Ahlan wa sahlan! Welcome to Jordan's capital, Amman – cosmopolitan and contemporary, yet steeped in biblical history. Your adventure begins with an important welcome meeting at 6 pm this evening. As you don't spend too much time here, it's worth arriving a day or two early to explore the sights. If you do have time, be sure to head to the citadel, taking in its amazing sweeping views of Amman. The Jordan Museum (home to the Dead Sea Scrolls) and the Roman Theatre are both well worth visiting. After your meeting, head out with your new-found travel pals, and perhaps pick up a coffee from one of the cafes and partner it with an ara'yes – a local-style toastie filled with spiced meat.
2 Wadi Rum
Follow in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia with a journey to Wadi Rum (approximately 5 hours). A half-day jeep safari will take you through some of the most striking desert scenery on the planet. Wadi Rum is full of weird and wonderful lunar-like rock formations, and traces of ancient civilisations can be seen in the many carved inscriptions found throughout the area – from pictographs to Thamudic, Nabataean and Arabic texts. The most enduring monuments in Wadi Rum are those carved by nature – the natural rock bridges, towering rose-coloured sand dunes and scattered rocky peaks.
Tonight, sleep in a simple Bedouin desert camp, with the choice of sleeping under a camel hair tent or out under the stars. Enjoy dinner cooked in an earthen oven by your Bedouin hosts. Meaning ‘desert dwellers' in Arabic, the Bedouins are a semi-nomadic people, and in Jordan up to 40 per cent of the general population is thought to have Bedouin ancestry. Conditions are basic at the desert camp, but the hospitality of your hosts as well as the chance to sleep beneath the twinkling desert night sky will sure make up for it. (B/D)
3 Wadi Rum
After waking up in the unique surrounds of the camp this morning, head out on a trek around the area (approximately 12 to 15 kilometres), with a stop for tea and a lunch break. You might scale one of the large sand dunes for sensational views of the valley – the perfect chance to snap some unbelievable pictures. Explore the distinctive rock formations and bask in its eerie silence. Wadi Rum is probably best known for its connection with the enigmatic British officer T E Lawrence, who was based here during the Great Arab Revolt of 1917–18. Tonight is again yours to enjoy the traditional Bedouin hospitality and the clear night skies of the desert. (B/L/D)
This morning you'll leave your desert camp, taking 4WDs to the main entrance, which is opposite the Seven Pillars of Wisdom – the mountain named after Lawrence of Arabia's book. The visitor's centre here is also a great spot to buy some jewellery and handicrafts, mostly made by a women's co-operative aimed at supporting local industries. Continue your journey to the fabled city of Petra by private vehicle (approximately 2 hours).
The site remained unknown to the Western world until 1812, when it was discovered by Johann Ludwig Burckhardt – a Swiss explorer. In 1985, Petra was designated a World Heritage-listed site. Once arrived, spend the afternoon on a guided tour of Petra. Squeeze through a mile-long narrow path, known as the Siq, through huge towers of rock and get your first glimpse of the iconic Treasury complex. It's amazing to think that this enormous, intricate building entrance was hand carved out of the rock. (B)
Enjoy a free day of self-discovery as you explore Petra on your own. The site is surprisingly big, and so it is up to you to choose your own route around the complex. You could explore the old Roman road, other smaller temples and several old tombs, as well as the rock-hewn amphitheatre. For those who are feeling a bit more active, there's the challenging but highly rewarding 1-hour walk up the steps to the secluded yet stunning Monastery. (B)
Traverse the King's Highway to the historic crusader castle of Kerak, which stands on a cliff commandingly overlooking Wadi Karak and the Dead Sea in the distance (approximately 2.5 hours). You'll have time to explore the ruins and discover the legends of centuries-old battles. Pack your swim gear as next you can wash off the dust in the Dead Sea – the lowest point on Earth (420 metres below sea level). This super-salty lake is a perfect place to spend some time relaxing and get some classic floating pictures. For those who are game, why not cover yourself from head to toe for a nutrient-rich natural mineral mud bath.
Continue to Mt Nebo – the spot where the prophet Moses is said to have seen the ‘promised land' and where he's supposedly buried. Explore this sanctuary and view the remarkable mosaics of the fourth-century church. Afterwards, continue to Madaba, famous for its Ottoman-style houses and beautiful Byzantine-era mosaics, including the acclaimed sixth-century mosaic map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land at St George's Church. Other mosaic masterpieces from the fifth to seventh centuries can be found throughout Madaba's churches, museums and homes. (B)
7 Madaba / Jerash
Today you will leave Madaba for a short drive to Jerash – once one of the grandest ancient Roman cities in the world (approximately 1.5 hours). These are some of the best-preserved Greco-Roman ruins around. The ancient walled town that survives today is a remarkable evocation of life 2000 years ago. It has a striking collection of archways and theatres, baths, public buildings and colonnaded streets, and is a beautiful place to spend a day exploring.
Discover Hadrian's arch, the partially restored hippodrome, ornate public fountains, the south amphitheatre, and see the collection of daily artefacts uncovered during excavations. Grand columns encircle the city's centrepiece, the Oval Plaza. After a full day of exploring, maybe gather your travel buddies together and share a celebratory shisha as you reminisce on your memories of majestic Jordan. (B)
This morning we farewell Jordan and make the hour journey to the Alenby Bridge Crossing for your onwards journey to Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Your Tour Leader will escort you to the crossing and provide you with instructions for the border officials. Once you have cleared the border there will be a representative to escort you to your hotel in Jerusalem.
Welcome to Israel and Jerusalem, a city steeped in spirituality and legend; a rich tapestry of the many cultures, religions and nationalities that call it home, be they Palestinian Muslims & Christians, Sephardic Jews, Ashkenazi Jews, Armenian Christians, Ethiopian Copts or Greek Orthodox monks. Your arrival at the hotel should be just in time for lunch and the rest of your day is free to explore Jerusalem. We recommend checking out the range of tours on offer from Urban Adventures. There will be a meeting this evening at 6. 00pm with your Tour Leader and any fellow travelers, please look for this note in reception (B)
Explore the Old City this morning on foot. Start with the Courtyard of the Dome and the Western Wall, then continue to St Stephen's Gate, passing the crusader church of St Anne and the Pool of Bethesda. Continue along the Way of the Cross (Via Dolorosa) and stop by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, buried and resurrected. Perhaps stop and recharge and sip on sweek tea or sample fresh local bread and then walk through the Christian Quarter up to Jaffa Gate. In the afternoon use your free time to explore more of the city.
This evening meet up with your leader and enjoy a home-cooked meal of chicken maqloubeh (an upside-down layered dish) with a Palestinian family. With a full belly, enjoy a traditional oud performance from a local musician. (B/D)
Start the day off with a panoramic view of the city. Drive out to the Mount of Olives that looks over Jerusalem's Old City and visit the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus is said to have prayed the night before his crucifixion. See the Church of All Nations (also known as the Basilica of the Agony), then drive the short distance out to Bethlehem and take a graffiti walking tour along the barrier wall. Graffiti by many artists has graced the wall over the years, including famous ones like Banksy.
Continue to Manger Square and consider refuelling with some of Bethlehem's famous falafel. Visit the Church of the Nativity, marking the spot of the stable where Mary is said to have given birth to Jesus, then head back to Jerusalem. Visit the holocaust museum Yad Vashem – your leader may not be licensed to guide in the museum or may not be comfortable doing so; if this is the case then an audio guide will be provided. Later, meet a local rabbi for a lively and informative discussion about the Israel–Palestine conflict, Jewish tradition and peace processes. (B)
This morning drive out to the cliff-top fortress of Masada. On the way your leader will make a few stops; each leader has their favourite photo spots and stories to tell so we leave it up to them to share what they love. Arrive in Masada and take a cable car to the fortress built by King Herod around 35 BC. This UNESCO site is very important to the Jewish people as a symbol of their exile from the Holy Land and of bravery and self-sacrifice. Spend some time visiting the site, then drive around 30 minutes to the shores of the Dead Sea, where the dense and super-salty water means you'll go for a float, not a swim. Spend some time relaxing here and soaking in the mud, which is supposed to have healing properties.
Tonight you'll stay at an eco-lodge, where the accommodation is part of an NGO, originally a refugee camp and now a community initiative that aims to protect the ecology of the Dead Sea and the Jordan River Valley. On arrival your host will speak about the environmental situation in the valley, and the work they are doing in waste management and water conservation. If there's time after your included dinner, take an optional sunset hike – a 2-hour walk to a farm to enjoy some light refreshments and some local conversation. (B/D)
Travel to the western shores of the Sea of Galilee and historic Tiberias, established all the way back in AD20. Visit the ancient fishing village of Capernaum. See the site of two ancient synagogues and a church said to have been the home of St Peter. Stop by Tabgha, where the Bible says Jesus performed the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, then head up to Safed (Tsfat), one of Judaism's Four Holy Cities, which is over 900 metres above sea level. Continue to Nazareth to take a stroll through the Old City and visit the Church of the Annunciation, where Mary is said to have received the news of the Immaculate Conception. Hit the road again and arrive in Haifa for the evening. (B)
This morning travel to Rosh Hanikra (1 hour's drive) where white cliffs meet the blue sea. This little beauty of natural geography is tucked away on the border with Lebanon and is usually a highlight for everyone. Take the cable car up the cliff to view the spectacular grottoes. Continue to the ancient crusader port of Acre (Akko in Hebrew), where you'll visit the vast complex of buildings occupied by the Knights of St John (Knights Hospitaller), excavated to uncover rooms including a large hall, a dungeon, a dining room and the crypt of an ancient Gothic church.
Perhaps a good place to have lunch and relax before returning to Haifa. In the afternoon, enjoy some free time. You may want to visit the Baha'i Gardens, where the elaborate terraces and a golden shrine sit overlooking the city. There are some great produce markets and excellent restaurants nearby, just ask your leader for recommendations. (B)
14 Tel Aviv
After breakfast, journey to Tel Aviv via the coast and tour the ancient port of Caesarea (approximately 1 hour), which served as the capital of Israel during the Roman and Byzantine eras. Built in 25 BC, the city was eventually abandoned and lost under the desert sands. Thanks to archaeological excavations since, its splendour is on show once again. Continue along the coast to Tel Aviv. Take a stroll through the Old City of Jaffa, then drop your luggage at tonight's accommodation. Head out on an orientation walk with your leader, taking in Rabin Square. Finish up your walk at the promenade, the perfect place to find a restaurant for dinner this evening, or enjoy a farewell drink at your hotel with your leader and fellow travellers and try the local boutique beer. (B)
15 Tel Aviv
This trip comes to an end today. There are no activities planned and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time after you check out. Getting to the airport is very simple and easy by public transport with buses nearby taking you to the train station and connecting to the airport. Private transfers are available to pre-book with Intrepid. (B)