Hidden Gem Hike of the week : Umm Qais and the Cave of Jesus

1. Mohammad walks toward the Cave of Jesus with the Sea of Galilee in the background. credit Zane Wolfang
Mohammad walks toward the Cave of Jesus with Lake Tiberias in the background. (Photos: Zane Wolfang / Jordan News)
Spring in Jordan provides a short window of time when the weather is ideal nearly countrywide for hikers to go out and enjoy everything Jordan has to offer. The north is particularly gorgeous, lush and green, defying the expectations of travelers who expect to see nothing but desert.اضافة اعلان

Two weekends ago, the hidden gem hikers visited Irbid for the first time, taking in the scenery at Umm Qais just one day before King Abdullah visited. The true hidden gem of the trip, however, was a vantage point over the Yarmouk River Gorge featuring sweeping views of three countries, which we found with the help of a local friend.

While some parts of this trip would have certainly been easier with a car, Irbid is a great destination for budget travelers from Amman because you can take the JETT bus from Tabarbour station for about JD4 round trip.

Sign explaining the ruins of the Roman shops along the cardo at Umm Quais. 

the bus ride took about an hour, after which our friend Mohammad picked us up in downtown Irbid and took us for a day of sightseeing. To get to the lookout point over the Yarmouk River Gorge, you have to drive past Umm Qais for about 5km until you reach a small border checkpoint and military base. While having a car does make everything easier, everywhere we were visiting was affordable and reachable by taxi.

While we elected to drive through the checkpoint, many locals were hiking from that point on to the lookout, along a small paved road surrounded by beautiful farms and olive groves. There were also a few buses and some other cars heading to the vantage point, which also featured walking trails, picnic areas, and fantastic views of Lake Tiberias in Palestine and the Golan Heights in Syria.

Ruins of the Roman shops along the cardo at Umm Quais.

A short walk down from the vantage point was a site called “the Cave of Jesus,” which was well maintained but provided no information about what exactly Jesus was doing at that particular cave. I believe local lore has it that Jesus slept in the cave on the way to the ancient city of Gadara, which is now called Umm Qais.

While exploring the picnic area around the cave, we met a French couple who had climbed up from the village of Al-Adassiyah, which is very close to the Palestinian border and apparently can be reached via car by driving up the Jordan River Valley.

Their route caught us by surprise. We were so close to the border that we were not even sure the village we were looking down at was inside Jordan, so we took a mental note of the route with the caveat that local authorities may not approve of the backcountry approach to the cave. The couple asked us how they should climb back down, which was funny because we had come from the top of the hill in the opposite direction and had no idea how to help them.

(Photo: Maggie Masse)

After a beautiful springtime walk down to the cave past some onion fields and grassy hills interspersed with trees and colorful wildflowers, we walked back up to the car and drove back to Umm Qais, a spectacular ruin of a city dating back to the third century BC with Greek, Roman, Byzantian, Nabatean, early Islamic, and Ottoman history.

Umm Qais costs JD5 for foreigners and JD0.25 for Jordanians, and the ruins are amazing, with well-preserved roads, Roman shops, an acropolis, an amphitheater, and a huge network of water and military tunnels.

We spent about two hours there, exploring at a leisurely pace and stopping for a coffee at the café situated amid the ruins with lovely views of the surrounding countryside.

We did not see everything, and we could easily have spent another hour or more exploring and reading all of the interesting historical information.

After Umm Qais, we went back to Mohammad’s house for some homemade mansaf and iced karkade. I cannot guarantee that your trip to Irbid will include mansaf, but I can recommend it.

View of Lake Tiberias from Umm Qais.

Irbid is not a tourist city per se, and Umm Qais is a bit outside of the urban area. It is one of those cities that really opens up to you when you have a local friend to tell you about some of the hometown history, point out some popular restaurants, and generally help you navigate your itinerary.

The surrounding countryside is beautiful, and I’m sure there are countless day hikes, cycling trips, and historical destinations within reach.

If I get to go back, I would like to do a barbecue near the Cave of Jesus and spend more time exploring the Yarmouk River Gorge, which I suspect is even more of a hidden gem than we got to experience on our first short trip there.

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