The imposing, inspiring vastness of the desert that takes up more than 80 percent of Jordan’s land area is reason enough to visit this 34,445-sq.-mile kingdom wedged between Saudi Arabia in the south and east, Iraq and Syria to the north and Israel in the west.

That splendid moonscape of barren immensity, however, often leads visitors to ignore Jordan’s astounding diversity—a multiplicity of terrain, cultures and climate habitually found in larger countries—assets definitely worth a visit. For Jordan’s attractions, as the Biblical saying goes, are legion.

As a country, it’s become one of the world’s top tourist draws, because for the last two years, it’s been one of the most popular destinations in the region. Indeed, this country that’s roughly about the size of Maine, compensates for its small size by its absolute beauty—especially if one is susceptible to the call of the desert.

While most countries showcase—and boast—less than a handful of truly legitimate tourist draws, Jordan is guaranteed to awe those first setting foot on its arid soil with a menu numbering more than a dozen internationally recognized sites. Within Jordan, too, one will find exciting activities waiting in the wings for those willing to plunge into a world previously seen only in motion pictures or described in the pages of travel books.

Here one can explore the marvelous, desolate ruins of historic desert castles, bathe in the therapeutic waters of the Dead Sea (the lowest point on earth) while lodging in ultra-modern hotels along the shore, visit Biblical sites, marvel at the wildlife and spectacular scenery found in the country’s natural reserves, enjoy coffee or tea with Bedouins while sitting cross-legged inside a goat hair tent, visit ruins from bygone civilizations that left a deep imprint in the desert sand, and taste exotic dishes in the distinctly Arab restaurants and food stalls of alluring cities like Amman and Aqaba.

Those with a taste for outdoor activities will find that Jordan has it all: diving in the warm waters off Aqaba; trekking along footpaths forged eons ago, where the desert’s serenity will remind hikers of the Arab proverb that states, “The deeper you go into the desert, the closer you will come to God”; cycling along forsaken highways where the vast panorama of the desert seems to dwarf life; exploring Biblical sites and camping under a moonlit sky in a Bedouin camp.

Coming to Jordan is easy. Highly rated Royal Jordanian Airlines offers regular service from Chicago (12 hours) or New York (10 hours) to Amman, Jordan’s dusty, ancient capital that precedes Biblical times. Amman was already an old city when King David sent Uriah to perish in battle here, leaving David free to put the make on Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife.

Today, the airport is undergoing extensive renovation and will soon open to the prospect of being one of the most modern and efficient airports in the world.

The Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) suggests a superb itinerary it calls Jordan: The Royal Tour to first arrivals who want to get a taste of the best the country offers.

Following those guidelines, a traveler will begin at the Dead Sea, where a troika of luxury hotels line the shore and afford a panorama of Israel on the far side.

dead sea This is an area that cries out for the label “Riviera,” the much-used word describing picturesque and appealing areas all over the world.

Jordan’s Dead Sea hotels are excellent, efficient, plush and stylish. The favored is the Movenpick Hotel and Spa, Dead Sea, patterned after an ancient village and painted in earth tones that match the barrenness of its surroundings.

With 346 luxury rooms; four restaurants dishing out Italian, Asian and American haute cuisine; a spa that’s a marvel and an efficient staff that seems to delight in pampering guests, the Movenpick is the place to stay in Jordan’s Dead Sea area.

Its Zara Spa features 24 treatment suites with thermal rain showers. The spa’s large, outdoor heated massage pool has 3 percent saltwater from the Dead Sea, while its indoor pool contains almost 30 percent of the restorative waters. The infinity pool, surrounded by gardens, may have one of the most spectacular sunset views in the world.