Sometimes perceived as a dangerous, unfamiliar country, Jordan is very misunderstood and shamefully underappreciated. The country is in fact a very safe, welcoming destination with a myriad of magnificent sights to explore. Where else can you find world-class snorkelling, a striking red desert, a 17km canyon filled with waterfalls, and one of the Seven New Wonders of the World all within a four-hour drive of one another?
Tourist numbers have finally started to creep back up in the past two years and the launch of Ryanair flights from some European cities will only increase the numbers further. So now is the time to visit this extraordinary country.
This travel guide provides a suggested
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10 day Jordan itinerary:
Day one: Madaba
Located 30 minutes southwest of Queen Alia International Airport, Madaba is a good starting point when visiting Jordan and a convenient alternative to Amman if you do not want to navigate driving in the capital.
The historical city is renowned for its collection of Byzantine mosaics – most notably the map on the floor of St George’s Church – and the Church of the Beheading of John the Baptist. The latter is home to a visitor centre with photographs dating from 1902 to 1911, a 3,000-year-old well from the Moabite era, and a publicly accessible bell tower that provides fantastic views over Madaba and its beautiful, gold-roofed King Hussein mosque.
For more spectacular views of the mosque, head to the Sky Bar on the roof of the Saint John Hotel. Due to Madaba’s large Christian population, the bar sells alcohol, meaning you can enjoy a refreshing, albeit pricey, beer while overlooking the city’s skyline. The city is also home to a handful of small liquor stores, so you can stock up on alcohol for the rest of your holiday. Just remember that you can only drink it in the privacy of your hotel room.
Day two and three: Wadi Rum
No holiday in Jordan is complete without a visit to the otherworldly Wadi Rum desert. Spanning 280 square miles, the protected area boasts a dramatic landscape of sandstone mountains, rocky caverns and bright red sand. It’s a truly magnificent setting and staying overnight at one of the Bedouin camps offers a unique, unforgettable experience.
Some of the most notable sights in Wadi Rum include Jebel Um Adami, the highest mountain in Jordan; Burdah Rock Bridge, a large rock formation sitting 80 metres above ground; Barrah Canyon, a five-kilometre path hidden between the mountains; and the Al Hasany Dunes, large sand dunes with a deep red hue. Jeep tours, hiking tours and camel tours can be booked in advance through your campsite.
There are campsites dotted all throughout Wadi Rum, ranging from traditional to luxury. Some have more picturesque settings than others, so it’s worth doing some research to find a good one and then booking your tours with that campsite. The Wadi Rum Sky Tours and Camp boasts a particularly good location, right in the heart of the protected area with good viewpoints for both sunrise and sunset. For more information on visiting Wadi Rum and how to book
Day four and five: The Red Sea
For a refreshing contrast to Jordan’s desert landscape, a visit to the Red Sea is a must. The clear blue waters boast some of the best snorkelling and diving in the world, and unlike the Egyptian side on the west, the eastern side remains relatively untouched due to Jordan’s tourism sector still being in its infancy.
The thought of visiting a beach in the Middle East can be rather intimidating, especially if you’re a woman, but there are a handful of hotels located very near to the best snorkelling spots – the Arab Divers Dive Centre offers simple but pleasant accommodation with its own swimming pool and snorkelling equipment, which can be hired for 7JD per day.
Additionally, the vast Berenice Beach Club provides the chance to swim and snorkel on a private tourist beach, so women can feel comfortable wearing Western swimming costumes and bikinis. The beach stretches across 500 metres of the Red Sea with plenty of sun loungers while further facilities include three swimming pools and a restaurant. The beach club costs 10JD per day.
Amazingly, some incredible snorkelling spots can be found just a few metres from the shore, meaning there’s no need to spend any extra money or time on a boat trip. Arrive first thing in the morning – before 9am – and you’ll be treated to crystal clear water with just an abundance of colourful fish to keep you company. Colourful coral, countless fish and sea creatures, and crystal-clear water mean the snorkelling in Jordan easily rivals the likes of the Great Barrier Reef, Maldives and Seychelles.
Day six, seven and eight: Petra
Jordan’s most famous sight, Petra has to be seen to be believed. Having been the capital of the Nabataean empire between 400 B.C. and A.D. 106, it was once a flourishing city with complex water systems, unbelievable greenery and boundless riches. However, the discovery of new trade routes led to its decline in relevancy and eventual abandonment. Sitting empty and hidden to the Western world for centuries, the Lost City was discovered by Jean Louis Burckhardt in the 19th century.
Today, the 2,000-year-old UNESCO Heritage Site is Jordan’s biggest draw, welcoming more than half a million visitors each year. Affectionately known as the Rose City due to the unique colour of the stone in which it is carved, it is a sight to behold with an array of tombs, monasteries and amphitheatres to explore.
Despite 85% of the city still remaining uncovered, Petra is a sprawling site with attractions spread over a hundred square miles, meaning you need at least two but ideally three days to explore it fully. It takes around 20 minutes just to reach the Treasury via the Siq and then more than an hour to hike up to the Monastery. Add to that all the extra diversions to The High Place of Sacrifice, Little Petra and the view above the Treasury, and you start to understand why so much time is needed to see it all.
Petra’s main sights are busiest from about 8am through to 4/5pm, so in order to see them at their best, it’s a good idea to be there for at least one early morning and one late afternoon. Head to the Treasury as soon as the site opens at 6am in order to see it crowd-free and then visit the Monastery late afternoon, when it will be lit up by the sun and relatively quiet – hike to the Monastery from Little Petra for the best first impression. The Treasury also transforms throughout the day, with the morning light giving it a subtle pink tone and the evenings offering a more dramatic, deeper shade.
For more information on visiting Petra, check out this Petra travel guide.
Day nine and ten: Wadi Mujib and the Dead Sea
A holiday in Jordan also offers the unique opportunity of swimming – or bobbing – in the Dead Sea. Sitting at 431 metres below sea level, the salt water lake is the lowest point on earth and retains its high salt levels due to there being no outlet streams for the water to escape, meaning the only water that leaves is via evaporation, leaving the salts behind.
A dip in the warm, salty waters is a strange experience, with the buoyancy resulting in your limbs unintentionally rising to the surface. The high salt content also means you become very aware of every single cut and scratch on your body – do not shave beforehand and do not touch your eyes.
Adjacent to the Dead Sea is the magnificent Wadi Mujib, otherwise known as the Grand Canyon of Jordan. Running for 70km from the Desert Highway to the Dead Sea, the striking gorge sees soaring walls of deep orange rock envelope a shimmering passage of blue water that’s dotted with rapids, waterfalls and boulders – all conducive to an adrenaline-filled day of adventure.
Visitors can explore the canyon by booking tickets for the Siq Trail, which involves hiking through the waters, navigating the rapids, and scaling and sliding down waterfalls. Taking a guide is optional but it is strongly recommended if you’re not a confident swimmer or comfortable with heights. Some of the waterfalls are quite high and you need a fair amount of upper body strength to climb up them. The guides are also able to show the best way to tackle each section, which isn’t always obvious.
Additionally, be sure to swim in the Dead Sea before doing the Siq Trail because you will more than likely end up with a few cuts and scratches that will make the salty experience far less enjoyable. The Siq Trail costs 21JD and does not need to be booked in advance, just show up at the ticket office on the day. Arriving as soon as it opens is advised because it gets very busy, meaning you’ll have to hang around in the rapids clinging onto ropes while you wait for people ahead of you. Wear good waterproof shoes and a bring a waterproof bag for your camera.
While there are many five-star resorts located at the northern apex of the Dead Sea, a much less touristy option is to book into Mujib Chalets, where 15 chalets are perched right on the banks of the lake. They are very basic and definitely cost more than they should for what you get, but staying there provides the opportunity to swim in the Dead Sea without any crowds and also places you across the road from Wadi Mujib, meaning you can arrive as soon as it opens in the morning. If you do stay at the chalets, bring some food and drink because it is very isolated and the food provided in the restaurant is very basic – breakfast is included but dinner is charged separately. No cooking facilities or cutlery are provided, so only bring ready-to-eat items such as fruit, canned houmous and flatbread.