Welcome to Jordan, a predominantly Muslim and conservative country located in the Middle East located on the East bank of the Jordan River. It is a relatively small country, making it very easy to see a lot in 1 week.
The best way is to fly into Queen Alia International Airport located in Amman. Some major airlines that fly directly into Amman are Lufthansa and Royal Jordanian. I used Lufthansa; the plane from Frankfurt to Amman was really basic- no on board entertainment. It made a very boring 4-hour flight. Another popular way to get there is via tour bus, coming from Israel or Egypt.
Tours: Group tours are my favorite way to see the world. You can go solo and make many new friends. Transport and hotels are already included so it’s hassle free and easy. It’s also a really safe option if you’re traveling alone, if you’re a woman or if it is your first time traveling to a foreign country. There are activities organized for the group, and plenty of free time to do whatever you wish.
The tour I chose this time was with Encounters Travel – I had never used this company before, but the itinerary and price couldn’t be beat. You travel on a large tour bus, which I normally don’t enjoy but this one was comfortable and had WIFI.
Even though I had a decent time, I would not use this tour company again. Maybe I just had some bad luck, but the type of people on this tour were not the type of people I enjoy traveling with! I think there are better options out there – I suggest trying Intrepid, G Adventures or Timeless Tours.
Currency and costs:
Jordan uses the Jordanian Dinar. It can be expensive here, especially in tourist areas. Meals will cost average $20CAD, but it’s possible to find a cheaper meal if you’re adventurous. Just be aware that costs can add up, and budget accordingly. While major credit cards are accepted, I found that it was easier and more appreciated by the locals to pay with cash. When shopping for souvenirs, it is acceptable to haggle for a better price.
A Jordan Pass is highly recommended. It includes entrance fees for most attractions in Jordan, including Petra. It also includes your entrance visa into the country. Print out a copy of the pass and carry it with you, and download it to your phone for easy scanning.
Safety/Traveling as a solo woman:
Despite its proximity to a few unsafe neighboring countries, Jordan is safe. Don’t worry! Just don’t travel close to the borders of Syria, Iraq or Saudi Arabia and you’ll be fine.
I found Jordan to be safe to explore as a woman, just use regular caution as you would anywhere. A way to avoid unwanted attention and be respectful is to dress modestly – see the What to Wear section below.
What to Wear:
Wear comfortable loose clothing, light in fabric and colors. Since Jordan is a conservative Muslim country, dress as modest as possible. Shorts and T-shirts are fine; just try to have them cover your shoulders and knees. Depending on the season, it may be helpful to wear layers for when it’s cooler in the mornings and evenings. For women, avoid low cut tops. Save that for the club…. you should be respectful while in Jordan! Don’t be like the 4 young girls from the UK who were on my tour, wearing short shorts and skirts, with scoop neck tank tops. The tour guide had to have the awkward convo with them about dressing appropriately. I always carry a light scarf with me, to cover up when entering religious sites and for protection from the sun. A hat will help keep the heat stroke away, and you’ll appreciate a good pair of sunglasses (I usually bring a few pairs for variety in pics; they don’t take up much room!). Hiking/combat boots are perfect for exploring ruins and walking in the desert areas, and sandals for everywhere else. Men can follow the same guidelines as well.
What to Pack:
Aside from the obvious items, I found these things useful: mosquito repellant and something to soothe bug bites if they occur(I got most of my bites in Wadi Rum), a portable battery pack for your phone so you’ll have a full charge for the day, body glide to prevent skin chafing (especially for inner thighs), a flashlight separate from your phone for walking through Petra at night or your desert camp, Kleenex/toilet wipes – because you just never know!
I think the easiest and most cost-efficient way to see Amman is to hire UBER. Just make sure you have a SIM card or access to WiFi. In most areas it is easy and safe to walk around and explore.
Renting a car is hassle free; you just need a license, a passport and be over 25 years old. The road conditions are pretty good too. If you want to explore outside of Amman, consider this an option or you can hire a driver or book a day tour.
Whether with a tour group or traveling on your own, here is a suggested itinerary and ideas of what to see and do while in Jordan.
Amman features a nice contrast of traditions and culture with some modern luxury- one of the most modern in the Arab world. And you know what? It’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. That’s a lotta history! It was home to the Kingdom of the Ammonites dating back to 7250 BC. The city spans over 27 hills/mountains – I wasn’t expecting to see so much elevation! There are a lot of cool Roman ruins to explore, and well as mosques and museums. A lot of people you will meet will speak English as well as Arabic, making navigating the country much easier.
King Abdullah II Mosque – This is the only mosque in Amman that welcomes non-Muslim visitors. It is also known as the Blue Mosque because of its pretty blue mosaic dome. Women must put on the provided abaya to cover up any exposed skin and hair. Walk into the mosque and be amazed at how the soft carpet feels on your bare feet. Head to the center of the dome, and look up at the magnificent chandelier.
Rainbow Street – named after the cinema that was located here back in the day. This cobbled street is lined with many shops and restaurants with outdoor patios and is popular with locals and tourists. A great place to come for lunch or dinner, or try something from one of the popular ice cream joints.
Grand Al-Husseini Mosque – if you find yourself in the historic Downtown area, have a quick look at the mosque from the outside (it’s difficult for non-Muslims and women to enter). It is one of the oldest mosques in Amman, rebuilt in 1932 on the site of an ancient mosque from 640 AD with pink and white stones in Ottoman style.
Jordan Museum – a relatively new museum opened in 2014, it contains Jordan’s most important archaeological findings. It was built as an expansion of the Jordan Archaeological Museum which is located in the Citadel.
Amman Citadel– Located in central historic Amman, the Citadel is on one of the original 7 hills that made up the ancient city. It’s one of the most important sites in Jordan, as it’s been occupied my many ancient civilizations and there are still many areas that have not been excavated. Expect sweeping views of Amman, and pigeons flying in neat formations in the distance. The coolest thing up here is the remains of the Temple of Hercules, a Roman structure that archaeologists believe was never actually finished. At the site of the temple remains is what is left of a statue of Hercules… his 3 fingers and an elbow. You can also have a look at the remains of the Byzantine Church, the water cistern and the Umayyad Palace complex.
Roman Theatre – located right in downtown Amman, it seats 6,000 and dates back to the 2nd century. It is very steep…this is so the sound can carry. There is a spot where you can stand and your voice echoes loudly through the theatre. Awesome!
Bethany Beyond the Jordan – Bethany is believed to be the original location of the baptism of Jesus and is a new addition to the UNESCO World Heritage collection. Around an hour drive from Amman, it is located on the Eastern bank of the Jordan River. A guided tour is included in the admission price (this site may NOT be part of your Jordan Pass), so go dip a foot in the river or maybe get baptized (for an extra fee).
As Salt – an ancient agricultural town built on the slopes of 3 mountains with unique buildings made from the yellow sandstone that’s local to the area. Located an hour drive from Amman, you will need a few hours to explore. Try the Historic Old Salt Museum, Hammam Street, Al-Khader church as well as other churches and mosques in the area.
Jerash – only second in popularity behind Petra, Jerash is a massive and well-preserved Greco-Roman city. You can easily spend hours wandering around and admiring the ancient architecture. There’s not much shade here, so put on that hat and sunscreen to stay protected. It will take less than an hour to get here from Amman.
Desert castles – Again, these are all a short drive from Amman and from each other if you plan it right. Quseir Amra is the best-known desert castle and UNESCO site. Umm ar-Rasas, another UNESCO site can also be in your King’s Highway itinerary. Or try Ajloun Castle, a 12th century Muslim castle north of Amman. It’s located high on a hill overlooking the town below. While you’re there check out the 600 year old mosque and pick up some of the area’s amazing olive oil.
Madaba – a stop along the King’s Highway (scenic route to Petra), the town is famous for its mosaics and most importantly a large floor mosaic map of the Holy Land, located in the St George Greek Orthodox Church. Make a stop at the church and wander around the quaint streets.
Mount Nebo – also along the King’s Highway, where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land (and is possibly buried somewhere here). The views from up here are amazing, and there is an old church and monastery museum that has some really cool mosaics. And don’t worry – there’s no hiking involved in exploring this mountain!
Kerak Castle – a large Crusader castle built in the 1100’s. Spend a couple of hours roaming around the ruins and navigating the rooms and tunnels of the castle. Also a popular stop along the King’s Highway.
Petra – this will be #1 on your list when visiting Jordan. Known as the Rose City, it is most famous for the stunning Treasury, a tomb carved into the sandstone. It’s recommended you do a whole day here, maybe even two to take in all of the sites. If you can handle the exercise and the heat, take the hike up to the Monastery and prepared to be wowed.
Wadi Rum – Also known as the Valley of The Moon, it is a valley cut into the sandstone and granite rock in the southern part of Jordan. Fun activities you can do here are rock-climbing, horseback riding, stargazing and ATV rides through the sandy desert. The best option is to stay in a desert camp, where the food is amazing and they will treat you like royalty.
Dead Sea – sitting at 430m below sea level, the Dead sea is known to wow its visitors when they experience floating in the salty waters. You feel almost weightless! There are some resorts to stay at around the sea, but I was just fine with making a quick visit with a quick dip in the water. It was way too hot! Make sure you’ve got some heavy duty sunscreen for this place. And take a shower after coming out of the water; you’ll be drenched in salt!
Where to Stay:
The hotel I stayed at was part of my tour inclusion and it was a far drive from any attractions in Amman. Therefore, I will not recommend it here. Instead, here are a couple of alternatives:
Grand Hyatt Amman – located in the business district, it’s a short ride to the major sites in the city. If you want to experience some luxury, check in here.
Amman Pasha Hotel – for those on more of a budget, this hotel is conveniently located right across from the Roman Theater in Downtown Amman.
Edom Hotel – the rooms are cute; the décor is old school fancy. It’s not the greatest choice for a hotel but if you’re on a budget and want to be a 5-minute walk from the entrance gates to Petra, then it’s perfect. Only downside are the unreliable elevators and you have to pay for WIFI.
Petra Guest House – this hotel is located just steps from the Petra gates. It is a 4-star hotel that’s not super expensive, has nice spacious rooms and a really cool place to drink called Cave Bar. If I were to visit Petra again, I would stay here!
Captain’s Camp – I loved this place! The service was amazing, and the meals were superb. The deluxe tents were ok; comfortable but nothing fancy but who cares really if you’re only staying one night. After dinner there was dancing to traditional music, or you can book a tour to go stargazing.
What to eat:
Fattet Hummus – hummus mixed with yogurt and tahini so it’s even creamier, with chunks of bread baked inside and loaded with pine nuts. It comes with pita bread for dipping. Very rich and filling, so it’s better as a share plate.
Mansaf – lamb cooked in a yummy sauce of fermented dried yogurt served with rice. I’m not a huge fan of lamb so I substituted chicken for my meal. A total cheat, I know but it was delicious.
Falafel sandwich – The best one I tried was one that had some toppings and sauces in the sandwich. Bad news though – the guy at the hotel ordered it for us to be delivered so I have no clue where it came from! But a great place to try one is at Al Quds in Amman.
Kunafeh – a delicious dessert made with a thin noodly pastry soaked in syrup and topped with cheese or clotted cream and nuts. A must have when in Jordan!
Shawarma – the original version uses lamb, but you can also get chicken or beef. Wrapped in a pita and garnished with cucumber, tomato, onion and tahini sauce.
Manakish – called the Middle Eastern Pizza, it’s dough topped with thyme, cheese or ground meat.
Maqluba – rice, chicken potato and cauliflower that is cooked in a pot and then flipped upside down when served.
Stuffed grape leaves – they don’t look that appealing, but they are incredibly tasty. Usually filled with tomatoes, onion, rice and other rich herbs.
Zarb -a Bedouin way of cooking chicken, meat and rice. It is buried in an oven with hot coals beneath the desert sands. The meat is so tender and has a simple yet amazing flavor
What to drink:
I was told that alcohol would be widely available but I found that to be untrue. My hotel didn’t have any to purchase, and most restaurants did not serve it either. If you find a liquor store, buy what you can there. I suppose more touristy restaurants and bars will serve alcohol. And be prepared – everyone smokes. Everywhere. It’s gross!
Coffee – coffee is very important in Jordan; it’s a way to bring people together and is a sign of respect. So if you get invited for coffee by a Jordanian, it’s a privilege! The Arabic kind is more bitter and flavored with cardamom; Turkish coffee is sweeter and has a different brewing method.
Fresh juice – sugarcane, pomegranate, date. My pomegranate juice guy was very proud that he does not add water or sugar! Try them all…. just don’t drink too much sugarcane juice or you’ll have a massive sugar high.
Beer – the most poplar beer in Jordan is the Dutch beer Amstel, which has a brewery in Jordan. Or try one of the three varieties of Petra beer.
Arak – a very strong spirit from the anise family. Mix with water and sip it slow …trust me. This stuff is potent.
Mint tea – serving tea is a gesture of hospitality. If you are offered anything to eat or drink in Jordan, never say no…it’s considered rude!
Where to Eat and Drink:
Sufra – located on Rainbow Street, this cozy restaurant in a stone villa is a little fancy and very friendly. Lots of famous people have dined here, and there are pics of these celebrities adorning the walls. This is a great place to try some traditional Middle Eastern and Jordanian dishes, such as galayeh (tomato and onion stew with lamb). It was hard to choose! It’s a bit pricey, but I guarantee you’ll love the experience.
Al Quds – located on Rainbow Street, this is the place to get a cheap falafel sandwich. It’s a tiny place so don’t blink or you’ll miss it. It’s known as one of the best places in the city to get falafel; they’ve been doing it since the 1950’s.
Ghoroub Lounge – located on the 13th floor of the Landmark Hotel, it’s an outdoor bar and lounge. The perfect place to grab a drink in Amman!
Shawerma Reem – and by the name of the restaurant, you know what their specialty is. It is one of the best shawarmas you’ll ever have. Located on the 2nd circle, it’s usually lined up but it goes quickly!
Red Cave – featuring Jordanian cuisine, this is where I tried mansaf. It’s located on the main street to the Petra entrance; the décor inside is cool but I’d recommend sitting out on the patio. It is a bit expensive with a high service charge, but the food and service is great.
My Mom’s Recipe – I could not find this place! I think it’s just a block from Red Cave according to my map but I did not see it. It is one of the top-rated restaurants in Petra, so definitely make it one of your meal stops. And it is much cheaper to eat here than most other places.
What to buy:
There are a few options for where to buy the best souvenirs… you can spend top dollar at a tourist trap shop, find a reasonably priced place on Rainbow Street in Amman (which I did), or search the souks in Downtown Amman for the best deals. There are a few shops in Madaba and Petra that may offer some good deals too.
Sand art – colorful sand designs in glass vases. It’s amazing how they do this, and it makes a great souvenir.
Market goods – perfume, spices, sweets, barazek cookies – you can find all sorts of cool items in the markets.
Hand painted ostrich eggs – I was really excited to bring one of these home, and then I saw how much they cost. I guess that’s fair since there’s a lot that goes into the process of making them. The tradition of painting these durable eggs dates way back in history, so it makes for a great decoration piece.
Olive oil soap – I picked up a couple bars from Carrefour; seemed like a better deal than buying it from a souvenir shop. Or you can find some at a local market. There’s no scent to it, but it does the trick.
Dead Sea products – you can buy the salts, mud masks, soaps, body scrubs. The salts are known to help with skin ailments like acne and eczema, and help the skin retain moisture. Definitely a win! The products are widely available at shops around Jordan; I got mine at Carrefour.
Bedouin tent model – they are cheesy looking for sure, but so cute!
Hand painted ceramics – they come in all shapes and sizes, with different traditional designs.
Tribal jewelry -mostly made of silver, with colored jewels and coins as decoration.