For travelers seeking to get an understanding of the Middle East region, its complex history, and its culture of hearty hospitality, Jordan is an obvious choice. This small country, placed at ancient–and contemporary–migration crossroads, has been a refuge for people across the millennia. From the dramatic, cliff-cut Nabatean masterpiece of Petra and the legendary Roman ruins of Jerash to the vast sands and mountains of Wadi Rum desert, lush gorges and peaks of the Dana Valley, and the salty Dead Sea, Jordan has a breadth of natural treasures. Thoughtful travelers will enjoy various ecotourism initiatives like staying at the solar-powered Feynan ecolodge or hiking the Rift Valley on a multiday mountain trek. The country’s biggest draw, however, is its culture of hospitality, shaped by people from the melting pot of communities that call Jordan home.
Know Before You Go
When’s the best time to go to Jordan?
Jordan’s weather is at its loveliest from late March to April, when wildflowers dot the briefly green countryside. Between June and August, daytime temperatures can soar, making sightseeing tough–although in recent years, with the onset of climate change, the weather has been less predictable and milder temperatures have been registered during the summer months. Late September through mid-November herald blue skies and pleasant temperatures, while December and January bring bitter cold, particularly at night.
How to get around Jordan
The main gateway into the country is Queen Alia International Airport, about 20 miles south of Amman, though international airlines are starting to fly more frequently to King Hussein International Airport in Aqaba, in the south. Plenty of rental car agencies operate in Amman, with an easy checkout and return process. Drivers beware: Navigating the roads within Amman can be challenging because rules are not always followed, but elsewhere in Jordan, driving is a breeze. Roads are well maintained and well marked, making Jordan one of the easiest countries in the Middle East to explore by car.
For getting around town, the Middle Eastern response to Uber–an app called Careem–is a great alternative to taxis with cheap rides bookable in Amman, Irbid, and Aqaba. Buses and shared taxis have affordable fares and run between the bigger centers, albeit mostly without fixed schedules. An exception is JETT, the national coach carrier, which offers regular, comfortable service between major cities. (For example, service from Amman to Aqaba would get you near the Wadi Rum desert in about four hours.) Outside of the cities, public transport is severely limited, meaning you’ll have to either rent a car or hire a private driver to fill in the gaps.
Food and drink to try in Jordan
Discovering the variety and depth of Arabic food is a highlight of any Jordan journey. Food-curious folks should set their sights on street-food shops and bakeries to try falafel, shawarma, fresh-from-the-oven feteer (samosa-like pastries), manoushi (flatbread topped with za’atar), and knaffeh (the white-cheese-and-syrup sweet), as well as explore both Levantine (north) and Bedouin (south) dining traditions. The national dish is mansaf, a Bedouin meal of lamb cooked in jameed yogurt and served over rice and nuts.
Bars are a rarity outside Amman and Aqaba, but alcohol is available in liquor shops and many hotels and restaurants. Try arak (a fiery, anise-flavored spirit) and Carakale beer from Jordan’s first microbrewery, and don’t miss strong and sugary kahwa, cardamom-flavored coffee served roadside across Jordan in small tent-like shops.
Culture in Jordan
Jordan draws history buffs with its archaeological remains and pilgrims with the chance to walk in the footsteps of prophets, but the country’s contemporary side is equally fascinating. It’s worth planning a trip around annual events like the Jerash Festival, which brings a packed program of theater, music, and dance to both Jerash and Amman during July and August, the Amman Jazz Festival with performances at the ancient Roman amphitheater, or the biennial Amman Design Week, an immersive series of events, exhibitions, and workshops on design and culture running through Amman’s numerous art galleries and studios. Amman, in particular, is a capital that brims with creative energy and is worth exploring beyond a stopover for its numerous hip coffee shops, art galleries, innovative social enterprises, street art installations, and events worldly travelers shouldn’t miss.
Traveling during Ramadan is not an issue, though visitors should refrain from smoking, eating, and drinking in public during the day and be aware that some restaurants close during daylight hours and several tourist sites keep shorter hours. Cities and villages are quieter than usual during Ramadan but streets come alive with festive spirit at night when fasting breaks. Outside of holidays, traditional culture is proudly maintained and is very much a part of modern Jordanian life, particularly if you travel outside of Amman.
Can’t miss things to do in Jordan
The rose-colored ruins of Petra, the ancient city carved out of cliffs and canyons in southern Jordan, are a masterpiece of world heritage. Visitors should plan to visit Jerash, home to one of the most intact ancient Greco-Roman sites in the world. In the Mars-like desert of Wadi Rum, travelers can get a deeper insight into the Bedouin way of life while going on desert adventures like camping, hiking, rock climbing, and camel treks. In springtime, the green hills of the northern Ajloun region provide a respite from the heat of cities, with numerous hikes, farm lunches, and homestay opportunities available, while the country’s largest nature preserve inside Dana Valley is an opportunity to see rare endangered species like the Syrian wolf. Nature lovers should not miss the chance to hike the Jordan Trail, a system of long-distance hikes that runs from the northern town of Umm Qais to coastal Aqaba and passes through major sites like Dana, Petra, and Wadi Rum (the entire trail is a 40-day, 420-mile adventure). Jordan also has two major bodies of water to explore—float in the super-briny Dead Sea close to Amman or get below the waves at Aqaba, near some of the Red Sea’s top diving sites.
Visitors from the North America to Jordan must have a passport valid for at least six months upon entry. They’ll also need to purchase a one-month tourist visa on arrival. If you’re planning to cover a lot of ground while in Jordan, consider buying a Jordan Pass online before your trip—it includes not only your visa fee (about $57 for a single entry) but also entry to nearly 40 sites across the country, including Petra, Jerash, and Wadi Rum.
Jordan is an Arabic-speaking country where conservative clothing is standard. Visitors are encouraged to dress respectfully, which means covering shoulders and knees, particularly in downtown Amman or outside of major cities.
The currency is the Jordanian dinar (JD). Most restaurants include a service charge in their bills, and you can always leave a little extra. If a service charge is not included, a 10 percent tip is customary. Credit cards are accepted at most major hotels and restaurants, but smaller shops in Amman or elsewhere accept cash only.
Yulia Denisyuk is a travel photographer and writer with a passion for the Middle East. For past assignments, she’s shared a roof with nomads in Mongolia and learned the art of imigongo with artist collectives in Rwanda.