Getting there & away
Most visitors come to Jordan as part of a jaunt around the Middle East. Amman is well connected with most cities in the Middle East and Europe, but no airline has direct flights between Amman and Canada, Australia or New Zealand, and there are very few direct services between Amman and the USA. The overland borders between Jordan and Israel & the Palestinian Territories, and Jordan and Syria are popular and generally trouble-free, though you'll have to consider the implications of a trip to Israel & the Palestinian Territories if headed on to some other states in the Middle East. The ferry trip to Egypt is another popular option.
Your passport should be valid for at least six months after you arrive in Jordan. Always carry your passport with you when travelling around sensitive areas such as near the border of Israel & the Palestinian Territories - which means most of the Jordan Valley and anywhere along the Dead Sea Highway. Checkpoints and passport checks are common in these areas.
Online ticket sales work well if you are doing a simple one-way or return trip on specified dates, but you'll have to invest some time to find the best fares.
Always remember to reconfirm your onward or return flight at least 72 hours before departure on international flights.
There are two boat services to Nuweiba in Egypt which leave from the passenger terminal just south of Aqaba. With both services, departure times can be subject to change so call the passenger terminal (03 2013240; www.abmaritime.com.jo/english) before travelling to check the departure time.
The fast boat, which leaves Aqaba daily (except Saturday) at noon (get there by 10.30am), takes about an hour and costs JD26 or US$36; children aged two to 12 pay JD14 or US$20. It's more expensive (US$45) to come the other way due to the difference in government taxes. You need your passport to buy a ticket. The return ferry leaves Nuweiba around 3pm.
There is also a slower ferry service (which doubles as a car ferry) that officially leaves at noon but often doesn't leave until 5pm or later, depending on the number of trucks trying to get on board. When it does leave, it should take three hours but it usually takes longer. There is sometimes talk of another service, at 6pm, but this is only during exceptionally busy times (like the haj). The cost for the slow ferry is US$25. A car in either direction costs an extra US$110.
Tickets for either service can be paid for in Jordanian dinars or US dollars. It's not possible to buy return tickets. Beware of buying ferry tickets in Amman because you may be charged for nonexistent first-class seats - buy the tickets in Aqaba. The worst time for travelling is just after the haj, when Aqaba fills up with hajis (pilgrims) returning home from Mecca to Egypt.
Most nationalities can obtain Egyptian tourist visas on arrival at Nuweiba. If you only need a visa valid for the Sinai region you can get this on the boat. If you wish to travel further than Sharm el-Sheikh you need a full visa for Egypt. You can get this at the consulate at Aqaba or on arrival at Nuweiba.
Travellers from Eastern Europe may want to get their Egyptian visa before boarding the boat as some have been refused entry onto the ferry at Aqaba because they had no Egyptian visa.
There are money exchange facilities at the terminals at Nuweiba and Aqaba. The Jordanian side offers a decent exchange rate (at the time of research JD1 equalled €1.2) but avoid travellers cheques, which attract a huge commission.
There is a sporadic twice-weekly catamaran trip between Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh (officially US$45, three hours) but this wasn't operating at the time of research.
One thing to consider, if you don't mind an Israeli border stamp, is that it's quicker and cheaper to travel overland via Israel & the Palestinian Territories. Take a taxi from Taba to the border then another taxi on to the Arava border crossing with Jordan (or go by bus changing at Eilat bus station); the whole thing takes about an hour. Going to Egypt bear in mind that you can't get a full Egyptian visa at the border with Israel & the Palestinian Territories at Taba, only a Sinai peninsula visa, so get one in Aqaba or Amman before you go.
Crossing the border overland into Jordan from Saudi Arabia is nigh on impossible for non-residents and travel to Iraq is curently on hold, so most travellers generally come overland from Syria or Israel & the Palestinian Territories, or by ferry from Egypt. However, there are three important things to note:
Jordanian visas are not available at the Israel/Jordan border at King Hussein Bridge (though they are available at other crossings)
Most travellers arrive in Jordan by bus or service taxi if travelling overland, although it's no problem bringing your own car or motorcycle.
Travel to Iraq is not recommended at the present. Land transport crosses at the al-Karama/Tarbil border post, which is located 330km from Amman. Jordan Regular Transport (4622652) at Abdali bus station in Amman currently operates service taxis and minibuses to Baghdad, mostly for Iraqi citizens and using Iraqi drivers. Services leave Amman at midnight in order to get to the border at dawn. Vehicles then travel in convoys for safety into the notorious 'Sunni triangle', passing Fallujah before (in sha'Allah) arriving in Baghdad. A seat in a service taxi costs JD25 and JD15 in a minibus. A private car should cost around JD140.
Since the historic peace treaty between Jordan and Israel & the Palestinian Territories was signed in 1994, three border crossings have opened to foreigners - King Hussein Bridge, Sheikh Hussein Bridge and Wadi Araba.
Before crossing into Jordan from Israel & the Palestinian Territories, there are a few things you need to remember:
Only change as much money as you need because the commission charged by moneychangers is often ridiculously high
Israeli visas of one month's duration are issued at the Wadi Araba (Rabin) and Sheikh Hussein Bridge crossings, but those issued at the King Hussein Bridge are usually for three months
Jordanian visas cannot be obtained on arrival at the King Hussein Bridge
If you want to visit Israel & the Palestinian Territories, use the King Hussein Bridge crossing and then return to Jordan within 14 days (or three months if you extend your visa in Jordan before leaving), you do not need a second or multiple-entry Jordanian visa
Private vehicles cannot drive across the King Hussein Bridge, but they can be taken across the other borders
On both sides of all three borders there are moneychanging facilities, places to eat and drink, and duty-free shops. On the Jordanian side of all three borders there is a post office and a tourist information counter (8am-2pm, closed Fri).
You can expect borders to be closed on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
Only 40km from Amman and 30km from Jerusalem, this border crossing (8am-6pm Sun-Thu, 8am-12pm Fri & Sat) offers travellers the most direct route between the two cities. It is a common way to exit, but not enter, Jordan, because Jordanian visas are not issued at this border - so get a Jordanian visa at an embassy/consulate beforehand, or use another border crossing.
Public transport in Israel & the Palestinian Territories doesn't run during the Jewish Shabbat between sunset Friday and sunset Saturday. On Friday and Saturday it's better to arrive before 11am.
Due to the ongoing intifada (uprising) in the Palestinian Territories, no Jordanian buses were crossing King Hussein Bridge at the time of research. Instead, service taxis run throughout the day from Amman's Abdali bus station to (but not across) King Hussein Bridge (JD2.500, 45 minutes) or there's a single daily JETT bus (JD6.500) at 6.30am. These services may move to the Wahadat station in the future, so check with your hotel.
The ride to the Israeli & Palestinian Territories side, although extremely short, can seem to last an eternity with repeated stops for passport and bag checks. At the time of research, it was not possible to walk, hitch or take a private car across. Buses (JD2) shuttle between the two borders. There are moneychanging facilities on your way to the exit.
The historic oddity of this crossing has remained enshrined in the fact that, on leaving Jordan, you're not really considered to be leaving Jordan. Prior to 1988, Jordan laid claim to the West Bank as its own territory, and somehow this idea has remained in the approach to visas. If you wish to return to Jordan from the Palestinian Territories on your current Jordanian visa, you need only keep the stamped exit slip and present it on returning by the same crossing (it won't work at the other crossings). You must return within the validity of your Jordanian visa or its extension.
At the Israeli border post, plead with the officials to stamp your Jordanian exit stamp rather than your passport.
Travelling into Jordan, the Israeli exit tax is a hefty 127 NIS (around US$29; compared to around 70 NIS elsewhere), supposedly because you're paying to leave Israel & the Palestinian Territories. Note that, if you intend to return to Israel, you must keep the entrance form given to you by the Jordanians - they may well insist on you prolonging your stay in Jordan if you cannot present it.
To get to Jerusalem from the border, take a sherut (Israeli shared taxi; around US$40 for the car) to Jerusalem's Damascus Gate. Alternatively take a cheaper bus to Jerusalem or, if that's not running, a bus to Jericho and then a sherut to Damascus Gate. Much of the public transport in the West Bank was not running when we were there.
In all, crossing the border can take up to three hours, depending on Israeli security measures; avoid 11am to 3pm when delays are more common.
The northernmost crossing (Jordan Bridge to the Israelis; 6.30am-10pm Sun-Thu, 8am-8pm Fri & Sat) links northern Jordan with Beit She'an in Galilee (Israel & the Palestinian Territories), 6km away. It's handy if you wish to visit northern Jordan, and it's the closest crossing to Jerusalem and Amman that will issue Jordanian visas on arrival.
From Irbid, regular service taxis leave the West bus station for the border (750 fils, 45 minutes). From the bridge it's a 2km walk (or hitch) to the Israeli side, from where you have to take a taxi to the Beit She'an bus station for onward connections inside Israel & the Palestinian Territories.
If you're coming from Israel & the Palestinian Territories, take a bus to Tiberias, and change at Beit She'an (6km from the border). From there, take another bus to the Israeli border (allow enough time because there is only a handful of buses per day). After passport formalities and paying Israeli exit tax (70 NIS), a compulsory bus takes you to the Jordanian side.
From the Jordanian side, either wait for a minibus or shared taxi to Irbid (from where there are regular connections to Amman), go to Shuneh ash-Shamaliyyeh (North Shuna) by private or service taxi, or walk (3km) to the main road and flag down a minibus or service taxi.
This handy crossing (formerly Arava, now the Yitzhak Rabin crossing to the Israelis; 6.30am-10pm Sun-Thu, 8am-8pm Fri & Sat) in the south of the country links Aqaba to Eilat. To get there from Aqaba you'll have to take a taxi (JD5). Once at the border you can just walk across. From the border, buses run to central Eilat, only 2km away. All in, Aqaba to Eilat takes about an hour.
If you're travelling from Jerusalem and you want to skip Eilat, ask the driver to let you out at the turn-off for the border, a short walk away. Israel & the Palestinian Territories exit tax is 68 NIS here. On the Jordanian border take a taxi into Aqaba (JD5, 15 minutes) or you could negotiate a taxi fare direct to Petra (around JD25, two hours) or Wadi Rum.
Several cities in Jordan are now regularly linked to cities in Israel & the Palestinian Territories. Travelling by bus directly between Amman and Tel Aviv will save you the hassle of getting to/from the borders, but it's more expensive than crossing independently, and you'll have to wait for all passengers to clear customs and immigration.
From Amman, Trust International Transport (06 5813427) has buses from its office at 7th Circle to Tel Aviv (JD21, six hours), Haifa (JD18, seven hours) and Nazareth (JD18, seven hours), departing daily except Saturday at 8.30am. Services cross the border at the Sheikh Hussein Bridge. Buses leave from the Trust office in Irbid (02 7251878) at around 10am. Book tickets the day before.
If you're driving from Israel & the Palestinian Territories, use the border crossings at Sheikh Hussein Bridge or Wadi Araba/Rabin (it is not possible to drive over the King Hussein Bridge).
Getting a visa, even a transit visa, to Saudi Arabia is a very difficult feat. for details.
The main land route for public transport into Saudi Arabia is at Al-Umari, which is located along the highway south of Azraq. The other two crossing points are Ad-Durra, located south of Aqaba, and further east at Al- Mudawwara. Several companies run services to Jeddah and Riyadh from Amman's Abdali bus station.
If you want to travel directly between Damascus and Amman, it's worth taking a direct bus or service taxi. Otherwise you may end up spending more time and money once you catch a service taxi to Der'a, organise your own transport across the border, get another lift to Ramtha, perhaps another to Irbid, and then a connection to Amman. The only reason to travel this way is if you want to stop off en route at places such as Ezra'a and Bosra ash-Sham (Syria), or Jerash and Umm Qais.
Der'a/Ramtha and Nasib/Jabir are both open for 24 hours every day. The Jordanian sides both have a post office and tourist office (8am-5pm Sat-Thu, 8am-2pm Fri), moneychangers (open most of the time) where Jordanian dinars and Syrian pounds are changed, and places to eat and drink.
Ramtha is the border most commonly used by foreigners who are using nondirect public transport and/or detouring to sights in northern Jordan. You can get direct transport between Damascus and Irbid or Amman, without stopping in Ramtha, though there are also buses to Ramtha from Amman's Abdali station (500 fils, two hours) and Irbid (250 fils). From Ramtha, service taxis and minibuses run regularly to the border. If hitching, ask the immigration office on the Jordanian side to flag down a vehicle for a lift to the Syrian border.
Most service taxis between Amman and Damascus now use this crossing. It's also useful if you plan a detour to eastern Jordan (eg Azraq), as the border at Jabir is useful for connections to Zarqa or Mafraq.
The air-conditioned Jordan Express Travel & Tourism(JETT; 5664146; Al-Malek al-Hussein St, Shmeisani) buses travel between Amman and Damascus (JD5, five hours) twice a day, at 7am and 3pm; book a day in advance. JETT also has a daily bus to Aleppo (JD7.500, eight hours) at 2.30pm. JETT's international terminal is just up from the Abdali bus station in Amman. Afana(4614611), next door, also has an evening bus to Damascus (JD5, five hours), leaving at 9pm, but it arrives very early in the morning and services aren't quite as reliable. Buses drop passengers off at the Baramke garage in Damascus.
The Palace Hotel in Amman has started a useful minibus service which runs between Amman and Damascus, with stops en route at Jerash, Bosra and Shaba (JD25 per person). They require a minimum of four passengers.
The service taxis to Damascus (three hours) are faster than the buses and run at all hours, although you'll have to wait longer in the evening for one to fill up. Service taxis take less time to cross the border than trains or buses because there are fewer passengers to process, and the drivers are experienced in helping passengers with immigration and customs formalities. These taxis are huge, yellow (or white) and American-made.
From Amman, service taxis for Damascus ('ash-Sham' in Arabic) leave from the eastern or lower end of the Abdali bus station; from Damascus, they leave from the Baramke garage. The trip costs JD7 from Amman, and S£500 from Damascus. Service taxis also travel between Damascus and Irbid (South bus station, 2½ hours) in northern Jordan for slightly less.
Services on the Hejaz Railway between Amman and Damascus leave Amman and Damascus on Monday and Thursday at 8am, but very few travellers take this service because it is so much slower than a service taxi (you have to change trains at the border, so figure on at least nine hours to Damascus). Tickets cost JD3 (half-priced for kids under nine). The charming old station is located on King Abdullah I St, approximately 2.5km east of the Raghadan station in Amman.
The ticket office (06 4895413) is officially only open from 7am on the morning of departure, although you may well find someone around at other times. To get to the station, take a service taxi from Raghadan station, or a private taxi (around 800 fils).
Entering Jordan is painless, whether by land, air or sea, and visas and money exchange are available at all borders.
Arriving in Amman by air you'll find an airport foreign exchange booth before immigration and two after, with an ATM after immigration. Obtaining a visa on arrival takes less than a minute - queue up in the normal immigration aisle.
Organised tours from abroad are generally divided into cultural/historical tours, overland adventures that combine several Middle Eastern countries, or activity-based holidays that involve some hiking and camel riding.
Adventure World (02 8913 0755; www.adventureworld.com.au)
Yalla Tours(1300 362 844, 03 9510 2844; email@example.com)
Abercrombie and Kent (0845 070 0610; www.abercrombiekent.co.uk)
Cox & Kings (020 7873 5000; www.coxandkings.co.uk)
Dragoman (0870 4994 4750; www.dragoman.com)
Exodus (0870 240 5550, 020 8675 5550; www.exodus.co.uk)
Explore (0870 333 4001; www.explore.co.uk)
Imaginative Traveller (0800 316 2717, 020 8742 8612; www.imaginative-traveller.com)
Martin Randall Travel (020 8742 3355; www.martinrandall.com)
Tribes (017 2868 5971; www.tribes.co.uk)
Voyages Jules Vernes (020 7616 1000; www.vjv.co.uk)
Archaeological Tours (212 9863054; www.archaeologicaltrs.com; 271 Madison Ave, suite 904, NY, NY 10016) A 14-day historical tour with archaeologists.
Journeys Unlimited (800 255 8735, 734 665 4407; www.journeys-intl.com)
Ya'lla Tours (503 977 3758; www.yallatours.com)
The national airline, Royal Jordanian (www.rja.com.jo, www.rj.com), is well run and has direct flights to most major cities in Europe and all over the Middle East. Royal Wings (www.royalwings.com.jo), a subsidiary of Royal Jordanian, has smaller planes for short flights from Amman to Tel Aviv (daily), Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh (four weekly).
The modern Queen Alia International Airport (06 4452000), about 35km south of Amman, is the country's main gateway. There are two terminals, only 100m apart and opposite each other. Terminal 1 is used for most Royal Jordanian flights and Terminal 2 is used by other airlines. Both terminals have ATMs, foreign exchange counters, a post office and a left luggage counter. The departure lounge has a decent café if you need to use up your remaining dinar.
The only airport hotel here is the Alia Hotel (4451000; firstname.lastname@example.org; s/d JD70/85), a couple of kilometres from the airport terminal. You should be put up here if your flight is delayed or has an enforced overnight stopover. Otherwise, you can get a 50% discount on the room rate if you have an international ticket on Royal Jordanian. If you are just transiting Amman for a few hours you can use the pool for JD5.
The former military airfield in Marka, northeast of central Amman, is used by Royal Wings for a few flights to Aqaba and Tel Aviv in Israel & the Palestinian Territories. The only other international (and domestic) airport is at Aqaba, and some international carriers stop in Aqaba en route to Amman. There are occasional charter flights between Europe and Aqaba.
The following airlines fly to Jordan and have offices in Amman (06) :
British Airways (airline code BA; 5828801; www.ba.com; hub Heathrow, London)
Lufthansa Airlines (airline code LH; 5601744; www.lufthansa.com; hub Frankfurt)
There are no direct flights between Australia and Jordan and most flights go via Southeast Asian capitals. One of the cheaper routes to Amman from Melbourne or Sydney is with Qantas Airways or Thai Airways International to Bangkok, and on to Amman with Royal Jordanian. Return low/high season fares start at A$1450/1700. Gulf Air and Emirates fly from Sydney and Melbourne to hubs in the Middle East.
Flight Centre (133 133; www.flightcentre.com.au)
STA Travel (1300 733 035; www.statravel.com.au)
Trailfinders (1300 780 212; www.trailfinders.com.au)
KLM-Royal Dutch Airlines and Lufthansa Airlines offer the most direct flights to Amman, and have excellent connections all around Europe and the UK. Amsterdam and Frankfurt are the two major hubs for discounted air transport in continental Europe.
From Frankfurt, air fares start at €1050 for a return flight. A recommended agency is STA Travel (069 7430 3292; www.statravel.com), which has branches in major cities across Germany and the rest of Europe.
Recommended in Paris is OTU Voyages (0820 817 817; www.otu.fr), which has branches across France. Other recommendations include Voyageurs du Monde (01 42 86 16 00; www.vdm.com) and Nouvelles Frontières (08 25 00 07 47; www.nouvelles-frontieres.fr), with branches across the country. Return fares to Amman start at €1100.
Jordan is a decent base from which to explore the Middle East, and there are regular flights from Amman all around the region. Flights are not particularly cheap, however, but specials (eg over the Thursday/Friday Islamic 'weekend') are sometimes available.
These are some approximate one-way fares from Amman: Abu Dhabi JD180, Baghdad JD380, Beirut JD100, Cairo JD125-JD135, Damascus JD70, Dubai JD175, İstanbul JD180, Kuwait City JD200, San'a JD220, Tripoli JD250 and Tel Aviv JD80. In Amman, the best places to start looking for air tickets are the agencies along Al-Malek Al-Hussein St, near the flyover.
In İstanbul there are lots of travel agencies on the northern side of Divan Yolu in Sultanahmet, all of them specialising in budget air tickets. Orion-Tour (212 232 6300; www.oriontour.com; Halaskargazi Caddesi 284/3, Marmara Apartimani, Sisli 80220) is recommended.
The area around Midan Tahrir in Cairo is teeming with travel agencies, but don't expect any amazing deals. One of the best agencies in Cairo, though it's way down in Ma'adi, is Egypt Panorama Tours (02 359 0200; www.eptours.com) just outside Al-Ma'adi metro station.
Flight Centre (0800 243 544; www.flightcentre.co.nz)
STA Travel (0508 782 872; www.statravel.co.nz)
London and other cities in England are well connected with Amman, although some of the cheapest airlines do not fly there directly and require a lengthy (even overnight) stopover. Some of the airlines mentioned below offer 'open jaw' tickets which, for example, allow you to fly into Amman, but out of Beirut (Lebanon) or Damascus (Syria).
Some of the cheapest flights from the UK to Amman are on Lufthansa (via Frankfurt); Olympic Airways (via Athens); Turkish Airlines (via İstanbul); and Tarom (via Bucharest). Low season return fares start from £320.
Royal Jordanian flies direct between London and Amman daily. Expect to pay £420 for a return fare. One way to London in Amman costs JD305. British Mediterranean (part of British Airways) flies daily, mostly direct but once a week via Beirut so check the routing before booking.
STA Travel (0870 160 6070; www.statravel.co.uk)
Trailfinders (020 7938 3366; www.trailfinders.com)
There's little direct traffic between the USA and Jordan, so most flights change in Europe (London for British Airways, Paris for Delta/Air France or Amsterdam for Northwest/KLM). Alternatively, get a connection in a country near Jordan on a Middle Eastern airline. The cheapest option may be to fly into Tel Aviv and then cross the border into Jordan by bus or service taxi. However, this means that your passport will have those dreaded Israeli entry stamps.
Royal Jordanian (1800 223 0470) has direct flights between Amman and New York, Chicago and Detroit, with onward codeshare flights with America West. Flights from New York start around $900, or $1100 from Los Angeles (via Detroit).
STA Travel (800 781 4040; www.statravel.com) Has offices throughout the US.
Online booking agencies include:
Cheap Tickets (www.cheaptickets.com)