Planning a Trip to Jordan

view of the facade of Petra's treasury carved into a cliff, a must-see on any Jordan travel itineraryAt the time I visited, Jordan had long been a oasis of stability and tolerance in the Middle East. Striking desert landscapes. Historical and biblical settings. The world famous carved city of Petra. These made Jordan the perfect place to experience the Middle East without the dangers and restrictions normally associated with the region.

Unfortunately, the country has recently been drawn into conflict. Before deciding whether to go, check government advisories for Canadian and US travelers.

Where to go

Jordan is a compact nation with a good infrastructure of roads, so it’s quite possible to see the main highlights in a week with a travel itinerary something like this:

  • Day 1: Amman. See the Roman ruins in the middle of downtown, head up to the Citadel for panoramic views and explore downtown
  • Day 2: Day trip north to the Roman ruins at Jerash
  • Day 3: Head south to Mt. Nebo to gaze at the same views of the Promised Land that Moses enjoyed, then on to the Dead Sea for a swim before checking into a hotel in Madaba
  • Day 4: View the Madaba mosaics before setting out on the King’s Highway to the crusader castle at Karak. Drive to Wadi Musa, which will be your base for exploring Petra.
  • Days 5: Petra. Get up early to view the Treasury in its best light; you’ll need a full day to explore the site.
  • Days 6-7: Wadi Rum Desert. Ride a camel, bounce around the dunes in a 4WD jeep and overnight in a Bedouin tented camp before returning to Amman.

If you have more time, options within Jordan include another day in Amman or the desert, seeing more of the many Crusader castles scattered around the country, or traveling further south to Aqaba for some beach time.

If you’d like to see another country in the region, Egypt is easily accessible. Israel, although right across the river, can be trickier in terms of border crossings, but is quite possible, and in fact many travelers do it every week. Just do some research first.

Transportation

Jordan’s public transportation system is spotty, particularly for many of the sites you’ll want to see. Buses are a good option between major cities, but for other tourist sites, renting your own car or hiring a taxi are the best ways to get around. My suggestions for the best combination of value and efficiency:

  • Amman – local taxis / walking
  • Jerash – hire a taxi  from Amman for a day trip
  • Mount Nebo / Dead Sea / Madaba /Karak / Wadi Musa – rent a car for 2 days. Pick up in Amman and drop off in Wadi Musa/Petra. There will be an extra charge for the drop-off, but it’s usually cheaper than keeping the car for 2-3 days during which you won’t be using it.
  • Petra – explore on foot
  • Wadi Rum – Book an excursion with one of the many operators based in Petra/Wadi Musa.
    • Jordan Inspiration Tours and Jordan Beauty are reputable and have flexible options.
    • Leave large luggage with your hotel in Wadi Musa and take only what you need for your time in the desert – a wheeled suitcase or other large bag would be cumbersome to tote around.
  • Back to Amman – Pick up your luggage and take the afternoon JETT  bus for the 3-hour ride back to Amman’s Abdali terminal.

Taxis

For finding a good taxi driver, your hotel is usually the best resource. Unless you speak Arabic, ask for a driver who is fluent in English. You can also book ahead online with Jordan Taxi for trips between cities.  Note: Women should do as Jordanian women do and sit in the back seat of taxis as opposed to sitting in the front next to a male driver.

Car rentals

If renting a car, navigating is relatively easy for confident drivers during daylight hours. Just pay careful attention to speed limits, since they’re strictly enforced. Driving after dark can be challenging, since lighting is often poor. Your regular driver’s license from home should be sufficient, but if you have an international permit, bring it along. Most gas stations are full service and accept cash only.

Many of the major international rental agencies operate in Amman, including Avis, Budget, Hertz, National and Europcar. Reliable Rental Car is a reputable local agency. Wait until you’re heading out of the city to pick up your car.

Organized tours

If you’d prefer to have the transportation logistics handled for you, book a tour through your hotel or a local operator in Amman, such as Jordan Direct. This may well be the most stress-free and efficient option, and will offer especially good value for solo travelers.

Bedouins drinking coffee in a desert tent

Accommodations

Amman, Madaba and Wadi Musa (Petra) have lots of moderate hotel options. Booking.com is a good site for finding hotels almost anywhere, including Jordan. For Amman, the area of Jebel Amman is a good place to stay – it’s close to downtown and has numerous mid-range hotels.

In Wadi Rum, camping is your only option if you want to spend the night. However, the permanent tented camps are relatively comfortable, usually with raised beds and cozy goat-hair blankets. Your local tour operator will arrange it all for you.

When to go

Spring (March to May) is the best weather, with warm dry days and cool nights. If you’re planning to spend time in the desert, it’s either too hot or too cold for most other months of the year. Autumn is fleeting in Jordan, but October is another option with fairly moderate temperatures.

Currents & currency

There are a few different electrical socket styles used in Jordan. Type C, E or F adapters will most often do the trick. I suggest bringing at least two of the three or one of the multi-country adapters now widely available. Voltage is 230 V / 50 Hz, so if you’re from North or South America, you may need a power converter for some items.

Jordan’s currency is the Jordanian Dinar, currently pegged at  €1.17, $1.41 USD or $1.64 CAD. Change large bills as soon as you can, since smaller shops and restaurants may not accept them.

ATM’s are plentiful, but it may take some trial and error to find one that works with your card. I had one frustrating experience. The transaction appeared to go through, but the cash never materialized. If this happens to you, report it to your bank as soon as possible. In my case, the money actually was withdrawn from my account even though I didn’t receive it. My bank eventually reversed the transaction, but only after a month-long investigation.

MasterCard and Visa are the most widely accepted credit cards, but note that a commission of up to 5% may be charged by hotels, restaurants and shops. Ask before deciding whether to use cash or credit.

Keep in mind

While Jordan is not as strictly traditional as other Middle Eastern countries, it’s still a conservative society by Western standards. Modest dress is recommended. For women, that means knees and shoulders covered, and modest necklines. For men, long pants are preferred.

Currently all visitors need a visa, but it’s standard procedure to get it on arrival at the airport.

Get inspired

If you haven’t seen the classic movie Lawrence of Arabia, or if it’s been a while, it’s a sure way to get excited about your desert adventure.

While in Jordan, I read a beautifully written novel called Pillars of Salt by Faqir Fadia. It recounts the stories of two Jordanian women from very different backgrounds.

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