Accommodation in Jordan runs the gamut from the cheapest fleapit dives all the way up to international-standard luxury five-star hotels. Amman, Petra and Aqaba have a wide choice covering all price brackets and Jordan’s Dead Sea hotels are some of the best spa resort complexes in the world.
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The Jordan Hotels Association (w johotels.org) grades all hotels from one to five stars, with “unclassified” hotels off the bottom end of the scale. Room rates vary according to the season. The high season for tourism from non-Arab countries is spring (March–May) and autumn (Sept–Nov). This is when hotels are at their busiest, and when you should book well in advance. In April and October, especially, it can be difficult to find a room at any budget in Petra and Aqaba. Summer (June–Aug) is when Arab tourism from the Gulf states is at its peak, but these visitors tend to prefer to stay in self-catering apartment suites, so some hotel bargains can be had. Hotels in Aqaba stay busy all winter long (Oct–April), when the luxury hotels on the Dead Sea are also often completely full – block-booked either by conference delegates or by tour groups, or packed with wealthy Ammanis on weekend breaks.
Most hotels above two-star include eight percent government sales tax and ten percent service charge in their rates, but a few quote prices without them – be sure to check what’s included. Out of high season, a little gentle bargaining can often bring discounts.
Standards vary widely within each price bracket and sometimes within each hotel. Things to look out for are air conditioning (or, at the most basic places, at least a ceiling fan – not a table fan) in summer and some form of heating in winter; both are essential almost everywhere. South- or west-facing rooms that receive direct sunshine are liable to become ovens on summer afternoons and so stay uncomfortably hot during the night; you’d do well in Aqaba, for instance, to reject a sea view in favour of a cooler, north-facing balcony. Even cheaper hotels should offer 24-hour hot water.
On a backpacker budget, there’s a network of traveller-style hotels in all the major towns, and you’ll easily get onto the grapevine for bargain excursions. In the mid-range, you can take advantage of some excellent-value small hotels – many family-run – dotted on and off the beaten track, as well as comfortable lodges and cabins within several of Jordan’s nature reserves. At the top end, Jordan’s finest hotels compete with the best in the world.
Jordan’s cheapest hotels – to be found in all town centres – aren’t hotels at all. They’re essentially dosshouses, catering to guest labourers and long-distance truckers. Universally filthy, they’re best avoided by even the most frugal travellers: washing facilities are likely to be spartan or nonexistent, and there might be only one squat toilet to share.
Slightly up from these are budget hotels aimed either exclusively at Western tourists, or at both locals and tourists; often the latter will have some means of separation, like reserving one whole floor for locals only and another for tourists only. You’ll often find a choice of shared or private rooms, housing two, three or four beds, perhaps with some en-suite rooms as well. It’s perfectly acceptable to check things out before agreeing to pay: see if the sheets are clean (it’s common practice in these places to leave the sheets a couple of weeks between changes; insist on clean bedding before taking the room), the bed is stable, the flyscreens on the windows are intact, the ceiling fan works, the water in the bathroom is hot (or at least lukewarm), the toilets don’t smell too much, and so on. It’s a good rule to keep your passport with you at all times: with the risk of pickpocketing at virtually zero, the hotel “safe” (often just an unlocked drawer) is rarely safer than your own pocket.
Women travelling alone or together on a rock-bottom budget will have to play things by ear. In general – although not always – budget hotels that are geared towards Western backpackers will be safe and welcoming for women, whereas those that are mainly geared up for locals should be avoided. Paying slightly more to stay in hotels with better security and privacy is wise.
If breakfast is provided at all, it will generally comprise tea, pockets of flat bread, butter or marg, jam, processed cheese and perhaps a hard-boiled egg. Some places might include it in the room rate; others may charge a dinar or two extra.
Mid-range hotels are generally decent, family-run establishments that take a pride in offering good service. Other than at Petra, they’re just as likely to be targeting visiting Arab families as foreign tourists and thus can’t afford to get a reputation for slovenliness. Lobbies are often done up in grandiose style, featuring gilt, fake marble and lots of glitter: don’t be too dazzled, though, since a fancy lobby can sometimes prelude distinctly drab or gloomy rooms.
If you’re after colonial character, you’ll be disappointed: being a bedouin backwater, Jordan missed out on the grand age of hotel-building – and Amman’s venerable Philadelphia Hotel, built soon after the 1921 foundation of the emirate, was rather short-sightedly bulldozed in the 1980s. Instead, look for character in the modest but comfortable rural lodges and cabins within several of Jordan’s nature reserves, notably Dana, Ajloun and Azraq.
The luxury end of the market can offer remarkable value for money. An over-concentration of top-end hotels means that, with prudent advance booking (which can bring you bed and breakfast for less than the room-only walk-up rate), you could bring the cost of a five-star splurge down to a half or even a third of what you might pay in Europe for equivalent facilities. There are very few independently owned luxury hotels left in Jordan: almost all belong to one or other of the big global hotel groups – InterContinental (which includes Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn), Mövenpick, Marriott, Kempinski and the like. All five-star hotels can cater for non-smoking guests on request, generally with non-smoking floors.
Jordan has barely any facilities for camping. Just a handful of independently run sites exist, often in beautiful locations but with a minimum of amenities. Some hotels, notably at Petra, allow you to camp in their grounds. Several of the RSCN’s nature reserves have excellent campsites, including Dana and Ajloun, but you have to pay for the tents that are provided: pitching your own tent is prohibited.
At Wadi Rum, all the local desert guides (and most of the outside companies that take tourists to Rum) have campsites for their own customers, comprising traditional bedouin black goat-hair tents pitched in some beauty spot, often with a decent toilet block, kitchen and even makeshift showers: all bedding and amenities are supplied. It’s always preferable, of course, to sleep under the stars. If you prefer to visit (and camp) alone, a tent is not normally necessary outside the winter months, but Rum can be chilly at night year-round, and tents do keep away scorpions – as well as the winter and spring rains.
Elsewhere you should be judicious: the authorities disapprove of rough camping on the grounds of safety – though if you camp far away from habitation and tourist hot spots, no one will bother you. Always avoid lighting fires: wood is a very scarce commodity in Jordan. Ideally, use a multi-fuel stove or camping gas.