At the crossroads of centuries-old pilgrimage and trading routes, Jordan is famed for the Nabatean ‘lost’ city of Petra, evocative biblical sites and lonely desert palaces where Umayyad noblemen once relaxed in splendour. 

Carole French author of Jordan: The Bradt Guide

Jordan offers everything from sophisticated city life to nature reserves that are home to some of the world’s rarest plants and animals.

The country’s breathtaking canyons are a dream for hikers and climbers, while desert and forest landscapes provide plentiful opportunities for exploration. It has world-class diving sites off the coast and upmarket hotels for spa breaks beside the Dead Sea.

A country rich in history, natural beauty and charm, all of which the Jordanians are justifiably proud, Jordan is a perfect holiday destination. At the crossroads of centuries-old pilgrimage and trading routes, Jordan is famed for the Nabatean ‘lost’ city of Petra, evocative biblical sites and lonely desert palaces where Umayyad noblemen once relaxed in splendour.

Palm-filled wadis, flower-carpeted meadows and the brilliant blues of the Gulf of Aqaba provide splashes of colour among the dramatic rocky landscapes.  Yet the country’s appeal stems as much from its people as its scenery: no trip would be complete without sipping wild mint and cinnamon tea with the Bedouin in Wadi Rum, delving into Amman’s live music scene and mingling with locals over an argeeleh pipe in Madaba.

Food and drink in Jordan


Food is a serious business in Jordan and central to daily family life. Until recently, Jordanians were rarely seen eating out in restaurants. Eating in order to survive, as opposed to eating as a social event, was considered something you did in the privacy of your home with your tribe, extended family or your invited friends. The thinking stems from the Bedouin way of life, when cooking in the open air using the freshest of ingredients, and then dining with your close circle was the norm. Eating out was unnecessary and this still holds true in some areas. As a result, there is not a huge selection of restaurants once you leave the cities.

As a multicultural city, Amman has French, Mediterranean, Indian, Oriental and Mexican restaurants, plus lots more besides, and Aqaba has a whole host of fish restaurants, but get out into the less touristy towns and the choice becomes limited. This is even true of Wadi Musa, the town that serves the Petra Archaeological Park. In the Badia and Wadi Rum desert regions, restaurants are virtually non-existent. But this is slowly changing and more restaurants are opening.

Jordanian food is delicious, but it may come as a bit of surprise when you find you will be expected to eat your food with your fingers or use the bread as a sort of scoop. More upmarket restaurants provide cutlery, as do hotels which all have their own international and often gourmet restaurants, but traditional eateries in the middle of nowhere may put only a spoon on the table for eating soup. An age-old tradition amongst Jordanians is that eating is done with the right hand, since the left hand is used for toilet purposes. As such, eating with your left hand in a restaurant, at a Bedouin camp or if you are invited to dine with a family in their home will be met with disapproval.


Most Jordanians get up at sunrise and, as such, eat breakfast early. Typically, an Arab breakfast will comprise a dish of fuul. A mix of brownish cooked fava beans mashed up with olive oil, lemon juice and a good helping of spices, fuul is perhaps an acquired taste to the Western palate more used to eggs on toast, but it is tasty and should be tried at least once. It is served ladled from a big pot with flat bread (khubz) and side dishes of olives (zaytoon), cheese (jibneh) or a dip made from ground chickpeas mixed with lemon juice, garlic and olive oil (hummus). A Jordanian will complete breakfast with a strong black tea (shal or shy), or possibly a mint tea (shy na’na) or a coffee (ahwa or gahweh).

In hotels, breakfast is served around 06.00/06.30–10.30. The Petra Archaeological Park opens at 06.00 and you’ll find the hotels in Wadi Musa tend to start breakfast earlier than, say, the Amman hotels, but you will be told times when you check in. Breakfast in the smarter hotels is usually a buffet-style arrangement with all manner of dishes displayed for you to help yourself. It’ll be the usual international assortment: juices, cereals, cheese and ham, croissants and rolls with jams, honey and marmalade, sliced bread for toasting, boiled eggs, cakes and pastries, fruit and a cooked selection that will include sausages, bacon, tomatoes and potato. Poached or fried eggs or omelettes are usually prepared to order.

You will be offered tea or coffee and may have to ask for milk (halib) as it isn’t always brought automatically to your table (Arabs drink black tea and coffee). If you’re staying in a budget hotel it’s probably wise to assume the breakfast won’t be quite so lavish.

Lunch and dinner

Jordanians tend to eat a hearty lunch around 12.00, even if they are working, and then dinner quite late in the evening. Favourite dishes include falafel, which is a delicious combination of ground chickpeas moulded into balls and fried. It is a staple on the menu and often served for breakfast, as a fast-food snack between meals or as a starter with salad and dips for a main meal. Jordan’s national dish is the traditional Bedouin celebratory feast dish mensaf. Usually prepared and served in a large cast iron-style shallow pan, it comprises chunks of cooked lamb, mutton or sometimes camel on a bed of rice, smothered with spices and a creamy yoghurt sauce. It is served with potato (batata), flat bread (khubez), and dishes like fattoush, cubes of fried bread with parsley, and tabbouleh, which is a particularly flavoursome combination of chopped parsley with tomato and mint.

If you fancy trying Jordanian dishes, head for a good-quality Arabic restaurant; cheaper ones will probably have a handful of simple dishes on their menu and simplest thing to do is order a mezze, followed by a couple of main courses for everyone in your party to share. A mezze comprises a selection of dishes on small plates, from which you can help yourself. Typically, it will have dips such as hummus, a tasty aubergine dip (baba ghanouj) or an aubergine and sesame dip (moutabbel), flat bread and salad, followed by warag aynab (vine leaves stuffed with minced meat, rice and spices), sujuk (spicy sausages) and a delicious spit-roasted chicken (farooj). The speciality of many restaurants is magloubeh, which translated means ‘upside down’. Versions vary but it is typically a delicious dish of creamy chicken with rice and vegetables cooked with herbs. If you fancy something light try chicken with spinach (mulukhayyeh) or a chicken kebab (shish tawook). It is exceptionally rare for you to see pork on the menu, which is forbidden under Islam. Pastries dripping with honey, milk puddings flavoured with almond (muhallabiyyeh), or fresh fruit like apples (tfah) from the south, bananas (mooz) and oranges (boordan) from the Jordan Valley or the wonderfully juicy watermelons (batteekh) that grow in abundance and can be seen in the green-covered fields on approach to Wadi Rum in spring and summer are the traditional ways to round off a meal.


With so many classic dishes made from vegetables, spices, chickpeas and sesame seeds, eating out in Jordan as a vegetarian is a breeze. Simply order your chosen dish or join in with everyone in a mezze and help yourself to the many meat-free dishes that will be brought to your table on tiny plates. Try fataayir, which is a savoury snack or light meal made of paper-thin pastry cut in triangular shapes and filled with cheese or spinach, or a tiny egg-topped pizza known as a khubez bayd. Mahshi (vegetables stuffed with rice and cooked with spices) is a good choice too. Salads, especially tabbouleh – made with chopped parsley, tomato and mint – and fresh fruit are always served.


The national drink of Jordan has to be tea (shal or shy); everyone drinks it either strong and hot or flavoured with herbs or mint (shy na’na). Green tea (shy akhdar) and chamomile tea (babunaj or babohbidj) have become fashionable too. These will be served to you hot, or a refreshing alternative is to have them chilled in a tall glass. A close second in the popularity stakes is coffee (ahwa or gahweh). Every village has a local coffee shop, even two or three, which bear no resemblance whatsoever to the swish coffee houses found in the shopping malls of central Amman. Village coffee shops are rustic places where the men folk of the village meet, sip their strong Arabic coffee (ahwa Arbeya) or Turkish coffee (ahwa Turkeya), catch up with the news and join in a bit of gossip after a day’s work before heading home to the family. Women (other than visitors) and children are not allowed in coffee shops; they are the preserve of the village men.

The drinking of alcohol is forbidden under Islam and in a restaurant Jordanians will order a long iced mint tea, mineral water (mayat siha) or a juice (aseer). It is acceptable for visitors to drink alcohol, but it should be done with restraint and under no circumstances venture out while intoxicated – it is considered undignified and will cause offence. Some of the more upmarket restaurants, bars and hotels will have a reasonable wine (nibid) list featuring local red, rosé and white Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay wines that are quite acceptable, plus a choice of international wines and spirits, and beer. The local beer is Amstel, which is brewed under licence, and is available in bottles, cans or draught, but is expensive.

Health and safety in Jordan


People new to exotic travel often worry about tropical diseases, but it is accidents that are the biggest risk. Road accidents are very common in many parts of Jordan, so be aware and do what you can to reduce the risks. Try to travel during daylight hours, always wear a seatbelt and refuse to be driven by anyone who has been drinking. Listen to local advice about areas where violent crime is rife.


Preparations to ensure a healthy trip to Jordan require checks on your immunisation status: it is wise to be up to date on tetanus, polio and diphtheria (now given as an all-in-one vaccine, Revaxis, that lasts for ten years), typhoid and hepatitis A. Immunisations against hepatitis B and rabies may also be recommended.

Proof of vaccination against yellow fever is needed for entry into Jordan if you are coming from another yellow fever endemic area. (Visit the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s website at for more information on affected countries.) If the vaccine is not suitable for you then obtain an exemption certificate from your GP or a travel clinic, although this is not an absolute guarantee that they will accept the waiver. Immunisation against cholera is not usually required for Jordan unless there are known to be current outbreaks – though as the climate is dry this is rare. Hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for those aged one and above (Havrix Monodose or Avaxim) and comprises two injections given about a year apart. The course costs about £100, but may be available on the NHS. It protects for 25 years and can be administered even close to the time of departure. Hepatitis B vaccination should be considered for longer trips (two months or more) or for those working with children or in situations where contact with blood is likely. Three injections are needed for the best protection and can be given over a three-week period of time is short for those aged 16 or over. Longer schedules give more sustained protection and are therefore preferred if time allows and for those under 16. Hepatitis A vaccine can also be given as a combination with hepatitis B as ‘Twinrix’, though two doses are needed at least seven days apart to be effective for the hepatitis A component, and three doses are needed for the hepatitis B. The timing is age dependent as for the hepatitis B.

The newer injectable typhoid vaccines (eg: Typhim Vi) last for three years and are about 85% effective. Oral capsules (Vivotif) may also be available for those aged six and over. Three capsules over five days lasts for approximately three years but may be less effective than the injectable forms. They should be encouraged unless the traveller is leaving within a few days for a trip of a week or less, when the vaccine would not be effective in time. Vaccinations for rabies are ideally advised for everyone, but are especially important for travellers visiting more remote areas, especially if you are more than 24 hours from medical help and definitely if you will be working with animals. Experts differ over whether a BCG vaccination against tuberculosis (TB) is useful in adults: discuss this with your travel clinic.

Travel clinics and health information

A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on For other journey preparation information, consult (UK) or (US). Information about various medications may be found on All advice found online should be used in conjunction with expert advice received prior to or during travel.


Jordan is generally a safe place to visit and if you venture out after about 19.00 in the evening you will probably find the main towns and cities almost deserted. Having said that, there are incidents of crime and you should be vigilant against pickpockets and petty thieves, especially in busier places.

As in many other countries in the world, there is a threat of terrorism and the occasional outburst of politically inspired unrest. You should be vigilant. The most recent period of unrest was in 2011 when street protests in Downtown Amman, fuelled by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, and incidents along the Jordan–Syria border resulted in a small number of injuries and reports of deaths. If you happen upon political rallies or demonstrations, whether organised or spontaneous, it is wise to avoid them for your own safety.

Female travellers

Women travelling alone should exercise the usual caution against crimes of a sexual nature, and in particular decline any offer, of a lift from strangers. Jordanians are a modest people and consider women dressing in a provocative manner unpleasant. If you dress is such a way, there is every possibility that you might be harassed by men thinking that you may be available. The wisest option is to dress modestly, for which you will be respected. You should cover your shoulders and arms, and never wear miniskirts or shorts.

If you are harassed, either verbally or more unlikely physically, then shout angrily and you will almost certainly embarrass your harasser. It is unacceptable for men to touch a woman, except possibly in a business situation where colleagues shake hands, and even then the woman would instigate the gesture.

It is also inappropriate for women to sit next to a male driver if travelling in, for example, a taxi. It is best to sit in the back to avoid any misunderstanding. On buses, it is generally accepted amongst Jordanians that you do not sit next to someone of the opposite sex unless you are married. A woman travelling alone should find another woman to sit next to. Wearing a ring to suggest you are a married woman even if you are not is also often a good deterrent against unwanted male attention. The Jordanian police advise that should you find yourself a victim of harassment, or become lost or stranded always call the emergency number (tel: 191 or 192) for assistance.

LGBTQ+ travellers

Homosexuality is illegal in Jordan, although it is widely known that Amman has a small, circumspect underground gay and lesbian scene. If you were to happen upon the areas frequented by gay and lesbian couples you probably wouldn’t even be aware of it, such is its discretion. However, public shows of affection between same sex couples, such as holding hands or kissing as a greeting, is all part of the social scene.

Travel and visas in Jordan


All visitors to Jordan need a passport with at least six-month validity remaining on arrival, and an entry visa, which can be obtained before departure at any Jordanian embassy, or on arrival into Jordan at any port of entry, except if entering via the King Hussein Bridge (Allenby Bridge) on the Jordan/Israel border.

Obtaining a visa at an airport or port is a straightforward procedure. Single-entry visas, which cost JD20, are valid for 30 days. If you are entering the kingdom via Aqaba – Aqaba Special Economic Zone – then the 30-day single-entry visa is free. If you plan to stay longer you can easily extend the validity of your visa for up to three months, to a maximum of six months, at any police station after your arrival. It is advisable to register with the police a few days prior to the expiry of your single-entry visa if wishing to extend it. Visas, when purchased in Jordan, should be paid for in local currency. Visa charges are not applicable if you are arriving with a group of five or more people through an  official Jordanian tour operator. If your visit involves crossing into Jordan from Israel via the King Hussein Bridge (Allenby Bridge) you must have purchased a visa in advance. Multiple-entry visas are available at JD60 and valid for six months, but these are only available from Jordanian embassies and consulates. Multiple-entry visas are ideal if you plan to cross borders and re-enter Jordan a number of times during your visit. Apply for a multiple-entry visa from your local embassy before your initial day of departure.

Exit tax is no longer applicable when you leave Jordan, other than with a vehicle. An exit service fee of JD5 per vehicle and JD8 per passenger is applicable at all land and sea border points.

Visas are granted to visitors from the following countries, but do check with your embassy prior to departure as requirements can change. Citizens of all other countries should contact their local Jordanian consulate or embassy prior to departure for up-to-date advice on requirements and whether a visa must be obtained before travel. Failure to have the correct documentation can result in you not being allowed entry into the kingdom.

Getting there and away

By air

The Queen Alia International Airport in Amman is the main airport of Jordan and the home of its national airline, Royal Jordanian Airlines. It is also a major hub for Jordan Aviation, a private-owned Amman-based airline that serves the Middle East, Africa and Europe, along with providing transportation for the UN peacekeeping forces. VIP flight specialist and charter company Royal Falcon Airlines and a former subsidiary of Royal Jordanian Airlines, Arab Wings, fly from the airport too. The airport lies around 32km south of Amman city centre on the edge of the desert, and is easily reached via the country’s main highway linking the south with Amman.

By sea

Jordan has a short coastline and a port and ferry terminal where cruise ships and passenger vessels from Egypt dock. Independent travellers can use a car-ferry service operated by Arab Bridge Maritime Company (03 209 2000; 03 209 2001; that plies a route between Nuweiba in Egypt and Aqaba in southern Jordan. Fast ferry departures from Nuweiba are at 11.00 and 17.00 and return departures from Aqaba are at 08.00 and 13.00, Sunday to Friday but times can and do vary so check the current timetable at least a day before your planned trip. The journey takes roughly one hour and costs around JD60 one way per person. The slow ferry departs from Nuweiba at 14.30, returning from Aqaba at midnight; both daily, but again subject to change. The slow ferry takes around three hours and costs around JD50. Vehicles on all crossings are charged separately, from around JD40 for a motorcycle and JD140 for a car. It is advisable to purchase your ferry ticket in advance if you can, as the passenger terminal in both Nuweiba and Aqaba can be busy prior to departures. Allow yourself plenty of time before your departure. Sindbad Xpress (Maysloon St, Aqaba; 03 205 0077; [email protected]; also operates fast passenger catamaran crossings from Egypt’s Taba Heights Marina in Taba, South Sinai, to Aqaba’s marina in Tala Bay, South Beach (variable departure times; duration 25mins; from around JD70). The Tala Bay marina is located a ten-minute drive south of the city centre. To enter Jordan by sea you will need a visa. If, during your holiday in Jordan, you intend to travel to Egypt, you will need to obtain an Egyptian visa, which can be purchased onboard both the fast and slower vessels. If you are planning to return to Jordan after your trip to Egypt and have a multiple-entry visa obtained when you first arrived then your arrival back in Aqaba should be straightforward.

By train

The only route into Jordan by train is from Syria, but at the time of publication this service is suspended because of unrest in and around Damascus. Normally, the Hejaz Railway (tickets available from the railway station on the day of departure only; JD2.50) trains run between Damascus and Amman once a week for the journey through often-spectacular countryside. The trip takes around nine hours. On a Sunday the train leaves Damascus at 07.30 and arrives in Amman at 17.00. It leaves Amman on Mondays at 08.00, arriving in Damascus at 17.00. Although there is a single-track railway line between Amman and Aqaba, there is no passenger service.

By bus

Air-conditioned buses operated by the Jordan Express Tourist Transportation Company (JETT) in Amman (06 585 4679; 06 585 4176; and Syria’s state-owned bus company, Karnak, run between Damascus and Amman twice daily (be sure to check the bus schedule before your planned journey as at the time of publication this service is subject to cancellations due to unrest in Syria). Buses generally arrive and depart from Abdali Bus Station in Amman to the Karnak bus station in Damascus. Journey time is around five hours, including the time it takes to complete formalities at the border crossing. A one-way ticket costs JD8 for adults and JD5 for children. This is a popular route so it is advisable to book several days in advance. Tickets are available from JETT, the Karnak offices at Karnak bus station and the Syrian Agency (tel: +963 118126238).

JETT and local operator, the Saudi Public Transport Company (SAPTCO) (+966 (01) 2884400; +966 (01) 2884411; [email protected];, operate daily bus services between Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam in Saudi Arabia to the Abdali bus station in Amman. The journey time from Riyad is approximately 17 hours, from Jeddah 18 hours and from Dammam around 21 hours. The companies also run a three-times-a-week service between the Saudi Arabia cities of Qaseem and Medina to Amman. Tickets are available from JETT and SAPTCO.

JETT services between Baghdad in Iraq and Amman run three times a week with a journey time of around 15 hours, while four times a week it operates a service between Beirut in Lebanon, in conjunction with the Transport & Tourist Services Company of Lebanon (S Solh Av, Badaro, Beirut; +961 1 399 777; +961 1 399 780; [email protected]). Journey time is around six hours. JETT, in conjunction with local operator Egyptian Super Jet of the Arab Unity Company (+202 2 290 9013; [email protected]) provides a service between Cairo in Egypt and Amman four times a week. Journey time is around 22 hours.

If you are planning to visit Jordan from Israel or the Palestinian Territories, you will find local buses or taxis from Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem that will drive you to the crossing point at the King Hussein Bridge (Allenby Bridge). Here your passport, visa and luggage will be checked, you will pay an exit tax, and then be escorted to a shuttle bus to the Jordanian terminal. From here you can take a service taxi for onward travel to Amman.

By car

Driving a car into Jordan is relatively straightforward through most of the border crossing points. There will be no duty to pay for up to one year unless you sell the vehicle to a local resident. To drive in Jordan you must have a full picture driving licence valid in your country of origin which you have held for at least one year. Be sure to take full insurance documents with you to show if asked to do so. For peace of mind you may wish to purchase added insurance in Jordan, which is generally inexpensive. Among the companies offering motor insurance are the Jordan International Insurance Company (, the Jordan French Insurance Company and the Jordan Insurance Company ( All travel over land into Jordan is subject to border crossing controls, not all of which are open 24 hours.

By taxi

Private taxis and service taxis, known as serveeces (pronounced servees) operate to and from the Abdali bus station in Amman to most cities of the neighbouring countries and from the King Hussein Bridge at the Israeli border. Private metered taxis are comfortable and not overly expensive; as a guide expect to pay around JD60 for a trip from Damascus to Amman, and about JD30 from the King Hussein Bridge to Amman. Service taxis are cheaper; for the same journeys expect to pay around JD12 and JD7 per person respectively. If you want the taxi to yourself you can negotiate a rate.

Getting around

By air

National carrier Royal Jordanian (03 201 8633; [email protected]; operates scheduled, twice-daily flights (morning and early evening) between Amman and Aqaba, which makes it easy to travel between the north and the south of the country. The flight time between the two cities is just 45 minutes. Ticket prices are as little as JD23 excluding tax.

By taxi

The public transport system in Jordan can be a little bewildering to visitors and you may find it easier and more convenient to hire one of the bright yellow taxis with green panels on the side doors that can be seen everywhere. Aqaba has its own fleet of lime green taxis that operate in the same way. Around town a journey by taxi will set you back just a few JDs. For example, from the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman a taxi will cost around JD15 for the 50-minute, 32km journey. Your taxi driver should always switch on the meter around town, which starts at JD0.15 and rises in increments. If your budget allows, you can always telephone to book one of the smart silver radio taxis from your hotel, although these are only available in Amman.

A cheaper option to both the yellow cabs and the silver radio cars in Amman is the serveeces taxis (service taxis), which can be a fast, convenient way to travel if you don’t mind sharing the vehicle with others. This service is available in most towns. The idea is you flag a serveeces vehicle down, and providing your destination is one on their predetermined route they will take you there for 80 or so fils. The vehicles are easy to spot; they are usually Peugeot 504s or Mercedes, and have a sign indicating they are a serveeces taxi, but their destination and number are always in Arabic. If you cannot read Arabic don’t despair; flag one down and ask the driver if your destination is on his route. Most drivers speak good English. The chances are you’ll be planning a trip to Downtown Amman, to the Abdali bus station or to the commercial district, and you’ll find that most serveeces taxis run between the three.

It is also possible to hire taxis for longer journeys, to the Dead Sea, Petra, Wadi Rum or Jerash from Amman or Aqaba, for instance. However, be aware that while a taxi journey around Amman or Aqaba will be inexpensive, the further afield you go the rate per kilometre rises alarmingly. In the end, you may feel a rental car is a better option if you’re planning lots of long trips. Serveeces minibuses are the cheapest option and likely to cost around JD30 for a typical trip from Amman to Petra. It will be direct, however, and you may find yourself squashed in.

An alternative is to hire one of the yellow and green taxis in Amman or the lime green taxis in Aqaba for private use for a few hours, a day or even for a few days. Be sure to negotiate or at least check the price you will be charged for such trips before embarking on them. You may be looking at over JD80 for a straightforward round day trip from Amman to Petra, or from Aqaba to Petra, but when you consider your driver will usually have a good command of English, will be knowledgeable about the sights and take pleasure in chatting to you about Jordan, and is sure to be happy to stop if you want a break or to take some photographs, then you may feel the taxi fare is worth every dinar. It’s generally a comfortable way to travel, more direct and convenient, especially if you are in Jordan for just a few days and want to see as many of its fabulous sights as you can.

A word to the wise; Jordan has very few female taxi drivers, although the number is on the increase, and a local women taking a taxi would never dream of getting in the front seat with a male driver. This applies even if they are travelling with a male companion. It is simply not the done thing. Foreign women should do the same to avoid any misunderstandings

By bus

Jordan has a number of bus companies that provide fast and regular links between the cities in either larger minibuses or gleaming air-conditioned intercity buses. The JETT bus company is the largest, and its fleet of modern blue-and-white luxury buses can often be seen running up and down the Desert Highway to Aqaba in the south, or north to Irbid. It operates to a daily timetable with buses linking the major towns and the King Hussein Bridge, along with main tourist destinations like Petra and Jerash. The hub of its operation is the Abdali and Wahdat bus stations in Amman. Most destinations around Amman and to the north are served out of Abdali, but if you’re planning a longer trip to, say, Aqaba, Petra, Ma’an, Karak or Madaba to the south then your JETT bus will leave from the Wahdat bus station. The destination of the bus will be clearly shown on the front; the downside is it will be in Arabic. If you don’t read Arabic then you’re almost sure to find the driver speaks good English and will happily point you in the right direction for your bus.

Enterprising businesses also run minibuses in competition with the large shiny air-conditioned buses. These seat around 18 people and depart when full. The advantages to travelling by minibus are that they are far cheaper than the larger buses, and, because they do not run to a timetable and are a popular mode of transport for locals, they often run more regularly on busy routes. That said, if you are travelling to a more remote region or a small town, the chances are you may have a wait for your bus to fill up and depart. It’s something to consider if time is a key part of your journey. In terms of fares, to use the Amman to Petra and Aqaba to Petra example again, typically you will pay less than JD2 for a minibus, compared to around JD8 on a scheduled air-conditioned bus.

By train

While discussions to introduce passenger trains have been afoot for decades there is currently no service, other than the Hejaz Railway that runs between Amman and Damascus in Syria. You may catch sight of the narrow track that runs south of Amman down to Aqaba, and if you’re lucky you may even see one of the lovely old steam trains that ply the route. However, these only ever carry freight, especially phosphates, between the cities.

By car

Renting a car and touring around Jordan on your own has lots of advantages and is relatively straightforward, if a tad alarming at times. Driving is on the right, but given that many roads aren’t marked with lanes, especially in rural areas, and locals tend to drive without too much thought to rights of way (which can be particularly problematic at roundabouts), it can all be a bit of a challenge for the faint-hearted. In busy areas the drama of drivers sounding their horn is all part of daily life.

When to visit Jordan


The Jordan Rift Valley’s lush and temperate environment is in marked contrast to the Badia desert territories. Between 6500BC and 5500BC there was, according to scientific analysis, a significant change in weather patterns across the region that is now the Middle East, which had a marked impact on the communities that lived here and the natural habitats where many species of wildlife and birdlife had long thrived. One of the most monumental changes was that the deserts of the region became hotter and drier. In Jordan, the whole of the desert region, known today as Badia, was affected. This new environment began to see a change in wildlife species to those more adept at desert habitats, while the Neolithic human communities that had begun to develop here started to seek alternative places to live. The harsher temperatures and lack of water meant it was difficult to cultivate crops and keep livestock. The communities moved towards the western boundaries of the country.

Today, Jordan has a climate similar to that of the Mediterranean, with sub-tropical hot, semi-dry summers and cool, often wet winters. However, the desert areas to the south and east, and the highest mountainous regions, can see significant variations in temperature to those found elsewhere; the deserts are generally much hotter and the highlands and mountains cooler.

August sees the hottest temperatures, which will often reach in excess of 36°C, whilst in the Badia region’s desert areas, summer days are often scorching hot with temperatures reaching in excess of 40°C. During summer evenings and in winter, temperatures in the desert fall significantly. January is the coldest month, when it is quite common to see snowfall, particularly on the higher elevations of the highlands and mountains. On average, winter temperatures are around 14°C. Wear lightweight cottons and linens when touring the country in summer, but take a jacket or jumper for the cooler evenings. In winter, take warmer clothing and rainwear.

The desert region is particularly prone to strong, often gale-force, sirocco-style winds coming from the south in late spring and early autumn. It can be a hazardous time. Huge sand storms and dust clouds can change the landscape over several days. Sand is whipped up to create dunes and covers everything in the wind’s path with a reddy-golden dusting. It can make driving or even walking difficult and potentially dangerous. Always take special care and listen to the expert advice of your tour or trek guide if you are planning excursions into the desert at this time.

The north and the west of the country, along the Jordan Valley and in the Mountain Heights Plateau, see the highest levels of rainfall. This is especially so from autumn through to mid-March, which when combined with the usual mild temperatures can result in the air feeling humid. In summer, the Dead Sea region at an elevation of below sea level can get extremely hot, with few, if any, periods of respite.

What to see and do in Jordan

Ajloun Forest Reserve

Surrounded by woodlands of evergreen oak (Quercus calliprinos), Aleppo pine trees, wild pistachio (Pistacia palaestina), carob (Ceratonia siliqua) and wild strawberry trees (Arbutus andrachne), this is one of the most beautiful nature reserves in Jordan. It lies in what is regarded as the highlands. Run by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), the reserve was founded in the Ajlun village of Umm al-Yanabee in 1987 with the mandate to help protect the evergreen oak forest ecosystem.

Here you may spot the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) or the striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena). There are wild boars and foxes, along with the rare and dainty roe deer, which became extinct in the wild in 1988 through excessive hunting. The RSCN launched a captive breeding programme to reintroduce the roe deer and it is now thriving in the reserve. It is hoped the deer will be returned to the wild in the future when their numbers have reached sustainable levels. The reserve is a woodland birdwatcher’s paradise. You may see jays, which feed on the acorns dropped by the ancient oak trees.


 In the morning you could explore a bustling bazaar and secure a bargain Bedouin rug, then take a baguette and cappuccino lunch in a swish bistro restaurant, before spending the afternoon immersed in history at one of Amman’s ancient Roman, Byzantine or Islamic sites. You might then enjoy modern art in one of the city’s many galleries, and afterwards take in a literary evening or mingle with the crowds along fashionable Abu Bakr As Siddeeq Street, better known as Rainbow Street or Al-Rainbow Street. Later you could enjoy a gourmet meal before heading back to your ultra-modern hotel. Yes, Amman, which held the UNESCO title of Arab Cultural Capital in 2002, is a city that lives life in a 21st-century fashion, while celebrating its remarkable history extremely well.

Amman lounges over seven fertile hills, known as jabal or jebel (Arabic jah-bahl), that lie between the desert sands of the east and the Jordan Valley. Each quarter is named after the jabal on which it sits. The main thoroughfare linking one side of Amman with the other has a series of roundabouts, called Circles (duwaar). They give their name to the immediate area around the Circle. For example, the first roundabout you come to from the eastern side of the city is 1st Circle, which is an area of Downtown Amman; the second, 2nd Circle, is a part of Abdali, and so on. It is a busy city, but one that is surprisingly easy to navigate and most of the main sights are within easy reach of each other.


Cosmopolitan and historic, Aqaba is located along Jordan’s much-prized coastline off the Gulf of Aqaba and is the country’s only beach resort. As such, the many tourists who come here for the temperate climate, world-renowned diving and snorkelling, sandy beaches, historical sites, cosmopolitan restaurants and a taste of a lifestyle akin to the Mediterranean but with an Arabic twist are joined by thousands of holidaying Jordanians. Many travel the 330km from the capital Amman. At around four hours’ driving time away from the city, or a 45-minute hop by plane, it is understandable that Ammanis head south to the country’s second city at every opportunity. Aqaba, which was chosen by the Arab Tourism Ministers Council as the Arab Tourism Capital in 2011 and is seen as a model world tourism city, bathes in brilliant sunshine most of the year, even in the winter months when Amman and the north is decidedly chilly. Average summer temperatures are around 39°C and in winter temperatures are around 21°C.

Aqaba is often referred to as part of the Red Sea Oasis with the nearby world-renowned attractions of Wadi Rum and the Nabatean city of Petra. It is home to more than 103,000 people, a figure boosted by visitors from not just Jordan’s cities but from around the world most months of the year. It is a popular holiday destination for visitors from the Middle East, Egypt and Europe, who can fly direct into its international airport, or fly via Amman. Along with the climate, a big attraction is its duty-free status, which makes shopping a delight. The city is referred to as the Aqaba Special Economic Zone (ASEZ), run by the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA). It is the capital of the Aqaba Governorate and, as the country’s only seaport through which produce and goods (such as valuable phosphate) are exported, is an important Jordanian city.


The modern city of Jerash is the largest of the Jerash Governorate, as well as its capital, and is surrounded by a number of picturesque towns and villages, including Souf, which was an important place during the Ottoman period, and Kufr Khall where most of the grapes seen in the souks around Jordan originate. The land is renowned for its fertile valleys, most of which are blanketed by fields used for agriculture. Jerash, however, is most famous for the fabulous archaeological remains of Gerasa, which was conquered by General Pompey in 63BC and went on to become one of the finest cities of the Roman Empire. Gerasa’s remains lay hidden under sand for centuries until they were rediscovered, excavated and, in part, restored, and are today the country’s second most visited site after Petra. Excavation work is currently underway at the site.


A UNESCO World Heritage Site in its entirety since 1985 and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the Petra Archaeological Park (Al-Batra) is an astonishing 2,000-year-old city chiselled by hand with meticulous detail into the sheer, pink-hued rock face of the mountains towards southern Jordan. At its zenith there were probably thousands of buildings and an ingenious complex of dams and water channels. It is the legacy of the Nabateans, a highly creative and industrious dynasty that had immeasurable wealth and created one of the greatest survivors of the ancient world.

Petra is the stuff of legend. As the capital of the Nabatean empire, it was one of the most important cities in the ancient world, only to be later abandoned and lost hidden deep in the Wadi Araba mountains. Only a handful of Bedouins knew of its existence. It wasn’t until the 19th century that Petra was rediscovered by a young Swiss traveller, Johann Ludwing Burckhardt. You’ll find that nothing quite prepares you for your first visit. Its huge size, complexity and haunting beauty are such that will stagger even the most seasoned of travellers.

Qusayr ‘Amra

With its soft, sandy-coloured limestone and basalt façade and its architectural design that makes it stand out against the blue sky and the flat, barren landscape, the Qusayr ‘Amra is the most famous of all the Desert Castles. It was built in the 8th century AD, almost certainly in the year AD710, on the instructions of the ground-breaking Umayyad caliph Al-Walid ibn Abd al-Malik, better known as Al-Walid I, who liked to take recreational time in the desert.

Structurally, the Qusayr ‘Amra it is one of the best preserved of all the desert fortifications, but more importantly it also has a magnificent collection of Umayyad frescoes that are in such good condition and of such important historical interest that the castle has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The frescoes, and indeed the architecture, are considered some of the earliest forms of Islamic art. Painted in terracotta, cream, blue and green shades, the frescoes can be seen on walls and ceilings throughout the castle.

Wadi Rum

Made a Protected Area in 1998, the Wadi Rum desert is home to the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence’s Spring and the beautiful Siq Khazali canyon.  There’s nothing quite like being surrounded by nature in this vast, serene desert. It is the ultimate experience if you crave getting away from it all. Here you can explore canyons on foot, climb towering mountains, such as Jabal Rum and Jabal Um Ishrin, observe wildlife or take a tour by camel caravan across the desert. You can hop on a 4×4 for a thrilling experience driving over the sand dunes or climb into a hot air balloon to see this magnificent landscape from above. Adventure, lots of fun and the experience of a lifetime – yes, Wadi Rum offers all this and rather a lot more.

Wadi Rum has towering limestone and granite mountains, deep canyons and dry, unimaginably beautiful sandy plains. On first impression you could be forgiven for thinking that animals and plants couldn’t possibly survive here, but you would be wrong. It has a unique ecosystem that supports a vast number of species, some of which are endangered. If you’re lucky you may catch sight of the Nubian ibex (Capra ibex nubiana), the grey wolf (Canis lupus) or the handsome Arabian oryx, which has been saved from extinction by the RSCN and released back in the wild. They are extremely rare and if you report your sighting to the visitors’ centre you will be assisting with ongoing scientific research in the desert.

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Jordan: a desert rose

From Holy Land sites to Roman ruins and the Nabatean wonders of Petra, the country offers a wealth of fantastic sights for history buffs.