Many independent travellers visit Jordan overland, either popping across from one of the neighbours or as part of a longer odyssey between Istanbul and Cairo. Border crossings are straightforward, and most nationalities can get a visa on arrival – except at the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge between Jerusalem and Amman, where no Jordanian visas are issued.
At the time of writing, violence and civil disorder were continuing in Syria and the country was effectively closed to tourists. We have retained information in this section in the hope that, by the time you read this, travel will once again be possible. The easiest way to get to Amman from the Syrian capital Damascus, barely 100km north of the Jordanian frontier, is by serveece, or shared taxi. Before the conflict they departed day and night from the Sumriyeh (Somaria) garage in western Damascus, for S£700 (JD11 or US$15) per seat. It’s common for individuals to buy two seats (or couples to buy three) to give a roomier ride – or you can charter the whole car (usually four or five seats). There are 24-hour banks at the border. The usual terminus in Amman is Abdali, but for a little bit extra the driver will drop you off anywhere you want. The journey time is about three hours.
Karnak and JETT buses to Amman used to leave from Kadem station in Damascus (t 011 441 0531) daily at 7am and 3pm; as we went to press, though, the service remained suspended. Formerly, the fare was around S£600 (US$11 or JD8). Reckon on a journey time of four hours, since everyone must clear customs and immigration before the bus can carry on (which is one reason to go by serveece instead). Buses terminate next to the JETT External Lines office, in the Abdali district. It’s wise to book seats one day ahead. Extra buses are laid on in the peak summer season.
The passenger service between Damascus and Amman on the historic Hejaz railway has been permanently withdrawn. Flying takes longer than driving.
No public transport runs directly between Jerusalem and Amman: the only way to go is with a combination of bus, taxi and serveece. All traffic is funnelled towards the single border crossing open to the public, located a short way north of Jericho in the West Bank. It is known as the Allenby Bridge (Jissr Allenby in Arabic; Gesher Allenby in Hebrew) or the King Hussein Bridge (Jissr al-Malek Hussein). Opening hours are limited (Sun–Thurs 8am–midnight, Fri & Sat 8am–3pm; t 02 548 2600). The Israeli and Jordanian terminals are around 5km apart, separated by no-man’s-land either side of the bridge itself. Walking across, or taking a private car, is forbidden: you must take public transport. This crossing-point is also notoriously subject to the ebb and flow of Middle Eastern politics, and can close at short notice.
Although you must have a visa to enter Jordan, they are not issued at this bridge – which, thanks to a complex piece of official doublethink, is not viewed by Jordan as an international border. If you try to cross without already holding a Jordanian visa, you’ll be turned back by Israeli security.
Israeli buses from West Jerusalem don’t go to the bridge; they only drop off at a parking area beside Highway 90 by a security barrier. Instead, use the serveeces (shared taxis) which depart frequently from East Jerusalem for NIS38 per person plus NIS4 per bag – choose from Abdo travel agency opposite Damascus Gate (t 02 628 3281) or Nejmeh (t 02 627 7466), a short walk east on the same street beside the Golden Walls hotel. Set out early in the morning, or book your ride in advance: serveeces stop running by about midday (10am on Fri & Sat), after which your only certain option of reaching the bridge is a private taxi for NIS200 or more. Buses also run to the bridge from Jericho.
At the Israeli bridge terminal (foreigners’ hall), your bags are taken away for X-ray while you pay the Israeli departure tax, currently NIS176 (around US$45). If you intend to use your passport for overland travel beyond Jordan, be sure to tell the Israeli officials to stamp the loose immigration forms only, not your passport (see From Jerusalem). Then you reclaim your bags and must wait up to an hour for a bus which makes the short trip across the bridge to the Jordanian arrivals terminal – the fare is JD3 plus JD1.25 per bag, usually payable in cash dinars only. During the trip the bus driver will collect all passports; on arrival you go into the foreigners’ arrivals hall to reclaim your passport, which won’t have been stamped by the Jordanian officials. Here you’ll find a snack bar, a bank and an ATM. Taxi drivers gather outside, charging JD25-30 to Amman. Alternatively, turn left and head through a couple of unmarked doors to find the exit from the locals’ arrival hall, from where serveeces do the one-hour journey to Tabarboor station in Amman for JD5-6 per person.
With luck the journey from Jerusalem to Amman can take as little as two hours; without it (or with security/immigration delays) you could be hanging around most of the day. If you need speed, you can pay roughly US$200 for VIP service city-to-city from agencies such as w amman2jerusalem.com – but this excludes the bridge shuttle bus. A better option is to take ordinary taxis at both ends, but then at the Israeli departures terminal go to the marked VIP office run by Laufer Aviation (w laufer.co.il) – for around US$100 they can whisk you through all the passport and security formalities and zip you direct to Jordanian arrivals in a private minibus.
From Tel Aviv and Nazareth
Buses of Trust International Transport run regularly from the Israeli cities of Tel Aviv and Nazareth direct to Irbid and Amman, without passing through the West Bank. From Tel Aviv, buses depart from the Central Bus Station, 4th floor, bay 99 (Sun–Fri 3pm; NIS180; t 050 553 8762). From Lower Nazareth, departures are from the Trust office (daily 2pm; NIS160; t 04 646 6660). Both services cross at a bridge over the River Jordan about 6km east of Bet She’an (Beisan in Arabic), known to the Israelis as the Jordan River crossing (Sun–Thurs 6.30am–9pm, Fri & Sat 8am–8pm; t 04 609 3400), and to the Jordanians as the Sheikh Hussein Bridge or simply the Northern Crossing. You pay an Israeli departure tax, currently NIS98 (about US$25), plus around NIS5 for a bus across the bridge. On the Jordanian side, after you’ve bought a visa (JD20), the waiting bus continues to Irbid (dropping off at the Trust office near Safeway) and on to Amman, terminating at the Trust office near 7th Circle. Reckon on 4-5 hours end to end – and always book one day in advance. You can also cross independently, with a taxi from Bet She’an to the bridge (around NIS25) and another taxi to Irbid (around JD25) or Amman (around JD50).
Flying from Tel Aviv to Amman costs around US$280 one-way on Royal Jordanian (t 03 516 5566, w rj.com) – but offers the lure of spectacular scenery over desert hills and the Dead Sea. Flight time is about thirty minutes.
Another crossing-point from Israel is in the south, between the neighbouring Red Sea resort cities of Eilat (Israel) and Aqaba (Jordan), known to the Israelis as the Yitzhak Rabin Crossing or Arava crossing (Sun–Thurs 6.30am–8pm, Fri & Sat 8am–8pm; t 08 630 0555), and to the Jordanians as the Wadi Araba or Southern Crossing. From Eilat bus station, it’s reached most easily by taking a taxi (around NIS50) or by simply walking 2km to the border. There’s an Israeli departure tax, currently NIS98 (about US$25). Once you’re through the formalities – Jordanian visas are free at this crossing (see Customs and duty-free) – a taxi into central Aqaba (5km) costs JD10-15, if you bargain hard.
From Cairo and the Sinai
Buses do run from Cairo to Amman, though it’s an uncomfortable journey of at least twenty hours. Jordanian JETT and Egyptian SuperJet buses leave once or twice weekly from the Almaza terminal in Heliopolis (t 02 2290 9013). The East Delta bus company (t 02 2405 3482) runs daily services from the Sinai terminal in Abbassiya. The fare on either is around US$90–110 including the Nuweiba–Aqaba ferry, payable in dollars only. Royal Jordanian and EgyptAir fly from Cairo to Amman (around US$240; flight time 1hr 30min), and you can also find flights from Alexandria, El-Arish and Sharm el-Sheikh.
Ferry services from Egypt to Aqaba are operated out of Nuweiba by AB Maritime (Cairo t 02 2260 4949, Nuweiba t 069 352 0365; w abmaritime.com.jo). At the time of writing, fast ferries (catamarans) depart daily at 5pm (economy US$75; first class US$95; 1hr), and slow ferries depart daily at 5pm and 10pm (US$70; 3hr) – though their timetable is notoriously unreliable and can change from month to month. Expect lengthy delays. There may be a tax of about EGP50. Arrive at the port, 8km south of Nuweiba, at least two hours early to buy tickets (with US dollars only). On boarding, you’ll have to hand over your passport, which will be returned to you at Aqaba passport control, where visas are free. A serveece into central Aqaba (9km) is about JD2 per person, a taxi about JD8. Check for details of extra departures in peak season (during summer, at the end of Ramadan, and around the hajj and Eid al-Adha).
You’d do better to opt for the other ferry, a passenger-only catamaran (built in 2010) also run by AB Maritime but marketed by Meenagate (Aqaba t 03 201 3136, w meenagate.com). It’s slightly more expensive, but eliminates the chaos and uncertainty – and, above all, runs to a fixed, reliable daily schedule. Until their online booking system is up and running, book at least 24 hours in advance by phone or email; you may have to send a copy of your passport by email. Departure from Nuweiba is daily at 6am; you must be at Meenagate’s Pyramid Hall check-in zone, separate from the main hall, by 5am. The fare is US$85, which includes all taxes and a snack on board. The voyage takes ninety minutes and arrives at the convenient Royal Yacht Club marina, within easy walking distance of Aqaba’s city-centre hotels.
Ferries and cruises to Aqaba also used to run out of Taba, 70km north of Nuweiba. These were suspended at the time of writing; check for the latest info with tour operators in Sinai or Cairo.
A cheaper and often easier alternative is to go overland through the Israeli resort of Eilat. Taba, on the Egyptian-Israeli border, is well served by transport from Nuweiba, Dahab and Cairo. The crossing is open 24 hours daily, but it’s difficult to find transport inside Israel during the Jewish shabbat, so avoid turning up here after 2pm Friday and before 8pm Saturday. There may be a small Egyptian departure tax (around EGP50), and most nationalities are routinely issued with a free Israeli visa on arrival. Once in Israel, a combination of city buses and walking will get you to the Jordanian border (hagvul ha-yardeni in Hebrew), but it’s easier to take a taxi (around NIS80–100). Details about crossing into Jordan are given in “From Eilat”. Total journey time is about two or three hours – though the passport stamps you pick up will disqualify you from subsequently entering Syria and many other Middle Eastern countries.