Jewels of Jordan

Day 52-56, Sept 8-13, 2022

This was the final leg of our 56-day itinerary with back-to-back cruises. It ended in Jordan, which was a post-cruise extension of our Pharaohs and Pyramids River Cruise.

The hard working Viking crew moved literally tons of luggage from MS Antares onto the bus

After a week on the Nile River, we boarded a plane from Luxor back to Cairo where we spent a day visiting the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (detailed here). Another 3:30am wake up call got us to the airport for the flight to our final destination, Jordan.

Upon landing, we were met by a Viking host at the visa counter at Queen Alia International Airport. Like our arrival in Cairo a few days before, the host helped us navigate the immigration protocol all the way out to our waiting bus, making the process smooth and stress-free.

Waiting for us outside the airport was Muhannad Nawafleh, our tour director for the next five days. Straight from the airport we bussed to our first excursion, the city of Madaba.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is roughly the size of Maine, and its 34,495 square miles pack quite a punch for a small country with limited natural resources. Tourism is of vital importance to the economy here. There are pristine Roman ruins, a red-sand desert, a thriving metropolis, a secret city carved from sandstone and a sea with healing powers. These are the jewels of Jordan, and we managed to experience most of them in only four busy days!

Route map of our stops in Jordan


Madaba is known as the City of Mosaics for its impressive Byzantine-era mosaics dating as far back as the 6th century. One of them is a floor mosaic inside St. George’s Church, also known as the Madaba Mosaic Map. It’s a remnant of the oldest known map depicting part of the Middle East. It also contains the oldest surviving original cartographic depiction of the Holy Land, and especially Jerusalem. It’s like a 6th-century Google map consisting of two million pieces of colored stone 🙂

What’s left of the mosaic, which was discovered in 1896, is only a quarter of its original size of 68′ by 22′:

Mount Nebo

Mount Nebo is mentioned in the Bible as the place where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land before his death. At approximately 2,330′ above sea level, it’s the highest point in the ancient kingdom of Moab. The view from the summit provides a panorama of the West Bank across the Jordan River Valley, with Jericho and Jerusalem in the distance. It was a bit hazy during our visit so we caught only a glimpse of some areas:

From the top of Mount Nebo, looking across the Dead Sea to Jerusalem, the West Bank and Jericho
Looking north

More Byzantine mosaics can be viewed inside the Moses Memorial, a modern building constructed over the ancient church. It contains spectacular mosaics within its ancient floors and walls. These were the best mosaic examples we’ve seen, well lit and better presented than those in Madaba:

Preserved Byzantine mosaic floors at the Moses Memorial
A perfectly intact Diakonikon-Baptistery mosaic, depicting hunting and herding scenes

Dead Sea

Located on the border between Israel and Jordan, the Dead Sea is one of the most intriguing natural phenomena on earth. It’s actually a lake that occupies the lowest open land of the Great Rift Valley, at the lowest elevation on earth – 1,412′ below sea level at its shoreline.

Dead Sea Highway

Its main tributary is the River Jordan, and since the water has no way to exit it just evaporates under the blazing sun, leaving huge amounts of salt behind. And yes, the Dead Sea does harbor life. Fish can’t survive here, but bacteria, algae and 80 species of fungi thrive near freshwater springs at the bottom.

Jerusalem across the Dead Sea

With almost 10 times more salt than ordinary seawater, it’s also a warehouse of minerals with therapeutic properties. We walked down to the beach on a very hot afternoon:

Shobak Castle

Imposing its might on the surrounding countryside, Shobak Castle is perched in a wild, remote landscape. This was the first Crusader fortress in a line of strongholds in Oultrejourdain, the territory east of the River Jordan. Baldwin I, King of Jerusalem, ordered its construction in 1115 to control the caravan routes between Syria and Egypt:

The walk up to Shobak Castle was a lung buster

There’s not much left, but the remaining ruins are still impressive and some restoration is underway:

The views from the castle show some of the most beautiful stretches of the Jordanian desert landscape:

Defensive wall and tower
The road we took to get up here
Looking down at a Bedouin making tea while his herd of sheep and goats take a nap

Bedouins are a semi-nomadic group of desert-dwellers who traverse the sands and are the oldest inhabitants of the Arabian desert. Their traditional primary livelihood is livestock and the herding of sheep, goats and camels. They own substantial land and can afford other lifestyles, but they have chosen their nomadic way of life and would never give it up.

On our way down from the castle we stopped and talked with a Bedouin, as our guide interpreted between us. This turned out to be a surprising highlight of my trip!

We saw many Bedouin camps on the hillsides, in the desert and near the cities


I can’t talk about Jordan without mentioning the ancient city of Petra, the number one jewel of Jordan for tourists. And as we discovered, there is much more to Petra than just the “Treasury”, that structure made famous by the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Wadi Musa, gateway to Petra

We endured a long, hot day excursion beginning at 6am to beat some of the heat. The Movenpick Hotel where we stayed was only a few steps from the entrance to the visitor center.

Onward to the ancient city of Petra!

Petra was a thriving trade center and the capital of the Nabataean empire between 400 B.C. and 106 A.D. An earthquake in 363 A.D. destroyed much of the city, which led to its downfall and abandonment. It was largely forgotten for several centuries until 1812, when Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt fooled locals into taking him to the ancient ruins that were rumored to be the lost city of Petra. Since then the ancient city has become increasingly popular, attracting large numbers of tourists today.

The walk to the famous “Treasury” is over a mile through a slot canyon called the Siq, a natural winding narrow gorge with high cliffs flanking each side. It’s a fascinating place with a lot of history of its own, and the play of morning light reflecting on the canyon walls is mesmerizing:

Along the way, Muhannad pointed out some historical relics that hold Petra’s past, Nabataean sacred stones and several Caper plants on the cliff wall.

At the end of the Siq, Muhannad made a dramatic reveal, presenting the entry way to Petra and its magnificent facade, the Treasury.

The Treasury peeking through the darkness of the Siq

The intricacy of its decorations with Corinthian capitals, friezes and more is an illustrious view of Petra’s most famous facade. Carved out of a solid wall of rock, the Treasury is where Indy walked deep inside to find the Holy Grail.

Does the structure looks familiar now?

There were many more things to be fascinated with as we continued on. Petra is a myriad of temples, tombs and caves carved from dusty pink sandstone, which is why it is also known as the “Rose City”. We were awed by the detailed facades sculpted into the sandstone cliffs, rows of numerous rock-cut tombs, a theater and several Royal tombs:

The street of facades- row of monumental Nabataean tombs carved in the cliff face
The theater is the only one in the world carved into solid rock
Nabataean tombs and dwellings
The ancient city sprawls over a hundred square miles, and we saw only about 15% of it. The rest remains underground
The Royal Tombs

As it turns out, there are many colors here besides pink. The layers of sandstone create beautiful natural mosaics that can be found everywhere. There are so many stunning and breathtaking features in Petra!

The Great Temple complex built in the first century as a reception hall
Qasr al-Bint was the main and most important temple of Petra, dating back to the first half of the 1st century AD
Colonnaded street displays an original Nabataean creation

We were exhausted after walking 6.5 miles in 100º+ temperatures. There were golf carts, camels and donkeys available for transportation, but we walked it. Thankfully there were restrooms and places to eat and drink along the way. The cold orange pomegranate juice not only quenched our thirst but was also really good!

It was one heck of an experience at the unique and astonishing ancient city of Petra!

Looking back – within Shara mountains is the ancient city of Petra


The ancient ruins of Jerash, another jewel of Jordan, have long served as something of a little sister to the world-renowned city of Petra. It’s considered one of the largest and most well preserved sites of Roman architecture in the world, outside of Italy. Its history goes back more than 6,500 years.

Steve joined the walking tour while I napped on the bus – another brutally hot day. He took pictures to show me (and you) what I missed. The city encompasses a sprawling site of Roman ruins, including two theaters, a temple to Artemis, and a forum surrounded by more than 100 columns:

The oval forum with modern Jerash in the background. The modern city was built on top of many square miles of remains like these, which will never be seen again


From Jerash we headed to Amman, the capital of Jordan to the hotel “W” to rest before a final super-early 2am wakeup call. Off to the airport for our flight back to the good ‘ol U.S. of A!

Here are a few drive-by road shots on our way to the hotel:

Lego-like condominiums on the hillsides of Amman
Roadside fruit stand
Roman amphitheater in Amman
A Bedouin herding his sheep
W Hotel, nice but we only have a few hours to enjoy it

Our days in Jordan were filled with constant on-the-go excursions and transfers to different hotels every day. We got up early and drove through beautiful desert landscape and mountains. Through Muhannad our incredible guide we learned many things about the traditions and culture here, and our eyes were opened to misconceptions we had about Jordan. He was passionate in sharing the gems of his country with us. We’re so glad we joined this post-cruise to experience the many jewels of this peaceful country in the Middle East.

The city of Amman at sunset

This post concludes our 56 days of Viking summer cruising that began in Iceland on July 20 and ended in Jordan on September 13. And just a little trivia for this trip, we took 9 international flights, stayed in 10 hotels (excluding our stays on the Homelands Ocean cruise, France’s Finest and Pharaohs and Pyramids river cruises) and packed both cold and warm weather clothes. We missed one flight initially due to mechanical failure, but never lost our luggage! Best of all, Covid left us alone and we were both heathy the entire trip.

Till next time!


  1. Congratulations on completing your wonderful trip! I bet you were exhausted when you finally returned home. What a journey! It’s been great looking at your pictures and nice commentary about the areas. As for Jordan…what a neat experience viewing all of those wonderful ruins. Thanks for taking us along.

  2. Thank you for sharing your amazing journey! So much to see in Jordan. I wonder if Viking could come up with a way to enjoy Jordan without the long hot days or too brief hotel stays by adding a day or two to the trip. Those way too early runs to the airport would do me in.

  3. What an adventure that ended with a bang! It’s always so incredible to see places literally halfway around the world that look so much like some places here (the stone formations and slot canyon.) Moab indeed! Thanks for blogging it all for us to follow along and enjoy, loved every post of it ❤

  4. The photo of you holding that little goat is so adorable!! And your beauty mud bath, LOL. Petra looks absolutely magical. As much as I enjoyed the Indiana Jones movies, it looks even more fantastic in your photos.

    What an incredible adventure you guys had on this trip! I doubt that we’ll ever get ourselves there (although Petra is really tempting!) so thanks for taking the time and effort to share your journey with us. ❤️ P.S. Hiking in 100 degree temperatures sounds AWFUL. You guys are definitely tougher than we are.

  5. Another exhausting but beautiful post! Thanks for taking us along, I’d never have made it in person…..

  6. I can’t tell how much I have enjoyed reading about and seeing your beautiful pictures on these travels. I have learned so much from these posts. What a lifetime experience the two of you got to have. Thank you for sharing it all with us!

  7. What a terrific trip – to think you started in Iceland and ended in Jordan, and all the things you saw in between… Wow! I have to say Petra alone looks like it was worth the cost of admission (in dollars and sweat and early mornings and exhaustion). Just epic! So glad you enjoyed it all and Viking treated you right. They’ve really got this whole thing down to a science.

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