OK, great photos and stories from Jordan but what exactly was your itinerary? Where did you go, stay, eat? We've been answering a bunch of “I'm thinking of going to Jordan” emails and need a place to put all of our answers.
So here it is: the details of where we stayed, where we ate, what we saw and experienced. The whole scoop for one final go-round.
We'd like to thank the Jordan Tourism Board for arranging our trip. We had access to a driver to facilitate transport around the country and a host who provided us heaps of information, fielded questions from all angles, and acted as impromptu interpreter. Many of the places we stayed – luxury hotels and nature reserve lodges– were a spec beyond our usual travel budget. Trust us, we were grateful for the comfort and luxury.
But we are getting questions from readers whose budgets span the range. So in elaborating our itinerary, we include a few notes (inline and at the end) regarding how to carve a similar path through Jordan using some less expensive and independent alternatives.
If you're curious about a particular area, skip ahead: Amman, Jerash, Ajloun and Rasun, Azraq, Ma'in Hot Springs, Dana, Shouback Castle and Little Petra, Petra and Wadi Musa, Wadi Rum, Aqaba, Wadi Feynan, Zikra Initiative and Mujib, Dead Sea, Bethany Beyond Jordan, Mount Nebo, and Madaba.
Two Weeks in Jordan: Our Itinerary
Do: Walk through thousands of years of history and layers of civilizations at the Citadel. Stroll along Rainbow Street and visit Wild Jordan, then take a dip into downtown Jordan to visit fabric, spice and antique shops and sample the produce at the fresh market area behind Hussein Mosque.
Eat: Al-Quds falafel on Rainbow Street, knafeh at Habibah, hummus and foul at Hashem, dinner at Kan Zaman (converted 19th century farmhouse and village on outskirts of Amman where you can eat well and get decked out in traditional Jordanian dress to boot).
Sleep: Four Seasons Amman We began our journey here, went knee-deep into breakfast buffet and had every need tended to and then some. When we returned after being on the road for 10 days, we were welcomed back by name, quite possibly by every member of the staff. The oriental sweets and chocolate platter are mind-benders. The whole experience was personal and professional. No wonder this is one of the top properties in the Middle East.
Just a few hours outside of Jordan's capital city of Amman lies Jerash, a city playing host to a rather impressive collection of Roman ruins. No “ruin fatigue” here: the history of Jerash – layer upon layer of civilizations, from Greek to Roman to Umayyad, keeps you wondering about the cycles of cultures and religions — and all the people who walked the same streets over the last 3000 years.
The South Theatre was built by the Romans in the 1st century AD. Its layout highlights the Roman skill of acoustic design. If you stand at the central acoustic point inside the theater and belt out your favorite tune or poem, every person in that 3,000 seat theatre will hear you loud and clear. Impressive.
Do: Although touristy, the chariot races and 11 AM Roman soldier reenactment at Jerash are actually kind of fun. What saves the show from uber-cheesiness is the sense of humor of the narrator. If you get there early, wander down to the stables and the caretaker will share each horse's personal story.
We picked up a local guide (20 JD or $28) at the entrance gate to show us around. The experience wasn't only an overview of the history of Jerash, but a broader lesson on ancient civilizations.
Eat: The Lebanese House. A really great mezze spread. Not a bad dish among them. Save some room for the grilled meat.
Sleep: We didn't spend the night here as we continued onto Rasun the same day. However, we know other travelers who have enjoyed spending the night in Jerash so as to have more time exploring the ancient ruins and to better understand the modern city. You can compare rates at hotels in Jerash here.
Do: Visit the Soap House and Calligraphy House to see two projects involving local women in the production of natural olive oil and herb soap and calligraphy products. When I think “shisha in Jordan,” where will my first memory go? I'll remember hanging with the guys at the corner store in Rasun. If you ever trouble for what to do on a weeknight in a Jordanian village, get yourself to the corner store for a little shisha and mix it up with some conversation. While the ambiance may not be 5-star, the people probably will be. (Note: Shisha (otherwise known as hubbly bubbly, also called nargila) is syrup-flavored tobacco (e.g., lemon mint, green apple, melon) smoked through a water pipe, or hookah. It is common to end dinner or spend an evening with friends smoking shisha. It's mainly smoked by men, but women also partake depending on the circumstances. Shisha is not an illicit substance, and smoking it will not have you swarmed by Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents.
Eat: At a family home in Rasun. Another delicious spread of mezze followed by simmered chicken served with roasted green wheat. You'll also get the chance to see a Jordanian home with traditionally decorated guest and living areas.
Sleep: Ajloun Cabins and Bungalows at the Ajloun Nature Reserve. Heated cabins come with a view of the valley and Ajloun Castle. On clear days you can see all the way to Jerusalem. In the summer months, you can also rent pre-pitched tents (a cheaper option).
If we had more time: We would have done the trek from Ajloun Reserve to Ajloun castle.
Alternative: In order to arrange dinner in a family home (about 8-10 JD/$12-$14) or to do a home stay in Rasun instead of staying at the lodge, contact the Ajloun Forest Reserve (+962 2 6475673) to make arrangements. The tourist manager there speaks English and can set you up with a family meal or homestay with a local family.
Do: Although the Umayyad-era castle of Quseir Amra, one of Jordan’s UNESCO sites and Desert Castles near the town of Azraq, may not look like much from afar, it’s worth a peek to see the frescoes inside. What makes them a bit unusual: images of naked women in an 8th century Muslim palace. You can also visit the Caravanserai (Qasr Khan) and Azraq Castle (where Lawrence of Arabia once stayed).
A visit to the nearby Azraq Wetlands is an important reminder of the harm humans do to the environment. What was once a thriving oasis and stopover area for migratory birds and other wildlife was drained of its water to supply Amman and other cities. The oasis died. Now the reserve is trying to pump water back into it and finding that recreating an oasis is an uphill battle.
Eat: At a family home. Another delicious home-cooked meal served in a friendly home. As the family was of Druze descent, there were some interesting specialties. (Contact the Azraq Lodge at +962 5 3835017 to arrange home stays and visits with local families for lunch or dinner.)
Sleep: Azraq Lodge. Alternatively, if the lodge is above your budget, consider visiting Azraq as a day trip from Amman.
Do: Relax and soak in the Evason Ma’in hot springs. You feel like a bit like Superman afterwards thanks to the combination of extra oxygen from being at 300 meters below sea level and the minerals from the water. This place is a fabulous way to unwind — we even met a woman who was there for a week to, as she puts it, “check out.”
We luxuriated in the hot spring-fed pool at Six Senses Spa. There is also a public hot springs a few hundred meters away (entrance around $12-$15/day). You can catch buses to and from Ma’in from Amman.
Eat: Great shawerma place on a traffic circle on the outskirts of Madaba (look for this guy). We can also attest that the local lamb chops at the Evason Ma'in Brown Bar are tender and tasty.
Sleep: Evason Ma'in Hot Springs and Six Senses Spa. Designed to relax the mind (and no, this isn't something we read in a brochure). Calming and cozy. A really nice experience. If you are going to stretch your budget in Jordan, this is the place to do it.
Do: Drive along the Dead Sea and stop in several villages along the way (use coffee breaks as an excuse). We really enjoyed Ghor el Safi where we met this friendly shepherd. Continue along the FIFA route to Tafila and Dana village. Surrounded by red rocks and canyons, you just might think you’re in the American desert southwest. Make sure you stop for tea at this place – a simple, hard-to-beat view of the surrounding valleys and deserts.
When you arrive in Dana village, walk up to the spring above the village at sunset for a beautiful view of the canyon. This walk is also nice in the early morning when you run into shepherds on donkeys taking their animals to the hills for the day.
Eat: Mansaf — a traditional Jordanian dish with saffron rice and lamb simmered in a yogurt sauce — at Dana Guest House. While they don't offer this every night, it’s worth asking whether they can serve it during your visit, particularly if you are traveling with a group.
Sleep: Dana Guest House. For a less expensive alternative, check out Dana Tower Hotel smack in the middle of Dana village. A double room, including breakfast and dinner is around 30-35 JD ($42-$49). Many types of rooms are on offer, but try to get one with a view.
Do: Perched strategically on a hill where no one could surprise attack is Showback castle, one of the Crusader castles built in the 12th century. The view of the surrounding valleys from the castle is quite impressive, as is the scenery along the way to Little Petra.
Take a peek into the water cistern at Little Petra that the Nebataeans created over 2,000 years ago to collect and store water for the caravans (with up to 2,000 camels) coming through the city. It’s impressive. The canyon at Little Petra> is a nice preview of what you’ll see later in (Big) Petra.
From the entrance of Little Petra you can drive up into the hills to get a great view of Wadi Araba. Nice place to make a fire and drink some Bedouin whiskey (i.e., Tea).
If we had more time: Hike from Little Petra through to the Monastery at Petra onto the main Petra sights in Wadi Musa (around 5 hours).
Do: Visit Petra by Night (Monday, Wednesday, Thursday at 8 PM) to whet your appetite for the main sight. For our full-day visit, we picked up a local guide at the entrance gate and walked through the Siq to the Treasury, past the Wall of Facades to the Royal Tombs where the guide left us on our own to climb the steps up to the Monastery and the End of the World. It’s quite a lot to do in one day, so consider splitting this up into a couple of days and tacking on some sidetrip hikes.
Sleep: Mövenpick Petra. Compare rates for other hotels in Petra.
Eat: Cooking class at Petra Kitchen where you can learn how to make a soup, various plates of mezze, and a main dish.
If we had more time: We would have hiked several of the routes like the High Point of Sacrifice and spent more time at the area around the Royal Tombs. Additional details on visiting Petra and Wadi Musa can be found at the end of this post.
Wadi Rum, the colorful, iconic desert valley many of us know from watching Lawrence of Arabia. It remains the land of the Bedouins who move their tents of woven goat hair, the season depending. Whether they make their way camel by day or pickup by night, they seem to know the placement of every rock and every turn across the sand.
The golden sand and red rocks form the heart of the land that is Wadi Rum, but it's the Bedouin people living there — as they have done for ages — that give it its soul.
Do: Hire a Bedouin driver with a pick up a truck to take you into the desert to view the Seven Pillars, the rock bridge, and the vastness that is Wadi Rum. Take tea in a Bedouin tent (ask if it’s possible to see how abud, Bedouin bread, is made) and ride a few camels (be careful when they launch into a run, it's tough on the bum). It may take several days for your rearend to recover, but you'll have a whole new respect for both the animals and their masters. And when you look out across the desert, consider the thousand-camel caravans that once crossed the valley. You can arrange all of this from the entrance gate or from the camp area where you choose to stay. Be sure to read Life Lessons We Learned from Jordan's Bedouins for a primer on Bedouin life and principles.
Sleep: Captain’s Desert Camp. The first of its kind in this area; this tent camp (Bedouin tents, not camping tents) runs a tight ship with clean, mini Bedouin tents and a large eating and gathering area. Almost everyone employed is a Bedouin from the community. There are also several other Bedouin tent camping options in the area. Compare rates for other hotels in Wadi Rum.
Eat: Zarb (Bedouin barbecue) at Captain’s. Zarb consists of a huge tray of meat and vegetables cooked in an underground barbeque pit and covered with plastic and sand to keep in heat and moisture.
Do: Scuba diving with Sea Guard. Professional, friendly and helpful. If you haven't been diving in a while, they'll help with everything so you won't feel lost. The standard trip consists of two dives in the morning followed by lunch. Fortunately, you don’t have to go terribly deep to see lots of colorful coral, Lion Fish, Parrot Fish, Puffer Fish and more.
Sleep: InterContinental Aqaba
Eat: Fish In restaurant at Kempinski Hotel. The mezze alone is almost enough for a full meal with its twelve tasting dishes, but try to save room for the fish cooked in a clay pot. (We also got a peek into the rooms here – each one has a view of the sea, including a bathtub view. Spiffy property.)
Do: Take a walk into the canyon near Feynan EcoLodge for a glimpse into Wadi Dana. In the evening, drink tea in a Bedouin tent and see what life is like for the locals of Wadi Feynan. End the day by hanging out on the rooftop terrace and watching the stars proliferate as darkness falls.
Sleep: Feynan EcoLodge. This place takes the “eco” in its name seriously – no electricity (candle-powered), organic vegetarian food, local employment and solar-powered hot water. Beautiful setting. We've been told that if you contact them directly well in advance you might be able to swing some good discounts.
Eat: Organic vegetarian buffet at Feynan EcoLodge.
If we had more time: Take some additional treks around Feynan Ecolodge, including the sunrise and sunset hikes. The trek to Dana Village (about 6 hours) and the multi-day trek to Petra both sound great.
Do: Spend the day with the women of Ghor al Mazra’a and Zikra Initiative. Hands on training to make shrak (traditional Bedouin bread) and a handful of local foods and handicrafts. A wonderful, uplifting experience. Read more about it here.
If we had more time: Trek through the canyons at Mujib Nature Reserve. There is a self-guided trek for several hours that looks like a lot of fun – be prepared to get a bit wet in the river canyons, depending on the season. Longer treks with a guide are also available. Most routes are only open from April to October due to the possibility of flash floods. You can spend the night at the nearby Mujib Chalet overlooking the Dead Sea.
Do: Float on top of the world's most highly concentrated bathing-friendly saltwater. Try reading the newspaper in total bouyancy, then cover yourself with mud and pretend you’re an alien. The combination of the Dead Sea minerals and water, the mud self-treatment, and the oxygen rich air will make you feel truly amazing.
Eat: Luigi’s Italian restaurant at Mövenpick Dead Sea. The property features a series of village-style rooms and a courtyard outdoor seating area with after dinner belly dancing and shisha.
Sleep: Kempinski Hotel Ishtar.
Do: Visit Bethany Beyond Jordan to see the baptism site of Jesus. When you make it down to the Jordan River, you’ll almost be able to touch Israel on the other side — talk about close neighbors! Take a walk around Mount Nebo, where Moses saw the promised land across the valley in Jericho.
Finally, enjoy the mosaics that line the floors of the ancient churches of Madaba. The most fascinating is the 1400-year old map of the holy land (pictured above) on the floor of St. George’s church. We'd like to know where those missing mosaic pieces went.
Eat: Outrageous amounts of food served at Haret Jdoudna. Another restaurant that attracts tour groups, but the food is tasty and the courtyard pleasant.
Independent and DIY Travel Notes for Jordan
– Public buses: Amman has a northern and southern bus station with buses headed to most places you'll want to go throughout Jordan. Fares seem quite reasonable (e.g., less than $4 from Amman to Petra). Information and signs are in Arabic, so you may need to enlist the help of some friendly locals to help you find the right bus and get off at the right stop.
– Rental Cars: It’s possible to rent a basic car for around $30-$35/day, which might be a good fit if you’d like some flexibility to stop off in random villages and take turns up, into and around canyons. If you’ve got a family or group of people, this could be both economical and fun.
– Hitchhiking: We saw quite a few locals hanging out on the side of the road looking for rides to the next town, and we're told that hitchhiking is quite common and safe for tourists. I don't believe I’d hitchhike as a single female traveler because of cultural norms (we spoke with a single German female traveler who confirmed this based on firsthand hitchhiking experiece), but otherwise hitchhiking would be a good option if you are a couple and you need to get to the next town or village along your way.
From our inquiries, accommodation is likely to be the biggest expense for independent budget travelers. As anywhere, you can find hotels of different prices and qualities, but expect more European prices rather than Asian prices. Many of the Nature Reserves also have lodges, but those prices can also be high for budget-minded non-Jordanians (as in $80-$100+). If you come in the summertime, some offer less expensive camping options ($60-$70). A homestay network is beginning to form in a few areas.
For inexpensive and quick food, you can find shawerma and falafel sandwiches in most cities for a few dollars. It’s also possible to order mezze (hummus, salad, bread, eggplant dip, and other small plates) for a meal – trust us, you will be more than full and won’t need to order a main dish. We’ve also indicated below where you can arrange meals in a family home. Not only is the food delicious, but these meals also give you a feel for what life is like for ordinary Jordanians. Read our comprehensive overview of Jordanian food.
We've been asked by several people whether Jordan is safe and whether they should consider traveling there or whether they should consider rescheduling or canceling their trip there. Never during our visit did we feel unsafe in Jordan in the least. Quite the contrary, actually — we felt very welcome everywhere we went, from cities to villages, urban to rural. Although Jordan is situated in the Middle East, a neighborhood with no shortage of political and diplomatic challenges, Jordan is peaceful and has a long history of being so. Also, with the culture of hospitality and the importance of guests in Jordan we felt that if anything unexpected were to happen during our visit, we would be well-taken care of by locals.
If you have questions on any of the locations or activities above, please contact us and we'll be happy to provide more information.