The southern stretches of the King’s Highway (see map) pass through an increasingly arid landscape dotted with lushly watered settlements. KARAK, unofficial capital of southern Jordan, still lies largely within its hilltop Crusader-era walls and boasts one of the best-preserved Crusader castles in the Middle East. Roughly 125km south of Amman, midway between the capital and Petra, it’s also a natural place to break a journey. Unfortunately, Karak is not well geared up for overnight stays, with poor access and distinctly average hotels. Drop in to visit the castle, then press onwards to more enticing destinations – Madaba to the north, Dana or Petra to the south.
Everything you need in Karak is within a few minutes’ stroll of the castle, at the highest point of town. Just in front of the castle is the Castle Plaza area, a tasteful complex of restored Ottoman buildings around a paved plaza beneath the castle walls, including the old Al-Hamidi mosque and a Visitor Centre. In sharp contrast is Karak’s humdrum town centre. Venturing down any of the narrow streets that lead north from the castle – most of them lined with grand but grimy Ottoman-era balconied stone buildings – will bring you nose-to-nose with Karak’s bustling everyday shops and markets. The focus of town is an equestrian statue of Salah ad-Din, occupying a traffic junction about 400m north of the castle, around which spreads Karak’s ramshackle souk – tailors, butchers, cobblers and all.