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The tour starts at the Amman hotel. You will receive full details of exactly where to meet your Group Leader on the Joining Instructions which will be sent to you 2-3 weeks before your trip starts. Amman is a modern city with an ancient history and is the starting point for your exploration of this desert kingdom.
Hotel (AAA) - 2 nights
This morning you head 50km north to Jerash. With a history stretching back at least 2300 years, Jerash is one of the finest examples of a provincial Roman town anywhere in the world. Although it was inhabited in pre-Roman times, it was with the coming of Alexander the Great that things really took off! As one of the league of ten cities known as the Decapolis, Jerash (otherwise known as Gerasa) grew in importance until, in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, it was home to more than 25,000 people. The extraordinarily complete remains, which include a forum, a nymphaeum, hippodrome, two theatres (complete with numbered seats!) and several temples, date mainly from this period. Along the famous Colonnaded Street, grooves in the paving stones show where chariot wheels once rolled - kids will love playing gladiators! Elsewhere, remnants of exquisite mosaics still cover some floors.
You have ample time to wander the site and imagine life in ancient times, before returning to Amman with time to relax, or the opportunity to visit some of the city sights, including the Citadel. (B)
This morning you head south towards Petra, taking the Desert Highway. En route you drive to Madaba, famous for its 6th century mosaics set in the ground like giant jigsaws. Just beyond is another biblical site, Mount Nebo, which overlooks the Jordan Valley. The Bible tells us this is the final resting-place of Moses; from here he looked out onto the Promised Land and, thousands of years on, you can do the same.
On your journeys today you may see the black ‘beit ash shar’ tents of the hardy Bedouin who still wander throughout the Middle East as they have for centuries. Moving between the few grazing spots which dot the parched landscape, they survive by breeding goats, sheep and camels. Although the traditional nomadic way of life is starting to disappear as some Bedouin succumb to the lure of fixed accommodation, many adhere stolidly to the old way - albeit with the occasional addition of a 4WD vehicle for transport! Living in such a hostile environment has taught them the importance of a friendly welcome and the ancient code of hospitality to travellers still survives today.
Next, you drive to the small town of Kerak. Here a formidable Crusader castle overlooks a long, winding road down to the Dead Sea. The Crusaders had a huge impact on the region in the 11th - 13th centuries, and fought the forces of Islam in a long campaign, which saw many atrocities committed. Their temporary successes can be attributed - at least in part - to an outstanding ability to construct impregnable defensive fortifications, of which Kerak Castle is a prime example. Amazingly - given that it is over 850 years old - a great deal of the structure remains intact, and you can explore the dungeons, passages, refectory and kitchens of the castle, which also houses a small museum.
Continue on to Petra and visit Little Petra along the way, a great introduction before to explore this majestuous site. Uncovering Little Petra's secrets will also be the opportuntiy to have fun learning some new traditional games such as '7 stones' with locals and share tea with bedouin famillies.
Hotel (AAA) - 2 nights Swimming Pool (B)
Petra's exact location was unknown in the West until 1812, when the Swiss explorer J.L. Burckhardt, a convert to Islam, made a short detour to sacrifice a goat at the nearby meli (tomb) of the prophet Harun. As he picked his way towards the foot of the mountain, he stumbled across the siq, the narrow defile that leads to Petra - and the rest is history. Since that day many others have made their way along the same path and, as Burckhardt must have done, gazed in awe at the splendid monuments that adorn this remote valley.
This morning you'll make your way to the fabled site, following the same path as Burckhardt, which funnels you through the banded rock walls that tower above. At the end of the kilometre-long path, you are rewarded by a glimpse of the most beautiful building of all - the Khazneh or Treasury - so-called because the Bedouin believed that the urn crowning the edifice held a cache of gold and jewels. The first sight of this perfectly proportioned tomb, carved from the towering rock, is truly unforgettable, but there's much more to come!
Some 2,400 years ago the Nabateans taxed the trade caravans that plied between Arabia and the eastern Mediterranean and, using the proceeds, built the first houses and temples here. Later these taxes proved even more rewarding, and today the Nabatean legacy includes houses, tombs, temples, a (Roman-built) amphitheatre and much more.
Although it is a tiring walk for kids, it is well worth making the hour or so ascent up the rocky path, which leads to the Monastery, a vast structure rivalling even the Treasury. Time should also allow you to climb to one of the High Places, the mountain-top altars where ritual sacrifices were made; from here there are spectacular views of the mountains, valleys and canyons below. (B)
NB - Watch out for donkeys on the walk up to the Monastery, they can be quite pushy so take care.
Today you drive to Wadi Rum which offers some of the most extraordinary desert scenery. From a distance, Wadi Rum's sheer sandstone cliffs appear to hover like a shimmering mirage on the horizon. It's only from close quarters that you can fully appreciate just how large some are, rising to a height of 1800 metres. It's hard to describe the majesty of this setting without sounding too effusive, suffice to say that the beauty that captivated Lawrence of Arabia is just as evident today. To the Howeitat Bedouin, who have taken it as their own, the area is known as the Valley of the Moon. These people are reputedly the remainder of Lawrence's Arab army who marched with him from Azraq in the north, then stayed behind once battle was done.
You will enjoy a 4WD desert discovery, stopping to enter a narrow siq where many inscriptions can be seen. Passing Thamud nomads from Saudi Arabia and the Nabatean people have both left their mark on the surrounding rocks. Nature provides a number of rock bridges that offer some stunning views. There is also the opportunity to explore by camel (additional charge). What best than the vast desert land of Wadi Rum to challenge the local bedouins over a football game...
You camp in the protected area of Wadi Rum, surrounded by high mountains and sand dunes and in true desert fashion, you can sleep in a traditional Bedouin tent or under the stars. As the sun sets on the rocky outcrops - the sandstone changes hue, passing through a spectrum of yellow, gold, orange, red and finally purple, as the shadows lengthen and the stars come out. Children (and adults!) will love camping in the desert - the skies are clear and stars stand out brightly. The Milky Way, satellites and shooting stars can be clearly seen - a great way for kids to learn a little about the solar system.
Bedouin-style private camp (CC) - communal sleeping arrangement - 1 night (BLD)
You then transfer to Aqaba on the coast of the Red Sea, where you will have free time to relax or take an optional boat trip (additional charge) to go snorkelling. The warm and relatively shallow waters of the Red Sea support a series of coral reefs unsurpassed outside Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Over the years, successive generations of minute polyps have deposited the calcium they extract from the sea as limestone external skeletons on to the fossilised remains of their predecessors.
Hotel (AAA) - 1 night - Swimming Pool (BD)
Leaving Aqaba, travel along the King's Highway, a winding road which follows the contours of the rocky hills, occasionally passing nomadic shepherds as they tend their flocks in the few areas where there is water. You descend lower and lower until eventually you arrive on the shores of the Dead Sea - at 400 metres below sea level it's the lowest place on earth. Here the mineral content of the water is so dense that anybody attempting to swim finds that they float, rather than sink! It's a remarkable feeling and one you'll be able to experience for yourself as you relax this afternoon.
This evening you can meet up with the rest of the group for a final meal together, and reflect on your adventures in this fascinating country! Hotel (AAAA) – 1 night - Swimming Pool (B)
The tour ends after breakfast. (B)
Key: (B) = Breakfast, (L) = Lunch, (D) = Dinner
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