When to Go to Jordan
In the summer, temperatures in The Eastern Desert can exceed 40ºC, but winter nights can be cold and windy. The desert is spared from jordan’s rainy season, and spring (March to May) is a pleasant time to travel because the climate is moderate nationwide, with wildflowers blooming, even in the desert. However, there is a strong Middle Eastern windstorm in the desert (known as khamsin) for a few days in the spring. Autumn (September to November) also sees milder temperatures.
Getting Around Jordan
While a portion of the Desert Castles loop, as it is known, is accessible by public transportation, renting a car or going by organized tour are most convenient. Jordan’s Eastern Desert (known as Badia) is remote, with scarce inhabitants and transportation options. Few roads connect towns, though a main highway goes straight across the desert into Iraq. Azraq is a good base for exploring the region (as John Zada’s story depicts). While tours are viable options, you may see more of the area, and safely, by hiring a driver who is knowledgeable guide, and is prepared with spare tires, water and communication tools.
Getting to Jordan
The Queen Alia International Airport in Amman is Jordan’s only international airport. Royal Jordanian Airlines flies daily from Toronto to Amman (via New York) and twice weekly directly from Montreal. Air Canada flies daily from various Canadian cities (via London and Frankfurt). Upon arrival in Amman, the best way to visit the Desert Castles is by organized day trip; but it is also possible to reach Azraq and Umm al-Jimal by public transportation.
What to See and Do in Jordan
The untouched Eastern Desert is dotted with castles: well-preserved, early Islamic inns, as well as royal and military outposts. On a day trip from Amman, make sure to visit Qusayr Amra, with is colourful mosaics and frescoes, as well as Qasr Hallabat and Qasr Harraneh (also known as Kharana), both recently restored. The farthest point east is Azraq, an oasis town.
Join a night safari at the Shaumari Wildlife Reserve, and view nocturnal wildlife under the immense desert skies. A highlight of the Azraq Wetland Reserve is birdwatching at dawn, with water buffalos sometimes making an appearance. The Azraq Eco-Lodge has helpful staff, and is a good base for any traveller exploring the eastern region (see Zada’s story and photos). For more information on Jordan’s Eastern Desert, start with the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, a well-established Jordanian charity that works with tour operators to promote responsible travel in the region.
North of Azraq are the Roman ruins of Qasr Aseikhim, which boasts fantastic views of the never-ending desert, especially at sunset. The more adventurous can continue off-roading to reach Qasr Birqu. The trip is worth it, as its small picturesque lake attracts diverse animals and birds from the desert region, including gazelles, hyenas and owls. From Azraq, you can also drive to Umm al-Jimal, located near border with Syria, to see the ruins of a sprawling ancient Roman village set in the volcanic Black Basalt Desert.