What do the movies The Martian, The Last Days on Mars, Prometheus, and Red Planet all have in common? They’re all science fiction movies set on other planets and they were all filmed in southern Jordan. In fact, from Lawrence of Arabia to The Hurt Locker, international filmmakers have been coming to the “lower half” of this Arab country for decades — drawn by its unique settings, tax incentives, and liberal mindset. But even if you’re not making a major Hollywood film, it’s a still a destination you should add to your bucket list.
ALL of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which a little bit smaller in square millage than the state of Maine, offers diverse landscapes and ancient cultural sites. From castles of Azraq and Amra in the East, Lake Tiberias and the Golan Heights in the North, Mount Nebo, Holy Land and the Dead Sea in the West, there is a lot of history and nature in Jordan.
But if you’re looking for adventure, breathtaking landscapes, and awe-inspiring history, then you need to head south.
The Surreal Landscapes of Wadi Rum
A little under an hour’s drive from the southern governate city of Aqaba (and only about 3 and half hours by car from Jordan’s capital city Amman), lies the sand dunes and colored cliffs of the Wadi Rum protected area. A Unesco World Heritage Site, Wadi Rum’s nickname is the “Valley of the Moon,” because it will make you feel like you’ve stepped on another planet, which is probably why it’s where movies set on Mars are often filmed. There are miles and miles of granite rocks and sandstone, with no other life in sight. Yet, if you look closely you might find thousand-year-old inscriptions carved into the rocks. If you time your visit during off-peak hours, you may also find yourself to be the only person out there, along with your Bedouin jeep driver of course.
The Ancient Architecture of Petra
The Lost City of Petra was carved out of towering rose-colored rocks around 312 BC by the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab tribe. The city was abandoned after a series earthquakes in the 1st century and wasn’t discovered by the wider world until 1812. It’s among the “New 7 Wonders of the World” and, like Wadi Rum, is also designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Movie fans will likely recognize it as the temple that held the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and it’s one of Jordan’s most popular tourist attractions. Petra is a little over 100 kilometers north of Wadi Rum and you should plan on spending an entire day there to watch the rocks vary their shades from brown to pink and capture some wonderful photographic opportunities.
The Thrilling Adventures of the Desert
Walking around and taking in the awe-inspiring scenery isn’t the only thing to do in Southern Jordan. One of the best ways to see Wadi Rum and Petra is by air and tourists can ride in their choice of a helicopter, hot air balloon, or glider over the canyons and valleys.
For adventures on the ground, you should connect with the Zalabia Bedouin. They’re a local tribe that lives in Jordan’s desert areas and mainly work in tourism, leading trekkers, rock climbers, and camel and horseback safaris through the area with overnight camping under the star-studded Arabian sky.
Tourists can also rent ATV’s and 4-wheel vehicles for day trips racing through the sand dunes. Just be prepared to come across a Bedouin camp in the middle of nowhere, where you’re more than likely to be offered hot tea and handmade souvenirs.
If you prefer a package experience, Desert Paramours is a Jordanian family-run tour company that offers caravan style group trips. Their tours allow you trace the footsteps of great explorers, by riding camels or donkeys and staying with nomads in tents.
Ed. Note: The author of this post may have either a relationship with or received other compensation from any of the product or service providers that are featured.
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