Umm Qais is one of the lesser visited places in Jordan, located in the very north of the country. But, the small town of Umm Qais and its surroundings have a lot to offer at a second glance. Continue reading to find out what hidden gems you can explore!
An obvious thing to do in Umm Qais is to visit the archaeological site of Gadara. It was one of the Decapolis cities in the Roman period, and famous as a cultural centre. Gadara had a strategic location as it served as a stopover on the trade route from Bostra to the ports along the Mediterranean. The city was also home to several classic philosophers and poets.
Much later (1890 – 1930), an Ottoman village was built on the ground of the former acropolis. Unfortunately, inhabitants were forced to leave their houses in the 1980s, as the Jordanian government decided to evacuate the city to enable research and protect the archaeological site.
The site is located on a hilltop, and boasts a great view over the Yarmouk River Valley and the Golan Heights on the other side, as well as the Jordan Valley and Lake Tiberias in Palestine. On a clear day, you can even see Mount Hermon in Lebanon.
Al Himma hot springs
The Al Himma hot springs are hidden approximately 10 km out of Umm Qais, located in the village of Mukheiba. The thermal water is around 40 degrees Celsius, and therefore very pleasant in the colder months. Since Roman times, people have come to bathe in the hot springs for the mineral rich water and the therapeutic effects.
There is a private pool run by the Samara Resort, and the entry should be around 8 JOD. The entrance fee can vary, in our experience people have been charged different prices. Men and women can use the pool at the same time.
Spend a night at Beit Philodemus (and enjoy a locally sourced dinner)
If you’re thinking to spend a night in the wonderful Umm Qais area, then head to the remote Beit Philodemus. You can access it via a short dirt road (can be done with a normal car). The guesthouse is dramatically located on a hill with a stunning 360 degree view over the surrounding landscape. You can even see a part of the Jordan trail from the guesthouse.
Beit Philodemus is an ideal place to read, rest, sit by the wood-burning stove on cold evenings or watch the sunset sitting on the terrace. Ahmad Alomari, the host and owner, can also take you on hikes throughout the area, and teach you about local foraging. If you ask him, he can also prepare you a dinner with local ingredients that he foraged, giving you a unique and memorable experience at the cozy guesthouse.
Alternative Umm Qais/ Mukhaybeh Village Tour
If you are more interested in exploring Umm Qais from a local perspective, then you should join the alternative tour from a start-up called Through Local Eyes. The founder, Anas Amarneh, lived and worked in several rural areas throughout Jordan to develop alternative activities. Now, he is showing hidden gems and sharing local stories with Jordanian as well as international tourists.
During the tour, you will first head to the archaeological tour of Umm Qais, before heading to Mukhaybeh Village. Here, you will meet locals who will tell you about their culture, daily life and identity. After enjoying a hot cup of tea, you’ll continue to the beautiful Arayes pond. Your guide will tell you about agricultural projects, the Al Himma Hotsprings and their relation to the pond.
Photo credit: Booking.com
Beit al Baraka
Beit al Baraka is a guesthouse in Umm Qais that also offers a range of activities. Rent a bike and cycle around the area, enjoy dinner with a local family, go for a beekeeping class or test your skills in basket weaving. Of course you can spend a night in Beit al Baraka, but you can also choose to go camping for a night!
If you’re up for it, then better to let us book you in advance to avoid disappointment.
If you’re in Umm Qais, you should plan in some time for special lunch or dinner. Makmoura is an old dish local to the area, and means “buried”. It is made out of boiled chicken and onions buried under a thick layer of dough, and cooked in an oven. Even many Jordanians have not heard of Makmoura before. If you’re curious and would like to try, then get in touch with us via Email under [email protected] and we’ll give you the contacts of someone who can prepare this dish for you! As it takes some time to prepare this dish, please let us know a day before!
Photo credit: atyabtabkha.3a2ilati.com
Foraging and cooking class
You might be surprised by the amount of edible plants you can find in Umm Qais. You will definitely be surprised by the delicious meals that can be prepared from these plants. Hence, you should go on a foraging tour around the hills surrounding Umm Qais. Following that, a cooking class so you can learn how to use your freshly picked ingredients.
One of the plants that can be found in the north of Jordan is Akoob, known as Gundelia in English. It’s a wild plant similar to a thistle, and tastes a bit like artichokes. The head can be fried with olive oil, and it can be eaten with yoghurt, meat or rice. It’s is known as the people’s food in the north of Jordan, Palestine and Syria. The plant has been part of the region’s cuisine for more than 2000 years.
Another rare dish you will have the chance to savour in Umm Qais is called Cha’cheel. It consists of herbed dumplings swimming in delicious yogurt broth. It is unlikely that you will find this dish anywhere else but in the north, so don’t miss your chance.
Hiking in Yarmouk
The Yarmouk Forest Reserve is also a great place to visit when in Umm Qais. Part of the reserve is made up of mountains covered in Deciduous Oak trees, which is the national tree of Jordan. The other part are valleys descending towards the Yarmouk River. There is a short educational trail in the reserve which can be done without a guide. The trail is 1.5 kms long and takes around 1 – 2 hours to walk. It leads to a viewpoint overlooking Lake Tiberias and the Golan Heights. Naturally, you can also do longer hikes, together with a local guide, ranging from 2 – 7 hours.
Ziplining and other adventures at the Sharhabil Eco Park
Only a half an hour by car away from Umm Qais lies the Sharhabil Eco Park. As an eco park, of course, the aim is to preserve unique natural habitats in the Jordan Valley, as well as spread awareness. The park has small wooden cabins for people who want to spend the night, and you can also choose to camp there. The infrastructure of Sharhabil is accommodated by sustainable water use and energy projects. Furthermore, it aims to create a healthy retreat for the local community.
In terms of adventure, the park has quite a bit to offer. There is a 550 meter-long zipline to get your adrenaline going. This was also the first zip line in the Middle East. During the “ride”, you can enjoy the scenic surroundings with great views over the Ziglab Dam. If that activity is too far off the ground for you, then try out the giant swing that has been installed between two trees.
You can also take hikes around the park, or explore the beautiful nature by bike. From time to time, the park also offers various workshops, which teach about ecological gardening, geodome building, composting and gray water use to name a few.
Exploring and hiking Pella
To get to the ruins of Pella, it will take you around 40 minutes by car from Umm Qais. Although the site is often overlooked, it is actually one of the most significant places in Jordan’s historic sites. Evidence shows that Pella has been inhabited for around 9000 years, with settlements from the Bronze and Stone ages. You can also find the remains of Umayyad palaces, Roman temples and Byzantine churches. Unfortunately, like Petra and many other places in Jordan, the city was destroyed around 740 AD by an earthquake. Although the site continued to be inhabited until 1970, after an Israeli strike it fell to ruins.
If you want to do more than wandering and climbing around in the ruins of Pella, there is a 4 hour Pella Mountain Hike (8.5 kilometres). From the archaeological site, the hike leads up the oak-dotted hill called Jebel Sartaba. From there you continue a bit along the top while having magnificent views of the Jordan Valley. You’ll come across Hellenistic ruins, before descending into the valley used as farm land. From here, make your way back to the starting point. For more information you can check the hiking video here, or contact us for a copy of the directions from the ‘Hiking in Jordan’ book.
Visit Beit al Fannan
The guesthouse Beit al Fannan is described as being an experience, not an accommodation. It is nestled on the side of the hill overlooking the ruins of Pella. You can look forward to cozy rooms, a lovely terrace to enjoy and art materials to indulge in. It’s a peaceful spot, perfect for a weekend escape or a romantic getaway, or as creative space.
The house was originally owned by architect and artist Ammar Khammash. He also built the house himself, and called it a ‘labour of love’. In 2017, the guesthouse was taken over by Baraka Destinations (the same people as from Beit al Baraka). Nowadays, you can spend the night there, and explore the story of the house, as everything has been placed there for you to explore.
Sounds tempting? Get in touch with us, and let us organize the perfect Umm Qais weekend getaway for you! Write us an email to [email protected], and a dedicated travel consultant will get back to you.
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