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Travel: The Kingdom of Jordan

There’s more to the Middle East than turmoil.

Jordan is pure magic. The country, bordered by Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, and Israel is exotic as all get-out, with men wearing the traditional red-and-white-checked keffiyeh (headscarf) and long white robes and women in the traditional hijab and modest dress. By day, the old markets (there’s one in nearly every town) are a kaleidoscope of scents; cardamom-spiced coffee, za‘tar, and saffron dominate, while at night, the clubs and restaurants are hazy with the smoke of fruit-flavored tobacco, sucked down via hookah pipes by men and women alike.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, as it is formally known, is an oasis of peace in a region of the world that has become synonymous with political turmoil–a quiet house in a noisy neighborhood. But Jordan is safe—as one adventure tourist was advised by a prominent FBI agent—“safer than visiting Chicago.”  The Nebraska-sized country has a constitutional monarchy, with strong civil rights, religious freedom, and close ties with the United States and the European Union. While it’s pure Arabia—the country is primarily Islamic, and Arabic is the main language—English is taught in schools starting in the first grade. The country rates #1 in education in the Arab world, something that’s obvious when you share tea with a local Bedouin family or sit among students in a pub in Amman debating international politics or the war in Syria.

The Kingdom is at the cradle of civilization, with amazing archeological sites dating back to the Paleolithic period (tens of thousands of years B.C.) The best known is Petra, a UNESCO site settled by the ancient Nabateans who carved the giant columns and granaries into the sandstone cliffs. It’s a must-visit, and could dominate several days of your itinerary as you hike around the valley. But don’t let that be the only spot you visit.

The country’s geography is vast desert, punctuated by steep hills, fertile canyons, oases of pink oleander and palm, and miles of coast.  The port city of Aqaba boasts world-class diving in the Red Sea, Wadi Rum’s vast desert landscape supports legions of hikers and has given birth to a new breed of Middle Eastern rock climbers, and the historic Dead Sea offers plenty of ways to embrace the recuperative benefits of the waters and mud.

Your likely gateway into Jordan will be Amman, a bustling city of 3 million (Jordan has a population of 7 million), with the ancient souk (market) in the middle of town. But–as tempting as it is to rush out and start exploring–give the city a few days to adjust to the welcoming country. A good measure of when you’re ready to venture out?  When you get used to everyone saying “hello hello!” in a warm chorus of greeting from every street corner, car, and bus.

This is the first in a series of articles on all that Jordan has to offer.  Our #omniten team is exploring the country April 7-16.  Follow their adventures by searching #omniten or #TryingStuffinJordan.

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