Jordan is the kind of place you go to see the sights but end up coming home and talking about the people. That’s not to say the sights of Jordan aren’t spectacular. You’ll be forever changed after seeing and learning abut Petra and you’ll compare every starry night to your nights in the deserts of Wadi Rum. It’s the “Welcome to Jordan” that so many locals exclaim when they see a Westerner that will ring in your ears forever. Here is the ideal Jordan itinerary for a first time visitor: Explore Jordan.
My heart settled on visiting Jordan despite the conflicts in the Middle East dominating the headlines. I didn’t know much about Jordan’s involvement or how safe it was considered. I was going to go by myself, perhaps as part of a tour. I’d been told as a single woman, traveling in the Middle East would best be done as part of a group. I called my mom one day after work because I know she pays attention to foreign news and would have more knowledge about how risky it was. I said, “I think I might go to Jordan this fall. Do you think that’s crazy?” Her response: “Ooooooohhh…can I come?!” I thought she was going to dissuade me, but instead she couldn’t resist the Jordan adventure herself.
Besides the obvious travel warnings of staying away from the Syrian border as well as avoiding public demonstrations, there was very little to suggest Jordan was anything but safe. As many Jordanians were quick to point out while we were there, the United States and Jordan are friendly and truly Jordan is a peaceful country surviving in the midst of chaos around it. The people were incredibly welcoming, and just want to see peace come to the Middle East.
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Rarely do I recommend joining a tour as the best way to see a country. But in this case, I can’t rave about it enough. I typically prefer to follow my own itinerary and plan everything myself. Jordan is such a small country, you can see so much of it in a short period of time. But to truly gain a valuable history and cultural lesson, you should have the extensive knowledge and expertise of a local guide.
So here’s my plug for HERE THEY ARE AWESOME. Their focus is “Adventure” in a truly authentic way. The company is devoted to supporting local business, reducing environmental impact, experiencing the culture, and getting to know the people like a local. After extensive comparison, I chose Intrepid because of the small group size and the perfect Jordan itinerary with their HERE tour. The 8 day trip hit the major sites of Jordan I wanted to see, giving me two days in Petra and two beautiful nights in the desert of Wadi Rum, something most other tours failed to provide.
The knowledge I gained from our guide is something I just couldn’t have acquired on my own. The conversations we shared walking through the desert about current world events, or the night at the local restaurant with live music, dancing, and shared hookas with friends who I felt like I’d known forever, those are things I couldn’t have gotten without the group travel experience. I miss all these people from all over the world who I spent an unforgettable week with.
- 1 Explore Jordan Itinerary
- 1.1 Day 1: Explore Amman, Jordan
- 1.2 Day 2: Drive to Wadi Rum
- 1.3 Day 3: Trek and Explore Wadi Rum
- 1.4 Day 4: Ride Camels then Introduction to Petra
- 1.5 Day 5: Hike Petra
- 1.6 Day 6: Visit the Dead Sea
- 1.7 Day 7: See the Jerash Ruins
- 1.8 Day 8: Say Goodbye to Jordan
Explore Jordan Itinerary
Day 1: Explore Amman, Jordan
One day is enough to explore Amman on your own and visit the Citadel and Amphitheater on foot or with an affordable taxi. Intrepid selects hotels in the heart of the city, giving you the best opportunity to experience the culture. Meet the group at the hotel that evening for introductions and to go to dinner.
Day 2: Drive to Wadi Rum
Depart on a long drive to the desert area of Wadi Rum. Upon arrival, meet your Bedouin hosts who will take you on a 4WD adventure through the desert, exploring the rugged and unique landscape until arriving at the desert camp for the night. Enjoy the company of the group and get to know the camp hosts over a traditional Bedouin dinner. Watch one of the raddest sunsets of your life!
Day 3: Trek and Explore Wadi Rum
Go on a desert trek in Wadi Rum seeing interesting rock formations, have lunch in the shadow of a massive rock mountain with the Bedouins, and return to camp for an incomparable sunset, another great dinner, and stunning stargazing.
Day 4: Ride Camels then Introduction to Petra
As sad as it is to leave the desert, depart the camp and camel caravan across the dramatic landscape before returning to the transport van.
Drive to Petra and check into the hotel. Spend the afternoon getting a crash course on the ancient site with the guide. With too much history to get into, it suffices to say Petra is an archeological city carved into sandstone, established by nomadic Arabs known as Nabataeans possibly as early as 312 B.C. The site remained mostly unknown to the rest of the world until 1812 when it was “discovered” by a Swiss explorer and in 2007, named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.
Depending on what day of the week it is, find out when Petra by Night is offered. Some people thought it was cheesy, but I thought it was spiritual and magical. Regardless, seeing the Siq lined by candles and the ground in front of the Treasury a sea of candles is something totally different. You shouldn’t miss it. If you’re a photographer, hang to the very back or far right side out of the way and set up your tripod. People will constantly walk in front of you and their cell phone flashes will ruin half of your photos, but you’ll get some good ones too. Those moments to myself to take pictures in the Siq, with traditional music echoing through the walls of the canyon, candles lighting the way, and glimpses of the glowing Treasury at the end are ones that will live in my memory forever. I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to attend Petra by Night.
Day 5: Hike Petra
This is your day to make the most of Petra. Get up earlier than anyone on vacation likes to get up, and experience being one of the only people in the Siq, the narrow 1.2 km passage shaped by tectonic forces and smoothed by water, and be awed by the first view of the Treasury without the hordes of tourists. Beat the heat and promptly start your trek to the 2nd most visited facade in Petra, the beautiful monastery. After roughly 800 miserable steps (although far less miserable than if you went in the afternoon heat), you’ll arrive at the less famous but stunningly beautiful monastery. Continue on to a viewpoint for fantastic pictures of the monastery below.
This next hike is the one I most recommend, but there are some caveats. And I almost don’t want to contribute to an increase in foot traffic and environmental impact in Petra. However, for those who still have feet under them after climbing to the monastery, you should consider the view point above the Treasury.
Find the trail for the Royal Tombs which starts across the road from the Nabataean Theater. If you continue on what seems like the longest rock staircase on the planet, you’ll eventually get to a cliff with a Bedouin selling refreshments. You’ll most certainly stop here and get water or something if you’re running low. Plus it’s a great view and a nice break. Continue on the trail (rest assured you’re done with the stairs) and you’ll actually descend downhill on a loose, gravelly trail. Follow it as closely as you can; there are some cairns to mark the way.
Finally, you’ll come upon another Bedouin’s shop and from here you can witness the glory and hustle and bustle of the Treasury from the peace and majesty of above. Buy some refreshments to contribute to the Bedouin’s livelihood and stay and make friends. This hike is well worth the time and effort, and you’ll feel like you conquered the world. I advise not doing it alone both because if you fall off a cliff or injure yourself, you won’t have anyone to go get help. Also because there have been isolated events of locals making sexual advances on solo women. Again, this is highly unlikely; the Bedouins are typically incredibly friendly, hospitable, and helpful.
Now you’ll likely feel like you’d gladly pay $1,000 to not have to walk anymore, but you still have to walk out of the Siq and uphill back to get out of Petra. Sorry. You can take the horse ride that they seem to want to force on you (saying it’s free, but you’ll be expected to pay a tip) however consider the well being of the animals and whether you want to contribute to the practice.
While we’re on the subject, I saw a local whip a camel in the face with his lead rope. I saw a donkey’s lead tied to his saddle so his head was stuck turned to the side so he couldn’t walk off. He was left in the sun in the middle of the heat of the day for quite a while. I also saw a donkey so loaded up with weight that he could barely take his next step going up to the monastery. These are things I wish tourists would write to the Jordan board of tourism about and require some sort of regulations to assure these things don’t happen.
Day 6: Visit the Dead Sea
You may feel like you’ve seen the best of Jordan, and it’s all down hill from here. But there is still much history to learn and sights to be seen. Travel to a crusade era castle, then continue onto the Dead Sea at 420 meters BELOW sea level, the lowest point on the earth. It’s so salty, there is nothing living in it (besides microscopic organisms) and you’ll float and bob in the water like a bouy. Booyah! Be prepared for every little cut, abrasion, or “sensitive areas” to sting horribly. What a weird but incredible sensation. Bring a book for those ridiculous photo ops. My mom brought the Quran to Jordan to read out of interest; I just posed with it at the Dead Sea for kicks. Continue to the town of Madaba, visit the oldest mosaic map, settle into your hotel, then enjoy a group dinner at a fantastic local restaurant with live music (on Thursdays). Have some drinks, share a hookah, and dance the night away with locals.
Day 7: See the Jerash Ruins
Take a drive to the town of Jerash to see some of the best preserved Roman ruins. So well preserved, you can really get an idea of what Roman life was like. This will take a few hours to explore the city. Transfer back to Madaba for a final night with your group. Sad!
Day 8: Say Goodbye to Jordan
You can stay in Jordan longer after the tour ends or fly home that day. If I’d had more time, I would have loved a day to experience a canyon adventure at Wadi Mujib. Guess I have a reason to return to Jordan.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this description of the ideal, first time visitors guide to a Jordan itinerary. Again, I can’t say enough about Intrepid and their HERE group trip. It is more than I could have ever hoped for. Read the reviews for yourself.
For more extensive reading on Jordan, visit Lonely Planet
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