Boasting sublime desert scenery at Wadi Rum and a raft of archaeological treasures – from the magnificent ancient city of Petra, the country’s most popular sight, to sprawling Roman Jerash – Jordan is an absolute thrill to explore. Aspiring adventurers will get a kick out of discovering lesser-known sites such as Little Petra and the Desert Castles, while hikers and wildlife fans will enjoy the Dana Biosphere Reserve, Feynan Eco-Lodge and Azraq Wetlands. For those looking for a sun and sea holiday, meanwhile, there’s the Dead Sea and its superb spas, and the Red Sea with its wonderful diving and snorkelling opportunities.
Amman lies in Jordan’s far north, not far from Syria and the West Bank. To Amman’s east is the Eastern Desert, extending to Saudi Arabia and Iraq. South-west of Amman is Madaba, and a little further west lies the Dead Sea. From there, Highway 65 runs all the way to Aqaba on the Red Sea, and nearby Wadi Rum. From Aqaba, Highway 15 heads up to Amman, passing Wadi Musa and Petra en route.
Jordan’s Bedouin heritage, Arabic culture and Islamic religion make it culturally rich. Days are punctuated by prayers at the mosque (five times daily for the devout) and snacks eaten on the street. Evenings are spent with family and friends – in the cities, at restaurants and cafés where backgammon is played and narghile pipes puffed; in Bedouin communities, around a campfire in a goat-hair tent where Arab hospitality reigns and strangers are still welcomed with tea.
An integral part of Middle Eastern culture, bargaining is compulsory in souqs (markets). It’s as much about the social interaction as the deal, so don’t be shy.
In addition to Feynan Eco-Lodge, Jordan has other sustainable eco-lodges and guesthouses operated by the Royal Society for Conservation and Nature’s Wild Jordan that are a must-do for slow travellers.
Jordanians eat Arabic food, more widely known as Lebanese food, consisting of staples such as chicken and labneh; mezze dips such as houmous, baba ganoush and muttabal scooped up with flat bread; fresh salads such as tabbouleh and fattoush; and flavoursome mixed grilled meats.
What to try
Jordanians love to snack and piping hot falafels are popular, served fresh from the fryer with houmous dressed with olive oil, and accompanied by flatbread and sweet tea.
Where to eat & drink
Amman has great eating options, from atmospheric restaurants to tasty street eats, while most five-star hotels offer fine dining. There’s also a lively café and bar scene. The luxury hotels on the Dead Sea and in Aqaba offer everything from beach bars to fine dining, while the food at Jordan’s eco-lodges is delicious home-cooked fare. Petra’s dining is limited, while at Wadi Rum you’ll be eating traditional Bedouin and Arabic food around a campfire.
Where to stay
Amman is one of the region’s most underrated cities, generally only visited on brief stopovers. But for those who take time to explore it, a few days in this relaxed city can be rewarding. While most sights are downtown, the best hotels are in West Amman, around the 3rd and 5th Circles. Petra’s best hotel is at the entrance to the archaeological site, while the rest of the accommodation is dotted around the town of Wadi Musa. The Dead Sea’s monumental resorts line the coast, while Aqaba’s hotels are on the Corniche in town or at nearby Tala Bay.
Where to shop
Amman’s downtown is dotted with cluttered shops housing a treasure trove of bric-a-brac, Bedouin handicrafts and Arabian souvenirs, while up the hill Rainbow Street has good bookstores, boutiques, and shops selling arts and crafts. There are similar shops in the souq area in Aqaba and in Wadi Musa. Amman also has sleek shopping malls selling everything you’d find at home, from designer clothes and shoes to cameras and electronics
What to buy
Traditional red-striped camel blankets and cushions, brass coffee pots, silver Bedouin jewellery, narghile kits, contemporary art, fine handmade jewellery, and eco-friendly products such as recycled candles and soaps from eco-lodges.
Health & safety
Jordan is the most politically stable and safest country in the Levantine region. There is little petty crime and tourists are rarely the target of scams. Jordanians keep late hours and even families can be found out with their children, making it safe to walk the streets at night, although obviously the usual precautions should be taken. Women are treated with respect, but should dress modestly so as not to attract attention.
When to go
Jordan has a diverse range of climates: if you’re going to focus on one or two areas – maybe the Dead Sea for spas or Aqaba for diving – check local weather conditions before booking. Generally, spring (Mar-May) and autumn (Sept-Nov) are the best times to visit, when temperatures are mild and pleasant. Winter is cold and often wet, and it has even been known to snow in Amman. Summers are fierce, particularly at Wadi Rum, Aqaba and the Dead Sea.
Jordan is well connected to the UK, with British Airways, Royal Jordanian and Easyjet flying into Queen Alia International, 35km south of Amman. The easiest and quickest way into Amman is by taxi. Some five-star hotels offer free transfers included in the rate, so check if this is an option when you book. Tour companies also offer transfers if you want more comfort.
Taxis are cheap and plentiful within cities, and are a better option than public transport. To get around Jordan, the majority of visitors hire a car with a driver. This can be arranged through hotels (expensive), through car rental companies (more affordable) or directly with cab drivers, even for long distances (least expensive option). Self-drive road trips are becoming increasingly popular – rental cars can be collected from the airport or delivered to your hotel.
What to take
Modest clothing – this is a Muslim country. Walking boots for Petra, Wadi Rum and Dana Reserve, swimwear for the Dead Sea and Aqaba, warm clothes for chilly desert nights.
Wrap up warm
Despite its reputation as a warm destination, Amman can get pretty cold in winter so wrap up warm during the colder months; you might also need an umbrella.
- Type Country
- Notoriety Well known
- Price guide $$$$$
- Time zone GMT / UTC +01:00 - +02:00
- Currency JOD
- Climate Arid
- Environment Desert
- Politics Somewhat conservative
Queen Alia International [Amman] [AMM]
Get in the mood
Kingdom of the Film Stars: Journey into Jordan by Annie CaulfieldA memoir of one woman’s travels around Jordan and her love affair with a Bedouin is one of the few books to reveal everyday life at a personal level.
Zad by Sign of ThymeUnique fusion of classical Arabic songs, jazz, funk and world music by one of Jordan’s most popular bands.
Lawrence of ArabiaLean’s 1962 epic, mostly filmed at Wadi Rum, will get you in the mood for a desert trip. Don’t treat it as a history lesson, though – it’s not entirely accurate.