At the beginning of 2016, after a year of travels, I took the decision to settle down for a few months. And what better way to do so than to actually move to your region of predilection just after having landed your dream job? Well, that’s pretty much what happened to me when I started working for an NGO in Jordan, back in January. I have now been living here for a few months, which gave me the opportunity to prepare for you the ultimate itinerary for your vacations in the country. And if you’re not already convinced that Jordan should be the next destination on your wanderlist, just follow the guide (me) and tell me what you think!
Get to know the capital: Amman (2 days)
Landing in Amman is the best way to start your trip through Jordan. Plan to stay at least two days in the capital, to get a good feel of the country you just set foot in. If you’re a history enthusiast, your first stop should be the Citadel, known in Arabic as Jabal al-Qal’a, considered to be among the world’s oldest continuously inhabited places. You can then head to the old Roman Theater, located in the downtown area. While you’re there, make sure you stop by Habiba, the best place to try some Kunafa. This cheese pastry soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, and topped with pistachios is a classic in the whole Middle-East. Walking around downtown will also give you the opportunity to discover the Grand Hussein Mosque, one of the oldest religious sites in the city. While you’re in the area, you should also visit the fruits and vegetables market, or the close by Hashem restaurant, and indulge some more yumminess before moving on.
If you’re more into art and cafes, your favorite area in Amman will certainly be Jabal Al Weidbdeh. Located around the reknown “Duwar Baris”, it is one of Amman’s oldest districts and nowadays the place to be in the city. There, you’ll find plenty of nice places to drink mint lemonade, smoke a shisha or just play a game of Tawla (the Arabic version of Backgammon). Some of my favorite places in the neighborhood include Fan & Shai (ideal for brunch on Fridays), Naqsh (for delicious vegan food on the spot), or Cafe Rumi (where you’ll be able to try all sorts of tea). While you’re around, make sure to also stop by Jo Bedu, the coolest t-shirt store in town. Last but not least, if you like art, make a stop at the galleries in the area such as Darat Al Funun, Makan Art Space or Dar Al Anda. Al Weibdeh is also one of the best spots to photograph the coolest pieces of street art!
Make sure not to leave Amman without visiting its namesake mountain by night. Jabal Amman hosts the most famous street of the capital, called Share3 Rainbow. Full of restaurants, pubs and bars, it is one of the most frequented places in the city. In summer, Jabal Amman is also home to Souk Jara, a flea market where you’ll be able to buy cool souvenirs. If you’d like to bring home a piece of the country with you, you can head to Wild Jordan as well, a restaurant/shop offering a wide range of original local products. Other cool places in the neighborhood include Books@cafe (if you feel like having a drink while reading a book), Jafra (for your traditional Jordanian Mansaf) or Shams El Balad (one of my absolute favorites when it comes to local restaurants!).
Feel the past while heading North:
Jerash, Ajloun and Umm Qais (2 days)
Once you are done with Amman and in need of other horizons, just head North to cities like Jerash, Umm Qais or Ajloun. While the first two represent some of the most ancient and most beautiful ruins in the country, the third is home to a beautiful castle and what might be the only forest or super green area you’ll ever find in Jordan. While in the north, you’ll discover an unexpected side of the country, wondering in cities that are over 2000 years old and feeling close to nature, just a few kilometers away from three of Jordan’s neighboring countries.
Head South through the Kings Highway:
Madaba, Kerak and Dana (4 days)
Once you’re back from the North, it will be time to head South. Take on the King’s Highway and drive to the desert. Going through the Great Rift Valley, it is one of the Middle East’s most scenic and ancient roads. Your first stop on the way should be Madaba, a small town where you’ll be able to admire the only surviving fragment of the famed Mosaic Map of the Holy Land. Close to it is Mount Nebo, where it is said that Moses saw the Promised Land. A little further south is Kerak, where you’ll discover a beautiful old Crusader castle, offering a good view on the region. And then you’ll eventually reach the Dana Reserve, where I advise you to stay at least two days. There, you’ll just forget about history and will enjoy trekking in one of Jordan’s most beautiful valleys.
Fall in love with the desert:
Petra and Wadi Rum (3 days)
But Dana is just an appetizer when you know that you’ll then be heading to the Nabataean ruins of Petra. The rose city is the most visited touristic site of Jordan, but it certainly deserves all the attention. My advice is to spend two days there as well, as one is clearly not enough to cover everything. By doing so, you’ll also be able to enjoy Petra by night, an event during which the location is decorated with hundreds of small candles. On your second day, leave Petra in the afternoon and head to Wadi Rum for sunset. This desert is one of the most astonishing I have seen in my life and I am not surprised that Laurence of Arabia once made it his home. Discover the seven pillars of wisdom and sleep under the stars in a traditional Bedouin camp and your experience will be complete!
Get sporty in a Wadi:
Mujib, Hidan or Aqaba (2 days)
Once you have explored Wadi Rum, you have two options. If you’re an experienced diver, you will not resist to the idea of swimming in the Red Sea, between the continents of Asia and Africa. Therefore you will just have to make a stop in Aqaba. However, the second option is the one that I recommend. You see, some of my best Jordanian experiences took place in the different wadis (valleys) of the country. So, while heading back North to Amman, make sure to spend a full day trekking Wadi Hidan. Situated near Madaba, this canyon is 9 km long and ends at the top of a breath-taking 60 meter waterfall. However, this trek is made for experienced hikers. If you want something a bit more fun and easy, wait until you reach the Dead Sea. There, you’ll find Wadi Mujib, which is probably the most famous wadi in the country. The Siq and Ibex Trails are the best options for beginners and give you the opportunity to discover some more of Jordan’s most beautiful wonders.
Treat yourself while it lasts:
Hammamat Ma’in and the Dead Sea (2 days)
And before you know it, it will be almost be the end of your trip. After all these crazy expeditions, make sure to pamper yourself as you should. Head to the Dead Sea for a day or two and just relax, floating in the salty water, chilling in what is known as the lowest point on earth. Another place less people know about but that deserves a stop is Hammamat Ma’in, hot springs situated in one of the most beautiful oasis of the country. There, the water can reach up to 63? celsius and is extremely rich in minerals. Ma’in and the Dead Sea are definitely the best way to come back home fully relaxed, with skin as soft as a baby’s!
And there you have it: how to take on the best of Jordan, in the space of just two little weeks. In the past 15 days, you will have discovered a bustling capital and some of the oldest places in the world, witnessed the most beautiful sunsets in infinite deserts, trekked some breathtaking wadis (valleys), felt like a royalty in castles from another era and enjoyed yourself in what seems like an endless open-air spa. So, now, let’s be honest, doesn’t it sound just perfect for your next trip?
Practical Travel Tips
Before heading to Jordan, here are some basics you should know about:
– Getting a tourist visa is extremely easy for most nationalities. You can get it directly at the Amman airport, on arrival, for a full month and it will cost you 40 JDS. But the best option is, in my opinion, to buy the Jordan Pass before your departure. This sightseeing package gives pass holders the ability to make the most out of their trip visiting top sights and attractions while saving time, money and efforts. The visa-fees are included and the pass can be bought online, no matter where you live. It will cost you a lot less than paying for every attraction you’ll then visit during your stay.
– From Amman’s airport, you can reach the city with a taxi (around 20JDs), or take a Sariyah bus, which will cost you ten times less. It departs from and to the airport pretty much every hour, from 6.30AM to midnight, every day of the week.
– The best way to get around in Amman is by taxi, since there is little to no public transportation services. Taxis are extremely cheap in the city and a trip from point A to B will rarely cost you more than 1 or 2 JDs. The best way to not get scammed is to ask the taxi drivers to always put on their meter. There are two kinds of taxis in Amman: the white and yellow colored are called “service”, they are shared with other people and go along a specific route. The green and yellow colored are regular taxis and will drive you directly where you want to go.
– The best way to travel around the country is to rent a car. In Jordan, everything is done by car and that’s why sometimes, families own more cars than they count family members. Also, bear in mind that the driving is pretty crazy in the country and therefore, you’ll have to be extremely careful if you end up driving. Another option, less convenient but a bit more affordable, is to travel by bus. The most famous/used company in the country is Jett.
– Everything is quite expensive all around Jordan, and prices are similar to what you would find in places like Paris or London. Jordan is not the best place for low-budget travelers but it is definitely worth it and you can always find ways to make it work. Jordanians are known for their hospitality so make sure you try Couchsurfing.
Photo Credits: Benoit Almeras: Amman, Jerash, Dana, Petra, Wadi Rum, Ma’in //
Elisa Fourt: Amman, Dead Sea // Albert Hashweh: Wadi Mujib // Bassam Bandak: Wadi Hidan