A holiday to Jardon isn’t complete until you complete the Golden Triangle – Aqaba, Wadi Rum and Petra. With all offering their distinct features: The seaside city of Aqaba is Jordan’s coastal gateway with historic sites on our doorstep, Wadi Rum – the valley of the moon offers glittering skies, undulating dunes and peace of mind, and Petra’s rich ancient past is an archaeological adventure. Using the seaside city of Aqaba as your base, Petra is just a short drive away. And situated near the desert highway, only a minor detour between both Amman and Aqaba, lies Wadi Rum.
Along with being a historic city, Aqaba’s golden sands and sun-kissed evenings is a sunseeker’s paradise. Here the temperatures averages in the 30s during the summer months. There’s a lot to see and do here – and from the Red Sea to the ruins at Ayla, it’ll leave you in complete awe.
What to see in Aqaba
There’s a rich culture and history to Aqaba, so slip on your sandals and rub in the factor 50, sun screen. Begin your trip with an inspiring visit to Aqaba Fortress, a sixteen-century building that stands proudly within the shimmering sandscape. Used as a travellers’ inn for those on pilgrimages to Mecca, the fort has played host to a variety of dynasties from Mamluks to Ottomans. If you want to go further back I history, the Ruins at Ayla, which dates back to 650AD – and the astonishing, dusty site is unmissable. Then, to up your knowledge, drop into the Aqaba Archaeological Museum.
What you can do
Go for a dive in the Red Sea, which is usually clear, warm and full of dazzling sea-life, making it perfect for underwater escapades. And it’s not just aquatic life that you’ll come face to face with, but a beautiful biosphere with colourful coral reefs, too (they’re over 6,000 years old). For water-based fun, make your way to Aqaba Park, a spot with 19 different diving sites and info to help you understand the importance of protecting Jordanian waters (whilst enjoying the technicolour habitats).
When you are finish diving and want to dry off, Aqaba beaches offer sunseeker’s paradise. In fact, South Beach stretches out for 12km, providing spaces for frisbee fun and sunset views like never before. Have a siesta there, and then for a sport-infused, chilled-out evening, aim for a hole-in-one at Ayla Golf Club. It’s a picturesque and expansive site that makes practising your putting even more enticing. Or, if discovering local cuisine is more your thing, the Souk by the Sea evening market happens everyweek. Our tip? Don’t miss the sayadieh – nutty dish made with flavoured rice and fish that’ll have you wanting more.
Situated near the desert highway, only a minor detour between both Amman and Aqaba, this protected area is brimming with natural marvels. Chiselled sandstones meet starry skies, warm ribbon of sand glisten beneath your feet and a rich history lies in waiting. The area offers you the chance to discover Bedouin culture.
What to see
With dramatic red colouring and imposing scenery, it’s no surprise that the Wadi Rum desert has been used to depict Mars and other astral spots in sci-fi blockbusters, including “The Martian”, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and “Prometheus”.
Sprawling across a magnificent expanse (720sqkm), there’s something other-worldly about the area; it seems to calm any stresses, instead cupping you within its warm golden banks as if it were about to rock you to sleep. On your visit, discover Lawrence’s Spring around the western wall, (named after the 1962 epic ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ was shot on location there), the Burdah rock bridge (one of the highest bridges I the world) and the winding Khazali Canyon, inscribed with Islamic, Nabataan and Thamudic writings, as well petroglyphs.
How to do see it
If you come this far might as well take a tour of the desert. However, it is so vast and demanding that you’re going to need someone who knows their way around. Getting stuck in the middle of nowhere is not only miserable, but oscillating temperatures and rocky landscapes make for dangerous navigation.
While Wadi Rum tours aren’t cheap, there are a lot to choose from. Tour guide agency Wadi Rum Nomads offers a one day jeep tour that’ll show you all of the major sights, including a Bedouin guide, lunch and drinks, as well as a two days and one night tour, where you’ll go back to basics and camp in a cave. Come nightfall, don’t forget to look up at the almost electric night sky – it’ll make you feel like you’re staring straight into the eye of the universe.
If you’d rather have a view from the heavens, try a hot air balloon over the desert courtesy of Wadi Rum Magic Tours. Or if you’re brave enough, take some traditional transport on a Wadi Rum Nomads camel ride (and give a whole new meaning to hump day).
For those who like their holidays with a slice of discovery, the ancient city of Petra is a perfect detour during any trip to Jordan. Just two-hour drive north of Aqaba, the historical destination is home to some of Jordan’s most-visited tourist attractions.
Where to start
You’ll uncover amazing archaeological sites whichever way you turn in Petra, but a good baseline is to kick things off with an exploration of the area’s tombs. Setting off from the visitor’s centre, you’ll pass the four pyramids atop the Obelisk Tomb before you even reach the narrow walkway through the rocks (Bab as-Siq Trail) that takes you deep into the historical centre’s heart. Next up is The Treasury, one of the most elaborate temples in the region (and the one you’ll most probably have seen ahead of your visit), but it’s worth checking out the slightly quieter Royal Tombs Great Temple and Ad Deir too.
How to enjoy without the Crowds
It’s hard not to get caught up with coach groups on a visit to Petra (after all, it is Jordan’s most popular sightseeing spots), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few ways to see the best bits without having a tour guide’s umbrella thrust in your face.
The High Place of Sacrifice is a little bit off the beaten track, but is well worth the diversion. It involves about 30-40 minutes of climbing up a rocky slope, but carved steps at all tricky points ensure it doesn’t turn into scramble. And the views across the area’s lunar landscape upon reaching the top are simply out of this world.
For those who want to see Petra’s best bits lit up at night, be sure to head to one of the candlelight tours. Although you will be surrounded by a fairly large group, the light projections onto The Treasury and amazing views of the crystal clear night sky more than make up for it.