The Middle East has been a hotspot of global conflict for hundreds of years. The birthplace of three of the world's major religions, the home of some of the world's largest oil reserves and the drawing and redrawing of national boundaries through colonisation and conflict are just some of the reasons the region has such a history of violence.
And there is plenty of tension there right now, yet one country in the heart of it all remains blissfully peaceful and safe – and is enjoying a boom in tourist numbers.
Jordan has Israel to its west, Syria and Iraq to its north and Saudi Arabia to its east. Yet the kingdom remains an oasis of calm.
Australian visitors here are still relatively few, with just 4200 heading there in the first quarter of this year. Although that's a 23 per cent increase on the previous year, it's still a small number considering the attractions the country has to offer.
Perhaps it's the neighbours that put Australians off travelling to the country, which is a great shame since it is a spectacular and welcoming place. Smart Traveller's safety rating is "exercise a high degree of caution", which sounds ominous until you put it into perspective – Indonesia and France have the same rating, and Australians head to those countries in droves (Indonesia is the second most popular destinations for Aussies after New Zealand).
But although Australians may not yet constitute a large proportion of visitors, that doesn't mean Jordan's tourism industry is struggling.
In March, a record 433,640 tourists visited the country, seeking out highlights such as the ruins of Petra, the desert landscapes of Wadi Rum, the preserved Roman works of Jerash, or the healing waters of the Dead Sea.
That's a big turnaround from a few years ago, when tourism plummeted after conflict broke out in Syria and ISIS began to overrun Iraq.
Jordan recently received another publicity boost after Britain's Prince William visited the kingdom last month. His wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, spent three years living in Jordan as a child while her father was based in the capital, Amman, working for British Airways. Prince William, with Jordan's own Crown Prince Hussein acting as guide, visited the ruins in Jerash, where Kate was famously photographed during her time living in the country.
Australia may not have Britain's historic ties to Jordan (the country was a British protectorate until 1946) but it's an easy destination for us to reach, with Amman just three hours' flight from Etihad's nearby hub in Abu Dhabi.
So it's time to put Jordan on your bucket list. If you haven't yet been, here are five highlights you are missing out on.
The five must-do highlights of Jordan
The most famous attraction in the country, Petra is one of the most extraordinary archaeological sites in the world. For many of us, it was brought to our attention as the setting for the climax of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and the legacy of the hit 1989 film is still apparent in the souvenir shops and cafes near the site. More important, I'm told, was the impact of Petra's inclusion in the New Seven Wonders of the World named in 2007.
What makes Petra so wondrous? The entrance to Petra, a narrow ravine winding its way to the site known as the Siq, would be worth visiting as a natural wonder alone, even if there weren't spectacular ruins at the end of it. The ravine opens to the famous Treasury – an incredible facade carved into the rock face (the name is misleading because like most of the ruins here it served as a tomb, not as a treasury). But the Treasury is just one of the many things to explore in Petra, with the archaeological site spread out across 264 square kilometres.
While day trippers and cruise ship passengers may only see the Treasury and a little beyond, those with more time to spend can hike to the spectacular Monastery or climb to the "Place of High Sacrifice" for a panoramic view of the region. See visitpetra.jo
2. Wadi Rum
Photo: Craig Platt
It's not surprising to learn, upon arriving in Wadi Rum, that this is where The Martian was filmed. A huge sandy desert peppered with jagged peaks, it was the perfect location for Matt Damon's role as an astronaut stranded on Mars. But there is more to Wadi Rum than its spectacular landscape. The region is still home to Bedouin tribes who have resided in the region for thousands of years and it's now on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
It's also famously the land where T.E. Lawrence, AKA Lawrence of Arabia, led the locals in the First World War-era Arab uprising against the Ottoman Empire. The Bedouin armies were able to escape into this desolate landscape using their knowledge of hidden water sources to go where their enemies couldn't follow. Remnants of Lawrence's time here can still be found, including a carving of his likeness into the rock near one of the Bedouin camps. Visitors can explore the region by jeep, hiking or even camelback. See wadirum.jo
3. The Dead Sea
Nothing lives in the Dead Sea. And it's almost impossible to drown in it. Why? The salt content of the world's lowest sea is so high that you can't sink. It seems hard to believe until you actually give it a try. The sea, in reality a salt lake, borders Jordan and Israel and is more than 400 metres below sea level.
The water is 9.6 times more salty than the ocean. As such, you don't want to get it in your eyes or mouth (it tastes revolting) and you are advised not to shave a day or two before entering (or it will sting like hell).
Yet the mineral-rich mud from the bed of the sea is actually great for your skin – smear it all over your body, let it dry in the sun and then wash it off in the water. You'll feel fabulous afterwards. Opened in 2017, the Hilton Dead Sea Resort and Spa in Sweimeh is right on the shoreline and has a private bathing area and pontoon for guests.
Photo: Craig Platt
The ruins of Jerash are far less mysterious than those in Petra, but no less impressive. The city of 50,000 people is home to some of the best Roman ruins outside Italy. The city's origins go back 6500 years, its Roman ruins have slowly been getting excavated over the past 70 years – work that is still continuing.
There are colonnaded, paved streets visitors can walk, ruins of of a chariot circus and an exceptionally well-preserved amphitheatre that features some interesting acoustic design (that local busking bagpipers take full advantage of). Jerash can be visited in a day trip from Amman, including some other nearby highlights such as Ajloun Castle, a former crusader fort.
Photo: Craig Platt
Jordan's capital city offers both fascinating historical sites and a vibrant culture, along with some great food. Its population of a little over 4 million put it on par with Australia's largest cities, though geographically it is less than a fifth of the size of Sydney or Melbourne. Amman's many markets, shops and restaurants are worth exploring and the locals are among the most welcoming you'll ever meet. A visit to the giant Roman amphitheatre is a must. Larger than the one found in Jerash, it could seat 6000 and dates back to the second century. You can climb the steep stairs to the nosebleed section and enjoy the contrast between the ancient building and the modern city surrounding it.
Etihad flies to Abu Dhabi from Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane with connections to Amman. See etihad.com
The writer travelled as a guest of Etihad Airways and Visit Jordan.