Photo by Alex Cretey Systermans
Jordan might just be the perfect Middle East travel destination. An outward-facing country that welcomes visitors with true hospitality, it’s a place keen to show off its attractions. And what treasures it has, from the dramatic, cliff-cut masterpiece of Petra and the epic Roman ruins of Jerash to t…he soaring desert sands and mountains of Wadi Rum and the impossible saltiness of the Dead Sea. All are part of an offering of nature and history that surpasses even the wildest dreams of any tourism board.
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Jordan is at its best from late March to April, when wildflowers dot the briefly green countryside. Between June and August, daytime temperatures can scorch, making sightseeing tough going. Late September through mid-November heralds blue skies and pleasant temperatures, but December and January bring bitter cold, particularly at night.
The main gateway into the country is Queen Alia Airport, a little over 20 miles south of Amman, though international airlines are starting to fly more frequently to Aqaba, in the south.
Roads are well maintained and well marked, making Jordan one of the easiest countries in the Middle East to navigate by car. Buses and shared taxis have cheap 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. In more rural regions, public transport is severely limited, meaning you’ll have to hire a private taxi to fill in the gaps.
Discovering the variety and depth of Arabic food is a highlight of any Jordan journey. Gourmands should set their sights on street-food shops and bakeries and try falafel, shawarma, and fresh-from-the-oven feteer (samosa-like pastries) and manoushi (flatbread topped with za’atar). The national dish is mansaf, a Bedouin meal of lamb cooked in 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.
Jordan draws history buffs with its archaeological remains, as well as pilgrims with the chance to walk in the footsteps of prophets, but the country’s contemporary side is just as 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.
Traveling during Ramadan doesn’t make for major problems, 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. Even outside of holidays, traditional culture is proudly maintained and very much a part of modern Jordanian life.
The rose-colored ruins of Petra, the ancient city carved out of the cliffs and canyons of southern Jordan, are a masterpiece of world heritage. Visitors should also be sure to visit Jerash, home to one of the most intact Roman sites in the world, and Wadi Rum for desert adventures like camping, hiking, rock climbing, and camel treks. Jordan even has two major bodies of water to explore—bob 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 U.S. 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—not only does it include your visa fee (which is around $57 for a single entry), but it also covers entry to more than 40 sites across the country, including Petra, Jerash, and Wadi Rum.
Jordan is an Arabic-speaking country. The currency is the Jordanian dinar (JD). Electricity is 230 volts, and sockets include both European round two- and three-pin plugs and British square three-pin plugs.
Paul Clammer is a travel writer, guidebook author, and former tour leader. For much of his career, he has focused on the Middle East and North Africa. He has lived in Fez and Amman and is currently based in Beirut.
Jessica Lee is a travel writer who specializes in the Middle East, Turkey, and North Africa. She likes deserts and mountains, and is on a constant quest to find the perfect hummus.