Backpacking Jordan: Top experiences
- Hiking through Wadi Muthlim, the “alternate entrance” when you visit Petra
- Interpreting the Mosaic Map in Madaba
- Having tea or a meal with Bedouins in the desert
- Exploring the Roman ruins of Mukawir, Umm Qais, or Iraq al Amir on day trips from Amman
- Meeting new local friends at every stage of your Jordan trip
Jump to the list of posts from Jordan, or read on for my comprehensive Jordan travel guide.
Jordan itinerary ideas
Because it’s such a small country, you can see most of the major places to visit in Jordan on a short trip.
With one week, focus your Jordan itinerary in the south. Spend three days exploring the ruins of Petra, including a hike through the alternate entrance at Wadi Muthlim. Then, head to Wadi Rum for a night in the desert. Stop off at one of the southern castles — Karak or Shobak — on your way to Aqaba for some diving or find out what floating in the Dead Sea is really like. Finally, go north toward Amman for your flight home, with a stopover in Madaba to see its ancient mosaics.
Another week would allow you to fully explore northern Jordan. The Roman ruins of Jerash are the standout attraction here, but Umm Qais, Ajloun, Mukawir, and Bethany Beyond the Jordan are equally worthy of exploration and will get you off the beaten path. You can do these as day trips from Amman or short overnights. Be sure to leave some time to explore the ruins and souqs of Amman itself.
If time and money are no object, you could spend a third week getting out into some of Jordan’s spectacular natural preserves. The Mujib Biosphere Reserve is the top pick, with one of Jordan’s best hiking trails, but the Dana Biosphere Reserve or the parks around Azraq are other great options.
Jordan weather and when to visit Jordan
Jordan’s climate is pretty typical of desert regions: Hot and dry in the summer, cool and dry the rest of the year.
The best time to visit Jordan is in March through May. It’s warm enough to be comfortable camping in the desert, but cool enough to hike all over Petra.
September through February is similar, but it can be quite cold at night (and even during the day). The little rain Jordan gets hits in the fall, so you can expect occasionally wet days. I visited in the fall — I was comfortable in long sleeves, and I got caught in one pretty bad rainstorm and a few drizzles, but otherwise it was very pleasant.
Try to avoid traveling to Jordan in the summer. Desert temperatures are miserably hot. Some places that rely heavily on tourism may close down for the summer.
Language in Jordan
The main language spoken in Jordan is Jordanian Arabic. This is very close to modern standard Arabic, and quite similar to the Arabic spoken in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel and the Palestinian Territories. If you speak modern standard Arabic, people will easily be able to understand and communicate with you during your Jordan trip.
However, locals use many colloquialisms unique to Jordanian Arabic, especially in informal settings. You don’t need to learn these if you’re merely backpacking Jordan for a few weeks, but it helps if you’re staying there for awhile to work or study. The Peace Corps has some good resources for learning.
Many locals who work in the tourism industry — especially in Amman and southern Jordan — speak decent English. However, in more remote areas, very few people speak English. Being able to read Arabic script, at a minimum, will help a lot with navigating transportation. Locals are extremely patient with both horrible attempts at Arabic and communication-through-hand-gesture, so while it can be somewhat stressful, you will always find a way to connect with folks.
Budget for backpacking Jordan
Backpacking Jordan is doable on a tight budget without sacrificing too much comfort.
The main things to factor into your Jordan budget are expensive tours, like in Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea, or some of the other wadis in the center of the country. Petra costs 60 JD for a 3-day ticket. While these experiences are expensive, they’re also some of the best places to visit in Jordan, and you’ll miss out by skipping them.
If you don’t take any expensive day tours or rent a car to get to the Dead Sea or the nature reserves, you can keep daily costs to around $15 a day. Visit a couple of the very cheap ruins sites in the north to help balance out the very expensive Petra ticket.
Dorm bed in a hostel: 5 JD
Street-stall meal of falafel or schwarma: 75 fils-2 JD
Cup of tea: 50 fils-1 JD
Museum or historical site admission: 3-10 JD. Petra is 60 JD for three days.
Big bus from Amman to Aqaba: 5 JD
Taxi from the bus station to the center of Amman: 3 JD
Two-night tour of Wadi Rum: 120 JD
Jordan visa requirements
All tourists must have a visa to enter Jordan. This costs 40 JD and you can get it on arrival at international airports and at most border crossings. The process is quick and straightforward.
You cannot get a visa on arrival at the crossings with Israel and the Palestinian Territories at King Hussein Bridge or Wadi Araba. You can technically get a visa on arrival at the borders with Iraq and Syria, but it would be pretty reckless to travel that way right now. If you arrive by boat in Aqaba from Egypt, your visa is free.
If you’re planning on visiting a lot of archaeological sites in Jordan, consider buying the Jordan Pass in advance. This will allow you to waive the visa fee. Even if you only visit Petra, you’ll save 15 JD.
If you arrive in Jordan from Israel and the Palestinian Territories, keep in mind that your entrance stamp to Jordan may be enough to deny you access to countries that forbid people who have visited Israel — even if you didn’t get an Israeli passport stamp. The Jordanian entrance stamp at an Israeli border crossing is enough. Lebanon is known for being especially strict about this — if you plan to visit Lebanon on the same passport, try to do it before you visit Israel.
Accommodation in Jordan
Accommodation is good-value in Amman, Aqaba, and Wadi Musa. Some of the best hotels in Jordan are also on the shores of the Dead Sea. Elsewhere, you’ll have less choice.
Dorm rooms in the major cities run $7-$13 a night and often include a simple breakfast. You can negotiate deep discounts if you want to stay in one place for 5+ nights — convenient if you want to explore northern Jordan via day trips from Amman. Private rooms are slightly more expensive, at $15-$20.
Budget hotels in Jordan only turn on their water heaters for a couple hours a day each morning and evening. Time your showers accordingly.
Outside of Amman, Aqaba, and Wadi Musa, most Jordan destinations don’t have any budget hotels catering to travelers — if they have any at all. Irbid and Madaba have a small handful of cheap local hotels.
One note for women alone: Some cheap hotels are geared toward local men. Many of these double as brothels. They’re probably not unsafe, but you may be more comfortable sticking with the popular backpackers’ hostels. It’s far easier and less stressful to head off the beaten path in Jordan if you either have the budget for mid-range hotels, or base yourself in Amman.
Food in Jordan
Jordanian food is very good-value. If you’re happy with street food, it almost never costs more than 1 JD per meal.
Carnivores will appreciate the ever-present schawarma stands. The most famous is Reem, in the Second Circle in Amman. A sandwich costs $0.75. Falafel sandwiches run about the same price.
Keep an eye out for bakeries where you can pick up fresh pita bread. You’ll need to go early in the morning — the best places sell out by noon. Then, visit convenience stores and corner shops to pick up homemade yogurt and hummus, and you have a picnic for well under 1 JD.
Cafe-style restaurants usually charge 3-4 JD for a meal, and have similar options to street stalls, but with greater variety (including salads). Formal restaurants start at around 10 JD and go up from there. The only real reason to eat at a nicer place is to try mansaf, the national dish — lamb cooked in a yogurt sauce and served with rice or bulgar. Otherwise, sticking with street stalls and cafes will both help you stick to your Jordan budget and be tastier.
Don’t forget to save some room for sweets while backpacking Jordan. Kunafa is a syrupy, light pastry a little like baklava. Habibah in Amman is the place to try it (for about $0.50 a plate).
Drinks in Jordan
Tea is everywhere and costs pennies. Coffee is typically Nescafe, but you can get the good stuff at higher-end cafes like the ones on Rainbow Street in Amman.
Jordan is far less gender-segregated than its neighbors when it comes to cafe culture. Solo women are welcome at most tea stalls and cafes.
Jordanians have a pretty loose interpretation of the traditional Muslim reluctance to drink alcohol. You can buy beer at cafes and bars in all bigger cities. You’ll see women out and drinking in Amman, but generally only at higher-end places and never in a mixed-gender group. Outside of Amman, drinking is generally seen as a men-only activity. Alcohol will blow a big hole in your Jordan budget if you choose to partake.
Activities you can do while backpacking Jordan
Jordan has incredible nature, history, and culture. And much of it is accessible on a backpacking budget.
The Nabatean ruins at Petra — the “Rose Red City” — are the single reason to come to the country for many travelers. They won’t disappoint. You will need at least two days to visit Petra properly — three days is better. Be sure to take the alternate entrance through Wadi Muthlim on your second or third day (there are some rock scrambles and a very steep climb at the end).
But there are many other places to visit in Jordan beyond Petra. The country’s second-most spectacular historical park is the Roman ruin site of Jerash. You can visit on a day trip from Amman — there is little else in the city to occupy you for an overnight trip. The black basalt ruins at Um Qais and the castles of Karak and Shobak also make for great day trips.
The Mosaic Map in Madaba is can’t miss. It’s one of the world’s oldest maps and informs much of what we know about biblical history. Plus, Madaba is a great little city and you can make a day of exploring the rest of the mosaics scattered across a half-dozen churches.
Beyond the history, many travelers visit Jordan for its natural splendor. The first port of call for most folks is a trip to Wadi Rum. This can include driving around in a 4×4 or hiking to remote corners of the desert park. Overnight trips involve camping in the desert or staying at a Bedouin camp (these are mostly just set up for tourists, so don’t bank on a truly authentic experience). Hiking in the nature preserves and visiting the Dead Sea are other natural encounters, and there is even a small diving scene in Aqaba.
It can be difficult to get truly off the beaten path in Jordan (and in the Middle East in general). But for adventurous travelers, Mukawir, Ajloun, and Iraq al Amir all offer some of the region’s best rural exploration. If you choose to venture to these little-visited corners, be prepared for serious transportation struggles (you will probably have to hitchhike), absolutely no English spoken, and nothing in the way of tourist infrastructure. Your reward? Powerful connections with local communities who rarely see tourists, but are extremely welcoming to them.
Transportation in Jordan
Jordanian public transport will (usually) get you where you want to go (eventually).
At the top of the transportation hierarchy are the JETT buses, or tourist buses. These leave on time and go directly to their destinations (usually just Amman to Aqaba and vice-versa). You buy tickets from the bus company office, which is also where the buses leave from. Fares are around $10.
The next rung down on the transport ladder, and the only ways to get to most of the major things to see in Jordan, are minibuses. These only leave when full — and it can take them a long time to fill up. Expect waits of at least an hour, and often more. If you’re day-tripping, always head back to your home base by 2 pm, as later in the day minibuses may be cancelled if they’re not full. The good news is, they don’t stop every 20 seconds to pick up and drop off people. Fares are under $2.
Shared taxis are common for trips of under an hour and for the trip to King Hussein Bridge. They also serve as local buses within bigger cities like Amman and Aqaba. If you don’t read Arabic, these can be a struggle to use. Talk to your guesthouse owner about how to find the nearest (unmarked) stop for whichever route you need, make sure you find out the fare in advance, and learn how to pronounce your destination correctly in Arabic.
Finally, hitchhiking is an unfortunate fact of life if you want to get around remote and rural parts of Jordan. Often, it’s not even intentional — someone may just offer you a ride while you wait for a minibus. Drivers expect the comparable minibus fare. I never felt unsafe when hitchhiking in Jordan, but obviously there’s still some risk and I wouldn’t recommend it as a first choice.
Ladies alone: If there are no open seats next to women on any form of transportation, make a man move so you can sit next to a woman. Never sit in the front seat of a shared taxi or minibus while backpacking Jordan.
Safety when backpacking Jordan
Given the reputations of its neighbors, many people wonder, is Jordan safe?
The answer is resoundingly yes — backpacking Jordan is very safe. The influx of Syrian refugees (and the long-standing Palestinian refugee camps) have been tough on the country, but it’s still more politically stable than its neighbors and you’re highly unlikely to have any problems there.
You will encounter the occasional scam artist or tout. They’re not as aggressive as in, say, India or Thailand, and once they know you’re not going to buy something from them, they either leave you alone or become genuinely friendly.
The biggest risk is getting hopelessly lost. Jordanian cities are confusing and most maps are terrible and inaccurate. Try not to wander in unfamiliar areas at night. If you’re not sure where you are, ask someone — people are super willing to help travelers and will go out of their way to make you feel safe.
As you meet Bedouins, remember that they care deeply about reciprocity. They will be very generous in sharing their lives with you, but they will expect you to share something with them in return. You don’t need to give money (although you can if it’s a spontaneous invitation and you have nothing else) — if invited for dinner, bring flowers or food. If invited for tea, bring some sweets. If they’re a shopkeeper, buy something from them. Just don’t take advantage of their hospitality.
Jordan travel advice for women alone
It may be surprising to some, but Jordan is one of the easiest countries in the world to travel as a solo woman. In fact, it made my list of best countries for solo female travel.
Jordanians don’t dress super-conservatively. In Amman and the more touristic places, t-shirts are fine. Off the beaten path, it’s better to cover to your elbows. Always cover to your knees, but trousers/jeans are okay. You should carry around a scarf in case you want to visit a place of religious significance that requires you to cover your head, but you don’t need to wear it while walking around.
Street harassment is culturally unacceptable. The older generation takes a zero-tolerance approach, and they severely reprimand young boys who try it anyway.
Among Bedouins, there is a sense that young white women go backpacking Jordan looking for husbands. Just be clear about how you feel. If you smile, make eye contact, or flirt at all with a guy, you’re signaling that you’re interested. That can lead to making him confused and hurt when you try to get him to back off. You can turn him down firmly but politely by averting his eyes, keeping a straight face, and saying you’re not interested. That’s usually enough to move the conversation into the friend zone without offending or embarrassing him.
If you get lost, or need help for any reason, ask an older man. They may get very protective of you, but the benefit is they won’t let you out of their sight until they’re sure you’re safe.
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