The Middle East is a violent, war-torn, savage region of the world that no American should dare travel. At least, that’s what the news media would have us believe.

It’s also vast, rugged, and awe-inspiring — a place of raw natural beauty unlike almost anything you’ll find Stateside. If you’ve ever wanted to visit the region, the country of Jordan is an ideal place to start. Here are four reasons why.

Get Lost in Wadi Rum

The valley of Wadi Rum is arguably the country’s most well-known and with good reason. It’s raw, surreal, and unbelievably beautiful. It’s as close as most mortal men will ever get to feeling like they’ve arrived on the surface of Mars (likely why it was chosen as the backdrop for much of The Martian). The hiking, the desert scenery, and the endless stretches of rugged plateaus all provide enough to explore for at least a full week. Assuming you have just one day and night in the valley, however, bed down with a traditional, nomadic Bedouin tribe in one of the few camps inside Wadi Rum. Arise early the next morning for an early sunrise balloon flight over it all. It’s the best way to get a sense of the entire valley.

The Treasury at Petra

The Treasury at Petra

Explore Petra

If there’s a single iconic shot of Jordan, Petra is it (you’ve see it in Indiana Jones, and probably didn’t even realize). The UNESCO World Heritage site dates back more than 2,000 years to the time of the Nabatean Kingdom. Today, the archaeological site is remarkably well-maintained — a winding canyon of tombs, houses, and temples intricately carved into beautiful pink sandstone cliffs. Petra’s pièce de résistance, however, is the 150-foot high Al Khazneh (a.k.a. “The Treasury”) — a stunning, ornate Greek-style temple carved into the natural rock face.

Float the Dead Sea

For bucket list travelers, a visit to the Dead Sea — Al-Baḥr Al-Mayyit (“Sea of Death”) in Arabic — is a must. At more than 1,400 feet below sea level, it’s the lowest point on dry land anywhere in the world. Due to its hypersaline waters, a swim in the sea is more like a relaxed float as it’s virtually impossible to dive below the surface. The black mud that lines the seafloor is popularly sold in expensive cosmetics products throughout the world. While it’s believed to be very good for you skin and well-being, most tourists cover themselves in the mineral-rich earth purely for the photo op.

The Valley of Wadi Rum in Jordan

The Valley of Wadi Rum in Jordan

Hike The Jordan Trail

Jordan is not an especially large country (a little larger than Maryland), but its rugged landscape makes it deceptively challenging to explore on your own. But, thanks to the official opening of The Jordan Trail in 2017, adventurous travelers can do just that on foot. The 400-mile thru-hike traverses the length of the country, from the lush green hills of Um Qias in the north to the dramatic valleys and seascapes of Wadi Rum and the Red Sea in the south.

Don’t be fooled by the news media. So much of our world is safer, more beautiful, and more easily within reach for “average” travelers than you might think. Jordan is proof.