Amman, Petra, and Wadi Rum are familiar places to anyone who has visited Jordan or has the country on their travel bucket list — but have you heard of Karak?
Locally known as Al-Karak, it is merely two hours away from Amman and located on the King’s Highway (a vital trade route that connected Africa with Mesopotamia). The city played a significant role in the Crusades of the 12th Century and was known as the “Wall of Potsherds” in Hebrew. It was the capital city of ancient Moabite that later became a pilgrimage route for Christians, followed by Muslims heading to the holy city of Mecca from Syria and Iraq.
The Karak Castle is one of the three largest crusader castles in the Levant (the other two being in Syria) and undoubtedly the most popular attraction of the city. It is also known to make the highest quality ‘jameed’ used in making ‘mansaf’- a traditional lamb dish. Join us as we virtually explore Karak and uncover what else it has to offer!
36 Hours in Karak
10:00 AM: Crusader Castle
What better way to start our sojourn in Karak than a visit to the Karak Castle, also known as the Crusader Castle.
Believed to have been built by the King of Israel in the 12th Century, this legendary crusader castle was a stronghold for crusades between the Crusaders and the army of Saladin- the first sultan of Egypt and Syria, who eventually overthrew the castle after several years of battle.
A fine example of the architectural genius of the Crusaders, the maze-like castle has seven levels of passageways, dungeons, kitchens, and a chapel. The Dead Sea is visible from the top of the castle on clear days.
Ibn Battuta, the famous Moroccan scholar and traveler, is believed to have written in his travel journal that, in 1326, Karak could only be entered through a rock-cut tunnel. Two such entrances into tunnels are still visible.
12:00 PM: Archaeological Museum
The Karak Archaeological Museum houses historical artifacts and information about the castle. Housed within the castle premises, it consists of remains from the Moabite period. Skeletons, Byzantine glass vessels, Iron Age artifacts, ancient pottery, inscriptions…. you’ll find it all here.
1:30 PM: Mansaf
When in Karak, trying ‘Mansaf’ is a must! Revered as Jordan’s national dish, it is made of lamb cooked with fermented dried yogurt and served with rice or bulgur. ‘Mansaf’ means ‘large tray’ or ‘large dish’ and was traditionally had by the peasant community. Al-Karak is known to produce the highest quality of ‘jameed’ made of goat milk and an important ingredient used in ‘Mansaf’.
In Karak, you’re likely to find the dish at any restaurant serving Jordanian cuisine: ask the locals to recommend a place.
3.00 PM: Shrine of Prophet Noah
The Shrine of Prophet Noah sits on top of a hill and was built in honor of the Prophet as a messenger of God. The message was to warn people of the consequences of not following the words of God.
4:30 PM: Wadi Bin Hammad
A part of the Dead Sea watershed, Wadi Bin Hammad is perfect for wet hikes and an experience to remember. Be sure to carry protective, waterproof gear. The road leading up to it is winding and steep, but the brave-hearted can drive up themselves. The water is shallow, though can get slippery during the monsoons.
7:00 PM: Traditional Dinner
For dinner, head over to Adel-Halabi restaurant to try some local fare. Eat what they suggest and you’re likely to come out very satisfied!
9.00 AM: Grand Canyon of the Middle East
The Wadi Al-Mujib valley is often referred to as the ‘Grand Canyon of the Middle East’ and this isn’t without reason. The Wadi Al-Mujib nature reserve located between Karak and Madaba is an excellent location for trekking- the best way to enjoy the gorges. This can be more exhausting than it appears, so go slow, and enjoy the journey!
Interestingly, the Wadi Mujib Biosphere Reserve is the lowest nature reserve in the world at 410m below sea level. So even as you hike over cliffs, you’re technically below sea level!
12.00 PM: Mediterranean Platter
Enjoy a quick lunch at Burj Al-Hamam before making your way to the Dead Sea. Enjoy the kebabs, hummus, and other Mediterranean constants.
1.30 PM: Lot’s Cave
En route the Dead Sea, Lot’s Cave is worth a 20 minute stop to explore ancient ruins. Keep your expectations low and treat it as a side adventure. Folklore has it that this is where the Biblical prophet Lot sheltered with his daughters after the destruction of Sodom.
Don’t forget to peek into the Museum at the Lowest Point on Earth that showcases mosaics and preserved walls from the time.
2.30 PM: Dead Sea Museum
A photographer’s delight, especially when the light is just right, the Panorama Dead Sea Complex is not to be missed. The rich layer of sedimentary rocks along the way to the Dead Sea Museum creates a natural mural. The Museum itself gives an introduction to geology, history, and environment of the Dead Sea- and needless to say is extremely educational.
4.00 PM: Float in the Dead Sea
Embody the quintessential Jordanian experience with some much-needed relaxation in the Dead Sea. Believed to be the second saltiest water body in the world, it is called ‘Dead Sea’ as the water is too saline for marine inhabitation. The Dead Sea barely receives 100 mm rain every year and has come to become a salt flat.
Being mineral and full of salt, it’s easy to float, making it an ideal place to relax and rejuvenate. If you have the budget, check in to one of the resorts nearby and enjoy a more luxurious spa treatment whilst watching the sun go down.
7.00 PM: Street-side Shawarma
For the final meal of the weekend trip, take a leisurely walk through town and try the Shawarma grilled by the street-side vendors. Cheap yet delicious, we’re sure the flavors will bring you back to Jordan sooner than you think!
Karak isn’t as grand and dramatic as Petra or Wadi Rum, but it’s far less crowded, off the beaten path, and offers a more intimate, understated experience to travelers. If you enjoy slow travel, wish to observe local ways of life, and don’t like to over-fill your days with activities and tourist excursions, Karak is the perfect place to visit in Jordan!
How to get there
Jordan is accessible by air from most countries around the world. From Amman, you can charter a taxi to Karak for about JD50 one way.
When to go
April to November is the best time to visit Karak.
All international visitors require a valid Jordanian visa- or Jordan Pass- to visit Karak in Jordan.
Jordanian Dinar (JD) is the official currency of Jordan. VISA and Mastercard are widely accepted. There are plenty of ATMs in the main cities but may be scarce in smaller towns.
The official language of Jordan is Arabic. English is widely spoken in the cities.
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