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BlogDestinationsThe ultimate Jordan travel guide: everything you need to know about exploring this ancient country

The ultimate Jordan travel guide: everything you need to know about exploring this ancient country

Jul 25, 2023 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

Jordan is a small country at the crossroads of Asia, Africa, and Europe that’s been inhabited since the Paleolithic era. Its deep-rooted history and central location have made it a hub of culture and activity for thousands of years, and its people are among the most hospitable in the world. On a trip to Jordan, you’ll wander among ancient ruins, explore otherworldly deserts, discover hidden cities, and swim through colorful coral reefs.

“The hidden gems in Jordan were where we had so much fun,” said traveler Diane after returning from our Israel, Jordan & Egypt: Petra to the Pyramids tour. “Touring Petra (extremely awesome!), snorkeling in the Red Sea, loving the mud bath at the Dead Sea, and visiting the fortress at Masada.” Read our Jordan travel guide to learn about the best things to do in Jordan, can’t-miss Jordan attractions, and more.

Jordan Travel Guide basics

Currency: the Jordanian dinar

Language: Arabic, though many people speak English. Some younger people also speak French or German. Most road signs are written in English.

Getting around: Most people drive in Jordan. Public transportation is available in major cities and will take you to many of the historical sites, but buses tend to leave when they’re full rather than following a schedule. Luckily, when you go guided to Jordan, you’ll travel from one place to the next on a private motor coach with your fellow travelers.

UNESCO-listed sites: Jordan is home to six UNESCO-listed sites, including Wadi Rum and Petra.

Phrases to know: Even though many of the people you encounter in Jordan will speak English, it helps to know a few key phrases.

  • Marhaba: Hello
  • Min fadlak: Please
  • Shukran: Thank you
  • Na’am: Yes
  • La: No
  • Kam et-taklefa: How much does it cost?
  • Yalla: Let’s go!

Interesting fact: In addition to national and religious identities, many Jordanians also identify with a tribe. Tribal identity is something instilled at birth, and members of a tribe share a culture and history.

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a collage of the entrance of a beach and a traveler snorkeling in clear blue water

When is the best time to visit Jordan?

Wondering when to book a trip to Jordan? There’s never a bad time. But despite what many people think, it’s not always hot in the desert. Sure, temperatures soar in the summertime, but many places in Jordan see snow in the winter, and temperatures are mild in the spring. Here are a few reasons why visiting Jordan is always a good idea, regardless of the time of year.

  • Visit in the spring for wildflowers.

    Springtime temperatures in Jordan typically are warm and comfortable, and the entire country erupts with blooming wildflowers—even in the desert! It’s one of our favorite times to visit popular outdoor sites like Wadi Rum and Petra. (Can’t get enough spring flowers? See our guide to ten of the best trips to book to catch the most stunning spring flowers in bloom.)

  • Visit in the summer for fewer crowds and meteor showers.

    Summers can get very hot during the day, but many of the most popular Jordan tourist attractions won’t be as crowded as they are in the busy season. You might also catch a glimpse of the Perseid meteor shower when exploring Wadi Rum.

  • Visit in the fall for snorkeling and diving.

    Temperatures begin to cool in the fall, making this another of the most temperate seasons in Jordan. Fall also brings the best visibility in the Red Sea, making it an ideal time for snorkeling and diving trips.

  • Visit in the winter for undisturbed exploration and fresh olive oil.

    Although it can be cold and occasionally snowy, there are still plenty of things to do when visiting Jordan in the winter. It’s a great opportunity to witness peaceful snowfall in the city of Petra, then head south to the Red Sea, where temperatures are still warm enough to swim—just like in the summertime, you’ll find fewer crowds when you visit Jordan in the winter. In November and December, local olive farmers will be pressing their oil, which means you’ll get to taste it at its freshest.

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a collage of the Jordan flag waving in front of ruins, a group of travelers posing for a photo on a truck in the desert, and a blue-domed mosque

What to see in Jordan

From ancient ruins to otherworldly deserts and hidden cities, the biggest question isn’t what to do in Jordan; it’s where to start. These are just a few of our favorite places to see on a Jordan tour.

  • The Roman ruins of Jerash.

    If you’re a history buff, one of the best places to visit in Jordan is the ancient city of Jerash: one of the world’s largest and best-preserved Roman ruins. Explore the amphitheater, forum, and temples dedicated to Artemis and Zeus as you wander the site’s wide plazas and colonnaded avenues.

  • The City of Petra.

    Potentially the most famous of Jordan attractions, the UNESCO-listed city of Petra is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It was carved into the rocks of Mount Hor in the third century BC and is known as the Rose City for the blush tones of the sandstone. Petra is made up of miles of passages, palaces, temples, and tombs—you could easily spend several days exploring the city and not get bored. “Petra is an amazing, wondrous place,” said traveler Kathleen on our Israel, Jordan & Egypt: Petra to the Pyramids tour. “It definitely deserves to be considered one of the seven wonders of the world. I could have spent at least two days exploring this incredible city carved out of sandstone rock 5,000 years ago.” One travel tip for hiking in Petra? Dress for the occasion. Comfortable shoes and light layers are a must. And if you can’t make it to see Petra in person right away, check out our virtual sightseeing tour.

  • Wadi Rum.

    Known as the Valley of the Moon, Wadi Rum is a vast swath of red-sand desert, narrow canyons, and spectacular rock formations—some of which are carved with petroglyphs dating back at least 12,000 years. The protected area is nearly as large as the city of New York and has been used as a filming location for many features set on Mars, like The Martian and Red Planet, because of its red sand. Its awe-inspiring rock formations, like the massive Seven Pillars, add to the otherworldly feel of the area. “Jordan is so beautiful,” said traveler Kathleen after returning from our Israel, Jordan & Egypt: Petra to the Pyramids tour. “Wadi brought visions of the movies Lawrence of Arabia and Dune to life. The Seven Pillars of Wisdom is one of nature’s great artworks.” Equally stunning by night, Wadi Rum is also one of the best places in the world for stargazing. (If you’re interested in more spectacular stargazing locations, check out our guide on where to see impressive night skies.)

  • The Dead Sea.

    One of the most surreal places you’ll see when visiting Jordan, the Dead Sea is Earth’s lowest point on land and a famous natural landmark. The sea, which is actually a large salt lake, is more than 400 meters below sea level. Due to the extremely high salinity of the water (it’s nearly 10 times saltier than the ocean), you’ll easily float on the surface. Just be sure to shower and drink plenty of water after taking a dip—all of that salt can dehydrate you quickly! Dead Sea mud is said to have many beneficial properties for your skin. You can indulge in a mud bath while you’re there or purchase a jar to take home with you.

  • King Abdullah Mosque.

    This striking landmark dedicated to Jordan’s first king is located in the heart of Amman. The mosque is decorated with Quranic inscriptions and houses some of the late king’s personal items. This is the only mosque in the city that welcomes non-Muslim visitors, and you can step into the prayer hall beneath the impressive blue dome—just note that you will be required to remove your shoes and have your legs covered. Women must also cover their arms and hair before entering the space.

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Candles in paper bags organized on the ground outside of The Great Temple of Petra

Top things to do in Jordan

This wouldn’t be much of a Jordan travel guide if we didn’t give you a list of the best things to do once you get there. Here are some of our favorite things you’ll do when you join us on a guided tour of Jordan.

  • Grab a snorkel and explore the coral reefs in the Red Sea.

    Not all of the best things to do in Jordan need to be experienced in the desert. Join us on our Red Sea: Boat Ride & Coral Reef Snorkeling excursion to board a boat in the coastal city of Aqaba and set out on the Red Sea. Hop into the water for an up-close view of the colorful coral and marine life, which are protected thanks to a joint effort from the Jordanian and Israeli governments.

  • Visit the Iraq Al Amir women’s cooperative.

    Some of our favorite activities in Jordan involve visits to organizations working to support local women. Located outside of Amman, the Al Amir cooperative is a group that aims to reduce the high rates of unemployment among Jordanian women through education and workmanship. Visit on our Jordan History & Culture: Amman, Petra & the Dead Sea tour and learn how the cooperative helps women achieve financial independence. Watch the co-op’s employees make greeting cards and olive oil soap and join a pottery- or paper-making workshop.

  • Take a traditional Jordanian cooking class.

    Wondering what to do in Jordan to take a break from the sun? Join us on the Jordanian Cooking Class & Dinner excursion offered on our Jordan History & Culture: Amman, Petra & the Dead Sea tour and learn to cook traditional dishes at a local cooking school. Afterward, sit down with your fellow travelers to enjoy the meal you created together.

  • Experience the dazzling Petra by night.

    Spend an enchanting evening in Jordan on our Petra by Night excursion offered on our Jordan History & Culture: Amman, Petra & the Dead Sea tour. You’ll return to Petra after nightfall to see the ancient city illuminated with 1,500 candles. Walk through the Siq gorge to the Treasury and enjoy a sound and light show as well as local music and storytelling.

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a collage of a crowded street market, colorful umbrellas hung above a staircase, and tea pouring into a little cup with oranges in the background

What to do in Jordan in your free time

When you join us on one of our trips to Jordan, we’ll make sure you see all of the popular attractions and hidden gems, but you’ll also have plenty of time to explore at your own pace. Here are some of our favorite ways to spend some free time in Jordan.

  • Wander down Rainbow Street.

    Located near the center of downtown Amman, Rainbow Street is one of the most pedestrian-friendly avenues in the city. The colorful street is lined with restaurants, cafes, and shops and is one of our favorite places to visit in Jordan to kill some time. It’s the perfect place to shop for souvenirs, people-watch, or relax with a snack or coffee.

  • Visit the Jordan Museum.

    Located in Amman, the Jordan Museum is the country’s largest. Spend a free afternoon learning about the culture and heritage of Jordan and its people through the museum’s extensive collection of artifacts.

  • Snack on mezze.

    Mezze, small plates commonly found throughout the Middle East, are the perfect way to share lunch or a mid-afternoon snack with your fellow travelers on a tour of Jordan. Similar to tapas in Spain, mezze refers more to the style of dining than to the dishes themselves, though you’ll most likely see common favorites like hummus, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, and olives. Sit down with your friends (new or old) and enjoy some of the best flavors of Jordan.

  • Shop for souvenirs at Souk Jara.

    On Fridays from mid-May to mid-September, you’ll find Souk Jara, or Jara Market, at the end of Rainbow Street. Stroll past booths selling artisan goods, streetwear, antiques, and artwork as you hunt for treasures to bring home.

  • Make your own perfume.

    There are perfumeries scattered throughout the city of Amman, and many of them will help you design your own scent. Step into a shop and work with the perfumer to recreate a favorite perfume or craft your new signature scent.

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collage of Jordanian treats- melted cheese covered in pistachio, rice with cauliflower, and a Jordanian coffee

What to eat and drink in Jordan

If there’s one thing to note about the cuisine in Jordan, it’s that it’s meant to be shared. Jordanians are among the most hospitable people in the world, and a lot of that hospitality is centered around mealtime. Communal dishes served family style (and often with a bit of ceremony) are the heart and soul of Jordanian cuisine. “The food was delicious, and experiencing a new culture and cuisine was delightful,” said traveler James on the Jordan extension of our The Wonders of Ancient Israel: Christian Heritage tour. You’ll find rice-based dishes with fragrant spices, grilled meats, roasted vegetables, and plenty of vegetarian options. Below are some of our favorite foods to enjoy on a trip to Jordan.

  • Jordanian coffee.

    Coffee in Jordan is as much a symbol of hospitality as it is a beverage. Black coffee is flavored with cardamom and brewed in front of guests in a brass or copper pot. It’s heated until it foams and is served with the coffee grounds. Serving coffee to guests is seen as a sign of respect in Jordan.

  • Mansaf.

    Known as the national dish of Jordan, Mansaf is a dish often served on a large platter at the center of the table and shared among diners. It consists of chunks of lamb cooked in a sauce made with jameed, dehydrated yogurt. The lamb is served layered on top of rice and flatbread.

  • Maqluba.

    Literally “upside down,” maqluba is a meat, vegetable, and rice dish that’s cooked layered in a pot with the meat on the bottom. Once it has finished cooking, the maqluba is flipped upside down and turned out on a platter for serving, creating a sort of upside-down cake with meat on top and flavorful rice on the bottom.

  • Zarb.

    A traditional Bedouin style of barbecue, Zarb is cooked underground. Meat (often chicken or goat), root vegetables, and rice are layered in a pot or on a tiered rack and buried in a pit filled with coals. The meal is slow-roasted underground and best enjoyed at night in the desert with friends.

  • Knafeh.

    This traditional dessert incorporates many common Jordanian flavors, albeit in unexpected ways. It’s made from a thin layer of creamy, baked cheese topped with shredded filo dough. It’s soaked in rose water and often served topped with chopped pistachios.

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metal bowls filled with different spices

Souvenirs to buy in Jordan

Chances are you’re going to want to bring something special home as a reminder of your trip to Jordan. When shopping for souvenirs, remember that it’s common practice to haggle over prices in Jordan. Shop owners may initially quote you a price up to four times the value of the item, knowing that you’ll bargain with them. Haggling might feel uncomfortable at first, but rest assured, shop owners are expecting it—and you might even find that you enjoy it! Here are some of our favorite souvenirs to bring home from Jordan.

  • Patterned rugs and baskets woven by the Bani Hamida Women’s Cooperative.

    Not far from the shores of the Dead Sea, the Bani Hamida Women’s Cooperative is a weaving center located in a charming single-story house. Here, traditional woolen handicrafts are made and sold by local women, who learn new skills and gain financial independence through the co-op. Purchasing a souvenir through Bani Hamida is a lovely way to experience Jordanian culture, support local women, and take home artisan-made decor all at once.

  • Olive oil.

    Jordan is one of the world’s largest producers of olives, and their cloudy, green olive oil is known for its high-quality. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to try it as you sample the local cuisine before picking up a bottle to bring home. Don’t want to travel with a bottle of olive oil in your bag? Consider a bar of locally made olive oil soap instead.

  • An Arabic coffee pot.

    Bring home a brass or copper coffee pot and host your own Jordanian coffee ritual for all of your friends.

  • Anything mosaic.

    Mosaics are a popular art form that you’ll see all over Jordan, and while you’re most likely not going to fit a large mosaic into your suitcase, you’ll find a ton of gorgeous mosaic-style home goods and decor for sale. Pick up some mosaic Arabic coffee cups or dishes to bring home some functional beauty from Jordan.

  • Sweets and spices.

    Traditional sweets like baklava, artisan chocolates, salt from the dead sea, and spices like sumac and za’atar all make wonderful souvenirs—especially to gift to loved ones back home who may be jealous of your travels.

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a traveler sitting on a red patterned rug and pillows, smiling for a photo

What to pack for a trip to Jordan

No Jordan travel guide would be complete without a list of what to pack for your trip. Here are some essentials you’re going to want to bring with you when you join us on one of our trips to Jordan.

  • Comfortable, sturdy walking shoes.

    Many of the historical sites, such as Petra and the Roman ruins in Jerash, require a fair amount of walking, sometimes over uneven terrain. A reliable pair of comfortable shoes is key.

  • A scarf or wrap, such as a traditional Jordanian keffiyeh.

    Jordan’s midday sun can be intense, and many of the holy sites require visitors’ legs and shoulders to be covered, so it’s always helpful to have a versatile extra layer on hand. “Having an extra scarf on hand for holy sites was helpful, either for my use for covering from the sun or to let someone else borrow it who had forgotten shoulders and knees need to be covered!” said traveler Allison after returning from the Jordan extension of our The Wonders of Ancient Israel: Christian Heritage tour.

  • Layerable, breathable clothing.

    Allison also pointed out the convenience of dressing in lightweight, long layers on a tour of Jordan, “I dressed so my knees and shoulders were always covered, so I was prepared for any holy sites plus protected from the sun, which worked well.” she said. Temperatures can feel drastically different in the shade and in the sun, especially in places like the Old City of Petra. Lightweight layers will keep you comfortable no matter where the day takes you.

  • Sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen.

    The sun in Jordan is no joke, especially in the summer months. Be prepared by wearing proper sun protection.

  • Don’t bring binoculars.

    You may be tempted to bring a pair of binoculars for an up-close view of the natural wonders and ancient cities of Jordan, but they tend to be confiscated by security when entering the country. We suggest you save yourself the hassle and leave your binoculars at home. “Don’t bring binoculars into Jordan,” suggested traveler Doug after returning from the Jordan extension of our Egypt & Nile River Cruise. “I almost lost mine at customs—twice!”

Ready to set out and explore Jordan? Explore our Jordan tours!

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About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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