Jordan (aka The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan) is an Arab kingdom located in Western Asia and is fairly centrally located between Asia, Africa and Europe. While the country is a constitutional monarchy, their highly adored King Abdullah II holds executive and legislative powers.
This small, arid country of about 9.5 million people, 92% of which practice Sunni Islam, is home to many important religious landmarks like the Dead Sea and Jesus’s baptism site. Jordan is known for being hospitable to refugees from surrounding areas and is now home to an estimated 2.1 million Palestinians and 1.4 million Syrian refugees who all live together relatively peacefully.
Today you’ll find Jordanians (and Palestinians and Syrians) to be curious, warm and friendly. Most can understand basic English (although communicating with taxi drivers can be a challenge). “Welcome to Jordan!” is the phrase that pretty much every Jordanian knows in English and they shout it with gumption! Don’t be surprised if you are invited to a Jordanian’s home for tea or dinner, they are incredibly hospitable and love getting to know foreigners.
There are five major tourist destinations in Jordan; Amman, the Dead Sea, Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba. In this itinerary we’ve outlined the best attractions in each to ensure that you don’t miss the most important highlights during your trip. Grab a glass of wine, sit back, relax, and start daydreaming about your upcoming trip to this spectacular country!
Jordan: The Basics
Jordan has two international airports; Queen Alia International Airport (AMM) in Amman, and Kin Hussein International Airport in Aqaba (AQJ). Americans will get a visa on arrival for 40 Jordanian Dinars (~$56 USD).
How Much Time to Spend in Jordan
10 – 14 days should be enough time to explore the highlights of this beautiful country without accidentally overdosing on hummus or tea.
Despite having some sketchy neighbors, Jordan has continued to be a safe and welcoming place for tourists to visit. We had one questionable incident (described in detail below) but more than likely it was just a couple of curious guys wanting to get to know the foreigners. Other than that we felt confident that if we accidentally dropped our wallet in the middle of a random city street, we could go back a week later and it’d still be sitting there, untouched.
Female travelers need not be concerned about men passively aggressively rubbing up against their bums as is often common in conservative countries. It is not commonplace for people of the opposite sex to touch each other in Jordan so you’re unlikely to get anything other than a friendly handshake.
A Few Things to Know Before you Go
- Muslims make up about 92% of the country’s population and they are extremely conservative so while tourists aren’t necessarily expected to cover their heads, women should be sure to cover their shoulders and their knees in public. Remember that you’re not here to change the culture, you’re here to experience a new one.
- At the time of writing (October 2017) the conversion rate in Jordan was about 1.4 USD to 1 Jordanian Dinar (JOD) and 1.2 EUR to 1 JOD. We’ll be referring to currency in Jordanian Dinars so be sure to convert accordingly when budgeting for your trip!
- Learn a few key phrases to get around Jordan! “Sale-em wall a come” is a nice way to say “hello” (technically it means something like “peace be with you”). “Shoo kran” is “thank you”. And “ma sell em” is “goodbye”.
- Don’t expect to travel by bus on Fridays in Jordan. Muslims consider it to be their “prayer day” and stay close to home so buses are infrequent if at all.
- If you are planning to drive in Jordan, watch for unmarked, difficult-to-see speed bumps everywhere.
- Everyone smokes and no one drinks alcohol. Tea is the country’s “Jordanian whiskey” and smoking is permitted anywhere and everywhere. Plan on refraining from booze and packing your inhaler.
- Another interesting fact about Jordan… it’s the only country in the Middle East that doesn’t have oil reserves.
Budgeting for Your Trip
You’ll find food and accommodations to be very reasonably priced in Jordan. From budget to luxury and everything in-between, you’ll find a hotel to suit every need. In a similar vein, you’ll find street food options as well as high-end dining restaurants in all major tourist destinations. However, the country really gouges foreigners in fees to enter their most popular tourism sites. Petra entrance fees and Wadi Rum tours are no small investment.
Jordan for Movie Buffs
Jordan is a favorite set for movie directors! Check out a few of the films that have been shot here:
The Jordan Pass
- Your 40 JOD visa to enter Jordan if you purchase the pass prior to entering the country and stay a minimum of 3 nights (4 days).
- Entrance to 40 tourist attractions in Jordan including Petra, Wadi Rum, and Jerash.
- 70 JOD if you opt for a 1-day pass to Petra
- 75 JOD if you opt for a 2-day pass to Petra
- 80 JOD if you opt for a 3-day pass to Petra
Is the Jordan Pass worth it?
If you add up the cost of your visa (40 JOD) and the cost of a 1-day pass to Petra (50 JOD), you’re already paying 90 JOD and the price for the Jordan Pass would only be 70 JOD. You’d get an immediate savings of 20 JOD. Other sites you’re likely to save a few dinars on with the Jordan Pass include Jerash (10 JOD) and Wadi Rum (5 JOD).
Be sure to purchase at least a week prior to your trip as their website has trouble processing credit card payments. We didn’t give ourselves enough time to buy a Jordan Pass before we arrived to the airport so unfortunately we weren’t able to get our payment processed. That mistake ended up costing us an additional $100 USD!
Best Places to Visit in Jordan
Amman is a city that truly has a little something for everyone. You’ll find both a thriving metropolis filled with fancy hotels and trendy fashion malls as well as a quaint, gritty old town where locals smoke hookahs on street corners while peddling perfume. The locals are incredibly friendly and inquisitive so expect to get a few stares and requests for photos. Buy a traditional Jordanian dress and wear it around town if you really want to make some new friends!
Take a Street Food Tour
Mezze comes from the Persian word ‘To Taste’ and in Jordan it encompasses a variety of dips, appetizers and small shared dishes. What better way to get a taste of Jordan than with a breakfast of mezze plates including hummus, moutabel, and falafel in the busiest little fast food joint in town – Hashem Restaurant.
With waiters running around like chickens with their heads cut off and locals scouting out tables, it can be difficult to figure out how to get seated. But once you do you’ll get to experience the tastiest hummus in all of Amman! Your meal will run you about 4 JOD.
Complex No 4, Prince Mohammad St 4, Amman. Open 24 hours.
Mansaf is a must-try local dish in Jordan as it is considered to be the country’s national dish. The three major ingredients in mansaf are rice, lamb (or chicken), and jameed (fermented goats milk yogurt). Pour the yogurt gravy over the meat and rice and enjoy! You’ll find this specialty all over Jordan but Al Quds Restaurant is a good place to try it first!
Complex No 8, King Al Hussein St 8, Amman, Jordan. Open 11:00am – 11:00pm.
Knafeh & Kullaj
You’ll know you’ve arrived to Habibah Sweets when you turn down a side street off the main drag in the city center and see a line of people in front of what looks to be a small ticket counter. You must try the knafeh and the kullaj. Both are stuffed with a mozzarella-like cheese and drenched in a sticky rose-scented sugary syrup. Sounds a bit strange right? It will be one of the best desserts you’ve ever tasted – trust me!
Marwan Madi Complex, Al Hazar St 2, Amman. Open 9:00am – 12:00am.
Visit the Roman Theater
The Roman Theater is an ancient, well-preserved amphitheater just a short easy walk from the old town. You’ll pay a small fee to enter and it won’t take you long to wander around while snapping a few photos.
The real fun of this theater, however, is in the evening after the sun goes down. You cannot enter the amphitheater but the lights illuminate the square in front which fills up with children playing games, food vendors hawking snacks, people puffing on hookahs, and lively locals living it up!
Climb up to the Amman Citadel
The best views of the city are from this small area of ruins high on the hill above the old city. It’s a short, uphill hike from town and just a small fee to enter the area. Locals will point you in the right direction your whole way there so don’t worry about getting lost.
Stroll around the grounds of the Citadel, snapping photos of the very brown city below. There is also the strangest assortment of relics in the free Jordan Archaeological Museum so it’s work a peek if you have extra time.
Take a Day Trip to Jerash
The ancient city of Jerash lies about 30 km north in an area that has been continually inhabited for over 6,500 years! One of the world’s largest and best-preserved Roman towns, Jerash, encompasses expansive plazas, two theaters, a beautiful colonnaded street stretching the length of the city, and the impressive Hadrian’s Arch marking the entrance to the site.
Buses run frequently back and forth to Jerash (except on Fridays) from the Northern bus station in Amman and the ~45 minute journey will set you back only about 2 JOD each direction. The buses simply leave when they are full rather than on any sort of set schedule (this is common all over Jordan) so it’s best to arrive early and be prepared to wait up to an hour for the next departure.
Alternatively, you can opt for a ~35 JOD round trip taxi ride (they’ll give you 2-3 hours to explore while they wait) if you prefer convenience over economy.
You’ll pay a small fee to enter the Roman ruins (10 JOD/person unless you have a Jordan Pass) but once inside you’ll have a ancient metropolis to explore! There are very few areas deemed “off limits” so you can wander around the well-preserved temples, theaters, and arches to your hearts delight! You can purchase water, tea, soft drinks, and random trinkets from several vendors inside the ruins (despite what the vendors outside of the entrance gate tell you).
The Dead Sea
At 1,300 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth. It is also the deepest hypersaline lake in the world at 1,000 feet deep and 30% salinity. All that salt means that no plants or animals can reside there which is where the “dead” name originated. The saline water has a high density that keeps bathers buoyant and makes swimming impossible (so don’t accidentally float too far from the shore).
Lounge at the Beach
While there is a public beach available, most of the prime seafront property has been snatched up by fancy resorts. It’s worth it to splurge while you’re here to have access to a nice beach with showers (the salt will make you itch like crazy), Dead Sea mud available for the taking, and chairs for lounging. It’s also nice to have a fresh water pool to relax by once you get tired of floating in super salty water!
A Few Tips Before Your Float:
- Don’t shave your legs a day or two before you visit the Dead Sea – the salt water will enter your open pores and burn like hell!
- Don’t jump into the sea or splash around once you get in – the salt will burn your eyes and tastes terrible if you get even a little into your mouth.
- Give yourself a mud treatment!
- While you are expected to dress fairly conservatively in most of the country, most foreigners wear bathing suits on the beach and at the pool in the Dead Sea.
Hike the Wadi Mujib Siq
The price of this hike is steep (21 JOD/person + 35 JOD if you opt for a guide) but it’s not-to-be-missed! The hike is rather short in length, about 3/4 of a mile each way, but you’ll be walking through ankle-deep to waist-deep water the entire time and scrambling up waterfalls so it’s by no means a leisurely afternoon stroll.
With narrow towering canyon walls surrounding you and beautiful waterfalls along the way, you’ll be mesmerized by the amazing scenery while feeling proud of yourself for overcoming the obstacles you’ll encounter. Plan on giving yourself at least 2 hours to complete the hike including time for a swim below the largest waterfall at the end. And expect to gain a few new bruises along the way!
A few Tips to Prepare for the Hike:
- Opt for tennis shoes over flip flops but plan on them getting soaked.
- If you feel uncomfortable with your ability to navigate a bit of rope climbing through waterfalls, you may want to opt for a guide for an extra 35 JOD (total, not per person).
- Your entire body will get WET. I’m not exaggerating. Bring a dry bag for your valuables (or you can rent one for a small fee).
- A lifejacket comes with your entrance fee and you are required to wear it at all times during the hike, just in case.
- While women are expected to dress fairly conservatively in most of the country, many foreigners were hiking in bathing suits and it seemed to be the norm rather than the exception.
- Don’t attempt this one if there is even a slight chance of rain – flash floods are no joke.
Hike the Wadi Zarqa (Lower Ma’in Trail)
This free, easily accessible hike has loads of potential. And our guess is that once you get 1/2 mile or so into the canyon it begins to be enjoyable. We can’t say for sure, we turned around pretty quickly. This was the only time we felt even remotely nervous during our time in Jordan and here’s why…
When we were getting our backpacks together in the parking lot, a truck pulled up and two men got out. Back to them in a few. So we entered the trail and immediately there were probably 20 people hanging out under the bridge (it was unclear if they were homeless or just out for an afternoon barbecue). This seems to be a popular spot for locals to hang out and dump their trash – we had to gingerly step over dirty baby diapers and soiled paper plates.
And then those two guys (who were not equipped with anything that made it seem like they had planned on doing an afternoon hike – no backpacks, no water, no hiking-appropriate attire) started pacing us. We stopped to see if they would go on, they stopped about 100 yards up and waited. It seemed like they were up to no good. That, coupled with the garbage made this hike a no-go for us.
That being said, if you avoid attracting sketchy characters and get beyond the trash, there’s no doubt that this hike is incredibly spectacular! The water flowing down the canyon is from the Ma’in Hot Springs so it’s warm and milky blue and absolutely stunning!
Ma’in Hot Springs Resort and Spa
Ma’in Hot Springs Resort and Spa is 866 feet below sea level and deep in a valley surrounded by a beautiful mountain landscape. It is about an hour drive from the resort area of the Dead Sea and offers a public hot springs area with 4 waterfalls and a water temperature ranging from 86-99 degrees F. The cost for the public springs is 15 JOD/person and makes for a perfect relaxing day trip. If you’re looking for a full-on spa pampering session they offer those as well.
Petra (also known as both “The Rose City” and “The Lost City”) dates back to the third century BC and was home to some some 20,000 Arab Nabataeans at it’s peak. This ancient city is filled with intricate facades carved into rose-colored stone and expertly engineered water collection methods that allowed the Nabataeans to create an oasis in the middle of this arid desert. The amount of work that must have gone into creating this city is beyond impressive and has led to it being one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world!
There is so much to see and do in Petra, we have an entire post dedicated to it! Everything you need to know about Petra you can find in our Ultimate Guide to ‘The Lost City’ of Petra, Jordan!
Located in southern Jordan, Wadi Rum (also known as The Valley of the Moon) is a large desert valley surrounded by massive sandstone mountains and granite rock. It is aptly named as it literally feels a bit like you are on another planet while you are roaming around the vast expanse of desert (The Martian was filmed here for good reason).
Wadi Rum is a famed tourist destination because it offers visitors the ability to sleep in a Bedouin tent in the middle of the desert under the stars and explore the area by 4-wheel Jeep or 4-legged camel tours. The desert transforms from a blistering desert by day to a magical sea of muted colors around sunset and then a sky full of stars at night. It truly is a wonder to behold.
Stay at a Bedouin Camp
Practically every person actually living in Wadi Rum is of Bedouin origin. Traditionally nomadic goat herders they have now turned to developing tourism in Wadi Rum. A night in a Bedouin camp will mean legendary hospitality, delicious food, a starry night sky, a campfire, perhaps a shared hookah, and all the mint tea (“Bedouin Whiskey”) you can drink.
We had so much trouble trying to figure out how to book our stay that we envisioned writing an incredibly informative post to help our readers navigate the process more effectively. After two nights and countless conversations with other guests, we still don’t really know for sure. But here’s our best guess…
Options for Booking a Night at a Bedouin Camp:
- Online at Booking.com – Food and lodging are generally included in the price but transport from the Visitor’s Center is not. Also tours will need to be booked separately.
- On their website directly – But you’ll need to do it well in advance as the hosts can be slow to respond.
- When you arrive at the Wadi Rum Visitor’s Center – But you won’t have a chance to read reviews and may end up being the sole resident of a questionable camp.
- Through your friendly hotel staff in Aqaba or Wadi Musa – Although it’s likely they will make some sort of commission.
Be sure to communicate with your camp staff prior to your arrival to coordinate transportation and tours. Taxis will only take you as far as Rum Village and you’ll need a 4-wheel drive vehicle to get out to your camp. Stop at the store in the village to buy water before you venture into the desert!
Take a Jeep Tour
In order to see all of the sites that Wadi Rum has to offer, you’ll need a 4-wheel drive vehicle and either a guide or some knowledge of how to drive through thick sand.
If you are an off-roading pro and you can get your hands on a 4-wheel drive vehicle it would be awesome to tour the area on your own (private vehicle permits are available at the visitor’s center).
If you don’t have your own set of wheels, you’ll need to arrange a tour through your camp or at the Visitor’s Center. Fees are generally set per vehicle rather than per person so if you make friends at your camp you can split the cost of a tour!
Jeep Stops Along the Tour:
- Lawrence’s Spring – a steep scramble up the side of a mountain to a tiny, uneventful spring. On the plus side, there is a large tree at the top that offers a nice reprise from the mid-day heat.
- Sand Dunes Area – a large sand dune that you can hike up and then run down.
- Anfashieh Inscriptions – a narrow canyon lined with interesting hieroglyphic inscriptions.
- Little Bridge – a small rock bridge that you can view from the side and/or walk across.
- Lawrence’s House – supposedly a house that Lawrence of Arabia lived in at one time. Now just a pile of rocks.
- Um Fruth Rock Bridge – a large rock bridge that you can view from the ground and/or walk across.
If you’re like us and crave more of an “off-the-beaten-path” tour, we would recommend coordinating with your guide or tent village host regarding which sites you want to visit and which ones you’d rather skip. In our humble opinion, the bridges and the inscriptions were interesting but the rest of the sites seemed a bit unnecessary.
Go Rock Climbing
Wadi Rum is a world-renowned climbing, bouldering and mountaineering destination. Offering simple to technical ascensions as well as knowledgeable Bedouin guides, all experience levels can find rocks to suit their fancy!
Take a Camel Tour
Many tourists opt to take the camel trek from the Visitor’s Center to their camp rather than a 4-wheel drive vehicle. If you’ve never taken a camel ride before, it’s definitely worth it for the experience. But keep in mind that camels are not particularly comfortable to sit on so any tour lasting longer than 2 hours will give you a nasty case of numb bum. Fun camel fact: we found that most camels in Jordan are named Lazy, Daisy, or Michael Jackson…
Watch a Camel Race
They don’t happen very often but if you happen to find yourself in the Wadi Rum area during a camel race, get your butt out of bed early to watch this entertaining 6:00am spectacle.
Instead of people riding on the camels, they don little robot-like-machines that the camel-owners control while careening through the dust in trucks alongside the race. Watch from the bleachers or head down to the start line if you want to see the action up close.
And if you’re feeling extra ballsy, find a camel-owner that will let you ride in the back of their truck! But be prepared to get absolutely covered in dust.
Aqaba is a coastal city located on the Gulf of Aqaba that is connected to the Red Sea right near the Saudi Arabia border. This deep, narrow gulf filled with vibrant coral reefs is renowned for it’s recreational and technical scuba diving. The snorkeling is popular as well and there are plenty of great spots to explore right near the beach! It’s a popular place for tourists to get their PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certification, or just to relax by the pool or on the beach.
Visit South Beach
The South Beach area of Aqaba is a 7.5-mile stretch of beaches and shallow bays. You’ll find a plethora of dive center resorts and a variety of price points located right across from the public beach, Marine Park Beach, which is home to 11 dive sites. The Visitor’s Center is a fun place for kids to explore Aqaba’s diverse marine life.
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