It’s one of the world’s top adventure destinations yet, in recent years, tourists have been eschewing Jordan due to widespread unease about travelling in the region.
But while the country has struggled to maintain its reputation as a safe oasis in more dangerous surrounds, it is still ranked by the World Economic Forum as one of the safer countries in the Middle East. And its mesmerizing sights – now with fewer crowds – are more spectacular than ever. Here’s what you need to know before your trip.
Why should you go?
From clapping eyes on the sandstone-hewn temples of Petra for the first time, to hunting for ancient petroglyphs in the desert wilderness of Wadi Rum, Jordan is an adventure-lover’s paradise. But it’s not just for adrenalin seekers.
From cooking with local families to getting a taste of nomadic Bedouin life, there are plenty of cultural experiences on offer in Jordan. The country’s top sights are well maintained, and can be visited in less than a week – though you could easily spend a fortnight exploring further afield.
Why is now a great time to visit?
Jordan’s tourism industry has taken a battering in recent years. Visitor numbers to Petra alone halved between 2010 and 2015 and are only creeping back slowly. Go now, and you can enjoy Jordan’s sights without the crowds – sometimes even all to yourself.
If you’re a keen hiker, you can also be one of the first to tackle the Jordan Trail – a spectacular 650km hiking trail that spans the entire country from tip-to-tail – which opened earlier this year. Choose a manageable section, or set aside a month to hike its entire length.
Making for a smoother visit, the Jordan Pass (from 70JD) launched in 2015. It offers hassle-free prepaid entry to more than 40 sites across the country and waives the standard 40JD tourist visa fee. Don’t forget to purchase the pass in advance of your trip.
Is it safe?
First-time visitors may be surprised to find that Jordan is an incredibly welcoming, easygoing country, and most travellers – including solo women – report feeling safe here. It’s important, of course, to check official travel advice before you go.
Violent attacks are rare in Jordan, though a Canadian tourist was killed in a December 2016 shooting at Karak Castle, a popular tourist site. This saw Jordan beef up security at its borders.
Which sights shouldn’t I miss?
It would be a travesty to leave Jordan without exploring the ancient Nabataean city of Petra (try to catch one of the thrice-weekly night shows), zooming around the soaring sandstone peaks of Wadi Rum in a 4WD, or testing the incredible buoyancy of the Dead Sea. But there are plenty more attractions worth squeezing in beyond this.
Less than 50km north of Amman, Jerash, the largest Roman city in the Middle East, is worth a day trip from the capital. And it can easily be combined with a visit to the nearby 12th century Ajloun Castle, one of Jordan’s handful of Crusader-era fortresses.
Karak Castle, in Jordan’s central west, is the largest and most popular of the lot – but many say Shoback Castle, perched on a wild, remote knoll 100km south of Karak, is the nation’s most picturesque.
Amman is also worth a day or two of your time. Enjoy sweeping views of the “White City” from the Amman Citadel, which dates back to Neolithic times; marvel at the 2nd century Roman Theatre (the onsite Folklore Museum was reopened in 2016 after being closed for five years), and check out the excellent Jordan Museum.
Dive trips can be arranged from the Red Sea resort city of Aqaba, too, and there are limitless opportunities for hiking and canyoning in Jordan’s many wadis (valleys).
Note: Jordan has a well-established tourism infrastructure, though it’s worth hiring a car or arranging a private driver to get around if you’re travelling independently. Public transport can be patchy.
What’s the food like?
You’re never far from a good meal in Jordan. As the world’s largest producer of olives, marinated black or green olives are typically present at every mealtime, with olive oil used liberally in traditional cooking. Falafel served in a fresh pita pocket with a dollop of hummus is a common takeaway snack; Hashem in downtown Amman makes the best.
Traditional meals typically consist of mezze (hummus, baba ganoush, labaneh, pickles and falafel) accompanied by a main dish such as mansaf (lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt called Jameed and served with rice or bulgur), makluba (a casserole layered with rice, vegetables and meat, then flipped upside down to serve) or, in Bedoin country, zarb (meat and vegetables cooked in an underground pit).
Widely considered to serve the best Jordanian cuisine in Amman, Sufra on trendy Rainbow Street near the downtown core is a top spot for dinner in the capital. Meanwhile, modern cafés such as Wild Jordan Centre, just around the corner from Sufra, offer an opportunity to sample local favourites with a twist.
Even though Jordan is a Muslim-majority country, alcohol is readily available in restaurants and hotels, and Amman has an increasingly hip bar scene. Most watering holes are concentrated in the Rainbow Street area. Industrial-chic Maestro, attached to La Locanda Boutique Hotel, is credited for putting the Jabal al-Weibdeh district, just west of downtown, on Amman’s nightlife map.
Where should I stay?
There are three overnight experiences you shouldn’t miss while travelling around Jordan. They include taking part in a culinary-based homestay with a local family (Engaging Cultures can help to arrange this), spending at least one night in a Bedoin camp in Wadi Rum (try Captain’s Desert Camp), and splashing out on a night or two at Feynan Ecolodge: a stunning, ultra-sustainable hotel nestled in the breathtaking Dana Biosphere Reserve.
All options offer immersive cultural experiences that will leave you wondering why you didn’t visit Jordan sooner.
Feynan Ecolodge/Bashar Alaeddin
Is it worth venturing further afield?
Many visitors choose to combine a trip to Jordan with an overland visit to Israel and/or Palestine’s West Bank, which could be visited safely from Jordan at the time of writing.
It’s best to arrange cross-border excursions through a local operator (try Experience Jordan) as it’s not possible to self-dive across the borders; prearranged transport will meet you on the other side. Border formalities can still sometimes take several hours, but it’s all part of the experience.