Jordan Backpacker Guide

Jordan Backpacker Guide

Shrouded by mystery and abundant in history, Jordan can seem an elusive backpacker destination. Encompassed by countries that have been vilified in the media it is easy to see why travellers may be discouraged from venturing here. With Syria to the north, Israel and Palestine to the west, Iraq to the east and Saudi Arabia in the south, this region has a history of instability. Yet, I urge you not to be deterred by what you may have heard. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my time in Jordan, it’s that fortune favours the curious and the determined. You’ll certainly be rewarded for visiting this corner of the globe.

Jordan offers treasures that every backpacker should unearth. The intrepid traveller should explore the awe-inspiring Wadi Rum desert with its otherworldly landscapes. Get transported into a hidden underwater world at the Aqaba reef. Leave feeling truly humbled by the immensity of Petra.

backpacking jordan - looking at the city of Petra

 

Jump straight to:

  1. The best time to visit Jordan
  2. Getting around Jordan
  3. Jordan travel costs
  4. Where to stay in Jordan
  5. Jordan Itinerary
  6. Best places to visit in Jordan
  7. Food in Jordan
  8. Jordan culture
  9. Jordan travel advice

 

When is the best time to visit Jordan?

 

Spring (March to May) is strongly recommended as the best time to travel around Jordan. During these months, visitors will experience warm days and cool nights.  April is suggested as the ideal time to visit as it is the start of the summer in Jordan, meaning it shouldn’t be uncomfortably hot like it can be in the peak season (June to August). April provides warm, long summer days with temperatures dropping later in the day for cool evenings across the country.  Flights from the UK tend to be consistently reasonably priced around April, if booked in advance. But they do drop even lower in May, if you are looking for a real bargain. Another plus is that you’ll find fewer visitors in Jordan in April compared to June and July, resulting in less crowds to contend with at popular spots. If you decide to visit in May when the Islamic holiday Ramadan takes place you will find visitor numbers at a yearly low and cheaper accommodation.

If you are looking to dive the Red Sea near Aqaba, the ideal months are September to October. However, if you do visit outside of these months, don’t fret, you can enjoy great diving there all year-round.

 

Weather in Jordan

Jordan is a great destination to visit all year round. As you’ll expect for a country made up of 90% desert, it can get very hot during the day, yet surprisingly, temperatures can plummet at night. (NOTE: The hottest part of the day tends to be between 12 – 2pm.) Due to this climate drop, you can often find Jordanians eating dinner and socialising late at night when it is much more comfortable to be sat outside.

The summer months run from May to November with a peak in July/August where temperatures can reach 40c. The coldest consistent month is January where temperatures are around 8c on average. Although Jordan is relatively small it does tend to be warmer the further south you go. Therefore, if you are planning to travel between November and February, you may wish to spend more time around Aqaba and Petra (towards the more southerly parts of the country.) However, the temperatures in Amman and the north won’t be much colder. Umbrellas are rarely needed in Jordan, with rainfall being minimal, averaging just 12 days of rain a year.

 

Best time to visit Petra

Petra is a must see for most visitors. Tourism in Petra was at an all-time high in 2010 but has since experienced a slight drop. To make the most of this and avoid huge crowds, it would be beneficial to plan a trip sooner rather than later. The months with the lowest visitor entrances according to official Petra statistics are January, February, June and July. Peak visiting months are April, October and November.

The best time of day to visit this UNESCO protected site is early morning, before it gets too hot and the crowds arrive. Gates open at 6am and close again around 6pm. The early bird catches the worm, as they say, so it’s recommended to arrive before the gates open. You’ll be one of the first through, making a full day of your visit – there’s a lot of ground to cover! Thankfully, a lot of sites within Petra are spaced out, so crowding is rare, and you are unlikely to feel like a herded tourist. In fact, within this ancient city you are free to wander at your leisure and create your own path around the site. As Petra is towards the south of Jordan, it is hot all year round, but June-September will be sweltering! (High 30’s to 40c) I’d therefore recommend April and May as the best months to visit.

Before travelling to Jordan, I highly recommend purchasing a ‘Jordan Pass’ online from the official website. Not only does this waive your entrance visa fee to Jordan but you can also choose between a 1, 2 or 3 days entry option to Petra included in its price. You simply need to show this pass either printed out or on your phone, at immigration upon entry to Jordan, and also at entrances to heritage sites. (The Jordan Pass provides access to many other sites for FREE. Check out the full list on their site). I recommend the three-day option, as it doesn’t cost much more than the one/two-day options. Plus, those extra days may come in handy, as the most overlooked aspect of Petra is its sheer size. It is colossal! Admittedly, I did manage to see everything I wanted in a single day, but I imagine it would be quite a task if you aren’t much of a walker. Most explorers tend to call it a day and head back to the shelter of their hostel around Midday due to the heat, but the truly dedicated will bring a lunch and wait out the beating sun. I took a short nap in one of the many abandoned caves until the temperature dropped again and was pleasantly surprised to find that the site was relativity empty towards the end of the day. So, if you are not an early riser, then another option would be to go in the late afternoon when the crowds have thinned out a little. Just don’t expect to see too much in only a couple of hours. If you are not short on time and you prefer to take things at a slower pace, soaking up all the glories this 2000-year-old site has to offer, then I would recommend allowing yourself at least two days, if not three, to tackle Petra.

backpacking jordan - entrance of a building in petra

 

Best time to visit Amman

Amman doesn’t get as hot in the summer as some of the cities and towns further south, with average highs of 32c that are welcome in the confines of the city.  As with the rest of Jordan, Amman’s cooler months are Dec-Feb and the peak temperatures in Jun-Aug. Expect to visit some Mosques and ruins that will require you to cover up, so going sightseeing early in the morning or late evening is a good idea to avoid becoming too hot in long clothing.  You may wish to avoid visiting during the holiday of Ramadan (May) as many restaurants are closed during the day, as most Jordanians will be fasting.

 

Getting Around Jordan

Jordan has a great infrastructure (ranked 35th in the world in fact) and its main roads are well maintained due to a well-funded grant from the government. The people of Jordan will primarily use cars or the local bus system as the main cities and towns are well connected and extremely affordable.

The most common forms of transport for backpackers to travel would be by public bus, plane or car as there is no reliable train system within Jordan yet. The only railway dates back to the Ottoman period as it’s used primarily as transportation from Damascus in Syria to Mecca. There are plans in place to improve this service and make it more accessible for leisure travel but is currently lacking funding. If you are short on time or not big on roadtrips then you can jump on an affordable short flight from Amman to Aqaba.

 

Travelling by bus in Jordan

Do as the locals do in Jordan and take the bus. Just be sure to be flexible on your timings, as buses will generally only leave once they are full and never stick to a set timetable. Driving can be a little erratic and the buses are far from luxury, sometimes just figuring out where to actually get on and off a bus from is tricky but friendly locals will always point you in the right direction. I always asked the driver to let me know when it was my stop and I never had a problem getting to where I wanted to go. It takes around 4 hours to travel from Amman to Aqaba directly, which is likely the longest single route you would to take. There are only a few companies that cater specifically to tourists such as the JETT bus (Jordan Express Tourist Transport) but must be booked in advance; any hostel or hotel should be able to assist in this. Getting to more remote parts of the country will prove more difficult on the bus as not all towns are connected to the routes. Check where you want to go is reachable by bus before commencing any journey and figure out which is the closest town on a bus route. You should be able to take a taxi to any more remote locations.

 

Travelling by car in Jordan

Renting a car is by far my favourite option. The freedom is unrivalled! Everyone seems to know someone in Jordan who can rent you a car and they are usually pretty reliable. My advice would be to avoid the big international brands and go local. Most companies are happy to drop the car off to your hostel and pick it up again at the airport when you leave for no extra cost. You can’t beat that for service!

Fuel in Jordan is cheap, and they have attendants at most pumps who fill up the car for you. Driving in Jordan is an experience and should be done by a confident driver. Avoid driving at night if possible as animals, sandstorms and oncoming traffic with broken headlights can creep up out of nowhere. Police often do checks and there may be a few checkpoints along the way where you simply need to produce your license and open the boot. My top tip would be to obey speed limits as unmarked speed bumps will catch you off guard and you may end up hitting your head on the roof of the car when you fly over them. If police catch you speeding they may hit you with a fine of up to 20JD, so fast drivers beware. I would recommend taking the scenic route along the Dead Sea; it will take a little longer but is well worth it as the views are not too be missed. Perhaps, ask around your hostel to see if anyone is interested in renting a car together to save your carbon footprint and save on costs. Did someone say road trip?  If you are planning on taking a car one way only and not dropping it off where you picked it up from, this is also possible for a fee.

Hitchhiking in Jordan

Hitchhiking is fairly common in Jordan, more so in remote areas that are very inaccessible by public transport. Along main highways such as the Kings Highway you may come across the odd Jordanian trying to get home or even a backpacker hitchhiking their way across Jordan. Some locals are accustomed to picking up travellers from time to time but it is an unreliable form of transport and precautions and safety measures should be put into effect wherever possible. If you do choose to pick up a hitchhiker it’s best to do so only if you are travelling with known friends already in the car.

 

Amman to Petra

Getting from Amman to Petra is pretty much a straight route down the Desert Highway, which is the main highway in Jordan. Head south from Amman and aim for Petra or Wadi Musa, which is the town that you’ll stay in if you visit Petra. Signs are written in English along the way. You can pick up a SIM card from hostels or the airport on arrival and use GPS on your phone for navigation if you are worried about getting lost. If you are driving, allow around 3.5 hours if you decide not to stop off along the way.

The Desert Highway is the busiest highway running from North to South in Jordan so multiple bus routes also operate along this way if you are planning on using public transport. Getting on a bus in Amman shouldn’t take long to fill up and you will be on your way in no time! Just remember it will stop frequently along the way to pick people up and drop them off.  If you don’t mind shelling out a little more for your transport and prefer to travel a little more stress free then you may also find a taxi driver willing to take the trip from around 90-110JD, if you are lucky they may even pull over by the Dead Sea for you to take a quick soak!

There are day trips available to book that will allow you to get from Amman to Petra and back again in only a day. They are very long days of travel with an exhausting day of exploration in Petra. I wouldn’t recommend this unless completely necessary as it limits your time in Petra to a minimum and you won’t want to miss your bus back to Amman in the evening. If you don’t have the time to spend the night by Petra, then this trip can be booked from many places in Amman.

 

Jordan travel costs

The costs of travel in Jordan are very backpacker friendly. You can travel on a shoestring and see all the wonders it has to offer. You won’t find entry prices or excursions very pricy with the slight exception of an entry ticket to Petra (without a Jordan Pass), which at the time of writing is around £53.

 

What is the currency in Jordan?

Throughout Jordan the Jordanian Dinar is the recognised official currency. It has been in circulation since the 1950’s and is often most recognisable in shops as restaurants as JD or JOD.

At the time of writing 1JD is approximately 1.07 GBP / 1.41 USD. A dinar is composed of 100 Qirsh (or 1000 fils, but these aren’t as common anymore). For example, you may see process written as: 1.75JD, which is £1.85 GBP. Dinars are most often notes, available in denominations of 1,5, 10, 20 and 50.

You will find access to ATMs in most cities and towns across Jordan that will dispense Jordanian Dinar.

 

Prices of food in Jordan

I believe the best food is wherever the locals are eating. Searching out the best street food is often a lot of fun and can provide the tastiest of meals. Ask your hostel staff or anyone local to get the low down on the best places to eat in town.

In my experience, you should expect to pay around 3-4JD for a large quantity of food. A basic variety dish will include hummus (yum!), salads, falafel, hot chips and a drink. If you are looking at eating in a mid range restaurant prices for a main will start at around 10JD. Food prices are generally stated on menus but at much smaller restaurants some only offer one or two set dishes and may not even have a menu. If in doubt, ask.

 

Tipping in Jordan

It is not compulsory to tip anywhere in Jordan, although if you feel you have received good or above average service it’s kind to give a gratuity.

Servers: If you would like to give a tip to your server in a low cost, budget restaurant or street food marketplace a small tip of 5-10% is appreciated but not expected. For a high-class restaurant 10% is very common and may even be included in your bill, but you can opt not to include it if you so wish.

Tour Guides: If you have a guide anywhere around Jordan you may wish to tip around 10%.

Bag courier: or bellboy 1JD per bag is sufficient.

Petrol attendants: you can round up your petrol to the nearest Dinar as a tip.

 

Costs of accommodation in Jordan

Expect prices to start at around 10JD in cities for a hostel dorm, but it can be as low as 5JD. For an authentic Bedouin camping experience look towards spending 20JD. The quality of your accommodation is reflected in the price, when looking for somewhere to stay in Jordan. If comfort and style is your thing, look at the mid to upper price range of hostels available, as lower bracket listings can be fairly basic. Try to keep an eye out for hostels with an included traditional breakfast so you can enjoy a delicious spread of olives, yoghurt, pita bread and Fuul.

There is so much to choose from in Jordan. You could explore boutique hostels in Amman or Bedouin Camping in Wadi Rum. You are spoilt for choice. Wherever you decide to stay, I guarantee you will meet the most interesting people whether it is the staff checking you in or your new roomies. Jordan just seems to attract a different breed of backpacker.

 

Costs of transport / travelling

Renting a car: Expect to pay around 20JD a day for a half decent car or bit more if you want something newer. Check over your car straight away and ask what insurance it comes with. Bigger car rental companies like Hertz will charge closer to 45Jd a day.

Flying: Royal Jordanian Air have regular routes from around £59 from Amman to Aqaba.

Buses: Locals use these buses often and prices are kept low for tourists and locals alike. Many people will say expect to pay 1JD per hour travelled, which is accurate from my experience. It is hard to determine set route prices and often you will just find out once you are on the bus by asking the driver. Drivers are honest and I never heard of anyone getting scammed on a bus while I was there.

 

backpacking jordan - arch in a rock

 

Where to stay in Jordan

Jordan offers a wide array of amazing and unique accommodation styles throughout the country, with a lot to offer a range of budgets. It is easy to find cheap yet comfy places to stay that won’t break the bank. Most hotels and hostels do exclude local taxes which are paid on arrival when checking in so be sure to factor this into your budget when booking online.

 

Amman:

Jordan Tower Hostel is a sweet place to stay in the heart of Amman. A stone’s throw from the Roman Amphitheatre and surrounded by some to the cities most popular bars and restaurants, this is a perfect place for solo travellers to meet new friends to travel with.

 

Petra (Wadi Musa):

I loved staying at Valentine Inn during my visit to Petra. It’s located on a hillside in Wadi Musa and provides a perfect view over the city. Sit and watch the world go by while enjoying dinner. They offer two free shuttles to Petra in the morning, so you can choose which time you would like to visit, also with an option to prepare you a very reasonably priced lunch to take with you. They can also help to arrange any onward travel.

 

Wadi Rum:

A stay at a traditional Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum is an absolute must in Jordan. There are many different camps located in different parts of the desert, but most offer a similar package. You can park your car at the visitor centre or get a bus there, where you will meet your local guide who will then drive you to your camp via 4×4. Expect basic commodities when in the desert. Most provide simple rooms or tents depending on your chosen camp.

No WIFI or phone signal is common (and refreshing!) but the conversation with fellow guests and stories from your hosts will make you forget about the outside world. On a clear night the sky will offer unobstructed views of the Milky Way, and more stars than I’ve ever seen before! Relax with tea or coffee, shisha and traditional home cooked foods. The activities in all camps are similar, with tours of the desert in 4x4s or camel hikes. Although a little pricy, I do recommend taking one of these tours.  For a great camp, check out Arabian Nights.

 

Aqaba:

Stay on the beach in Aqaba at Darna Village Beach Hostel. This hostel has a dive shop attached for those divers looking for direct access to the Red Sea.  There’s a fresh water swimming pool to relax in, amazing snorkel sites close by and a wonderful restaurant that serves up fresh fish every night!

 

backpacking jordan - camels in the desert

Jordan Itinerary

 

Jordan in 7 days

A week is a great amount of time to spend in Jordan and you will be able to cover the highlights of this country in this time without rushing, as it is relatively small.

 

Day 1: Amman

Flying into Amman, the capital, I would recommend staying near the Roman Amphitheatre (free entry with your Jordan Pass). From here take a walk around the local streets, where you will encounter an array of interesting market stalls. Amman is a safe city and due to a (secret) underground bank where Jordan prints its new bank notes, it is made even safer by unmarked guards walking the streets 24/7 (so my local friend whispers to me). Get yourself to the Citadel via local taxi for views of the city and ancient site such as the Temple of Hercules. A must see for me is the King Abdulla Mosque which is topped by a gorgeous turquoise mosaic dome. A relatively small Mosque but with friendly locals who are willing to stop for a chat and answer any questions you may have.

Head to Rainbow Street once you have worked up an appetite for an array of rooftop restaurants and coffee shops. Spend the evening watching the crowds meander below you under the fading sun.

 

Day 2: Jerash

A day trip from Amman is recommended here as accommodation is a bit pricier and it will save your packing up all your bags and moving back down south later. Located approximately 30 miles north of Amman you can find convenient, organised transport from Amman to take you and bring you back in the same day. Here you will find old Roman Archaeological sites that are scattered over the area. Think huge pillars, hippodromes and cobbled streets. It is rich in history and worth a full day to explore, although if you do find yourself with a little more time to spare not far from Jerash is Ajloun castle, which is well maintained and worth a visit.

 

Day 3: Petra

Leave Amman and head South to Petra, or more specifically to Wadi Musa where you will find more accommodation and the actual entry point to Petra. A brief stop in Madaba is cool if you have time, but there is not a huge amount to see or do here. If you are driving yourself I would strongly recommend the Jordan Valley Highway, which will take you alongside the Dead Sea and offer you some amazing views over to the West Bank. Stop off for a soak, or more accurately, a float! Jordan runs parallel along the east of the Dead Sea that is famous for having a high salt concentration in its waters, making it extremely buoyant.

There are designated points along the Dead Sea that have showers and cater to tourists for a fee. But you can stop off anywhere that you can safely find access for free, and you’ll find it a lot less crowded.

Arrive in Wadi Musa and enjoy the city, or if you have a 2-day pass for Petra you can start exploring. You’ll find the majority of travellers in Wadi Musa are there because of Petra, but there are nice restaurants too and the whole town is lit up at night with an amazing soft, golden glow.

 

Day 4: Petra

Petra! Get your hiking shoes on and pack your bags with snacks and water. A full day here is recommended, and I’d advise going in nice and early, as there is so much to see!

 

Day 5: Wadi Rum

Making the short trip to the gorgeous Wadi Rum is a must. A filming location for movie blockbuster The Martian, it’s supposed to be set on Mars. It is a vast, empty landscape apart from the looming red rock cliffs, and one of my favourite places in the world. Book your stay at a Bedouin Camp and sign up for the desert excursion to be transported on the back of a 4×4 to some amazing historical sites such as Lawrence of Arabia’s house, the Burdah Rock bridge and Khaz’ali Canyon! Then head back to your camp and huddle around the campfire with tea and a water pipe to socialise with the rest of your camp and hear some traditional Bedouin stories.

 

Day 6: Aqaba

Drag yourself out of the desert and head to the Red Sea town of Aqaba. Rent yourself a mask and fins and go for a snorkel. You can see an abundance of marine life and underwater there’s a sunken aeroplane and tank to explore. If you are a diver, then a scuba here is a must. There are so many dive sites to choose from you will be spoilt for choice. Waterside restaurants offer great cuisine and even views of Egypt.

 

Day 7: Aqaba 

Kick back on the beach and enjoy Aqaba before you return to Amman located only 4 hours away. If you are continuing your travels over land, Aqaba borders Egypt and you can make an easy crossing here.

backpacking jordan - map of jordan

 

Jordan in 10 Days

If you find yourself with more time to spare, then 10 days is a wonderful way to really delve into the heart of Jordan, allowing you to get off the beaten track and create your own adventure at your own place. Below is a guide of how you could spend 10 days in Jordan covering the best places to go at a good pace.

 

Day 1 and 2: Amman & Jerash

Arrive in Amman and spend your first two days exploring Amman and Jerash’s amazing sights.

 

Day 3: Desert castles

Head east towards the Syrian border and explore Jordan’s desert castles. These are off the tourist route by a long way, but you can spend the day heading as far east as you wish and enjoying the tranquillity of the desert. It is unlikely you will meet many other people here so the guides at the castles are very relaxed and often extremely happy to show you around. If you’re lucky they’ll tell you stories of days gone by, the history and about how the castles were once used by Lawrence of Arabia. Then head to the quiet town of Madaba for the night.

 

Day 4: Madaba

Explore Madaba and pickup some authentic Dead Sea mud exfoliation masks to take home with you. The gorgeous Ma’in Hot Springs are to the west of Madaba so head here on your way to the Dead Sea and take a soak in each. Drive along the Jordan Valley Highway on the way to your destination for the night, Wadi Musa.

 

Day 5/6: Petra

Take two days to fully explore Petra and appreciate it in its full glory.

 

Day 7: Wadi Rum

Leave Wadi Musa for the experience of a lifetime in Wadi Rum, exploring the desert and camping out under the Milky Way and endless stars.

 

Day 8: Aqaba

Checkout late and go for a morning drive in the desert or explore by camel. Head to Aqaba for late afternoon.

 

Day 9: Red Sea

Get yourself in the Red Sea and go for a dive or snorkel.

 

Day 10: Back to Amman

Soak up some rays on the beach, as here you will find the dress code a little more relaxed (ask which part of the beach to head to so as to not cause offence), before heading back to Amman or to your next destination.

 

backpacking jordan - backpacker looking through an entrance

 

Best Places to Visit in Jordan

Jordan is an awesome country, with many awe-inspiring and diverse places to visit. Whether you are into archaeology, history, beaches, cities, deserts or breath-taking natural views there is something to offer everyone.

 

The most popular places are:

  • Amman
  • Jerash
  • Petra
  • Wadi Rum
  • Aqaba

 

Here are the highlights of the best things to see in each destination.

 

Best places to visit in Amman

King Abdulla Mosque: A gorgeous local mosque that is easily recognisable by its bright blue dome. It’s not covered by the Jordan Pass but costs only around 2JD to enter. It is small and very local, so you’ll have to cover up. Men must cover their legs and women must cover their heads, arms and legs. You can rent items if you forget to bring them with you. There is a small local shop for trinkets and tea before you leave.

 

Rainbow Street: A good spot to stop and refresh. Here you’ll find some great places to eat and drink, perfect for people watching.

 

Amman Citadel: Within the Citadel you will find multiple historic sites such as the Temple of Hercules, a ruin from the Roman Era and The Umayyad Palace, which dates back to the 7th Century. The Citadel is located on a hillside that looks over Amman offering great views of the city.

 

Roman Theatre: Found in the centre of Amman, this 6000 seat Roman Theatre is from around the 2nd Century and is a favourite for tourists and locals alike. Go before dusk for a cool wander around and watch the locals gather outside to socialise and the night wears on. Opposite the ruins you will find some great coffee and shisha bars to sit and look over the theatre at night. Highly recommended!

 

Best places to visit in Jerash

 

Oval Forum: This hard to miss structure sits on the hilltop and these stone pillars once circled around in a huge oval, now a little over half remain.

 

Hippodrome: An ancient Greek stadium that was once used for chariot racing. Head here and imagine the cheers that would have erupted from the stands.

 

Hadrian’s Arch: A large archway dedicated to the Roman Emperor that ruled from 117 to 138.

 

Best places to visit in Petra

 

The Siq: This long narrow gorge will dwarf you from both sides as your make your dramatic entrance into Petra. 1.2K long it is the result of a natural split in the rock. If you look closely along both sides of the rock, you will see a manmade water channel running all the way down.

 

The Treasury (Al Khazna): Arguably the most iconic sight in Jordan, the Siq leads directly onto The Treasury. Standing nearly 40m tall the tremendous façade is intricately decorated with Corinthian figures. Local legend says the Urn at the top is rumoured to hold a Pharaohs most treasured items. This breathtaking sight dates back to around 1BC. You may recognise it from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

 

High Place of Sacrifice: Fair warning, this one will take you on a good 3 hour hike during your day at Petra, but I loved it. Only a few other explorers dared venture to this high point with me, but your efforts will be rewarded with stunning views of the city below and a place of significant importance to the Bedouin people of the desert.

 

The Church: Partially destroyed by a fire and damaged from an earthquake, the church still manages to present some very well-maintained mosaics.

 

The Monastery (Ad Deir): Ready for a hike? This beast is the furthest point from the entrance but well worth it. At 47 meters wide by 48 meters high this is the largest monument in Petra. There are 850 steps to get to here, but the reward is worth it as many are put off by the climb, so I had the entire place to myself. Can you believe it? A UNESCO protected site all to yourself – Unbelievable! At the top you can grab a cool drink or hot tea from a shaded Bedouin tent, sit on cushions on the floor and soak up all the Monastery has to offer. Once used as a meeting place for religious activities it was turned into a Christian Chapel and crosses added, which is where it takes its name from.

 

Local Tea Shops: Located all around are small, locally owned tea shops that will offer refuge, a comfy cushion to sit on and if you are lucky, a local Bedouin who will share with you stories of their childhood in Petra. Many of the local Bedouin in the area were actually born in the caves located around the site but have more recently moved to a small town just behind the large rose-coloured cliffs.

 

My must brings for your day at Petra are:

  • Comfy walking shoes
  • Plenty of water and food (prices inside can be steep)
  • Sunscreen
  • Light, comfy clothing
  • Your trail map (pick up at entrance)
  • Camera and a spare battery if you have one

 

In total, I did around 10 -11 hours of walking in the heat, but you can find refuge in one of the many cool caves hidden around the site. There is a small restaurant onsite that provides food and water but beware, it can be very pricey compared to outside Petra.

 

Notes:

Around Petra you may find services offering donkey, horses or camel rides to reach your destination without the hassle of having to walk. It can be extremely hot in the desert, and although the majority of animals are treated well, I would recommend avoiding taking any forms of animal transport to encourage future use. If you do see signs of mistreatment, it is encouraged to report it to the information desk.

 

Some viewpoints require extra payment to reach. For example, at the Treasury locals will offer to guide you to the higher ground. You cannot go without paying a guide, so if you are looking for the iconic shot looking down from the cliff edge to The Treasury, this is one you will need to shell out a little extra for.

 

 

Best places to visit in Wadi Rum:

Translating roughly to ‘Valley of Sand’, Wadi Rum was an unforgettable experience during my time in Jordan.

When staying at a camp in Wadi Rum I highly recommend taking a 4×4 tours to go and visit various parts of the desert. Bumping around in the back of a Jeep is an exhilarating experience as you travel back in time and discover huge gorges, rock carving and wild camels dotted around this sandy wilderness.

 

Jabel Umm Fruth Rock Bridge: This naturally formed sculpture is exactly what it sounds like, a bridge made of rock. Those daring enough can tentatively climb up via small foot holes that have been worn into rock, then walk across the high rise, making for impressive photos taken from below.

 

Khaz’ali Canyon: Visit here to discover ancient rock carvings depicting camels, antelopes and human caravans.

 

House of Laurence of Arabia: Legend says that he stayed here during his time in the desert, which he was known to love. It is in fact the remains of an old Nabateans house and has never been officially confirmed to belong to Laurence. Now a popular site to test your rock balancing skills!

backpacking jordan - man in the middle of the desert

 

What to see in Aqaba

The highlights of Aqaba are all mainly underwater, or at least next to it! Some top dive and snorkel sites are just off the coast here and many are accessible by snorkelling.

 

The sites I would suggest to checkout are:

  • Gorgone II
  • Japanese Garden
  • New Canyon (for an underwater tank AND aeroplane!)
  • Kali’s Place and
  • Cedar Pride Wreck

 

For the best beaches check out South beach or Tala Bay, both offering long stretches of golden sand.

Secret places of Jordan:

To be honest, a lot of Jordan is still a bit of a secret. It doesn’t take too much effort to leave the crowds behind, breakaway from the cookie-cutter pathways and carve your own, unique trip in Jordan. Some things you may discover completely by accident or by having a conversation with a local guide who can tell you about a true hidden gem that hasn’t made it online or to any guidebooks. Jordan will reveal itself to those willing to search for an adventure. Go where feels right, ask questions and listen carefully to the answers and you might just find yourself your own secret paradise. I will share with you what I stumbled across…

 

Unnamed Hot Springs and access to the Dead Sea – If you are ready to bring out your true explorer, and venture into the wild then follow these instructions to find a true hidden gem of Jordan. Not on maps or signposted but a local secret, I hesitate a little to divulge this information.

 

If you have opted to take the scenic drive from Amman down south and find yourself on the Jordan Valley Highway, alongside the Dead Sea, drive south until you pass a police station/ army barracks (I can’t explain what they are but you will know them when you see them). Stop here. If you cross the Mijib Bridge (where there is also an amazing canyon you can zip line across) you have gone a little bit too far.

 

Look for a break in the fence and find a safe place to climb down for a free soak in the Dead Sea, cover yourself in mud and let it do its work. It is so hot in this part of Jordan that is causes the seawater to evaporate, leaving behind more salt that you would normally find in the sea. This causes the mud below to be very high in salt and magnesium that is perfect for your skin. In fact, Dead Sea mud is world-famous for its health treatments and has been known to alleviate conditions from psoriasis to back pain. Give it a go, and you will find you are left with silky smooth skin. Another interesting effect of the high salt content is the buoyancy for all things that enter the water, including you. This is because the water is denser than normal water, so you can’t sink! Don’t stay in any longer than 15 minutes and do your best not to allow the water to enter your eyes or any opens wounds. Trust me you will know about it if you do as it’s going to sting!

 

Kick back, float and enjoy the views over the sea across to Palestine. You will want to rinse off after your dip, so as you climb back up the slope and head directly behind the Police Station, where there is a small dirt track to the right that has been worn away, follow this as eventually (5-10mins) you will come to the most amazing freshwater mini-waterfall and plunge pool. If you fancy heating things up a little further, head down the track to the lower waterfall and look for a large cave entrance. This water comes from a very hot spring, locals who bath here may head for the back of the cave to soak in the water but beware, it is very hot! Stick to the pool closer to the entrance for a milder temperature and be sure to be stock up on drinking water, as you probably won’t realise how much fluid you are sweating out.

backpacking jordan - man bathing under a waterfall

 

Food in Jordan

The food in the Middle East generally promises an array of delicious delights, and Jordan sure delivers. Focused heavily around herbs and spices it is great place to allow yourself to be gluttonous every night. Most dishes are based around yoghurt and meat, with a main ingredient being Jameed – a fermented form of dried yoghurt.

 

If you feel like diving into the culture and ditching the utensils, eat with your right hand only and keep your left hand clean. I actually found Jordanians extremely open and generous when it came to food, often I was called from across the street to sit and join a group to dine. Making new friends and trying new foods!

 

Expect to find your general Arabic cuisine here, such as flat breads, hummus and falafel but keep an eye out for some of my favourites I have listed below.

 

Mansaf: The most iconic Jordanian dish, but if you are vegetarian this one isn’t for you. This meaty broth is packed full of flavour, even if it doesn’t look the most inviting dish on the menu. Originally, this dish used camel, but now lamb is the accepted replacement. A lamb leg is placed in a broth called Jameed that contains fermented yoghurt and they are both left to cook together. This dish is traditionally served on a flatbread with rice and is then topped with the cooked meat. The broth is poured generously on top and garnished with nuts.

In the old Bedouin ways, Jordanians would gather standing in a circle and using their fingers to create a ball with the broth-soaked rice and eat it directly from the sharing plate in the middle. The name ‘mansaf’ actually means ‘large dish’.

 

Fuul: A delicious way to start your day! A traditional hot Jordanian breakfast, made from beans, lemon juice a little chilli and olive oil. This is often dipped into with fresh pita bread and is served with yoghurt and olives on the side.

 

Maqluba: Containing plenty of vegetables such as potatoes, fried tomatoes and aubergine – you can opt to add either chicken or lamb. This dish is cooked upside down in a clay pot and is constructed carefully in layers. When it’s served it is flipped upside down and the pot lifted off so that the bottom becomes the top.  Maqluba is Arabic for ‘upside down’ and is served with salad and fresh yoghurt.

 

Desserts of Jordan

Baklava: This is a traditional dessert dating back to the Ottoman Empire. Countries such as Turkey and Greece will all claim they produce the best Baklava. It is a very rich and sweet pastry, sticky to the touch adorned with nuts and topped with honey. I find that only one or two pieces is enough, but if you have a sweet tooth this you may just fall in love with this dessert. A perfect way to finish your savoury meal.

 

Jordanian Tea and Coffee: I drank my body weight in tea when I was in Jordan. Every single time I stopped for a chat with someone, entered a home or perused a shop, tea was offered. Even walking the hot dusty streets of Petra, you are more likely to find tea than cold water!

 

I learnt to accept the first offer of tea from hosts as saying no often drew strange looks and I started to feel like I was being rude. Plus, your host is going to keep asking until you accept anyway. It is served in a small tulip shaped glass, and you may add a sugar cube if you wish. Drinking tea isn’t just a beverage here; it is a local favourite past time. A way of life! There are some variations such as mint, black tea and traditional Bedouin tea. The coffee in Jordan is a little different, and by that, I mean little! Served in a tiny cup it may look like an espresso, but I can tell you it is all you will need for the day. Originally from Turkey, this style of coffee is thick and strong and served piping hot.

 

Jordanian Culture and History

Jordan once sat as a giant of trade along the heartbeat of the world, running from East to West, and West to East. This passage way is known in modern times as the Silk Road.  Where treasures from all corners of the globe were trade such as horses, animal furs, fruits, textiles, gold, perfumes and, of course, silk. If you can look past the material treasures that traded hands here, you will find a much more meaningful exchange; an exchange of cultures.

 

Jordan has been influenced by the West yet still maintains a strong Arabic and Islamic culture.  Petra sat as the main hub in Jordan for trade through the Nabateans period, offering an impressive city for travellers to take refuge and swap goods. Although, when the Silk Road route moved to the oceans and Petra suffered terribly at the hands of multiple earthquakes around 363AD, the city was soon abandoned and trade in Jordan fell dramatically. It was all but lost by the 7th Century to everyone but local Jordanians.

 

Petra wasn’t re-discovered by an outsider until 1812, when a Swiss explorer by the name of Johannes Burckhardt went on an expedition to find this lost city. He had heard rumours of a city of great magnificence, that was lost centuries ago and had remain almost untouched since, except by the local Bedouins there that dwelled in the caves. Burckhardt dressed himself as an Arab and tricked his local guide into taking him to the site. The ‘Rose-Red city’ then soon became increasingly known in the West as word spread back to Europe of this magical place. Tourism has since been on a steady increase especially in modern times.

 

The most popular sport in Jordan is football, another influence from the West, and basketball takes a close second spot. Support for the Jordanian football team is on the rise and they qualified for the AFC Asian Cup back in 2004.

 

Jordan has featured in a few high-profile movies, such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade being filmed in Petra, as well as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Films made on the mystical, red dusty set of Wadi Rum include The Martian, providing the perfect faux-Mars backdrop.

backpacking jordan - people with camels making a halt in the desert

Quick facts about Jordan

  • The official name of Jordan is the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and its motto is ‘God, Country, King’.

 

  • Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein has been in reign in Jordan since 1999 but his family have been in rule since 1921.

 

  • Politically, Jordan is a democratic country operating with a parliamentary government.

 

  • Once ruled by the British, it split and gained independence on 25th May 1946.

 

  • Jordan takes its name from the Jordan River to the Northwest of the country.

 

  • It’s estimated population is 10,180,000

 

 

Jordanian People

One aspect of Jordanian culture that cannot be overlooked or underestimated is hospitality, especially towards guests. Jordan just has a friendly, welcoming feel to it from the moment you arrive and is reflected in everyone you meet. They are a highly gregarious community and it’s a Bedouin tradition to ensure that the guest is always comfortable. You’ll be reminded that you are welcome for as long as you would like to stay. You will find you are offered food and drink from many people in Jordan and you may notice that your host takes a sip of the tea they’ve made for you before offering you the cup. This is to ensure that the temperature of the tea/ coffee is correct.

I was offered to stay at many people’s homes during my time in Jordan. My guide at one the castles to the East of Amman offered me to sleep in his tent for the night and cook for me. I couldn’t refuse! We spent the night with friends, drinking tea, eating glorious food, smoking shisha, dancing and listening to music. It remains one of my fondest memories of Jordan. He refused to let me pay for anything and insisted I just enjoy myself, thanking me over and over for coming to visit Jordan. We went on a trip into the desert to visit wild camels and an oasis. If you do meet or stay with Bedouin people, you will often notice that men and women have dark makeup around their eyes. This is either ashes from a tree mixed with olive oil, or a sort of liquid coal that prevents sand from entering your eyes in winds and also acts as a sort of sunscreen for your eyes.

backpacking jordan - two men dancing

 

Language in Jordan

English is widely spoken in Jordan although the official language is Arabic and this is the language used most used in everyday life. You will find that in most places the level of English is good, and I didn’t struggle anywhere to be understood. Even if someone doesn’t speak English very well, someone close by will and they are always willing to translate for you. Arabic is a tricky language to master but while you are on your travels throughout Jordan keep an ear out for the phrase ‘ahlan wa sahlan’, which roughly translated is ‘you are welcome’, but is often also used as hello.

 

Religion in Jordan

Being an Arabic country the most common religion by far here is Islam. Specifically, Sunni Islam, which is a denomination of Islam and followed by around 90% of Muslims. There are also traces of some of the oldest Christian communities here making up just over 4% of the population. Both religions have lived peacefully side-by-side, and it is not uncommon to see both Mosques and Churches close to each other.

 

Ramadan (2019 dates are 5th May – 4th June)

Experiencing the holiday of Ramadan is quite an event in itself. It is the 9th month in the Muslim calendar and religious followers worldwide take part in the ceremony of fasting in honour of the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. If you do visit during Ramadan the majority of Jordan will be fasting throughout the long days and it can be a little tricky to find restaurants that open and cater to the public. You should respect that Jordanians will not be eating or drinking during the daylight hours, which can reach up to 13 hours a day and in many places you may be expected to do the same, or at least show extreme discretion and respect when you do eat or drink. Not every person will choose to fast every year; in fact, it can be a highly personal decision whether they choose to or not. Those that do choose to and are highly religious may also choose to refrain from swearing, sexual relations, lying and even bad thoughts.

‘Iftar’ is the meal that breaks the fast at sundown, the local Mosque will begin a call to prayer and this signals the start of the meal. Walking the streets near restaurants you may see many people gathered around tables laden with food but not eating it, as they are waiting for the sun to set. If you get the chance, it is truly an honour to join in with locals for this. Other traditions of Ramadan include intensified prayers from the Quran, an attempt to do more charitable work and more self-discipline.

 

Jordan traditions

Jordan has a long history of traditions; one of the most shocking I found was in relation to family. Many Bedouins speak of my ‘brother here’, and, ‘my cousin there’ so much that you begin to wonder how many relatives they have. I did meet a man that claimed to have no less than 22 siblings – 17 brother and 5 sisters! This may be on the larger side of families in Jordan but is it fairly traditional to have a larger family. Jordanians are very family orientated and taking care of one another is very important. One elderly man explained to me that there is no fund organised by the government that resembles a pension. So for parents to be taken care of into old age it makes sense to raise many children, so they can all share the responsibility of caring for the parents as they age.

You will find the population in urban areas to be a little more modern than you would than rural areas. Relying on mobile phones and enjoying different aspects of pop culture such as Wi-Fi, social media and western movies.

backpacking Jordan - Jordan people

 

Jordan Travel Tips

If you haven’t gathered by now, Jordan is a fascinating, exciting and unique country to travel. Although with a different culture, climate and language to your home country, it can prove a little tricky at times. Here are some of my top travel tips for your trip to Jordan.

 

What to wear in Jordan

I’m not going to tell you how much or little to pack, that depends on your travel style and length of trip. But, what I would recommend is light-weight and breathable clothing, as I’m sure you have gathered, it gets hot and there can be a fair amount of walking. So, trainers or light but comfy footwear is also recommended.

It can be considered offensive in Jordan to show too much skin. As a highly conservative nation, it’s important to show respect for the local customs and religion. For both men and women, it is a good idea to have some clothing that covers shoulders, arms and legs (at least to the knee) for when you visit Mosques and in general you will need to be a little more covered up in your day to day activities. Both to show respect and for protection from the sun. Women are required to cover their shoulders, chest and knees – a long skirt or trousers are fine. I’d also recommend having a sarong to cover your head as it’s traditional in Islamic culture when visiting religious places.  If on a beach (although relaxed in Aqaba), it would still be advisable to wear a t-shirt when swimming. If you opt to stay at a resort with a pool, check before stripping off to your bikini and swim shorts.

 

Don’t expect much of a party scene

As a Muslim country, alcohol is not consumed by locals like in Europe. But is does have quite a relaxed view on drinking alcohol in general and you will find it available in restaurants. In fact, Jordan’s first brewery was established back in 1955, Jordan Brewery Co. Ltd. There are only really a few brands of beer in Jordan, the most popular being Amstel, from the Netherlands.

I do recommend trying the local brew but beware, it is known for its high alcohol content. The Petra Premium is a whopping 10%, but what could be better than sipping on a Petra after a hot day of exploring Petra?

 

To be honest, it is much more likely you will find Jordanians getting together over a few cups of tea or coffee and a water-pipe. They aren’t afraid to consume these highly caffeinated drinks into the early hours of the morning, as it seems very normal to meet friends at midnight and have a catch up until the sun comes up!

 

Travelling Jordan alone

I went to Jordan alone and it didn’t take long to make travelling friends. Backpackers that are adventurous enough to tackle Jordan are generally of the very outgoing variety! Most travellers move from north to south, so it’s fairly easy to meet people heading the same way as you if you fly into Amman and are planning to make your way to Aqaba. Hostels are a wonderful place to meet likeminded travellers to take excursions with or even rent a car together, also to split the costs.

 

In terms of safety, I never felt unsafe anywhere in Jordan, even if I was out alone at night. Everyone’s kind nature is very settling, and you feel like you can trust people. Jordan’s crime-rate is relatively low, but always take precautions and never allow yourself to get into a situation where you might find yourself in danger. Tell people where you are going and when you expect to be back.

backpacking jordan - man standing on a rock

 

Travel in Jordan as a woman

I met many female solo travellers having a wonderful experience travelling through Jordan. I heard of no really negative stories, however, some women did share tales of being inundated with jokey marriage proposals, excessive flattery and expressions of love. They recommend keeping the conversation light-hearted and brief – if you do feel uncomfortable, excuse yourself from the interaction.

 

Jordanians may be surprised to find women travelling alone as it’s uncommon for local women to do so. You may find it difficult to eat or drink at a coffee shop alone without being approached for friendly conversation. Many men in Jordan see it as an open invitation to accompany a woman if she is sat alone and won’t hesitate to come over and introduce themselves.

 

Some advice from women, for women:
  • Bring plenty of sanitary products for your stay; they are hard to come across in Jordan
  • If travelling to a remote location, inform friends where and how long you are going for. If possible, travel with them.
  • Opt for female only dorms, if it makes you feel more comfortable
  • If using public transport, try to sit next to a woman (this is often unconsciously done in Jordan anyway by locals)
  • If you want to be extra-cautious, wearing a wedding ring can warn-off unwanted attention

 

In general, Jordanians are overwhelmingly friendly, honest and open people. They have come to rely more and more on tourism as a means of revenue. You will notice police checkpoints along highways, security in public places and tourist police presence at major sites. Keeping Jordan safe for travellers is a priority shared by government and locals alike.

 

If you decide that you’re ready to explore Jordan and you’re willing to open yourself up, you will find that Jordan is just as receptive. Let us know your top tips for travelling around Jordan in the comments below.

 

About the author

Mark is an independent travel writer, videographer and tour guide specialising in South East Asia.  He is usually found near the ocean, surfing on top of it or scuba diving underneath it. He likes the countries he visits to be hot and the food even hotter. Keep up with his adventures on Instagram.

 

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Luke Moss

English sun-chaser with tic-tac addiction. Loves finding random bars in foreign cities that play 90s/00s hip-hop and RnB!

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