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Jordan
Compact it might be but size doesn’t always matter. When it comes to monuments and epic scenery, Jordan plays with the big boys. A sea where you can’t sink—check. Sprawling Roman ruins—check. Moonscape desert—check. The soaring cliff-cut masterpiece of Petra—double check. Everyone from Moses to T.E. Lawrence marched through here, leaving a liberal scattering of riches across the land. Combine that with a landscape that swoops from Wadi Rum’s rock outcrops and pink-tinged sand to the undulating ridge of the Great Rift Valley, and you have proof that great things really do come in small packages.
Jordan is at its best from late March to April, when wildflowers coat the countryside in color. Between June and August, daytime temperatures sizzle, making sightseeing tough going. Late September through mid-November herald blue skies aplenty and pleasant temperatures. During December and January, much of Jordan gets bitterly cold, particularly at night. On the plus side, traveling during winter offers the chance, if you’re lucky, to see Petra’s monuments dusted with snow.

The main gateway into the country is Queen Alia Airport, 35km south of Amman. Most nationalities can purchase a one-month tourist visa on arrival. Passports need to have at least six months validity upon entry.

The best way to explore Jordan is to rent a car. Jordanian roads are well-maintained and well-signposted, making this one of the easiest countries in the Middle East to self-drive. Jordan’s public transport system consists of a ragtag collection of buses and shared taxis that run, mostly, to no fixed schedule. Fares are cheap and as long as you’re not in a rush, it’s fairly efficient for trips between the bigger centers. In some regions, though, public transport is severely limited, meaning you have to hire a private taxi to fill in the gaps.

Discovering the depth and variety of Arabic food is one of the highlights of any Jordan journey. Amman and Madaba are home to high-end restaurants where you can tuck into mezze feasts full of the flavors of the Levant. Foodies should also set their sights on street food shops and bakeries and try falafel, shawarma, and fresh-from-the-oven fatayer (samosa-like pastries) and manoushi (flatbread topped with zaatar). Although bars are a rarity outside the capital, alcohol is available in liquor shops and many hotels and restaurants. Jordan’s alcoholic beverage of choice is arak (a fiery anise-flavored spirit) and there’s also a small viticulture industry producing some decent wines. Beer-aficionados should look out for the Carakale label, from Jordan’s first microbrewery.

The glut of ruins and remnants strewn across the land cement Jordan’s center-stage role in history’s major acts. For history buffs this land is a goldmine while for pilgrims it is the holy land, where you can journey in the footsteps of prophets. The culture of contemporary Jordan, though, is just as fascinating as its archaeological remains. Whether you’re sharing sage tea with a Bedouin host in Wadi Rum or watching a shepherd herd goats over the Jordan Valley’s rolling hills, traditional culture is proudly maintained and very much a part of modern Jordanian life.

The Jerash Festival is Jordan’s big annual arts event, bringing a packed program of theater, music, and dance to both Jerash and Amman during July and August. Both Muslim and Christian holidays are celebrated in Jordan. For Orthodox Christians, Easter is the most important religious date while for Muslims the holy month of Ramadan (when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset) is the major annual festival. Traveling during Ramadan doesn’t throw up 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 while some tourist sites keep shorter hours.

To save money, buy the Jordan Pass before traveling. It entitles you to a free tourist entry visa and access to over 40 sites across the country.

Jordanians are naturally hospitable. Those constant offers to sit and drink shay (tea) are genuine. Take time out to sup the syrupy brew with the locals and chat.

Making the effort to dress modestly, covering both shoulders and knees (for both male and female travelers), garners respect and is very much appreciated.
Jessica Lee Jordan Local Expert

 

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.