With Wild Frontiers

We all know about Jordan’s southern gems – ancient Petra, Mars-like Wadi Rum – but what about the country’s historic north? From Roman Umm Qais to UNESCO-listed As-Salt, seek out hidden gems far from the crowds.

Uncover Umm Qais

Umm Qais ruins in the North Jordan Valley (Shutterstock)

Just a 110km jaunt from capital Amman, Umm Qais is steeped in historical significance. Once a bustling Roman city – used as a holiday resort and a key pit stop on the ancient trading route between Syria and Palestine – today its ruins are the big draw. Visitors are rewarded with vast theatres, tombs, terraces and some striking Ottoman-era houses. Don’t miss the West Theatre, in particular, an impressive amphitheatre made of black basalt.

Umm Qais has two halves to it: the ruins on one side and a revived community to the other. Its shops are helping to bring back traditional handicrafts, such as palm-leaf weaving, while projects include a restaurant, a café, and a honey farm run by soldier-turned-entrepreneur Yousef.

Northern Wonders

The region’s skilled craftspeople have now become local entrepreneurs (Alamy)

Only a handful of visitors make it to Jordan’s untapped north, so you’ll be heading well off the tourist track. A cultural hodgepodge of Nabataean, Byzantine and Ottoman architecture await at Umm El Jimal in Jordan’s northern basalt plain. Over 150 ancient structures are sprinkled across this 2,000-year-old archaeological site, around which still lives a thriving Bedouin community.

Don’t miss As-Salt, a charming UNESCO-protected city with canary-coloured buildings and an ancient trading history. It’s an easy day trip from Amman, and one that offers a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of the Ottoman empire, accompanied by a deeper dive at the As-Salt Archaeological Museum.

Outdoorsy types will love Jordan’s north, too. Migrating wetland bird species and water buffalo thrive at Azraq Wetland Reserve, which educates visitors about the effects that the world’s dwindling water supply is having on wildlife. And for something more active, don’t miss Ajloun. Set about 1,200m above sea level, this forest reserve promises a reprieve from the heat and is perfect for hiking. Beginners should opt for self-guided routes like the Soap House and Roe Deer trails, while those seeking a challenge can take the guided The Prophet’s or Orjan Village trails.

Feeling inspired?

For more information about adventures in hidden Jordan, visit the official Wild Frontiers website.

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