Jordan is considered a small nation in the Middle East, but a stable and tourist friendly one. It is home to one of the new 7 Wonders of the World – Petra – as well as hundreds of other ancient ruins and historical sites. I visited Jordan in 2014 with Intrepid Travel’s Jordan & Egypt Uncovered Tour.
It has been the crossroads of humanity for thousands of years, and even today, it home to refugees from around the region. I think it is wise to pair it with a visit to another country in the region, like Egypt, Israel or in the past, Syria. It wouldn’t justify an entire flight, but it’s well-worth a visit if you’re already nearby. I was impressed by the friendly and good natured people as well as the incredible diversity of things to do!
If I were to return to Jordan, this is how I would plan my 2 week itinerary!
Day 1-2: Amman
Nearly all international flights arrive into Queen Alia International Airport (code AMM) in Amman, and is likely to be the port of arrival for any travelers into Jordan. It’s pretty far outside of the city, but it’s a nice airport with a clean and straightforward environment. Once you arrive, you should head directly into Amman for your first few days.
Amman is home to about two-thirds of Jordan’s residents, and is a city that sprawls across the hilly landscape of the region. You can get an excellent few of Amman from the ancient citadel, which is also quite conveniently, an interesting and historical cultural site. I would also recommend a brief stop at the roman theater, which is an easy walk from the citadel. There are lots of food markets nearby where you can wander around and grab some local street food.
One thing that you absolutely CANNOT miss is a cooking class at Beit Sitti. Book your class well in advance of your trip, since the classes do fill up, but it is well worth your money and time. Started by a pair of sisters, this initiative brings traditional Jordanian cooking into the hands of foreigners through hands-on cooking instruction and eating. I could go on and on about this place, so if you want to learn more about while it’s awesome, take a look at my full post about it here.
One day two, there are a few other interesting sites I would recommend checking out. First – the King Abdullah II mosque. This is an active working mosque, so it’s a good opportunity to see worshippers going about their daily prayers. But it is also incredibly beautiful, with bright blue tilework and hand-engraved woodwork.
I was surprised by how much I liked the second stop – the royal automobile museum. King Abdullah and his family are avid car collectors and have an amazing collection. They turned it into a museum open to public, and it was actually a really fun tour! They have vehicles dating back to the turn of the century, as well as a replica of the first car ever created!
Day 3: Jerash
Just 1 hour north of Amman is the ancient city of Jerash. Over 200 years old, this ancient site is one of the best preserved examples of a Roman city and is truly a magnificent archeological site. The city was founded, at least in its largest sense, in the 300 BC by Alexander the Great. It flourished through the Roman period due to its strategic location on a major trade route.
You’ll spend about 4-5 hours on a tour of the site, and I would highly recommend a professional guide since there is so much to see and learn here. As with other ruined Roman cities, you are going to see some staple structures: a theater, colonnades, a hippodrome, temples to various gods, entry arch and a forum or agora area. What really impressed me about Jerash though was how well-preserved it was. It’s in excellent condition! For me, it provided one of the best visualizations of what a Roman city felt like to live in. I was particularly impressed the Temples of Artemis and the Oval Forum in the center of the site. Most of the pillars still stand and it was expanded in the 300 ADs from its original size, which you can see in the limestone stones on the ground.
Jerash, the modern city, as a decent number of hotels, but since it’s so close to Amman, you could also easily spend the night there too.
Day 4: Madaba & Mount Nebo
There is pretty much one main road that stretches the length of Jordan, so from this point on, all of the stops I list in this itinerary will be along this southbound stretch of road that goes all the way to the coast.
About an hour south of Amman is Madaba, a storied city with lots of religious historical significance. It has historically been home to mosaic artisans, so you’ll notice lots of little shops along the streets where you can buy beautiful (and sometimes massive) tiled art pieces. I liked getting a demonstration of the tile & mosaic work by a local artisan, because it gave me a big appreciation of how much detail work goes into making even a small piece. It makes the big ones seem all the more impressive!
Mount Nebo was made famous in the bible as a place where Moses saw a view of the promised land from the hilltop. On that hill now is a church overlooking the view from where Moses supposedly stood. It’s a beautiful panarama view of the region. Archaeologists also discovered a Byzantine-era mosaic map of the Holy Land in the late 19th century which is currently being excavated and restored.
Note: If you’re not super into Biblical or Art history, this might be an itinerary stop to skip.
Day 5: Dead Sea
Located on the border between Israel and Jordan, the Dead Sea gets it name (cleverly) from the lack of life in this super salinated body of water. It is almost 400 meters below sea level, and the salinity of the water is a staggering 30%. Compared to the 7% usually found in the ocean, this water is a strikingly different composition. Climate experts say the Dead Sea could be dried up by mid-century, so this is definitely a bucket list item you don’t want to miss!
Jordanians say that the Dead Sea makes you look 10 years younger after a short swim, and while I’m not sure if that’s true, I certainly felt refreshed after my experience swimming in it. The water makes you so buoyant because of all the extra salt, and it literally takes no effort to float. It’s actually hard to keep you legs under the water. The pressure will just push them up to the surface! It was a little difficult to swim, and the water feels almost oily running against your body. Despite normal intuition, the salt & water surprisingly makes your skin feel really moisturized and smooth.
I will forewarn any readers– absolutely do not shave the night/day before swimming here. It stings soooo badly! Not recommended.
Day 6-7: Dana Nature Reserve
Dana Biosphere Reserve is Jordan’s largest nature reserve, located in south-central Jordan. While not as famous or maybe impressive as Wadi Rum, I thought Dana was a hidden jem. Similar to Wadi Run below, I would recommend hiring a guide to take you on a walking tour of the reserve’s highlights. There are about 600 species of plants that live inside the park, along with nearly 200 species of birds and 45 mammals, including gazelle, foxes & wolves. Plant species range from citrus trees and juniper, to desert acacias and date palms and it’s interesting to learn about their different properties and how they live together in such a harsh environment.
If you’re not sick of ruins yet, there are also some historical ruins inside the reserve that are worth a stop. The ruins of Khirbet Feinan and Wadi Ghuweir are particularly interesting. I was interested to learn that the copper mines here date back 6000 years and were at the time the largest metal- smelting operations in the region.
The 15th century hamlet of Dana is made almost entirely of stone and absolutely adorable. I would highly recommend spending a night or two here. The Feynan Ecolodge is definitely the place to stay, and you can feel good about your impact! The boutique lodge is one of the few eco-lodges in the region powered entirely from solar energy. Villagers also make quality local handcrafts (sold at the lodge) and leather goods are produced by local Bedouin women to give them some economic independence. Because of the remote location of the lodge, it feels like a luxurious opportunity to disconnect and enjoy the smells, sounds and sites of nature.
Day 8-9: Petra
As a wonder of the world, I think that Petra is probably on the itineraries of most visitors already, but it is still worth mentioning — if you’re coming to Jordan, you must see Petra! Built by the Nabataeans in the 300’s BC as a holy city, archaeologists believe they nestled it into the mountains near Wadi Rum to keep it safe and secret. It was only rediscovered in the 19th century by Johann Burkhardt. Once reports of the site started to circulate, archaeologists determined the site to be very important and in the 1960s the Jordanian government commissioned a restoration of the site. Now, it is a UNESCO world heritage site and the most popular tourist attraction in Jordan with about 1.5 million visitors annually.
You will start at the visitors entrance, and wander down about 1km to the original entrance of the city. Once you arrive at the original entrance, you will wander through the 1km souq. For me, this was one of the most impressive parts of Petra. Sheer faces of rock tower above as they wind around. At the end of the souq, you are created by the familiar photo of Petra: the famous Treasury. The name comes from a myth that the fortune of the Pharohs was hidden in the site, rather than it’s actual use as a treasury.
Only 10% of Petra is believed to be excavated, so there is continuous work on rebuilding and repairing the site that you’re bound to see while visiting. The site isn’t just the treasury, like I thought — it’s actually an incredibly large complex that takes hours to explore. You’ll want to budget at least one full day here, but if you’re really into history, 2 would probably be good. Plus, you can come back at night for a candlelight music show each night, which totally gave me the chills! I would definitely recommend it.
Note: I wrote a really detailed post about Petra here if you’re interested in learning more.
Day 10-11: Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum is a national park in the Southwest corner of Jordan where you will find spectacular sandstone mountains and incredibly beautiful landscapes. This region was made famous to foreigners by Lawrence of Arabia, and was one of the places he spent time during his life. Formed by wind and tectonic movements on sandstone rock, the bright orange formations in Wadi Rum are unique and super striking. The rocky outcroppings are surrounded by sand dunes, open desert areas and Bedouin camps. They seem to go on forever.
You’ll need to hire a driver & vehicle ahead of time for this portion of your trip, as personal camping is not allowed. Once you’re in the national park though, there is tons to explore! It seems to go on forever! One of my favorite view in Wadi Rum was the sunset view you see above. It was such a beautiful view and the colors splashing on the rocks made for a once-in-a-lifetime sight. The oranges and purples and pinks were so vibrant.
If you are interested in spending the night in the park, I would definitely recommend staying at one of the nomadic Bedouin communities inside the national park. You can typically arrange to stay with them as part of your car & drive package. This was a highlight for me of my time in Jordan, because it was a great opportunity to learn about a lifestyle and culture that has largely disappeared from local people. The Bedouin people have lived in this region as nomadic people for hundred, maybe even thousands of years, and have managed to largely stay unaffected by regional conflict & climate change. It was fascinating to sit around the fire and hear stories from the community members who have lived in this region their whole lives.
Day 12-13: Aqaba
After all the sand, history and arid climate, you might be ready for a break. Aqaba is a relaxing way to end your trip because this oceanfront town makes it feel like you are truly on vacation. It retains it’s small-town vibes despite growing popularity. There isn’t necessarily anything “to do” or see in the city itself, but it makes for a great place to relax your last few days away.
Some of the world’s best diving and snorkelling resides along a 20km stretch of coastline between Aqaba and the Saudi border. The condition of the reefs is really good, largely because it only recently became popular among divers. It only gets about 20,000 visitors per year, compared to the nearby Sinai penninsula which gets about 2 million. There are lots of organized boat trips to reefs if you’re interested in seeing some aquatic wildlife that you can hire for day trips in town. If you’re more of a spa kind of person, check out the Zara spa inside the Mövenpick hotel. It’s got top-of-the-line amenities and it would be easy to spend a day relaxing here!
Day 14: Amman
Unfortunately, we’ve reached the end of the itinerary. It’s time to make your way back to Amman for your onward flight. It is a 4 hour to drive from Amman to Aqaba, so if you’ve got a flight, make sure to leave enough time to make it back.
Interested in seeing more what Jordan is like? Check out my highlights video of my experience in Jordan with Intrepid Travel.