Excursions

Traveling within your host country is an exciting, immersive way to experience the various regional cultures, different geographical landscapes, and even UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Just as people in New York City live very differently from people on the plains of Kansas, different parts of your host country may stand in sharp contrast to one another. Program-organized excursions provide students a way to experience the Arab World first-hand, taking them places they might not otherwise be able to go.

Semester students travel on two to three major organized excursions. Summer and short-term students participate on one excursion during each 4-week session.  These excursions are integral parts of our programs and all expenses are included in the general program fees.

Excursions on past programs have included both day trips and overnight stays. Every term is different and AMIDEAST is constantly adjusting our programs to provide a richer, more immersive experience. In-country program staff will provide exact details about excursions during orientation and throughout the program. All our program excursions are designed to provide students unique ways to get first-hand experience with the diversity of life in the host country.

The following excursions are examples of past trips which AMIDEAST has organized.  Future terms may include these or other new excursion options.


Jordan Semester Excursions

Amman City Tour:

The Amman City Tour is part of students’ first week in Jordan and is designed to highlight different areas in the host city that will be of interest to the student while staying in Jordan. The tour covers parts of the city that would be most accessible and frequented by the students starting from locations around the AMIDEAST center. The areas covered in the city tour also include historic and modern landmarks of the city such as the Roman Theater, the Citadel, and areas that area home to the city’s main shopping centers and malls. Students board a bus with AMIDEAST staff and a local guide who provide a combination of useful day-to-day tips and historical background about the city.  Students typically have the chance to explore the Citadel and Roman Theater during the first half of the tour.  They then board the bus again to learn the layout of the parts of the city that they will be navigating most over the course of the program.

Southern Jordan: Wadi Rum and Petra

Excursions to Southern Jordan have included trips to Wadi Rum (in English, Valley of the Moon) and the ancient city of Petra. Visits to these locations give students a glimpse into Jordan’s Bedouin cultural roots. At Wadi Rum, students typically take a Jeep tour led by local Bedouin guides. In the past, students have been able to hike and explore different parts of the desert valley. The desert of Wadi Rum is dotted with massive mountains colored in shades of red, yellow, and orange. These mountains open up and give way to breathtaking panoramas.  After sunset, students may spend the night at traditional Bedouin-style camps where they sit around a campfire drinking tea, listening to local guides sing and play a traditional Arab lute, and learning to debkah, a group dance performed at large celebrations. For dinner, Bedouin guides typically prepare zarb, a meal of barbecued meat and vegetables cooked in a sand pit.  Many students remark at the beauty of spending a night under the stars in such a wide and beautiful desert.

The next morning, students usually visit the ancient Nabatean city of Petra, one of Jordan’s most well-known tourist attractions and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The visit to Petra typically begins with a guided tour through the first section of the ancient city to provide students with rich historical background.  After refueling at a restaurant in the center of the park, students have spent the afternoon exploring Petra’s many trails and monuments on their own.  Petra's most famous monument, the Treasury, appears dramatically at the end of the siq, carved directly from the rose-colored chasm walls. Various walks and climbs reveal hundreds of buildings, tombs, baths, funerary halls, temples, arched gateways, colonnaded streets, and haunting rock drawings – as well as a 3000-seat open air theater, a gigantic first-century monastery, and a modern archeological museum, all of which students can explore at their leisure to take in the history of the area.

Northern Jordan: Jerash and Ajloun

Previous trips to northern Jordan have included visits to the ancient Greco-Roman city of Jerash and Ajloun Castle, a strategic Crusades-era fortress, offering a glimpse of the numerous civilizations that have occupied Jordan. Students typically spend the morning touring and exploring Jerash, one of Jordan’s most popular tourist destinations. A city with over 6,500 years of human history, Jerash’s golden age came under Roman rule. It is now considered one of the best-preserved Roman provincial towns in the world, after being excavated and restored for the past 70 years. Ancient Jerash includes impressive theaters, plazas, paved colonnaded roads, temples, and much more – all only a slice of what archeologists believe lies buried under the modern city. Modern Jerash is a fascinating blend of cultures, due in large part to the waves of immigrants who settled in the city in the second half of the twentieth century.

After enjoying a group lunch at one of Jerash’s most popular local restaurants, students typically head to Ajloun Castle (also known as Qal'at ar-Rabad), which was originally an important fort protecting communication routes between the Euphrates and Cairo. Built in 1184 A.D. by 'Izz ad-Din Usama bin Munqidh, a general of Saladin, who defeated Europeran Crusaders in 1187 A.D. Today, it is a splendid sight with a fascinating collection of towers, chambers, and staircases to explore. Its hilltop position offers stunning views of the Jordan Valley, and its presence is a reminder to students of Jordan’s historical importance on the trade routes of the Middle East.  The visit to Ajloun Castle typically begins with a brief guided tour to provide background information about the site, followed by free time for students to explore the corridors of the castle on their own.

Biblical Jordan: Madaba, Mount Nebo, and the Dead Sea

The Biblical Jordan excursion is designed to give students a glimpse into Jordan’s importance in Abrahamic religions and their cultures. Past Biblical Jordan excursions have included visits to the town of Madaba, with its Church of Saint George and Archeological Park, Mount Nebo, the Baptism Site, and the Dead Sea. These sites provide students with a glimpse of life outside Amman while teaching them about the region’s religious history, which has had a lasting impact on Jordanian culture and politics. Students have visited the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George in Madaba, which houses a sixth-century mosaic map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land – the oldest surviving religious map of the Holy Land in any form. The Madaba Archaeological Park, another favorite among students, contains historic mosaics moved there by the Jordanian government for protection and display.

A short drive away is Mount Nebo. Many Christians believe it is from here that Moses viewed the Holy Land of Canaan. On a clear day, students can see the Dead Sea, the Jordan River Valley, the city of Jericho, and even the distant hills of Jerusalem. Since the Biblical Jordan excursion typically takes place at the end of the semester, students and program staff take advantage of the peaceful atmosphere of Mt. Nebo to begin the reflection process.  Students spend time on their own thinking back over the semester and everything they have learned while on the AMIDEAST program. 

Excursions have additionally visited a place known by Christians as the Baptism Site, also called Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where many believe Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. After visiting the Baptism Site, students often spend time floating in the Dead Sea, where they can experience the therapeutic benefits of the sea’s famed mineral mud, as well as relax by the swimming pools and enjoy the sun.  On semester programs, students typically spend the night at the Dead Sea, which allows for plenty of free time to enjoy the water and participate in group reflection activities as students prepare for the end of the program and their return home. 

Morocco Semester Excursions

Morocco’s Cultural Heart: Fes

Excursions to Fes open a direct window into a place many Moroccans consider the country’s cultural and religious capital. One of Morocco’s four “imperial cities,” Fes is the country’s third-largest city and has been called the "Mecca of the West" and the "Athens of Africa." Fes el Bali (in English, Old Fes), the city’s oldest district, is believed to be the world’s largest car-free urban area, with a population around 156,000.

Past excursions have included extensive time for students to explore Fes’s famously complex medina. The city was originally founded as the capital of the Idrisid dynasty between 789 and 808 A.D., and has grown through many subsequent dynasties and governments. Of the many attractions in the city, one of the most magnificent is the El-Attarine Madrasa (in English, school), which was built by the Merenid dynasty between the years 1323 and 1325 A.D.
Students have taken guided tours of the school, learning about its history, including its magnificently-decorated central courtyard, with suwar (verses of the Quran) engraved in wood and plaster. The courtyard’s fountain and marble columns are embellished with beautiful zellij (tiled mosaic) a typical feature of the region’s historic architecture.

In addition to these experiences, students have stayed outside Fes el Bali in a modern hotel and taken day trips into the old city to explore attractions such as the city’s palaces, its mellah (Jewish quarter), and its famous tanneries. Excursions have included a mix of guided tours and free time to ensure students have the chance to learn about and experience Fes’s deep traditions and culture.

Mountain Life: Zaouiat Ahansal

Excursions to Zaouiat Ahansal are a way for students to experience a side of Moroccan life very different from the way people in the country’s major cities live. Zaouiat Ahansal is a rural region in the High Atlas Mountains. One of Morocco’s many isolated areas, the region is predominantly inhabited by Amazigh (meaning “free people” in the indigenous language, commonly known as Berber in the West) peoples.

On past excursions to Zaouiat Ahansal, students have stayed in guesthouses in the village of Aggudim under the auspices of the Atlas Cultural Foundation, an American non-profit that works with the people of Zaouiat Ahansal on sustainable development projects. Because of its historical location on a major caravan route into Marrakesh, the region was a center of religious thought, and it is named after Saint Sidi Said Ahansal. Zaouiat Ahansal was one of the last regions in Morocco to fall to the French Protectorate, a fact that has influenced its history ever since.

Today, the region is centered on four small villages sheltered by beautiful mountains. In addition to learning about the Atlas Cultural Foundation’s work, past students on this excursion have had the opportunity to hike in the mountains, volunteer at an English tutoring program, meet Moroccans who live in this breathtaking region, and participate in a feast including fresh food, music, and dancing at the local sheikh’s house. This excursion provides an amazing immersion into Morocco’s varied cultural past and how that continues to affect the country’s development today.

Morocco Summer Excursions

Experiencing Ancient Rome in North Africa: Meknes and Volubilis

The Meknes and Volubilis day trip is designed to give students a glimpse into Morocco’s rich and diverse cultural heritage. Founded by local Amazigh (Berber) tribes, Meknes became a refuge for Andalusian refugees. The city reached its peak under Alaouite rule during which Sultan Moulay Ismail meshed traditional Islamic and European architecture to create a uniquely Moorish style. The site of Volubilis exposes students to the relics of Morocco’s Phoenician, Carthaginian, and Roman culture. Although the site fell into disrepair, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996 after large-scale excavations.

Day Trip to Assilah

Just an hour south of Tangier, the white-washed coastal city of Assilah is one of the locations for a summer program day-trip. This small town was once a haven for Barbary pirates who utilized the port to control Portuguese, Spanish, and French trade in the Mediterranean and Atlantic. Now, the walled-city is occupied by Moroccans, Spanish expatriates, and some of the most beautiful libraries in North Africa

Jordan Summer Excursions

Amman City Tour:

The Amman City Tour is part of students’ first week in Jordan and is designed to highlight different areas in the host city that will be of interest to the student while staying in Jordan. The tour covers parts of the city that would be most accessible and frequented by the students starting from locations around the AMIDEAST center. The areas covered in the city tour also include historic and modern landmarks of the city such as the Roman Theater, the Citadel, and areas that are home to the city’s main shopping centers and malls. Students board a bus with AMIDEAST staff and a local guide who provide a combination of useful day-to-day tips and historical background about the city.  Students typically have the chance to explore the Citadel and Roman Theater during the first half of the tour.  They then board the bus again to learn the layout of the parts of the city that they will be navigating most over the course of the program.

Biblical Excursion:

The Biblical Jordan excursion takes students on a trip to explore historic sites in Jordan that are main tourist attractions and are linked to all the Abrahamic faiths, with all three locations tied to Christianity and biblical history. The excursion includes visits to the city of Madaba with its Church of Saint George and the Archeological Park, Mount Nebo and the Dead Sea. A guide typically accompanies program staff and participants to provide background historical information, which is balanced with free time for students to explore the sites.  
Madaba is a quaint town that was an ecclesiastical center between the 4th and 7th centuries AD- producing some of the world’s finest collections of Byzantine mosaics, many of which are well preserved. Previously the students typically stroll through the town and visited the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George in Madaba, wWhere a 6th- century- AD mosaic map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land is exhibited – the earliest religious map of the Holy Land in any form to survive from antiquity. Next, students usually visit the Madaba Archaeological Park, which contains many mosaics and the remains of a Byzantine Villa and the Church of the Virgin Mary.

A short drive away is Mount Nebo. From here, it is believed Moses viewed the Holy Land of Canaan that he would never enter. He died and was buried in Moab, "in the valley opposite Beth-peor". The exact location of his tomb remains unknown. Mount Nebo became a place of pilgrimage for early Christians from Jerusalem and a small church was built there in the 4th century to commemorate the end of Moses' life. The church was subsequently expanded in the 5th and 6th centuries into the present-day large basilica with its stunning collection of Byzantine mosaics. On a clear day students can see the Dead Sea, the Jordan River Valley, Jericho and the distant hills of Jerusalem.

Students end their excursion at the Dead Sea where they have the chance to float in the water and try the famous Dead Sea mud, as well as relax by swimming pools and enjoy the sun before heading back to the capital.

North Excursion: Jerash and Ajloun

The Northern Excursion typically takes students to the city of Jerash, which is one of Jordan’s main tourist destinations. A city that has had human civilization for over 6,500 years, its golden age came under Roman rule and is now generally considered one of the best preserved Roman provincial towns in the world. Students get to explore the old ruins and city on foot and hear about the fascinating history of this part of Jordan. For centuries it was hidden underground, but over the past 70 years it has been excavated and restored. Jerash includes impressive theaters, plazas, paved colonnaded roads, temples and much more; and all this is only part of what is believed to lie buried under the modern city.

After enjoying a group lunch at one of Jerash’s most popular local restaurants, students typically head to Ajloun Castle (also known as Qal'at ar-Rabad), which was originally an important fort protecting communication routes between the Euphrates and Cairo. Built in 1184 A.D. by 'Izz ad-Din Usama bin Munqidh, a general of Saladin, who defeated Europeran Crusaders in 1187 A.D. Today, it is a splendid sight with a fascinating collection of towers, chambers, and staircases to explore. Its hilltop position offers stunning views of the Jordan Valley, and its presence is a reminder to students of Jordan’s historical importance on the trade routes of the Middle East.  The visit to Ajloun Castle typically begins with a brief guided tour to provide background information about the site, followed by free time for students to explore the corridors of the castle on their own.