This is the Destination That Travelers ‘in the Know’ Love to Visit
Have you seen Jordan? (The country, not the basketball player.) It’s that country that popped up in the Facebook feed of your cool friend that goes everywhere first. It’s the backdrop to more than a few movies you’ve binge-watched on Netflix. It’s the hidden gem of the Middle East, and our Deal Experts that have been there recommend it wholeheartedly.
So why is Jordan high on the list of travelers in the know? Here are 10 of our top reasons and tips.
1. Petra is unlike anywhere else on Earth.
When the Nabataeans carved a city out of solid rock 2400 years ago, it’s safe to say that they didn’t have Instagram in mind. But this is one place where pictures don’t do it justice. It’s hard to know what’s more awe-inspiring about Petra.
It could be big reveal of the Treasury when you enter through the Siq (slot canyon).
It could be the many hues of red and brown that come to life in the shifting sunlight. (Early morning and late afternoon are the best time for photos.)
It could be the sheer size of everything — and the fact that it looks like one big movie set. (And not just because you have watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade over and over again.)
Or maybe it’s because they did this more than 2,000 years ago. It’s all jaw-dropping, and you need to see it in person to really understand why Petra will be the highlight of your trip to Jordan.
A good plan of attack for Petra is to arrive mid-afternoon, so you can take in the ancient city in the twilight or join the candlelit walk. Get up early the next day to start a full day of hiking before the sun gets too hot. Wear comfy, sturdy shoes, as there’s a lot of climbing — especially if you plan to journey the whole way to the Monastery. Trust us, you’ll want to see this.
Pack extra water, and maybe a lunch from your hotel (there are also cafes and vendors inside) and don’t forget your camera.
2. Jordan is very welcoming to Westerners.
It should not be surprising that Western tourists are treated very well here, including the 160,000+ Americans/27,000+ Canadians/60,000+ Britons that visited last year. After all, the king has degrees from Oxford and Georgetown universities and there is a strong centuries-old Bedouin tradition of hospitality that still holds true.
English is not a common language, but a few well-placed Arabic phrases, some broken English and a smile will get you far here. While Jordan’s neighboring countries are hotbeds of conflict, Jordan has remained secure and safe for tourists.
Many visitors hire a driver during their visit — it’s not uncommon to take a taxi for a trip of several hours. Drivers can serve as a tour guide, local expert, translator and more — and they know all the best places for tea and shawarma (marinated meat wrapped in pita). We advise hiring one through a hotel concierge — you’ll probably pay a bit more, but a little quality assurance is baked into the price.
3. You can book a billion-star ‘hotel’ in Wadi Rum.
By day, explore this vast burnt-red landscape about 70 miles from Petra in Jordan’s south by with a bouncy 4×4 safari past sandstone monoliths, or at a slower pace on the back of a camel. If you’re adventurous, climb to the top of the Burdah rock bridge or choose a hot-air balloon ride for a better view of the desert that’s played a starring role in movies such as The Martian and Lawrence of Arabia.
But the real show is at night. Stay overnight in a Bedouin camp to sleep under a starry sky unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
4. You can still have a beach getaway.
Aqaba on the Red Sea is Jordan’s beach resort town — with 4-star resorts from familiar hotel companies (InterContinental, Movenpick and others) lining the beach. Get some R&R and a suntan on one of the resorts’ private beaches or snorkel in the gentle surf to see colorful fish and shipwreck or two.
5. You’ll find some of the best Roman ruins this side of Rome.
Jerash is a day trip from Amman, but a visit here is like stepping a few millennia back in time. Walk past the towering columns along the cardo maximus or pass through the Hadrian’s Arch, and you’ll be walking in the footsteps of history.
Back in Amman, the Temple of Hercules (part of the Amman Citadel) keeps watch over the city. The Roman Theatre cut into the side of a hill sat 6,000 guests back in the day — and the restored landmark still hosts shows of its own.
6. Jordan has played a supporting role in many movies.
The red-rock landscape of Mars in The Martian, the home of the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones, the sweeping backdrop for the epic Lawrence of Arabia — Jordan has played a starring role in these and many other movies. During your trip, if you find yourself thinking “Where have I seen this place before?” — chances are, it’s been on the big screen.
7. It’s not just one big desert.
The Wadi Mujib biosphere reserve descends nearly three-quarters of a mile of elevation from its beginning in the mountains to its end at the Dead Sea, 400 meters below sea level. This area is very popular for canyoning (not for the faint of heart) and is home to numerous plants and bird species.
8. You’ll love their idea of a coffee break.
This is a country that takes its coffee seriously, but don’t try to order a venti skim no-foam mocha latte here. Make sure to sip and savor — whether it’s in a traditional Bedouin tent in Wadi Rum or at a café in Amman. You won’t find this at your local Starbucks.
And if coffee isn’t your cup of tea, well then, try the Bedouin sweet tea.
9. If you like old castles, Jordan has them in spades.
Once a crossroads for trade and conquest, Jordan is a land with many ancient castles that you can still visit today, whether it’s the crusader castle at Karak or desert strongholds such as Qasr Al-Kharanah. Some of our favorites include the Amman Citadel and Ajloun Castle.
With roots in the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths, Jordan is a crossroads of the Roman, Byzantine, Persian and Ottoman empires and home to a wealth of history. Decipher the mosaic map of the Holy Land beneath your feet at the St. George’s Church in Madaba, see the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Jordan Archaeological Museum in Amman or seek out the baptismal site of Jesus at Bethany beyond the Jordan.
10. The Dead Sea might just be the original spa retreat.
Finish up an active vacation of hiking and sightseeing with a spa day at one of the oldest spa retreats in the world. Indulge in treatments at one of the luxury resorts that line the Jordanian shores of the Dead Sea — or do it yourself. Slather on mud from the free pots on the shore and rinse off with a salt bath in the briny water.
Yes, you literally can sit down and just float in the Dead Sea while reading a book, just don’t bring a long book — 20 minutes is the recommended maximum time in the water.
Visiting Jordan: What to know
How to get there?
Royal Jordanian flies nonstop to Amman from JFK. (Search for flights.) It’s also possible to enter Jordan from Israel, and thousands of visitors do it annually. Allow plenty of time if you are crossing between Israel and Jordan.
Yes — a one-month visa costs 40 Jordanian dinar — approximately $56 USD. Purchasing the Jordan Pass includes the visa as well as admission to many of the sites listed above.
What to pack?
Comfortable, sturdy shoes — especially if you are visiting Petra. Layers are a good idea as it can get chilly at night. While Jordan is a liberal culture for the Middle East, it is advisable to dress modestly.
Best time to go?
Spring is high season for Jordan, so expect hotel rates to reflect that. The hottest temperatures will be in the summer months, and can be extreme in the desert. Plan accordingly. Keep activities to the early morning or late afternoon, and travel with plenty of water and sunscreen.