Jordan is a small nation in the Middle East, but a stable and tourist friendly one. It has been the crossroads of humanity for thousands of years, and even today, it is home to refugees from around the region. Jordan has one of the new 7 Wonders of the World–Petra– as well as hundreds of other ancient ruins and historical sites. I was impressed by the friendly and good natured people as well as the incredible diversity of things to do during my 2 weeks of travel in Jordan!I visited Jordan in 2014 with Intrepid Travel's Jordan & Egypt Uncovered Tour and had a fantastic experience. Prior to my visit, I knew almost nothing about Jordan besides Petra and Wadi Rum. I came away from my 2 weeks in Jordan with a newfound appreciation for this unique country in the Middle East.
How to Spend 2 Perfect Weeks in Jordan
Day 1: Amman
Amman is home to about two-thirds of Jordan’s residents, and this capital city sprawls across the hilly landscape of the region. Start your first day in Amman at Ancient Citadel, a centrally located site which houses ruins from many different centuries. The site is perched up on one of the 7 hills that make up central Amman, so you can have a beautiful panoramic view of the city. It is also one of the few sites around the world that has been continuously inhabited since the early BCs. When you arrive at the gates, you'll be hawked by English speaking guides. If you can fend them off, they are not really necessary. The site has some nice signs, and you are given a small guide book when you arrive.
The next stop on my short walking tour of central Amman was the Roman Theater. An easy walk from the Citadel, it makes sense to see these two sites in succession. This theater is relatively smaller (only 6,000 people) than others, but it was amazingly well-preserved and restored. You can really get a feel for it's size. I also thought it was really neat how it was in the center of town. You can see it from the Citadel! As with all Roman theaters, the acoustics are spectacular, so much so that the modern Jordanians hold concerts there almost every week night for only a few dinars.
Nearly all international flights arrive into Queen Alia International Airport (code AMM) in Amman, and is likely to be the port of arrival for any travelers into Jordan. The airport is located pretty far outside of the city, but it’s a nice airport with a clean and straightforward environment. Although a lot of people blow off Amman for other more famous areas like Wadi Rum or Petra, I think it is worth exploring for a day or two!
One thing that you absolutely CANNOT miss is a cooking class at Beit Sitti. Book your class in advance of your trip, since the classes do fill up, but it is well worth your money and time. Started by two sisters, this initiative brings traditional Jordanian cooking into the hands of foreigners through hands-on cooking instruction and eating. I could go on and on about this place because I had a fantastic experience!
Day 2: Amman
On day two, there are a few other interesting sites I would recommend checking out. First – the King Abdullah II mosque. Built by King Abdullah II in the mid 80s, this mosque has beautiful blue tilework and mosaics all around the outside and on the top domes. It was so beautiful against the bright shining sun!
This is an active working mosque, so during prayer time, non-Muslim visitors are not allowed inside the mosque and are invited to come back during off hours. In order for us to enter the mosque, we needed to dress in a coverall provided by the tourist office, as well as a head scarf. Inside the mosque, it is carpeted with a domed ceiling and more tilework.
After finishing at the mosque, we took a cab out to Royal Automobile Museum on the west side of town. Now I am not a car lover by any means. Actually, I know little to nothing about cars, so I was surprised by how much I liked this museum! The museum holds the private car and motorcycle collection of Jordan's royal family with vehicles dating back to the turn of the century, as well as a replica of the first car ever created!
You wander through the collection, which in itself is cool, but I really appreciate that the curators collected stories and photos of the royal family in each of the vehicles over the years, as well as video clips and interviews about various events in the cars. I learned a lot about the history of the royal family, which I honestly knew nothing about. Plus, there were some really rare cars including a couple Rolls-Royce Phantoms, Lamborghinis and a really cool orange Mercedes SLR McLaren, which apparently is one of the fastest and rarest cards in the world.
Day 3: Jerash
Just 1 hour north of Amman is the ancient city of Jerash. Famous for its Roman ruins, Jerash is also a modern city with a decent number of hotels if you want to spend the night. The city was founded, at least in its largest sense, in 300 BC by Alexander the Great. It flourished through the Roman period due to its strategic location on a major trade route and this ancient site is one of the best preserved examples of a Roman city. The city was founded, at least in its largest sense, in the 300 BC by Alexander the Great. It flourished through the Roman period due to its strategic location on a major trade route.
You’ll spend about 4-5 hours on a tour of the site, and I would highly recommend a professional guide since there is so much to see and learn here. As with other ruined Roman cities, you are going to see some staple structures: a theater, colonnades, a hippodrome, temples to various gods, entry arch and a forum or agora area. What really impressed me about Jerash though was how well-preserved it was. It's in excellent condition! For me, it provided one of the best visualizations of what a Roman city felt like to live in. I was particularly impressed the Temple of Artemis and the Oval Forum in the center of the site. Most of the pillars still stand and it was expanded in the 300 ADs from its original size, which you can see in the limestone stones on the ground.
Day 4: Madaba & Mount Nebo
There is pretty much one main road that stretches the length of Jordan, so from this point on, all of the stops I list in this itinerary will be along this southbound stretch of road that goes all the way to the coast of the Red Sea. Although there are buses that connect the various stops on this itinerary, the easiest and most reliable way to explore is hiring a driver or renting a car.
About an hour south of Amman is Madaba, a storied city with lots of religious historical significance. Mount Nebo was made famous in the bible as a place where Moses saw a view of the promised land from the hilltop. On that hill now is a church overlooking the view from where Moses supposedly stood. It's a beautiful panorama view of the region. It has historically been home to mosaic artisans, so you'll notice lots of little shops along the streets where you can buy beautiful (and sometimes massive) tiled art pieces. I liked getting a demonstration of the tile & mosaic work by a local artisan, because it gave me a big appreciation of how much detail work goes into making even a small piece. It makes the big ones seem all the more impressive! Archaeologists also discovered a Byzantine-era mosaic map of the Holy Land in the late 19th century which is currently being excavated and restored.
Day 5: Dead Sea
Located on the border between Israel and Jordan, the Dead Sea gets it name (cleverly) from the lack of life in this super salinated body of water. It is almost 400 meters below sea level, and the salinity of the water is a staggering 30%. Compared to the 7% usually found in the ocean, this water is a strikingly different composition. Climate experts say the Dead Sea could be dried up by mid-century, so this is definitely a bucket list item you don't want to miss!To reach the low-lying Dead Sea, you'll drive down the surrounding mountains. Keep your camera ready because it is a beautiful view. You can see Jerusalem, the West Bank and the varying mountain landscapes around Jordan. You ears will pop the whole way down as the pressure changes due to the altitude drop.
Once you're at the bottom, the main highway runs along the sea so the lovely views continue. There are many fancy resorts and hotels along the waterfront, all boasting about having the best "Dead Sea Spa". If you're not looking to spend a fortune, head to the public beach area for swimming.
Jordanians say that the Dead Sea makes you look 10 years younger after a short swim, and while I'm not sure if that's true, I certainly felt refreshed after my experience swimming in it. The water makes you so buoyant because of all the extra salt, and it literally takes no effort to float. It's actually hard to keep your legs under the water and the pressure will just push them up to the surface!
It was a little difficult to swim, and the water feels almost oily running against your body. I will forewarn any readers—absolutely do not shave the night/day before swimming here. It stings soooo badly! Despite normal intuition, the salt water surprisingly makes your skin feel really moisturized and smooth.
Day 6-7: Dana Nature Reserve
Dana Biosphere Reserve is Jordan's largest nature reserve, located in south-central Jordan. While not as famous or maybe impressive as Wadi Rum, I found that Dana Reserve was totally a hidden gem in Jordan. Similar to Wadi Run below, I would recommend hiring a guide to take you on a walking tour of the reserve's highlights. There are about 600 species of plants that live inside the park, along with nearly 200 species of birds and 45 mammals, including gazelle, foxes & wolves. Plant species range from citrus trees and juniper, to desert acacias and date palms and it's interesting to learn about their different properties and how they live together in such a harsh environment.
If you're not sick of ruins yet, there are also some historical ruins inside the reserve that are worth a stop. The ruins of Khirbet Feinan and Wadi Ghuweir are particularly interesting. I was interested to learn that the copper mines here date back 6,000 years and were at the time the largest metal- smelting operations in the region.
The 15th century hamlet of Dana is made almost entirely of stone and absolutely adorable. I would highly recommend spending a night or two here. The Feynan Ecolodge is definitely the place to stay, and you can feel good about your impact! The boutique lodge is one of the few eco-lodges in the region powered entirely from solar energy. Villagers also make quality local handcrafts (sold at the lodge) and leather goods are produced by local Bedouin women to give them some economic independence. Because of the remote location of the lodge, it feels like a luxurious opportunity to disconnect and enjoy the smells, sounds and sites of nature.
Day 8-9: Petra
As a wonder of the world, Petra is probably on the itineraries of most visitors already, but it is still worth mentioning—if you're traveling to Jordan, you must see Petra! Built by the Nabataeans in the 300's BC as a holy city, archaeologists believe they nestled it into the mountains near Wadi Rum to keep it safe and secret. It was only rediscovered in the 19th century by Johann Burkhardt. Once reports of the site started to circulate, archaeologists determined the site to be very important and in the 1960s the Jordanian government commissioned a restoration of the site. Now, it is a UNESCO world heritage site and the most popular tourist attraction in Jordan with about 1.5 million visitors annually.
The entire site is massive and I recommend dedicating at least an entire day to visit it. You will start at the visitors entrance, and wander down about 1km to the original entrance of the city which then opens up to the 1km long souq. For me, this was one of the most impressive parts of Petra. Formed by an earthquake and eroded by wind, the sheer rock faces are uniquely shaped, soft and curving, but also steep and jagged at the top. It is a deep orange color with beautiful stripes of white and brown. There are carvings, small prayer areas and dams along the way that are of interest, but mainly the natural formations are awe-inspiring.
At the end of the souq, you are greeted by the familiar photo of Petra: the famous Treasury. The name comes from a myth that the fortune of the Pharohs was hidden in the site, rather than it's actual use as a treasury. It is indeed a tomb, and no fortune was ever discovered in the site. The facade is impressive in its size and details, but also the fact that it has remained largely intact for 2000 years!
Because we started at the most iconic part of the site, I sort of thought the tour of Petra would be over, but boy was I wrong. The site isn't just the treasury, like I thought -- it's actually an incredibly large complex that takes hours to explore. Only 10% of Petra is believed to be excavated, so there is continuous work on rebuilding and repairing the site that you're bound to see while visiting.
You can continue to walk along the Petra road to see additional tombs and grave sites. This will lead you to the main area where the actual town was located. The Great Temple is the most impressive. You can still see the hexagonal tiles on the floor as well as picture the grand size of the temple. They believe it had over 300 pillars!
If you aren't sunburnt and exhausted yet, I recommend hiking your butt up the 900 steps to the Monastery. The grade of the slope is not too bad, and it only takes about 45 minutes. There are rest stops and small shops along the way incase you get tired or hungry. But once at the top, you are treated to an amazing site. The monastery is the second most famous facade in Petra, and is, you guessed it, another tomb. Larger in size than the Treasury but less ornamented, I actually liked the Monastery a little better. You get a lovely view of the surrounding mountains and the open space makes it breezy and comfortable (plus half the crowds). Petra is a closed circuit, so when you descend from the Monastery, you'll make your way back the way you came, past now familiar sites.
If you are feeling really ambitious, you can stay for sunset and Petra by Night. It is a totally different feel walking through the site at night. There are candles and lanterns laid along the path so you can find your way and the cooler temperatures makes it a little more inviting. There are candles laid out all in front of the treasury, although I was a little disappointed they don't light up the upper levels of the facade, only the ground. But they serve hot Arabic tea and you can lay on little mattresses while listening to traditional Jordanian music. It's quite romantic!
Day 10-11: Wadi Rum
Continuing on your two week itinerary of Jordan, keep going south to find Wadi Rum, Jordan's second most famous destination. You'll need to hire a driver & vehicle ahead of time for this portion of your trip, as personal camping is not allowed. Wadi Rum is a national park in the Southwest corner of Jordan where you will find spectacular sandstone mountains and incredibly beautiful landscapes. This region was made famous to foreigners by Lawrence of Arabia, and was one of the places he spent time during his life.
Formed by wind and tectonic movements on sandstone rock, the bright orange formations in Wadi Rum are unique and super striking. Picture it like in the American southwest or Bryce National Park. The rocky outcroppings are surrounded by sand dunes and open desert areas which seem to go on forever. The rocks form caves, arches and pillars, and the elevation can get up to 6,000 ft. One of my favorite views in Wadi Rum was the sunset view you saw at the top of this post. It was such a beautiful view and the colors splashing on the rocks made for a once-in-a-lifetime sight. The oranges and purples and pinks were so vibrant.
The Bedouin people have lived in this region as nomadic people for hundred, maybe even thousands of years. I find this particularly amazing, since there are very few oasis in the site and I have no idea how they ever found food. If you are interested in spending the night in the park, I would definitely recommend staying at one of the nomadic Bedouin communities inside the national park. You can typically arrange to stay with them as part of your car and drive package. Our tents were top-class, with beds, electricity and a wooden bottom. This is glamping for sure!
Our Bedouin glamping experience was a highlight from my 2 weeks in Jordan, because it was a great opportunity to learn about a lifestyle and culture that has largely disappeared in the world. The Bedouin have managed to largely stay unaffected by regional conflict and climate change, so you can get a glimpse into what their lives have looked like for centuries. It was fascinating to sit around the fire and hear stories from the community members who have lived in this region their whole lives.
Day 12-13: Aqaba
After all the sand, history and arid climate, you might be ready for a tropical break. Aqaba is a relaxing way to end your 2 weeks of travel in Jordan because this oceanfront town makes it feel like you are truly on vacation. Aqaba retains its small-town vibes despite growing in popularity. I had no idea there were towns like this in the Middle East, feeling like an island oasis with a very laid-back attitude. It's a great contrast and definitely worth a stop!
There isn't necessarily anything "to do" or see in Aqaba itself, but it makes for a great place to relax your last few days away. Some of the world’s best diving and snorkelling resides along a 20km stretch of coastline between Aqaba and the Saudi border. The condition of the reefs is really good, largely because it has only recently become popular among divers. This reef gets about 20,000 visitors per year, compared to the nearby Sinai peninsula which gets about 2 million. There are lots of organized boat trips to reefs that you can hire for a day trip in town if you're interested in seeing some aquatic wildlife. If you're more of a spa kind of person, check out the spa inside the Mövenpick hotel. It's got top-of-the-line amenities and it would be easy to spend a day relaxing here!
Day 14: Amman
Unfortunately, we've reached the end of the itinerary. It's time to make your way back to Amman for your onward flight. It is a 4 hour to drive from Amman to Aqaba, so if you've got a flight, make sure to leave enough time to make it back.
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