Jordan – a Haven in the Middle East

I met Mr. Yousef Hasanat, founder of Desert Paramours Tours through a mutual friend. He arranged for my visit from Israel to Jordan on a short notice, and he welcomed me to his country over tea. We met in the lobby of Hotel Amra Palace in Petra. It was always my dream to see this magical city, but once I arrived there, I was surprised to learn about the state of tourism in the area.

Hasanat told me that because of the unrest in the Middle East, fewer visitors are making their way to Jordan now. As a result, the economy is suffering. This family-run tourist agency, that specializes in active adventure trips across Jordan, Israel, Syria and Egypt has been affected as a result. Before, Hasanat and his brothers use to be occupied every week leading groups to camp, hike, canoe, horseback, and engage in other outdoor activities throughout the desserts. Now, they get a few groups from Europe and Australia. They make a lot less money and have to explore new areas for income.

The ruins of Petra are still a spectacular site, one of the wonders of the world, I must say. You can be lost in the old city for hours and days, exploring each section, taking photos as the rocks change colors with the movement of the sun. I took over 1,000 photos in one day!

petra jordan

Once you come out of the old city though, there are hardly any hotels, restaurants or shops. “There use to be many 5-star hotels, but most of them closed,” Hasanat informs me. It was surprising for me to see that such a unique destination is hardly commercialized. I eat a modest buffet dinner at the hotel, along with the 30 or so other tourists staying there.

petra jordan

On another day, we visit Wadi Rum, another popular destination in Jordan. We reach a desert camp that offers lodging, dining and sightseeing options. I am the only visitor they have today. The entire lodge is deserted. My Bedouin driver takes me in a rustic jeep for a 2-hour long safari. We drive through sand dunes, colored cliffs, stopping to take pictures, and see thousands of years old inscriptions. On the way, we visit, several Bedouin camps, where tea and souvenirs are offered. My 21-year old driver who speaks good English tells me that he was born and brought up in this desert and has never left the place. He learned English only by interacting with tourists.

desert camp jordan

During most of our tour, no one else is in sight, which offers great photo opportunities, but also a reminder of the sad reality this land faces.

jordan wadi rumI am curious to know what are other places in Jordan I must explore if I have more time. Hasanat offers a 11-day tour that takes you through castles of Azraq and Amra in the East, Lake Tiberias and the Golan Heights in the North, Petra and Wadi Rum in the South, and to get bird’s eyes view of Mount Nebo, Holy Land and the Dead Sea in the West. His tours offer a combination of history, culture and adventure.

What I did feel in Jordan was a sense of appreciation. Everyone I met, be it guides, hotel staff or shop vendors, was grateful that I had made a decision to visit, despite the negative perception about the area. People went out of their way to ask if I was having a pleasant stay and if there’s anything they could help me with. The truth is that I never felt unsafe here. Jordan remains to be a peaceful country that is politically stable, and safeguards its tourists.   It offers aid to refugees and trades with it’s neighbors. This may be the ideal time to visit Jordan for those looking to travel to a secluded area, with rich history, tons of outdoor adventures, and amazing photographic opportunities.

9 Places to Visit in Lebanon

Lebanon is a beautiful country in the Middle East, bursting with history, great food, and great culture.  It being a classic traveler’s destination, how can you decide where to go and what to see?  Since planning a trip can be quite the task, Go Eat Give has named the nine must see cities in Lebanon for your touring pleasure:

1. Beirut

This capital city of Lebanon is nicknamed “The Paris of the Middle East,” and is bustling with things to do. Along with great shopping and beautiful scenery, Beirut has a rich cultural history to explore. There are many museums and sacred religious sites there, such as the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint George, the National Museum of Beirut, and the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque.

Beirut

2. Baalbek

Baalbek is located on the western end of Lebanon and is home to some of the most well preserved Roman ruins known to mankind.   The city dates back over 9,000 years and was previously known by the name of “Heliopolis,” or The City of the Sun, during the period of the Roman rule. Jupiter, Venus, and Bacchus are all believed to have been worshipped at the Baalbek temples.

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3. Jeita Grotto

Located in the center of the Nahr al-Kalb valley in Jeita, Lebanon, the Jeita Grotto is an amazing sight. The interconnected limestone caves, which can only be accessed by boat, span around nine kilometers in length. To make the grotto even more intriguing—it was a finalist to become one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.

Lebanese journalists and photographers tour the Jeita Grotto by boat during a media day to campaign for the selection of the Jeitta Grotto as one of the seven natural wonders of the world

4. Sidon

This is a Lebanese town that is filled with old history and remarkable sight seeing.   Located on the western coast of the country, it was one of the most important Phonecian cities and is now known as an active fishing town. Sidon is home to the largest Lebanese flag and also the Old Souk, a famous marketplace.

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5. Tyre

Tyre is another city in Lebanon that contains very interesting ruins and historic sites. One main attraction here is the Roman Hippodrome—an ancient stadium for chariot and horse racing! The Tyre Coast Nature Reserve is also the largest sandy beach in the country.

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6. Beit ed-Dine

Beit ed-Dine is a town famous for its’ magnificent Beiteddine Palace (shown below). This one-of-a-kind palace was built in 1788 and hosts the annual Beiteddine Festival and Beiteddine Palace Museum. Interestingly enough, after Lebanon’s independence in 1943 the palace was officially renamed the “People’s Palace” since it had been created by the people’s hard work and will.

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7. Faraya

Lebanon is known for it’s interesting climate, and this town is the perfect example why. Above this village lies the Mzaar Resort, which is a ski resort. The resort is only about 20 miles away from Beirut, meaning you could experience warm weather and winter all in the same day!

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8. The Cedars of God

Cedar trees are sacred and known to have covered Mount Lebanon in the past, but The Cedars of God is one of the last forests left in the country. This was caused by persistent deforestation by Lebanon’s ancestors, such as for shipbuilding and construction. The snowy area has great hiking and beautiful views.

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 11.28.24 PM9. Deir el-Qamar

The name of this Lebanese village can be translated from Arabic into the “Monastery of the Moon.” It’s home to many important religious sites such as Saydet El Talle and the Mount of the Cross. This village is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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