Amazing things to do in Jordan
Jordan is often overseen as a travel destination by tourists, but it really shouldn´t be. With the mesmerizing beauty of the red desert and Jordans natural wonders and parks it is a great travel destination. Jerash, the home to the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Gerasa and the UNESCO world heritage site Petra make Jordan a top destination for any history buff as well as any traveler. Then Jordan’s mouthwatering food and the ever so welcoming people put Jordan at the top of the list of places in the world you definitely cannot miss out on. Plus, it is one of the most stable and peaceful countries in the middle east making it perfect for any traveler wanting to explore this part of the world.
Amazing things to do in Jordan
Costs and travel insights | Visa | Money | Jordan pass | Safety | Accommodation | Transport | Food | Dress code | Top things to do | Petra | Wadi Rum | Dana Biosphere Reserve | Feynan Ecolodge | Umm Qais | Jerash | Mount Nebo | Wadi Mujib | Amman | Aqaba
Costs and travel insights
Jordan has a reputation as being one of the more expensive countries in the Middle East, but if you keep your wits about you and follow my travel tips, it is definitely doable on a budget.
No matter where you´re traveling from you need a travel visa to enter Jordan. Most nationalities can get a visa upon arrival, check here for full details.
Jordanians use Jordanian Dinar (JOD) and just like in the rest of the Middle East cash is king. Make sure to always keep enough cash with you, as most places won’t accept credit cards. Also, not all ATMs work and might also charge you a lot for any withdrawal. Make your cash withdrawals in the major cities at propper banks to avoid high fees and the risk of scams.
Whether you´re trying to save or splurge it is stupid not to save money when it’s both possible and simple. The first thing you should do after having booked your ticket to Jordan is to buy the Jordan Pass online.
This waives the visa fee and gets you into 40 major sights (including Petra, Wadi Rum and Jerash) as a part of the cost. The cheapest option for 99 USD allows you an all-day entry pass to Petra for one day. While the most expensive one is another 14 USD which gives 3 full days in Petra.
Jordan borders Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia and considering the current situation in those countries, it is natural to feel a bit hesitant about safety when traveling to Jordan. Jordan however is considered to be a very safe and stable country, so no need to worry.
Girls, please check my post about traveling in the Middle East for more information regarding safety as a female traveling in the middle east.
The best way to save some bucks is on accommodation. I suggest staying in locally run guesthouses or hostels, which not only is the cheapest option, but it also gives you the opportunity to get closer to the Jordanians and their everyday life. In some of the sites, like the Dead Sea and other main tourist areas, there are only five-star hotels, with five-star hotel price tags. In other words, save on accommodation wherever you can and make sure to plan your trips to more touristy places well and consider staying outside the actual tourist hotspot.
The most common way of getting around Jordan is by bus, minibus to be fair. Be aware that the buses rarely run according to the timetables, making you question why there even are timetables. But then again, it is part of the Jordanian charm. Traveling by bus is by far the best way to get around. The roads are descent, the landscapes beautiful and the longest ride, between Amman and Aqaba, is only four hours.
The price for food varies a lot. While you will get a good, hearty meal in one place for 10 USD, the same meal might be three times the price in another. One tip is to order meze, as it always gives you the most bang for the buck. Plus it also gives you the opportunity to try a lot of different local dishes.
The food is delicious and is served in big portions, which somewhat excuses the price tag. Tap water is completely safe to drink. Even though Jordan is Muslim country alcohol is allowed and there are plenty of local wineries to choose from. If you choose to refrain from alcohol, try the limonana – a freshly made drink from lemon, mint, water and sugar and it is served everywhere.
Jordan being a Muslim country means you should dress conservatively as a sign of cultural respect. At all times, shoulders and knees should be covered and cleavage should never be shown. Pay added respect in religious sites and make sure to then cover your hair.
Top Things to do
OK, there is no way your Jordan travel won´t include the bucket list-worthy city of Petra but you probably got that all figured out already, since it is the biggest tourist attraction in Jordan, if not in the world. Petra is half-built, half-carved into the rocky mountainside. It is surrounded by mountains riddled with hidden passages and gorges. It is one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites and it’s beautifully located in the desert between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea. Plan at least one full day in Petra, maybe even two. Be prepared to walk a lot and wear appropriate shoes, hiking shoes or very sturdy sandals.
…so what to do in Petra then. The best option for accommodation is to stay in Wadi Musa, then Petra is just a short walk away. You will arrive through a deep, narrow gorge, with walls reaching 500 ft/150 m, known as the Siq. Upon arrival, you will immediately hit the Treasury (al-Khazneh). The Treasury is one of the most dramatic and iconic monuments in the ancient city of Petra. I, however, really loved the part of Petra known as Little Petra (Siq al-Barid)! It is less touristy but equally as beautiful. I would suggest spending one separate day here. I stayed at Mars Inn Camp, with beautiful Bedouin tents, a warm mint tea welcomed me upon arrival and there were plenty of other travelers there to share experiences with.
2. Wadi Rum
You have probably read about the beautiful, UNESCO World Heritage site, red desert of Wadi Rum and even if you haven´t, make sure to make it a part of your trip to Jordan. Why? Not only is it one of the largest deserts in the world, but it truly is that magical as well. Opt to go through the red sands with a 4×4 jeep, ride on a camel or spend a night under the stars in one of the traditional Bedouin camps. Wadi Rum can be discovered on your own but I would recommend you to hire a local guide to get the most out of your experience. Not only are the guides knowledgeable and friendly, but they are genuinely happy and eager to show you this historical landscape and the pride of their country.
3. Dana Biosphere Reserve
The Dana Nature Reserve covers around 320 square kilometres of terrain varying from green and lush mountain slopes to limestone and sandy desert. The list of interesting wildlife living here goes on forever. An impressive number of 449 different species have been found in the reserve. Eagles, vultures, owls, wildcats, hyenas, jackals, wolves, chameleons, you name it – it´s there. It is easily reached from the picturesque village of Wadi Dana. Wadi Dani is a 15th century stone village overlooking a magnificent valley, today, sparsely inhabited by farmers and artists.
The nature reserve is the place to go if you´re looking for something off the beaten path. Just make sure to make reservations ahead of time as everything needs to be prebooked. Unfortunately for the spontaneous traveler you cannot just walk into the reserve and think that things will sort themselves out. You can easily spend a week inside the reserve and not get bored.
The most obvious and the only walking route that can be done without a guide, is the magnificent Wadi Dana Trail (14km; 5–6hr). It starts from Wadi Dana and ends in the wild terrain of Feynan. All other walks require a guide. Visit the reserve and you are really in for a treat and it’s an oasis away from the Jordanian cities and tourist attractions.
4. Feynan Ecolodge
Feynan Ecolodge truly is a getaway within the getaway of the Dana Reserve. Situated in the middle of nowhere in the Dana Reserve it’s only possible to reach by foot or 4×4. There is almost no electricity at the lodge, definitely no internet and only a questionable phone signal. You can choose to stay here for a night, but it really has a lot more to offer than just a candlelit room and a bed for the night so maybe opt for a few nights. This place truly allows time for you to enjoy activities like watching the sunrise, morning bike rides, sunset hikes, and stargazing. You can also learn about local trades and cooking. The rooms are simple, but really all you need. All meals are vegetarian and served in a dining hall for all guests at the same time, making it an excellent opportunity to meet other travelers. Guided tours and Bedouin experiences, like my personal favorite, “a day with a shepherd”, are also available.
5. Umm Qais
Umm super nice! The city of Umm Qais is located beautifully, 400 meters above sea level, on the lush mountains of Tiberias, overlooking both Israel and Syria. As Jordan otherwise is a pretty dry country Umm Qais is well worth a visit. If not for the stunning views and green landscape to explore ruins and get a historical insight into the Arab-Israeli war. Umm Qais is a perfect combination of nature and man-made history, and it differs completely from the rest of Jordan. Even the Roman ruins, built from local black basalt stones gives the ruins a completely different look than other Roman remains.
While here, make sure to visit Carakale, Jordan’s only beer brewery. Yes, maybe you are thinking… How good can the locally produced beer in a Muslim country really be? Well, let me tell you, some of the beers were the best I´ve ever had! Yazan, the owner of the brewery, and his colleagues are really passionate about what they do and it shows and tastes. The experience will stay in my heart forever.
Few things beat having your morning coffee while overlooking three different countries. However, I need to be honest with you, you can hear the bombs falling in Syria and it might be a bit frightening and upsetting. But remember that Jordan is a safe and calm country but avoid visiting Umm Qais if this is too much for you.
Jerash is one of the most visited cities in the Middle East. It is known for its exquisitely preserved ruins from the ancient Roman city Gerasa and back in the day, it served as a strategic trading point. The historical park is open from 8 am to 5 pm daily and requires half a day to a full day. The most astonishing sites are as follows:
The Hippodrome: An ancient sports field/arena, holding 15,000 people. Several times a day there are mock gladiator fights with a twist of humour being put on.
The Hadrian’s Arch: an impressive arch that was supposed to become the city’s southern gate.
The Forum: A stunning, oval-shaped plaza in the city center, once used as a marketplace. The plaza is surrounded by 56 equally impressing columns.
The Nymphaeum: a Roman-style ornamental fountain carved to resemble seven lion heads. It’s a 68 m long beautifully preserved remains with carvings, mosaics, and impressive statues.
Jerash is reached from the city of Amman and you can easily spend a day here. It can also be done in half a day if you wish to combine it with Mount Nebo in a one-day day trip.
7. Mount Nebo
Mt Nebo is where Moses is said to have seen the Promised Land. Although he wasn´t allowed to enter the Promised Land, it is believed that he died at 120 years old and later buried in the area.
Years of excavation and restoration work reveals the archaeological remains of the 4th century found here. Elements of the original Byzantine Church has been incorporated into the modern church building, the Church of Moses. Original mosaic flooring, including the Madaba mosaic map, is found in the Byzantine Church.
Mount Nebo really breaths history and religion at the same time. It is located on an 800m-high mountaintop and the view stretches down to the Dead Sea, across to the West Bank city of Jericho and on a clear day, even to Jerusalem. The site doesn’t require more than half a day trip and is easily combined with Jerash and the Dead Sea.
8. Wadi Mujib
At 410 meters below sea level, the Mujib Biosphere Reserve is the lowest nature reserve on Earth, and it resembles nothing you´ve experienced before. Bordering the Dead Sea coast and surrounded by spectacular mountains that are cut through by river-filled canyons and lots of natural springs it offers some of the best adventurous hikes in Jordan as well as one of Jordan’s most popular natural attractions.
Wadi Mujib is located about an hour Southeast of Amman. I recommend staying here at least two nights, but you can squeeze in just a one-day hike if you´re short on time. If you plan on spending some time here, I highly recommend staying at Mujib Chalets! It has amazing views, the most stunning sunsets and a private beach located next to the Dead Sea. It is the perfect place for serenity and relaxation in combination with your Wadi Mujib adventures.
Amman is a pretty young city in the Middle East but still has a few ruins and history, even if it cannot compare to the other places mentioned in this post. But you don´t go to Amman for the history. You go to Amman to get a feel for the Jordanian culture. The traffic is intense, the city life buzzing and some people say “get in and get out”. Personally, I loved being welcomed by the generous Jordanian hospitality, to wander and get lost in the streets, sample local food, a bargain at the markets, drink strong Arabic coffee, and just feel the modern vibes in a trip that otherwise is filled with history, culture, religion and nature
Hashem Restaurant in Amman’s hands down serves up some of the best falafel I´ve had in my life. It is a family-owned restaurant that has been open since the 1950s. Ask any local and they will tell you this is the place to go and I can surely vow to that as well!
Aqaba is the only city on Jordan´s Red Sea coast. With sunshine all year round, the impressive mountains that turn red at sunset in the background overlooking the Red Sea and Israel this is the place to go for a beach getaway in Jordan. Aqaba has a drowsy fishing village vibe, a promenade great for people watching and don´t be surprised if you find yourself swimming among a pod of dolphins. The smell of shisha pipes mixed with the barbecue restaurants and spices from vendors lingers as fresh in my memory as the complete relaxation Aqaba offers. Because, besides being a paradise for snorkelers and scuba divers there is really not much to do other than to stroll, relax, enjoy and just take in the vibes of vacation.
I stayed at Hakaia Home and I can hand down say it is one of the best hostels in the world. It is the first hostel that opened in Aqaba. It is owned by two brothers, Bah and Mohammed. They are warm, welcoming, and generous hosts and they make you feel at home right away. …and Mohammed works miracles in the kitchen!
What amazing things to do in Jordan will be on your itinerary when you visit? Let us know in the comments below.
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