Jordan is a little off the beaten path for many travelers, but those who venture to the red sands of this ancient land are heavily rewarded. Though organized tours are common, you’d be surprised just how simple it is to plan your own road trip through Jordan.
Despite the reputation of the Middle East, Jordan is typically a safe and stable country. Except for driving in Amman, the capital, most visitors will find driving in Jordan easy. Although Petra is Jordan’s crowning jewel, the country is rich with ancient cultural sites and history. If that wasn’t enough, we also found the people to be really lovely and helpful.
This road trip itinerary covers all the major sights and can be done in 8 – 10 days.
The Middle East gets a bad rap as being dangerous and inhospitable. Granted, some of the reputation is well deserved, but Jordan gets roped into that stereotype because of its neighbors.
During our 9-day road trip all over Jordan (except the borders), we found the people friendly and helpful everywhere we went. This was even true in the big city of Amman.
It surprised us how many people went out of their way to help us, from translating to giving directions, to making recommendations. Plus, no one wanted anything in return. This is starkly different from many developing countries.
We never saw anyone begging, nor did anyone harass us. We were told that because of the strong tribal communities, homelessness and extreme poverty are not huge issues in the country.
The political system is typically stable, and crime is low. However, nowhere in the world is completely safe, and travelers (arguably everyone), must always be situationally aware. However, Jordan doesn’t require any additional hyper-vigilance, though traveling to the border regions with Syria and Iraq is not recommended.
Sadly, women must always be hyper-vigilant, especially when traveling alone. This applies to Jordan as much as it applies anywhere. Sexual attacks on female travelers have happened in Jordan.
As safety situations can change fast, we always recommend checking travel advisories before going to a foreign country. We personally use the UK’s Foreign Advisories pages, we’ve always found them to be accurate.
Get Your Bearings in the City of Amman
Queen Alia International Airport is the largest airport in Jordan, and where we flew in on our trip.
We didn’t rent a car straight away, instead we spent 1.5 days exploring the city of Amman first.
We stayed two nights at the Larsa Hotel Amman. The hotel was very nice, but on the outskirts of the city. We enjoyed it as it gave us an opportunity to try local restaurants and taxis weren’t expensive. However, if you want to stay closer to the attractions The Castle Star Hotel is a good choice.
In the heart of Amman are the ancient city ruins known as Amman Citadel. Perched on the hill, this area gives amazing views over the city.
Make sure you see:
- Roman Temple of Hercules
- Umayyad Palace
- Byzantine Church
- Ayyubid Watchtower
Marvel at Quseir 'Amra Desert Castle
We left Amman early in the morning of our second full day in Jordan.
Though we rented a car within the city of Amman, we truly regretted it. Driving in the city was chaotic and stressful, nothing like driving in the rest of Jordan. Instead, we recommend heading back to the airport and starting your road trip through Jordan from there.
Our first road trip stop in Jordan felt remote. As we ventured closer to the Iraq border, we started to get a little nervous, and wondered if the journey was even worth it. Luckily, it really was!
From Queen Alia International Airport, Quseir ‘Amra desert castle is only an hour away. This UNESCO World Heritage spot doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the inside is what makes it special.
Once used by the ruling Umayyad family, murals cover the walls of this ancient hunting pavilion built in the early 8th century. The term “castle” is deceiving, it’s more like a bathhouse. It’s also a small place and doesn’t take long to visit.
If you’d like to do more with the journey, stop at the larger desert castle, Qasr Al-kharranah before reaching Quseir ‘Amra. Afterwards, stop at Qasr Al-Azraq.
Explore the Jerash Greco-Roman Archaeological Site
Staying in the desert didn’t seem necessary, so we made the just under two-hour drive to Jerash.
Jerash isn’t far from the Syrian border, and we saw lots of signs, but it is far enough. We felt safe the whole time.
The ancient Greco-Roman site of Jerash took us a half day to explore. We arrived just after noon, and still felt we had enough time to see everything we wanted.
During our visit, crowds gathered in the ancient arena’s bleachers, as the demonstrators donned Roman military uniforms. They showed how the Romans used their shields and formations to have superiority on the battlefield. Absolutely fascinating!
Definitely check if they have a demonstration during your visit.
Take a Pilgrimage to the Ancient Sites of Bethany and Madaba
For Christians, Jordan is a special pilgrimage with many holy places to experience. Even for those who are not religious, seeing the historical area and the ancient artifacts are still a once in a lifetime experience.
The most popular sites worthy of adding to your Jordan road trip itinerary include:
- Bethany: The believed baptism site of Jesus.
- Mt. Nebo: Where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land before his death.
- Madaba: Known as the “City of Mosaics,” the most famous mosaic is the Madaba map, depicting ancient Jerusalem.
If you start early, you can complete most of the sites within a day. Because of the drive from Jerash, we gave ourselves two nights in the area, but tied this in with staying on the Dead Sea.
Float Away Your Cares on the Dead Sea
After days in the desert, seeing the Dead Sea was a welcome change of scenery.
Along the northern shore are several luxury resorts. We stayed at the Mövenpick Dead Sea resort and LOVED IT! We had a choice of a few stunning pools, a private beach, plenty of onsite dining, and access to the salty waters and mineral rich mud of the Dead Sea.
The resort had several buckets of fresh mud for willing participants to try as they floated effortlessly in the water.
A few things to note.
- The Dead Sea is extremely dehydrating, so you shouldn’t stay in more than 20 minutes.
- The salty rocks can easily cut your feet. We recommend bringing water shoes with you.
- Don’t swim, just float. As I got in, I stretched out my arms in a basic breaststroke. This sent me into a flailing barrel roll, as I couldn’t pierce the density of the water. Humiliated, I had to wave off the lifeguard who couldn’t figure out what the commotion was. So embarrassing.
Unlock the Mysteries of a Lost World in Petra
Originally, we weren’t going to do a road trip through Jordan at all. We just wanted to see the Lost City of Petra and didn’t realize how much Jordan had going for it.
Saying that, Petra was still the highlight of our trip. I know Petra already looks phenomenal in photos, but trust us, pictures still don’t do this magical place justice.
I will write a larger post specifically on Petra, as there’s so much to say. One thing we should warn about, plan for lots of walking.
You can quickly see the main sites in one full day, but we recommend escaping the crowds and doing some of the less visited walks with a second day.
Wander the Red Sands of the Wadi Rum
The paved road ends at Wadi Rum Village, and if you want to get into the desert, you’ll need a 4×4. We joined a half-day tour of the area.
We originally planned a night in Wadi Rum but added an extra night in Petra instead. Next time we are in the area, we would love to stay in one of the Bedouin camps.
Head Back to Amman or Fly out of Aqaba
Our final road trip stop was in Aqaba, on the Gulf of Aqaba at the southern end of Jordan. We stayed at the Lacosta Hotel, walking distance to the coast.
This was just a quick stop for us to catch our next flight to Cairo, Egypt.
Alternatively, you can head back to Amman for your flight.
Books on Jordan
- Travel Guide: We used Lonely Planet’s Travel Guide on Jordan to learn about the sites we wanted to visit.
- Guide to Petra: Petra Revealed: History, Civilization and Monuments of the City carved into the Rock by Fabio Bourbon makes a wonderful companion for touring the impressive site. Having a book with you is one of the best ways to understand what you are looking at, without it, it’s amazing how many details you will miss.
- Culture and People: Voices of Jordan by Rana Sweis delves into the culture of Jordan, through the stories of ten common Jordanians which reveals their views, their lives, their beliefs. It’s a fascinating look at a society few of us know much about.