The Middle-East has always held a mystical fascination. Despite being surrounded by countries with questionable stability and safety, Jordan is a relative oasis of calm filled with history and natural wonders.
Relatively compact and with safe roads meant we could plan a 9-day road-trip to visit the main highlights – though the route can be condensed into to a week if necessary. Petra and the Dead Sea are obvious destinations, but our primary destination was the Wadi Rum desert and its unique landscape and history. Throw in the roman citadels of Jerash and Amman, the crusader castle of Kerak and the Red Sea city of Aqaba and a natural road-trip route emerges.
For a quick snapshot and highlights from our entire trip check out the video.
We followed a natural anti-clockwise route, dictated mainly by the flights from London arriving near mid-night, so we opted to take a taxi transfer direct to Madaba, rather than Amman, and head south from there the next morning.
Our day-by-day itinerary and map is detailed below.
Day 1 – Madaba – Kerak – Wadi Rum Village
Our hire car (montecar.com) was delivered to our hotel for 9am on the Saturday morning as planned. Following the Kings Highway – one of the Jordan’s main north-south routes – we meandered the couple of hours down to Kerak. The ancient castle 9 (free entry with JordanPass) holds a commanding spot over the town and views with views down to the Dead Sea to the east. Book a guided tour if you want more info as the signage and info is limited across the sprawling site.
After a quick lunch at a nearby café – the owners compete vociferously for your custom! – we headed west to join the desert highway – the other main north-route. Apart from several roadworks and one instance where the dual-carriageway suddenly closed with no obvious detour signs (thank goodness I’d downloaded Maps.me offline maps in advance) we made it Wadi Rum village by 5pm to meet our guide from Beyond Wadi Rum. Thirty minutes later we were on the back of a 4×4 winding through the desert and soon arrived at camp to start our desert adventure.
Day 2 – Wadi Rum Jeep Tour
There are plenty of tour options available for the Wadi Rum ranging from a couple of hour to a full-day jeep tour. We stayed at the excellent Beyond Wadi Rum Camp through whom we also booked the tours. Our camp was more glamping than camping, the canvas-covered faux-bedouin pods offered tiled floors and a large king-size bed. Separate blocks housed toilet, showers – with plenty of hot-water – with a separate building provided terrace from which to watch the sun-set and the communal dining/chilling room for the excellent buffer dinner.
We’d opted for a full-day jeep tour which included a cooked lunch in the desert, followed by an overnight camp-out under the stars. Our guide for the couple of days was Artif and his trusty, if a little battered, Mitsubishi L200, replete with home-made sun canopy to shade us from the worst of the sun.
The Wadi Rum (meaning ‘Valley of the Moon”) landscape is unique and other-worldly. As well as the obvious setting for the classic Laurence of Arabia film, more recently The Martian and Star Wars movies have been filmed here. The red sand of the desert is punctuated everywhere by magnificent sandstone outcrops of every shape and size. The millennia have shaped and sculpted the sandstone monoliths into weird and wonderful formations, rock-arches and canyons.
There’s an established ‘circuit’ of 6/7 sights or locations that all jeep tours seem to visit including the Lawrence of Arabia spring, sand dunes, impressive rock-arches and the Khazali canyon with its ancient cravings and inscriptions. After bouncing around on the back of the van a lunch-break in the shade was most welcomed. Eventually we headed further into the desert to find a spot to watch the sunset, gathering wood from deceased bushes, before arriving at our overnight under the stars camp-spot. After a meal of chicken and vegetables roasted over the fire we could just lie back and wonder at the expanse of the milky-way above as we drifted off to sleep.
Day 3 – Jebel Umm Adami
At 1,854 metres, Jebel Umm Adami is the highest peak in Jordan. Sited to the south of the Wadi Rum, near the Saudi border, the prospect of climbing a mountain in the desert heat was rather daunting so a morning breeze was welcome. An hours drive through the desert brought us to the base of the climb – we were already at an altitude of over 1,500 meters and so the climb itself was a relatively straightforward. After 90 minutes of clambering and plodding we found ourselves on the summit with amazing views over the Wadi Rum to the north and Saudi Arabia to the south, though Aqaba and the Red Sea to east were obscured by a slight haze. The descent was just over an hour and after a lazy lunch, followed by a welcome snooze, we were back in Beyond Wadi Rum camp by mid-afternoon for a welcome shower and freshen-up.
Day 4 – Aqaba
We were dropped off back at Wadi Rum village to find our hire-car wouldn’t start. Hint – in an automatic make sure the gear-stick is in Park when you try and start the car! I suspected a dead battery and persuaded some locals to help-out. Expecting jump-leads I was surprised when they removed the battery from their van and held it upside down to connect its terminals with my battery (with the help of a hand-held spanner!). It still wouldn’t start until I noticed the gear-stick had been knocked into Drive. Quickly shoving it into Park the engine fired-up and not admitting my error I thanked the locals profusely and gave them a few JD’s tip for their troubles!
A short journey south brought us to Aqaba, Jordans only port city, sited on the Red Sea. Believed to have become a trading port as early as 1500BC, Aqaba has been inhabited since 4000BC. During World War 1 Aqaba was captured from the Ottomans by TE Lawrence and the Arab forces, becoming an important supply-point from which the British forces could support the Arabs.
Today was my birthday – we were booked into the Aqaba – Intercontinental Hotel directly on the sea-front, and had pre-arranged an early check-in to make the most of the facilities. Considering it was a rather sweltering 38 degrees the sea was surprisingly ‘fresh’ but a welcome respite from the heat.
Day 5/6- Petra
After an easy couple of hours drive north to Wadi Musa we arrived at La Maison hotel which is just a 5 minute walk from the gates of Petra.
Perhaps the most well-known attraction in Jordan, Petra is honeycomb of hand-hewn caves, temples, and tombs carved from the red sandstone in the high-desert. Built by the ancient Nabateans before the Romans arrived in 63AD Petra is a UNESCO World heritage site and in 2007 was voted one of the 7 ‘New Wonders of the World’. Arriving at the iconic Treasury after winding your way through the narrow Siq (canyon) doesn’t disappoint.
Several marked trails take you off to explore – we continued down through Roman remains and the climb up to Ad Deir – the monastery – which arguably is more impressive then the Treasury with another short-climb offering stunning vista over the landscape. The JordanPass includes one-day entry to Petra, but not the optional ‘Petra by Night’ tickets which cost 17JD each. We’d bought the extra tickets on arrival at the hotel, but I hadn’t been feeling too well for a few days so we decided to skip the evening event in favour of an early night.
Day 7 – Dead Sea Resort
The route from Petra to the Dead Sea sees you drop around 1.500 metres through dramatic landscape to the Dead Sea plain. At minus 430 metres the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth by some margin. It’s bright blue water contrasts starkly with the dusty desert rocks and salt plains. We by-passed Wadi Mujib, which if you have time offers a range of activities in the canyon before arriving at the Dead Sea Resort – a strip of tourist hotels to the north of the east bank of the Dead Sea. We’d booked into the Crowne Plaza hotel for one evening to relax and sample the unique experience of super-buoyant Dead Sea waters, made even more special by the beautiful sunset.
Day 8 – Amman
After a lazy breakfast and late check-out we the hours drive was uneventful aside from being on the verge of running out of petrol – the hire-car working on an empty-to-empty fuel-tank policy. On the outskirts of Amman the range showed 50km fuel left but on entering the city it suddenly went down to zero and induced mild-panic! Thankfully we arrived safely at the Intercontinental Hotel (free thanks to my IHG Rewards Club points).
The hotel was a short walk from Rainbow Street, from which you can descend further to the hustle and bustle of down-town Amman. We meandered though the markets before heading to the impressive roman theatre dating back to the 2nd century before.
Day 9 – Jerash
A 45-minute Uber taxi ride from the hotel in Amman took us north to the ancient Roman site at Jerash. Although slightly off our original circular route Jerash is well worth a visit. Jordans largest roman site and one of the largest outside of Italy, Jerash’s imposing ceremonial gates, colonnaded avenues, temples and theatres dates back to the 2nd century, though evidence of earlier settlements date back as far as the Neolithic age. Even without guided tour its an easy 3-hour meander
Where did we stay?
We planned our itinerary and arranged all our accommodation and car-hire before we arrived in Jordan. Booking.com made it super-easy to check-out and book accommodation. See where we stayed below and click on the links to check out the reviews.
- Car-hire – we used www.montecar.com which we found cheaper than the main hire companies and were happy to drop-off at our hotel in Madaba and collect from hotel in Amman.
- Madaba – Rumman Hotel. Really helpful and arranged airport transfer on arrival and greeted is warmly on arrival at 1am.
- Wadi Rum – Jeep tour, mountain climb and camp through Beyond Wadi Rum Camp
- Aqaba – Intercontinental Hotel – free with my IHG Rewards Club points
- Petra – La Maison hotel – convenient 5 mins walk to main entrance
- Dead Sea – Crowne Plaza hotel – free with my IHG Rewards Club points
- Amman – Intercontinental Hotel – free with my IHG Rewards Club points
Jordan Travel Tips
When to go – the ‘shoulder’ month of late spring and early autumn avoid the worst of the summer heat. We found mid/late September bearable at around 38 degrees, with the evenings 15/20 degrees.
Driving in Jordan – driving is relatively safe and easy so a hire-car is a practical option, though taxi and tour-bus are also viable options to travel between the main tourist locations. Aside from Amman, the roads were not busy and the main desert highway is a convenient dual-carriageway most of the way. You’ll likely be stopped at the odd police check-point, but mostly they ask where you are from and bid you on your way.
Money – the local currency is the Jordanian Dinar (JD), though US dollars are widely accepted. Most of the Wadi Rum camps/tours accept cash only and there are no ATM’s in Wadi Rum village. Outside of the Wadi Rum mostly used our Revolut visa card for its excellent rates.
Dress – dress for the heat with lightweight layers and a hat, and for women remember to respect the custom/religion – so modest dress is appropriate but not a rule. You’ll be doing lots of walking to appropriate, comfortable footwear is a must.
JordonPass – purchase the JordanPass online at https://www.jordanpass.jo before you go and it includes the $40 visa entry fee and free entry Jordan’s main sites which saves money and time.
Maps/Sav-nav – most car-hire companies will hire you a sat-nav but I recommend to download off-line maps to your phone for navigation and getting around. I used the Maps.me app and downloaded the Jordan map before we left so no need to use any expensive roaming mobile data. Maps.me came in handy when our guide got lost in the desert on the way to Jebel Umm Adami – I showed him the way as the jeep tracks were marked on Maps.me!
Taxis – use the web to check out typical taxi costs in advance (or check with Uber) to avoid being ripped off by local taxis. Airport transfer quote from Amman hotel was 50JD whereas Uber was 18JD. Amman local taxi quoted 15JD from Amman Citadel to Rainbow Street – he tried convincing us it was a great deal, but I’d already checked and knew Uber was around 2JD for same journey!
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