A holiday to Jordan provides the unique opportunity to experience a truly diverse itinerary that will see you snorkelling in pristine coral reefs, camping in a striking red desert, traversing down waterfalls and roaming the paths of a 2,000-year-old city. It’s an adventurer’s ultimate holiday destination, and this guide explores the best places Jordan has to offer along with some tips on how to see them without booking onto an organised tour.
Bordering Syria and Iraq, Jordan is often considered to be a dangerous country that women, in particular, should avoid travelling to. However, its neighbours’ conflicts do not cross over the borders, and Jordan is, in fact, an incredibly safe and welcoming destination with a wealth of magical attractions waiting to be explored. Keep reading to learn all my top tips for planning your own trip without a tour to this amazing country!
THE JORDAN PASS
Before visiting Jordan, be sure to purchase the Jordan Pass in order to save money on your visa and major attractions. The Pass costs between 70JD and 80JD depending on how many days you want to spend in Petra. It includes your visa for the country and entry to other attractions such as Karak Castle, Jerash, Amman Citadel and Wadi Rum. Considering the visa alone costs 40JD and entrance tickets to Petra start at 50JD for just one day, it is a guaranteed saving.
The Jordan pass can be bought online and you simply need to print it off and show it upon arrival at the airport and any included attractions that you visit.
DRIVING IN JORDAN
The best way to travel independently in Jordan is by renting a car, which can be booked through a local company for around £200 for ten days with GPS.
As long as you avoid Amman, driving in Jordan is relatively easy because all of the major sights are accessible via the Desert Highway or Kings Highway, both of which are large main roads with set speed limits and a good lane system.
A few key things to consider when driving in Jordan are:
- There are lots of police checkpoints, but they will simply ask a couple of questions about where you’re from and where you’re going before sending you on your way.
- There are lots of hidden speed bumps located along the highway; be sure to keep an eye out for signs and always stick to the speed limit.
- Petrol stations are ubiquitous along the highway. You can expect to pay around £70 for petrol for a ten-day holiday when driving from the airport to the Red Sea and back up again.
- Parking is available at most major sights and the majority of hotels.
- Signposts are in English and Arabic.
- There is a hidden roadside lip along the highway, so be sure not to drive too close to the edge.
- Lanes are not always properly marked but drivers do tend to stick to them. There aren’t strict rules on overtaking or a fast or slow lane, so be wary and beep as you overtake large lorries.
MADABA: THE BEST STARTING POINT FOR A SELF GUIDED TOUR IN JORDAN
Located a 30-minute drive southwest of Queen Alia International Airport, Madaba is the perfect starting point if you plan on driving in Jordan. Madaba provides the chance to visit a city without having to drive in Amman, which is notorious for its busy roads and confusing lanes.
GETTING TO MADABA
The drive to Madaba is relatively straightforward, and the city is based around a narrow, medieval one-way system, meaning that as long as you take it slowly and pay attention to the arrows it is quite easy to navigate.
WHERE TO STAY IN MADABA
The Saint John Hotel is located in the city centre and has a large car park across the road. It is also home to the rooftop Sky Bar, where you can enjoy a tipple or two while overlooking the beautiful King Hussein mosque.
BUYING ALCOHOL IN MADABA
Another good reason to start at Madaba is that, due to its large Christian population, it is home to a handful of small liquor stores, providing the chance to stock up on alcohol to enjoy during the rest of your holiday. Keep in mind, however, that you can only drink it in the privacy of your hotel room. Mujib Chalets (details below) are the perfect remote spot to enjoy a drink while watching the sunset over the Dead Sea.
WHAT TO SEE IN MADABA
Sights to see in Madaba itself include St George’s Church, famous for its Byzantine mosaics; the Church of the Beheading of John the Baptist, home to a bell tower that you can climb for unrivalled views across the city; and the soaring, gold-roofed King Hussein mosque.
JORDAN’S BEST PLACES
All of these sites are located south of the airport, meaning you can easily tick them off in a ten-day holiday. Other places to consider are Amman and Jerash, both of which are located north of the airport.
The biggest draw to Jordan is undoubtedly Petra, and with the chance to roam the streets of a 2,000 year-old-city carved out of magnificent pink sandstone, it’s easy to understand why.
Previously the capital of the Nabataean empire, Petra was once a bustling city of around 20,000 inhabitants. A booming incense industry fuelled complex water systems, verdant greenery, and stately buildings and structures. However, the discovery of new trade routes meant that the people soon left and Petra sat abandoned and unknown to the Western world for centuries.
Following Jean Louis Burckhardt’s discovery of the Lost City in 1812, Petra is now open to the public and it welcomes more than half a million visitors each year. While visitor numbers may be growing, it still remains extremely quiet considering its UNESCO World Heritage and Wonder of the World status, making it one of the most enjoyable and extraordinary places to see in the world. The sprawling site has an array of tombs, monasteries and amphitheatres spread over a hundred square miles, resulting in the need for at least two but ideally three days to explore it fully.
HOW TO SPEND YOUR TIME IN PETRA
Petra’s main attractions are busiest from around 8 am through to 4 pm, so you should aim to have at least one early morning and one late afternoon in the site in order to see it at its quietest. On your first day, enter via the Siq as soon as the site opens at 6 am to get the best first impression – seeing the Treasury peeking through the towering walls will make it worthwhile.
On your second day, enter Petra via the back route on the hike from Little Petra to the Monastery in order to get the best first impression of the behemoth structure, which will slowly come into view above the mountain peaks. This will also enable you to avoid all the crowds and souvenir stalls that line the path to the Monastery on the other side. Aim to arrive at the Monastery late in the afternoon, when it will be at its quietest and no longer in the shade. There is a cafe sitting opposite where you can stop for refreshments after the hike, which takes between two and three hours.
Other highlights of Petra include the Royal Tombs, Street of Facades, Colonnaded Street, Great Temple and the High Place of Sacrifice. Be sure to climb up to the viewpoint above the Treasury for a different perspective (book a guide for around 20JD to take you up there) and book tickets for Petra by Night to see the Siq and Treasury lit up by more than 1,000 candles. Petra by Night takes place every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday and tickets cost 17JD. They can be bought on the day at the main entrance.
WHERE TO STAY IN PETRA
Wadi Musa – the town in which Petra is located – is home to a vast number of hotels ranging from budget-friendly to high-end. If you’re not on a strict budget, the Movenpick Resort Petra is a great option because it is located a two-minute walk from Petra’s entrance and it has a pleasant outdoor swimming pool, which you’ll be very grateful for after a long day of hiking. Other good options are the Petra Guest House, which sits right at the main entrance and is home to the famous Cave Bar, and the Petra Marriott Hotel. Located on a nearby hillside, this hotel offers fantastic views across the valley as well as the chance to experience a traditional dinner in a scenic Bedouin tent.
Spending a night or two camping in the Wadi Rum desert is an absolute must when visiting Jordan. With a breathtaking landscape of bright red sand, hidden rocky caverns, rippling sand dunes and towering sandstone mountains, the 280-square-mile protected desert is a truly magnificent setting and the ultimate playground for travellers. A visit brings the opportunity to navigate through hidden canyons, slide down sand dunes, watch the sunset over sandstone mountains, and stargaze under the clear night sky.
WHERE TO STAY IN WADI RUM
The experience of camping in the desert is perhaps what lures most travellers to Wadi Rum, and with countless camps peppered throughout the site, you can choose from a luxury offering or a more low-key, traditional camp. The Wadi Rum Luxury Night Camp boasts en-suite bathrooms and clear bubble tents – perfect for sleeping under the stars – but it is one of the largest camps in Wadi Rum and sits very close to the village.
The Wadi Rum Sky Tours and Camp, meanwhile, offers a more intimate, authentic experience and sits right in the heart of the desert. Surrounded by large rock formations, it is protected from the elements and has fantastic viewpoints for both sunrise and sunset. It is important to research your campsite carefully before booking because some have much better settings than others. Research on a third party site like Booking.com first and then contact your chosen camp directly to book your accommodation and tours together.
WHAT TO DO IN WADI RUM
If you only have one day in Wadi Rum, the best way to spend it is on a jeep tour, whizzing between sights such as the Lawrence’s Spring and the Burdah Rock Bridge. The jeep tours also provide the chance to trek through canyons, sprint down sand dunes and tuck into a picnic in the middle of the desert.
If you have longer, consider spending your second day trekking up one of the mountains – Jebel Um Adaami is the highest – or booking a hot air balloon ride or microlight flight. Most campsites offer their own jeep tours, camel tours and trekking tours but further activities might need to be researched separately.
THE DEAD SEA
A visit to Jordan also provides the chance to swim – or bob – in the Dead Sea, which at 431 metres below sea level, is the lowest point on Earth. The extreme salt level is caused by there being no outlet streams to allow the water to escape, meaning that when the water evaporates the salt is then left behind. As a result, a dip in the warm salt water lake is an unusual experience, with the buoyancy causing your limbs to keep rising to the surface. You will also become very aware of any skin irritations or scratches – don’t even think about shaving beforehand or touching your eyes while you’re in the water.
WHERE TO STAY AT THE DEAD SEA
There are a large number of five-star hotels located along the Dead Sea coast, but for a much quieter, less-touristy experience, book a room at Mujib Chalets. Sitting right on the banks of the lake, the complex has 15 basic chalets that provide the chance to get away from it all and swim in the Dead Sea without any crowds – perfect for an atmospheric swim at sunset. The chalets are incredibly simple and do cost more than they should for what you get, but the experience outweighs the lack of luxuries.
Breakfast is provided and there is a basic dinner on offer, but be sure to pack some food because the chalets are very isolated with no shop nearby. Make sure any items you bring are ready-to-eat because no cooking facilities or cutlery are provided. There is, however, a fridge in every room, so if you bring some alcohol you’ll be able to enjoy a refreshing drink on the privacy of your own chalet terrace. Another benefit of Mujib Chalets is that they’re located right across the road from Wadi Mujib, meaning you can arrive first thing in the morning before the crowds arrive.
Affectionately known as the Grand Canyon of Jordan, Wadi Mujib is a striking gorge that runs 70 km from the Desert Highway to the Dead Sea. With towering walls of deep orange rock surrounding a glistening path of water that’s dotted with waterfalls and rapids, it’s an adrenaline junkie’s paradise.
WHAT TO DO AT WADI MUJIB
When arriving at Wadi Mujib, you will be able to book onto the Siq Trail, which provides the chance to scale and slide down waterfalls, swim through rapids, and navigate through hidden caves. There is the option to take a guide, and if you are not a confident swimmer or are uncomfortable with heights then it is strongly recommended because some of the waterfalls are quite high and tricky to climb. The guide will be able to advise on the best way to approach them, making the whole experience a lot easier.
TIPS FOR VISITING WADI MUJIB
The trail costs 21JD and you do not need to book in advance. Aim to arrive early in the morning because it can get very busy and you will end up hanging around in the rapids, clinging onto ropes while you wait your turn. Be sure to wear good waterproof shoes and bring a waterproof bag for your phone and camera.
THE RED SEA
Bordering the northern apex of the Red Sea, in the Gulf of Aqaba, Jordan offers some of the best snorkelling and diving in the world. With only Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen sitting on the sea’s east coast, the area has remained relatively untouched by tourism, meaning there are plenty of pristine coral reefs with vibrant colours and tropical inhabitants to explore. Best of all, these reefs are located just a few metres from the shore and can be reached from the jetty, removing the need to waste any money or time on a boat trip. The idea of visiting a beach in the Middle East may be a little intimidating for women, but Jordan’s best snorkelling spots sit within a very tourist-friendly area.
WHERE TO STAY AT THE RED SEA
There are a number of hotels located near to the best snorkelling and diving spots, and it is best to stay at one of those rather than in the city of Aqaba. If you aim for one of the hotels across the road from the Japanese Garden dive site and the Berenice Beach Club then you will be well placed for the best snorkelling sites. Arab Divers Dive Centre offers simple and affordable accommodation with its own swimming pool and diving instructors. Snorkel equipment can also be rented from the hotel for 7JD per day, and they take great care in ensuring each person is given the correct style and size.
WHERE TO GO SNORKELLING AT THE RED SEA
Berenice Beach Club, meanwhile, provides the opportunity to snorkel without having to visit a public beach, allowing for female travellers to feel comfortable wearing Western swimming costumes. Costing 10JD per day, the beach club stretches across 500 metres of the Red Sea with a large number of sun loungers as well as three swimming pools and a restaurant. Arrive before 9 am, when the sea is calm and the beach club empty, for the best snorkelling.
WHY JORDAN SHOULD BE YOUR NEXT HOLIDAY DESTINATION
With so many diverse attractions to see, Jordan really is an extraordinary destination. After all, there aren’t many places where you can find some of the world’s best snorkelling, an otherworldly red desert, a 2,000 year-old-ancient city and a hidden canyon full of waterfalls all within a four-hour drive of one another.
While the tourism industry is still in its infancy compared to other destinations around the world, numbers are growing, and Ryanair launched directs flights from several European cities last year, meaning it will only get busier. By following the guide above you can easily see many of the best places in Jordan without a tour, so now is the time to go to experience a holiday of a lifetime!
We hope that this article has helped inspire you to take a trip to Jordan. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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Our Top Places To Stay In Petra
- Hyatt Zaman
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