This peaceful country is one of the most exciting vacation destinations in the Middle East.
Jordan is a Middle Eastern country that might not be on your travel radar–but it should be. From the ancient ruins of Petra to the modern malls and hipster cafes of Amman to the Dead Sea and the Red Sea, Jordan packs in a lot to experience in a country that’s about the size of Maine. Jordan’s granite mountain peaks and otherworldly deserts should be at the top of your bucket list. Here’s everything you need to know in order to make the most of your trip.
Bordering Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Palestine, Jordan does not necessarily seem like a logical place for a vacation. But once you arrive, you’ll be greeted by friendly faces and people who will show you a side of the Middle East that’s not often highlighted in the news: peaceful, fun, friendly, and safe. Most Jordanians have an easy time separating Americans from American politics and are genuinely excited to meet tourists.
It’s an Adventure Waiting to Be Discovered
From the red desert of Wadi Rum to the vibrant coral reefs of the Dead Sea to the 400-mile-long Jordan Trail that runs across the entire country, Jordan is a destination for adventure lovers. Rappelling through slot canyons, floating in desert oases, and mountain biking along peaks will show you the breathtaking beauty of Jordan’s diverse landscapes.
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Hospitality Is a National Pastime
Jordan is heavily influenced by Bedouin culture, which is still alive and well in the rural shepherding communities. The ethos behind Bedouin hospitality is to give without remembering and take without forgetting. People all over the country will invite you in for tea or even a meal. The generosity of Jordanians is enough to bring tears to your eyes, and if you don’t watch yourself, you’re probably going to gain weight. The food here is always fresh, local, and cooked with love. It’s surprisingly easy to get around as a vegan or gluten-free person–the produce and fresh herbs and spices are more flavorful and thoughtfully prepared than you can possibly imagine in such a dusty place.
There’s so Much More to See Than Petra
Yes, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra is unbelievable, and you must visit. But while Petra takes a day or two to visit, you could spend a year exploring everything that Jordan has to offer and still not see it all. For outdoorsy types, there are mountains to climb and horses to ride. For artsy types, Amman’s hip neighborhoods and fascinating culture await. Christians, Jews, Muslims, and anybody interested in ancient history will marvel at the country’s biblical and Roman sites, which are some of the best-preserved in the Middle East. If you’ve only been to Petra, you haven’t been to Jordan. In order to make the most of your trip, consider hiring a tour company like Experience Jordan to create a custom itinerary based on your interests. And don’t miss out on the Jordan Pass,which gets you in to all of the country’s top attractions.
It’s Always Sunny in Jordan
But all this sun and a hot, dry climate mean that water is extremely scarce. In fact, when it comes to water, Jordan is one of the poorest countries in the world. Tap water runs freely, but keep this scarcity in mind when you’re showering and staying at a hotel that launders sheets daily. Note that tap water isn’t safe to drink, so it’s a good idea to bring along a reusable bottle and if you have a car, buy a few giant jugs of water to keep you hydrated for your whole trip. Monitor your consumption of single-use plastic closely—although clean-up efforts are underway, there’s a little bit of a trash problem in Jordan. Be part of the solution and not the problem.
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It’s Not a Budget Destination
Jordan’s currency is the Jordanian Dinar (JD), which is worth about 1.50 USD. Throughout the country and in the capital of Amman, especially, prices can be exorbitant. A cup of coffee at a casual cafe can cost upwards of $8, and it can be hard to find a hotel for under $200. But boutique luxury is still hard to find. While there are plenty of large luxury hotels (Four Seasons, Kempinski, and a new W Hotel to name a few), there seems to be a significant lack of curated boutique hotels. Keep in mind that the hotel star rating in Jordan is extremely inconsistent, too. While some five-star hotels will knock your socks off with style, luxury, and amenities, other “five-star” hotels feel more like generic hotels that might garner three stars elsewhere in the world.
Authentic Souvenirs Are Few and Far Between
Ideas about souvenir shopping in Jordan might conjure visions of markets with narrow, winding streets filled with artisan crafts. And while there is a little bit of that to be found, your tour guide will warn you that most of the things on display are not actually made in Jordan. Take a closer look and you’ll see that a label has been removed from a piece of clothing or it might say “MADE IN CHINA” on the bottom. If you’re looking for something truly Jordanian, visit one of the social enterprises found on the Meaningful Travel Map of Jordan. At these co-ops, restaurants, and eco-lodges, you’ll find authentic handmade souvenirs. Look for woven textiles, jams and preserves, and spices (which, by the way, will all be extremely popular back home).
It’s an Absolute Monarchy
The big thing about politics in Jordan that you need to know (besides the whole Palestine thing) is that it’s an absolute monarchy. Citizens (including refugees) appear to be well taken care of with good schools and hospitals, and you’ll encounter zero beggars or homeless people. Now, a word on the Jordanian monarchy, which will be positive, as it’s illegal to say negative things about them if you’re a citizen of Jordan or if you’re in the country (I’m neither, but I’d like to be able to return): they seem like lovely people dedicated to advocacy work and interfaith dialogue in the Middle East.
Solo Women Travelers May Feel Uncomfortable
Many Jordanian women (including the extremely glamorous Queen Rania) choose not to wear a hijab, but it’s still a good idea to blend in and wear conservative clothing, especially if you plan on visiting any churches or mosques. Traditional gender roles are very much a thing in this Muslim-majority country, especially in rural communities where it’s not uncommon for a man to have more than one wife. Outside of Amman, it’s rare to see women working at hotels, which means that as a lady traveler, you’ll have to deal with an entirely male staff. Most of them are perfectly charming, but you’ll have to get good at politely deflecting marriage proposals and declarations of love from others.
Homosexuality Is Illegal
Despite the intimate gestures between men that you’ll see on the street (kissing, hugging, hand-holding), homosexuality is illegal in Jordan. However, you can’t just get arrested on suspicion of being gay—you’d have to actually be caught in the act. There’s sort of a “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy when it comes to foreign visitors. It’s totally ok for two people of the same sex to visit Jordan and stay in the same hotel room—nobody will give you a hard time, even if you’re wearing wedding rings, have the same last name, and are obviously married. But it gets a little more complicated for trans or genderqueer people: if your passport says you’re a male and that’s different from the gender you identify with, you may run into issues if you try to visit Jordan while wearing clothes that are perceived as tradtionally feminine. Those with “female”-optioned passports can dress however they want (but as I said before, keep it modest).