Jordan is probably not the first country to spring to mind if you’re thinking about taking a road trip, but there’s a multitude of reasons why this Middle Eastern gem is worth exploring by car. The country has all the key ingredients: dramatic landscapes, decent roads and off-the-beaten-track sights which are hard to access by public transport.
The main attractions are concentrated in the west, which is served by three highways running parallel from north to south, making it a breeze to navigate your way around the country. The busiest road is the Desert Highway, the main artery connecting the capital, Amman, with Jordan’s tiny slice of coastline. It is the main route for accessing the jewels in Jordan’s crown - Wadi Rum and Petra - and the quickest way to travel up and down the country.
The highway lives up to its name, with barren scenery along much of the route. However, nearing Wadi Rum, in the south, the landscape takes a striking turn with spectacular jebels (mountains) rising from the sands.
To visit Wadi Rum itself you need to leave your car in a bordering village and hire a driver to take you in a 4WD. Expect a bumpy journey through the sand in a vehicle that has probably seen better days, but it’s all part of the experience so hold on tight and enjoy it. If you have the time, camping in a traditional Bedouin tent is a must, as is setting your alarm for sunrise when the desert looks at its fiery best.
Similarly, the road to Petra is a taster of the dramatic views which await you in the ancient city. Craggy mountains and deep crevices pepper the route, with ample opportunity to pull over and take in the amazing views.
As you head downhill to the southern tip of the country, the mountainous scenery continues to inspire. The end point is the vibrant port city of Aqaba which is worth a visit in its own right as well as being a good base for diving in the Red Sea.
Another attraction that will be on most people’s itinerary is the Dead Sea. Floating around in the saltiest body of water on earth and getting covered in the much lauded Dead Sea mud is a welcome respite from long car journeys. Coming from the south of the country, the Dead Sea Highway hugs the water all the way to the resorts and spas in the north. For incredible views, stop off at the Dead Sea Panorama, a fantastic lookout point with a decent museum that offers a great introduction to the area.
Though Jordan’s main sights are fairly easy to find, it is still worth investing in a good road map as sign posts, even to Petra, can be erratic. It is also worth taking advantage of petrol stations when you see them. Even on the main highways they can be few and far between.
As with any road trip it is well worth venturing away from the main routes. The King’s Highway, which runs between the Desert and Dead Sea Highways, is a meandering route compared with its more direct neighbours, so is often overlooked by travellers rushing to get to the sights.
It is here that you will see traditional Jordanian life as you drive through villages and grab a bite to eat with locals. Along the route there are also some incredible landscapes such as Wadi Mujib - Jordan’s equivalent of the Grand Canyon - and important historical sites, including Byzantine-era mosaics in the town of Madaba.
Driving through Jordan can seem chaotic at times, with drivers overtaking using the slow lane and the occasional goat or camel wandering into the road, but it is largely an enjoyable experience and one of the best ways to experience what this diverse country has to offer.
For more information check out Lonely Planet's Jordan travel guide.