Travel Guide to Jordan
The allure of this affable Middle Eastern country – the dramatic landscapes, the breathtaking historical sites, the exquisite delectables – phenomenally beckons visitors to get a taste of its glorious culture and heritage.
Though small in size, Jordan is a major tourist attraction in the Middle East, thanks to everything the kingdom has to offer. From dramatically changing landscapes with the extraordinarily striking Judean Desert opening out onto the Dead Sea – the lowest point on Earth – to Petra, one of the Wonders of the World, there’s plenty of Jordanian treasures to discover when you travel to Jordan. As you take in the magical views from the beaches south of the desert, dive into the Red Sea to witness its breathtaking corals, wander around Roman ruins, experience Jordan’s churches and mosques, you’ll have the chance to take in the Middle East’s unique natural beauty and beautiful architecture dated back to many eons ago. What’s more, Jordanian hospitality and mouthwatering delectables will accompany you on your spectacular adventure!
As of August 2019, 1 Jordanian Dinar equals 1.40 USD or 98 RS. Even though ATMs are easily found in the capital and Petra, be sure to carry enough cash when you travel to Jordan because ATMs are not available at the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum. Debit and credit cards are generally accepted at most places, but VISA is the preferred payment method when it comes to cards.
At many homes and restaurants across the country, Jordanian cuisine is the heavenly meld of Bedouin and Levantine flavors. Regardless of young or old, male or female, vegetarian or meat lover, food is heavily celebrated in this kingdom, so roll up your sleeves and get ready to eat like never before.
Some ingredients commonly found in Jordanian fare include bread, rice, olives, olive oil, yogurt, and lamb. Oh, and let’s not forget Za’atar, which is a blend of multiple herbs – thyme, sumac, sesame, and salt – practically used in every meal! While Za’atar is Jordan’s staple ingredient, mansaf, Jordan’s national dish, is, undoubtedly, the country’s most famous local delicacy. Stemming from the Bedouin kitchen, mansaf consists of meat (typically lamb or camel, but sometimes substituted with chicken) layered on top of crispy, thin flatbread and a heap of aromatic rice traditionally served on a large platter for sharing.
Another obligatory food for visitors to try when they travel to Jordan is falafel. While falafel can be found in places outside of Jordan, here is where you’ll find the best of its kind. Made of finely ground chickpeas mixed with a variety of herbs, shaped into balls, and then deep-fried into perfection, falafel is street food bliss across the Levant.
The perfect accompaniment to falafel is the traditional Moutabel, a dip made with roasted aubergine, yoghurt, tahini, garlic and lemon juice. Or why not give the local fattet hummus a try? This is unlike any hummus you’ve had before. While you’ll recognise the flavour, it’s the texture that makes this dip stand apart. It’s light and fluffy, almost like a whipped cream.
As a vegetarian, one of my favourite dishes in Jordan is galayet bandora, a simple tomato based dish that’s packed full of flavour, both sweet and sour, and perfect with rice or flat bread. For meat eaters, there is also a version with beef added to the mixture.
And to wash the delectable dishes down, Turkish coffee is a must. Slightly stronger than Arabic coffee, Turkish coffee is uniquely known for its thick muddiness and kick of cardamom. It’s the perfect end to a tasty meal.
Religion & Language
About 93% of the population are believers of Islam (2% Shia) and the remaining 7% are mainly believers of Christianity. In fact, Jordan has some of the oldest Christian communities in the world! Although the country’s national language is Arabic, English is widely spoken and used in the finance and banking sector as well as many schools and universities, similar to India.
Jordan now allows Indians and people from many other countries to obtain a visa on arrival. For roughly US$60, Indians can get a single-entry visa, valid for two weeks. Click here to see the list of nationalities that can get a visa on arrival. In addition to filling out the application form, visitors will need to provide two photos, return tickets, hotel bookings for at least the first few days, an itinerary, travel insurance, and bank statements that prove you are carrying at least US$1,000. They are very strict with the requirements, especially in regards to the money aspect. I was almost denied entry because they could not understand my bank statement and they only allowed me entry after I went to an ATM inside the airport and showed them a receipt of how much I have in my debit card. In the past, some people were even required to withdraw $1,000 from the ATM on the spot.
Best Time to Travel to Jordan
Jordan is really cold during the winter months of December through February, and it’s often below zero degrees. Sometimes snowfall occurs in Petra, which can cause the lost city to close down for safety reasons. On the contrary, the summer months can be really hot and temperatures in Wadi Rum and Aqaba can reach 40 degrees. Therefore, the best time to travel to Jordan is between March and May, when the weather is pleasant and the desert is really colorful from the rainy winter season.
Sim Card & Network
Jordan has great connectivity throughout the country other than some parts of Wadi Rum and Petra. The top two sim card companies are Zain and Orange. A sim card with 3GB data will cost approximately 8 JOD.
Stay for 2-3 days minimum
The melting pot of Amman, Jordan’s relatively new capital that is emerging as a vibrant hub where incredible cultural and historic offerings take center stage, is the perfect introduction to the Middle East and is a must-see when you to travel to Jordan.
While exploring the streets of one of the more advanced capitals of Arab countries, you’ll realize Amman has a thriving art scene that regional artists are now congregating at. As the colorful epicenter for creatives, the people residing here are comparatively more open-minded, and welcoming of the Iraqi, Syrian, Palestinian and Libyan refugees who sought sanctuary in Amman. Each with their own stories, the refugees are still trying to find a place for themselves within the capital. Despite all the hostility occurring in the neighboring countries and given its own refugee problems, Jordan has long been an incredibly peaceful country. Without a doubt, Amman offers the perfect opportunity for visitors that travel to Jordan to witness Jordan’s grit, resilience, and harmony amongst all the surrounding chaos.
Places to See in Amman
It is one of Jordan’s liveliest streets lined with many restaurants, cafes and bars. Ottoman architecture and graffiti add to the charm.
Darat Al Funun
As interesting from the outside as the artwork within, this gallery is well worth a visit when you travel to Jordan. Featuring a wide range of contemporary artworks and a busy schedule of exhibits, films and lectures, there’s always something new to see here.
Located in the city’s wealthiest district, this is where you can experience Amman’s lively nightlife scene. The best bars and clubs of the town are all on this street.
Known as the historic area of Amman, visitors can find citadel ruins and the Roman Amphitheatre perched atop the hill with a spectacular city view.
King Abdullah Mosque
This is a beautiful mosque located right in the center of Amman.
Places to see around Amman
A popular place to visit in the area is the city of Jerash. This spectacular ruined city impresses with beautiful temples, imposing colonnaded avenues and a majestic theatre. The site is large, so it never feels overcrowded with tourists. I suggest taking a tour as this helps to bring the site to life and you’ll get more from your visit.
Taking time to visit the market town of Madaba is well worth it. This beautiful area offers some amazing views so it’s the perfect spot to take some photographs of your travels. The town is also home to some stunning ancient mosaics. Do check out the mosaic map of the holy land at St. George’s Church. It’s incredibly well preserved considering it dates back to around 550AD!
Take a Canyon Tour hike
No visit to Amman is complete without exploring the breathtaking canyons, and the best, and safest way to do this is to take a tour. You’ll find tours of differing lengths and tours aimed at hikers of different abilities so check out the details before you book. Be warned, some hikes will result in you getting very wet and some are incredibly challenging so choose one to suit your own skills and preferences.
On you travel to Jordan at Umm Qais you can visit the ruined city of Gadara. These Roman cities sit alongside an abandoned Ottoman-era village. From here you are rewarded with some of the most stunning panoramic views. You’ll be able to see three countries; Syria, Israel and Jordan; all at once. The Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights are also visible from this breath-taking vantage point.
Where to Eat
Although there are tons of great restaurants offering different cuisines in Amman, nothing beats Hashem. Their delicious veggie platter (hummus, pita, veggies and falafel) is probably the best Meditterian food you will have. Hashem is a local favorite with appealing prices.
There is a decent Indian restaurant in Amman called Chapatti. By common consensus, the food is delicious and made authentically but the prices are steep.
If you’re indecisive when it comes to food, Bab al-Yeman is a great dining spot for sampling different kinds of Yemeni food. Their more than generous portions of mixed meats seasoned with Yemeni spices goes perfectly with their delicious offerings of yogurts, bread, and dips. Their mandi (a spicy meat and rice dish) comes second to none.
For those with a sweet tooth, B Lebanese Pastries is a place that offers tasty treats. Although the shop sells sandwiches, burgers, and salads, the highlight here is their notable Lebanese pastries. For starters, try their Spinach-backed triangles, Akawi cheese rolls, and potato dumplings. You can thank me later.
Aqaba (2 days)
On an astounding stretch of Jordan coastline, mesmerizing mosques, beguiling beaches, and charming coral reefs draw in visitors that travel to Jordan.
At the country’s very south, nearby the borders of Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, lies the resort town of Aqaba. Overlooking the waters and enclosed by the desert, this modern harbor city does not have much to offer aside from the gleaming white Sharif Hussein bin Ali Mosque and sandy beaches. But the real star of Aqaba is the Red Sea. Rich in marine life and thriving with colorful coral reefs that are, surprisingly, surviving the harsh conditions caused by global warming, it’s a sight to behold, making Aqaba a world-renowned snorkeling and diving spot
Where to Eat
After a fun day of exploring and diving, it’s time to fuel up on some grub. Since Aqaba is located along the waters, it’s not a surprise that seafood is on the menu. Proudly known as one of the greatest seafood establishments in Aqaba, Floka is well worth a visit for their fresh catches of the day and traditional cuisine. But fret not, they also offer dishes for non-seafood eaters and vegetarians, and the restaurant regularly switches up their menu to stay interesting and original.
If you’re more of a bread and cheese fiend, Baba Za’atar will satisfy your craving. One of their signature dishes is the manakeesh, which is baked flatbread topped with cheese and minced meat served fresh from the oven. In addition to their extensive menu of bread with cheese, pizzas are also offered. Enjoy your food under the shade in their outdoor seating area!
A highly praised eatery in this city is Suzana Restaurant. Known for its romantic atmosphere, honeymooners can finish off their day here while filling up on Italian-inspired dishes with a Middle Eastern twist. Don’t forget to order a cup of delicious Arabic coffee at the end of your meal.
Places to Stay
Aqaba being a resort town offers all types of hotels. You can even find cheap accommodation due to the number of backpackers that come here.
This hostel has basic facilities and decent dorms. The homey feeling and the staff make it the best hostel to stay in Aqaba. It costs $16 for one night in a dorm.
Al Amer Hostel
Al Amer Hostel is located right in the centre of Aqaba. Once again, the owners make it a great place to stay in Aqaba. It costs $13 for one night in a dorm.
Guide to diving in the Red Sea
Jordan offers year-round world class diving. Four miles of the coast of Jordan are a designated marine park, and here you’ll find some of the best dive sites in the world. You’ll discover a huge range of fish and coral here, as well as some truly fascinating and unique dive sites such as the sunken American M42 tank, a beautiful underwater Japanese garden and the wreck of a Lebanese cargo ship with some fun swim-through routes.
For diving instruction, choose a PADI 5 Star Center to ensure your training is safe and of a high quality. You’ll find plenty of very good dive centers in the Aqaba area of Jordan such as Dive Aqaba, Sindbad Dive Club, Deep Blue Dive Center and Aqaba Adventure Divers. Single dives start at around 25.00JD with full courses available for up to 440.00JD
Wadi Rum (2 days)
An unforgettable weekend getaway in this impressive red sand landscape might include chasing sunsets; stargazing with the semi-nomadic Bedouins; camping on the unspoiled natural wonder; and sandboarding through the heart of the desert. This is a once in a a lifetime experience and cannot be missed when you travel to Jordan.
Wadi Rum, nicknamed The Valley of the Moon, is personally my favorite place in Jordan. This breathtaking desert is dotted with stunning mountains, rock formations, and canyons shaped by changing weather conditions and erosion over an eon. The magnificent setting has often made its way on to the big screen as the gorgeous backdrop to Lawrence of Arabia and as the surface of Mars in The Martian.
Marveling in the sunset, sunrise, and the sea of stars in this vast desert is a rare opportunity. However, the ultimate experience is probably interacting with the local Bedouin. The desert dwellers have long called Wadi Rum their home, and have set up dozens of campsites in this beautiful landscape. Most campsites offer cultural shows that give you an insight of the beautiful traditions and lifestyle of the Bedouin people.
Thrill-seekers can also consider sandboarding, hiking, and rock climbing while they are here.
How to Explore
The best way to explore the splendors of Wadi Rum is to take a guided tour. There are two main tours: a half-day jeep tour ($50-$70) and full-day jeep tour ($70-$100). The price varies depending on the number of people participating. I recommend a full-day tour because it takes you to the best spots in Wadi Rum and it includes a Bedouin-style lunch cooked in the middle of the desert. If you prefer a more unique mode of transportation, camel rides are priced at $30 per hour. Different campsites also offer the opportunity to hike. The tour ranges from one to five days, and it costs $70 to $100 per person per day.
Highlights of the tour
Lawrence’s Spring – The natural spring at the spot where Lawrence of Arabia and Faisal prepared their troops for attack during the Arab Revolt.
Um Fruth Rock Bridge – 15 meters from the ground, this natural rock bridge is certainly a sight to behold. During your tour you may have the opportunity to climb this impressive structure. The climb isn’t too arduous as long as you don’t suffer from vertigo!
The petroglyphs – There’s something truly awe-inspiring about the ancient inscriptions you’ll find dotted across the desert. Take time to examine them closely and your guide will explain the stories they are telling.
Khazali canyon – This pretty canyon is well shaded giving a little welcome respite from the blazing heat of the midday sun.
The red sand dune – This photogenic sand dune is a great spot to take some photographs, with the red sand and the blue sky meeting in perfect tranquil harmony.
Where to Stay
Beyond Wadi Rum Camp
There are several places you can stay in Wadi Rum, but it can be very difficult to choose one because most of them are very similar and within the same price range. However, Beyond Wadi Rum Camp offers the best value for your money. The camp is situated in a beautiful location with one of the best sunset views in Wadi Rum. Not only is the experience very authentic, but also the food is delicious and the guided tours are amazing. A night in a single person tent costs $39 with breakfast included.
Dead Sea (1 day)
This world-famous saltwater lake sitting at the lowest point of Earth, between Jordan and Isreal, has history, beauty, and charm to spare. You cannot miss this place when your travel to Jordan.
Known for its highly salty (and stunning) waters, swimming or floating in the Dead Sea will be a highly buoyant experience unlike any other, as its saline level easily lifts you to its surface. Both local and international visitors seek the Dead Sea for its mood-boosting oxygen-rich air and mineral-rich mud, which is appreciated for its therapeutical and cosmetic purposes. Some make a stop here to see the clear tranquility of its waters for themselves.
The Dead Sea makes for a great day trip from Amman, which is only one hour away, but for those who want to stay longer, the Dead Sea plays host to a variety of luxurious hotels. They are the best in Jordan and great for relaxation.
Petra (2-3 days)
Nestled in a secluded valley, the once-quiet ancient city is now Jordan’s leading tourist attraction that offers bedazzling historical sites like those carved from a dream.
Dubbed as the rose city due to its natural pink rocks, Petra holds many treasures as old as time. This is a must- see destination when you travel to Jordan. In fact, Petra itself is one of the world’s most valuable archaeological sites, a UNESCO world heritage site, and one of the seven Wonders of the World. While it’s hard to use words to describe the beauty of Petra, it’s easy to imagine the importance of this elaborate pink rock-cut architecture carved by an ancient Bedouin civilization during the 2nd, 3rd century BC. Thankfully, the façade stood the test of time and was only recently discovered in 1812 by a Swiss explorer. It was featured in many films and sometimes, seeing Petra in person is so surreal that it feels like you’re in a movie.
A single-day entry costs 50 JOD or 75 USD, while a two-day admission is priced at 55 JOD and 60 JOD for three days. You should definitely stay overnight at Petra and give yourself two days to see the entire city properly. Cards are also accepted when purchasing the tickets. The history of Petra is immense and a guide is recommended to show you in the ins and outs of this place. A guide costs 50 JOD or US$70. The distance to the main treasury from the entrance is 2 km and if needed, a carriage costs $60 for a roundtrip.
You must experience Petra at night when the main treasury is lit with 1,500 candles. Although the entry fee costs $25, it’s a sight well worth it.
Place to stay
Why Not Bedouin Home
Petra has plenty of accommodations, from luxurious hotels to hostels and guesthouses. Why not Bedouin Home is one of the best-rated and offers the best value for the money to stay at in Petra. The staff is very friendly and they can arrange a lot of tours for you. A night in a triple room with breakfast costs $20.
Guide to seeing Petra
You can choose to take a tour, or visit the site independently. It’s a very easy to site to get to, and to explore on your own. You may even find that your hotel offers a free shuttle bus. You’ll find the site less crowded in the spring and summer, and in the morning if you get an early start, or during the late afternoon when the majority of visitors have left. A visit at night is also a magical experience as the site is lit by candles.
Go prepared, with good walking shoes and a head covering to protect you from the heat. This is a large site and you’ll be spending several hours exploring so be ready for a lot of walking. However, if you do get tired, there’s the option of continuing your journey via camel or donkey.
The facilities at Petra are very good. There are plenty of places to get a bite to eat, and even a full service restaurant. The Cave Bar is a fascinating place to grab some refreshment, it’s built inside a 2000 year old Nabataean tomb. There is also a wide range of souvenir stalls, but do be aware that some of the sales people can be rather forceful in their sales techniques!
Uber can be found in Aqaba and Amman and this will be the primary mode of transport in these cities. However, buses or organised tours are the way to go for journeys of long because taxi fares in Jordan are really expensive. Below is a list of options for different routes.
Amman to the Dead Sea
From Amman, visitors can catch a bus from Mujaharin bus station to Rame and then a taxi to the beach. The bus journey will cost around 1JD (1.50 USD) and the taxi ride is usually around 4JD (6 USD).
Amman to Petra
The best option is to take a JETT bus that leaves at 6:30 a.m. and reaches Petra within 4 hours. The cost is 11 JOD or US$16. The return bus is at 4 p.m.
Petra to Wadi Rum
The hotel can arrange for a bus to pick you up in Petra and take you to Wadi Rum. The journey is two hours long and costs 7 JOD or US $10. The journey generally starts at 6:30 a.m. and reaches Wadi Rum by 8:30 – 9 a.m.
Amman to Aqaba
A bus from JETT goes frequently to Aqaba from Amman and vice versa. The journey is generally four and a half hours long and costs 11 JOD or $16.
How to travel to Jordan
Jordan is a relatively low-cost destination once you’ve travelled there. Living costs are low and there are plenty of cheap places to stay and good value dining venues. Of course it’s visiting the tourist attractions and travelling around that is going to eat into your budget, but at least your day-to-day expenses can be kept low, perhaps as little as $30 a day.
Stay at a hostel or similar $10-$20 per night
Food, Drinks & Activities $10-$15 per day
Transport for the main circuit $75-$100 (including taxi in the capital)
Entrance for Petra $75
Other entrances $50ṁ