Jordan: what to see and do. Petra, Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea, sandy beaches and red deserts

Why go

It is one of the most popular destinations in the Middle East and unparalleled in its beauty and rich cultural heritage. Jordan has everything from sandy beaches to red deserts and, of course, the Dead Sea. Archaeological sites such as Petra hold an everlasting appeal for anyone with a sense of adventure and all the sights, colours and landscapes of this spectacular country combine to make an unforgettable holiday.

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What to do

Wander through perfectly-preserved ruins of Petra, Jerash, Ajlun and Showbak; or cake yourself in mineral-rich mud and spend a day lounging on the salty banks of the Dead Sea. Take in the sights of Amman, where modern Middle East life plays out against the backdrop of a 3,000-year-old city and then head for the beaches.

Where to stay
Jordan Valley Marriott Resort and Spa, outdoor pool
The outdoor pool at the Jordan Valley Marriott Resort and Spa

In Amman, there is a glut of recognisable chain hotels (Crowne Plaza; Mövenpick; Marriott; Kempinski; and Holiday Inn, to name just a few) but some of the best hotels can be found at the Dead Sea destination of Sweimah, where world-class spas abound.

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Where to eat

Amman is full of American fast food restaurants as well as popular Middle Eastern chains such as Zaatar w Zeit but if you want something more traditional, try Sufra (a favourite with the Jordanian royal family), Beit Sitti, or Hashem.

Getting around

Driving in Jordan is not for the faint hearted. The roads in Amman are almost perpetually busy, and pedestrians have a terrifying habit of simply wandering through the traffic when they want to cross the road. In the more remote areas, potholes and sandy patches are fairly common – loose sand on the road can be as dangerous as black ice, so in the desert regions you should drive slowly and carefully to avoid accidents.

Public transport can be a bit touch and go. While there are regular bus services, they don’t stick to a defined schedule, and they don’t always follow the same route. If you are unfamiliar with the area, you’re best getting a taxi – they are inexpensive and plentiful in all cities and towns.

When to go

Avoid the summer months – inner Jordan can be extremely hot, making it hard to fully enjoy outdoor sites such as Petra and Jerash.

Don’t miss
Petra. Visit Jordan
Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage site, half-built, half-carved into the rock

Petra. It’s simply jaw-dropping. The ancient site is one of the oldest examples of a human settlement and the scale of it is quite astonishing. Wear comfortable walking shoes – you will be on your feet for the entire day.

Three things we like
Sunset at The Dead Sea
Sunset at The Dead Sea
  1. The Dead Sea. No matter how many times you visit, you will never quite get used to the sensation of floating on the dense, salty water under the heat of the Middle Eastern sun.
  2. The food. From fresh olives, to garlicky hummus, and sweet baklava with thick halva – the food in Jordan is second to none. Make sure you try mansaf – a salty and rich combination of lamb, yogurt and rice.
  3. Diving at Aqaba. Jordan is almost completely landlocked, but it really makes the most of its one coastal city. Aqaba is lined with white sandy beaches, and the Aqaba Marine Park boasts more than 30 incredible dive sites. The coral reefs are relatively unspoilt and the water is clean and clear. Compared to Sharm el Sheik across the water it is not overcrowded.

 

Something we don’t like

Political conflict. Jordan’s location means that it is often embroiled in Middle Eastern conflict and there are a number of refugee camps around the border areas. While Jordan itself is relatively safe, it is wise to keep an eye on the Foreign Office travel recommendations, as conflict can occasionally slip across the border.

High50 insider tips
  • Avoid talking politics while visiting Jordan – Jordan has the highest population of repatriated Palestinians (some estimates suggest that at least 60 per-cent of Jordan’s citizens consider themselves to be ethnically Palestinian), and this, coupled with the country’s proximity to Israel and Syria mean that passions can run high during times of conflict. Middle Eastern politics are extremely complicated and it is easy to offend your Jordanian hosts by voicing a misunderstood or unwelcome opinion.
  • Bring a bottle of water with you everywhere. The dry heat in Jordan can catch up on you surprisingly quickly especially in low-lying areas such as the shores of the Dead Sea where it doesn’t necessarily feel as warm as it is.
  • If you are ever offered dates (the fruit that is, not the romantic sort), accept with gratitude. This is a sign of hospitality in Jordan and your refusal may cause offence. Plus, the dates are absolutely delicious, particularly when stuffed with pistachio, almond or honey.
  • Women should dress modestly, even in the westernised areas of Amman. That means keeping your shoulders, knees and cleavage covered, and not wearing tight or see-through clothing. Carry a scarf with you at all times in case you need to cover your head (e.g. if visiting a religious site).

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Need to know
  • The currency is the Jordanian Dinar.
  • Time difference is GMT + three hours.
  • Driving is on the right hand side in Jordan.
  • Average flight time from London to Amman is five hours.
  • You will need a visa to enter Jordan, but these can be bought on arrival at the airport. The airport card readers are notoriously fickle, so make sure you bring cash with you to avoid any delays at Passport Control. If you are arriving into Jordan via the King Hussein Bridge, or if you plan to travel across any borders during your visit, you should probably apply for a multiple entry visa before you travel. You can apply for these from the Jordan Embassy in London.
  • If you are travelling through Israel before visiting Jordan, ask the Israeli border agent not to stamp your passport. This will avoid any issues with border control in Jordan.
  • If you plan on staying in Jordan for more than 30 days you will be required to take a HIV test. The health certificate will cost you approximately 20 Jordanian Dinars.
  • Most sockets in Jordan take Type F plugs (two-pinned), but some will accept the standard British three pin style. Take a universal adaptor so you are ready for any eventuality.