Day 1: Arrive in Amman and explore the Heart of Jordan
With two international airports serving the country, Queen Alia International Airport is by far both the largest and busiest. If you’re outside of the Middle East, chances are it’ll always be quicker, cheaper and a lot easier for you to fly straight into Amman as opposed to the other airport in Aqaba.
Arrive early in the morning and give yourself a whole day to explore the wonders of the capital! Rich in both culture and modern amenities, a day would never be enough to truly get to know the hidden secrets of Amman, but it’s enough for a quick overview.
The Citadel is one of the big must-sees of the city. Situated at the top of one of the big jalals that originally made up the city, with the blaring sun and almost unbearable humidity, it’s probably best to get a taxi from the bottom up. On my visit, we tried to find our own way by walking, and somehow ended up skipping the entrance altogether and entering right in the middle of the site! We headed straight on over to the entrance to try and pay the JOD3 entrance fee to the guards, but they just laughed, offered us some water and told us to enjoy! Evidence has been found on the site of occupation since the Paleolithic era, ranking it as one of the world’s most continuously inhabited places. Main attractions at the Amman Citadel are the Temple of Hercules, the Roman Forum, Byzantine Church ruins and Ummayad Palace among many, many more!
TIP: Make sure you don’t miss out on some fresh sugar cane juice, easily available basically anywhere downtown!
Day 2 – Petra
If you don’t have a package tour already booked, and plan on doing the whole Petra experience off of your own back, the best way to get there is on a Jett bus. A one-way ticket on this air-conditioned, comfortable tourist-focused bus costs around 8.50 JD, and it leaves at 6:30am most days, arriving in Petra at approximately 10:30am. If this is too early for you, there are also cheaper but stuffier public minibuses that leave from Mujamaa Janobi station periodically between 9am – 4pm.
From the bus drop-off point at Petra, it’s just a small walk around the corner to the main ticket office. There are a whole bunch of stalls selling souvenirs – specifically hats! If you don’t have a hat or scarf with you, take the opportunity to purchase one here! They’re obviously more expensive than in any of the cities, but you will definitely regret it if you enter Petra without something to cover your head from the heat.
Entry tickets to Petra cost 90 JD for one-day visitors, or 50 JD for ‘overnight’ visitors, meaning people who are staying in Jordan for more than just one day.
Spend the entire day in Petra – yes, I mean the whole day! There is so much conflicting information online saying you only really need a couple of hours, but in my opinion there is so much to discover and experience that a few hours is nowhere near enough!
Petra’s crowning glory is, of course, The Treasury, which has become somewhat of a pop culture icon thanks to its starring role in Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade.
However, one of the often most looked-over gems of Petra is The Monastery or Ad-Dayr in Arabic.
The Monastery is a giant. The doorway itself is taller than your average house. And in true giant form, it is not exactly easy to get there. With at least 800 steps and an infinite number of terrifying sheer drops into oblivion, the trek to The Monastery is not for the faint-hearted. The hell it takes to get there is 100% worth it in the end, though.
TIP: Spend the night in a traditional Bedouin cave – this can be pre-arranged with a tour company, via Couchsurfing (search Ghassab Bob!) or you might be lucky enough to befriend some lovely Bedouins onsite who will open their lives to you for that night.
Day 3 – Aqaba & the Red Sea
After spending a rustic night in a Bedouin cave, or alternatively in the comparative luxury of a hotel room in Little Petra, get the bus to nearby Aqaba, home to the famous Red Sea.
There are allegedly a minimum of three daily buses that go from Wadi Musa (the nearest town to Petra) to Aqaba at about 10am, midday and 4pm, although the reliability of these are questionable at best. If your budget will stretch, consider getting a taxi to Aqaba as this will guarantee you actually get there on the day you want to. The journey by road is just under 2 hours, and the local minibus, though an absolute steal at just 7 JD, is a tad uncomfortable.
I found the cost of accommodation in Aqaba to be a little on the high side compared to everywhere else in Jordan. My shared non-AC room in a hostel was 15 JD per person, where up until then I’d paid out a max. of 5 JD per night. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful, friendly hostel with extremely nice staff and an array of local activities on offer.
As the only coastal city in Jordan, it’s a popular holiday destination for both Jordanians and foreigners. It’s also world-famous for its diving and snorkelling opportunities!
Aqaba doesn’t have much to offer for those who are not necessarily interested in diving or snorkelling, but obviously with it being co-parent of The Red Sea, it’s kind of an obvious stop-off point.
TIP: If you find a high enough vantage point at night, you’ll be able to look out onto the distant shores of both Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Day 4 – Relax and take a dive in Aqaba
If I were to advise honestly, I would hand on heart say that for me a single day in Aqaba was enough. However, two of my party really wanted to do some diving, and we arrived too late on our first day, so agreed to stay an extra day for them. They had an absolutely brilliant time, though, so if it’s your kind of thing, you should definitely give it a go! I, however, can barely swim the length of a swimming pool, and so the thought of being underwater in an actual sea with a limited supply of oxygen for any length of time fills me with dread.
TIP: For anybody completely uninterested in water activities, consider skipping this day altogether and substituting later on in the week for a day at Karak.
Day 5 – Wadi Rum
Another site popularised in Western culture through the medium of film, Wadi Rum featured most prominently in the 1962 much-loved flick Lawrence of Arabia. In more recent years, Ridley Scott used it as a base to film much of The Martian, due to its red sands and rocks emanating the overwhelming sense that it is the closest thing to Mars on earth.
Wadi Rum is basically just a desert, but it is absolutely spectacular. Splash out on a 2D/1N tour for 60 JD and let your guide teach you all about the different rock formations, ancient carvings and history of the area. The tour is carried out via camel, jeep and walking so make sure you take a lot of water! Your guide will encourage you to clamber up a mountain of unstable rocks that look ready to collapse into an avalanche at any moment, to reach a place called Lawrence’s Spring – do yourself a favour and do as he says. The view is incredible and you will not regret the death-defying hike.
The tour package includes spending the night in the middle of the desert in very basic square tents, the ‘traditional’ way. Although we were warned that it would be very basic, with basic food and amenities, I must say the bathrooms were some of the nicest I’ve ever seen!
If the day went according to plan, you should arrive in camp just in time to climb one of the nearby cliffs and watch the sun set over the desert – an experience that really shouldn’t be missed!
TIP: Don’t forget to look up! Being so far away from civilisation, without the pollution of towns and cities means you will see the stars in a way you never could have imagined!
Day 6 – Back to Amman via the Dead Sea
The next day your guide will transport you back to the main entrance to Wadi Rum, where they can arrange transport to take you back to Aqaba. It’s probably more cost efficient to arrange this in advance – on my trip we were lucky enough to meet a lovely man called Ahmed, who ferried us around the country at practically no cost!
On your way back to Amman, stop off at the Dead Sea for an hour or so to kick back and relax in the lowest spot on the face of the Earth! You can pay an extortionate amount for entry into one of the luxury resorts that have private beaches leading onto the Sea, or alternatively just stop off at the side of the road and find your own way in. We opted for the latter, although in hindsight it probably would have been better to pay for resort entry. Trying to shimmy out of your bathing costume without exposing any flesh while strange men peer at you through trees is not a pleasant experience!
If you have time, be sure to check out neighbouring Mt Nebo, allegedly the place Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land. Our taxi driver/friend Ahmed told us it wasn’t all that great, so we decided against going, although looking back I really wish I had!
TIP: Make sure you have immediate access to a shower after your dip.
Day 7 – Jerash/Amman
A day trip to Jerash is the perfect way to end your holiday – close enough to Amman to not warrant spending a whole day there, you can easily fit in a quick visit before an evening flight. To read more about Jerash, see my previous post here.
To celebrate (or commiserate, whichever way you look at it!) the end of your stay in this outrageously beautiful country, go out for dinner at local eatery Hashem to fill up on some of the best falafel and hummus in downtown Amman. This local gem is well frequented by locals and tourists alike, and the portions you get are out of this world Located down a sort of alleyway, it’s not the easiest place to spot, but just ask anybody and they’ll point you in the right direction!
Condensing such a vibrant, historically rich country into such a small space of time is kind of impossible. There is so much that I wanted to do and see that we just didn’t have time for – a visit to Karak and Mt Nebo to name but a few. However, looking back I am slightly amazed as to how much we were able to squeeze in to such a short space of time, and absolutely cannot wait to go back again and tick everything else off of my list!