Secret Asian Man’s Ultimate Guide to Jordan

This is the last Friday in this fascinating country. We’ve enjoyed the pleasure of its people, culture, and beauty. Jordan is a great country for lots of reasons, but perhaps mostly because it is so compact and achievable. We’ve had the great opportunity to share with guests as well.  Even though you may have missed your chance to visit with us, We thought we could leave you with our ideal itinerary for a visit of 7 to 14 days to help you or your guests get the maximum out of your stay. You should definitely consider tackling some of this list.
First, get travel insurance.  The world is a dangerous and unpredictable place, and getting to care or safety can be super expensive anywhere. One crazy driver and you can bankrupt yourself. It could be well worth the hundred bucks or so. 
Next, get the Jordan Pass. You can only get this online before you arrive. It will cover your entry visa and entry to most of the sites below. If you go to Petra, the price will pay for itself. The visa you receive does allow you to enter Israel and return within a two week period.
Once you arrive, make your way to your hotel in Amman. Plan to stay here for few days.  Stretch your legs.  Sleep off the jet lag.  There are most major hotel chains. All are nice, though the Marriott is a little far away from stuff.  
Do you like gladiator movies? If you’re coming from the States, you’ll be up early from jet lag anyway. Start early on your first day.  Hire a driver and/or guide, we have used Go Jordan Tours for ourselves and our guests and been very happy, and head to Jerash. It’s about an hour north of Amman and contains some of the most complete Roman ruins to be found anywhere.  Your guide should be able to give you some history since the dawn of recorded time and lots of good basic knowledge about how and why the Romans did what they did. Count on about 2-3 hours depending on how fast you walk and how many questions you have.
If you time it right, it’ll be close to lunch time.  Hop back on the car and head to Lebanese House for lunch.  Nearly all their food looks good, but some highlights include Makdous, Moutabal, and shish Tawouk.  Don’t eat the falafel  though, you’ll be having this for dinner. 
After lunch have your driver take you to Ajloun Castle.

Show your Jordan Pass and get your ticket at the bottom of the hill and walk or drive up to the castle. This being the land of crusaders, you’re never more than a camel’s spitting distance away from a castle of some sort. I like Ajloun because it’s seems to be the most intact and the best curated and labeled, so things are in context. Wander clear to the top for some impressive views. Let your kids climb and roam a bit.

If you’re staying in Jordan for a couple weeks, consider booking nearby into Umm Qais B & B . A Nice little project with an amazing breakfast.  If you pre-schedule it they can send you down the road to a home cooked family meal that is quite lovely.  Get up the next morning and see Umm Qais, another Roman ruin with good views of the Sea of Galilee, Israel and Syria. Plan to have lunch at the Umm Qais Rest House for good food and a great view.
If you don’t have the time, head back from Ajloun to Amman.  After a brief rest, head to Hashem for dinner. It’s not much to look at but has been around for years and is billed as the oldest restaurant in Jordan, serving a simple falafel meal to anyone 24/7. It is the Waffle House of Arabic food. It will be, without a doubt the cheapest meal you’ll have in Jordan. They speak reasonable English. There isn’t really a menu, just nod to whatever they say, you’ll be satisfied. It will open your mind to what falafel should be along with moutabal , hummous, foul, fresh pita and scalding hot mint tea. Try and ask for some of the big (kibear) falafel you will thank us later.
After dinner, walk out of Hashem and turn left. Walk a block or two down the main street. This is the Souk area, so there is lots of activity here. Lots of people watching and souvenir opportunities. You’re looking on the left hand side for an alley. There is a book kiosk on the corner. Just find the line. This is Habiba Sweets.  Stand in line. When you get to the window, ask for a 100 gram slice of knafe. Pay your money and go gather your little plate. Eat it there in the alley before it gets cold. It’s not as good when it’s cold.
Head home it’s been a long day.
If you’ve got some time in Amman, The Jordan Museum is a great collection and explains more about the area. They also have some of the Dead Sea scrolls which you should see since you came all this way.
In the evening wander down Rainbow Street, Amman’s main tourist street. Compared to others in the world, it is not much, but it’s theirs and there are some shisha joints and restaurants to try and an amazing view of the city and the The Citadel . For a nice meal try Soufra or Cantaloupe. If you’re there on a Friday in the summer, Souk Jara is a nice street market that goes until late.  Don’t be up too late, you’ve got a busy day ahead!
After a good breakfast, grab your car or guide and head to Mt Nebo in near by Madaba.

It’s about a 45 minutes drive. Read up on your Moses before you come especially about all the wandering he did. Mt Nebo is where it all ended for old Mo. He came, he saw, he died. There is a great set of mosaics inside the church there. They just finished restoring them and it’s well worth a look. Allow an hour or two.

You can head into Madaba proper if you’ve the time.  The St. George’s church has the oldest map of Jerusalem in its mosaic floor. There is a small presentation.  You can eat lunch in town and shop for mosaics and other things. Haret Jdouna it right down the street from St. George’s and has great food if you are looking for a relaxing meal.  
Back in the car.  You’re descending around 4000 feet to the Dead Sea. One of the lowest points on earth, the totally dead body of water is disappearing, so take it in while you can. For the tourists, check into one of the hotels, all have spas and beach access. We can recommend both the Marriott and the Movenpick. Head down to the water, slather yourselves in mud, grab a newspaper and your camera for the prototypical, floating on the Dead Sea pic. Instagram that sucker and then go rinse off. Go relax in the regular pools or have a spa treatment. Mrs. S.A.M can vouch for the spas at both of the above hotels.
If you’re in a time crunch, most of the hotels have day passes that allow use of the pool and beach and may include a meal. Ammon Beach is just down the road and is the beach the locals use. It is cheaper and is definitely a cultural experience.
If you’ve got time, I’d stay in the Dead Sea hotel for two nights.  If it’s between April and December, go hike Wadi Mujib. There are lots of hikes along the Dead Sea, but Mujib is the coolest. It will cost you around 25JD.  Prepare to be wet and prepare to work. It is less a hike than a salmon spawn.  You and some placed guides will haul your carcass up and over several waterfalls to the end. The whole hike is about 2 hours, but you’ll think you’ve hiked 4.  This will be a high point!
If you’re more sedate and spiritually inclined, you can also try The Baptism Site. You need cash here, as your Jordan pass won’t work. You are also required to take the bus and the guide, because you’re getting dangerously close to Israel here. You can see where The Son of God was baptized according to the Greeks and the Catholics who so deem it. You can see Israel about 12 feet away. If you want, you can even baptize yourself. Holy water is for sale on site, to take home to your friends. If this story has meaning for you, you will enjoy. If not, you will think it looks like a reedy puddle and will wonder about all the fuss.
From the Dead Sea, you’ve got a two or three hour drive ahead of you, so plan for that. As always in Jordan, it’s best to stay off the roads after dark. Your next step is the town of Dana in the Dana Biosphere Reserve. This place is situated at the top of several canyons. There are a couple of camps ranging from spartan to a little less spartan and a lodge. They all include dinner and breakfast. You can ask for a room with lights or just a tent. You can even sleep under the stars. The meals are ample and Arab and largely free of choice. We like it. Eat, sing, play games by candlelight or go stargazing. But don’t be up too late. Tomorrow is a big day.
Today you’re headed to the Feynan Ecolodge. There are a couple ways to get there. The Wadi Dana hike is the less strenuous 6-hours. The Wadi Gweheir hike is 8-10 hours and is beautiful. The latter requires a guide and some physical ability as there is some scrambling and minor rappelling. If you’re able, this is highly recommended. A guide will help point out some of the animals and history. Bonus points if you find a blue headed lizard. Your camp can provide a box lunch. Take plenty of water. They should also be able to provide that, unfortunately it’ll be in single use plastic bottles.
If you’re self driving, you can pay a Bedouin to drive the car down to Feynan for you. If it’s not a high clearance vehicle, you’ll need to carry some clothes and toiletries for your night at the lodge, as they’ll need to leave your car in the town. You can catch a ride in the morning. Otherwise, just leave your bags in the car, it will be parked right at the lodge. Oh yeah…Start the day early.
Feynan Ecolodge is a super cool destination and a great place to relax after your long hike. There is minimal electricity, and the place is largely cell signal-free.  Dinner is served at 7 by candlelight. Indeed the whole place is via candlelight at night except your bathroom. BYOB if you want. If you still want to walk or stay the next day they can take you for a sunset hike or over to a Bedouin tent for a bread making lesson. Later in the evening they pull out some mattresses on the roof along with a telescope for some stargazing. I always fall asleep. It is the best!  Breakfast starts at 7 AM. And includes the finest falafels you will eat your entire trip. Mrs. S.A.M. has been known to go back for seconds and thirds.

After breakfast, load up the car.  It is onward to Petra! This will take an hour or two over some pretty nice roads and views. You have to climb all the way back up to where you hiked from.
In the town of Petra, we like to stay at one of three places. The Movenpick is right across the street from the entrance and is pretty posh. Nice breakfast included and nice rooftop lounge that is open in the warmer months.
If you can spend a couple days in Petra, do it. There is lots to see. If I had to choose, I would hike in from the back entrance at Little Petra. This way you can see Little Petra, hike up to the Monastery and out the front.  It is pretty spectacular. It’s a long day if you walk the whole thing. Some guide companies can drive you part of the way.
On your way out stop at The Cave Bar, ostensibly the oldest bar in the world. They have good and cold drinks. The food is decidedly average. Eat elsewhere. We recommend The Oriental Restaurant. It is not Chinese food.
The following day you can enter through the front entrance and see the dramatic entrance to the Treasury just like Indiana Jones did way back when. Then see the royal tombs or hike up to the place of high sacrifice or other hikes.
If you only have one day in Petra, enter via the front.  Aim to make it all the way to the Monastery. You can walk the 850 steps up or pay for a donkey for the hard part.  Negotiate  it. It should be between 5 and 10JD. Both walking or donkey have their drawbacks.
A word about Petra By Night.  Three nights a week they light up the path and the whole Treasury with thousands of candles. The photos look cool.  It costs extra and is not covered by your Jordan Pass. If you can get in early, it is amazingly magical.
How do you get in early?  We used the guides at Go Jordan to hike with us during the day. They have connections.  Through them they walk you in early while they’re still lighting the candles. They sit you off to the side and you have the place entirely to yourself. It is quiet and calm and oh, so cool. 45 minutes later your party is crashed by 1000 strangers jostling for a place on the ground. There is some music and a small speech and then everyone gets up and trounces back. Children are lost, babies are crying. The entertainment is cheesy, but buying the time by yourself is spectacular. I wouldn’t do it again unless I could get there first. But if you go with Go Jordan Tours, the night experience is worth the guide price you pay for the rest of your Petra visit.
Onward then, to Wadi Rum.
In preparation, it’s good to watch Lawrence of Arabia. Probably good to watch it anyway before your trip. There are lots of ways to do this place. Here is our favourite. We book in with Bedouin Lifestyle Camps. These guys are great. Super flexible, accommodating and good cooks to boot. Plan to get there by 9, but 10 is okay if there is summer lighting. You can do a short camel ride into the desert and then a Jeep tour for the rest of the day. Lunch is included.

In the evening, you can choose to stay at their desert camp with dinner and a music show, or pay a little extra and sleep under the stars. Do yourselves a favor, sleep under the stars. The guys will find a secluded site that is all yours. They throw some mattresses and some blankets down on a mat, start a fire, light some candles and your guide prepares a feast from scratch in an hour or two. You can explore or relax.  Then as it gets dark you can count the stars until you fall asleep. Wake in the night and watch the constellations twirl overhead all night. People may worry about wildlife, but don’t worry. Nothing will bother you.
In the morning they drive you to the camp to clean up and eat breakfast. Then they drive you back to your car. Another option is the hour long camel ride. It is beautiful for the first 30 minutes. The the wooden saddle will greatly degrade your sense of wonder.
There are a number of camps in Wadi Rum. You’ll see photos of glass domes and air conditioning and comfy beds. Those are a different kind of experience. You’ll pay more and get less.
Hit the southernmost point on this trip in Aqaba. We like the Movenpick at Tala Bay. It is out of town and you’re trapped at the resort, but it’s a very nice resort with good food and great staff.  It’s a relaxing way to wind down after all the hiking and dust you’ve been through. There’s a nice spa. And a dive shop on site. Sign up for a dive with Sinai Divers or rent some snorkel equipment and go explore the Red Sea, some of the best diving in the world. Stay for a couple days. You earned it!

It’s about a 5 hour drive back to the airport, so your flight time will determine your last day. If you want to wind your way back slowly, you can stop at Shobak Castle or Karak Castle or both!  Karak is the more famous, Shobak, I think, is the more imposing.

If you’ve followed this itinerary to the letter, you’ve already ticked off a number of World Heritage Sites. If you want one more, Umm Al Rasas is on the way. Roman and earlier ruins, with some great mosaics. There are also some ascetic pillars nearby.
There is the usual duty free shopping at the airport, but don’t dawdle. If you’re headed directly back to the U.S., there is an extra screening where they rifle through all your belongings. This takes time. They line up early, so plan accordingly. Flights through Europe are less strict.
And there you have it! Mr and Mrs. S.A.M’s ultimate trip to Jordan. Do it all or do it in part, but buy travel insurance and do this trip!!

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