Uncover the best of Lebanon and Jordan on this 16 day adventure. Learn about the fascinating ancient histories of these two Middle Eastern countries and visit the highlights including the vast Roman ruins of Baalbek in Lebanon and the treasure of Jordan; Nabatean Petra. Cedars of God - See the 1000-year-old Lebanon Cedars set high above the Qadisha Valley Wadi Rum - Eat a traditional Bedouin barbeque, sit around the camp fire and sleep under a blanket of stars Middle Eastern cuisine - Taste red wine in the Bekaa Valley, feast on fresh hummus and falafel in the souks and try sweet knafeh in Amman
Arrive in Beirut, Lebanon's historic capital city. Broken down into many different districts on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, Beirut is a city of contrasts and home to a diversity of ethnicities, languages, religions and cultures. For those arriving on time our Leader plans to welcome you in the hotel reception at 7pm for the welcome meeting and offer information on where to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Beirut at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport (BEY), which is around 30 minutes from the airport depending on traffic. Due to flights arriving throughout the evening on day one, the official welcome meeting will take place after breakfast on day two. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to take a walk along the sea front or go in search of freshly-cooked falafel to get a taste for the Middle East.
After breakfast we'll make our way to the National Museum, starting here we can begin to understand the civilisations that have shaped Lebanon. The museum is located at the end of the Green Line, this line divided the city during the civil war and for those 15 years the museum was closed, its facade suffering serious damage throughout the conflict. Thousands of artefacts are on display including sarcophagi from the Phoenician period to ornate mosaics from the Roman city of Baalbek. Moving further down the Green Line we'll visit Martyrs Square and the Mohammad Al Amin Mosque. The mosque resembles the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and it's minarets stand at 65 metres tall making it a very useful navigation tool! Much of the city has been rebuilt since the war ended but there are plenty of reminders of the 15 year civil war that Lebanon lived through, we'll pass the bullet-ridden Holiday Inn which still stands, with talks of demolishing the building or preserving it still taking place. Walking along the Corniche is a must when in Beirut, and we'll join locals drinking strong, sweet coffees as we go. With the sea to one side you can take stop, take in the city landscape and start to understand how the city was divided during the war and how the regeneration projects have created modern-day Beirut. Our hotel is based in the Hamra neighbourhood and was used as a base for worldwide journalists covering the war. Before dinner tonight we'll take a drink in the bar and understand a little more about what life was was like in Beirut between 1975 and 1990.
This morning we'll leave the city and drive south to Sidon. Once an important trade port on the Phoenician sea route, Sidon is now a busy seaside city, where remnants of its ancient past can be found at every turn. We'll start at Qalaa al-Bahr, a defence sea castle built in 1228 by the crusaders. The castle is a great display of how each civilisation built on the previous one, with Roman ruins used by the Crusaders to add support to the walls, then the Ottomans arriving and building a mosque on the west wall of the castle. We'll explore the souk and the renovated khans, including Khan al-Franj which dates back to the 17th century and once operated as an 'inn for foreigners', offering lodgings for many the merchants and traders that travelled through on the way to Mediterranean. There are many good spots to eat in Sidon and we'll have lunch here by the coast before moving inland to the Chouf area of Lebanon. Our base for tonight is the sleepy village of Deir Al-Qamar, set on a hilltop looking down towards the coast it is a great place to relax watch the sunset.
We'll have a relaxed breakfast today before checking out and taking a short drive to the the 18th century Beiteddine Palace complex. Beiteddine translates to 'House of Faith' and the palace is built on the remains of a Druze hermitage. The design is an intricate mix of Italian Baroque architecture and Arabian styles which perfectly symbolised the power and wealth of it's creators. Crossing over the Chouf Moutains we'll descend in to the fertile Bekaa Valley and drive to the village of Ammiq, set on the slopes of Mount Lebanon. Here the villagers mostly work in agriculture and are using less intensive, more environmentally friendly methods of farming. We'll have lunch in Tawlet Ammiq, their restaurant which celebrates traditional recipes using the freshest ingredients. This afternoon we will continue our journey through the Bekaa Valley and stop at a small winery to learn about Lebanon's wine industry and of course sample the range of red wines produced. At the end of the day we'll drive to the town of Baalbek, known as the 'City of the Sun'. Staying close to the ruins we'll be able to get a sense of the incredible Roman site that we will discover tomorrow.
Today, we will see the jewel in Lebanon's ancient crown; Baalbek. After breakfast we'll walk through the town to one of the world's finest remaining examples of Roman architecture. The details of Baalbek's true origins and history are a highly emotive topic among historians and archaeologists but it's widely agreed that the site dates back some 5,000 years. The site is a dedication to the gods of Jupiter, Venus and Mercury, and was classed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. Entering through the forecourt into the remains of the Hexagonal court you can begin to imagine the city at its peak. The Temple of Bacchus is without doubt the highlight of the site with its ornately decorated stonework, niches and columns surrounding an ancient theatre. We'll spend plenty of time exploring the site and in the afternoon we leave Baalbek and drive through the mountains to the Cedars of Lebanon Forest. We'll stretch our legs and follow trails through the forest in an area known as Cedars of God, walking between trees over 1,000 years old! Once upon a time, Lebanon's mountains were covered in thick, dense Cedar forest but rapid deforestation due to nobility and industry has led to strict conservation efforts. This now-precious tree is the country's national emblem. We'll walk here for approximately one hour before the final leg of the journey to St Anthony's Monastery. Dating back to the 12th century, the monastery is still in operation today under the control of the Lebanese Maronite Order, home to resident hermits and the centre of many pilgrimages. We'll be spending the night in the simply-furnished guesthouse that has been built within the monastery grounds. The rooms are either twin or triple share and all have en-suite bathrooms.
We'll wake early this morning to the sound of the monastery bells ringing and there will be an opportunity to attend the monks' morning prayers inside the church. The Catholic service is spoken in Arabic and everyone is welcome to attend. After the service, there will time for breakfast before a 90 minute hike in the valley. The gentle walk follows dirt paths, surrounded by fruit trees and the route offers spectacular views through the valley and is a great chance to look back at the monastery which is built into the cliff face. Around mid-morning we will leave the monastery and the Qadisha Valley behind, travelling back towards the Mediterranean coast to Batroun. One of the world's oldest settlements dating back over 5,000 years, Batroun has played an important role in different phases of ancient civilisation but is now a relaxed coastal city. Together with our leader, we will walk around the ancient sea wall, the fort and the old souk before free time for lunch. For a refreshing break, be sure to try a glass of the Batrounian lemonade - it is said that people come from near and far to try it and the locals fiercely debate who makes the best! Later this afternoon, a short drive will take us to Byblos. Another ancient port city rich in history and home to some of the earliest known inscriptions using the Phoenician alphabet. We'll take a short walk to the 12th century Crusader castle to explore this archaeological site and take in panoramic views over the ruins and surrounding coastline from the top of the castle's keep. The castle is the main attraction here but there are ruins in various stages of decay dating as far back as the Bronze Age, and the site is an excellent example of the many reigns of power that have ruled this area over the millennium. The rest of the day will be free to shop in the old Ottoman souks, choose a quiet spot for a strong coffee, or alternatively head down to the fisherman's' harbour to watch the sunset over the Mediterranean. There are many choices for an evening meal but the seaside location means a great selection of fresh fish options.
We have a relaxed start to the morning with free time to watch the fishing boats in Byblos harbour, pick up some souvenirs in the souks or just grab a coffee and take in the views. Later this morning we will start our journey back to Beirut. On the way we'll make a stop at Jeitta Caves. The caves were discovered by chance by an American missionary, out on a hunting expedition he fired his gun towards the sound of running water and investigated more on hearing the echoes! The upper section of the cave has a 750 metre pathway allowing you to walk beneath giant stalactites and look down on the river water and stalagmites below. The entrance to the caves is a little touristy with a toy train and gift shops but once on in the caves photography is banned and noise is kept to a minimum giving you the chance to fully appreciate this impressive feat of nature - where it takes at least 100 years for 1cm of new rock to form. Returning to Beirut we'll celebrate the last night of the trip with a traditional mezze dinner. In Lebanon food is such a key part of family life and is an experience to be enjoyed rather than a necessity; tables are covered generously with small mezze dishes that are shared and accompanied with home-grown wine. There is something for everyone and particular favourites include fresh tabbouleh salad, grilled meats and smoky baba ghanoush.
This morning you will say goodbye to your fellow travellers and Lebanese leader as the Lebanon part of your trip comes to an end. You'll be transferred to the airport in time for your flight to Amman where your Jordan adventure will begin. Arrive into Jordan's capital city Amman. Amman as we know it now is a young city but it's set upon one of the oldest continuously inhabited areas in the world with early references dating back to 7000 BC. Now home to almost half of the country's population, it is a fascinating city of contrasts, where the very ancient and the brand new collide. On arrival into Jordan you will receive assistance with your visa and will receive a complimentary transfer from Queen Alia International Airport (AMM), which is around one hour from our hotel. Due to a majority of flights arriving in the late evening, your Jordanian leader will meet you for the welcome meeting tomorrow morning. This evening you will find information including meeting times on the Explore hotel notice near reception.
This morning we drive the short 30 mile journey north of the capital to the ancient Jerash. Populated for over 6,500 years, the city's golden age was in Roman times when it was conquered by General Pompey and became one of a confederation of ten important Middle Eastern cities, known as the Decapolis League. Now, because of the way it has been preserved in sand before its excavation last century, it is widely acknowledged as one of the best-preserved Roman provincial towns in the world. Walking around the colonnaded streets, soaring hilltop temples, handsome theatres and the chariot-racing stadium, it is easy to imagine Roman life carrying on around you. All this is just the tip of the iceberg - it is estimated that only about 10% of city has been uncovered. After lunch we'll travel back into the city to visit Amman's historical centre and spend some time discovering the Citadel - Jabal al-Qal'a. The Citadel stands on a hill, the highest point in Amman, and artefacts found at the site signify that the area has been a royal city for thousands of years and is believed to have been fortified during the Bronze age some 3,000 - 4,000 years ago. Earthquakes and invasions have certainly taken it's toll on the Citadel but two pillars of the Roman Temple of Hercules still stand strong, and some buildings of 7th century Umayyad Palace can still be explored. The evening is free to relax. You may wish to take a short taxi ride to Rainbow Street, popular with Ammanis and tourists alike, this narrow, cobbled road is lined with coffee bars, souvenir shops, restaurants and bars. As the city is largely dominated by highways, Rainbow Street is a lovely escape that is best discovered on foot, plus a great place to try fresh, homemade falafel.
An early breakfast this morning ready for a prompt departure to to Madaba - a town with a strong Christian heritage and aptly dubbed the 'City of Mosaics'. Around 90 minutes from the capital, Madaba is home to hundreds of Byzantine-era mosaics, the most famous of these is the 6th century map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Created with two million pieces of vividly coloured local stone, it is believed to be the oldest surviving map of the holy land. Continuing on for another 20 minutes, we will arrive at Mount Nebo; referenced in the Old Testament as the place that Moses once stood to look over the Promised Land. This sacred location is important to many devoted pilgrims and on a clear day offers views out across the Dead Sea, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Later this morning we carry on travelling south, just as traders, armies and pilgrims have done before us, along the impressive 5,000 year-old King's Highway to Kerak. Imposingly situated on a rocky outcrop next to the road and containing a maze of stone-vaulted halls and passageways, this ancient Crusader stronghold is the most famous among a chain of fortresses built for the Holy War against Islam. Our packed day of sightseeing ends with a short drive to Petra - without doubt Jordan's most valuable treasure. We can look forward to a couple of days spent here to really get under the skin of this awe-inspiring site. We arrive in time to take an optional candlelight tour of the ancient city. Abandoned centuries ago, this other-worldly place is enhanced by the play of light and shadow to create an altogether magical experience.
After a guided orientation tour which will take us to some of the key areas, we have the rest of the day to explore in our own time. Most of what can be seen today was built by the Nabataeans - an industrious Arab community who settled here more than 2,500 years ago, growing wealthy on tax proceeds from passing silk and spice trade. Petra's spectacular setting deep inside a narrow desert gorge adds to its majesty. The site is accessed by walking through a kilometre-long chasm (known as the Siq), the walls of which soar to a height of 200m. Petra's most famous monument, the Treasury, appears dramatically at the end of the Siq, carved out of the sheer, dusky-pink rock face. Miraculously well preserved, this massive 43 metre-high facade dwarfs everything around it and perfectly represents the engineering genius of these people. The existence of this site had been kept secret for centuries by the local Bedouins and only revealed to the West by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812. After the decline of the city, due to shifting trade routes and a series of earthquakes, the Bedouins continued to use the sophisticated water system created by the Nabataeans to make the most of the water coming from the perennial stream and the flash floods; a precious oasis in the middle of an inhospitable desert. While you wander through literally hundreds of tombs, temples and colonnaded streets, your mind finds it easy to picture caravans loaded with frankincense, spices and textiles travelling through the Siq. The site is excellent for photography and the best time to take pictures is either early to mid-morning or late afternoon, as this is when the angled sun highlights and enhances the natural red, pink and orange colours of the rocks. Please note: Depending on your chosen departure date, the hotel location in the Petra area may vary; all hotels we use are three star and are either located a 5 - 10 minute walk away from the visitor centre, or a 25 minute walk away from the visitor centre in the town of Wadi Musa. For groups based in Wadi Musa transport will be provided to and from Petra Visitor Centre on day 4 and on day 5 options are a 25 minute walk or a taxi for around £2-£4 each way. Please ask an Explore Sales Consultant or refer to your final documentation for a final hotel list.
Today is free for you to discover more of Petra's beautiful and awe-inspiring buildings and scenery. You may choose to climb the steep path to the 'High Place of Sacrifice' for a stunning view over Wadi Araba and the Negev Desert, or trek up to the impressive 'Monastery' - Petra's largest monument. This evening we'll visit a small, family run restaurant for a Bedouin cookery demonstration. The the chef will show us how to cool a traditional main meal and Jordanian sweet before we sit down for our dinner.
Today is all about embracing the Wadi Rum desert experience in its authenticity, as we have the once in a lifetime opportunity to live the lifestyle of the nomadic Bedouin people. This morning we will leave Petra by bus and head to Wadi Rum Visitor Centre where we will transfer into 4WD vehicles for an exhilarating two hour jeep drive through the desert. This is a great chance to see the most spectacular and untouched parts of Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum occupies a region of 74,000 acres and as described by T.E. Lawrence, is 'vast, echoing and God-like...'. Monolithic outcrops of granite rock and sandstone rise out of the desert with a drifting blanket of sand between them. It is at its most impressive at the beginning and end of the day when the soft light and blue sky create a coppery effect on the sand. The Bedouins learnt to live with this hostile environment 3000 years ago, choosing the partnership with the camel for their survival. They understood the importance of keeping on the move and interpreting the elements, in order to find food and water. This afternoon we have the chance to experience a camel ride and learn about this precious alliance between the dromedary and the nomads. After sunset, we enjoy the Bedouin hospitality around the campfire under a blanket of stars; a great setting to share stories while sipping mint and sage tea. A traditional zarb, consisting of a chicken or a goat meat (vegetarian options available) cooked under the desert sand, is served as well as a delicious selection of mezze. The campsite we use presents the opportunity to experience traditional Bedouin living arrangements in a large communal style goat hair tent, which provides the best protection against typical desert extremes of hot and cold weather. The tent is laid out with rugs, mattresses, pillows and blankets and is where each tribe would commune to eat, sleep and socialise, as well as a fire pit to sit around and enjoy some local sweet tea. Far away from the tourist centre, roads and within the Wadi Rum protected area, the camp is intimate and provides great views over the desert. A toilet and wash block with limited washing facilities is also available during our stay. Private tents can be paid for locally should you wish, subject to availability.
After all the exploration of the last few days, today we can enjoy a relaxing day in Aqaba on the Red Sea. Famed for its preserved coral reefs and unique sea life, your Leader will be on hand to arrange an optional snorkelling trip. If you don't have your sea legs, there are a number of beaches to choose from or you can spend the afternoon drinking tea in one of the many cafes.
This morning we depart Aqaba and travel for around four hours to the the Dead Sea. Officially the lowest point on the earth's surface, this unique water body has an amazingly high salt content (33%) which means that no animal life survives and it is almost impossible to sink. The experience of floating naturally is unique and relaxing on the calm sea. We'll spend a couple of hours this afternoon at a tourist beach, where food and drink can be purchased and we use of showers facilities. Finally, we drive on to Amman and spend our last night in the bustling capital with free time to do some last-minute shopping and sightseeing. To mark the end of your trip, you may choose to enjoy a traditional or cosmopolitan meal, washed down with some excellent Jordanian wine, in one of the capital's many restaurants.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Amman. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Amman at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to depart from Queen Alia International Airport (AMM), which is a one hour drive from the hotel depending on traffic.
15 Break Fast(s) 2 Lunch(es) 4 Dinner(s)
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