Petra is the natural focus of a visit to Jordan and for good reason. The ancient city of the Nabataeans, set in spectacular scenery, is one of the world’s wonders. With beautiful Wadi Rum nearby, Red Sea diving and the holiday vibe of Aqaba, southern Jordan is a destination in its own right.
For adventure-seekers, the Jordan Trail winds through Wadi Mujib and Dana, both accessible via the fabled King's Highway. Striking east, the desert castles complement wildlife viewing at Shaumari and Azraq Nature Reserves.
A northern circuit around the semi-arid highlands is lovely in spring when wildflowers bloom at Jerash, Jordan’s Roman gem, and at biblical sites around Madaba.
Let’s not forget the capital, Amman! With Roman ruins downtown and a youthful cafe culture, the city showcases modern Jordan.
Modern Middle East
The Roman antiquities of the Citadel and Roman Theatre define the heart of the city and are well worth exploring. The Jordan Museum gives a thorough context to the country's major historical attractions.
Capital Cafe Culture
Sophisticated malls, buzzing coffee shops and happening nightlife challenge the regional perception of Jordan as a sleepy backwater. Values are conservative and there is plenty of evidence of the traditional Middle East, but for catching the essence of Jordan's youthful, well-educated and tech-savvy population, the capital is the place to be.
From gold bangles to Iraqi currency, Amman’s souqs and streets are full of intriguing souvenirs. To make your spending mean more, root out the neighbourhood cooperatives.
Moses, Elijah, Jesus Christ and John the Baptist are some of the many biblical figures said to have blessed Jordan’s soil and Mt Nebo remains a place of pilgrimage today. Crusader castles at Karak and Shobak and the Christian town of Madaba show how this inheritance has been embraced over centuries.
Made in Jordan
Some of the best handicrafts in Jordan are made in cottage industries in and around Madaba. Traditional weaving near Mukawir and mosaic-making along the King’s Highway are two of many crafts helping sustain rural communities.
The best and arguably the most beautiful hikes in Jordan are to be had in the upper wadis of Wadi Mujib and Dana Biosphere Reserve, despite winter snows.
Dead Sea Highway
Spas & Springs
Dead Sea Float
Floating in the Dead Sea is one of Jordan's most extraordinary experiences and shouldn't be missed. With luxury spas along the sea’s eastern shore, this is the place to schedule some serious R&R. Nearby hot springs complete the opportunity for healthy treatments.
With unexpected waterfalls, oases and glimpses of wildlife, Mujib Biosphere Reserve is a great place for outdoor adventures. Expect to get wet in year-round pools. Further along Wadi Araba, Dana Biosphere Reserve has good sea-level trails and vegetarian feasting at Feynan Ecolodge.
Snaking from the vineyards of the King’s Highway to the tomato fields and potash plants of the Dead Sea Highway, this region is peppered with exciting drives.
The Umayyad bathhouses, hunting lodges and caravan staging posts of the Eastern Desert are collectively known as the ‘Desert Castles’. It’s not so much the buildings as the arid desert context that make visiting these outposts of civilisation worth the effort.
Safari isn't an activity often associated with desert, but the oryx safari at newly reopened Shaumari Wildlife Reserve helps redefine the concept and showcases other endangered desert species. The nearby oasis at Azraq, while ever-diminishing, is still a top spot for birdwatching.
Few make it to the black wastelands of the Badia, but if you’re happy to spend some days tackling the extreme desert, then head for Burqu Reserve, which epitomises the term ‘remote’.
Outposts of Empire
No Jordan itinerary is complete without visiting Jerash: this well-preserved outpost of the Roman Empire has been wowing visitors for centuries and is one of the top three highlights of Jordan. Spare time for lesser antiquities at atmospheric Umm Qais. Archaeological buffs will love Pella.
The ecofriendly nature reserve at Ajloun is a byword for sustainable tourism. Community hikes such as Al Ayoun Trail lead through the heartland of rural Jordan and provide an opportunity for village homestays, while basket weaving is on offer at Umm Qais.
Take any route from the juniper uplands of Jerash, Salt or Umm Qais to the fertile and subtropical Jordan Valley and a natural-history lesson awaits.
The ancient city of Petra is a world wonder. Allow enough time to reach the Treasury in the early morning, picnic at a High Place by noon, watch the sunset at the Monastery and walk the Siq by candlelight at night – at least two days in other words.
Hikes to High Places
Petra has some of the best and most accessible hikes in Jordan. Engaging a local Bedouin guide will help bring the recent history of Petra to life. Avoid the oven-baking summer months when the heat is overbearing. Some hikes are restricted after winter rains.
Outrageously colourful sandstone, wind-eroded escarpments and oleander-trimmed wadis make the landscape of Petra a worthy consort of the ancient architecture.
Red Sea Diving
Red Sea Spectacle
Whether you dive, snorkel or simply swim, Jordan’s Gulf of Aqaba gives easy access to the delights of the Red Sea. Early spring and late autumn offer the most comfortable temperatures.
You don’t have to be a Lawrence of Arabia fan to enjoy hanging up your boots with the Bedouin after a day’s camel trek. Desert camps are comfortable but can be freezing in midwinter and stifling in midsummer.
Even if you don’t stay overnight, it’s worth driving as far as the Wadi Rum visitor centre. From here you can see the Seven Pillars of Wisdom and it’ll be instantly clear why this particular desert is a highlight of Jordan.